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« on: Nov 22, 2015, 09:31 AM »

All,

We are going to restart our thread on the climate, our environment, and the consequences of global warming that we had to remove because of being threatened by The Guardian with legal actions because we had dared to post some of their articles on this subject in that thread.

This restart happened in 2015 and has been posting and accumulating articles since that time. Over time this has taken up lot's and lot's of space on our server that became way to much. So we will be now be adjusting how long we store articles posted to it to one year at most. Currently we are now beginning to delete all the articles up and until the beginning of 2017. 

God Bless, Rad
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« Reply #1 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:00 AM »

China premier promises to 'make skies blue again'

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged Sunday that China would 'work faster' to address pollution caused by burning coal.

Gretel Kauffman
CS Monitor
   
March 9, 2017 —China's skies will one day be "blue again," vowed Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday.

In his address to the National People's Congress, Mr. Li pledged to "work faster" to address pollution caused by burning coal, outlining several goals for the coming year and noting that "people are desperately hoping for" more rapid progress to improve air quality.

His remarks reflected how public awareness of, and backlash against, the dangers of pollution has made reducing smog a top priority for Chinese leadership. Increasingly frequent protests have broken out in cities where residents oppose the building of chemical plants and garbage incinerators.

Over the next year or so, Li said, the government intends to step up efforts to upgrade coal-fired power plants to achieve ultra-low emissions and energy conservation, crack down on vehicle emissions by working faster to take old vehicles off the road and encouraging citizens to use clean-energy cars, and prioritize the integration of renewable energy sources into the electricity grid. Integration has proven a challenge as China adds wind and solar power at a faster rate than the grid has expanded, resulting in wasted wind and solar capacity.

Officials who fail to strictly enforce environmental laws and regulations will be held "fully accountable," Li told the delegates Saturday. And, he said, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions would both be cut by 3 percent this year, while the density of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 would fall "markedly" in key areas.

China's air quality has improved since the government first introduced its air pollution action plan in 2013. The country's coal consumption fell in 2016 for the third year in a row, with coal now making up 62 percent of China's total energy consumption mix. But as the government struggles to balance the country’s economic needs with addressing public health and environmental issues, cities such as Beijing still consistently register levels of pollution significantly higher than the recommended safe limit.

Still, some environmental advocates see reason for optimism, as Lonnie Shehktman reported for The Christian Science Monitor in January:

    [D]espite the current smog, some signs point to clearer skies on the horizon, says Ranping Song, senior associate in the Global Climate Program at the nonprofit World Resources Institute....

    [Mr.] Song points to declining coal use as one sign of progress. According to China’s state-run news agency Xinhua, the country’s coal production dropped by 10.2 percent to 2.18 billion tons between 2016 and 2015. And until 2016, China’s air quality overall had been improving for a couple of years, as national efforts to curb air pollution and cut coal use took shape, along with better enforcement of new emission standards for power plants and other industries, as Greenpeace’s senior coal campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta pointed out online on December 2.

    "It's really clear that the government wants to make environmental changes," says Song....

    Overall, China is working hard to wean itself off coal and other polluting industries. Beijing and other cities are switching some power stations from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas, and encouraging use of electric vehicles to reduce car emissions. The country also has committed to producing 20 percent of its electricity from non-polluting sources such as wind and solar by 2030 and is one of the world’s biggest investors in clean energy technologies.

"We will be able to see some progress along the way, but we will continue to be concerned for the public for a long time," Song told the Monitor.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.


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« Reply #2 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:11 AM »

Not two but one: Reassessment of Calif. faults hints at possibility of major quake

Two fault lines previously thought to be separate systems are actually connected, say scientists. Together, they could bring intense shaking to some of Southern California's most populous areas.

Mengqi Sun
CS Monitor 

March 9, 2017 —The Newport-Inglewood and Rose Canyon systems, which were previously thought to be separate, actually form a continuous fault line that could produce a major earthquake in the region, according to a study published Tuesday in the American Geophysical Union's Journal of Geophysical Research.

The single fault system, which runs underwater from San Diego Bay to Seal Beach in Orange County and on land through the Los Angeles basin, poses a significant threat to some of the most densely populated areas along coastal Southern California and Tijuanna, Mexico, wrote seismologists from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Nevada, Reno.

By looking through data from previous and new seismic surveys, including bathymetric data gathered offshore, the researchers estimated that the fault could cause up to a magnitude-7.3 quake if the offshore segments rupture and a magnitude-7.4 quake if that rift extends onshore.

“This system is mostly offshore but never more than four miles from the San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles County coast,” study lead author Valerie Sahakian said in a statement. “Even if you have a high 5- or low 6-magnitude earthquake, it can still have a major impact on those regions which are some of the most densely populated in California.”

The team identified four segments of the fault that are horizontally offset in a pattern known as stepovers. Since the stepovers are only 1.24 miles wide at most, the team concluded that the points are not wide enough to inhibit a rupture of the entire offshore segments.

If the fault does rupture, it would not be the first time it caused disruption, the researchers warn. The system infamously hosted a quake of 6.4 magnitude in 1933 in Long Beach, Calif., that killed 115 people. The study also found evidence that, along the onshore segment of the system, three to five ruptures had happened in the last 11,000 years on the northern end, whereas one quake occurred roughly 400 years ago on the southern end.

The findings came a few months after another team led by Dr. Sahakian reported finding a new fault line in the Southern California Region, as The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time:

    Seismologists in California have discovered evidence of a new fault line that runs along the eastern edge of the inland Salton Sea, parallel to the infamous San Andreas fault (SSAF), according to research published this week.

    Up until now the Salton trough fault (STF) managed to remain hidden, despite how well-surveyed and seismically active the state of California is, because it is underwater.

But to better understand and measure the hazard and potential ground shaking posed by the Newport-Inglewood and Rose Canyon system, further study is needed, Sahakian concluded.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.


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« Reply #3 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:14 AM »

How water swaps help the West manage a precious resource

Water markets are in many ways in their infancy. But the idea is a big one, potentially helping water flow to where it's most useful, and maintaining both farms and ecosystems.   

Zack Colman
CS Monitor   

March 8, 2017 —When a market for trading water rights opened in central Nebraska last year, one of the initial bidders wasn’t a corn farmer, or even a water user at all in the traditional sense. It was the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, a conservation group investing to replenish the region's major river, the Platte.

By buying some water and then not using it, the group is allowing more to stay in the river.

The move bucked tradition, for sure. Typically, water rights aren’t traded at all or they are swapped among farmers. But the West may be at the dawn of a new era in water management.

Markets for water trading are on the rise, backed by many conservationists and farmers alike. They say there’s a major opportunity here if done right – the chance to make the most of a precious resource.

The idea is to depart from systems of largely fixed water rights for the farms that use 80 percent or more of water in the West. Instead, markets can help water flow to where it’s most valuable and needed – and promote conservation by farmers in the process. Farmers who learn to get by with less water make extra income by selling or leasing their surplus.

“Nationwide we’re seeing more and more water transactions, and the number of participants in these markets is going up,” says Reed Watson, executive director of the free-market conservation think tank Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Mont.

But there’s no guarantee that water markets will be a success. The fact that a conservation group felt the urge to conserve Platte River water at all hints at the challenge: Without safeguards, the combination of farms and growing cities could easily start sucking up more water than nature can provide. Rivers and aquifers can run low.

In short, water markets hold great promise, but states across the West are learning that markets also take some careful management to do right.

And they’re working at it: Nurturing water trades remains a priority despite heavy snows and rains this winter, because groundwater tables remain under stress.

'Something needs to be done'

“There’s pretty widespread acknowledgement that something needs to be done,” says Brian Richter, chief water scientist with The Nature Conservancy. “But it’s going to take time. It can be politically contentious to make changes with anything to do with water.”

Colorado offers a warning about unfettered trades. While many consider Colorado’s water markets the most well-developed in the country, some rural communities turned into virtual ghost towns when Denver suburbs bought their water rights.

“You don’t have to look any further than our past history, that all water rights in our state originated in agriculture and as cities began to pop up and grow more water rights were converted,” says Marc Arnusch, a third-generation farmer near Keenesburg, Colo. “We certainly can’t gut our rural economies to the benefit of our urban economies, but I believe this water will continue to gravitate to our urban cousins for the rest of time.”

Conservation groups hope to work hand-in-hand with farmers to prevent worst-case outcomes.

The Nature Conservancy is seeking investors to help it buy and manage a 10-year water rights portfolio modeled after a project the group helped create in Australia’s Murray-Darling basin. Some of those rights would be sold or leased to generate revenue for the investors. Others would be used for environmental purposes – such as leaving water in-stream for fish.

While managing its water-rights portfolio, The Nature Conservancy would also help farmers employ conservation methods, potentially creating surplus water for farmers to sell or lease.
New income potential for farmers

“We’re very explicit that it’s our intention to keep farmers on the ground farming,” Mr. Richter says. “What we’re really shooting for is trying to make them more profitable by creating opportunities for them to grow crops and creating the opportunity for them to grow water.”

For environmental groups, keeping US agriculture productive is key. The relatively rich farmland of America, after all, can produce bounteous harvests more efficiently than many other nations.

But the idea of non-farm investors participating in agricultural water markets raises ethical questions. If markets open up, how can rural economies protect enough of their resources if thirsty cities dangle wads of cash, or if resource speculators become key middlemen? And should it really be a philanthropy’s job to make sure rivers have enough water for wildlife protection?

“I think [conservation groups] are filling a void that the states have left,” says Richael Young, co-founder and president of water market company Mammoth Trading. “So in an ideal world that would be something that our governments would take care of and we wouldn’t have to rely on nonprofits.”

