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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 146627 times)
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« Reply #345 on: Mar 13, 2013, 06:08 AM »

03/12/2013 06:21 PM

The Price of Green Energy: Is Germany Killing the Environment to Save It?

By Markus Dettmer, Peter Müller and Cornelia Schmergal

The German government is carrying out a rapid expansion of renewable energies like wind, solar and biogas, yet the process is taking a toll on nature conservation. The issue is causing a rift in the environmental movement, pitting "green energy" supporters against ecologists.

The Bagpipe, a woody knoll in northern Hesse, can only be recommended to hikers with reservations. This here is lumberjack country. Broad, clear-cut lanes crisscross the area. The tracks of heavy vehicles can be seen in the snow. And there is a vast clearing full of the stumps of recently felled trees.

Martin Kaiser, a forest expert with Greenpeace, gets up on a thick stump and points in a circle. "Mighty, old beech trees used to stand all over here," he says. Now the branches of the felled giants lie in large piles on the ground. Here and there, lone bare-branch survivors project into the sky.

Kaiser says this is "a climate-policy disaster" and estimates that this clear-cutting alone will release more than 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Forests are important for lowering levels of greenhouse gases, as large quantities of carbon dioxide are trapped in wood -- especially the wood of ancient beech trees like these. Less than two years ago, UNESCO added the "Ancient Beech Forests of Germany" to its list of World Natural Heritage Sites.

It wasn't any private forest magnate who cleared these woods out. Rather, it was Hessen-Forst, a forestry company owned by the western German state of Hesse. For some years now, wood has enjoyed a reputation for being an excellent source of energy -- one that is eco-friendly and presumably climate neutral. At the moment, more than half of the lumber felled in Germany makes into way into biomass power plants or wood-pellet heating systems. The result has been an increase in prices for wood and the related profit expectations. The prospect of making a quick buck, Kaiser says, "has led to a downright brutalization of the forestry business."

The Costs of Going Green

One would assume that ecology and the Energiewende, Germany's plans to phase out nuclear energy and increase its reliance on renewable sources, were natural allies. But in reality, the two goals have been coming into greater and greater conflict. "With the use of wood, especially," Kaiser says, "the limits of sustainability have already been exceeded several times." To understand what this really means, one needs to know Kaiser's background: For several years, he has been the head of the climate division at Greenpeace Germany's headquarters in Hamburg.

Things have changed in Germany since Chancellor Angela Merkel's government launched its energy transition policy in June 2011, prompted by the Fukushima nuclear power plant catastrophe in Japan. The decision to hastily shut down all German nuclear power plants by 2022 has shifted the political fronts. Old coalitions have been shattered and replaced by new ones. In an ironic twist, members of the environmentalist Green Party have suddenly mutated into advocates of an unprecedented industrialization of large areas of land, while Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats have been advocating for more measures to protect nature.

Merkel's energy policies have driven a deep wedge into the environmental movement. While it celebrates the success of renewable energies as one of its greatest victories, it is profoundly unsettled by the effects of the energy transition, which can be seen everywhere across the country.

Indeed, this is not just about cleared forests. Grasslands and fields are being transformed into oceans of energy-producing corn that stretch beyond the horizon. Farmers are using digestate, a by-product of biogas production, to fertilize their fields as soon as they thaw from the winter. And entire tracts of land are being put to industrial use -- converted into enormous solar power plants, wind farms or highways of power lines, which will soon stretch from northern to southern Germany.

The public discourse about the energy transition plan is still dominated by its supporters, including many environmentalists who want to see the expansion of renewable energies at any price. They set the tone in government agencies, functioning as advisors to renewable energy firms and policymakers alike. But then there are those feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the way things are going. Out of fear of environmental destruction, they no longer want to remain silent.

Greens in Awkward Position

Although this conflict touches all political parties, none is more affected than the Greens. Since the party's founding in 1980, it has championed a nuclear phaseout and fought for clean energy. But now that this phaseout is underway, the Greens are realizing a large part of their dream -- the utopian idea of a society operating on "good" power -- is vanishing into thin air. Green energy, they have found, comes at an enormous cost. And the environment will also pay a price if things keep going as they have been.

Within the Greens' parliamentary group in the Bundestag, politicians focused on energy policy are facing off against those who champion environmental conservation, fighting over how much support the party should throw behind Merkel's energy transition. Those who prioritize the environment face a stiff challenge, given that Jürgen Trittin -- co-chairman of the parliamentary group who long served as environment minister -- is clearly more concerned with energy issues.

In debates, members of the pro-environmental camp have occasionally even been hissed at for supposedly playing into the hands of the nuclear lobby. "We should overcome the temptation to sacrifice environmental protection for the sake of the fighting climate change," says Undine Kurth, a Green parliamentarian from the eastern city of Magdeburg. "Preserving a stable natural environment is just as important."

"Of course there is friction between environment and climate protection advocates, even in my party," says Robert Habeck, a leader of the Greens in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein who became its "Energiewende minister" in June 2012 -- the first person in Germany to hold that title. "We Greens have suddenly also become an infrastructure party that pushes energy projects forward, while on the other side the classic CDU clientele is taking to the barricades. It's just like it was 30 years ago, only with reversed roles."

This role is an unfamiliar one for environmentalists. For a long time, they were the good guys, and the others were the bad guys. But now they're suddenly on the defensive. They used to be the ones who stood before administrative courts to fight highway and railway projects to protect Northern Shoveler ducks, Great Bustards or rare frog species. But now they are forced to defend massive high-voltage power lines while being careful not to scare off their core environmentalist clientele.

Bärbel Höhn, a former environment minister of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, has a reputation for being a bridge-builder between the blocs. She concedes that there have been mistakes, like with using corn for energy. But these are just teething problems that must be overcome, she adds reassuringly.

Encroaching on Nature Reserves

The opposition in Berlin has so far contented itself with criticizing Merkel, believing that her climate policies have failed and that she has steered Germany's most important infrastructure project into a wall. Granted, neither the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) nor the Greens are part of the ruling coalition at the federal level, but they do jointly govern a number of Germany's 16 federal states. And, when forced to choose between nature and renewable energies, it is usually nature that take a back seat in those states.

It was in this way that, in 2009, Germany's largest solar park to date arose right in the middle of the Lieberoser Heide, a bird sanctuary about a 100 kilometers (62 miles) southeast of Berlin. Since German reunification in 1990, more than 200 endangered species have settled in the former military training grounds. But that didn't seem to matter. In spite of all the protests by environmentalists, huge areas of ancient pine trees were clear cut in order to make room for solar collectors bigger than soccer fields.

A similar thing happened in Baden-Württemberg, even though the southwestern state has been led for almost two years by Winfried Kretschmann, the first state governor in Germany belonging to the Green Party. In 2012, it was the Greens there who passed a wind-energy decree that aims to boost the number of wind turbines in the state from 400 to roughly 2,500 by 2020. And in the party's reckoning, nature is standing in the way.

The decree includes an exemption that makes it easier to erect huge windmills in nature conservations areas, where they are otherwise forbidden. But now this exception threatens to become the rule: In many regions of the state, including Stuttgart, Esslingen and Göppingen, district administrators are reporting that they plan to permit wind farms to be erected in several nature reserves.

