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« Reply #15 on: Dec 28, 2017, 05:35 AM »

Make supermarkets and drinks firms pay for plastic recycling, say MPs

Environmental audit committee recommends adoption of ‘polluter pays’ principle, as well as backing deposit return scheme and public water fountains

Sandra Laville
28 Dec ‘17 06.30 GMT

Supermarkets, retailers and drinks companies should be forced to pay significantly more towards the recycling of the plastic packaging they sell, an influential committee of MPs has said.

Members of the environmental audit committee called for a societal change in the UK to reduce the 7.7bn plastic water bottles used each year, and embed a culture of carrying reusable containers which are refilled at public water fountains and restaurants, cafes, sports centres and fast food outlets.

British consumers use 13bn plastic bottles a year, but only 7.5bn are recyled. MPs said the introduction of a plastic bottle deposit return scheme (DRS) was key to reducing plastic waste in the UK, as part of a series of measures to reduce littering and increase recycling rates.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has called for evidence on a plastic bottle deposit scheme, and it is expected to be part of measures he announces in the new year. Major retailers have yet to support such a scheme, but Iceland and the Co-op recently announced their backing for a DRS.

The report published on Friday underlines the need for government intervention to tackle plastic waste in the UK and calls for higher charges on companies to contribute to clearing up the waste they create.

Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee, said: “Urgent action is needed to protect our environment from the devastating effects of marine plastic pollution, which if it continues to rise at current rates, will outweigh fish by 2050.

“Plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in the sea and are a growing litter problem on UK beaches. We need action at individual, council, regional and national levels to turn back the plastic tide.”

In the report MPs called for the “polluter pays” principle to be applied to companies to increase their contribution to recycling plastic waste.

Companies in the UK that produce the waste, including supermarkets and beverage firms, pay one of the lowest contributions towards its recycling of any country in Europe under the Producer Responsibility Obligations. Instead taxpayers pay 90% of recycling costs.

“We took account of the polluter pays principle; that those who produce pollution should bear the cost of managing it,” MPs said. “The Producer Responsibility Obligations do not make producers financially responsible for the packaging they are putting on the market.

“The committee is calling on the government to adopt a producer responsibility compliance fee structure that rewards design for recyclability and raises charges on packaging that is difficult to recycle.”

MPs are also demanding the government makes it law that plastic bottles have to contain a minimum of 50% recycled plastic by 2023 at the latest.

The UK’s recycling rate has plateaued in the last five years, and in the UK 15 million plastic bottles are littered, sent to landfill or incinerated every day.

Deposit return schemes operate in several European countries, as well as parts of Australia and the US. MPs heard evidence that a deposit return scheme could help remove 700,000 plastic bottles from being littered each day, offering a financial incentive for the public to return them rather than throw them away.

“Fewer than half of councils provide on street recycling bins,” the report said. “The UK needs an effective system to capture all plastic bottles not just those disposed of in household waste … we therefore recommend the government introduce a well designed DRS providing an economic incentive for consumers to recycle plastic bottles.”

Samantha Harding, litter programme director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England said: “This is a significant and unequivocal recommendation by the cross-party EAC – that the analysis of the evidence it received has shown England does need a deposit return system to save us from the plastic choking our countryside and coasts.”

The report said the money raised should be reinvested in plastic reprocessing facilities in the UK to reduce the amount of plastic exported each year – about 320,000 tonnes.

“Given the recent Chinese ban on mixed plastic waste from the UK, this investment is both urgent to avoid a huge increase in landfill, and will save money and create jobs.”

The report said that in the last 15 years, consumption of bottled water had doubled. The committee said amending the Water Industry Act 1991 to give water companies formal powers to erect water fountains, and introducing regulations that all premises that serve food and drink must offer free drinking water, could cut usage of plastic water bottles by 65%.

Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK, said: “A lot of single-use plastic items provide more cost than benefit, but currently the manufacturers only see the benefits. Once the manufacturers are given responsibility for the costs as well, the system should quickly become a lot more efficient. The reduction solutions recommended by the EAC, such as free drinking water from restaurants, cafes and public water fountains are all good ones, and it will be interesting to see how industry innovates once it is incentivised to do so.”

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« Reply #16 on: Dec 28, 2017, 05:36 AM »

Diverting aid to fund waste collection will save lives and clean the ocean, says charity

UK government should make tenfold increase in the amount of aid spent on dealing with plastic waste, says Tearfund

Sandra Laville
Thu 21 Dec ‘17 15.21 GMT

The British government should divert hundreds of millions of pounds from its aid budget to help developing countries clear up their waste and reduce marine plastic pollution, a charity has said.

The development charity Tearfund is in talks with senior government figures, and hopes to persuade ministers to increase the spending on waste and rubbish collection in the developing world from a few million pounds to hundreds of millions a year.

Environment secretary Michael Gove has spoken recently of how he has been left haunted by the scale of marine plastic pollution exposed on Blue Planet 2 and is urging more of the UK’s development budget to be spent helping countries tackle plastic waste.

Tearfund argues the impact of increasing spending will be huge, tackling a public health crisis in developing countries created by waste mountains and contributing to reducing plastic pollution of the oceans.

The British government contributes less than 0.3% of its £13bn aid budget – less than £39m – to rubbish and waste management in developing countries.

Tearfund is pressing for donor nations across the world to increase spending to 3%, which would amount to around £390m a year for the UK, but which the charity says would have a major impact on reducing marine litter.

Joanne Green from Tearfund said many developing countries were trying to tackle plastic waste but did not have systems in place to deal with the scale of the problem. The charity helps support community groups in Brazil and Nigeria who are trying to tackle a growing plastic waste mountain that affects their health and life expectancy.

“In Africa 12 countries have attempted to implement plastic bag bans, for example, and so far only Rwanda has really managed it successfully. It shows there is a desire there and a realisation of the problem, because waste in developing countries is going through the roof. It is expected to double in the next 15-20 years primarily because of increased consumption, and as developing countries adopt western-style disposable economies:

“But they don’t have the waste management systems in place to deal with it. This is a major cause of marine litter.”

A recent study revealed that 90% of marine plastic pollution comes from 10 rivers which are all in developing countries; two in Africa and eight in Asia. The report found that the more waste in an area is not disposed of properly, the more plastic ultimately ends up in the river and eventually the sea.

More than 8m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year and plastic fibres have been found in drinking water around the world.

Much of the increased plastic waste is from bottled water products. The Guardian revealed that a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, the vast majority bottled water, and consumption will increase to more than half a trillion by 2012.

“The waste creates huge health issues in developing countries because a lot of it is burnt,” said Green. She said 270,000 people a year die from respiratory diseases related to burnt waste. Other health problems were caused by waste plastic clogging up drains and rivers, causing life-threatening diseases.

Green said increased spending on supporting developing countries to clear and recycle their waste plastic, would improve local health and reduce marine pollution. “At the moment very little aid is spent globally on waste, and it is a problem which is growing hugely as a middle class develops in many countries,” she said. “The development community has not caught up with this and donor countries have not caught up with this; it is a public health crisis.”

Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, has been in meetings with NGOs, as part of efforts to stem the flow of marine litter.

Gove is expected to back a plastic bottle deposit scheme in the new year as part of a plan to improve recycling rates.

A spokeswoman for the Department for International Development, which manages 74% of the aid budget said: “The environment secretary and international development secretary are working together to see what more we can do in this area.

“Their departments have a strong record of work on the environment and development – and tackling marine pollution is a good example of where we can apply the government’s joint strengths.

“The issue will be on the agenda for next year’s Commonwealth Summit being held here in the UK, and that will provide a further opportunity to show global leadership in tackling this critical issue.”   

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« Reply #17 on: Dec 28, 2017, 05:39 AM »

The cameras go off, and then comes the collapse

WA Post

President Trump said on Oct. 19 that the Puerto Rico disaster response was "the most difficult," but that he would rate the White House's response "a 10."

President Trump awarded himself a 10 out of 10 score two months ago for his response to Hurricane Maria, which leveled Puerto Rico.

“If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died,” Trump said as he toured Puerto Rico in October. “What is your death count, as of this moment — 17?”

“Sixteen certified,” the governor of Puerto Rico replied.

“Sixteen versus literally thousands of people,” Trump said. “You can be very proud.”

How proud we are now.

This week, we learned the truth. Some 1,065 more Puerto Ricans died in September and October of this year than in previous years, almost certainly storm-related deaths, according to the Center for Investigative Journalism. When all is tallied, the destruction in Puerto Rico will be very much on par with what Trump considers “a real catastrophe like Katrina,” which killed about 1,800.