Water districts are also taking their own actions. Many now have triggers for trades out of a watershed, to check for undesirable effects on the local economy. In some cases, other rights holders can object to transfers.

As Ms. Young sees it, green groups are playing a helpful role at present, correcting state failures to get a handle on water-management challenges. “We’re sort of evolving from the old school ‘buy and dry’ and try to create these win-win solutions.”
Steps of progress

Where markets are up and running, many show promise.

•In central Washington State, low water levels in the Yakima River meant farmers with “junior rights” saw their supplies curtailed in 2015 to ensure those with more senior rights received their legally awarded amounts. But thanks to an existing water market, junior rights holders like those in the Roza Irrigation District leased water to keep fruit-tree production relatively steady.

•Colorado’s South Platte basin showcases a trend toward water leasing, which allows farmers to offer water on the market without permanently giving up their rights. In the South Platte, which is one of the most active water markets at $57 million in transactions in 2015, leasing now accounts for 80 percent of water volume traded, according to consulting firm WestWater Research.

•In Nebraska, the Twin Platte Natural Resources District deployed an automated trading platform, which Young created through a federal grant while at the University of Illinois, to make sure that cumbersome paperwork doesn’t discourage trading. Ann Dimmitt, a manager for the district, says the market is succeeding at shifting water from unproductive, water-intensive soil to acres where farmers need less to maintain yields.

Steps like those are helping to meet a need for better water management across the West – and the need is growing.

The Cornhusker State, for instance, must replenish the Platte River under a state law, and officials worry about the health of the Ogallala Aquifer – a rapidly depleting major water source underlying most of Nebraska and parts of seven other states.

Challenges: climate, demographics, old laws

Meanwhile, scientists say climate change is expected to bring more frequent and severe droughts. In 2012, Ms. Dimmitt’s district got just 10 inches of rain, less than half its historical average.

“I’m curious to see where we’re going to be in 2022. We had that drought in 2002 and then the one in 2012,” she says. “Living through that, now people farm differently. They’re very conscientious. Not that they weren’t before – but less than 10 inches? That’s desert.”

Between climate change and urban population growth, the West’s water challenges look hard to meet without changing old ways. Many state water laws operate on a “use it or lose it” philosophy, which gives farmers little incentive to emphasize conservation. At the same time, water in the West is often over-allocated, meaning there’s not enough to supply all the legal claims.

Water markets hold the potential to change that dynamic, allowing crops and conservation to coexist.

The problem: The markets so far are fragmented and small, and face challenges tracking water use.

For markets to work well, such tracking is vital, says Ms. Young of Mammoth Trading. Rights holders need to know how much water they and others are entitled to. Water managers must be able to monitor whether water-rights owners use only what they’re allowed. And they need to understand the interactions between groundwater and surface water – such as how pulling groundwater in one place affects a surface-rights owner in another.

Many states flunk those tests.

In California, for example, groundwater data is so poor that regulating water use has been all but impossible. Only 3 percent of the state’s water is traded. Under pressure from drought, the Golden State passed a law in 2014 to collect groundwater information. But gathering the data and then ensuring rights holders stay honest will take considerable monitoring and expense.

In Montana, Mick Seeburg and other farmers grew concerned about rapid development in the area around Bozeman, when they heard that some new homeowners had to double their well lengths to reach declining groundwater.

Late last year, Montana’s state Supreme Court issued a ruling that could help water markets address the challenge. The court outlawed a loophole that exempted housing developments from needing permits for wells that affect the local water table. Now such projects must purchase water from another user to replace whatever they take from the ground.

Shifting politics

And beyond the courts, the political landscape surrounding water is changing. In a state like Montana, where support from the agriculture community or Republicans is vital for water-rights changes to pass, new policies oriented toward conservation might have seemed fanciful in the past, says Laura Ziemer, senior counsel at Trout Unlimited. But that’s no longer the case in Big Sky Country and other western states.

“Since the early 2000s we’ve had a lot more frequent back-to-back drought years,” Ms. Ziemer says. “I think that recognition that we’re going to be living with drought and we need to have some preparedness for it is driving some of these changes. What they really are is recognizing is that water is a finite resource.”

To Mr. Seeburg, the farmer near Bozeman, a water market simply looks pragmatic in the face of strained water supplies. He’s on a committee exploring a water exchange system for the Association of Gallatin Agricultural Irrigators.

“I don’t think it’s possible to fix it all, but I think it’s possible to keep it from becoming a disaster,” he says. “My crystal ball about what the valley is going to look like in 2050 is pretty cloudy, but it’s going to need water and it’s going to need the river flowing.”


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« Reply #4 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:16 AM »

Why smog in Asia is an American concern

Air pollution in Asia is directly linked to smog in several western US states, say scientists.

Mengqi Sun
CS Monitor
 
March 9, 2017 —A new study seems to confirm that Earth has no real borders.

Air pollution in Asian countries is linked to the reappearance of smog in the western United States, say scientists from Princeton and the EPA.

Their research, published Wednesday in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, shows that air pollution from Asian countries, such as China and India, has drifted across the Pacific Ocean over the past 25 years and has driven up the levels of smog in western states. The findings illustrate the interconnected nature of climate pollution and underscore the need for global cooperation to solve the problem.

One of smog's main ingredients is ozone, which protects the Earth when in the upper atmosphere, but can make air hard to breathe when it hovers near the surface. Ground-level ozone has received global attention in recent years as the toxic air problem in many Asian countries has reached crisis levels.

But the latest study sheds a new light on the issue.

"Twenty years ago, scientists first speculated that rising Asian emissions would one day offset some of the United States' domestic ozone reductions," Owen Cooper, a senior research scientist at the University of Colorado who was not involved in the current study, told Science Daily. “This study takes advantage of more than 25 years of observations and detailed model hindcasts to comprehensively demonstrate that these early predictions were right."

Though recognizing that the US levels of smog respond to many emission sources, as well as short-term weather variations and long-term climatic patterns, the researchers were still able to trace the sources of the smog from western US states.

The culprit: Nitrogen oxide emissions, which contribute to ozone and have tripled since 1990 in Asian countries.

“We conclude that the increase in Asian anthropogenic emissions is the major driver of rising background ozone over the western United States for both spring and summer in the past decades, with a lesser contribution from methane increases over this period,” wrote the scientists.

Global methane from livestock and wildfires contributed only 15 percent of the ozone increase, whereas air pollution from Asian countries, including Japan, South and North Korea, and China, collectively contributed as much as 65 percent.

The team collected smog data between 1980 and 2014 from 16 national parks in the western states, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon, which were ideal spots for the study because of their rural locations, the researchers said.

Their conclusions come at a time when a growing number of countries are starting to tackle air pollution and committing to improve air quality. After experiencing another winter with historic levels of smog pollution in some cities, China rolled out a $360 billion renewable energy plan, hoping it can lead to a cleaner environment, The Christian Science Monitor reported in January.

Researchers said in 2016 that more than 5.5 million people die from air pollution each year, including more than 3 million in China and India.

These findings show the importance of a global perspective, lead author Meiyun Lin told Science Daily.

"Increasing background ozone from rising Asian emissions leaves less room for local production of ozone before the federal standard is violated," she explained.


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« Reply #5 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:30 AM »

How did the 20th century fur and skin trade impact Brazil's Amazon?

Scientists find that commercial hunting caused “basin-wide collapse” among aquatic species
Scientists estimate 4.5 million black caiman were commercially hunted in several Brazilian states between 1904 and 1969, making them the most popular aquatic or semiaquatic mammal.

David Hill
Guardian
9 March 2017 19.59 GMT

Scientists have conducted what they call the first systematic, historical account of the impacts on wildlife in the Amazon basin of the 20th century international trade in furs and skins. The conclusion: “basin-wide population collapse” for aquatic species, but much greater resilience shown by terrestrial species.

The study focuses on four states in Brazil - Acre, Amazonas, Rondonia and Roraima - and draws on a wide range of historical records including those belonging to the Amazonas state government and the concession owner of the Manaus port. It was published in Science Advances in late 2016, but is reported now to mark UN World Wildlife Day. Here are 10 of the most fascinating - and sometimes horrifying - take-aways:

1 The numbers. Between 21.6 million and 26.8 million terrestrial, aquatic and semiaquatic mammals and reptiles from at least 20 species are estimated to have been commercially hunted from 1904 to 1969.

2 Top terrestrial mammals. The most commonly-hunted were collared peccaries, red brocket deer, white-lipped peccaries, ocelots, margays and jaguars. The number of jaguars killed was over 180,000 - a conservative estimate. All three species of cats were put on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1975.

White-lipped peccaries were the only terrestrial mammals to have “showed signs of population decline at both basin-wide and local scales.” This appears to be attributed to the fact that they range across large areas and travel in big herds which means they “can be slaughtered by the dozen”, especially when crossing rivers.

3 Top aquatic and semiaquatic mammals. The most commonly-hunted were black caiman, capybaras (“the world’s largest rodent”), giant otters, neotropical otters and manatees. The estimated number of black caiman killed was just under 4.5 million. All of these species, except the capybaras, were put on CITES Appendix 1.

4 US significance. Europe is flagged as one international export destination, but the most important was the US. Trade surged in the 1930s when the US “consolidated” itself as the “primary export market for Amazonian hides”, and then during the Second World War “nearly all” went there.

5 High fashion. Pelt prices sharply rose in the 1950s and 1960s following the “international fashion zeal for spotted felid furs”, leading to an uptake in commercial hunting. In an article published elsewhere, in Sapiens, one of the researchers, Glenn Shepard, from the Emílio Goeldi Museum in Belem, argues that this trend was partly driven by the 1966 Batman movie in which Catwoman, played by former Miss America Lee Meriwether, wore a jaguar-fur suit.

