April 16, 2013
Accord Would Regulate Fishing in Arctic Waters
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
MOSCOW — It was once protected by ice. Now regulation will have to do the work.
The governments of the five countries with coastline on the Arctic have concluded that enough of the polar ice cap now melts regularly in the summertime that an agreement regulating commercial fishing near the North Pole is warranted.
Talks are scheduled for later this month among diplomats and fisheries officials from Norway, Denmark, Canada, the United States and Russia. Most concern is focused on newly ice-free waters above the Bering Strait, above the exclusive economic zones of Russia and the United States, and now accessible to trawler fleets from hungry Pacific Ocean nations like China and Japan.
An accord would protect the open water until the fish stocks there can be more fully studied.
Though supported by conservationists, the agreement’s principal intention is not to conserve this new fish habitat, formed by the receding of polar ice as the world warms up. The intention of an accord, backed by fishing industries in the coastal nations, is to manage for commercial exploitation any stocks of fish that already inhabit the ocean but used to live under the ice, like Arctic cod, as well as fish that may migrate into the new ice-free zone from farther south, as the ocean warms.
Russia had been a holdout in the negotiations, started by the United States five years ago. But the upper chamber of Russia’s Parliament, the Federation Council, signaled support for the agreement last year. Talks are scheduled to begin on April 29 in Washington, the State Department has confirmed.
If successful, it will represent the third such accord struck by countries in the far north to manage the commercial development and industrialization of the region, which is expected to increase with global warming.
The other two agreements reached so far regulate search and rescue, and the response to oil spills as new drilling acreage and shipping lanes open up near the coasts.
The fishing accord would regulate commercial harvests in an area farther offshore — in the so-called doughnut hole of the Arctic Ocean. This is a Texas-size area of international water that includes the North Pole and is encircled by the exclusive economic zones of the coastal countries.
That the center of the Arctic Ocean was unregulated was hardly a concern when it was an icebound backwater. That is changing. Last summer, 40 percent of the central Arctic Ocean melted.
In fact, the agreement is unusual for protecting a huge area from human exploitation before people have had much chance to exploit it; before the last decade, scientists estimate, the doughnut hole was icebound for about 100,000 years
“Five countries are talking about solving a problem before it starts,” Scott Highleyman, the director of Arctic programs at the Pew Charitable Trust, which supports the fishing moratorium, said in a telephone interview.
“How often do we look back at something and say ‘Gee, if we’d only thought of that,’” he said. “As somebody who works on natural resources issues, this is very refreshing. We are fixing something before it is broken.”
Dmitry M. Glazov, a whale biologist at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution and an authority on the marine ecosystem of the ice floes, said the waters teem with cod, herring, Greenland sharks, whales, walruses, seals and polar bears. It is unclear, though, whether the fish stocks are large enough to support a commercial fishery.
Advocates of a conservation agreement say that until the new ice-free area created by global warming is fully studied, it should be preserved. Diplomats agree that the region should be protected from fishing fleets until scientists have had a chance to assess its marine populations.
“We want any fishing that takes place there to be properly managed, to maintain it for commercial purposes,” one diplomat from an Arctic nation involved in the talks said. “Are there fisheries in the future that are moving north as the waters are warming and the ice is receding? The scientists cannot say with certainty now.”
The part of the doughnut hole that is thawing most quickly in the eastern Arctic, above Alaska and the Russian region of Chukotka, is well within the range of industrial fishing fleets in Asia.
Chinese trawlers fish for krill in Antarctic waters, about 7,500 miles from China. The Arctic Ocean international zone is only about 5,000 miles from the Chinese coast, according to maps prepared by a Russian fisheries journal, Rybnye Resorsi.
The Christian Science Monitor
Antarctic ice tells conflicting story about climate change's role in big melt
Two different areas of Antarctica tell two very different stories about how climate change might be affecting ice melt. The data appear to confirm that climate change impacts can be very local.
By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / April 16, 2013 at 8:36 am EDT
Since the early 1990s, glaciers draining Antarctica's vast ice sheets have dumped ice into the ocean at an an eye-popping rate.
Now, two new studies of ice cores from different parts of the continent are yielding important clues as to why the loss rates have been so high.
On the Antarctic Peninsula, global warming appears to be taking a direct toll. Glaciers are melting mainly from the top down. The peninsula is losing land ice in the summer at a rate unmatched in the past 1,000 years.
For the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, one of two vast continental sheets, losses also have been relatively large. There, however, floating ice shelves that form the seaward end of glaciers are melting from the bottom up. Today's losses are comparable to those that have occurred a few other times over the past 2,000 years. The authors say that for now, the evidence points to the extended reach of naturally shifting climate patterns in the tropical Pacific as driving the losses.
At first blush, the two might appear to be at loggerheads. Instead, researchers suggest, the two highlight how, as on other continents, the intensity of global warming's impact at the bottom of the world depends on location, location, location. And both point to the challenge researchers still face in forecasting the future of the continent's ice chest in a warming climate.
Each in its own way "provides guidance on projecting the future of sea-level rise," notes Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Penn State University in University Park, Pa., who was not a participant in either study.
Researchers have a keen interest in trying to understand and project ice losses in Antarctica, as well as on Greenland, with global warming. Previous studies have shown that since 1992, the loss of ice from polar caps is raising sea levels by an average of about 0.59 millimeters a year.
The West Antarctic Ice Sheet alone could boost sea levels an average of 10 feet if it melts – an increase that would occur over hundreds to thousands of years, notes Eric Steig, a researcher at the University of Washington who led one of the two research efforts.
Between 1992 and 2011, the peninsula lost ice at rate of 20 billion tons a year, according to a study published last November in the journal Science. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet lost 65 billion tons a year, and the East Antarctic Ice Sheet – the continent's largest – lost 14 billion tons a year, although the uncertainties in that number are so large the loss could just as well have been nothing.
The Antarctic Peninsula is an extended arm of land that last shook hands with the southern tip of South America roughly 235 million years ago when the two continents drifted apart. It's mountainous and extends into the Southern Ocean to some 250 miles above the Antarctic Circle.
"In some ways, it's a climate oddity," writes Robert Mulvaney, a researcher with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and a member of the team formally reporting its results on the region's ice Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience, in an e-mail. Relatively warm westerly winds, laden with with ocean moisture, blow across the peninsula. So it tends to be warmer than the mainland and experiences higher snowfall rates.
Even so, the buildup of the loss of ozone in the stratosphere and the buildup of greenhouse gases – both from human industrial activity – have affected circulation patterns over the region in ways that have left the peninsula as one of the fastest-warming regions on the planet.
The BAS team, led by Nerilie Abram a researcher with the Australian National University and the BAS, analyzed portions of a 1,194-foot-long ice core from a glacier on James Ross Island.
They found that from the coldest point in their record, between 1410 and 1460, melt rates are about 10 times higher today than they were then. But most the most intense melting has occurred since the middle of the last century. And it's been occurring at the surface, providing water that can lubricate the bottom of land glaciers and filling crevasses to act as ice-breaking wedges when the trapped water refreezes.
The results show that "the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed to a level where even small increases in temperature can now lead to a big increase in summer ice melt," said Dr. Abram in a prepared statement.
West Antarctic Ice Sheet
Meanwhile, Dr. Steig's team analyzed an ice core from high on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, some 350 miles inland from the Amundsen Sea – comparable to the distance between Los Angeles; and Flagstaff, Ariz. The core covers 2,000 years of climate history. In addition, the team used data from other cores taken in the region and found that its core does a good job of representing conditions in the region as a whole.
In general, the climate on the ice sheet is significantly different, notes Steig. It lacks the warmer temperatures that accompany an oceanfront view. And the surface at the drill sites is around 6,000 feet above sea level. When the sheet loses ice, it's at the ocean end of glaciers that typically become grounded on the sea floor. But changing wind patterns can bring to the surface warm water that usually stays deeper in the ocean. This warm water melts the shelves from underneath until they no longer are grounded. The ungrounded portions break free as vast icebergs, leaving the glacier to deliver more interior ice to the coast, where the process repeats.