But apparently even that isn't enough for Claus Schmiedel, the SPD leader in the state parliament. Two weeks ago, he wrote a letter to Kretschmann recommending that he put the bothersome conservationists back into line. Schmiedel claimed that investors in renewable energies were being "serially harassed by the low-level regional nature-conservation authorities" -- and complained that the state government wasn't doing enough to combat this.

Fears of Magnetic Fields

Just as controversial as the wind farms are the massive electricity masts of the power lines, which bring wind energy from the north to large urban areas in the south. This has led the Greens to favor cables laid underground over the huge overhead lines for some time now. Trittin, the party's co-leader, believes that using buried cables offers an opportunity "to expand the grid with the backing of the people."

Ironically, however, there is growing resistance to this supposedly eco- and citizen-friendly form of power transition on the western edge of Göttingen, a university town in central Germany that lies in Trittin's electoral district.

Harald Wiedemann, of the local citizens' initiative opposed to underground cables, has already sent to the printers a poster that reads: "Stop! You are now leaving the radiation-free sector." Plans call for laying 12 cables as thick as an arm 1.5 meters (5 feet) below ground. Wiedemann warns that the planned high-voltage lines will create dangerous magnetic fields.

He and some other locals have marked out the planned course of the lines with barrier tape. It veers away from the highway north of the village, cuts through the fields, runs right next to an elementary school and through a drinking water protection area.

Wiedemann is also the head of the city organization of the Greens, who are generally known as Energiewende backers. "But why do things have to be done so slapdash?" he asks. The planning seems "fragmented," he says, and those behind them have forgotten "nature conservation, health and agriculture."

Indeed, underground cables are anything but gentle on the landscape. Twelve thick metal cables laid out in a path 20 meters wide are required to transmit 380,000 volts. No trees are allowed to grow above this strip lest the roots interfere with the cables. The cables warm the earth, and the magnetic fields created by the alternating current power cables also terrify many.

Nature Suffers

Many nature conservationists believe that Germany's Energiewende is throwing the baby out with the bath water. For example, last week, Germany's Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) hosted a meeting of scientists and representatives from nature conservation organizations and energy associations in the eastern city of Leipzig.

Kathrin Ammermann, who heads the organization's unit responsible for renewable energy, is troubled by recent developments. "Increased production of biogas, in particular, has intensified corn monoculture," she says, noting that this has harmed numerous plant and animal species. Wind turbines also kill birds and bats. "The expansion of renewable energies must not only be carried out in a way that makes the most economic sense, but also in a way that is as friendly as possible to nature and the environment," she says.

As Germany's environment minister, it is Peter Altmaier's job to balance the interests of both sides. But the CDU politician spent his first months in office singing the praises of renewable energies only to then turn around and warn with increasingly grim forecasts of an explosion in electricity prices that can no longer be controlled. Indeed, nature conservation doesn't exactly top his list of priorities.

Last summer, when he presented his personal 10-point renewable-energy plan, it occurred to him, just in knick of time, that he was also responsible for environmental protection. He then pulled out a few meager words on nature and water protection, which have yet to be followed up with deeds. Nor has any progress been made on a noise-control plan relating to the building of offshore wind farms that had been announced with much fanfare.

At least Norbert Röttgen, Altmaier's predecessor and fellow CDU member, conceded during his time in office that nature protection might ultimately risk getting put on the back burner as a result of the nuclear phaseout. He even set up a Nature Conservation and Energy division within the ministry to address the issue. Nevertheless, it is the champions of renewable energies who are increasingly dominating the ministry's policy line, with the traditional advocates of nature and environmental protection just standing back and watching in astonishment. "In decision-making processes, we either get listened to too late or not at all," says one ministry official. "Nature protection just isn't an issue the minister has taken up."

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« Reply #346 on: Mar 14, 2013, 07:17 AM »

03/13/2013 05:00 PM

Migratory Mess: Confused Cranes Perish in German Fog

By Andrew Bowen

As winter turns to spring in Europe, migratory birds are criss-crossing the Continent, leaving their southern summer homes for breeding grounds in the north. But for one group of cranes passing through bad weather in central Germany, the trip turned deadly.

A flock of ill-fated migrating cranes flew to their deaths in central Germany over the weekend, after a number of the birds became disoriented in thick fog and flew into buildings and cars.

The confusion took place in a forested area around the central German town of Seebach, where residents reported the cranes were flying unusually low. Some flew into buildings, while others landed on a country road out of apparent exhaustion, only to be run over by cars. It's possible they had been attracted to vehicle headlights.

At least 20 birds were discovered dead, with authorities reportedly finding four on one road alone.

But a number of other cranes survived their collisions with broken wings or legs, and were brought to the nearby Mühlhausen Veterinary Clinic. Four others were brought to the care center at the Seebach Bird Conservation Observatory, where Dr. Rudolf Sienhold described two of the avian patients as "emaciated."

"One of them looks like he's healing up quite nicely," he said. "The others may have to stay with us for a while."

The cranes were migrating from their winter habitats in France and Spain to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Sienhold said particularly severe rain, ice and fog all probably contributed to the birds losing their way. They may also have become disoriented after crossing over from a high-pressure system easy for flying to the wintery weather that has plagued central Germany in recent days.

The thick fog the cranes encountered is likely to have thrown off their internal navigation systems, sending them into disarray.

Sienhold said he had never seen anything on the scale of the weekend's bird chaos. However, the phenomenon of lost birds is not completely unknown to Germany. In November 2011, more than 55 cranes and 300 geese landed on a highway in the eastern state of Brandenburg and were run over by cars.

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« Reply #347 on: Mar 14, 2013, 07:39 AM »

March 13, 2013

Monarch Migration Plunges to Lowest Level in Decades


The number of monarch butterflies that completed an annual migration to their winter home in a Mexican forest sank this year to its lowest level in at least two decades, due mostly to extreme weather and changed farming practices in North America, the Mexican government and a conservation alliance reported on Wednesday.

The area of forest occupied by the butterflies, once as high at 50 acres, dwindled to 2.94 acres in the annual census conducted in December, Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas disclosed at a news conference in Zitácuaro, Mexico.

That was a 59 percent decline from the 7.14 acres of butterflies measured in December 2011.

Because the insects cannot be counted, the combined size of the butterfly colonies is used as a proxy in the census, which is conducted by the commission and a partnership between the World Wildlife Fund and the Mexican cellphone company Telcel.

“We are seeing now a trend which more or less started in the last seven to eight years,” Omar Vidal, the head of the wildlife group’s Mexico operations, said in an interview. Although insect populations can fluctuate greatly even in normal conditions, the steady downward drift in the butterfly’s numbers is worrisome, he said.

The latest decline was hastened by drought and record-breaking heat in North America when the monarchs arrived last spring to reproduce. Warmer than usual conditions led the insects to arrive early and to nest farther north than is typical, Chip Taylor, director of the conservation group Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, said in an interview. The early arrival disrupted the monarchs’ breeding cycle, he said, and the hot weather dried insect eggs and lowered the nectar content of the milkweed on which they feed.

That in turn weakened the butterflies and lowered the number of eggs laid.

But an equally alarming source of the decline, both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Vidal said, is the explosive increase in American farmland planted in soybean and corn genetically modified to tolerate herbicides.