Incredibly, a large portion of the island remains without power — three months after the storm. It was reported this week that power may not be fully restored until May. Puerto Ricans — American citizens — are still awaiting tarps and temporary roofs to shelter them after an untold number of homes were destroyed.

A new report from Refugees International said, “Thousands of people still lack sustainable access to potable water and electricity and dry, safe places to sleep.” The group faulted the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “bureaucratic and opaque assistance process” for leaving survivors with “enormous challenges.”

This, in the United States of America, in 2017. Ten out of 10, Mr. President. A-plus for you!

In October, when Trump was tossing “beautiful, soft” rolls of paper towels at Puerto Ricans, he offered lavish promises of aid and said Wall Street lenders were “going to say goodbye” to Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt. But the debt was not written off, and disaster-relief aid has been inadequate and piecemeal. Now, Trump and congressional Republicans are hitting Puerto Rico with an additional, man-made catastrophe.

The GOP tax bill, which Trump celebrated this week, treats Puerto Rico as a foreign country, imposing a 12.5 percent tax on the income companies there receive from intellectual property — a big hit to its crucial pharmaceutical and medical-device sector. Rather than give Puerto Rico special tax treatment, which it urgently needs, Trump and his congressional allies gave employers a powerful reason to move jobs off the island.

You might recognize this pattern, even if you don’t care about Puerto Rico and the suffering of the more than 3 million Americans there. Trump comes in with razzle-dazzle and self-congratulation, promising great things to come. Then, when the cameras are off, comes the quiet collapse.

The prototype is the Trump Taj Mahal Atlantic City. In April 1990, it opened with much fanfare as the world’s largest casino-hotel complex. Six months later, it defaulted on payments. Nine months after that, it filed for bankruptcy.

Now this happens on a world scale. Trump promises an easy peace in the Middle East but winds up setting off a new wave of violence. He promises a tax cut for the middle class and winds up with a giveaway to corporations and millionaires. He promises to improve upon Obamacare but ravages the program with no replacement.

In business, when Trump attended the ribbon cutting and then moved on while deals went south, people lost their investments. But when the United States walks away from promises, people lose rather more.

Nearly 1 million low-income Puerto Ricans are in danger of losing health care early in the new year because the territory’s Medicaid program will soon be unable to pay providers. Federal law restricts Medicaid reimbursements for Puerto Rico to not quite 20 percent, about a quarter of what it would get if it were a state. Puerto Rico’s leaders have called for a few billion dollars to avert this latest crisis, but the request went unanswered as Congress rushed to complete the tax cut.

Puerto Rico’s (Democratic) governor, Ricardo Rosselló, made a dumb mistake in October when, appealing to Trump’s vanity, he praised the president’s hurricane response. That gave Trump cover to do nothing for Puerto Rico. Now Rosselló has apparently realized his mistake, and, in an interview with Politico this week, he vowed to mobilize the more than 5 million Puerto Ricans living in the mainland United States. That includes hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens fleeing Puerto Rico since Maria.

They are eligible to vote, in 2018 and 2020. One suspects they might award Trump something less than the 10 out of 10 he gives himself.


The EPA is costing Americans’ their health

23 Dec 2017 at 08:56 ET

Record-setting wildfires burn uncontrolled in California, and with them comes a need to reckon with the Trump administration’s disastrous climate policies.

At this moment, a few days before Christmas, firefighters have finally started bringing the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, California—burning for almost three weeks—under control. Gov. Jerry Brown recently commented, “This is the new normal … We’re about ready to have firefighting at Christmas. This is very odd and unusual.”

He’s right. Thanks to climate change, droughts have been increasingly frequent and severe in California. Such weather patterns invite more, and more extreme, fires to the region—fires that desiccate trees and brush, and unleash toxic smoke particles into the air.

A paper published in 2016 summarized the results of 115 studies on the risks of wildfire smoke. The findings were clear: Smoke harmed people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The study also demonstrated, though to a less consistent degree, other harms, including respiratory infections, heart disease risk and even death.

Of course, and by necessity, public health officials have advised the public about the smoke and the steps to take to reduce risk, particularly those with lung problems. But the government's undermining of climate change science, both in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the leadership of Scott Pruitt, and in other agencies, suggests the Trump administration will continue putting Americans’ health in danger.

This year, Pruitt has taken steps to assure that some of the country’s most knowledgeable scientists cannot advise the agency by serving on its Science Advisory Board. EPA-funded researchers can no longer serve on the SAB, and some have been replaced, while industry scientists serve without being considered as having conflicts of interest. The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), which provides advice to the EPA as scientific evidence is reviewed and changes to Clean Air Act standards are considered, is one of the SAB committees affected by Pruitt’s new policies.

I chaired CSAC from 2009 to 2012. Prior to taking the position, I had successfully competed for EPA research on particles in the air and health. Under the new policy, which may exclude some of the most knowledgeable researchers from SAB service, I would not be considered for CASAC membership, even though my background meets several requirements of the Clean Air Act for serving on CASAC.

Climate change has become the exemplar for how evidence is now weighed—or rather, not weighed—in decision-making. Since 1990, the findings of research on climate change have been summarized five times by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), founded by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme. With each report, there is more evidence and greater certainty about the impact of human activities on the climate. While there is still uncertainty about some matters in the scientific findings, glib statements like “climate change is a hoax,” and more serious efforts to remove scientists from government, should not displace the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, amassed in thousands of scientific reports.

Since it was established in 1970, the EPA has used scientific evidence as the foundation for effective regulations. Through the Clean Air Act, tremendous gains have been made in air quality throughout the nation. So-called “brown-outs” that once blanketed the Northeast and the choking smog of Los Angeles have ended.

But the wildfire smoke from this year’s fires offers a reminder of the need to continue to improve air quality, and research shows that current levels of air pollution still pose a public health threat.

The current administration, however, is turning away from environmental policies based in science that have worked, and instead embracing policies flimsily grounded in opinion or belief, or even worse, to policies that reflect the financial interests of various industries. The energy sector, for example, has undue influence in climate policy, as the U.S. government promotes fossil fuels, even coal, over renewables and Congress opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

The process for reviewing and strengthening the main air quality standards—the National Ambient Air Quality Standards—is described in the Clean Air Act, and it rightly involves the scientific, public health and medical communities. This is why I am disheartened by Pruitt’s and the Trump administration’s turn away from evidence, and from scientific expertise. The denial of evidence is dangerous for human and environmental health, and I hope it will be short-lived.

Jonathan Samet is dean and professor at the Colorado School of Public Health. He is a pulmonary physician and epidemiologist, and has carried out air pollution research for decades, serving on many committees that support the development of evidence-based environmental policies.


Nearly 100 Climate Action Plans for National Parks Removed From Website


Climate change is a major challenge to America's beloved National Parks—from hotter, drier conditions that can spark intense wildfires that can permanently alter Yosemite's landscapes, to sea level rise triggered by warming temperatures that threaten the Everglades.

In fact, nearly 100 parks have been preparing for and adapting to the damaging effects of climate change for years under the National Park Service's "Climate Friendly Parks Program" (CFP). However, you'll no longer be able to easily find these well-documented efforts to reduce emissions and move to more sustainable operations—that's because their work has been completely scrubbed from the Climate Friendly Parks Program website, a watchdog group has found.

Nearly 100 documents describing national parks' climate action plans have been removed from the website, according to a new report from the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), which has been closely tracking the Trump administration's removal of climate change information from federal websites.

The page now states: "These documents are temporarily unavailable for download while we work to make them compliant with newly revised 2018 federal accessibility standards."

The researchers found:

"On December 7, 2017, all links to national park climate action plans were removed from a list of 97 member parks on the the CFP website. As described in our Website Access Assessment Report, 92 of the links led to park climate action plan documents, two led to corresponding webpages about park 'sustainability' efforts, which are still live, and the remaining three listed parks have not had corresponding links since October 7, 2015. By December 20, all 92 of the corresponding linked documents had been removed from their respective URLs and were no longer hosted on the CFP website."

Check out the comparisons below:


While the page includes instructions on how you can be emailed a copy of any park's action plan, EDGI noted that the action plans are not available through any corresponding National Park Service web archive nor did the department explain why the resources were deleted.

"These removed resources are relevant to the public and researchers attempting to understand how different parks are and have been responding to climate change," EDGI explained. "For example, the Grand Canyon National Park plan contains a section detailing goals to reduce park operations' energy use by 30 percent, transportation-related emissions by 20 percent, and water consumption by 25 percent, all from 2008 levels by 2020."

As the group pointed out, the Grand Canyon's ambitious reduction percentages provide a useful benchmark and learning opportunity for other parks or municipalities to learn from strategies that are being implemented.