6 “Empty forest or empty river?” The scientists argue that their conclusions overturn previous assumptions that commercial hunting had led to an “empty forest” where terrestrial mammals had been devastated. If anything can be said to have been “empty”, they suggest, it was the rivers, not the forests.

7 Nowhere to hide. The reason terrestrial mammals were so “resilient” even when hunting pressures were most intense was because they could seek refuge in less accessible areas beyond the hunters’ range, the scientists argue, whereas the aquatic and semiaquatic mammals had no such option. The latter were even more vulnerable during severe droughts when they would have been forced into larger rivers more accessible to hunters. According to the scientists:

    Rivers and floodplains were relatively densely populated and easily accessible to hunters. On the other hand, for most terrestrial species, forest interior areas provided refuges with reduced hunting pressure. When such refuges are sufficiently large, animal populations persist at large spatial scales regardless of the level of localized harvesting effort. . . During the mid-20th century, more than 80% of terrestrial habitat would have remained free of hunting, whereas more than 50% of aquatic habitat would have been accessible to hunters. We suggest that this was the main reason why large-bodied vertebrate populations generally persisted in the dense upland forests of terra firme, whereas they were nearly wiped out in the rivers and floodplains.

8 “Unclear” legal status of subsistence hunting. The scientists say that Brazil officially banned hunting in 1967 by passing the Faunal Protection Law, which “essentially criminalised all hunting and remains in force today.” This has created “serious legal barriers to the development of subsistence game management strategies for traditional peoples in the Brazilian Amazon”, although the scientists also say that subsistence hunting is “largely tolerated” in indigenous territories and extractive reserves because “human livelihoods [there] are protected by law.”

How serious a problem is this “unclear” legal status for indigenous and non-indigenous subsistence hunters? One of the researchers, Andre Antunes, told the Guardian that the 1967 law was not intended to “dogmatically” ban hunting because it still allows for permission to be granted according to “regional peculiarities”, yet he also says that the current Federal Public Prosecutor’s office has “adopted a stance of intolerance to subsistence hunting in conservation units.”

According to Antunes, from the Wildlife Conservation Society and National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus:

   The 1967 law has enabled Brazil’s government to deny Amazon people’s rights to feed themselves through hunting, keeping them in criminality, in a permanent sense of fear and worst of all, assuming the possibility of them starving. . . The fact is that in a country where a poor hunter from the Amazon frontier can be punished for hunting an agouti to eat, a large landowner can deforest 80% of his land to plant soybeans.

Worse, Antunes says a bill was proposed in January this year that “seems to represent more of an outrage than an advance [on the 1967 law]. . . because it has clear intentions to spread commercial and sporting hunting in Brazil.” He says the government has got its priorities wrong: first, it should “guarantee the rights of traditional peoples” and then properly “regulate and institutionalise subsistence hunting, reshape management institutions, and monitor and analyse information.”

9 The future significance of their findings. The scientists argue that their research provides crucial historical context for understanding the Amazon basin and can help improve contemporary wildlife management and conservation practices going forward. They provide the example of a stretch of the River Iaco in Acre state where the decline of white-lipped peccaries in the 1990s had been previously explained by subsistence hunting, yet “our data show that these peccary populations had already collapsed in the mid-1940s.”

Such management must involve local people - and, in largely forested and/or protected areas, hunting represents more of an “opportunity” than a “threat.” “The most successful natural resource management programs in Amazonia have engaged local communities directly in community-based co-management,” they assert. “Involving traditional people is critical in wildlife conservation programs, given their inherent knowledge of natural systems and rapid management decision-making.”

10 “Empty forest” remains possible. The scientists acknowledge that the previously inaccessible basin-wide “refuge areas” into which the terrestrial mammals escaped are becoming increasingly more accessible to hunters. This is largely as a result of expanding agribusiness, cattle-ranching, roads and other infrastructure, and applies not only to Brazil but other Amazonian countries.

“If large refuges with limited road and river accessibility cannot be maintained, the combined effects of deforestation, habitat fragmentation, human colonization, wildfire, disease outbreaks, and hunting will likely result in the decimation of wildlife,” the scientists warn.


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« Reply #6 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:32 AM »

Warnings over children's health as recycled e-waste comes back as plastic toys

A trend towards using plastic parts in electrical and electronic goods is causing a headache for the recycling industry

Arthur Neslen
AFP
Thursday 9 March 2017 12.08 GMT

Flame retardants used in plastics in a wide range of electronic products is putting the health of children exposed to them at risk, according to a new report (pdf).

Brominated flame-retarding chemicals have been associated with lower mental, psychomotor and IQ development, poorer attention spans and decreases in memory and processing speed, according to the peer-reviewed study by the campaign group CHEM Trust.

“The brain development of future generations is at stake,” says Dr Michael Warhurst, CHEM Trust’s director. “We need EU regulators to phase out groups of chemicals of concern, rather than slowly restricting one chemical at a time. We cannot continue to gamble with our children’s health.”

The issue poses questions about recycled products that have been imported from countries with less robust recycling rules, such as China.

In 2014 China generated 3.2bn tonnes of industrial solid waste, of which 2bn tonnes was recycled, recovered, incinerated or reused, according to a study in Nature. But concerns about its waste treatment standards were heightened by the discovery of some of the highest concentrations of PBDE chemicals (a group of brominated flame retardants) ever recorded in the food chain near the country’s e-waste recycling plants in the same year.

A trend towards using plastic parts instead of metals in electrical and electronic goods is also causing a headache for the circular economy because so many plastics use toxic flame retardants.

One 2015 study (pdf) found significant traces of two potentially hormone-altering brominated flame retardants in 43% of 21 children’s toys surveyed, including toy robots, hockey sticks and finger skateboards. The substances are often found in the recycled plastics first used in electronic products.

Last month the European commission moved to restrict the use of one such substance, DecaBDE, but also allowed exemptions for spare car parts and aviation, and longer deferral periods for recycled materials containing the substance.

A subsequent European Environmental Bureau report called on the commission to limit the amount of hazardous materials in circulation and ensure the appropriate decontamination of hazardous waste before recovery.

At high doses persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as DecaBDE may have carcinogenic (pdf) effects and environmentalists have protested to the commission (pdf) about their potential reuse. POPs can accumulate in living bodies and be transported far from their places of origin by atmospheric circulation and ocean currents.

The Arctic, for example, has experienced a huge build up of POPs even though they are not produced there, with Innuit peoples in Nunavut recording extraordinarily high chemical concentrations in their bloodstreams.

That poses concerns for health professionals but also for European businesses. Under EU law companies must remove and send listed POPs to high-temperature incineration plants where they can be turned into salts and waters. However, this removes a plastic waste stream from revenue-generating recycling materials, making it more costly and difficult to meet recycling obligations.

Plastics in electrical goods may be safely incinerated en masse when disposed of by responsible hazardous-waste disposal centres.

But environmentalists argue that EU regulations allow the collection and recycling of material containing dangerously high levels of POPs, while information about chemical toxicity is not properly passed along the whole product lifecycle.

The substances may still be found in imported products that have been recycled in countries like China, according to Professor Olaf Wirth of the Okopol Institute, who has advised the German federal environment agency.

“Many big name toy-makers produce in China and don’t have a problem as they tell the producers what to do and what is forbidden in the EU,” says Wirth. “If you just buy something on the market because you like the design then you may bring products into the EU that contain substances that are not allowed.”

Wirth is sympathetic to environmentalists and firefighters who question the need for flame retardants in most electrical products, although national regulations often require them.

Philip Morton, the outgoing CEO of Repic, the UK’s largest e-waste producer compliance scheme, told the Guardian that handling POPs is “the next big thing” for manufacturers.

“Whereas steel is just steel, plastic is not just plastic,” says Morton. “There are a number of different grades and additives that should be on everyone’s radar. More things will soon start appearing on the ‘POP list’ and that has the potential to become very difficult for industry”

The commission is expected to bring forward an amendment of its POP regulation later this year, to update producer obligations. Meanwhile designers are in an ongoing race to turn out product models that are well labelled, easily dissembled and simple to recycle.

“Going forward there will have to be stronger connections between manufacturers and the designers of their products as it’s a closed loop and producers putting these products on the market will ultimately pay for recycling at the end of a product’s life,” says Morton.


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« Reply #7 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:34 AM »

How climate change battles are increasingly being fought, and won, in court

Around the world courts are stepping in when politicians fail to act, with South Africa’s government the latest to lose a groundbreaking climate lawsuit with judges ruling against its plans for a new coal-fired power station

Tessa Khan
AFP
Wednesday 8 March 2017 14.05 GMT

The South African government has lost the country’s first climate change lawsuit after the hight court ruled against its plans for a coal-fired power station, the latest in a rising tide of international climate litigation.

Environmental NGO EarthLife Africa challenged the government’s approval of the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power station on the grounds that it should have been preceded by an evaluation of its climate change impacts. The North Gauteng high court agreed and ordered the government to reconsider its approval, taking into account a full climate change impact assessment.

A draft assessment shows that the project slated for the drought-prone Limpopo province will produce significant greenhouse gas emissions, and that the climate impacts threaten the future viability of the plant.

The case comes shortly after a groundbreaking climate case decided last month in Austria. A federal court blocked the expansion of Vienna’s international airport because the increase in carbon emissions that a new runway would generate is inconsistent with Austria’s commitments to tackle climate change. The Austrian decision not only echoes controversies around airport expansions in the UK and France; it’s also the latest example of courts around the world stepping in to hold governments to account for escalating global temperatures.