The American Midwest’s corn belt is a critical feeding ground for monarchs, which once found a ready source of milkweed growing between the rows of millions of acres of soybean and corn. But the ubiquitous use of herbicide-tolerant crops has enabled farmers to wipe out the milkweed, and with it much of the butterflies’ food supply.

“That habitat is virtually gone. We’ve lost well over 120 million acres, and probably closer to 150 million acres,” Mr. Taylor said.

A rapid expansion of farmland — more than 25 million new acres in the United States since 2007 — has eaten away grasslands and conservation reserves that supplied the monarchs with milkweed, he said.

The monarchs’ migration is seen as a natural marvel and, for Mexico, a huge tourist attraction. But naturalists regard the butterflies as a forward indicator of the health of the food chain. Fewer butterflies probably means there are fewer other insects that are food for birds, and fewer birds for larger predators.

Mr. Vidal and Mr. Taylor said December’s record-low census does not necessarily constitute a knockout blow against the butterfly. The Mexican government has halted what was once extensive logging in the monarchs’ winter home, and there remains the prospect that conservationists and state and local governments will replenish some of the milkweed lost to development and changed farming habits.

Mr. Vidal said that American and Canadian officials should move quickly. “Mexico is doing its part,” he said. “Mexico has invested resources, and it’s eliminated this massive illegal logging in the reserve. But on the other hand, I think the United States has to do much more.”

Mr. Taylor said a further decline could cross a tipping point at which the insects will be unusually vulnerable to outside events like a Mexican cold snap or more extreme heat that could put them in peril.

“Normally, there’s a surplus of butterflies and even if they take a big hit, they recover,” he said. But if their current 2.94-acre wintering ground drops below 2.5 acres, bouncing back could be difficult.

“This is one of the world’s great migrations,” he said. “It would be a shame to lose it.”

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« Reply #348 on: Mar 14, 2013, 08:00 AM »

Phallus-shaped worm-like creature sheds light on Earth’s biodiversity

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 13, 2013 16:14 EDT

Fossilised forms of a phallus-shaped invertebrate have shed light on a dramatic spurt in Earth’s biodiversity that occurred half a billion years ago, Canadian scientists reported on Wednesday.

Remains of 10-centimetre (four-inch) worm-like creatures were found in shale beds in Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

The sediment dates back to the mid-Cambrian, a period when the number of species exploded and life forms became more complex.

The long-dead animal, named Spartobranchus tenuis, is an ancestor of the acorn worm, a marine animal that thrives in shallow mud and sand, according to the study, appearing in the journal Nature.

Identifying it means that a link in the marine ecosystem, a group of animals called enteropneusts, emerged 200 million years earlier than thought.

Enteropneusts feed by filtering small particles of food through gill slits.

If the fossil evidence is right, S. tenuis was so plentiful that its feeding may have helped store carbon — a factor in the complex equations for global warming and ocean acidity — on the ocean floor.

“It’s possible Spartobranchus tenuis may have played an important role in moving carbon from the water column to the sediment in the early Burgess Shale environment,” said University of Montreal biologist Chris Cameron.

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« Reply #349 on: Mar 14, 2013, 08:11 AM »

Japan fails to overturn shark-protection deal

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, March 14, 2013 7:32 EDT

Japan and other pro-shark fishing nations lost a bid to overturn a landmark deal to offer international trade protection for several species of the ocean’s oldest predator.

The decision to restrict exports in the oceanic whitetip shark, the porbeagle, three types of hammerheads and the manta ray won final approval by the 178-member Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

“This is an historic day for marine conservation,” Glenn Sant of wildlife trade protection group Traffic said after the decision at a major wildlife conference in Bangkok.

“Sharks populations are in freefall, but have been thrown a lifeline today — CITES has finally listened to the scientists.”

Rather than a complete ban, countries will be required to regulate trade by issuing export permits to ensure their sustainability in the wild, otherwise they could face sanctions by members of CITES, a global treaty which protects some 35,000 species.

The move was agreed by member states on Monday but required final approval at the meeting’s plenary session.

Opponents including Japan, China and India failed to garner enough support to challenge the earlier decision on the oceanic whitetip and the hammerheads.

The species now join the great white shark, the whale shark and the basking shark, which already enjoy international trade controls. Members have 18 months to introduce the new measures.

“This is a historic moment, where science has prevailed over politics, as sharks and manta rays are being obliterated from our oceans,” said Carlos Drews of WWF.

“This decision will put a major dent in the uncontrolled trade in shark meat and fins, which is rapidly destroying populations of these precious animals to feed the growing demand for luxury goods.”

Humans kill about 100 million sharks each year, mostly for their fins, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and conservationists are warning that dozens of species are under threat.

Ninety percent of the world’s sharks have disappeared over the past 100 years, mostly because of overfishing in countries such as Indonesia, the FAO says.

Shark fin soup was once a luxury for China’s elite, but shark populations have been decimated around the world as the country’s 1.3 billion people have grown wealthier and incorporated it into their festivities.

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« Reply #350 on: Mar 15, 2013, 06:45 AM »

Dozens of Species Given New Trade Protections

Published: March 14, 2013

HONG KONG — A major international meeting on wildlife trade ended on Thursday with final decisions to extend protections for dozens of animal and plant species — including five types of sharks — that have come under severe pressure from soaring demand and overfishing.

Conservationists welcomed the decisions by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or Cites, to regulate trade in the threatened species, including for the first time trade in mantas and five shark species: the oceanic whitetip, the porbeagle and three types of hammerhead sharks. Shark populations have fallen sharply in recent years as demand for their fins, predominantly from China, has risen.

The group reached a preliminary agreement on Monday to add those species to the protected list, but there was concern that it might be overturned at the conference’s final plenary session. South American and West African countries rallied to block efforts by Japan to reopen the debate; Japan, like China, has long opposed restrictions on fishing.

“Today was the most significant day for the ocean in the 40-year history of Cites,” said Susan Lieberman, the deputy director of international policy at the Pew Charitable Trusts, in a statement. “This victory indicates that the global community will collaborate to address the plight” of threatened ocean species, she added.

Even so, conservationists warned that the decisions to protect the sharks and mantas and similar actions to regulate trade in various turtles and in ebony and rosewood, did not necessarily herald a broad or lasting shift toward more effective wildlife protection.

“We’ve certainly had some important approvals,” said Colman O’Criodain of the World Wildlife Fund International, speaking by phone from Bangkok, where the conference took place. He noted that national governments and nongovernmental organizations had formed broad-based coalitions to push through decisions, a new phenomenon at Cites meetings, which take place about every three years.

Previous Cites meetings had “a mixed record of successes and failures,” Mr. O’Criodain said, so it was yet to be seen whether the latest measures would be effective. Ultimately, that depends on whether national governments put them into effect, since Cites has no enforcement mechanism of its own. For example, Thailand permits trade in ivory from domestic elephants, a policy that is exploited by smugglers to launder ivory from African elephants.
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« Reply #351 on: Mar 15, 2013, 07:27 AM »

Windfarm sickness spreads by word of mouth, Australian study finds

Health complaints from people living around turbines shown to be psychological effect of anti-wind lobby making people worry

Alison Rourke in Sydney, Friday 15 March 2013 06.52 GMT

Sickness being attributed to wind turbines is more likely to have been caused by people getting alarmed at the health warnings circulated by activists, an Australian study has found.