As the BAS team found, Steig and colleagues noted warming during the 1990s, accelerating the ice loss. But the team also found that comparable conditions in the 1830s and 1940s, as well as further back. That suggests a loss of ice comparable to the rates seen today, he and his colleagues say.
The '90s, '40s, and 1830s were characterized by strong El Niños – conditions in the tropical Pacific in which waters in the eastern tropical Pacific are warmer than normal, while the waters in the western Pacific are cooler than normal. This alters atmospheric circulation patterns. While the effects are strongest in the tropics, they appear at higher latitudes as well.
Thus, at least for now, it would appear that natural climate swings are playing a greater role in the loss of ice from West Antarctica than global warming, the researchers suggest.
If conditions are largely governed by conditions in the tropical Pacific, as they appear to be, an ability to project the ice sheet's future in a warmer world depends on researcher's ability to figure out whether El Niño conditions will predominate in the future, or La Niña conditions – El Niño's opposite. This study also was published Sunday in Nature Geoscience.
April 16, 2013
A Fight in Colorado Over Uranium Mines
By DAN FROSCH
SLICK ROCK, Colo. — The Dolores River bends through southwestern Colorado like a gooseneck, shaded by red rock canyons that leave those who pass through here breathless.
Hidden from the riverbanks, behind cottonwoods and mule deer tracks, are different, artificial formations. Off a nearby road, an aging tower marks the property of the Burros Mine, partly owned by State Representative Don Coram. Heaps of rocks tinged with the greenish hue of uranium are visible. Abandoned mining equipment lies strewn about. A darkened portal is gated shut. Downstream, another mine, owned by the Cotter Corporation, lies similarly silent.
Despite bursts of activity from 2003 through 2008, most uranium mines scattered across Colorado have largely been out of production for decades, a testament to fluctuating mineral prices. Now the future of these mines is at the crux of a dispute that could set a precedent for how they are handled.
Environmental groups in Colorado contend that many of the state’s 33 uranium mines should be forced to clean up, given that uranium mining, which flourished here during the cold war, has gone dormant. In legal filings, they have alleged that companies like Cotter are skirting potential costs associated with cleanup, which is required by the state after an operation shuts down.
The environmental groups say the companies should be prohibited from obtaining state-issued exemptions, under which the companies do not have to produce but are not obligated to restore the land, either. Letting the mines idle heightens the risk of contaminating treasured areas like the Dolores with radioactive substances like uranium and radon, the groups argue. At a hearing on Wednesday, Colorado’s mining board will review the environmental groups’ objections.
The dispute cuts especially deep in the West, where abandoned uranium mines pock the region and have cost the federal government millions to reclaim.
“State law says that you should be either mining the land or you should be reclaiming the land so it can released for other uses,” said Travis Stills, a lawyer with the Energy Minerals Law Center, which represents the Information Network for Responsible Mining, a Colorado watchdog group that goes by the acronym Inform. “But you can’t just go out and occupy the land for decades while doing essentially nothing, except be an ongoing source of pollution.”
Over the last two months, the minerals law group has filed objections with Colorado’s mining board over seven uranium mines that recently filed for the exemptions, known as “temporary cessation” permits. The permits allow mines to stop production for five years without closing, and are intended to consider the nexus between mining activity and mineral prices. Operators can reapply, but production cannot be halted for more than a decade. A mine must eventually show activity or shut down and restore the land it used.
In their objections, the environmental groups note that the mines in question, in all but one case, exceeded the 10-year limit years ago, and have merely applied for additional permits.
The groups filed several more objections Tuesday over Mr. Coram’s Gold Eagle Mining company, which has applied for the extensions on four mines.
“We feel these mines are doing everything they can not to reclaim,” said Jennifer Thurston, Inform’s executive director. “These are sites where there’s a great potential for radioactive contamination. They shouldn’t be just casual operations.”
In response, Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, part of the Natural Resources Department, said that many of the mines are legally still eligible for temporary cessation. A lawyer for the division, Julie Murphy, wrote that state law restricts the permits to 10 consecutive years, not 10 years total.
Cotter’s mines, for example, had reached their limit in the early 1990s. But Ms. Murphy noted the mines had since switched “to intermittent status,” allowing them to stay open with minimal activity, remaining eligible for a third exemption.
Officials with Cotter or its parent company, General Atomics, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But the company has defended its operations in legal filings.
“Inform seeks to permanently close the mines as if they have no value, are unregulated by the division and were abandoned long ago by their owner,” wrote Robert Tuchman, a lawyer for Cotter. “Nothing could be more remote from the truth. The mines are of great importance to Cotter.”
Nonetheless, Tony Waldron, minerals program supervisor for the division, said Colorado was “taking a hard look” at when a mining operator needed to shut down and begin reclamation — the cost of which can range from a few thousand dollars into the millions.
Mining has long been a source of glory and ghosts in Colorado’s Uravan mineral belt, especially during the cold war, before the industry crashed in the 1980s.
As the United States now seeks homegrown energy sources, the uranium industry has shown signs of a resurgence. Beginning in 2009, one company, Energy Fuels, began seeking a license for the first new uranium processing mill in more than three decades, in Colorado’s Paradox Valley.
Still, there has been no major uranium ore production in Colorado since 2009, according to state records.
The dispute in Colorado is complicated by a federal injunction that temporarily prohibits all mining activities on 25,000 acres of Department of Energy land here, including tracts leased by Cotter and Gold Eagle. A federal judge ordered the ban in 2011, after the Energy Department moved to extend its leasing program for uranium mining. Judge William Martinez found the government had failed to consider the environmental impacts.
The Energy Department recently drafted a new environmental impact statement, and public hearings are scheduled for this month. Mr. Coram said he had already completed reclamation on one of the mines and planned on using the other mines when the timing was right.
But Mr. Stills said that granting Gold Eagle’s mines and others another five years to avoid reclamation would only increase the risk of contamination.
Both Colorado’s mining division and the state’s Public Health and Environment Department monitor water quality around mines, which are also subject to inspections. And mines must now present a detailed plan showing how they will stay environmentally compliant. In 2010, mining inspectors found that uranium from Cotter’s closed Schwartzwalder mine contaminated a creek flowing into a local reservoir. The company has agreed to clean up the mine and the creek.
The United States Geological Survey is also poised to start researching the potential long-term impacts of uranium mining on wildlife, the environment and humans.
For now, the future of uranium mining here remains murky. Near a ridge named Last Chance, uranium mines bought by Energy Fuels in 2012 sit vacant, generators abandoned, wires clawing the air as if searching for signs of life. A company spokesman said it hopes to restart mining as soon as the price of uranium rises again.
But Ms. Thurston of Inform said that time has passed. “The uranium boom ended a long time ago, and it hasn’t come back all this time,” she said. “I don’t understand why we have to wait for the past to be cleaned up.”
April 17, 2013 06:30 AM
INFOGRAPHIC: 13 Oil Spills in 30 Days
By Diane Sweet
Moving oil is a dirty business, and never has that been more clear than this past month. Since March 11, the global oil industry has had 13 spills on three continents. In North and South America alone, they’ve spilled more than a million gallons of oil and toxic chemicals – enough to fill two olympic-sized swimming pools.
All spills in order of occurrence:
March 11 – 21: Gwagwalada Town, Nigera
A week-long leak of Kilometer 407.5 NNPC (Nigeria National Petroleum Corp) pipeline. No official # of barrels spilled released, however the spill saturated a hectare (10,000 sq metres) of marshy ground near a major water source.