"That many of these national parks are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate, makes it all the more important that relevant Web resources bolstering their efforts to respond to climate change remain readily available on federal websites," EDGI said.

The National Park Service is a department under the U.S. Department of the Interior. This news comes amid reports that Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke—who said in 2014 that climate science is "not proven"—summoned the superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park to his office to order him to stop tweeting about climate change using the park's Twitter handle, The Hill reported.

Melting Denali: Effects of Climate Change on Glaciers
Denali National Park & Preserve

UPDATE: Following the release of EDGI's report, a NPS Public Affairs spokesperson stated that "Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the National Park Service, like all federal agencies, has a January 18, 2018, deadline to make electronic information and technology accessible to people with disabilities. As part of that process we are updating PDF documents on NPS.gov that are not yet accessible to all, including climate action plans for nearly 100 parks that were listed on a nps.gov webpage."

In response, EDGI said:

We appreciate NPS informing EDGI that it intends to return compliant content by the January 18, 2018 deadline. Increasing usability standards is important for equitable content access, and necessary in order to comply with provisions of the Rehabilitation Act. In this case, but also more generally, better information governance would have been to keep the resources available until updates to content have been completed. If compliant replacement content had been prepared in advance, the agency would not have had to make valuable resources unavailable simply to remain in compliance with law. NPS should have, at least, provided a notice well in advance to notify the public that their delayed compliance would hinder the accessibility of important documents.

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« Last Edit: Dec 28, 2017, 05:45 AM by Darja » Logged
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« Reply #18 on: Dec 28, 2017, 05:50 AM »

Germany Sets New Renewable Energy Record


Germany has broken another renewable energy record, with clean power providing a third of of the country's electricity in 2017.

Preliminary data from the Association of Energy and Water Industries show that renewable electricity generation grew to a record 33 percent this year, up from 29 percent in 2016.

"The figures show impressively that there is already an accelerated shift in power generation from CO2-intensive to low-carbon and almost CO2-free energy sources," Stefan Kapferer, the chairman of the association, said.

“The energy industry is clearly on course with regard to energy and climate targets: our industry is able to reduce CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2020 compared to 1990."

Onshore and offshore wind power has now surpassed natural gas, nuclear, and hard coal as the second largest electricity source, with a 16 percent slice of Germany's power mix.

Association of Energy and Water Industries' estimate of Germany's 2017 energy mix.
Clean Energy Wire

Germany often makes headlines for its impressive renewable power achievements.

On especially windy and/or sunny days, German power operators are sometimes forced to pay customers to take electricity from the grid.

Most recently, thanks to low demand, unseasonably warm weather and strong breezes, power prices went negative for much of Sunday and the early hours of Christmas Day, the New York Times reported. This is now the second Christmas in a row with two days of negative spot power prices.

Still, there's room for improvement if Germany wants to meet the goals of its ambitious "Energiewende," or sustainable energy transition. The country's power supply still largely relies on lignite, aka brown coal, which generated about 23 percent of Germany's electricity this year.

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« Reply #19 on: Dec 28, 2017, 05:52 AM »

Does Record Snowfall Disprove Global Warming? 'Exactly the Opposite,' Scientist Says


The lakefront city of Erie, Pa. has been inundated by several feet of snow this week, “shattering many records," the National Weather Service said.

The historic storm—a whopping 62.9 inches since Dec. 23, with more flakes to come—prompted the city's police department to declare a “Snow Emergency" due to dangerous and impassable roads.

While climate deniers might point to the cold weather as more proof of the "global warming hoax," climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe begs to differ.

"What's with all the snow?" she tweeted Tuesday. "Does it mean global warming is finished? Nope; it's exactly the opposite, in fact. Warmer temperatures are increasing the risk of lake-effect snow."

According to the National Weather Service, "Lake Effect snow occurs when cold air, often originating from Canada, moves across the open waters of the Great Lakes. As the cold air passes over the unfrozen and relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes, warmth and moisture are transferred into the lowest portion of the atmosphere. The air rises, clouds form and grow into narrow band that produces 2 to 3 inches of snow per hour or more."

Hayhoe went on to explain over several tweets that both natural cycles (i.e. the North Atlantic Oscillation, La Niña) and human factors (i.e. rising temperatures from man-made climate change) have exacerbated this weather phenomenon.

At the end of her twitter thread, Hayhoe joked, "When two feet of snow's just been dumped on our driveway, we all think—I'd like a little global warming now, please!"

Recent studies have shown the effect of climate change on regional precipitation. In a study published earlier this month, researchers from Dartmouth College, the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire revealed how they were shocked to find that the Alaska Range has received an average of 18 feet of snow per year—that's more than double the average of eight feet per year from 1600-1840.

The likely culprit is none other than climate change. The authors suggested that warmer waters from the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans caused a strengthening of the "Aleutian Low" pressure system with its northward flow of warm, moist air, driving most of the snowfall increases.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcLCS22ubak

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« Reply #20 on: Dec 28, 2017, 05:55 AM »

10 Ways to Be a Better Environmental Steward in 2018


Protecting the natural environment may seem overwhelming with increased natural disasters, melting sea ice, and threatened wildlife. But your choices can truly go a long way for your community and your health. Here are ten ways to be a better steward in 2018 and help others do the same!

1. Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Food

Reducing your carbon footprint can seem daunting when learning about the many ways in which humans contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. But there are a few things you can do to directly cut back on your own influence. Start by looking at your consumables, especially your food. When you factor in transportation, land use, pesticides and waste, food produces up to twice as much pollution as all of the cars on the planet. Being mindful of where your food comes from and how it was produced is the easiest way to cut back.

2. Reduce your Meat Consumption

In addition to knowing where and how your food was produced, it is also wise to cut back on meat. Livestock take up 49 percent of all agricultural emissions on the planet, according to a 2017 study. Although going vegan may not be the best option for you, reducing your meat consumption to just once a week, or even once a day, can make a world of difference. Try healthy alternative proteins such as pea protein or vitamin-rich vegetables such as beets. Your body and the planet will thank you.

3. Buy From Local Farms or Start Your Own

Buying from local farms is a great way to ensure that your food stays close to home and cuts back on the transportation costs or "food miles" of delivering food across the country, which can account for up to 11 percent of agricultural emissions. If locally-sourced food is scarce in your neck of the woods, consider starting your own community farm project. This is a great way to pull your town together toward a common goal and even solve social issues like poverty, hunger, mental illness and more.

4. Compost your Natural Waste

Another great way to spare the environment from your waste is to compost. This simple technique would put a major dent into the 60 billion pounds of food materials that unnecessarily go to U.S. landfills each year. Many cities offer fairly cheap composting services and will make the entire process hands-off for you. You can also do it yourself and end up with rich soil for your own garden!

5. Change your mode of transportation

Despite the surge of electric and hybrid vehicles in 2017, fossil fuel transportation still accounts for 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Electric cars are more affordable and accessible than ever before, but there are plenty of ways to get from point A to point B in 2018 that will spare your wallet and the environment. Bicycling has grown tremendously in popularity, with more than 66 million bicyclists on the road as of 2017. Public transportation and ridesharing are also great ways to cut down on your fossil fuel consumption in 2018.

6. Cut Down On Single-Use Plastics and Microplastics

Humans have created 8.3 billion tons of plastic in the past 67 years—6.3 billion tons of which have become waste in our landfills and natural environment, especially the ocean. Though these numbers may seem insurmountable, the simple decision to not buy single-use plastics, such as plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic straws and any products containing microplastics such as exfoliators and glitter, would help tremendously.

7. Stop Buying Fast Fashion

Fast Fashion is the term used for clothing that is produced quickly and inexpensively, usually at the cost of the environment. The items are thrown away almost as fast as they are bought, and are filling up landfills at an alarming rate of 12.8 million tons of textiles annually in the U.S. alone—that's about 80 pounds of clothing per person per year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. You can drastically reduce these numbers by making smart, long-lasting decisions about what you choose to wear. There are also several companies doing their part to slow down fashion and create clothes that don't harm the planet.

8. Volunteer and Educate Yourself

Volunteering is a great way to educate yourself on environmental issues. Try volunteering for a community garden, a clean up crew, or even joining national service organizations like AmeriCorps. Working with others toward environmentally sound goals makes a real and lasting difference in a community.

9. Learn About and Vote for Climate-Friendly Policies

Exercising your rights as a citizen is a meaningful way to make a difference not just for yourself, but for your entire community. In recent years, several cities and states have made climate progress by banning fracking, plastic bags and certain harmful pesticides through the polls. Having conversations and reading current issues is the best way to stay updated on what is happening to the environment. You can also subscribe to the EcoWatch newsletter for email updates.