Complaints of illness were far more prevalent in communities targeted by anti-windfarm groups, said the report's author, Simon Chapman, professor of public health at Sydney University. His report concludes that illnesses being blamed on windfarms are more than likely caused by the psychological effect of suggestions that the turbines make people ill, rather than by the turbines themselves.
"If windfarms were intrinsically unhealthy or dangerous in some way, we would expect to see complaints applying to all of them, but in fact there is a large number where there have been no complaints at all," Chapman said.
The report, which is the first study of the history of complaints about windfarms in Australia, found that 63% had never been subject to noise or health complaints. In the state of Western Australia, where there are 13 windfarms, there have been no complaints.
The study shows that the majority of complaints (68%) have come from residents near five windfarms that have been heavily targeted by opponent groups. The report says more than 80% of complaints about health and noise began after 2009 when the groups "began to add health concerns to their wider opposition".
"In the preceding years health or noise complaints were rare despite large and small turbined wind farms having operated for many years," it says.
According to Chapman, when windfarms started being built in Australia about 20 years ago some of the anti-wind lobby was driven by people who simply did not like the look of them.
"Then in about 2009 things started ramping up and these people discovered if you started saying it was a health problem, a lot more people would sit up and pay attention. It's essentially a sociological phenomenon," he said.
Giving the illness a name like "wind turbine syndrome" and "vibro-acoustic disease" had been a key feature in its spread, Chapman said. He accepted that some people genuinely felt ill but "where you set up an expectation in people that something in their environment is noxious, that can translate into an expression of symptoms".
The findings run against the claims of the Waubra Foundation, a national group that opposes windfarms and says serious medical conditions have been identified in people living, working or visiting within six miles (10km) of wind turbine developments. The group says the onset of conditions including sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart attacks and depression correspond directly with the operation of the windfarms.

Waubra's chief executive, Sarah Laurie, said illnesses resulting from exposure to windfarms were "an inconvenient truth".

"There's been an attitude that the people who are getting sick are collateral damage," she said.

"People are not getting sick because someone tells them they're going to become unwell. They're waking up in the middle of the night and suffering from sleep deprivation because something is waking them up."

Laurie, who trained as a rural GP, said it was important that more research was done so we have a better understanding of exactly what's going on.

"No evidence doesn't mean no problem. It means the evidence hasn't been collected because the research hasn't been done," she said.

Chapman said that if wind farms did genuinely make people ill there would by now be a large body of medical evidence that would preclude putting them near inhabited areas. Eighteen reviews of the research literature on wind turbines and health published since 2003 had all reached the broad conclusion that there was very little evidence they were directly harmful to health.
Chapman cited a recent New Zealand study that exposed 60 healthy volunteers to both real and fake low-frequency noise, similar to what is produced by wind turbines and is sometimes known as infrasound. Half of the volunteers were shown television documentaries about health problems associated with wind turbines before they listened to the low-frequency noise; the other half were not. They were then played a mixture of noises. Those who had seen the videos about the adverse affects reported higher levels of symptoms whether exposed to the genuine or fake audio samples.

In spite of results like this, complaints from some living near wind turbines persist. David Mortimer is a beef and cattle farmer in Millicent, South Australia, 400km south-east of Adelaide. Wind turbines were built on his farm in 2004.

"Mostly I've had sleep-related problems," he said. "At night I get a deep rumbling sensation in my head which makes it hard to get to sleep. I also get a pulsing in my heat that does not correlate to my heartbeat. It gives me an acute sense of anxiety and arrhythmia that goes on for days."

Mortimer said he sleeps well when he's away from the farm, when the silence in his head at night is "absolutely profound".

"As soon as we come back the symptoms reappear," he said. "A lot of people like me are complaining but politicians and wind farm companies are not listening."

An application for 160 new turbines has been approved to be built on his neighbour's property. Seventeen of them will be visible from Mortimer's house and within 3.5km of his home.

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« Reply #352 on: Mar 16, 2013, 07:33 AM »

Greenland government falls as voters send warning to mining companies

Siumut party, led by Aleqa Hammond, to form coalition government in place of Kuupik Kleist's administration

Terry Macalister   
The Guardian, Friday 15 March 2013 22.00 GMT   

The race for resources in the frozen wastes of the Arctic has brought down its first national government, leaving foreign oil and mining companies shivering about the future. Voters in Greenland feared that ministers were surrendering their country's interests to China and foreign multinationals and called an end this week to the government of prime minister Kuupik Kleist.

London Mining, which has a former British foreign minister, Sir Nicholas Bonsor, on the board, has been at the centre of a row in the country after speculation it could bring in 2,000 Chinese workers to build one of the world's biggest iron ore mines expressly to serve steel mills in Beijing.

The activities of Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy, which drilled for oil off Greenland's south-west coast in 2011, had also polarised opinion between those who welcomed the potential for a hydrocarbon strike bringing huge economic wealth and those worried about spills.

The Siumut party in Greenland, led by Aleqa Hammond, has just won 42% of the vote, allowing it to form a coalition government in place of the current ruling party led by Kleist.

The election campaign was dominated by a debate over the activities of foreign investors and concerns among the 57,000 population that Greenland's future could be dictated by the demands of potentially polluting new industries such as mining and oil rather than traditional Inuit trades of fishing and hunting.

Hammond, 47, who was educated in Canada and brought up with traditional skills such as curing seal skins, said she would take a more critical look at Chinese mining investments in Greenland. She also pledged to increase royalties on miners and ensure they talked through staffing plans with trade unions.

"We are welcoming companies and countries that are interested in investing in Greenland," she said in her first interview since the election. "At the same time we have to be aware of the consequences as a people. Greenland should work with countries that have the same values as we have, on how human rights should be respected. We are not giving up our values for investors' sake."

Global warming has caused thawing of sea ice that has made drilling for offshore oil easier and opened up huge amounts of land which are believed to be stuffed with iron ore, copper and rare earth minerals used in tablets and mobile phones.

There is still an acceptance in Greenland that foreign investment is needed to bring in revenues and allow the mainly self-governing country to escape economic dependence on an annual grant from its former colonial power Denmark.

Although a rush by the main oil companies into the Arctic has led to some embarrassing setbacks – Cairn has found nothing off Greenland and Shell has just abandoned drilling plans for this summer off Alaska – there is still keen interest in the region, most notably off Russia.

However, Shell was banned from work off Alaska by the US government this week until it came up with a more robust safety programme. Late last year, a UK House of Commons committee called for a halt to all drilling in the far north until a pan-Arctic response plan was in place. Joan Walley, chair of the environmental audit committee, said: "The infrastructure to mount a big clean-up operation is simply not in place and conventional oil spill response techniques have not been proven to work in such severe conditions."

Recently plans for onshore mining have triggered concern in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. London Mining wants to spend more than £1.5bn on constructing a mine, pipeline and deep sea port in the south-west of the country.

The company said it "does not want to talk" about the impact of the latest political upheaval on its plans but denied it had hired workers from China or anywhere else and said it would not do so until it had permission to proceed with its mine at Isua, 95 miles (150km) east of Nuuk, which could eventually produce 15m tonnes of iron ore a year.