Tuesday, March 19: Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories Canada
Enbridge Norman Wells Pipeline leaks 6,290 barrels of crude oil
Monday, March 25: Fort MacKay, Alberta Canada
Suncor Tar Sands tailings pond leaks 2,200 barrels of toxic waste fluid into the Athabasca River
Wednesday, March 27: Parker Prairie, Minnesota USA
CP Rail train derails and spills 952 barrels of Tar Sands crude oil
Friday, March 29: Mayflower, Arkansas
Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus Pipeline suffers a 22 foot-long rupture, spilling at least 12,000 barrels of diluted Tar Sands bitumen
Sunday, March 31: A power plant in Lansing, Michigan USA
16 barrels of an oil-based hydraulic fluid spills into the Grand River
Tuesday, April 2: Nembe, Nigeria
After suffering a reported theft of 60,000 barrels of oil per day from its Nembe Creek Trunkline pipeline, Shell Nigeria shuts off the pipe for 9 days to repair damage.
Wednesday, April 3: 350KM southeast of Newfoundland, Canada
A drilling platform leaks 0.25 barrels of crude oil
Wednesday, April 4: Chalmette, Louisiana USA
0.24 barrels (100 lbs) of hydrogen sulfide and 0.04 barrels (10lbs of benzene) leak at an Exxon Refinery
Monday, April 8: Esmeraldas, Ecuador
The OPEC-managed OCP pipeline leaks 5,500 barrels of heavy crude oil, contaminating the Winchele estuary
Tuesday, April 9: 29KM NE of Nuiqsut, Alaska USA
Human error during maintenance spills 157 barrels of crude oil at a Repsol E&P USA Inc pipeline pump station
04/23/2013 10:27 AM
'Tipping Point': Dredging the Elbe Poses Severe Ecological Risk
A Dutch study could put a stop to an already controversial project to deepen the Elbe River, SPIEGEL has learned. It warns that if dredging continues, damage to the river's ecosystem would likely be irreparable.
A study commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment means more bad news for proponents of the suspended plan to deepen of the Elbe River. The report confirms that further dredging could result in severe ecological damage.
Entitled "On the response of tidal rivers to deepening and narrowing," the study notes "the existence of a tipping point, beyond which a tidal river evolves more or less autonomously to a hyper-turbid state." This state would mean irreparable damage to the fish and animal populations.
The report concludes that the Elbe is on the verge of such a "tipping point" and is "very sensitive to small changes," like deepening or narrowing.
The study could deal the final blow to the dredging project. In October 2012, authorities halted the €400 million ($520 million) project to deepen the Elbe River approaching Hamburg to accommodate mega freighters that require a depth of 14.5 meters (48 feet) or more. However, two environmental organizations -- Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) and the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) -- with the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), managed to obtain a temporary injunction from the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. The judge prevented the start of the dredging project, in part because of a risk of "upsetting the ecosystem" in the Elbe estuary.
Environment vs. Economy
A bitter feud consequently broke out. Politicians, shipping and port companies and even the trade union Verdi, which represents the dockworkers, criticized the environmental organizations for their litigiousness. They all worry that failing to deepen the Elbe could jeopardize the harbor's competitiveness as a job creator and economic engine. In that region of northern Germany alone, some 150,000 jobs are tied to the harbor. It also generates almost 15 percent of Hamburg's net product and more than €700 million in taxes annually.
Verdi even made an ecological argument. If the river isn't dredged, they argued, shipping firms with larger vessels could move their business to other European ports, like Rotterdam in the neighboring Netherlands, and the highways would in turn be further burdened by truck traffic.
The issue "has nothing to do with ecological responsibility," the union said, adding that they were surprised and alarmed that the environmental groups were simply accepting this assessment. The ministry of transport in Berlin also intervened -- albeit unsuccessfully -- in the conflict. But now the opponents of the dredging project are getting a further boost.
The report may crush any last hope of finding a way to deepen the river with tactics like one from the German Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV), which had been considering an enlargement of the Elbe estuary through the addition of dykes to preserve more natural space. This plan, however, still included a deepening of the channel by a further meter to accommodate container ships with a loaded draft of up to 14.5 meters.
April 22, 2013
In China, Breathing Becomes a Childhood Risk
By EDWARD WONG
BEIJING — The boy’s chronic cough and stuffy nose began last year at the age of 3. His symptoms worsened this winter, when smog across northern China surged to record levels. Now he needs his sinuses cleared every night with saltwater piped through a machine’s tubes.
The boy’s mother, Zhang Zixuan, said she almost never lets him go outside, and when she does she usually makes him wear a face mask. The difference between Britain, where she once studied, and China is “heaven and hell,” she said.
Levels of deadly pollutants up to 40 times the recommended exposure limit in Beijing and other cities have struck fear into parents and led them to take steps that are radically altering the nature of urban life for their children.
Parents are confining sons and daughters to their homes, even if it means keeping them away from friends. Schools are canceling outdoor activities and field trips. Parents with means are choosing schools based on air-filtration systems, and some international schools have built gigantic, futuristic-looking domes over sports fields to ensure healthy breathing.
“I hope in the future we’ll move to a foreign country,” Ms. Zhang, a lawyer, said as her ailing son, Wu Xiaotian, played on a mat in their apartment, near a new air purifier. “Otherwise we’ll choke to death.”
She is not alone in looking to leave. Some middle- and upper-class Chinese parents and expatriates have already begun leaving China, a trend that executives say could result in a huge loss of talent and experience. Foreign parents are also turning down prestigious jobs or negotiating for hardship pay from their employers, citing the pollution.
There are no statistics for the flight, and many people are still eager to come work in Beijing, but talk of leaving is gaining urgency around the capital and on Chinese microblogs and parenting forums. Chinese are also discussing holidays to what they call the “clean-air destinations” of Tibet, Hainan and Fujian.
“I’ve been here for six years and I’ve never seen anxiety levels the way they are now,” said Dr. Richard Saint Cyr, a new father and a family health doctor at Beijing United Family Hospital, whose patients are half Chinese and half foreigners. “Even for me, I’ve never been as anxious as I am now. It has been extraordinarily bad.”
He added: “Many mothers, especially, have been second-guessing their living in Beijing. I think many mothers are fed up with keeping their children inside.”
Few developments have eroded trust in the Communist Party as quickly as the realization that the leaders have failed to rein in threats to children’s health and safety. There was national outrage in 2008 after more than 5,000 children were killed when their schools collapsed in an earthquake, and hundreds of thousands were sickened and six infants died in a tainted-formula scandal. Officials tried to suppress angry parents, sometimes by force or with payoffs.
But the fury over air pollution is much more widespread and is just beginning to gain momentum.
“I don’t trust the pollution measurements of the Beijing government,” said Ms. Zhang’s father, Zhang Xiaochuan, a retired newspaper administrator.
Scientific studies justify fears of long-term damage to children and fetuses. A study published by The New England Journal of Medicine showed that children exposed to high levels of air pollution can suffer permanent lung damage. The research was done in the 1990s in Los Angeles, where levels of pollution were much lower than those in Chinese cities today.
A study by California researchers published last month suggested a link between autism in children and the exposure of pregnant women to traffic-related air pollution. Columbia University researchers, in a study done in New York, found that prenatal exposure to air pollutants could result in children with anxiety, depression and attention-span problems. Some of the same researchers found in an earlier study that children in Chongqing, China, who had prenatal exposure to high levels of air pollutants from a coal-fired plant were born with smaller head circumferences, showed slower growth and performed less well on cognitive development tests at age 2. The shutdown of the plant resulted in children born with fewer difficulties.
Analyses show little relief ahead if China does not change growth policies and strengthen environmental regulation. A Deutsche Bank report released in February said the current trends of coal use and automobile emissions meant air pollution was expected to worsen by an additional 70 percent by 2025.
Some children’s hospitals in northern China reported a large number of patients with respiratory illnesses this winter, when the air pollution soared. During one bad week in January, Beijing Children’s Hospital admitted up to 9,000 patients a day for emergency visits, half of them for respiratory problems, according to a report by Xinhua, the state news agency.
