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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 145481 times)
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« Reply #615 on: Aug 14, 2013, 08:48 AM »

August 13, 2013 07:00 PM

'The Sky is Pink'

By Diane Sweet
Crossposted from Occupy America

A short film from Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated director of GASLAND addressing the urgent crisis of drilling and fracking in New York state.

Go to for more info and to get involved.

Click to watch:
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« Reply #616 on: Aug 15, 2013, 06:15 AM »

The Bronze Age collapse was caused by climate change: study

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 20:06 EDT

A cold, dry spell that lasted hundreds of years may have driven the collapse of Eastern Mediterranean civilizations in the 13th century BC, researchers in France said Wednesday.

In the Late Bronze Age, powerful kingdoms spanned lands that are now Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Syria, Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian territories, but they collapsed suddenly around 1200 BC.

Archeologists have long debated the reasons behind their fall, often citing economic factors.

But in the past few years, more research has come to light indicating that natural factors, including a wintry drought, may have dried up agriculture, caused famine and forced people into war.

The latest findings, published in the open-access journal PLoS One, are based on an analysis of sediment from an ancient lake in southeastern Cyprus by lead researcher David Kaniewski of the University of Paul Sabatier in Toulouse.

Kaniewski found evidence of a 300-year drought beginning around 3,200 years ago in pollen grains derived from sediments of the Larnaca Salt Lake complex.

Changes in carbon isotopes and local plant species suggest that the series of four lakes were once a sea harbor at the heart of trade routes in the region, offering a new piece of the puzzle that suggests a history of environmental changes drove the region into a dark age.

“This climate shift caused crop failures, death and famine, which precipitated or hastened socio-economic crises and forced regional human migrations at the end of the Late Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia,” the study said.

Other researchers have found related evidence of a climate shift in sea surface temperatures and a two degree Celsius drop around the same time in the northern hemisphere.

Just why these changes occurred remains a matter of debate.

Some scientists suggest they may have been caused by a period of increased solar activity, which shifted the jet stream in the North Atlantic and led to drought by cooling the oceans and decreasing rainfall.

A similar climate event is believed to have happened in medieval times.

“The jury is still out on that one,” said Lee Drake, an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico whose own research has shown a drop in sea surface temperatures in the Mediterranean coincided with the Greek Dark Ages in the same period.

“If sea surface temperatures drop, then less water evaporates and less water precipitates over land. This period of cooler temperatures seems to be consistent with the Greek Dark Ages of about 400 years,” he told AFP.

“If you can imagine this complex Greek civilization sitting on top of a bucket, then climate came and kicked it out from under them, and there was really nothing that they could have done,” he said.

“You have got cities full of people and now you can only feed half of them. Go.”

Drake said the latest research helps explain the mythology of the Sea Peoples, or raiders who invaded land, and offers a fuller picture of what happened and why.

“We have pieced together from Hittite texts and Egyptian texts an idea of the world that existed then but it was really an entire civilization, a state-run society with kings, vassals, serfs, armies that disappeared with very little trace at the end of the Late Bronze Age,” he said.

“It adds a tremendous amount of weight to the argument that what ended these civilizations was climate change.”

Drake said it is still unclear why, if the temperature change was global, the Mediterranean responded so dramatically.

“That is something I think it very important to understand because it is not inconceivable that it could happen again.”

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« Reply #617 on: Aug 16, 2013, 05:44 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

New Antarctic ice core reveals secrets of climate change

By Liz Fuller-Wright, Correspondent / August 15, 2013 at 6:03 pm EDT

Most ice we see melts quickly, from ice cubes melting into a soda to icicles disappearing on a sunny winter day. But in Antarctica, ice can stick around for hundreds of thousands of years.

A newly revealed cylinder of ancient ice could change the way we think about climate change. A study published August 14 in the scientific journal Nature looked at 30,000 years of ice in more detail than has ever before been possible.