Others with plans are Greenland Minerals and Energy, an Australian-listed company, which wants to mine rare earth minerals at Kvanefjeld and – even more controversially – uranium to fuel nuclear power.

A spokeswoman for the foreign office in Beijing said on Friday: "To my knowledge, no Chinese enterprises have been granted oil, gas or mining licences. There are no Chinese workers entering Greenland." She said a single Chinese company is in the early stages of joining an investment project in Greenland.

A report on the website of China's Ministry of Land and Resources said mining company Sichuan Xinye had held preliminary discussions with London Mining about eventually taking over the Isua scheme. Other Chinese companies digging for business in Greenland were said to include Jiangxi Zhongrun Mining and Jiangxi Union Mining.

Beijing is more openly expansive about its hopes that the thawing ice in the Arctic Ocean will open a new, more direct, shipping route linking east and west.

A Chinese shipping firm is planning the country's first commercial voyage across the Arctic Ocean to the United States and Europe in 2013, a leading Chinese scientist said earlier this week at a conference organised by the Economist magazine in Oslo.

Huigen Yang, director general of the Polar Research Institute of China, said the experimental trip he led last year on the icebreaker Xuelong, or Snowdragon, to explore the route had "greatly encouraged" Chinese shipping companies. Russian and Norwegian shipowners have already started and "one commercial voyage by a Chinese shipping company may take place this summer," said the scientist.

Yang showed delegates at a conference about the Arctic in Oslo longer-term scenarios under which between five and 15% of China's international trade, mostly container traffic, could use the route by 2020. Whether that will include the 250,000 tonne iron ore bulk carriers that London Mining wants to use from Isua, will depend on Hammond.

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« Reply #353 on: Mar 18, 2013, 06:44 AM »

IHT Rendezvous
March 18, 2013, 8:00 am

Environmental Woes Could Reverse Global Development


Climate change and other environmental disasters could put 3.1 billion people into extreme poverty by 2050, if no significant steps are taken, says an annual United Nations report on the state of global development.

“While environmental threats such as climate change, deforestation, air and water pollution, and natural disasters affect everyone, they hurt poor countries and poor communities most,” noted the report’s authors.

Though the world has become fairer overall, “environmental threats are among the most grave impediments to lifting human development, and their consequences for poverty are likely to be high,” according to the authors.

The 2013 Human Development Report, released last week by the United Nations Human Development Programme, gives both a global snapshot and extensive predictions of the world’s state of development. Since 1990 the report has featured the Human Development Index, a number roughly based on life expectancy, education and relative income, to compare different countries and regions. This method of comparison has led to the oft-cited top ten countries to live in.

This year’s report, The Rise of the South, looks at the countries that usually lag behind.

“The Industrial Revolution was a story of perhaps a hundred million people, but this is a story of about billions of people,” says Khalid Malik, the report’s lead author in a statement.

Besides the alarming humanitarian risks associated with environmental challenges, the report describes a world that is slowly becoming more equal.

Extreme income poverty has plummeted from 1990, when 43 percent of the globe’s population lived on the equivalent of less than $1.25 a day, to 2008 when 22 percent of the world’s population, or very roughly 1.5 billion people, live at that level of income poverty.

In China alone half a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in that period.

For the first time since the industrial revolution, Brazil, China and India have a roughly equal output to the industrial nations of Europe and North America. By 2030, the authors predict that 80 percent of the world’s middle class will live in what is currently termed the developing world.

However, because of the risk of environmental disasters those gains could be slowed, halted or even reversed in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, according to the report.

The report highlights a paradox long described by experts: while those nations with the lowest development indexes are often not the polluters, they are bound to suffer more from a warming climate.

The report’s authors cite the impact natural disasters have on developing island states, such as Hurricane Ivan’s devastation of Granada, which led in 2004 to an estimated loss equal to twice its GDP.

The 2011 report, which focused on sustainability and equity, looked at the effects global warming could have on agricultural production, a major source of income for many.

Because of environmental challenges, development — not just income levels, but also education levels and life expectancy — would see a sharp decline, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

“Climate change is already exacerbating chronic environmental threats, and ecosystem losses are constraining livelihood opportunities, especially for poor people,” wrote the authors.
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« Reply #354 on: Mar 19, 2013, 07:16 AM »

U.S. joins Australia and New Zealand in backing Antarctic marine sanctuary amid calls for fishing ban

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 19, 2013 7:37 EDT

Hailing the waters of Antarctica as a living laboratory, the United States has joined Australia and New Zealand in appealing for the creation of marine sanctuaries in the most remote and pristine part of the world.

The United States and New Zealand have drawn up a proposal for a marine sanctuary covering 1.6 million square kilometers (640,000 square miles) of the Ross Sea, which would be the world’s largest reserve.

Nations led by Australia, France and the European Union also want to protect 1.9 million square kilometers of critical coastal area in the East Antarctic.

But the proposals were blocked when talks in November at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) — comprising 24 countries and the European Union — ended without resolution amid concerns from Russia and China.

Now the nations in favour are boosting their efforts to get the two sanctuaries approved at a special meeting of the group in Germany in July.

“Antarctica is a collection of superlatives. It’s the highest, coldest, the windiest, the driest, the most pristine and the most remote place on Earth,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday at a gathering organized by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“And it has beguiled humankind for centuries as people have sought to understand it,” he added, arguing that the waters of the Southern Ocean, home to 16,000 species, are a “living laboratory.”

Kerry told the gathering at the National Geographic Society he believed the world can “work together to ensure that Antarctica remains a place devoted to peace and devoted to expanding human understanding of this fragile planet.”

“This is one of the last places we could do this, and I think we owe it to ourselves to make it happen.”

Australia’s Environment Minister Tony Burke said the CCAMLR would be “the biggest game in town” for the protection of oceans in the coming 12 months.

“What we are wanting to do is replicate in the Southern Ocean what we have already done in Antarctica on land,” he said in comments emailed to AFP.

“It’s a long process of conversation, or diplomacy, but ultimately it’s a scientific argument that needs to win out.”

But conservationists argue the proposals do not go far enough to protect marine life — notably the Antarctic toothfish, which is fished in huge quantities and served as Chilean sea bass on restaurant tables around the world.

The Ross Sea proposal, while creating a reserve to protect Adelie and emperor penguins, as well as killer whales and Weddell seals, would still allow some 3,000 tonnes of toothfish to be commercially caught each year.

“We wanted New Zealand to come up with a much stronger proposal, and they just didn’t, and they dug their heels in, and basically the US had to go for New Zealand’s proposal,” documentary film-maker Peter Young said.

“It doesn’t matter how sustainable this quota is, we shouldn’t be in the last place. We don’t take buffalo from Yellowstone. We don’t take kiwi from the forests in New Zealand. We should not fish from the Ross Sea.”

The Pew trust, which organized Monday’s event, is also calling for the Ross Sea zone “to be designated a no-fishing area so that the integrity of the entire ecosystem can be maintained.”

Young’s film “The Last Ocean,” about the Ross Sea, was screened at the event attended by Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and former New Zealand prime minister Mike Moore.

Kerry told the audience how as a child growing up around Cape Cod in Massachusetts he was taught early on about the wonders of the seas and how to find mussels and clams. “I am a child of the ocean in many ways,” he said.

“The Ross Seas is a natural laboratory, and we disrespect it at our peril, as we do the rest of the ocean.”