Parents have scrambled to buy air purifiers. IQAir, a Swiss company, makes purifiers that cost up to $3,000 here and are displayed in shiny showrooms. Mike Murphy, the chief executive of IQAir China, said sales had tripled in the first three months of 2013 over the same period last year.
Face masks are now part of the urban dress code. Ms. Zhang laid out half a dozen masks on her dining room table and held up one with a picture of a teddy bear that fits Xiaotian. Schools are adopting emergency measures. Xiaotian’s private kindergarten used to take the children on a field trip once a week, but it has canceled most of those this year.
At the prestigious Beijing No. 4 High School, which has long trained Chinese leaders and their children, outdoor physical education classes are now canceled when the pollution index is high.
“The days with blue sky and seemingly clean air are treasured, and I usually go out and do exercise,” said Dong Yifu, a senior there who was just accepted to Yale University.
Elite schools are investing in infrastructure to keep children active. Among them are Dulwich College Beijing and the International School of Beijing, which in January completed two large white sports domes of synthetic fabric that cover athletic fields and tennis courts.
The construction of the domes and an accompanying building began a year ago, to give the 1,900 students a place to exercise in both bad weather and high pollution, said Jeff Johanson, director of student activities. The project cost $5.7 million and includes hospital-grade air-filtration systems.
Teachers check the hourly air ratings from the United States Embassy to determine whether children should play outside or beneath the domes. “The elementary schoolchildren don’t miss recess anymore,” Mr. Johanson said.
One American mother, Tara Duffy, said she had chosen a prekindergarten school for her daughter in part because the school had air filters in the classrooms. The school, called the 3e International School, also brings in doctors to talk about pollution and bars the children from playing outdoors during increases in smog levels. “In the past six months, there have been a lot more ‘red flag’ days, and they keep the kids inside,” said Ms. Duffy, a writer and former foundation consultant.
Ms. Duffy said she also checked the daily air quality index to decide whether to take her daughter to an outdoor picnic or an indoor play space.
Now, after nine years here, Ms. Duffy is leaving China, and she cites the pollution and traffic as major factors.
That calculus is playing out with expatriates across Beijing, and even with foreigners outside China. One American couple with a young child discussed the pollution when considering a prestigious foundation job in Beijing, and it was among the reasons they turned down the offer.
James McGregor, a senior counselor in the Beijing office of APCO Worldwide, a consulting company, said he had heard of an American diplomat with young children who had turned down a posting here. That was despite the fact that the State Department provides a 15 percent salary bonus for Beijing that exists partly because of the pollution. The hardship bonus for other Chinese cities, which also suffer from awful air, ranges from 20 percent to 30 percent, except for Shanghai, where it is 10 percent.
“I’ve lived in Beijing 23 years, and my children were brought up here, but if I had young children I’d have to leave,” Mr. McGregor said. “A lot of people have started exit plans.”
Amy Qin and Shi Da contributed research.
April 22, 2013 07:55 PM
The BP Spill Was Worse Than You Knew
By Diane Sweet
In 2010, Pulitzer Prize-winning animator Mark Fiore created this humorous and poignant take on the BP oil spill.
Three years ago this week, a disastrous oil spill began in the Gulf of Mexico, eventually hemorrhaging 210 million gallons of Louisiana sweet crude into the water. Now the media has moved on and public anger has cooled, but the full extent of the damage is finally coming out—and it’s clear that the spill was even worse than we thought.
"It’s as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid.” That’s what Jamie Griffin says the BP man told her about the smelly, rainbow-streaked gunk coating the floor of the “floating hotel” where Griffin was feeding hundreds of cleanup workers during the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently, the workers were tracking the gunk inside on their boots. Griffin, as chief cook and maid, was trying to clean it. But even boiling water didn’t work.
“The BP representative said, ‘Jamie, just mop it like you’d mop any other dirty floor,’” Griffin recalls in her Louisiana drawl.
Griffin did as she was told: “I tried Pine-Sol, bleach, I even tried Dawn on those floors.” As she scrubbed, the mix of cleanser and gunk occasionally splashed onto her arms and face.
Within days, the 32-year-old single mother was coughing up blood and suffering constant headaches. She lost her voice. “My throat felt like I’d swallowed razor blades,” she says.
Then things got much worse.
Like hundreds, possibly thousands, of workers on the cleanup, Griffin soon fell ill with a cluster of excruciating, bizarre, grotesque ailments. By July, unstoppable muscle spasms were twisting her hands into immovable claws. In August, she began losing her short-term memory. After cooking professionally for 10 years, she couldn’t remember the recipe for vegetable soup; one morning, she got in the car to go to work, only to discover she hadn’t put on pants. The right side, but only the right side, of her body “started acting crazy. It felt like the nerves were coming out of my skin. It was so painful. My right leg swelled—my ankle would get as wide as my calf—and my skin got incredibly itchy.”
We already knew that BP had lied about how much oil had gushed into the Gulf (210 million gallons, according to government estimates) , as lying to Congress was one of the 14 elonies to which BP pleaded guilty last year in a legal settlement with the DOJ. What is now finally coming to light thanks to an anonymous whistleblower, is how BP managed to hide such a massive amount of oil from the public, and the media.
That story can now be told because an anonymous whistleblower has provided evidence that BP was warned in advance about the safety risks of attempting to cover up its leaking oil. Nevertheless, BP proceeded. Furthermore, BP appears to have withheld these safety warnings, as well as protective measures, both from the thousands of workers hired for the cleanup and from the millions of Gulf Coast residents who stood to be affected.
The financial implications are enormous. The trial now under way in New Orleans is wrestling with whether BP was guilty of “negligence” or “gross negligence” for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. If found guilty of “negligence,” BP would be fined, under the Clean Water Act, $1,100 for each barrel of oil that leaked. But if found guilty of “gross negligence”—which a cover-up would seem to imply—BP would be fined $4,300 per barrel, almost four times as much, for a total of $17.5 billion. That large a fine, combined with an additional $34 billion that the states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida are seeking, could have a powerful effect on BP’s economic health.
Before I continue I have to pause to say what about gotdamn "criminal negligence"?!? Big fines, sure, great...let them pay on their way to the slammer. Ok, let's continue:
The chief instrument of BP’s cover-up was the same substance that apparently sickened Jamie Griffin and countless other cleanup workers and local residents. Its brand name is Corexit, but most news reports at the time referred to it simply as a “dispersant.” Its function was to attach itself to leaked oil, break it into droplets, and disperse them into the vast reaches of the gulf, thereby keeping the oil from reaching Gulf Coast shorelines. And the Corexit did largely achieve this goal.
But the 1.84 million gallons of Corexit that BP applied during the cleanup also served a public-relations purpose: they made the oil spill all but disappear, at least from TV screens. By late July 2010, the Associated Press and The New York Times were questioning whether the spill had been such a big deal after all. Time went so far as to assert that right-wing talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh “has a point” when he accused journalists and environmentalists of exaggerating the crisis.
BP had lied about the safety of Corexit, and the proof is now in the hands of the Government Accountability Project, the premiere whistleblower-protection group in the U.S. The proof came in the form of a technical manual BP had received from NALCO, the firm that supplied the Corexit used by BP in the Gulf.
An electronic copy of that manual is included in a new report GAP has issued, “Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf.” On the basis of interviews with dozens of cleanup workers, scientists, and Gulf Coast residents, GAP concludes that the health impacts endured by Griffin were visited upon many other locals as well. What’s more, the combination of Corexit and crude oil also caused terrible damage to gulf wildlife and ecosystems, including an unprecedented number of seafood mutations; declines of up to 80 percent in seafood catch; and massive die-offs of the microscopic life-forms at the base of the marine food chain. GAP warns that BP and the U.S. government nevertheless appear poised to repeat the exercise after the next major oil spill: “As a result of Corexit’s perceived success, Corexit ... has become the dispersant of choice in the U.S. to ‘clean up’ oil spills.”