"We're trying to home in on how our climate changes, on the scale of years and decades rather than on the scale of thousands of years, which we've never been able to do in Antarctica before," says T.J. Fudge, the lead author on the paper. "I think that's going to tell us so much about how our climate system works, at the short time scales that are relevant to modern climate change."

Most of Antarctica's oldest ice is up in the eastern mountains, where cold air and steep terrain insulate the ice fields from the surrounding ocean and atmosphere. Climate researchers have focused on the 800,000-year climate record preserved there, discounting two previous ice cores taken in the west. One of the western cores was taken on a glacier, so its ice had moved away from the spot that the snow first fell; the other was taken at the edge of the Ross Ice Sheet, so its ice layers are vulnerable to ocean changes that can mask climate changes.

"So many good records came out of East Antarctica [that] the West Antarctic records have been forgotten a little bit," says Mr. Fudge, who is a graduate student in glaciology at the University of Washington.

But because West Antarctica is more influenced by storms and changes in sea ice, it's also much more sensitive to atmospheric changes – the very changes that make for a detailed and useful climate record.

In 2005, a team of scientists discovered the best of both worlds: a stable location in the west, which they found at the divide between two glaciers on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Not only was the location right, but the WAIS Divide gets 3 feet of snow a year that then compacts down into about 9 inches of ice, which then compacts further and further over thousands of years, as it gets buried under tons of more snow and ice.

"This is basically the best site in Antarctica – in the Southern Hemisphere – to be able to look at the abrupt changes of the last glacial period," says Fudge.

With the ability to "zoom in" to the climate record – to look at changes from year to year instead of epoch to epoch – Fudge's team discovered that the timeline of warming and cooling, established from the eastern cores, wasn't telling the whole story.
How Antarctica began to melt

"The thought prior to our work is that Antarctica began to warm about 18,000 years ago, after the Northern Hemisphere had started to warm" about 24,000 years ago, says Fudge.

Climatologists debated exactly how the north triggered the south, though most agreed that the global ocean conveyor belt played a role, but they agreed that "Antarctica took its signal from the north to get it going." Fudge's team agrees that warming kicked into high gear 18,000 years ago, but they found evidence of warming in West Antarctica beginning between 2,000 and 4,000 years before the northern "trigger."

It now appears that both the northern and southern hemispheres were affected by orbital changes that made for longer summer days. In Antarctica, the increased sunlight melted the sea ice.

Sea ice has huge implications for climate change, for one simple reason: air above ice can get much, much colder than air above flowing water. "There's this great ability to amplify changes with sea ice. This is what we see happening in the northern hemisphere today, with the sea ice loss near the North Pole: You change the temperature a little, that changes the amount of sea ice a little, which then changes the amount of sea ice a lot. It creates a feedback loop," says Fudge.

Don't confuse sea ice with icebergs, warns Fudge. Icebergs are chunks of continental glaciers that calve into the ocean and float away. Sea ice is more like lake ice, or river ice: even when the whole surface doesn't freeze over, a rime of ice can grow on the edge of a lake or river. Similarly, a continent-scale "rime" of sea ice grows around the edge of Antarctica every winter, reaching 3 to 6 feet thick and expanding over 5 million square miles.
Two miles, straight down

The team took the first, short ice cores from the site in 2005, and then began this drilling project in 2006. Because of Antarctica's brutally short summers, they only had 30 to 35 drill days each year, so it took until December 2011 to extract the more than 2 miles of ice that made up the 68,000-year record, which they're still analyzing.

"You can only drill about 3 meters of ice each time you send the drill down," says Fudge, "so by the time you're drilling the deepest ice, you're 2 miles down, so you have to send the drill down 2 miles, grab 10 feet, come back up 2 miles, and then send it back down an extra 10 feet to grab the next one... It takes about 3 hours for one drill run." Then the ice begins its 6-month journey, first by plane to the coast, then by ship to Los Angeles, then overland to Denver, when the analysis finally begins – all while keeping it deep-frozen.