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« Reply #355 on: Mar 19, 2013, 07:17 AM »

03/18/2013 01:33 PM

Funding Shortfall: Germany Forced to Cancel Climate Programs

As prices for carbon emissions continue to languish, Berlin is planning to cancel some key subsidy programs aimed at increasing reliance on renewable energies. Germany and other European countries seem uninterested in fixing the problem.

That the German government is facing a massive budget shortfall for projects aimed at transforming the country into a model of alternative energy and environmental friendliness is hardly new. The European cap-and-trade system has for months been sliding into inconsequence as prices for CO2 emissions have stubbornly remained below €5 ($6.47) per ton. The revenues Berlin earns on the mandatory emissions certificates have suffered as a result.

In response, SPIEGEL has learned, the Environment Ministry is set to cancel several flagship subsidy programs this month -- programs that were to be key elements of Germany's transition away from fossil fuels and towards complete reliance on renewables.

By the end of the month, Environment Minister Peter Altmaier, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, is set to cut the program aimed at promoting electric cars, a fund for research and development of energy storage technologies and a third program focused on protecting and expanding forestland in Germany as a way to absorb more CO2 out of the atmosphere. In April, further programs are on the chopping block, according to an internal ministry document seen by SPIEGEL. In total, 14 programs or one-time measures are affected.

The funding shortage currently faced by the Merkel government is massive. The budget for 2014 includes €2 billion for the Energy and Climate Fund to be generated via the sale and trade of CO2 emissions certificates. But the calculation originally assumed a price of €17 euro per ton. Real emissions prices, however, have been well below that for months and are currently trading below €4 per ton. A paper presented to Merkel's cabinet last week by the Finance Ministry predicted a €1.1 billion shortfall.

Endangered Program

For 2013, the shortfall is likely to be between €1.2 billion and €1.4 billion, according to the Finance Ministry.

As part of Germany's abrupt energy-policy about face in the spring of 2011 in the wake of the nuclear accident in Fukishima, Japan, Merkel pledged to completely phase-out nuclear energy by the early part of the next decade. At the same time, Berlin launched dozens of programs to improve energy efficiency, boost the use of renewables and prepare the country's infrastructure for a future of reliance on environmentally friendly energies.

The endangered program for "electro-mobility," for example, was to put 1 million electric cars on German roads by 2020, a project that was to receive €1 billion between May 2011 and this autumn. Meanwhile, the fund for research into energy storage technologies promised the development of facilities in Germany to store energy created by wind turbines and solar panels to even out production fluctuations. The construction of such facilities is a key to becoming more reliant on unpredictable renewable energies.

A Refusal to Budge

The problems facing Europe's Emissions Trading System (ETS) have become acute, with low emissions prices hardly acting as the disincentive policymakers had hoped. Whereas prices per ton of CO2 emissions were at €30 in 2008, they plunged along with Europe's economy in the wake of the global financial crisis and ensuing euro crisis. In 2012, price for emissions certificates fell by more than one-third.

Proposals for fixing the system have been plentiful, but finding agreement has proven elusive. One particular plan, promoted by the European Commission, calls for the temporary removal of 900 million certificates to reduce supply as a way of boosting prices, a concept known as "backloading". European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard has forcefully promoted the proposal, saying in January, "Something has to be done urgently. I can … only appeal to the governments and the European Parliament to act responsibly."

With economies soft in many member states, however, parliament has proven unwilling to further burden European industry. And in Berlin, no consensus on the backloading plan has been found. Whereas Environment Minister Altmaier is in favor, Economy Minister Philipp Rösler, head of Merkel's junior coalition partners from the business-friendly Free Democrats, is opposed and refuses to budge.

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« Reply #356 on: Mar 19, 2013, 07:41 AM »

Business lobby moves to criminalize filming animal abuse on factory farms

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, March 18, 2013 11:18 EDT

Bills being shopped in six states by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would make it a crime to film animal abuse at factory farms or lie on job applications, in hopes of shutting down animal rights activists who infiltrate slaughterhouses to expose ghastly conditions.

“The meat industry’s response to these exposes has not been to try to prevent these abuses from taking place, but rather it’s really just been to prevent Americans from finding out about those abuses in the first place,” Paul Shapiro, spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), told Raw Story. “What they’re doing is trying to pass laws throughout the country that don’t just shoot the messenger, they seek to imprison the messenger.”

The proposals mandate that evidence of animal abuse be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours, or face a financial penalty. Several of the bills bills also make it a crime to lie on slaughterhouse job applications, which activists commonly do in order to get footage like the content of a video published by the HSUS, embedded below.

Those bills appear to be spreading with the help of ALEC, a conservative business advocacy group that encourages lawmakers to “exchange” legislative ideas from state to state. The group came under serious scrutiny after the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin sparked a national controversy over so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that ALEC facilitated in 18 states, enabling the use of deadly force if a person claims they felt their life was in danger. Lawmakers in a further 25 states adopted a spin-off of “Stand Your Ground” laws called “Castle doctrine” laws, which allow the use of deadly force against suspected home invaders.

The bills to block animal rights activists are in California, Nebraska, Tennessee, Indiana, Arkansas and Pennsylvania, according to The Associated Press. Three other states — New Mexico, Wyoming and New Hampshire — have already rejected similar bills this year, and HSUS told Raw Story that three more — Minnesota, Vermont and North Carolina — are yet expected to take them up.

Several states already have laws similar to what ALEC is pushing, and virtually all of them were triggered in response to shocking videos produced by animal rights activists, who some critics have taken to calling propagandists.

In one such recent case, undercover video from an Iowa factory farm produced by a group called Mercy for Animals caused the Iowa legislature to support a so-called “Ag-Gag” law that makes it a crime to lie in order to infiltrate a farm’s staff. That act is now a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of $1,500. Lawmakers in Utah passed a similar law in 2012 that bans unauthorized photography in farms. Missouri also has an older law that accomplishes effectively the same thing.

“This, I think, this a good example of just how much this industry has to hide,” Shapiro said. “You know you’ve got a lot to hide when you want to make it a crime merely to take a photo of what you are doing.”

“At the end of the day it’s about personal property rights or the individual right to privacy,” ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling told the AP. “You wouldn’t want me coming into your home with a hidden camera.”

An ALEC spokesperson did not respond to Raw Story’s request for comment.

This video is from the Humane Society of the U.S., published May 21, 2012. It contains graphic content.
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« Reply #357 on: Mar 21, 2013, 06:08 AM »

Both sides agree on tough new fracking standards

Associated Press


Some of the nation's biggest oil and gas companies have made peace with environmentalists, agreeing to a voluntary set of tough new standards for fracking in the Northeast that could lead to a major expansion of drilling.

The program announced Wednesday will work a lot like Underwriters Laboratories, which puts its familiar UL seal of approval on electrical appliances that meet its standards.

In this case, drilling and pipeline companies will be encouraged to submit to an independent review of their operations. If they are found to be abiding by a list of stringent measures to protect the air and water from pollution, they will receive the blessing of the new Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development, created by environmentalists and the energy industry.

Many of the new standards appear to be stricter than state and federal regulations.