BP began to insist that Corexit be used to disperse the oil after it had continued to gush into the Gulf for weeks with failed efforts to plug the well, triggering concerns from scientists and from a leading environmental NGO in Louisiana, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN).
The group’s scientific adviser, Wilma Subra, a chemist whose work on environmental pollution had won her a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, told state and federal authorities that she was especially concerned about how dangerous the mixture of crude and Corexit was: “The short-term health symptoms include acute respiratory problems, skin rashes, cardiovascular impacts, gastrointestinal impacts, and short-term loss of memory,” she told GAP investigators. “Long-term impacts include cancer, decreased lung function, liver damage, and kidney damage.”
(Nineteen months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, a scientific study published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Pollution found that crude oil becomes 52 times more toxic when combined with Corexit.)
Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, wrote BP a letter on May 19, asking the company to deploy a less toxic dispersant in the Gulf cleanup. BP rejected Jackson's request, and she was unable to legally require it because use of Corexit had been authorized years before under the federal Oil Pollution Act. BP wrote back to Jackson on May 20, declaring that Corexit was safe.
BP applied two types of Corexit in the gulf. The first, Corexit 9527, was considerably more toxic. According to the NALCO manual, Corexit 9527 is an “eye and skin irritant. Repeated or excessive exposure ... may cause injury to red blood cells (hemolysis), kidney or the liver.” The manual adds: “Excessive exposure may cause central nervous system effects, nausea, vomiting, anesthetic or narcotic effects.” It advises, “Do not get in eyes, on skin, on clothing,” and “Wear suitable protective clothing.”
When available supplies of Corexit 9527 were exhausted early in the cleanup, BP switched to the second type of dispersant, Corexit 9500. In its recommendations for dealing with Corexit 9500, the NALCO manual advised, “Do not get in eyes, on skin, on clothing,” “Avoid breathing vapor,” and “Wear suitable protective clothing.”
BP failed to inform workers of the potential hazards of Corexit, failed to provide safety training and protective gear. But the oil giant's deception went beyond these failures:
Roughly 58 percent of the 1.84 million gallons of Corexit used in the cleanup was sprayed onto the gulf from C-130 airplanes. The spray sometimes ended up hitting cleanup workers in the face.
“Our boat was sprayed four times,” says Jorey Danos, a 32-year-old father of three who suffered racking coughing fits, severe fatigue, and memory loss after working on the BP cleanup. “I could see the stuff coming out of the plane—like a shower of mist, a smoky color. I could see [it] coming at me, but there was nothing I could do.”
“The next day,” Danos continues, “when the BP rep came around on his speed boat, I asked, ‘Hey, what’s the deal with that stuff that was coming out of those planes yesterday?’ He told me, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I said, ‘Man, that s--t was burning my face—it ain’t right.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I said, ‘Well, could we get some respirators or something, because that s--t is bad.’ He said, ‘No, that wouldn’t look good to the media. You got two choices: you can either be relieved of your duties or you can deal with it."
The clean-up crews aren't the only victims of BP's deception and neglect:
My 2-year-old grandson and I would play out in the yard,” says Shirley Tillman of the Mississippi coastal town Pass Christian. “You could smell oil and stuff in the air, but on the news they were saying it’s fine, don’t worry. Well, by October, he was one sick little fellow. All of a sudden, this very active little 2-year-old was constantly sick. He was having headaches, upper respiratory infections, earaches. The night of his birthday party, his parents had to rush him to the emergency room. He went to nine different doctors, but they treated just the symptoms; they’re not toxicologists.”
The article also details the GAP investigators highly anticipated meeting with BP lawyers and officials, and this portion is just as disturbing as everything else about the Gulf oil disaster.
Presiding over the meeting, which is described here publicly for the first time, was BP’s public ombudsman, Stanley Sporkin, joining by telephone from Washington. Ironically, Sporkin had made his professional reputation during the Watergate scandal. As a lawyer with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Sporkin investigated illegal corporate payments to the slush fund that President Nixon used to buy the silence of the Watergate burglars.
Sporkin's presence probably tells all that needs to be said here about what came from this meeting, but I will add these key points:
- BP refused to discuss the NALCO manual, even though it was one of the stated purposes for the meeting.
- The top priority for the investigators was to get BP to agree to stop using Corexit. BP Vice President Luke Keller said that Corexit was still authorized for use by the U.S. government and BP would indeed feel free to use it against any future oil spills.
- A second priority was to get BP to provide medical treatment for Jamie Griffin and the many other apparent victims of Corexit-and-crude poisoning. This request too was refused by the heartless, soulless jackals of BP.
Bloomberg's Anastasia Haydulina reports in 2010 on the clean-up operation after the BP-leased rig Deepwater Horizon caught fire and sank in the Gulf of Mexico. BP, which is battling an underwater well leak streaming thousands of barrels of oil a day into the sea, said today profit more than doubled in the first quarter on higher oil prices.
Greenpeace activists board ship carrying Australian coal
Activists stage climate change protest on board MV Meister, carrying export coal from Abbot Point in Queensland
Oliver Laughland in Sydney
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 April 2013 06.52 BST
Link to video: Greenpeace activists board coal ship off Australian coasthttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/apr/24/greenpeace-australia-coal-ship-video
Six activists from Greenpeace have boarded a coal ship leaving Australian waters in a direct action aimed at curbing coal exports.
The activists, from several different countries, boarded the Korean-owned MV Meister at 7am on Wednesday. The ship is carrying thermal coal loaded from Abbot Point in Queensland.
Speaking to the Guardian from on board the ship, 34-year-old Greenpeace activist Emma Giles said: "We've taken the action today because Australia is on track to almost double its coal exports in the next decade. Both major political parties have no solutions on the table. It is time to slow down the coal boom.
"Our leaders are failing us so it's up to us to take civil disobedience and to slow down and stop these coal ships. We are set to stay here as long as it takes."
The activists boarded the ship from inflatable boats at sunrise and had previously been on board the Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace's own purpose-built ship. They presented a letter to the captain explaining the action and have set up camp at the bow of the ship.
A spokesman for Greenpeace on the Rainbow Warrior said: "We are calling on the rest of Australia to take whatever action is possible to ensure that we do not double our coal exports. We cannot deal with the climate change that will result from that."
According to research commissioned by Greenpeace, Australia's coal export expansion is the second-largest of 14 proposed fossil fuel enterprises. "We cannot pretend Australia is playing its part to avoid dangerous climate change if these shipments continue," said Greenpeace senior climate campaigner Dr Georgina Woods.
Greenpeace say the coal export expansion planned in Queensland will further threaten the Great Barrier Reef through dredging, coastal construction and increased shipping.
A Queensland customs and border protection spokeman said: "Border Protection Command has deployed aerial surveillance aircraft to the area and is liasing with Queensland state police in response to this incident."
The department of climate change declined to comment.
Experts warn cheetahs could disappear from the wild by 2030
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 24, 2013 5:13 EDT
The cheetah, the world’s fastest land animal, survived mass extinction during the last ice age 10,000 years ago.
But it has taken just the last few decades for man to place the hunter on the endangered species list, with experts warning it could disappear from the wild by 2030.
Unlike rhinos and elephants, the cheetah is not a target in Africa’s poaching bloodbath. But it is the only big cat to adapt poorly in wildlife reserves as its natural habitat is increasingly wiped out.
“Cheetahs don’t do well in protected wildlife reserves due to increased competition from other larger predators, such as lions and hyenas, which thrive in protected areas,” Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia told AFP.
“Most protected areas are unable to maintain viable cheetah populations,” she added.
In the early 20th century, the global cheetah population was around 100,000 with populations throughout Africa, the Middle East and several Asian countries.
There are barely 10,000 in the wild today, in Africa, and a small population in Iran which is critically endangered.