10. Participate in Public Events

In April 2017, the People's Climate March drew massive crowds of more than 200,000 people in Washington, DC. Then on Earth Day, thousands more joined the March for Science all across the nation. Organized marches, rallies and protests raise awareness in a visible way and engage the community to act toward progress.

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« Reply #21 on: Dec 28, 2017, 06:00 AM »

Plantwatch: Wildflowers lose out twice from nitrogen pollution

Unclean air and run-off from agricultural fertilisers alter habitats while competitors threaten to overwhelm sensitive species

Paul Simons

Nitrogen pollution in the air is devastating for many sensitive wild plants, which is why so much of the countryside is becoming a vast carpet of nettles, hogweed, hemlock and other rampant vegetation that feasts on nitrogen. In many places, these are running out of control.

Much has been written about the damage to human health from nitrogen oxides given off by traffic, but the damage to sensitive plants has gone largely unnoticed. Excessive nitrogen also comes from ammonia from fertilisers and manures, with much of the countryside awash with nitrates running off farmland.

More than a third of Britain’s wild flowering plants need low levels of nutrients in the soil, and they are suffering from too much nitrogen raining down from the atmosphere. That onslaught is having a devastating effect on 90% of sensitive plant habitats in England and Wales, such as woodlands, grasslands, heaths and bogs, according to the charity Plantlife. And in some wild areas, nitrogen-guzzling plants such as nettles have run riot and swamped the natural wild plants.

Nitrogen pollution can come directly from the air or be washed down in rain. It is absorbed into the soil, creates acidic conditions and damages sensitive plants. More than two thirds of our wild flowers such as harebell and betony need low or medium levels of nitrogen. And it is only robust species, such as nettle, that can thrive in this flood of nitrogen.

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« Reply #22 on: Dec 28, 2017, 06:04 AM »

Stinkhorns, Truffles, Smuts: The Amazing Diversity—and Possible Decline—of Mushrooms and Other Fungi

By Alexander Weir

"Whatever dressing one gives to mushrooms ... they are not really good but to be sent back to the dungheap where they are born."

French philosopher Denis Diderot thus dismissed mushrooms in 1751 in his " Encyclopedie." Today his words would be dismissed in France, where cooks tuck mushrooms into crepes, puff pastry and boeuf Bourguignon (beef Burgundy), to name just a few dishes.

The French aren't alone. Mushrooms and their biological relatives feature in global cuisines from Asia to sub-Saharan Africa. Here in North America, they are part of many holiday meals, from humble stuffed mushroom caps to a single costly truffle shaved over pasta. Late fall is wild-mushroom foraging season in much of the U.S., so it's a good time to learn about these fascinating organisms—and to know that some popular species are declining.

Fungi, Not Vegetables

Human experience with mushrooms dates back thousands of years, including references from China, Africa, Greece and Rome. One of the first is attributed to Euripides (A.D. 450-456), who commented on the death of a mother and her family from mushroom poisoning. Indeed, a few species are poisonous—notably, Amanita phalloides, the so-called death cap mushroom, which sickened 14 people in California in 2016. Three required liver transplants.

All the more reason to learn some mycology—the science of fungi. This mega-diverse group of organisms is biologically distinct from its better-known counterparts, plants ( Plantae) and animals (Animalia). Along with mushrooms, it includes such curiosities as conks, puffballs, earthstars, stinkhorns, birds-nests, truffles, morels, molds, rusts and smuts.

Unlike plants, fungi do not have chlorophyll, the pigment in plant leaves that converts light energy to chemical energy through photosynthesis. Instead, fungi are decomposers: They release enzymes that break down tissues from living and dead plants and animals to nourish them as they grow.

Most fungi grow in or on a natural substrate, such as dead logs or manure (Diderot was not wrong to say that they came from a dung-heap). Commercial mushroom growers use materials such as straw or coffee grounds. Mushroom spores put out filaments ( hyphae) that form a network (mycelium). This is the organism's feeding stage, and in some species can grow to an enormous extent, largely hidden in the soil.

Almost miraculously, in response to a range of environmental cues such as moisture and temperature, this network produces "fruiting bodies" or reproductive structures, that typically erupt out of the substrate. These structures are what we think of as mushrooms. They come in many sizes, shapes and colors, and can either persist or appear and then disappear in a matter of hours or days.

The mysterious origin of these seemingly magical apparitions has fascinated humans for millennia. Certain species erupt naturally in circular formations, which are widely known as "fairy rings" and linked in European folklore with fairies and other magical creatures. Many accounts claim that psilocybin mushrooms, which contain hallucinogenic compounds, have been used for mind-altering purposes for millennia. Today they are being studied as a possible treatment for depression.

Abundant But Also at Risk

Even after more than 200 years of exploration, scientists estimate that only about 5 percent of a likely 1.5 million species of fungi have been described and named. Of those, roughly 10 described species have been "domesticated" and form the basis of the global cultivated mushroom industry, which has an annual value estimated at more than US$35 billion and rising. A 2004 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report documented use of more than 1,100 species in over 80 countries.

Detailed studies have helped to dispel the commonly held view that mushrooms are a low-calorie food with little nutritional benefit. We now know that they are typically low in fat, sodium and carbohydrates, but high in vitamin D, potassium and antioxidants. In short, mushrooms are increasingly recognized as nutritional powerhouses.

Historically, mushrooms were eaten mostly at subsistence levels in rural communities in developing countries. Recently, however, an export trade has developed for wild varieties, moving mainly from poor to rich countries. This growing demand reflects recognition of wild edible mushrooms' nutritional value, but has also been linked to a decline in the numbers and diversity of mushroom fruiting bodies in traditional centers of high consumption, such as Europe and Japan.

This trend is a serious concern for scientists, who are continuously learning more about the important ecological roles that fungi play. Some form relationships with plant roots that sustain the growth of native forests and commercial tree plantations. As decomposers, fungi also recycle nutrients from dead matter in many different types of habitats.

There are vast gaps in our knowledge about fungal biodiversity and how these organisms are affected by trade, land management practices, air pollution, habitat loss and global climate change. One recent study identified three unknown species of porcini in a packet of dried Chinese mushrooms purchased in a London grocery store.

Many countries are developing or have published Red Data Lists of threatened fungi. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature is accepting information for a Global Fungal Red List Initiative that aims to assess and classify at least 300 species of threatened fungi.

Mycologists like me are also a dwindling resource. The number of positions at universities, research institutes and botanic gardens has declined in recent years. Inventorying, describing and understanding the impacts of human-induced and natural disturbances on fungal communities is a huge and challenging task, and an essential step toward determining whether harvesting wild fungi at the current level is sustainable. But this work is starting to gain momentum. Finally, humans are starting to see fungi not just as commodities or as biological organisms, but also as important contributors to ecosystem function that are worthy of conservation.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

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« Reply #23 on: Dec 28, 2017, 06:06 AM »

China on Track to Establish Carbon Market as U.S. Withdraws From Climate Stage


China unveiled the details on Tuesday of what is soon to be the world's largest carbon market, two years after China's president Xi announced the initiative.

Although the market launch date wasn't revealed, observers saw today's announcement as a noteworthy step. "This is like the pyramids of Giza for climate policy," Nathaniel Keohane, the vice president of international climate at the Environmental Defense Fund, told ClimateWire.

In its early stages the carbon market will only apply to emissions from power plants producing more than 26,000 tons of carbon per year. This means nearly all of China's power plants, about 1,700 companies, will be included. An estimated 39 percent of China's total emissions come from its coal and natural gas-based electricity sector. From this sector alone, the country's carbon market will quickly outgrow Europe's emissions market—currently the world's biggest.

"It is important to bear in mind that the first phase will be embryonic," Li Shuo, a senior global policy adviser for Greenpeace East Asia, who has been briefed on some details of the plan, told ClimateWire.

Initially, the government is likely to set the cap high. This will allow most power plants to keep emitting as they have been, making emission reductions minimal. A ton of carbon is likely to incur a market cost of around $7.50 (50 yuan), according to a Chinese official who spoke to Quartz on the condition of anonymity. The official went on to say that they expected the price to gradually rise to $45 (300 yuan) per ton of carbon. Every ton of carbon dioxide emitted today will likely cause $125 worth of damage to society in the future, according to economists.

The slow start "is a sign that China is taking this seriously and wants to make sure they're doing it right," Barbara Finamore, a senior attorney and Asia director for the China program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told ClimateWire.

Market participation will require a rigorous verification process and subsequent monitoring, experts noted. For the first time the Chinese government will be able to take accurate measures from power sector emissions and analyze the data.