"It is not an inexpensive process, so we feel a great responsibility," Fudge acknowledges. "I think the paper we just published is the first of many really tremendous records that are changing our perception about how our climate system works."

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« Reply #618 on: Aug 16, 2013, 06:59 AM »

08/16/2013 12:52 PM

Smoking Ban: Shipping Shifts to Cleaner Fuel

By Christian Wüst

Starting next year, ships fueled only with heavy oil will no longer be allowed to sail Europe's North and Baltic seas. But cleaner alternatives are costly. Liquid natural gas could be the solution.

The residential areas along the banks of the Elbe River in Hamburg are among the city's most desirable neighborhoods, home to established merchant families. The views are magnificent, but sometimes the air quality is not.

Outdoor furniture and windowsills are often coated with a black, oily residue. The affected residents can only take comfort in the fact that they are being subjected to the excretions of an industry that has made Hamburg rich.

Ships are the dirt eaters of our mobile society, and although their contribution to global pollution is only minor (see graphic), they are a nuisance on a local scale. Their diesel engines burn heavy oil, the dregs of refineries. "It's more like a thick mush than a liquid," says Christoph Brockmann, vice president of the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency in Hamburg. The highly viscous material has to be heated to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) so that it can be pumped through the fuel lines and into the engine.

Out of the chimney then comes the muck. Brockmann has a few photos on his mobile phone showing ship smokestacks emitting plumes of black and yellow smoke. Black is soot and yellow is sulfur. "These photos are ugly," says Brockmann, "we don't want that anymore."

A Cleaner Alternative

Brockmann, who has a degree in oceanography, says that one of the drivers of change is an epochal switch in ship fuel from heavy oil to natural gas. It is the greatest possible leap the spectrum of hydrocarbons offers -- from the dirtiest to the cleanest fossil fuel. Fortunately, diesel engines tolerate both.

Transportation Minister Peter Ramsauer also wants this change. On Friday, he attended a presentation involving the testing of exhaust gases from a Caterpillar ship engine in Warnemünde, a seaside district of the northeastern port city of Rostock. The six-cylinder engine generates about five megawatts of power and can be switched from heavy oil to natural gas while running. The output remains the same, but pollutants disappear almost completely. Sulfur dioxide and soot levels sink to almost zero, while nitrous gases are reduced to about 20 percent.

Natural gas is actually usable on ships in its densest storage form, liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is cooled to -160 degrees Celsius and liquefied. In Scandinavia, some ferries are already operating on LNG. And Brockmann estimates that the freighters commonly used in the Baltic Sea could be operated with LNG with only minor reductions in cargo space.

Ramsauer is already talking about an "LNG National Action Plan," and German gas company Linde formed a joint venture last year with Hamburg ship fuel provider Bomin, to develop LNG infrastructure around the major ports in the North and Baltic Sea region. The first planned locations are in Hamburg, Bremerhaven and Rotterdam.

'Economically Unattractive'

But the terminals will probably look deserted in the harbors for a while, because the German Ship Owners Association isn't exactly thrilled about the initiative. An expert report calls the use of LNG "desirable for the sake of the environment" and "technically feasible," and yet it also describes it as "(still) economically unattractive." Translation: Are you people crazy?

According to calculations by the Ship Owners Association, the costs of building a ship would increase by 15 to 20 percent, or a number in the high single-digit millions, above all due to the costly tank system.

But by January 2015, the ship owners' calculation could lead to different results. That's when new nautical exhaust regulations come into effect that, while not directly promoting ships operated with natural gas, will make the use of oil-based fuel drastically more expensive.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has declared the North Sea and Baltic Sea an "Emissions Control Area." Starting in 2014, the maximum allowable sulfur content in fuel, currently at 1 percent, will be reduced to only 0.1 percent for ships sailing in waters between the English Channel and the Baltic states. This practically takes heavy oil off the table, because a significantly purer refined product -- marine gas oil, which is chemically similar to the diesel fuel used in cars and is more expensive than heavy oil -- will be needed to satisfy the new requirement.