According to big cat NGO Panthera, cheetahs have disappeared from 77 percent of their original territory in Africa.
The International Union of the Conservation of Nature lists the southern African species as vulnerable.
“The main limitation to the survival of the species in the wild is reduction and fragmentation of habitat as well as human wildlife conflict,” said Marker.
If no special measures are taken, wild cheetah will disappear by 2030, according to Panthera.
The greyhound-like cat, with its distinctive tear-stain-like facial markings and spotted golden coat, is a consistent loser in confrontations with lions or leopards which are heavier and more powerful.
Even in a good scenario, its prey will be stolen before it has a chance to feed. In the worst cases, the cheetah will be killed.
The sprinter, which reaches speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour (74 miles per hour) needs vast open spaces with a low density of fellow carnivores to thrive.
In Africa, it is estimated that 90 percent of cheetahs live alongside humans where they are often in conflict with livestock farms.
Another handicap it faces is natural inbreeding dating back to the last ice age when the global population plunged.
As a result, according to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, every cheetah today is as closely related as if they were twins, leading to a genetic bottleneck.
This puts the cheetah in an unenviable position. To enable the mixing of genes, they need a greater range than other animals to be able to freely migrate. But as humans increasingly encroach on its environment, this has become even more difficult.
Researchers know that isolated micro-populations of threatened species lead to rapid extinction.
So in the short-term, the easily tamed animal is being raised in captivity. Private farmers, notably in South Africa, exchange individuals to maintain a healthy population.
A pioneer of this approach is the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre near Johannesburg, which has achieved 800 births since the 1970s.
It’s an encouraging figure for the survival of the species. But what lies ahead for those in the wild?
“Our research and experience shows that even wild cheetahs that have not had at least 18 months of life with a mother in their natural habitat have a difficult time being re-wilded,” said the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s Marker.
“They simply don’t learn the survival skills necessary to sustain themselves in the wild.”
“A cheetah born in captivity, one that never has the experience of living in the wild with its mother, would have virtually no chance of success if released.”
Against these odds, some game farm owners are hoping for miracles.
Damien Vergnaud is one of them. In the desert-like Karoo, a few hours from Cape Town, he owns the 10,000 hectare Inverdoorn private reserve.
“We hope to soon release three cheetahs in a totally wild environment, with minimal human interaction,” he told AFP.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund would like to see the cat’s range boosted — not by traditional means of snapping up large areas of land, but through corridors that allow them to move freely.
“We’d like to see the cheetah’s range increasing, with populations linked with each other through corridors, and even see cheetahs reintroduced to former range countries, like India,” said Marker.
Lu Guang's The Polluted Landscape: the camera never lies, even in China - audio slideshow
Interview and editing: Eric Hilaire; photographs: Lu Guang/Greenpeace; interpreter and voiceover: Fish Yu Xin
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 25 April 2013 09.30 BST
Chinese photojournalist Lu Guang goes deep into China's ravaged heartlands and documents the environmental crisis that has been triggered by the nation's dizzyingly rapid economic growth and development. Exposing the droughts caused by open-cast coal mines in Inner Mongolia, documenting under-reported oil spills and sidestepping censorship over chemical pollution of rivers, Guang is a fearless documenter of truth – and his message is starting to gather force among many Chinese who question the benefits of growth when the environmental costs are so high
Please click here to see for yourself the utter destruction of the Mongolian environment:http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/audioslideshow/2013/apr/25/lu-guang-polluted-landscpae-audio-slideshow
Obama campaign’s next target: Climate change deniers in Congress
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Thursday, April 25, 2013 21:18 EDT
The campaign group formed to support Barack Obama’s political agenda has launched an initiative to shame members of Congress who deny the science behind climate change.
In an email to supporters on Thursday, Organizing for Action said it was time to call out members of Congress who deny the existence of climate change, saying they had blocked efforts to avoid its most catastrophic consequences.
The email linked to a video mocking Republicans who reject the science on climate change. “Right now, way too many lawmakers in Washington flat-out refuse to face the facts when it comes to climate change,” Jon Carson, executive director of Organizing for Action wrote in the email. “We’re never going to make real progress on this issue unless members of Congress get serious.”
The video mainly features Republican members of the House of Representatives who are notorious for denying the existence of climate change, or positing bizarre notions about its causes.
However, it also includes some national figures such as the Florida senator Marc Rubio and House speaker John Boehner, whose views on climate are not that broadly known. There are no Democrats in the video.
The video was the first foray into climate politics by Organizing for Action, the group which emerged out of Obama’s re-election campaign to promote his second-term legislative agenda.
Until Thursday, the group had focused on gun control, immigration and the budget. Climate change did not even rate its own heading on the OFA website. But Thursday’s video and an accompanying petition campaign suggest that Obama’s allies have now decided that climate change is a mainline political issue.
Obama singled out climate change as one of his priorities at his inauguration and during his first state of the union address.
Since then, however, Obama has failed to offer bold policy proposals to match the sweeping speeches. Last week the New Yorker speculated that Obama may have given up on climate action entirely.
Environmental groups in Washington say that is not at all the case, but admit that other issues have taken precedence in the first months of his second term.
The appearance of the video was seen by some as a sign that Obama’s allies are now ready for a broad grassroots fight on climate politics. A number of environmental organisations have tried similar grassroots efforts – most notably 350.org’s campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline and Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project – but the OFA move represented a new mainstreaming of climate politics.
“What is interesting to me is that it shows that climate is finally becoming a first tier political issue,” said Paul Bledsoe, a political consultant who was President Clinton’s climate advisor. “Every other issue in the first tier always has this kind of grassroots activism behind it, whether it’s the health care bill or immigration.”
But it will be an uphill battle. As the video points out, 240 Republican members of the house signed on to a measure describing climate change as a hoax.
Since Obama was first elected, opposition to climate action has become a core tenet of conservative and Republican party politics. Some Republicans deny any change in the climate, some dispute the burning of fossil fuels is warming the atmosphere. Others accept climate science but oppose broad economy-wide measures to avoid catastrophic climate change.
The video does not bother with those distinctions. However, there is broad cohesion among conservatives in their opposition to climate action – and that will make Obama’s course all the more difficult.
Click to watch the stupidity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=biUc0D6_UPA
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
White House considering ending protection of grey wolf population
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Friday, April 26, 2013 20:31 EDT
US Fish and Wildlife Service says ruling under review, two years after end of wolf protection in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming
The Obama administration was on Friday on the verge of lifting protection for grey wolves across most of the country, ending a 20-year effort to bring the animals back to their historic range.
The move would withdraw protection in all lower 48 states for an iconic animal which is seen by its defenders as a symbol of the wide open spaces of the Rocky Mountain West – and by cattle ranchers as a plague on their herds. Only a small population of about 75 Mexican gray wolves, in Arizona and New Mexico, would remain under federal government protection, according to the Los Angeles Times, which obtained a draft of the rule.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service told reporters the new rule was still under review, and would be open for public comment.
The decision had been expected for some time. After being hunted into extinction at the beginning of the 20th century, as an official government policy, wolf populations had rebounded in states like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming after the species was re-introduced. The Obama administration ended protections for wolves in those states in 2011, because of the strong recovery.
The federal government also allowed hunting in the Rocky Mountain West – leading to the death last year of 10 wolves in the area around the Yellowstone national park, including seven which were wearing radio collars. One of those was the Alpha Female No 6, arguably the most photographed wolf. The administration continued to monitor pack populations, and was prepared to reintroduce protections if needed.
The latest moves, as revealed in the draft, would leave it up to individual states to manage wolf populations. Conservationists said that could undermine wolves’ recovery in large parts of the Rockies. Officials reasoned that the recovery of the population in the Rocky Mountain states, where there are an estimated 1,600 wolves, and scattered populations in California, Oregon, Washington and parts of New England meant the animals were assured of survival across lasrge parts of the country. However, wildlife biologists argued ending protections for wolves risked undoing a rare conservation success story.