Since a landmark Dutch climate change case, filed by my colleagues, resulted in an order that the government significantly reduce its carbon emissions, lawsuits challenging inaction on climate change have been filed in courtrooms in Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific region. Some lawsuits target the inadequacy of policies intended to reduce carbon emissions (as in the US, New Zealand, Belgium and Switzerland) while others challenge individual projects that have potentially catastrophic consequences for the climate (as in Norway, where the government has permitted new drilling for oil in the Arctic).

In Pakistan, where rising temperatures are already threatening lives and livelihoods, a court found in favour of a farmer who argued that his rights to life and dignity were under threat because of the government’s inadequate climate change policy.

Climate change litigation is an invaluable strategy at a time when governments have failed to live up to their repeated promises, affirmed most recently in the Paris agreement, to prevent dangerous interference with the climate system. Current pledges to reduce emissions are projected to lead to warming of 3.2C above pre-industrial levels – way above the agreed target of “well below 2C” and likely to lead to radical changes in the environment.

Aside from highlighting the obligations of governments to protect their citizens from foreseeable harm, these cases have the considerable advantage of putting the facts of climate change on the public record. These facts, endorsed by governments through the adoption of scientific reports at the UN, include that climate change is real; that it is caused by human activity; that it will dramatically affect every region in the world; and that it is more cost-effective to act now than later. While it might be expedient for politicians to obfuscate these facts, it is another matter altogether to produce evidence to substantiate their position in court.

The political and social ripple effects of climate change cases are also enormous. While the Dutch government is appealing against the court’s ruling in the Netherlands, the case has already had a huge impact on national policy making and public debate.

Emboldened by the ruling, opposition MPs have drafted a new, more ambitious climate change act and a majority of parliamentarians have voted to phase out coal-fired power as quickly as possible. It has also catalysed an unprecedented level of social mobilisation around climate change as an issue.

These cases are powerful vehicles for the progressive action on climate that is urgently needed. Far from being an undue interference with policy making processes, courts are reaching decisions in accordance with existing law and science. For as long as governments fail to take the steps necessary to avert dangerous change, courts can be expected to act as vital checks on political inaction.


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« Reply #8 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:36 AM »

Climate change impacts are already hitting us, say Europeans

New polling study also shows support for financial penalties for nations that refuse to be part of Paris climate deal, as Shitstain Trump has threatened

Damian Carrington
Guardian
Wednesday 8 March 2017 07.20 GMT

The citizens of four major European countries think the impacts of climate change such as severe floods and storms are already affecting them, according to a major new polling study.

The research dispels the idea that global warming is widely seen as a future problem, and also shows strong support for action to tackle global warming, including subsidies for clean energy and big financial penalties for nations that refuse to be part of the international climate deal signed in Paris in 2015 – as US president Donald Trump has threatened. There was also strong support for giving financial aid to developing nations to cope with the impacts of climate change.

Renewable energy was viewed very positively in all nations, but fracking had little support, with just 20% of people seeing it positively in the UK, 15% in Germany and 9% in France. Nuclear power was also unpopular: only 23% of those in France, where it supplies the vast majority of electricity, have a favourable opinion.

Overwhelming majorities of people in the UK, Germany, France and Norway said climate change was at least partly caused by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels. But only a third thought the vast majority of scientists agreed with this, despite about 97% of climate scientists doing so.

“It is encouraging to see that most people in this very large study recognise that climate change is happening, and that support for the need to tackle it remains high amongst the people we surveyed,” said Prof Nick Pidgeon at Cardiff University, who led the international project.

He said the firm backing of the public could be important in the light of Trump’s opposition to climate action: “With the recently shifting political mood in some countries, climate policy is now entering a critical phase. It is therefore even more important that the public’s clear support for the Paris agreement is carried through by policymakers across Europe and worldwide.”

Nick Molho, at the Aldersgate Group, a business alliance that lobbies for a sustainable economy, said: “The UK government should build on the existing public support for climate policies to put forward in the near future a clear plan to meet the emissions reduction targets.”

The polling study is the first in-depth climate change research in multiple European nations and involved interviewing more than 1,000 people in each country, with the results then weighted to be nationally representative.

The citizens gave near identical answers to the question of when the impacts of global warming would be felt, with 60% answering that they were already here. At least two-thirds of them supported their nation being part of the Paris climate deal and they were at least two to one in favour of penalising countries that were not, perhaps via the border carbon taxes proposed by some French politicians.

“People see that if there are free riders, that is not a very good thing,” said Pidgeon. Earlier in March, the US state department snubbed the UN’s climate change chief when she requested a meeting.

Subsidising renewable energy with public money was popular, with 70% support in the UK and Germany, 75% in France, and 87% in Norway. Increasing taxes on fossil fuels was supported in oil- and gas-rich Norway, but opposed two to one in France and Germany. In the UK, people were evenly split over tax hikes for fossil fuels.

Another split was in the trust people had in the European commission and national and local governments to transform their nation’s energy system to cleaner forms of energy. Germans were generally positive, but those in the UK had little trust in any of the institutions. The polling for the study took place in June 2016, before the Brexit referendum.

The report is available online from noon UK time on Wednesday 8 March.


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« Reply #9 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:40 AM »

Dying robots and failing hope: Fukushima clean-up falters six years after tsunami

Exploration work inside the nuclear plant’s failed reactors has barely begun, with the scale of the task described as ‘almost beyond comprehension’

Justin McCurry at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
AFP
Thursday 9 March 2017 01.23 GMT

Barely a fifth of the way into their mission, the engineers monitoring the Scorpion’s progress conceded defeat. With a remote-controlled snip of its cable, the latest robot sent into the bowels of one of Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged reactors was cut loose, its progress stalled by lumps of fuel that overheated when the nuclear plant suffered a triple meltdown six years ago this week.

As the 60cm-long Toshiba robot, equipped with a pair of cameras and sensors to gauge radiation levels was left to its fate last month, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), attempted to play down the failure of yet another reconnaissance mission to determine the exact location and condition of the melted fuel.

Even though its mission had been aborted, the utility said, “valuable information was obtained which will help us determine the methods to eventually remove fuel debris”.

The Scorpion mishap, two hours into an exploration that was supposed to last 10 hours, underlined the scale and difficulty of decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi – an unprecedented undertaking one expert has described as “almost beyond comprehension”.

Cleaning up the plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl after it was struck by a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami on the afternoon of 11 March 2011, is expected to take 30 to 40 years, at a cost Japan’s trade and industry ministry recently estimated at 21.5tr yen ($189bn).

The figure, which includes compensating tens of thousands of evacuees, is nearly double an estimate released three years ago.

The tsunami killed almost 19,000 people, most of them in areas north of Fukushima, and forced 160,000 people living near the plant to flee their homes. Six years on, only a small number have returned to areas deemed safe by the authorities.

Developing robots capable of penetrating the most dangerous parts of Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors – and spending enough time there to obtain crucial data – is proving a near-impossible challenge for Tepco. The Scorpion – so called because of its camera-mounted folding tail – “died” after stalling along a rail beneath the reactor pressure vessel, its path blocked by lumps of fuel and other debris.

The device, along with other robots, may also have been damaged by an unseen enemy: radiation. Before it was abandoned, its dosimeter indicated that radiation levels inside the No 2 containment vessel were at 250 sieverts an hour. In an earlier probe using a remote-controlled camera, radiation at about the same spot was as high as 650 sieverts an hour – enough to kill a human within a minute.

Shunji Uchida, the Fukushima Daiichi plant manager, concedes that Tepco acquired “limited” knowledge about the state of the melted fuel. “So far we’ve only managed to take a peek, as the last experiment with the robot didn’t go well,” he tells the Guardian and other media on a recent visit to the plant. “But we’re not thinking of another approach at this moment.”

Robotic mishaps aside, exploration work in the two other reactors, where radiation levels are even higher than in reactor No 2, has barely begun. There are plans to send a tiny waterproof robot into reactor No 1 in the next few weeks, but no date has been set for the more seriously damaged reactor No 3.

Naohiro Masuda, the president of Fukushima Daiichi’s decommissioning arm, says he wants another probe sent in before deciding on how to remove the melted fuel.

Despite the setbacks, Tepco insists it will begin extracting the melted fuel in 2021 – a decade after the disaster – after consulting government officials this summer.

But Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany who is based in Japan, describes the challenge confronting the utility as “unprecedented and almost beyond comprehension”, adding that the decommissioning schedule was “never realistic or credible”.

The latest aborted exploration of reactor No 2 “only reinforces that reality”, Burnie says. “Without a technical solution for dealing with unit one or three, unit two was seen as less challenging. So much of what is communicated to the public and media is speculation and wishful thinking on the part of industry and government.

“The current schedule for the removal of hundreds of tons of molten nuclear fuel, the location and condition of which they still have no real understanding, was based on the timetable of prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo and the nuclear industry – not the reality on the ground and based on sound engineering and science.”

Even Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of Japan’s nuclear regulation authority, does not appear to share Tepco’s optimism that it will stick to its decommissioning roadmap. “It is still early to talk in such an optimistic way,” he says. “At the moment, we are still feeling around in the dark.”
‘The situation is not under control’

On the surface, much has changed since the Guardian’s first visit to Fukushima Daiichi five years ago.

Then, the site was still strewn with tsunami wreckage. Hoses, pipes and building materials covered the ground, as thousands of workers braved high radiation levels to bring a semblance of order to the scene of a nuclear disaster.

Six years later, damaged reactor buildings have been reinforced, and more than 1,300 spent fuel assemblies have been safely removed from a storage pool in reactor No 4. The ground has been covered with a special coating to prevent rainwater from adding to Tepco’s water-management woes.