If the project wins wide acceptance, it could ease or avert some of the ferocious battles over fracking that have been waged in statehouses and city halls. And it could hasten the expansion of fracking by making drilling more acceptable to states and communities that feared the environmental consequences.

Shell Oil Vice President Paul Goodfellow said this is the first time the company and environmental groups have reached agreement to create an entire system for reducing the effects of shale drilling.

"This is a bit of a unique coming-together of a variety of different interests," said Bruce Niemeyer, president of Chevron Appalachia.

In agreeing to the self-policing system, members of the industry said they realized they needed to do more to reassure the public about the safety of fracking. On the other side, environmentalists said they came to the conclusion that the hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and gas underground is going to be extracted one way or another and that working with the industry is the quickest path to making the process safer.

"We do recognize that this resource is going to be developed," said Robert Vagt, president of the Heinz Endowments, a charitable foundation that has bankrolled anti-fracking efforts. "We think that it can be done in a way that does not do violence to the environment."

In addition to Shell and Chevron, the participants include the Environmental Defense Fund, the Clean Air Task Force, EQT Corp., Consol Energy and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and the organizers hope to recruit others.

The new standards include limits on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and the flaring, or burning off, of unwanted gas; reductions in engine emissions; groundwater monitoring and protection; improved well designs; stricter wastewater disposal; the use of less toxic fracking fluids; and seismic monitoring before drilling begins.

For example, the plan requires companies to recycle 90 percent of their wastewater and to check water supplies around a well for pollution for a year after drilling is completed.

The project will cover Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio - where a frenzy of drilling is under way in the huge, gas-rich Marcellus and Utica Shale formations - as well as New York and other states in the East that have put a hold on new drilling.

The cooperation between the two longtime adversaries may be part of a trend.

Earlier this month, industry and environmental groups in Illinois announced that they worked together on drilling legislation now pending there. But the Pittsburgh project, which has been in the works for nearly two years, would be voluntary - and would bypass the often turbulent legislative process altogether.

"We believe it does send a signal to the federal government and other states," said Armand Cohen, director of the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force. "There's no reason why anyone should be operating at standards less than these."

Shell said it hopes to be one of the first companies to volunteer to have its operations in Appalachia go through the independent review. Chevron said it expects to apply for certification, too, when the process is ready to start later this year.

Mark Brownstein, an associate vice president with the Environmental Defense Fund, said many oil and gas companies claim to be leaders in protecting the environment, and "this can be one opportunity for them to demonstrate that leadership" by submitting to an audit.

During fracking, large volumes of water, along with sand and hazardous chemicals, are injected into the ground to break rock apart and free the oil and gas. In some places, the practice has been blamed for air pollution and gas leaks that have ruined well water.

The Pittsburgh project will be overseen by a 12-member board consisting of four seats for environmentalists, four for industry and four for independent figures, including former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and Environmental Protection Agency chief.

The center's proposed 2013 budget is $800,000, with the two sides expected to contribute equal amounts, said Andrew Place, the project's interim leader and director of energy and environmental policy at EQT, an Appalachian energy company.

Mark Frankel, an expert on ethics and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, said the idea sounds promising, but it remains to be seen if the new standards are a significant improvement over existing laws. He said there are also ethical and policy questions.

"What does it mean to have an independent board? Who's on it? How do they get on it?" he asked.

George Jugovic, president of the environmental group PennFuture, one of the participants, said the industry's involvement makes this different from past debates over fracking.

"Buy-in from them is huge. That provides leadership from within," Jugovic said. "It's very different from someone from the outside saying, `You can do better.'"

But some critics of fracking weren't swayed by the new plan.

"Fracking is an inherently dangerous industrial process that takes us away from sustainable energy solutions. Its costs to humans and our environment just aren't worth it," said Kathy Nolan of Catskill Mountainkeeper, which is fighting fracking in New York state.
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« Reply #358 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:50 AM »

03/20/2013 04:20 PM

'Thrown Away by the Ton': EU Takes On Wasteful Fishing Methods

By Julia Koch

Each day, fishermen throw away countless tons of unintentionally caught marine animals, many of them dead or dying. As the European Union prepares to ban the practice, biologists are developing methods of reducing what's known as by-catch.

When Herbert Schoer's blue and white fishing cutter Marlies chugs into the port at Büsum on Germany's northern coast, its hold is full of Crangon crangon, a species of shrimp found in the North Sea. The captain with the heavy northern German dialect never brings back any other catch. He's a shrimper, and has been for nearly 30 years.

This is not to say his nets don't catch other types of fish as well, as he trawls the waters off the coast of the North Sea archipelago Heligoland. Schoer's nets catch a large number of juvenile plaice, but also common dab, whiting, smelt and sprat. But all these fish, as well as mussels, starfish and shrimp that are too small, Schoer tosses back to the sea as soon as the drum-shaped sorting machine onboard the ship spits them back out. Fishery biologists estimate fish that end up being thrown back -- referred to as "discards" -- on average amount to around 60 percent of commercial fisheries' total catch.

Of these, many of the round fish species are dead by the time they reach the water again. When taken from the sea involuntarily, their swim bladders inflate and crush other organs. Fish such as plaice have an easier time surviving their stay onboard, but then often fall prey to the flocks of hungry seagulls that follow fishing boats.

According to the European Commission, up to 800,000 tons of marine animals are thrown back from fishing boats each year in the North Sea alone, amounting to around one-third of the region's entire catch. The World Wide Fund for Nature estimates the industry discards some 39 million tons globally, while nearly one-third of all fish stocks are considered overfished.

"There's no incentive for fishermen to avoid by-catch," says biologist Christopher Zimmermann from the Thünen Institute for Baltic Sea Fisheries (TI) in Rostock, Germany, using a term that covers all species caught unintentionally as part of fishery operations. "It's madness that edible fish species are simply being thrown away by the ton."

'An Immoral Waste of Resources'

The existence of EU fishing quotas for certain species means commercial fishermen also end up throwing back fish that would otherwise be marketable. Each fishery can only take in a certain amount annually of species for which it has a set quota. Anything that exceeds those limits goes back overboard. This includes fish that are too small, protected animal species and even fish species that the fishery is allowed to catch, but for which it has already reached its quota.

But this practice may soon come to an end. "Discards are an immoral waste of resources," says Ulrike Rodust, a Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician who represents the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein in the European Parliament. That body recently agreed by a considerable majority to reform its common fisheries policy. The new policy would require fisheries operating in the EU to bring all by-catch back to shore, where it would be counted toward the fishery's quota. Zimmermann and other scientists hope that banning discards will lead to fisheries doing everything they can to keep from catching unwanted species in the first place.

The challenge then is to sort desired fish species from undesired ones while they're still in the ocean's depths. "The ocean isn't a potato field," says Peter Breckling from the German Fisheries Association. "Fish move in mixed swarms." His organization is calling on politicians to do more to foster the development of alternative fishing methods.

Fisheries have taken promising steps in this direction. Fishing vessel captains such as Schoer have invested considerable sums in selective nets, from which fish can escape more easily. "No fisherman wants by-catch," Schoer explains.

Alternative Fishing

Schoer has also brought researchers onboard his vessel to address just this problem. Fishery technicians from TI in Rostock have converted the Marlies. On its starboard side, the cutter now employs a modified net known as a pulse beam trawl, while the port side pulls a traditional beam trawl. Conventional shrimp fishing involves dragging a net with 36 bobbins along the seafloor, where it flushes out shrimp. The net catches the shrimp, but also plaice and other fish. And because the net drags directly along the bottom, the fish have little chance to escape by swimming underneath it.