"It is precisely the lack of transparency that has worried investors in other Chinese markets, and carbon markets are known for being notoriously tricky," Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate adviser, told ClimateWire

Companies are already responding to the initiative. Over the past two years, following president Xi's announcement, a number of industries have jumpstarted preparations for the carbon market. The number of Chinese companies planning for mandatory carbon markets rose from 54 in 2015 to 102 in 2017, Nicolette Bartlett, director of carbon pricing at the environmental charity CDP, told the Financial Times, citing a survey of 336 companies.

The program builds on regional test trading systems that go back to 2011 and have been running since 2013. Those regional programs for other sectors, such as steel and aluminum, will continue until the Chinese government deems they are prepared to enter the carbon market.

China's announcement comes against the backdrop of the U.S. withdrawing from its role as a global leader in climate action. Just yesterday President Trump signed a document that doesn't acknowledge climate change as a real national security threat.

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« Reply #24 on: Dec 28, 2017, 06:10 AM »

14 Notable Climate Influencers of 2017


This was a year of tug-of-war for the environment. With Donald Trump becoming president of the U.S. at a time when wildfires, hurricanes, and floods were devastating the country, it was challenging for scientists, activists and concerned citizens to get their voices heard. But several stood out as global leaders on climate and helped give rise to those who were silenced. Below are 14 of the most notable influencers of 2017 and how they fought for a cleaner, safer environment for all.

1. Emmanuel Macron

After his inauguration as president of France, just a few months after U.S. President Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron made immediate waves. He started off by addressing Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement with a "Make Earth Great Again" slogan and welcoming American climate scientists to France to continue their research. He forged on, offering multi-year grants totaling $70 million. Macron also hosted the One Planet Summit where 20 international companies announced they would phase out coal. With his continued criticism of Trump's decisions regarding the planet, Macron has proven himself a global leader on climate change and has set the stage for progress in 2018.

2. Elon Musk

Elon Musk, entrepreneur and founder of several companies including SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity, began 2017 with a seat on President Trump's economic advisory council. Musk made multiple attempts to reverse Trump's stance on climate change, but after Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, Musk left the council on June 1, causing a huge media storm. Then in October, when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and left the islands without power, Musk swooped in and began building a solar grid. He started with restoring a children's hospital in San Juan and has continued delivering and installing Tesla battery systems since. Musk has also made huge strides in green technology with his push for electric vehicles and renewable energy in the U.S., despite the Trump administration's favoritism towards the fossil fuel industry.

3. Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stepped up to the plate as one of 2017's female leaders on climate in a multitude of ways. Nicknamed the "Climate Chancellor," Merkel has outwardly expressed her differences with Trump, calling his stance on climate change "regrettable." She reassured the UN that Germany would uphold its targets for the Paris agreement, despite the U.S. change of heart. She has also made significant progress in ensuring sustainable growth in Germany with the G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth. Then, in November at the COP23 in Bonn, Germany, Merkel sent a strong message to all global leaders, saying "we will not be able to adhere to the 2°C or 1.5°C target with the current national commitments. That is why each and every contribution is incredibly important."

4. Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders didn't let his loss in the 2016 presidential race stop him from speaking out on climate. In 2017, Sanders relentlessly criticized Trump's rejection of the Paris agreement and his outright denial of climate science. He is one of the few politicians who has spoke out about the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017, which aims to expand the fossil fuel industry. He also introduced a $146 billion recovery package for Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria hit and Trump neglected to provide relief. The package would rebuild Puerto Rico's infrastructure with sustainable resources. He also helped to introduce the 100 by 50 Act, which would support workers in the fossil fuel industry while simultaneously phasing out fossil fuels by 2050.

5. Pope Francis

Pope Francis has openly condemned climate change deniers for years, but 2017 might have been the most radical year yet for the sovereign. In February, the Pope spoke up for indigenous peoples and their right to consent when it comes to government activities on their sacred lands. The strong words came shortly after President Trump signed two executive orders calling for the approval of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines in January, though the Vatican said the timing was coincidental. On World Food Day in October, the Pope urged governments to mitigate climate change, as it is a lead driver of the increase in world hunger. And in November at COP23, he outlined four "perverse attitudes" that are preventing climate action. To top it off, he also acquired an electric car.

6. Michelle Rodriguez

Actress and climate activist Michelle Rodriguez is one of the newer voices of the climate movement. In March, Rodriguez joined an all-woman survey team known as Operation Ice Watch on an expedition to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada where the seal population is under siege by hunting and ice loss caused by climate change. Led by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Animal Justice, the crew surveyed the ice, or lack thereof, while filming a documentary to raise awareness about the "ecological catastrophe." Rodriguez also partnered with Operation Taino Spirit Promise and Sea Shepherd to provide relief to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck and start a campaign for a sustainable rebuild.

7. Michael Bloomberg

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was also a notable influencer of 2017, representing the U.S. at COP23 where he, alongside Governors Jerry Brown of California and Jay Inslee of Washington introduced the We Are Still In coalition, a network of U.S. politicians who support climate action despite Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement. In October, Bloomberg also announced that his charity would donate $64 million to the retirement of U.S. coal plants, greatly impeding Trump's efforts to revive the American coal industry.

8. Patricia Espinosa

Mexican politician and current executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa made significant progress on shifting the dialogue surrounding climate action in 2017. In February, she said getting fossil fuel companies "on board" is a critical factor in combating climate change. She also used her position to direct the climate conversation away from technology and toward security, arguing that security officials "understand that our current crisis pales in comparison to what is coming if climate change is left unchecked." She also spoke about women's involvement at COP23 and introduced the Gender Action Plan to promote meaningful participation by women in the climate movement.

9. Al Gore

Former vice president and environment activist Al Gore is known for his stance on climate change. But in 2017, with the release of his newest documentary "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power," Gore found another big spotlight. In July, he boldly predicted that the U.S. would still meet the targets of the Paris agreement, despite Trump's about-face in June. On Dec. 4-5, Gore also hosted the Climate Reality Project's "24 Hours of Reality," where he highlighted citizens taking action all across the globe to inspire others to do the same. The program reached more than half a billion viewers on TV and 32 million online, making it the world's largest social broadcast on climate to date.

10. Jerry Brown

At almost every turn for the past 365 days, California Governor Jerry Brown has undermined President Trump. In June, almost immediately after Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement, Brown partnered with Chinese President Xi Jinping to continue expanding green technology and trade. In July, Brown extended California's climate legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. And as wildfires have raged through the state and region, Brown said he was "linking with other similar-minded people all over the world" and "pushing forward even as Trump blusters."

11. Noam Chomsky

Well known linguist and scientist Noam Chomsky spoke out numerous times in 2017 for the sake of the environment. In an interview with Truthout in March, Chomsky called out the Trump administration for cutting federal spending to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, stating that his actions are an "attack against future generations." In May he spoke out again, telling BBC Newsnight that the Republican Party's denial of climate change has made them the most dangerous organization "in human history." Chomsky's criticisms opened up an intellectual dialogue for conservative voters and encouraged the scientific community to weigh in.

12. Leonardo DiCaprio

Actor and philanthropist Leonardo DiCaprio made impressive strides on climate action in 2017, including investing in the entirely plant-based food company Beyond Meat and a farm-raised seafood company LoveTheWild. In June, DiCaprio also partnered with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to conserve the Gulf of California for the vaquita porpoise, classified as the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Most recently, at the Yale Climate Change Conference in September, DiCaprio announced that his foundation will be awarding $20 million in grants to more than 100 environmental organizations.

13. Stephen Hawking

World-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking represented the majority of the scientific community in 2017 on several occasions, urging Trump to stop denying evidence of climate change. In June, Hawking had a few choice words about the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, warning that "we are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible." And in November, Hawking once again pushed Trump to stop denying climate change and take action. Hawking nearly gave up on Earth altogether, telling WIRED UK that "our Earth is becoming too small for us, global population is increasing at an alarming rate and we are in danger of self-destructing."

14. David Attenborough

English documentary filmmaker and naturalist David Attenborough, whose series Blue Planet II began in October, spoke out several times on plastic pollution in 2017. In September, Attenborough told Greenpeace of the "heartbreaking" footage he recorded of mother birds feeding their babies plastic, an iconic moment for him that pushed him to speak up about plastic pollution in oceans., and tell Trump to reconsider his withdrawal from the Paris agreement. He emphasized that "never before have we been so aware of what we are doing to our planet—and never before have we had such power to do something about it."

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« Reply #25 on: Dec 28, 2017, 06:14 AM »

Bollywood sexual harassment: minister for women writes to film-makers

Producers and actors are asked to provide safer work environment, a day after actors’ accounts of harassment emerge

Michael Safi in Delhi

India’s minister for women has written to leading Bollywood film-makers asking them to crack down on sexual exploitation in the industry after several actors went public with allegations of harassment and assault.