Workers who once had to change into protective gear before they approached Fukushima Daiichi now wear light clothing and simple surgical masks in most areas of the plant. The 6,000 workers, including thousands of contract staff, can now eat hot meals and take breaks at a “rest house” that opened in 2015.

But further up the hill from the coastline, row upon row of steel tanks are a reminder of the decommissioning effort’s other great nemesis: contaminated water. The tanks now hold about 900,000 tons of water, with the quantity soon expected to reach 1m tons.

Tepco’s once-vaunted underground ice wall, built at a cost of 24.5bn yen, has so far failed to completely prevent groundwater from leaking into the reactor basements and mixing with radioactive coolant water.

The structure, which freezes the soil to a depth of 30 metres, is still allowing 150 tonnes of groundwater to seep into the reactor basements every day, said Yuichi Okamura, a Tepco spokesman. Five sections have been kept open deliberately to prevent water inside the reactor basements from rising and flowing out more rapidly. “We have to close the wall gradually,” Okamura said. “By April we want to keep the influx of groundwater to about 100 tonnes a day, and to eliminate all contaminated water on the site by 2020.”

Critics of the clean-up note that 2020 is the year Tokyo is due to host the Olympics, having been awarded the Games after Abe assured the International Olympic Committee that Fukushima was “under control”.

Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a former Babcock-Hitachi nuclear engineer, accuses Abe and other government officials of playing down the severity of the decommissioning challenge in an attempt to win public support for the restart of nuclear reactors across the country.

“Abe said Fukushima was under control when he went overseas to promote the Tokyo Olympics, but he never said anything like that in Japan,” says Tanaka. “Anyone here could see that the situation was not under control.

“If people of Abe’s stature repeat something often enough, it becomes accepted as the truth.”


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« Reply #10 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:43 AM »

Australia's energy policy is a world-class failure and Abbott wears the gold medal of blame

Katharine Murphy
AFP
Thursday 9 March 2017 01.41 GMT

If you’ve watched the inglorious spectacle of the failure of Australian politics on climate and energy policy over the last 10 years, it’s a bit hard to look out on the wreckage without feeling sick to the stomach.

But look we must and, if we look now, we are able to chart the consequences of abject failure in highly specific ways.

What Australians are experiencing now – rising prices, rising emissions and a grid that creaks and sputters in extreme weather – is the logical consequence of a decade of unconscionable public policy failure.

This isn’t some freak accident that’s been visited on the country, we are not the unwitting victims of a natural disaster that has blown in unexpectedly. We are reaping now precisely what has been sown.

Everybody wears a share of the blame in this debacle – Kevin Rudd for putting Malcolm Turnbull in a corner in 2009 and then dithering when decisiveness was required; the Greens for voting down one carbon trading scheme because it was too favourable to polluters then voting for another one that was actually marginally more favourable to them – but, if there was a gold medal for blame, you’d give it to Tony Abbott.

Abbott used climate policy to wrest the leadership of conservative politics from Turnbull, then he doubled down on stupid with his hyperventilating, eardrum-splitting, “axe the tax” bollocks.

Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, has recently admitted that fight was manufactured, that the whole shrieking bunfight was, in essence, an opportunity crime.

“It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax,” Credlin said on Sky News in mid-February. “We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and, when he cut through, Gillard was gone.”

Enough about the environment, more about Tony, and Tony’s brains trust. Inspirational stuff, right? And, as usual, the joke of whack-a-mole hyperpartisan politics, is squarely on us.

You can feel the fatigue and frustration right around the energy sector, the business community and climate activists but the Finkel review is presenting fresh opportunity to right past wrongs.

A range of stakeholders have rallied to have a go at trying to get sense from their elected representatives. The energy sector and big energy users are very clear about what’s gone wrong and what we need to do to fix it.

If we summarise their views, they tell us the lack of a stable, bipartisan policy framework has created an investment strike in big generation assets at a time when some of our coal-fired power stations are reaching the end of their operating life.

A consequential gap is now opening up before us.

Power companies work on planning horizons of 30 and 40 years, not the shallow dips and dives of politics. Energy companies have found themselves in an invidious position: they know that, over the medium term, policymakers will impose rules requiring them to reduce emissions but they don’t know what the rules are.

They are forced to guess, with billion-dollar assets.

Coupled with those problems, the gas market is “dysfunctional”, as senior executives from AGL put it this week.

Prices are soaring. Supply on the east coast of Australia is tight. AGL told a Senate inquiry things were currently so dire the company was considering building its own LNG hub in Queensland to help secure reliable gas supply downstream – a development climate policy veteran and respected economic professor Ross Garnaut characterised quite reasonably as “nuts”.

While the Turnbull government in Canberra has been bloviating up a storm about renewables, and intermittency problems, to try and manufacture a fresh, shallow, partisan point of difference with Labor, the energy sector and business groups have been clear that gas is a more pressing present issue.

Why is gas an issue? Partly because we currently export two-thirds of our product, partly because the market isn’t competitive enough and partly because the states have locked gas down in response to political activism.

The lock the gate campaigns have put the Nationals astride the barbed wire fence in the bush, which makes it hard for a Coalition government to argue forcefully in favour of turning the supply tap on (although, in fairness to the energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, he has been attempting to run that gauntlet).

There are also different views inside the government on the merits of a domestic gas reservation, which would ringfence a percentage of gas supply for local use. The gas industry doesn’t care for it.

Perhaps that’s why we’ve heard more about renewables and about “clean” coal (a technology that looms regularly in the energy debate like a unicorn, despite the fact experts tell us it won’t be commercially viable before 2030 and is not financeable without substantial government intervention) and less about gas.

The Australian energy market operator on Thursday did the equivalent of grasping politicians by the lapels and shouting in close proximity to their face.

AEMO has warned declining gas production could, on current indications, result in a shortfall of gas-powered electricity generation impacting on New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia from the summer of 2018-19.

Some in the industry think we might not get to summer, that the gas shortages may manifest in the winter.

A week ago, the Australian Workers Union asked the prime minister to sit down with the gas companies to fix what is a blindingly obvious problem. Turnbull said on Thursday he would call a meeting of east coast gas company chief executives.

Energy companies want more than a polite conversation with the prime minister. Their strategic thinking is clear when it comes to the national electricity market. They want a clear market signal, they want clear rules to govern an orderly transition to secure energy with less emissions.

They want considered intervention by the government. They do not want another round of whack-a-mole. The country cannot afford another round of whack-a-mole.

Yet, in Canberra, the Turnbull government has shown every sign of revving its engines for another manufactured political fight.

The government has already ruled out pursuing the specific market signal that pretty much everyone says we need to drive the transition in orderly fashion at comparatively least cost to energy users – an emissions intensity scheme.

Now why has this happened? Because Abbott and a bunch of conservatives with operatic feelpinions didn’t like it and Christopher Pyne saw opportunity to run another “axe the tax” campaign at the next election.

A carbon trading scheme is only one component of the required policy changes. But the early panicked decision on the intensity scheme means the government has sent the chief scientist, Alan Finkel, off with a hunting licence to fix the problem, with one hand tied behind his back.

It has taken a long time in this country to build any sort of durable industry consensus behind carbon pricing and, just when it appears, the government chooses not to take advantage.

Stakeholders no longer care. They are laying out their rationale. If that strands the government, so be it.

Turnbull says very often he wants to take the ideology out of energy and focus on practical solutions. It’s an excellent sentiment and it’s past time for him to actually get serious about it.

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« Reply #11 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:48 AM »

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: 'Can people please stop telling me feminism is hot?'

The novelist has been accused of making equality mainstream: isn’t that the point? Plus an extract from her new book

Emma Brockes
3/9/2017
Guardain

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was in Lagos last summer, teaching a writing workshop as part of an annual schedule that sees her time divided between Nigeria and the US. For much of the year, Adichie lives in a town 30 minutes west of Baltimore, where her Nigerian-American husband works as a medic and the 39-year-old writes in the quiet of a suburban home. When Adichie is in Nigeria, where her parents and extended family still live, she has a house in the vast city she regards with the complicated love and condescension of the part-time expat.

It’s an ambivalence with which many Nigerians regard her, too; last year, the workshop ended in a question-and-answer session, during which a young man rose to ask the famous novelist a question. “I used to love you,” she recalls him saying. “I’ve read all your books. But since you started this whole feminism thing, and since you started to talk about this gay thing, I’m just not sure about you any more. How do you intend to keep the love of people like me?”

Adichie and I are in a coffee shop near her home in the Baltimore suburbs. We have met before, a few years ago, when her third novel Americanah was published, a book that examines what it is to be a Nigerian woman living in the US, and that went on to win a National Book Critics’ Circle award. A lot has happened since then. Half Of A Yellow Sun, Adichie’s second and most famous novel, about the Biafran war, has been made into a film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton. Her essay, We Should All Be Feminists, adapted from her 2013 TEDx talk, has remained on the bestseller lists, particularly in Sweden, where in 2015 it was distributed to every 16-year-old high-school student in the land. The talk was sampled by Beyoncé in her song Flawless. Adichie has become the face of Boots No7 makeup. And she has had a baby, a daughter, now 15 months old.

Adichie is still somewhat in the blast zone, not entirely caught up on sleep, but has published a short book, Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions, an extended version of a letter to a friend who, after having her own baby girl, asked Adichie’s advice on how to raise her to be feminist. I have had twin girls myself since our last meeting, so I am curious about her approach, not least because one of my two-year-olds currently identifies as Bob the Builder and the other as Penelope Pitstop. I would like to equip them to be themselves, while resisting whatever projections might be foisted upon them. We show each other baby photos and smile. “Welcome to the world of anxiety,” Adichie says.