Highly polluting heavy oil currently costs about $600 (€450) per ton in most ports, while marine gas oil goes for more than $900. Large freighters consume up to 10 tons of fuel an hour, while ferries consume about two tons. For the ship owners, who have been operating in a permanent crisis since 2008, the ban on heavy oil is a serious blow.

Life-Threatening for the Shipping Industry?

"Someone should have looked at the price lists," says Hanns Conzen, managing director of the Lübeck-based shipping company TT-Line, which operates six ferries between Germany and Scandinavia. The IMO's verdict, which came at the request of the countries bordering the North and Baltic Seas, including Germany, is "life-threatening," says Conzen.

Fuel accounts for up to half of total ferry operating costs, depending on the length of the route, and more than three-quarters of costs for freighters. Conzen expects the new rules to add €2.5 million a year in additional costs per ship, which will ultimately be reflected in ticket prices. His most important cargo consists of haulage contractor trucks, which will immediately take the land route if it turns out to be cheaper.

The new pollution control measures in shipping channels could have a highly undesirable side effect, by shifting truck traffic back from the water to roads -- not exactly good for the environment.

Conzen feels forsaken by transportation policy. His fleet is still relatively young, and ferries have an average serviceable life of at least 40 years. Retrofitting the ferries for gas technology is virtually impossible, because of the lack of space in the engine rooms on ferries, which are designed to maximize cargo space. A retroactive tank installation would be all but unpayable.

A Solution for the Future

Not even Conzen disputes that LNG would be the solution for newly built ships. Natural gas has been getting cheaper for a long time, compared to crude oil, and commodities experts expect this development to continue. The price of liquid gas is already significantly lower than that of expensive marine gas oil and, in some regions -- in the United States, for example -- it is approaching that of heavy oil.

In addition, a ship owner who has invested in LNG no longer needs to fear additional action plans or other environmental initiatives relating to undesirable substances in exhaust gas. But marine gas oil emits soot and nitrous gases. The IMO will undoubtedly turn its attention to marine gas oil in the future.

Passenger ships, in particular, would benefit from the elimination of soot, because the exhaust gases are directly harmful to passengers. The German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union recently examined 20 cruise ships to be launched in the coming years. "For health reasons," the experts concluded, "taking a vacation on any cruise ship is not advisable at this time."

As a sign of goodwill AIDA Cruises, the worst of the polluters, recently laid down the keel on a new generation of ships, which can now operate with liquid gas, in addition to oil.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #619 on: Aug 17, 2013, 06:16 AM »

Yasuni: Ecuador abandons plan to stave off Amazon drilling

President says scheme to raise money from rich countries to compensate for oil moratorium has pulled in only $13m

Associated Press in Quito, Friday 16 August 2013 03.05 BST

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has abandoned a unique and ambitious plan to persuade rich countries to pay his country not to drill for oil in a pristine Amazon rainforest preserve.

Environmentalists had hailed the initiative when Correa first proposed it in 2007, saying he was setting a precedent in the fight against global warming by reducing the high cost to poor countries of preserving the environment.

"The world has failed us," Correa said in a nationally televised speech. He blamed "the great hypocrisy" of nations who emit most of the world's greenhouse gases.

"It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change."

Correa had sought US$3.6bn in contributions to maintain a moratorium on drilling in the remote Yasuni national park, which was declared a biosphere reserve by the United Nations in 1989 and is home to two indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation.

But on Thursday evening he said Ecuador had raised just $13m in actual donations and $116 million in pledges and he had an obligation to his people, particularly the poor, to move ahead with drilling.

Correa said he was proposing oil exploration in Yasuni amounting to just 1% of its 3,800 square miles.

His plan had envisioned rich countries paying Ecuador about $7.2bn, or half the revenue expected to be generated over 10 years from the 846 million barrels of heavy crude estimated to be in Yasuni.

Ecuadorean officials said then that not drilling in the reserve would keep 410 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

But while Correa's proposal generated interest, there were few takers, in part because he insisted that Ecuador alone would decide how the donations would be spent.