Since their re-introduction in the 1990s, with about 60 animals brought in from Canada, wolf populations have rebounded in the Rocky Mountain West. The animals were prolific breeders and they also roamed widely, re-establishing populations across large swathes of the Rockies.
But there was a strong backlash against their recovery from ranchers, who faced attacks on their livestock, and from hunters, who said the animals were taking too big a toll on elk populations.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
Poaching blamed for 62 percent drop in Central Africa’s elephant population
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 26, 2013 19:45 EDT
Poaching on an “industrial” scale has slashed the elephant population in the countries of central Africa by nearly two-thirds, a group of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said on Friday.
“A recent study shows that the population of forest elephants has dropped by almost two-thirds or 62 percent in the past 10 years, victims of large-scale ivory poaching,” the group of eight NGOs said in a statement.
“The situation is dramatic and worrying. It’s very dangerous,” Jerome Mokoko, assistant director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, told reporters at a news conference in Brazzaville.
“Nearly 5,000 elephants have been lost in the northern zone of Congo between 2009 and 2011,” said Mokoko.
He added there were 80,000 elephants in the Central African Republic just 30 years ago but their number has been reduced to just a few thousand.
“The Democratic Republic of Congo alone is home to 70 percent of the elephant population of central Africa. But now there are only between 7,000 and 10,000 elephants in the DRC,” Mokoko said.
Jules Caron, head of communications for the World Wildlife Fund in central Africa, said the elephant poaching situation had changed “dramatically.”
“We are no longer talking about small-scale poaching but poaching on an industrial scale, all run by highly organised and well-armed gangs of international criminals,” added Caron.
The NGOs said poachers were seizing on weapons, especially Kalashnikov rifles that have become widespread due to several civil wars flaring in the region.
“The ivory trade begins and ends in south-east Asia, notably China and Thailand, respectively the world’s biggest consumer and the world’s biggest legal ivory market,” Caron told AFP.
He called on heads of state to “take on the fight against poaching, criminal activity surrounding animal parts and illegal trade in wild species.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
04/26/2013 07:03 PM
Dirty Gold: Crisis Has Europe Clamoring to Mine
By Luke Dale-Harris
Amid the enduring economic crisis, European governments are looking for new ways to fill empty coffers, and once unappealing mining projects are becoming far more attractive. One massive strip-mining project in Romania has divided the country.
In a bland and brightly lit ballroom in the center of Zurich, the leaders of a hundred of the world's largest gold exploitation companies looked on as the European Gold Forum opened with a slide show of bank notes from Weimar Germany. One hundred marks, 500, 10,000, 1 million, 100 million, 500 million. It cut to some text, left hanging on the screen as the audience applauded. "Currency destruction through Hyperinflation. Will history repeat itself?"
Over the next three days of last week's conference, many seemed to hope the answer would be "yes". With the price of gold driven by economic instability, the current grim outlook suggests a bright future for gold, as investors shift their money into the relative safety offered by the precious metal. Around the world, mining companies have been gearing themselves up accordingly and, for those at the conference, even the recent dramatic drop in the value of gold couldn't hamper the optimistic atmosphere. "The price drop will be temporary," insists Tim Wood, executive director of the forum's host, Denver Gold Group. "The expectation is that gold will resume its climb and go to new record highs as ultimately the monetary policy of all these countries is going to fail."
A markedly different mood became apparent on the street outside the venue, where a group of anti-mining protesters held banners and waved the flags of their home countries, the colors of Greece, Portugal and Bulgaria conspicuous among them. Breaking through the crowd, a funeral procession of masked figures delivered a gold colored coffin to the doors of the ballroom, chanting as they walked. "Rosia Montana will not be destroyed for gold. Stay out of Romania!"
'Digging for Cash'
Though small, the protests resonate widely across Europe. As the sovereign debt crisis continues to grip the Continent, governments have become increasingly responsive to the mining companies' proposals to tap gold reserves. In recent years, environmental regulations, local opposition and high costs have mostly kept foreign mining companies away. Instead, they have focused on large reserves in the developing world. Recently, though, much of Europe has seen what Theodota Nantsu of the WWF calls "an avalanche of regulation rollback" and an opening of gold reserves previously deemed unacceptable for mining.
There is gold to be found across Europe, but the correlation between those countries now moving to exploit, and those hit worst by the sovereign debt crisis is clear. Since last year, the Portuguese government has signed 95 separate contracts with mining companies, with the priority given to gold and silver. In Greece, the government's opening up of its gold deposits to a Canadian company has sparked violent protests reported around the world. In Bulgaria and Turkey, gold mining has been growing exponentially since mining laws were recently liberalized.
"For governments, it's a case of beggars can't be choosers," says Wood. "If you need to raise revenue for your country, then mining is a very good way to do it as you are essentially digging for cash."
Europe 's Largest Gold Deposit
In Romania, the extractable gold buried beneath the small Transylvanian town of Rosia Montana is estimated to be worth, at today's prices, somewhere close to €16 billion ($20.8 billion), making it the largest known gold deposit in Europe and third largest worldwide. The joint venture Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), which is 80 percent owned by Canadian mining firm Gabriel Resources and 20 percent by Minivest, a government enterprise, secured the license to extract the deposit. RMGC officials the mine would inject a much-needed $4 billion into the Romanian economy and create 3,600 jobs. Despite this, the majority of Romanians stand against it and, after 16 years of planning, the mine remains unopened and has become a highly contentious issue for the government.
The reasons for the public opposition are manifold but invariably stem from the same source -- a deep distrust among Romanians of their government and apprehension over multinationals looking to exploit the country's resources. Tales of deceit and corruption abound. Environmental horrors of the past are recalled in warning, including the cyanide spill at the Baie Mare gold mine in 2000, Europe's worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl. Everywhere, it seems, Romanians see the mine as a form of robbery, facilitated by their government but conducted from abroad, and for which the country will pay the price.
The fight to stop the Rosia Montana is led by Eugen David. A tall and scruffy subsistence farmer, he's not the type of man one would expect at the center of the biggest protest movement seen in Romania since 1989. On this particular day, he stands slightly crooked, drinking a glass of milk in front of the bare breeze block house that he built atop one of the four mountains that encase the town of Rosia Montana. Beneath his feet lie the Roman mining galleries that, for over 100 years, brought gold of unprecedented quantities back to Rome, ushering in one of the empire's greatest periods of prosperity. Across the valley, a huge crater looms over the town, the scar of Ceausescu's scramble for gold that started in 1975 and went on for three decades until, as part of the environmental preconditions for Romania joining the European Union in 2007, it was finally closed down. "Gold is what built this town," explains David. "Now, if they get their way, it will be what destroys it as well."
Though the area has been mined on and off for almost two millennia, the scale of RMGC's mine proposal far outweighs all that has gone before it. Everything that can be seen from David's house -- the four red tinted mountains from which the town gets its name, the two church steeples that break through the treetops, and the 2,000 or so buildings, many of them listed, which stretch down through the valley -- will have to go to make way for the mine. In their place, four huge open pits will be dug, together covering over 8 kilometers in diameter and big enough to be visible from space. Over the hill, the neighbouring Corna Valley will be dammed at one end to hold the 250 million tons of cyanide-laced waste that will come from the gold leaching. After 16 years, when the area has been mined to exhaustion, Rosia Montana will become an exclusion zone, a toxic island in an area that wildlife protection organization Milvus Group refers to as "one of the most ecologically rich landscapes in the country."
An Alarming Risk
Though the use of cyanide in gold extraction has been around for well over a hundred years and has always been controversial, recent advances in the technique are widely believed to have made it safe -- both to the mine operators and the surrounding environment. The methods to be used at Rosia Montana, however, hark back to techniques widely discarded today. According to Victor Bostinaru, a member of the European Parliament and a central figure in the opposition to the mine, "Rosia Montana poses a very alarming risk for contamination. Compared to the modern gold mines of Scandinavia, this seems like a 19th century colonial operation. There is no guarantee that it will not cause severe damage."