The success of We Should All Be Feminists has made Adichie as prominent for her feminism as for her novels, to the extent that “now I get invited to every damned feminist thing in the whole world”. She has always been an agony aunt of sorts, “the unpaid therapist for my family and friends”, but having the feminist label attached has changed things, and not just among her intimates. “I was opened to a certain level of hostility that I hadn’t experienced before as a writer and public figure.”

This is partly why she has written the new book, to reclaim the word feminism from its abusers and misusers, a category within which she would include certain other progressives, and to lay down in plain, elegant English her beliefs about child-raising.

    In Nigeria, you control children. My daughter is 15 months. So she tears a book? Whatever. She throws my shoes down. So?

Dear Ijeawele is, in some ways, a very basic set of appeals; to be careful with language (never say “because you are a girl”), avoid gendered toys, encourage reading, don’t treat marriage as an achievement, reject likability. “Her job is not to make herself likable, her job is to be her full self,” she writes in reference to her friend’s daughter, a choice Adichie has come to elevate almost above any other.

That day in Lagos last summer, her friends were furious at the cheek of the young man’s question, but she rather liked his bravery and honesty in asking it. She replied in the same spirit. “Keep your love,” Adichie said. “Because, sadly, while I love to be loved, I will not accept your love if it comes with these conditions.”

Having a baby has made Adichie think differently about her own parents, particularly her mother. Grace Adichie, who had six children and worked her way up from being a university administrator to the registrar, taught her daughter to love fashion as well as books, and was a “very cool mum” whom she idolised as a child. Nonetheless, and in the manner of most snotty young adults, young Chimamanda went through a phase of being “very superior” to her mother. Now, the novelist looks at her daughter and gulps.

Adichie recently came across her own kindergarten reports. “My father keeps them all. You know what the teacher wrote? ‘She is brilliant, but she refuses to do any work when she’s annoyed.’ I was five years old.” She laughs. “I couldn’t believe it. My husband couldn’t believe it. I must have been an annoying child.”

It’s not as if she comes from a family of radicals. “My parents are not like that. They’re conventional, reasonable, responsible, good, kind people. I’m the crazy. But their love and support made that crazy thrive.”

Unlike Adichie, who was raised exclusively in Nigeria, her daughter will be raised in two cultures and subject to slightly diverging social expectations. Already, Adichie says with a laugh, friends and relatives from home are concerned that her mothering is insufficiently stern.

“A friend was just visiting and she said to me, ‘Your parenting is not very Nigerian.’ In Nigeria – and, I think, in many cultures – you control children. And I feel like, my daughter is 15 months, she doesn’t have a sense of consequences. And I enjoy watching her. So she tears a page of a book? Whatever. She throws my shoes down. So? It’s fun. I love that she’s quite strong-willed.” The joke between Adichie and her husband – whom, to her intense annoyance, their daughter looks much more like – is that her character cleaves to the maternal side. “He says to me, ‘Well, at least we know where she got her personality from.’ She’s quite fierce.”

In the new book, Adichie’s advice is not only to provide children with alternatives – to empower boys and girls to understand there is no single way to be – but also to understand that the only universal in this world is difference. In terms of the evolution of feminism, these are not new lessons, but that is rather Adichie’s point. She is not writing for other feminist writers, and shows some frustration at what she sees as the solipsism of much feminist debate.

That morning, on the way to see her, I had read a review of a new book by Jessa Crispin, entitled Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, a critique of everything that is wrong with feminism today. If one can get over the eye-rolling aspect of books by feminists decrying the feminism of other feminists for degrading the word feminist by being insufficiently feminist, the book does raise questions about where one should be focusing one’s efforts.

The proposition is that feminism has become so mainstream as to be an empty marketing tool, a mere slogan on a bag or a T-shirt. Without being named, Adichie is implicated in this critique, given that last year she collaborated with Christian Dior on a T-shirt bearing the line We Should All Be Feminists; depending on one’s view, this is either a perfect example of pointless sloganeering or a brilliant piece of preaching to the unconverted.

“I’m already irritated,” Adichie says. “This idea of feminism as a party to which only a select few people get to come: this is why so many women, particularly women of colour, feel alienated from mainstream western academic feminism. Because, don’t we want it to be mainstream? For me, feminism is a movement for which the end goal is to make itself no longer needed. I think academic feminism is interesting in that it can give a language to things, but I’m not terribly interested in debating terms. I want people’s marriages to change for the better. I want women to walk into job interviews and be treated the same way as somebody who has a penis.”

Still, one can see a theoretical obscenity about the Dior collaboration: the words of a movement that should be concerned with helping low-income women, used to promote and make money for a wealthy company. On the other hand: what is the damage?

“Yes: what’s the damage?” Adichie says. “I would even argue about the ‘theoretically obscene’. There’s a kind of self-righteousness to the ultra-left that is hard for me to stomach. Its approach to poverty can sometimes border on condescension. I often think that people who write a lot about poverty need to go and spend more time with poor people. I think about Nigerian women who can hardly afford anything but who love fashion. They have no money, but they work it.”

    Feminism is not that hot. I can tell you I would sell more books in Nigeria if I said I’m no longer a feminist

Adichie mentions a TV soap opera that used to run in Nigeria called The Rich Also Cry, “a terrible drama series”, she says, “that was very popular. But sometimes I think about that title. So, the creative director of Christian Dior is obviously a woman of some privilege. But does it then mean that she doesn’t have gender-based problems in her life? Because she does. Does it mean she doesn’t have this magnificent rage about gender injustice? Because she does. Wanting to use that slogan – was it going to make the world a better place? No. But I think there’s a level of consciousness-raising and a level of subversion that I like.”

She doesn’t believe it was a cynical marketing ploy? “No. Sorry. Feminism is not that hot. I can tell you I would sell more books in Nigeria if I stopped and said I’m no longer a feminist. I would have a stronger following, I would make more money. So when people say, ‘Oh, feminism’s a marketing ploy’, it makes me laugh.”

The bigger issue here is one of range. Adichie’s irritation with aspects of what she thinks of as “professional feminism” is that it runs counter to her ideas as a writer: that people contain multitudes. She is a brilliant novelist and a serious thinker, and she is also someone who makes no apology for her own trivial interests. “Life doesn’t always follow ideology,” she says. “You might believe in certain things and life gets in and things just become messy. You know? I think that’s the space that fiction, and having a bit more of an imaginative approach, makes. And that the feminist speaking circuit doesn’t really make room for.”

There is much in the new book about double standards, including those governing the images of motherhood and fatherhood. “I think we need to stop giving men cookies for doing what they should do,” she says, and goes on to explain that her husband, who needs less sleep than her, tends to get up in the night to tend to the baby. “On the one hand, I realise that my husband is unusual; on the other, I feel resentful when he’s overpraised by my family and friends. He’s like Jesus.”

He probably senses she’s about to go off the deep end, I suggest, and Adichie smiles to acknowledge how impossible she is. “I did all the physical work to produce her! There’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we’ve constructed what it means to be female in the world.”

This is something she writes about in a lovely passage of the new book about hair. As a child, Adichie and her sisters and every other girl she knew were routinely tortured with a metal comb to subdue their hair, something her brothers were spared. “I’m glad I wrote that,” Adichie says. “We had just come back from Lagos and my sister, God bless her, had already had a talk with me about my daughter’s hair. She said, ‘You need to do something about it.’ With my family, there’s an eye-roll and a here-we-go-again with her, and she said to me, ‘Do you want me to send you a set of combs?’ And I was like, ‘No, thank you.’ And I know it’s going to keep happening. But, no, I’m not going to conform in that way. I’m not going to have my child go through pain because society expects a certain neatness. It happened to me, it’s not going to happen to her. And I’m ready to have all the battles I need to have.”

The original letter on which Dear Ijeawele is based has been shared on Facebook, and while Adichie was in Lagos, a woman who’d read it approached her in a shop and said, “‘Here’s my daughter, look at her hair.’ She had very loose cornrows that were not neat according to Nigerians. And she said, ‘You inspired that. My daughter is happier, I’m happier.’ And do you know, it was the highlight of my month.”

This is not just a question of image. It is also about time. Women have less time than men, in almost every arena, because their responsibilities to look or act a certain way are more onerous.

It is one of Adichie’s bugbears that as someone who loves fashion, she is by default not taken seriously. When Boots approached her to be the face of its No7 makeup range, she said yes, because she thought it might be fun; in the end, she says, it became vaguely alarming. “I have no regrets, but you wake up one day and think, what the hell have I done? There were too many of these pictures everywhere.” Her point, however, is that “it’s not that I’m a feminist and made a strategic choice to speak about makeup and fashion. It’s that I was raised by Grace Adichie in a culture in which you care about how you look. It’s a part of me I once hid, because I felt that I had to to be serious. Now, I’m just being who I am.”

    I don't object to Donald Trump because he is a conservative. My objection is to chaos

Recently, Adichie’s identity has been tested in new ways. I wonder if she is less affected by President Trump than an American, on the basis that she is less invested in the American story. Quite the opposite, she says. “Because there’s a part of me that needs a country I can think of as being one that largely works. Which is not a luxury that Nigeria can have.” She laughs.

“Someone said to me, ‘Now that this is happening in the US, do you think of moving back to Nigeria?’ And I thought, no, because it’s not any better there. I admire America. I don’t think of myself as American – I’m not. So it’s not mine. But I admire it, and so there’s a sense that this thing I built in my head, it’s been destroyed.”