Maneka Gandhi wrote to at least 25 prominent producers and actors urging them to “provide a safe, secure and inclusive work environment for women” in line with national laws against sexual harassment.

She said harassment under Indian law included unwanted touching, lewd remarks or making “a demand or request for sexual favours”.

On Wednesday the Guardian published the accounts of several actors across Indian film industries alleging harassment at the hands of male directors and casting officers.

The actors said a “casting couch” culture, where women were regularly propositioned to exchange job opportunities for sex, was endemic.

“It is always very subtle,” one actor, Swara Bhasker, said. “People try to insinuate that there are 10,000 girls for one role – so what can you do?”

Another, Tisca Chopra, said: “They make situations uncomfortable and load choices in a way where if women want to get ahead, you have to do certain things.”

Film industry journalists and union officials blamed the culture on a competitive, heavily male-dominated industry with poor regulation and a surplus of vulnerable young actors.

“It’s an insecure industry in which people take advantage of each other because of this insecurity,” said Amit Behl, the senior joint secretary of the Cine and TV Artists Association (Cintaa) in Mumbai.

In the ministerial letter, sent to heavyweights such as the producer Karan Johar and actors Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, Gandhi ordered film studios to set up internal complaint mechanisms and processes for dealing with complaints.

Similar letters will soon be sent to producers in other Indian film industries, according to ministerial officials.

The wave of accusations against high-profile politicians and news and entertainment figures in the US and UK has so far only caused ripples in the Indian cinema industry, the world’s largest.

But the number of official reports of sexual harassment made to Cintaa has increased fourfold in the past two years in line with a growing willingness among Indian women across society to report sexual misconduct.

Flavia Agnes, a senior lawyer and women’s advocate, said women in Indian cinema had frequently complained to her about the conduct of their male colleagues but “are generally afraid to speak out when their career is at stake”.

“They fear they won’t get work, that’s the main worry,” she said. “They are afraid the industry will shun them, and that there are always newcomers waiting to take their place.

“There has to be a lot more work to bring women together in associations so they can raise issues collectively,” she said.

Indian women contributed thousands of stories of harassment and abuse to the #MeToo campaign, sparked by the revelation of decades of sexual abuse allegations against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Allegations of abuse against men in south Asian academic circles were also collected in a publicly accessible document that was widely shared across social networks.

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« Reply #26 on: Dec 28, 2017, 06:24 AM »

'This is my mum': after 40 years a stolen child finally returns home

When Kauka was eight she was abducted by soldiers from her village in the former Portuguese colony of Timor-Leste. Now she has come back

by Krithika Varagur in Aileu, Timor-Leste. Main image by Neo Pasopati
28 Dec ‘17 01.29 GMT

It was 39 years since Kauka had last walked up the steep dirt road to her house in the Timor-Leste highlands, a lifetime since she was taken by an Indonesian soldier on her way home from school.

She was just eight on the day she was prised from her family of subsistence coffee farmers, her school friends, neighbours, village, and country. She remembers biting the soldier’s shoulder in protest, to little effect. Within days her parents had been forced to consent to her “adoption”. She was taken first to a nearby military tent and soon after to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where she has lived ever since.

Kauka was abducted in 1978, early in Indonesia’s 24-year-long military occupation of the former Portuguese colony of Timor-Leste.

But last month, aged 47, she came back – a stolen child returning to her mother.

Her road home has been pockmarked by abuse and heartache. Despite nominally becoming the soldier’s adopted daughter, Kauka was beaten, whipped, forced to cook and work, and burned with cigarettes by his wife and family.

She converted to Islam from Catholicism and started wearing a hijab. She eventually fled to a madrasa and the house of the soldier’s sister, who “adopted” her too – until a few years later, when the sister made a deathbed request that Kauka marry her husband after she passed away.

So, in short but strange order, Kauka became the second wife of her kidnapper’s brother-in-law, stepmother to his two children, a devout Muslim, and a dedicated housewife.

And it would have gone on like that for ever, were it not for the efforts of a charity set up to find abducted Timorese children and reunite them with their families. According to a 2005 report from Timor-Leste’s truth commission there are at least 4,000 cases like Kauka’s.

“Wherever there are soldiers, there are stolen children,” said Galuh Wandita, the director of Asia Justice and Rights, or Ajar, the nonprofit that organises the reunions.

Last month Kauka began her journey back to her village, Berleo. She and a small retinue from Ajar ascended from the capital, Dili, in a truck that started and stopped, grinding its wheels into sheets of toffee-coloured mudwater. Local boys were rallied to tow it as Kauka watched mutely; she had mostly forgotten the local language, Tetum.

    Wherever there are soldiers, there are stolen children.
    Galuh Wandita, Asia Justice and Rights

As she approached her hometown, the third of seven villages in the misty Aileu hills, crowds of residents came out to watch. One young woman came up to Kauka, curious about the hijabi visitor in a district that rarely sees new faces.

“Are you an Indonesian or Timorese?” she asked her, in effortful Indonesian.

“I am Timorese,” she said. “But I’ve been living in Indonesia.”

“How long?” the woman asked her.

“Almost 40 years.”

The woman’s face rearranged itself. “The army?” she asked Kauka.

“Yes, the army.”

It was understood.

Around sunset the truck stopped again and more villagers came up to Kauka. They had heard she was coming back and had been her classmates: did she remember them from second grade?
Kauka, who was abducted as a child by an Indonesian soldier when she was eight years old, meets her mother and brother for the first time in 39 years in Timor Leste.

Kauka looked utterly blank. She did not seem to remember them at all. She also had not been convinced a few days earlier when a man claiming to be her younger brother met her at the airport, where she arrived with Ajar in a group of 15 stolen children.

Her brother, a police officer, had managed to cross the security lines and tried to embrace her. He remembered her childhood pet name and had the same broad mouth and distinctive eyes.

But Kauka had refused to look at him. Her companions were beginning to worry they had botched the reunion.

Later, arriving in Berleo under millions of stars, the entire village trailed her from the truck to her house. There a woman wrapped in faded linen opened the door. Kauka embraced her dully and they sat down under a fluorescent bulb.

But then Kauka remembered something and took the older woman’s hand. A ripple crossed her face: there was a scar. Her mother had broken her hand when Kauka was still a child, one of the details about her family that was burned into her mind when she was put on a one-way ship to Indonesia.

“This is my mum,” she said. “This is my mum.”

The older woman teared up and they embraced again, with force. If this was her mother, then that was her brother, and that other woman standing in the corner was her sister-in-law, and this two-year-old girl was her niece, and all these people were, in fact, her people.

That night, reunions like hers were being repeated across the tiny country as 15 stolen children, all adults now, met their families for the first time in three or four decades. They now live in Java or Sulawesi, large Indonesian islands, working as farmers, labourers, shiphands, housewives. Some had been given new names and others new religions.

Under the Suharto military dictatorship, Indonesia occupied Timor-Leste from 1975 to 1999. It was a brutal rule marked by systematic torture, rape, starvation, killings, and thousands of child soldiers, like most of the male stolen children. Ajar, which works on accountability for mass crimes across south-east Asia, has brought a total of 57 stolen children back home. It is presently the only effort from Indonesia to find their families.

This month’s trip started in Dili, where the returning adults met with Timorese officials and its human rights and truth commissions, who effusively welcomed them back and invited them to become Timorese citizens again.

But that is likely easier said than done. Most of the stolen children are too poor to afford a plane ticket, have largely forgotten Tetum, and have put down roots in their transplanted homes. And Timor-Leste is still a tiny new country of fewer than 1.3 million people, with much less infrastructure and civil society than most of Indonesia.

The stolen children’s families were told to send a representative to meet them when they landed. One man named Maritu Fonseka, now a janitor in Sulawesi, tearfully found and embraced his grandmother. Another man, Marsal Cimenes, sat forlornly to the side; he thought no one had come for him.

But it turned out that the woman was also his aunt. She took him in, too, the three of them sitting arm-in-arm for the rest of the afternoon – and the two men, who had met only days earlier, realised they were not just new friends but also family.

Their story was not an exception: two other men in the cohort found out they were cousins through the reunion process and went home together to a hamlet near the hillside town of Maubisse.

In another village near Maubisse, Miguel Amaral, one of the oldest returning Timorese, sat with his cousin in a little grey house. He was renamed Untung, meaning “lucky”, by Indonesian soldiers because he was shot at three times and survived. He has carried around a faded photograph of the soldier who kidnapped him for 40 years.

“I didn’t feel lucky then,” he said. “Maybe a little bit now.”

The circumstances of their return force a lifetime’s worth of emotions into a week.