Yet the environmental impact assessments (EIAs), carried out by the government and paid for by RMGC, always marked the project as being above board, despite various re-evaluations following public requests. However, the head of the Romanian geological institute told members of the press two years ago that he had been dismissed from his post because of his opposition to the Rosia Montana EIAs. Shortly after, a member of the National Archaeology Commission revealed he was the only member of the commission working on Rosia Montana who had not been paid by the company.
The scandals started to come thick and fast. The contract giving RMGC ownership of mining rights had vanished off the face of the earth, throwing into question the legality of all the company's activities until now. President Traian Basescu was filmed in Rosia Montana calling Eugen David and other opponents to the mine "Bolsheviks" and advising them to sell their homes and leave town. But the media remained largely silent, with all but two Romanian newspapers continuing to plug the official line that the mine will bring nothing but good to the country.
A Long-Term Sentence to Poverty
At the end of 2011, the original contract signed between the government and Gabriel resources, until then a state secret, was leaked online. It showed that the state would get just 2.2 percent of the royalties from the mine. According to calculations done by the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest, after the environmental cleanup costs and the repayment of loans taken out by Minivest from Gabriel Resources' purse, the project would generate nowhere near the $4 billion claimed by RMGC, but instead bring "nothing to the region but a long term sentence to poverty."
One month later, protesters in Bucharest took to the streets in Romania's biggest uprising since the revolution. Mostly they demonstrated against austerity measures which, since the country's €20 billion IMF bailout in 2009, had seen half the country's schools and hospitals merged, taxes hiked and state wages, benefits and pensions cut by up to 25 percent. But they also opposed the offered solution. A month before, President Basescu had declared that Romania's way out of its financial problems lay in the creation of jobs through the opening of mines, especially Rosia Montana.
But the people viewed the mine as yet "another symbol of Romania selling out its economic interests for individual gain," says Bostinaru. "We need sustainable development to rebuild Romania's economy and, as it stands, Rosia Montana in no way offers that solution." The leader of the opposition, Victor Ponta, seized on the popular discontent and condemned the Rosia Montana project and the government that supported it, calling for an end to "the alienation of Romania's natural resources" and a move to more long-term development.
Government Support Returns
Since that time, Ponta's government came to power in a landslide election, unemployment levels have stayed stagnant, and the Rosia Montana mining project has regained its governmental support. Following Ponta's warning that "controversial decisions" will be made about the mine this year, a new incarnation of Minivest was announced on Friday, called Minivest Rosia Montana. Created solely for the purpose of the mining project, it is the first definite sign that the government plans to move ahead with the project since the elections. Meanwhile, RMGC have started the demolition of Rosia Montana in preparation.
Whichever way the mine goes, its implications will reach far beyond Romania. If it goes ahead as suggested, it is feared that its example will lower the bar on environmental standards across the board. Even for the gold industry this could be bad in the long run. Scandinavian companies have expressed fears that it will prompt opposition against cyanide mining across the continent and could ultimately lead to an EU ban, forcing gold mining backwards in terms of efficiency and profit.
If the mine is stopped, it will be an environmental victory against all the odds. With an increasing number of groups across Europe fighting similar battles against mining giants, the Romanian example would set a precedent for what can be achieved even with the most limited of means.
Its that prospect that has kept Victor Bostinaru fighting through the years. "This is a pioneering project. If we don't stop it, who knows what it will mean for the future of gold mining in Europe."
04/26/2013 02:59 PM
Land O' Lakes: Melting Glaciers Transform Alpine Landscape
By Axel Bojanowski
Climate change is dramatically altering the Swiss Alps, where hundreds of bodies of water are being created by melting glaciers. Though the lakes can attract tourists and even generate electricity, local residents also fear catastrophic tidal waves.
In the 1990s, the first cracks began to appear in the mighty tongue of the Trift Glacier in the central Swiss canton of Bern. In 2002, the peak of the ice mass burst into thousands of pieces. Since it lay in a hollow, the water swelled into a lake rather than flowing out. The Trift Lake then became an attraction: Hundreds of tourists per day now visit the suspension bridge that hangs over this new body of water. "Many more people come to the glacier than before," says Wilfried Haeberli of Zürich University.
The geographer and his colleagues calculate that, in the coming years, hundreds of such lakes will come into being in the Swiss Alps alone. In Austria, the Andes and other mountainous regions heavily affected by climate change, similar dramatic environmental transformations are occuring. "The rapid melting of glaciers is radically changing the Alpine landscape," Haeberli reported at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) in Vienna. The ice region is in many places becoming a landscape of lakes.
New bodies of water would bring opportunities as well as risks. Tourists could take in something new, and reservoirs could supply hydroelectric power. Towns in these regions, however, see a looming danger: Avalanches threaten to tumble into the lakes, sending tidal waves that could be dozens of meters high surging down into the valley.
Deeper than Lake Ontario
Haeberli and his colleagues estimate there will be 500 to 600 major lakes in the Swiss high mountain region "in the foreseeable future." With progressive global warming, three new bodies of water per year will emerge, according to their calculations.
The forecast is based on a computer model designed to show the ground underneath the glaciers. The way an ice mass moves and how it creases reveal the nature of the subsoil on which it is dwindling away.
Haeberli says his team tested the model on the changes in the landscape in the past decade. The digital animation shows which glaciers stand over hollows that will be exposed by the receding ice tongue in the coming years and could be filled with melt water. The resulting bodies of water will have an average depth of up to 100 meters (about 328 feet), estimates Haeberli -- that's deeper than Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan and the Chiemsee in Bavaria.
The first new additions have already arrived: While tourists are excited about the Rhone Glacier Lake in Valais, Switzerland, the young body of water is causing problems around the Grindelwald Glacier. Rock from the Eiger mountain that was once covered in ice began to fall away, and the resulting landslides have been causing melt water to build up since 2005. Thawing caused the lake to swell so much that it overflowed in late May 2008.
With this, it became clearer that floods could threaten railways, roads, hotels and campsites. Hundreds of millions of francs were spent to hurriedly bore tunnels into the mountain so that the water could flow out in any future emergency.
Particularly dangerous, say Haeberli and his colleagues, is the Aletsch, the largest glacier in the Alps. Underneath the ice are deep, gaping depressions that are soon likely to fill with water. Steep cliffs tower over the future lakes. Without ice to support them, Haeberli worries, the mountain could lose its hold and come crashing down into the water. Two towns would have to contend with potentially fatal tidal waves, says the researcher.
Residents of the valley of Plaine Morte, another glacier in the canton of Bern, also look with concern at a growing body of water fed from the thawing ice tongue. "We cannot just leave these new lakes to themselves," warns Haeberli. Pressure sensors on the ground and wires over the lakes should be installed to report dangerous swelling of the water in time, he suggests.
Some of these bodies of water, however, have the potential to lure tourists with attractive possibilities. The new lakes forming from a handful of glaciers in Switzerland -- Aletsch, Gorner, Otemma, Corbassière, Gauli and Plaine Morte -- have the capacity to be among the 20 largest reservoirs in the world, says Haeberli.
"The new lakes offer a chance to maintain current electricity production through hydropower," say Haeberli and his colleagues. Finally, in lower-lying areas, existing reservoirs are expected to disappear in a few decades due to dwindling melt-water rivers. Replacement is required.
The scientist is already anticipating a power plant that would feed off the new lakes forming from the Corbassière, Gauli and Trift glaciers. The plant could potentially produce 500 megawatts of electricity each year, which would be of great value to the Swiss. Haeberli estimates that about 40 new lakes could be interesting for energy production.
Perhaps, hopes the researcher, this will serve as consolation for the loss of the region's icy landscape.