There is also, she says, something familiar about it all. “American democracy has never been tested. You might have disagreed ideologically with George W Bush, but he still kind of followed the rules. Here, it feels like Nigeria. It really does. It’s that feeling of political uncertainty that I’m very familiar with, but not a feeling I like. It’s ugly. But even worse, because America is so powerful, and so much at the centre of the world, these things have consequences for everyone. Nigeria doesn’t have that kind of reach, so our problems remain our problems.”

In January, Adichie and her husband joined the Women’s March in DC. “It was fleeting, and symbolic,” she says, “but it gave me the smallest slice of hope. There are all of these people who seem to realise that America has changed by electing an unhinged person. On the other hand, there’s a part of me that’s very sceptical of too much sentimentality. I hope it translates into people organising and going out to vote.”

Long before talk about piercing the filter bubble, Adichie instinctively subscribed to rightwing blogs and newsletters. She was an early watcher of Fox News, until it became “too unhinged and ridiculous”. But she has carried on, because “I’m interested in ideological concerns and how people differ, and how we should build a society. What’s a welfare state? People who have less, are we responsible for them? I think we are. And I think I can make a selfish case, which is apparently what appeals to people on the right. People on the left say we should do it because we should be kind. And people on the right think, ‘Excuse me?’ But if you say to them, ‘If these people don’t get healthcare, they will go to the ER and your tax dollars will pay for it’, suddenly they sit up.”

As a result of her reading, “rightwing ideology is not something I think is evil”, she says. “Some. A bit. But, in general, I don’t. I have friends who are good, kind people who are on the right. But Donald Trump is an exception. It’s not an objection to a conservative, because I don’t even think he’s a conservative. My objection is an objection to chaos. Each time I turn on the news, I’m holding my breath.”

Trump’s erosion of language is one of the most frightening things about him, but even progressives, Adichie says, can be sloppy on this front. In response to her new book, a reporter emailed her the question: “Why not humanism?” (instead of feminism). To which, she says, “I thought, what part of the fucking book did this person not read?”

It’s like the people who go around saying All Lives Matter, I say, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. “Right, which I find deeply offensive and very dishonest. Because we have to name something in order to fix it, which is why I insist on the word feminist or feminism.”

This, she says, in spite of the fact that many of her friends, particularly black women, “resist that word, because the history of feminism has been very white and has assumed ‘women’ meant ‘white women’. Political discussion in this country still does that. They’ll say, ‘Women voted for...’ and then, ‘Black people voted for...’ And I think: I’m black and a woman, so where do I fit in here?”

As a result, “Many of my friends who are not white will say, ‘I’m an intersectional feminist’, or ‘I’m a womanist’. And I have trouble with that word, because it has undertones of femininity as this mystical goddess-mother thing, which makes me uncomfortable. So we need a word. And my hope is we use ‘feminism’ often enough that it starts to lose all the stigma and becomes this inclusive, diverse thing.”

This is her goal and her defence, although she still doesn’t see why she needs one. Her understanding of feminism is intertwined with her understanding that we all want to be more than one thing. And anyway, she repeats, “Can people please stop telling me that feminism is hot? Because it’s not.” Adichie looks magnificently annoyed. “Honestly.”

Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by it. You don’t even have to love your job; you can merely love the confidence and self-fulfilment that come with doing and earning. Please reject the idea that motherhood and work are mutually exclusive. Our mothers worked full-time while we were growing up, and we turned out well – at least you did; the jury is still out on me.

In these coming weeks of early motherhood, be kind to yourself. Ask for help. Expect to be helped. There is no such thing as a Superwoman. Parenting is about practice – and love.

Give yourself room to fail. A new mother does not necessarily know how to calm a crying baby. Read books, look things up on the internet, ask older parents, or just use trial and error. But, above all, take time for yourself. Nurture your own needs.

I have no interest in the debate about women “doing it all”, because it is a debate that assumes that caregiving and domestic work are singularly female domains, an idea that I strongly reject. Domestic work and caregiving should be gender-neutral, and we should be asking not whether a woman can “do it all”, but how best to support parents in their dual duties at work and at home.

Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite; the idea of conditional female equality. Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women, or you do not.

Teach your daughter to question language. A friend of mine says she will never call her daughter “princess”. The word is loaded with assumptions, of a girl’s delicacy, of the prince who will come to save her. This friend prefers “angel” and “star”. So decide the things you will not say to your child. You know that Igbo joke, used to tease girls who are being childish – “What are you doing? Don’t you know you are old enough to find a husband?” I used to say that often. But now I choose not to. I say, “You are old enough to find a job.” Because I do not believe that marriage is something we should teach young girls to aspire to.

Try not to use words like “misogyny” and “patriarchy”. We feminists can sometimes be too jargony. Teach her that if you criticise X in women but do not criticise X in men, you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women. For X please insert words like anger, ambition, loudness, stubbornness, coldness, ruthlessness.

Do you remember how we laughed and laughed at an atrociously written piece about me some years ago? The writer had accused me of being “angry”, as though “being angry” were something to be ashamed of. Of course I am angry. I am angry about racism. I am angry about sexism. But I recently came to the realisation that I am angrier about sexism than I am about racism. Because in my anger about sexism, I often feel lonely. Because I love, and live among, many people who easily acknowledge race injustice but not gender injustice.

Teach your daughter to question men who can have empathy for women only if they see them as relational rather than as individual equal humans. Men who, when discussing rape, will say something like, “If it were my daughter or wife or sister.” Yet such men do not need to imagine a male victim of crime as a brother or son in order to feel empathy.

Teach her, too, to question the idea of women as a special species. I once heard an American politician, in his bid to show his support for women, speak of how women should be “revered” and “championed” – a sentiment that is all too common. Tell her that women don’t need to be championed and revered; they just need to be treated as equal human beings.

• This is a condensed and edited extract from Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, published on Tuesday by Fourth Estate at £10. To order a copy for £8.50, go to bookshop.theguardian.com

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« Reply #12 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:51 AM »

Farmers sue World Bank lending arm over alleged violence in Honduras

Complaint lodged with US federal court claims World Bank’s private sector lending arm is ‘knowingly profiting from the financing of murder’

Claire Provost
AFP
Wednesday 8 March 2017 14.28 GMT

Peasants in Honduras have sued a branch of the World Bank over its financing of the corporation Dinant, which has vast palm oil plantations in Bajo Aguán valley in the country’s north. Lawyers for the farmers say they are seeking compensation for alleged attacks and killings, including actions by the company’s private security forces.

Attorneys for the NGO EarthRights International (ERI) filed the suit on the farmers’ behalf on Tuesday, at a US federal court in Washington DC, where the World Bank is headquartered.

The suit’s plaintiffs include more than 15 individuals. There are two class action claims: one regarding roughly 200 members of the Panamá community, the second representing roughly 1,000 people and focused on allegedly “unjust” profit-making from contested land acquisitions in the past.

The 132-page legal complaint says the plaintiffs are seeking compensation for “murders, torture, assault, battery, trespass, unjust enrichment and other acts of aggression”. Ultimately, it says, the case is about World Bank entities “knowingly profiting from the financing of murder”.

The document describes decades of violence but focuses on the period since 2010, seeking damages for several specific deaths and what ERI attorneys described as a “pattern of attacks that is ongoing”.

“People have been attacked in their homes, in their gardens, while riding their bikes, driving their cars, farming their land, outside of churches,” said ERI’s lawyers. “People have lost loved ones, which can never be remedied.”

The lawyers added that some of those killed have been families’ primary breadwinners. The goal of the violence, they claimed, has been “to intimidate farmers from asserting competing rights to land that Dinant has sought to control”.

ERI said the plaintiffs require anonymity due to continuing security concerns. One woman, given the pseudonym Juana Doe III, said: “We live from our families and our land and now we are left with nothing. We want justice … We have to move forward.” Her husband was allegedly shot and killed by Dinant security personnel.

Another plaintiff, Juan Doe VIII, said he witnessed farmers being pulled out of their homes and beaten. He said: “One bullet hit me, it still affects my breathing. I didn’t realise I’d been shot, but I touched it and saw blood. Another person was shot through the stomach.” He was allegedly shot and injured by Dinant security personnel, and says he has never fully recovered.

The lawsuit names as defendants both the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the latter’s wholly owned subsidiary IFC Asset Management Corporation (AMC). ERI’s legal team said precise amounts of compensation requested would be determined at trial.

The NGO said the suit follows years of attempts by farmers to seek justice in Honduran courts and through political advocacy and protests. Complaints have also been lodged previously with the IFC’s internal watchdog.

The lawsuit – the second of its kind filed against the IFC in US courts – follows a case filed in 2015 regarding financing of a coal-fired power plant in India that local communities say destroyed their livelihoods.

In that case, the IFC asserted “absolute immunity” under the 1945 International Organisations Immunities Act, a US federal statute. (It is currently before an appeals court after a first judgment accepted the IFC’s immunity claim).

It is unclear if the IFC will present a similar defence in the suit filed this week, though ERI understands that its co-defendant, IFC AMC, is not itself covered by the 1945 act and cannot claim immunity.

The World Bank has a development mandate and explicit goals to end global poverty and boost “shared prosperity”. The UK is one of its largest shareholders. The UK’s executive director at the bank did not respond to a request for comment from the Guardian.

The bank’s long history in the Bajo Aguán valley includes support for a controversial land modernisation programme in the 1990s (pdf) that has been criticised for paving the way for large-scale plantations at the expense of small-scale farmers.

In 2009 the IFC disbursed $15m (£12.3m) in loans to Dinant; further IFC support was subsequently forthcoming in the shape of indirect investments, through the Ficohsa bank in Honduras and IFC AMC.