Kauka went from hesitant stranger to the teen daughter she never got a chance to be within hours of her return.

“Mum, you can’t wear plastic bangles like that,” she said in broken Tetum, rolling her eyes and pulling the black ones off her mother’s wrist. By the next morning she had visibly relaxed.

“You know, it’s funny,” she said, dipping a stale Portuguese roll into very sweet coffee. “You probably don’t remember anything about your mum from when you were a child. But I did. Because I had to.”

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« Reply #27 on: Dec 28, 2017, 06:29 AM »

Woman abused as a child by Caldey Island monk waives right to anonymity

Exclusive: Joanna Biggs describes how she and her sister were sexually abused by Thaddeus Kotik and calls for an inquiry into cover-up of offences

Steven Morris and Amanda Gearing
28 Dec ‘17 12.00 GMT

A woman has waived her right to anonymity to describe how she and her sister were sexually abused as children by a monk on Caldey Island, calling for an inquiry into how offences were covered up for decades.

Joanna Biggs also claims that a nun lied about the circumstances surrounding the death of her sister, Theresa, at the age of six in a swimming accident on the island 40 years ago, and wants her inquest reviewed.

Biggs is one of a growing number of survivors who have come forward to detail offences committed by Fr Thaddeus Kotik, a member of the Cistercian order of Benedictine monks who lived at Caldey Abbey on the Pembrokeshire island from 1947 until his death in 1992.

Since the Guardian exposed the abuse in November there have been calls from victims and politicians for an inquiry. The Guardian has also revealed that two other men who lived and worked on Caldey were subsequently convicted of child sex offences.

In addition, police are investigating allegations that a seasonal worker sexually assaulted a girl on the island.

Revealed: monk who abused children on 'crime free' Caldey Island for decades: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/nov/18/revealed-monk-who-abused-children-on-free-caldey-island-for-decades

Biggs, 48, is the first Kotik victim to be named. She said one of her main motivations was to defend her sister against the accusation that she disobeyed the instructions of a nun and went swimming when she had been told not to go in the water. But Biggs said she and her sister were abused by Kotik, in the dairy on the island, when they were aged six and seven.

Kotik’s modus operandi was to befriend families who lived there or who regularly visited. He gave them handmade chocolates and fresh produce, and invited the children to the dairy. He abused children in a room beside the dairy, on walks through the woods, in dens or in isolated rocky coves near the beach.

Biggs said that although she was the older sister, it was Theresa who suggested they avoid Kotik.

“We were always together,” she said. “We played together and talked about everything together. Although I was older, Theresa was more gregarious and bolder. Theresa suggested we should stick together for protection.

“I have a memory of me being in a huddle with her in a garden somewhere by ourselves and her saying that we shouldn’t go to see Fr Thad, even if he gave us sweets, and me nodding in agreement. I knew why she was saying that at the time. I didn’t like what Fr Thad did.

“I feel grateful that she was the one who voiced it. This helped me avoid a different paedophile about a year or so later – not on Caldey, on holiday somewhere else – it flashed into my head like a warning and I listened and ran away from him.”

Biggs told how she and her sister had once begun to act out the abuse they suffered. “We started to re-enact what happened in the dairy to us, taking our pyjamas off – and then we stopped and decided we didn’t like it and didn’t want to play that story.”

Biggs said the Guardian’s original article triggered panic attacks. “It was the picture of Fr Thad holding the two girls – they’re not Theresa and I, but you can see how tightly he held them in his arms. He was very strong and had rough hands. The most bizarre place I had a panic attack was in a supermarket one weekend, next to the freezer section. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the cold, the smell and the noise.”

In July 1977 the two sisters were among a group of children at Sandtop Bay beach on Caldey under the supervision of a nun called Sister Sheila Singleton, who was leading an educational course for Catholic children.

Theresa went swimming on a windy day unaware there was a dangerous undercurrent and she was swept out to sea. Three boys, 12, 14, and 15, swam out to try to help her but she drowned.

During the inquest at Tenby police station, Singleton, who died in 2004, testified in a written statement that Theresa had defied her instructions not to go swimming because the water was too cold. The boys told a different story but the coroner accepted the nun’s version and recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Biggs insists that Singleton’s evidence was false because the nun had given her sister permission to swim. “She the nun helped me to put Theresa’s armbands on. And then she said, ‘Off you go.’ My sister was not naughty.”

Biggs said she and her parents have lived with the nun’s lie for more than 40 years. “It is time for my sister to be released from false blame,” she said. Biggs argued that the story of her sister’s drowning was relevant to the abuse scandal because it showed that children’s voices were often ignored.

“The problem with things as they currently are is that everything to do with Caldey has been closed off, unmentioned, swept under the carpet or just whispered about for a very long time.”

The abuse on Caldey emerged after the abbey paid modest sums of compensation to six women who had brought a civil claim against the Cistercian order on Caldey for abuse they suffered as children by Kotik in the 70s and 80s.

After the Guardian exposed the abuse last month, the abbot, Daniel van Santvoort, apologised via the island’s Facebook page that allegations made against Kotik had not been reported to the authorities and expressed regret for any harm caused.

Since then the Guardian has revealed:

• A sex offender called Paul Ashton lived on the island for seven years while on the run from the police. It has also now emerged that he ran a cleaning company registered on the island with a convicted fraudster.

• A priest, Fr John Shannon, who was subsequently caught on the mainland with pictures of children as young as nine, lived on the island for nine months.

• Police are investigating another man over an alleged sexual assault that took place at the same period as the Kotik offences. He was not a member of the abbey or its staff.

Adding her voice to calls for an inquiry from other victims and Tory Welsh assembly members, Biggs said: “I feel like it’s just the start, the box is only just being opened. It seems to me that the best people to investigate that box fairly and thoroughly would be people and organisations who have not been previously associated with the island – and also who do not belong to a particular denomination or faith.

“I think this would be best for Caldey Abbey as well. If they want to try and win back people’s trust that they are truly interested in safeguarding their visitors in future.

“The fact that Fr Thad was left for so many years to continue to do whatever he liked suggests at the very least, tolerance or blindness by Caldey Abbey to that same behaviour in others. These are offenders who understand Catholicism and know how to hide within it and manipulate it.”

Biggs added: “There appears to be a firm position taken by the current abbot towards protecting the interests of the monastery, and a distinct lack of openness, clarity and even goodwill when it comes to the dealing with revelations of the abuse that took place. His order is responsible for covering it up and allowing it to continue. Acknowledgment is everything.”

It can also be revealed that the abbey’s wealthy “mother house”, Scourmont Abbey near Chimay in Belgium, denied legal liability for the abuse. Caldey’s webpage spells out how the island was sold to the Cistercian order in the 1920s to be occupied by a group of monks from Scourmont and adds that the present monks are the successors of the first Caldey Cistercians.

The Guardian has also established that Kotik spent time at Scourmont. But Armand Veilleux, the Scourmont abbot from 1999 until his retirement in November this year, said Caldey was an autonomous house in civil and canon law.

Teresa Elwes, a devotee who has maintained a relationship with Caldey and Scourmont for 40 years and knew Kotik, said the mother house – which is known for its brewery – could afford to compensate victims properly.

Elwes said: “These young women have been abused by a monk and now that abuse is continuing by the failure of the monastic community to take responsibility and willingly and eagerly pay proper compensation, whilst acknowledging that this alone can never be enough.”

The Caldey Abbey abbot has not responded to requests by the Guardian for an interview and has not granted permission for reporters to land on the private island.

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« Reply #28 on: Dec 28, 2017, 06:32 AM »

Cloud of corruption hangs over Bulgaria as it takes up EU presidency

Anti-corruption campaigners fear Brussels is going soft on Sofia while presence of far-right minority parties also raises concerns

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels
Thu 28 Dec ‘17 09.37 GMT

Music will play, fireworks will explode and shimmer; then at the stroke of midnight on 1 January, Bulgaria, the poorest and “most corrupt” country in the European Union, will pick up the baton of the bloc’s rotating presidency.

The presidency – chairing EU meetings and setting an agenda – does not have the clout it once did, but it is still a big moment for the eastern Balkan nation of 7.4 million people, which was part of the last wave of EU enlargement that reunited east and west.

Yet more than a decade after Bulgaria joined the EU, questions remain over its record in tackling corruption, while the presence of far-right minority parties in government has caused alarm. According to Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, Bulgaria is the most corrupt country in the EU.

“No one [in Bulgaria] is prosecuting political corruption, there are no ex-government officials in jail,” says Ognian Shentov, chairman of the Centre for the Study of Democracy in Sofia. “We have reached a stage of state corruption which we describe as state capture.”