In the pulse beam trawl, electrodes are used to produce an electrical field. Small pulses of electricity startle the shrimp -- and only the shrimp -- which then land in the net. Plaice and other bottom-dwelling fish don't react to the electrical pulses. The net also uses fewer bobbins and barely touches the seafloor, allowing fish to swim away underneath.

"Our tests show this method reduces by-catch by around 20 percent," concludes TI scientist Daniel Stepputtis. The advantages the new technology holds for flatfish such as plaice are even greater, he adds, with fully 66 percent fewer of them ending up in the nets. Schoer also catches more shrimp while using less fuel, because his boat's equipment is no longer as heavy.

Fishery biologist Stepputtis is also testing out other selective fishing methods, and hopes the European Parliament's by-catch initiative will drum up interest. "In the past we often had to convince fisheries to try out something new," he says. "Now they're the ones approaching us."

The details of the new regulations still need to be hammered out by the European Parliament and the EU member countries' fisheries ministers, who pushed for a number of exceptions and transitional periods back in February. "But there is societal consensus that there should be a ban on discards," admits Breckling from the German Fisheries Association.

Only fisheries that conduct their operations in as environmentally friendly a way as possible can receive sustainability certification from organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council -- and one part of this is reducing by-catch.

Stepputtis and his colleagues certainly have no shortage of potential research questions to examine, since each individual fishery has its own particular set of by-catch issues. In operations that use bottom trawls to catch shrimp and flatfish, other animals also end up getting caught in the nets as they are dragged through the water. This happens especially with fish that travel in schools, such as mackerel and sprat.

Consider the Porpoise

Then there are the fisheries whose gill nets -- stationary nets used to catch cod and herring -- end up claiming the lives of porpoises and sea birds as well. Which creatures get unintentionally caught in these nets also varies with the season and the fishing area in question. "There are no simple solutions," Stepputtis says.

He has plenty of ideas, though. For example, together with his colleague Boris Culik, Stepputtis is testing out a warning system in the Baltic Sea that would alert porpoises to a net's location. This invention looks something like an American football, but made out of black plastic. A noise source within its housing emits the same type of clicking noises that porpoises use to communicate with one another.

Porpoises orient themselves using echolocation -- but they only do so when they are near obstacles, other porpoises or predators. A porpoise swimming toward a gill net without using its echolocation is blind to the approaching danger, and can easily get entangled in the mesh and drown.

"Other researchers have deciphered specific sequences of clicks that porpoises use to warn each other," Culik explains. His device emits a series of clicks that, to a porpoise, says, "Danger, switch on your echolocation!"

Another less elaborate but similarly effective measure is the development of "intelligent" nets. Stepputtis is testing, for example, nets that include special exit windows. Large flatfish don't fit through these gaps, but smaller fish are simply able to swim out.

Even the orientation of the mesh plays a role in determining which fish end up caught and which don't. The fuller a net gets, the more the mesh constricts, until eventually even animals for whom the gaps ought to be large enough no longer fit through. Together with Polish researchers, the TI team solved the problem by simply turning the mesh 90 degrees. This simple trick was all it took to allow the mesh to retain its original width. Nets with exit windows and these so-called T90 nets have both received approval for commercial fishing use.

Biologists are also creating special nets that take advantage of the natural behavior of fish. Plaice, for example, tend to swim downward to escape danger, while cod head toward the surface. This has allowed researchers to create "topless" nets for fishermen who want to catch plaice but not cod. The front part of these nets is open at the top, leaving an escape route for the cod.

This technique has its drawbacks, though. After trying out a topless net on his cutter Glaube, plaice fisherman John Much from the northern German town of Heiligenhafen decided the device would be better described as a "fishless net." He found that not only the cod escaped, but all the rest of his fish swam away as well.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
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« Reply #359 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:53 AM »

Major supermarket chains promise not to sell genetically engineered salmon in the U.S.

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 23:55 EDT

With a decision imminent on whether GM salmon will be allowed onto market, major retailers have said they would not sell it

A number of US supermarket chains pledged on Wednesday not to sell genetically modified salmon, in a sign of growing public concern about engineered foods on the dinner table.

The US Food and Drug Administration is in the final stages of deciding whether to allow GM salmon onto the market. If approved, AquaBounty Technology’s salmon would be the first genetically engineered animal to enter the food supply.

The company combined genes from two species of salmon with a pouter eel to produce a fish it says it can bring to market twice as fast as conventional salmon.

The GM salmon is the first in some 30 other species of transgendered fish under development, including tilapia. Researchers are also working to bring GM cows, chickens and pigs to market.

However, those plans could be blocked by Wednesday’s commitment from national grocery chains, such as Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Whole Foods, as well as regional retailers, not to sell genetically engineered seafood.

The chains between them control about 2,000 outlets — a fraction of supermarkets across the country. But campaigners said they represent a growing segment of the population which is concerned about GM food, and willing to pay higher prices for healthier foods.

Eric Hoffman, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said in a statement: “Now it’s time for other food retailers, including Walmart, Costco and Safeway, to follow suit and let their customers know they will not be selling unlabelled, poorly studied genetically engineered seafood.”

Trudy Bialic from PCC Natural Markets, a chain of health food stores in Washington state, said: “We won’t sell genetically engineered fish because we don’t believe it is sustainable or healthy.”

There was no immediate response from AquaBounty, a struggling biotechnology firm which has spent nearly 20 years trying to bring the fish to market. The company has hit a number of financial crisis points over the past few years, relying on research grants and investors to stay in operation.

Last year the company turned to a former Soviet oligarch, Georgian billionaire and former economics minister Kakha Bendukidze, for a bailout.

As the FDA review process enters its final stages, campaign groups have stepped up their efforts to keep GM salmon off the dinner table, by pushing retailers not to stock the product and tapping into growing awareness in America about GM foods.

Voters in California and other states have been pushing for labels on GM foods. Meanwhile, the Whole Foods chain announced earlier this month it would begin labelling foods containing GM corn and soybean by 2018.

Critics of GM salmon say the FDA has not conducted proper oversight of the fish, which are raised from eggs hatched in a facility in Prince Edward Island, Canada, and grown to maturity in tanks in a remote area of Panama, to ensure they can not escape into the wild.

They say there is insufficient data to back up AquaBounty’s claims its salmon can grow to maturity twice as fast as wild salmon. They also dispute the company’s claims that there is no increased risk to people with allergies.

Those concerns were amplified by the FDA’s preliminary finding that there was no need to label GM salmon.

Patty Lovera of the campaign group Food and Water Watch said it was not clear what effect the supermarkets’ move would have on the FDA’s decision, which is supposed to be focused on science.

But she said she hoped the growing public opposition to GM salmon — even before its approval — would push retailers to think twice about stocking the fish or more than 30 other varieties of GM seafood currently under development.

“It reinforces that there is no demand or no need for this product, so why does the FDA need to approve it?” she said. “If this many stores are willing to say ‘no’ ahead of time, I think that is a pretty strong signal that there is not a lot of demand.” © Guardian News and Media 2013
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