Honduras is one of the deadliest countries for environmental and human rights defenders. In 2016 a prominent Bajo Aguán valley activist was killed while under police protection. Numerous incidents have involved private security forces, which nationally outnumber Honduran police five to one.

In 2013 the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman watchdog said its support (pdf) for Dinant failed to follow policies to protect local communities. An “action plan” (pdf) was produced including requirements that the company adopt new security protocols.

But ERI’s legal team said this “hasn’t resulted in remedy or credible investigation for the farmers and their families”. Instead, the NGO’s attorneys claimed the IFC seemed to put “profit before people at every turn”.

The IFC makes money from its investments, though precisely how much is unclear.

Founded by the late businessman Miguel Facussé, the privately held Dinant corporation produces food and cleaning supplies. Some products, including crude palm oil, are exported overseas.

On its website, Dinant says it is committed to economic development, corporate social responsibility, and “creating an image of credibility”.

A 2016 company report said it has, under IFC guidance, worked to “safely secure its facilities while engaging peacefully with local communities”. It said it has removed all firearms from its security personnel in Honduras.

The report said it “welcomes an independent review of its past efforts and current procedures in investigating allegations of human rights abuse”. It added that Dinant employees have also suffered violence and that it “deeply regrets the tragic and unnecessary deaths that have occurred on all sides”.

The legal complaint filed this week specifically alleges that “guards and security agents working for Dinant continue to intimidate and kill community members and farmers’ leaders across the Aguán to this day”.

The complaint accuses IFC and IFC-AMC of having financed the company with alleged “reckless disregard of the obvious and highly probable risk that their actions would result in serious harm to the plaintiffs”.

The Panamá community’s class action claim references an alleged “pattern of aggression, which Dinant security personnel carry out in order to intimidate and terrorise the villagers”.

The second class action claim regards profit-making from land allegedly acquired by “fraud, coercion, threat of violence, or actual violence”. It alleges that IFC and IFC-AMC are now “reaping the benefits” of historical injustices.

Responding to the lawsuit, Kate Geary, at the watchdog Bank Information Centre Europe, said local communities in Honduras have suffered “appalling harms”. She said: “It is high time that the IFC was made to answer in the courts for the many human rights abuses – not only in Honduras but around the world – that they have been linked to through their investments.”

Roger Pineda, Dinant’s corporate and banking relations director, said: “All allegations that Dinant is – or ever has been – engaged in systematic violence against members of the community are without foundation.”

Pineda said it was “absurd” to connect the company with “high levels of insecurity in the Aguán valley on the grounds that several tragic deaths have occurred in the same region in which we own land”.

He insisted that Dinant operates “in a just and lawful manner, and we require the same of all our contractors, vendors and tenants”.

He added: “We care deeply about the wellbeing of our employees, the thousands of farmers who supply our processing plants, and the surrounding communities of which we are an integral part.”

An IFC spokesman said the institution does not comment on ongoing litigation and will respond to claims “in due course”.

He added: “IFC is saddened by the history of violence in the Aguán valley” and is “focused on clients who commit to adopt internationally recognised environmental and social practices in the most challenging of environments”.


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« Reply #13 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:55 AM »

Emmanuel Macron leads in French presidential election poll for first time

Harris Interactive poll shows Macron one percentage point ahead of National Front’s Marine Le Pen in the first round

Agence France-Presse
Thursday 9 March 2017 06.45 GMT

Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron has taken the lead for the first time in polling before the French presidential election, beating the far right’s Marine Le Pen in the initial round.

The Harris Interactive poll showed Macron taking 26% of the vote on 23 April – a six-point gain in two weeks – compared with 25% for National Front leader Le Pen, who had long been leading in the first round.

In the likely event that no one wins an outright majority, a run-off between the two top candidates will be held on 7 May. The Harris poll shows Macron would take 65% of that vote to Le Pen’s 35%.

Macron’s lead in Thursday’s poll comes as a growing list of backers from both the left and the centre throw their support behind the 39-year-old former economy minister who is trying to upend France’s traditional politics.

Though no polls currently show Le Pen winning, anti-immigration nationalist is hoping to emulate the shock success of Donald Trump in US presidential elections last year.

In a boost to his campaign on Wednesday, Macron won the backing of Socialist former Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë who called him “a reformist, a European and a realist”.

Delanoë, who oversaw the French capital from 2001 to 2014, told France Inter radio he backed Macron because it was essential to “throw the most weight possible behind the candidate who can beat Madame Le Pen in the first round”.

His stance on the prospect of a Le Pen presidency was echoed by France’s ambassador to Japan, who on Wednesday broke diplomatic protocol by stating publicly that he would refuse to serve if she won. “If the French tragedy comes to pass and leads to her election, I would withdraw from all my diplomatic functions,” Thierry Dana, 60, wrote in a column in Le Monde newspaper.

Macron, a former investment banker who quit the Socialist government in August to prepare a bid for the presidency, has risen fast in opinion polls, but has never won elected office.

In remarks on International Women’s Day on Wednesday, he suggested he would ideally name a woman as prime minister if he were to win the keys to the Elysée Palace. “To be honest, it’s too easy to say it this evening. But I’ve spoken to others, starting with men, and that’s what I wish really,” he said, when asked if he would name a female PM at a public rally in Paris.

An already unpredictable French election has become even harder to call given the legal woes afflicting the conservative challenger François Fillon, who is embroiled in a “fake jobs” scandal.

In another blow, the investigative paper Le Canard Enchainé published new claims late on Tuesday that the scandal-hit Fillon had failed to declare an interest-free loan of €50,000 (£43,000) from a billionaire friend.

Macron still has his detractors though, with veteran conservative former prime minster Alain Juppé describing him this week as “politically naive”.

Macron told AFP in an interview on Tuesday that he would defend France’s middle classes, which he said had been ignored by the left and right.

He claimed both the outgoing Socialist government under President Francois Hollande – in which he served – and their right-wing opponents had let down the middle classes, assailed by job cuts and an increasing tax burden.


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« Reply #14 on: Mar 09, 2017, 06:56 AM »

Russian destabilisation of Balkans rings alarm bells as EU leaders meet

Top MEP David McAllister says bloc must be more visible in the region to counter Kremlin’s growing influence

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels
AFP
Thursday 9 March 2017 09.20 GMT

The European Union needs to be more visible in the western Balkans to counter Russian attempts to destabilise the region, a leading MEP has said, as EU leaders gather for a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

“Geopolitics has returned to the Balkans,” said David McAllister, a German MEP and chair of the European parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

“We are seeing the growing Russian influence, we are seeing growing Turkish influence, the United States is a player, the European Union is a player, so there are different interests at stake,” he said.

But it was Russia’s role that he described as negative, citing the Kremlin’s suspected involvement in a failed coup in Montenegro and Moscow’s support for hardline nationalist leaders in the region.

Russia was also exerting influence on political debate by organising anti-western, and anti-EU propaganda, McAllister said, especially in Serbian-language media outlets that promoted the Kremlin’s world view, as well as “conspiracy theories and Serbian ultranationalism”.

EU leaders will discuss the growing tension in the Balkans at the Brussels summit. According to a draft memo seen by the Guardian, the leaders will renew their promise that the door of membership remains open while stressing the importance of reforms and “good neighbourly relations”.

Member states are divided over whether the summit communique should identify the “outside forces” carving out a bigger role in the region. Russia is a particular concern, but officials are also wary of Turkey’s growing role.

“There is third country interference,” one EU diplomat said.

EU diplomats are also worried about Balkan citizens heading to Iraq and Syria to fight for Islamic extremist groups. A disproportionately high number of Kosovans, Albanians and Bosnians have been fighting in Middle Eastern war zones, according to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

Balkan countries were given the green light to begin the long road to EU membership in 2003, but progress has been mixed. Croatia joined the EU in 2013, and Montenegro and Serbia have embarked on formal membership talks. Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia are further behind in the process.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, visited the region last week, in an attempt to revive momentum towards EU integration. Speaking after her visit, she laid out her “profound concerns” but also optimism that all countries could eventually join the EU. “The Balkans can easily become one of the chessboards where the big power game can be played,” Mogherini said.

Her trip was also aimed at reassuring the region it had not been forgotten. While the EU has been rocked by one existential crisis after another, from Brexit to Greek debt to coping with migrants and refugees, nationalist and inter-ethnic tensions have been bubbling away in the western Balkans.

In January, a Serbian train bearing signs reading “Kosovo is Serbian” was sent towards Kosovo, plunging relations between the countries into a crisis. Meanwhile, Macedonia is entrenched in an increasingly bitter political crisis that has pitted neighbours against each other, and Montenegro was shaken by the assassination attempt against its pro-western prime minister last October. The failed coup has been linked to Russian authorities, although Moscow has denied any involvement.

Tensions have also flared in Bosnia, where the Bosnian-Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, is accused of flouting the 1995 peace agreement that ended a four-year civil war.

McAllister disputed the view, held by some regional leaders, that the Balkans have been forgotten by Brussels but said it was time for the EU to increase its visibility. A recent poll showed Serbians were more likely to assume Russia was the country’s biggest aid donor, rather than the EU, although the estimated €3bn (£2.6bn) received from Brussels since 2000 far exceeds sums from Moscow.

Citing this poll, McAllister said the EU needed to increase its efforts “to make the European Union and its good work more visible in all the six western Balkan countries”.

The MEP was elected to lead the foreign affairs committee in January. In early April, MEPs are to vote on a resolution drafted by McAllister calling on Serbia to align its foreign policy to Europe.

McAllister said he regretted that Serbia had not chosen to join in EU sanctions against Russia, although pointed to its support for UN peacekeeping operations. “Serbia will have to fully align its foreign policy with the European Union to become a member,” he said.


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