A report by his organisation paints a devastating picture of corruption from the top to bottom of society. More than one in five adults, 1.3 million, are thought to have taken part in a corrupt transaction, such as paying or receiving a bribe, but only 72 court cases were completed in 2015.

Anti-corruption campaigners point to the Bulgarian subsidiary of Lukoil, the Kremlin-owned energy company that supplies 100% of Bulgaria’s oil imports. Lukoil is Bulgaria’s largest company and has seen its monopoly power entrenched by successive governments, with laws that discourage competition.

Another red flag includes the delay in investigating the murky tale behind the collapse of the Corporate Commercial Bank, which was the country’s fourth largest lender until a 2014 bank run, which appears to have been set off by a feud between its wealthy owner and a politician.

More than a decade after joining the EU on 1 January 2007, Bulgaria and Romania remain subject to special monitoring to bring them into line with European norms.

The cooperation and verification mechanism (CVM), designed and run by Brussels, was only meant to last a few years. Eleven years later, the European commission continues to publish annual reports, but anti-corruption specialists worry the heat has gone.

“Clearly the mechanism has produced results. Bulgaria managed to bring under control organised crime,” says Ruslan Stefanov, who leads CSD’s corruption monitoring programme. “But on corruption and judicial reform, it is not producing the results the EU and Brussels had expected.”

He argues, however, it is wrong to conclude Bulgaria is “the most corrupt country in the EU”, pointing to other surveys that give a more mixed picture than Transparency International. “The TI survey is a question of whether you like your country or not. I don’t think Bulgaria is experiencing more corruption than, say, Slovakia, but the potential impact is much bigger because the economy in Bulgaria is much smaller.”

Yet Stefanov worries Brussels might be going soft on Bulgaria because it does not want to “thrash a country” that is about to take the presidency.

A senior official at the European commission, who was not authorised to give their name, rejected suggestions the reports could be scrapped for political reasons. The CVM process would not be concluded until “we will see all benchmarks and all recommendations in the reports fulfilled”.

The presidency is far from the only reason why the EU may be less inclined to get tough with Sofia. Solvent and stable Bulgaria is not “a problem country” for Brussels. Bulgaria is not facing sanctions for the violation of the rule of law, like Poland, nor has it picked a fight with Brussels on refugee quotas, like Hungary. Neither has it required three multibillion-euro bailouts, like Greece.

Sofia’s solid finances and predictability under the centre-right prime minister, Boyko Borissov, explain why Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, wants Bulgaria in the eurozone and has called for it and Romania to “immediately” join the passport-free Schengen zone. France, Germany and other western countries have blocked the Schengen entry of the two eastern states for years over corruption concerns.

Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute, detects a shift in attitudes since Brexit and the standoff over the rule of law in Poland. “In 2007 willingness to join everything was just assumed and ability was the big problem; but now the fact Bulgaria is trying and wanting to be part of things seems to count more.”

It is a view echoed by a Bulgarian source who knows Borissov and his inner circle. “There was a time in small countries when the fear of Brussels was very strong. But now if you have fiscal stability and you are cooperating in big decisions, then you are not going to face a problem.”

The biggest controversy of Bulgaria’s time in the European spotlight seems more likely to centre on those ministers who are part of the xenophobic United Patriots coalition. In October the deputy prime minister, Valeri Simeonov, was found guilty of discrimination for a 2014 speech in parliament where he described Romany people as “arrogant, presumptuous and ferocious-like humans” and compared Romany women to “street dogs”.

The defence minister, Krasimir Karakachanov, has called for Europe’s external borders to be defended by “force of arms if necessary” to stop asylum seekers. His party, the Bulgarian National Movement, is “notorious for systematically propagating hatred against neighbouring peoples in the Balkans as well as anti-Gypsy propaganda”, according to a Council of Europe report.

The source who knows Borissov claimed these ministers were not influential but their views have rung alarm bells in Brussels. The European commissioner for justice, Věra Jourová, told Politico earlier this year she was “nervous” about the situation and was monitoring the government’s policy on the Roma.

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« Reply #29 on: Dec 28, 2017, 06:37 AM »

More than 350 million Latin American voters to elect new leaders in 2018

Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Paraguay will elect new presidents in what could be a popular reaction against corrruption

Laurence Blair
Thu 28 Dec ‘17 08.00 GMT

The anti-establishment tide that has swept much of the world is set to break over Latin America in 2018. Some 350 million voters are due to head to the polls in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Paraguay to elect new presidents – and in several cases, potentially slam a defibrillator into their ailing political systems.

“Attempting to understand or interpret the elections for what they mean in a left-right swing would be a mistake,” said Christopher Sabatini, a Latin America expert at Columbia University. “What we are more likely to see is more popular reaction against corruption.”

Seizing the headlines in July will be Mexico, where Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the perennial candidate of the left, will face off against José Antonio Meade, the technocratic successor to Enrique Peña Nieto. Few will miss the incumbent, whose term of office has been stained by a failure to rein in the country’s soaring murder rate, and pervasive corruption – in which the presidential couple themselves have been implicated.

While López Obrador, 64, a former mayor of Mexico City, is not as radical as his detractors claim, his promises to tackle graft and poverty have won him a 5% to 15% poll lead over his rivals. Yet López Obrador’s own missteps – such as suggesting an amnesty for criminals – and fear of change may see voters plump for business as usual.

Brazil’s Michel Temer, meanwhile, probably views even Peña Nieto’s meagre ratings with envy. Temer – a rightwing 77-year-old career politician who helped remove Dilma Rousseff in last year’s controversial impeachment – has seen his approval ratings drop as low as 3% amid widespread allegations of corruption, which have at times seemed to implicate Brazil’s entire political class.

The beneficiary in October’s presidential race is likely to be the former leftwing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, currently polling at around 36% – although he too faces corruption charges that could bar him from running. Meanwhile, the far-right homophobe Jair Bolsonaro (on 15%) is gaining strength despite – or perhaps because of – his enthusiasm for Brazil’s military dictatorship.

“Whoever can present himself or herself as the cleaner, less tainted candidate will be likely to win in Brazil and Mexico,” said Sabatini.

Across Latin America, voters will be led not by ideology but issues – such as the demand for cleaner government, rejection of entrenched political groups, or, in Colombia, concerns over the peace process with the leftwing former rebels of the Farc.

In neighbouring Venezuela, some doubt whether presidential elections scheduled for December will even take place, especially after the embattled Nicolás Maduro threatened to ban major opposition parties. If allowed a free and fair ballot, Venezuela would probably opt for change. But a divided opposition has failed to convince enough people that it is a better proposal than hyperinflation, shortages of basic goods, and rampant crime.

Democracy will be in the crosshairs elsewhere. Bolivia’s Evo Morales will probably press ahead with his plans to run for a fourth term in 2019 after compliant judges scrapped term limits. Here too, voters are increasingly disappointed with the incumbent, but have yet to find a viable alternative.

Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, president since 2007, will probably take steps to deepen his illiberal rule – and possibly pass even greater power to his wife (and vice-president) Rosario Murillo. Honduras could see greater turmoil after its December presidential election was marred by serious allegations of fraud by the rightwing incumbent, Juan Orlando Hernández. The Cuban leader, Raúl Castro, will step down, but his departure is unlikely to bring political or economic change.

Even normally staid Chile faces an uncertain panorama. The centre-right businessman and former president Sebastian Piñera won December’s presidential election having suggested expelling all undocumented immigrants and played on fears of Venezuela-style chaos should his centre-left rival have won. But his second term in office will be harder than his first – opposition parties outnumber his coalition in congress, including the radical leftwing Frente Amplio coalition, which rudely interrupted 30 years of two-party politics in November.

Yet for most people in Latin America, electoral politics will be low down on a long list of concerns. Across the region, economies will remain sluggish, jobs scarce and pay low.

Most pressing for many will be worries about corruption, security and crime. Despite eradication efforts, cultivation of coca – the raw material in cocaine – remains buoyant and cartels continue to operate with impunity across borders.

And beyond some experimentation with legalised marijuana, few politicians will put their head above the parapet to admit change is needed. The US-backed militarised war on drugs is likely to grind on in its main battlefields of Mexico, Colombia and Central America.

Violence, impunity and cartel-backed corruption will keep driving people from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and enforcement efforts in Mexico and along the US border will force migrants to take increasingly dangerous routes in search of safety.

But the experience of most Latin Americans will be far from violence, struggle and poverty. The middle class will still grow, if not at the dizzying rate seen in the early years of the century. Tens of millions will be glued to the television during their lunchbreak as the region’s champions duke it out for World Cup glory in Russia.

And when the final whistle is sounded on 15 July, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay and Costa Rica will have new presidents, while everything will still be to play for in Brazil and Venezuela – for better or worse.

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