Ecuador is an OPEC member that depends on oil for a third of its national budget. The three oil fields in Yasuni represent 20% of its oil reserves.

Political analyst Jose Fuentes of the Flacso university in Quito said Correa had opted "for economic pragmatism" in abandoning the environmentalist image he had wished to project internationally.

Matt Finer, a scientist at the US-based Center for International Environmental Law, expressed dismay at the decision.

"It is deeply disappointing that this alternative model for dealing with oil and gas reserves in mega-diverse rainforests did not work," he said via email from Peru. "The Yasuni-ITT Initiative was the lone exception to the relentless expansion of hydrocarbon projects deeper into the most remote tracts of the western Amazon. Now there is really no viable alternative to stop the wave of drilling slated for the most biodiverse region of the world."

Despite championing the project, Correa is not perceived domestically as much of an environmentalist. He has also upset indigenous groups with plans to develop mining projects.

Indigenous and environmental groups in Ecuador have said that any decision on the fate of Yasuni should be made in a national referendum.

Patricio Chavez, director of the environmental group Amazonia por la Vida, criticised Correa for leaving potential donors a single option: "Pay or we drill."

Yasuni is not the only oil drilling that Correa's government plans in the rainforest. He is also seeking to auction oil concessions in 13 blocks of 770 square miles each south of Yasuni, closer to the border with Peru.

Oil is Ecuador's chief source of foreign earnings. The country produces 538,000 barrels of crude a day, delivering nearly half its production to the United States.


World's conservation hopes rest on Ecuador's revolutionary Yasuni model

A plan to preserve the most biodiverse region on Earth from oil exploitation has put Yasuni national park at the frontline of a global battle between living systems and fossil fuels. But enthusiasm is cooling and this bold project may now be at as much at risk as the wildlife itself

Jonathan Watts in Yasuni, Ecuador   
The Guardian, Monday 3 September 2012   
Yasuni national park: 'We want to give it as a gift for humanity' Link to video: Yasuni national park: 'We want to give it as a gift for humanity'

In their first hour in Yasuni's Amazonian forest, many people will see more creatures than they have seen in their entire lives, including some that have yet to be documented by science. To paddle up the Ayango creek that leads from the traffic and pollution of the Napo river into the most biodiverse region on Earth is to encounter a wall of noise, frequent bursts of colour and unimaginable combinations of life.

A tiger heron flaps lazily past our canoe, electric blue Morpho butterflies jolt the eye, spiders the size of an adult's hand sit on branches, and kingfishers flash past. On a mud bank, a lizard suns itself, while high up in the tree canopy, we catch glimpses of flying monkeys and grunting Hoatzin "stinky turkeys" – prehistoric survivors with claws that grow into wings, which could have inspired the creatures in James Cameron's film Avatar.

The thick vines, exotic plants, stunningly colourful birds and huge reptiles of the forests and water systems here far outstrip the wildest imagination of any film director, but they are at risk from the worldwide trend of rising extinction rates and from local economic pressures to exploit underground oil fields.

Yasuni, which is home to two of the world's last uncontacted tribes, has moved to the frontline of a global battle between living systems and fossil fuels. Animal populations across the planet are 30% smaller now than in 1970, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). In tropical regions such as Ecuador, the rate of decline is almost double the global average.

Just as the species must innovate to survive, Yasuni has inspired the planet's most creative and ambitious approach to biodiversity conservation, social development and climate change. Ecuador – which is also home to the Galapagos Islands – is the only country in the world to have recognised the rights of nature in its constitution. After the discovery of a $7.2bn oil reserve inside a pristine corner of the Yasuni national park, the government has proposed leaving the fossil fuel in the ground if the international community will give them half that amount.

It has been hailed as an alternative to the ineffectual efforts of the United Nations to deal with climate change and biodiversity loss. The ITT Initiative, as the project is known, promises to the keep carbon in the ground in a 200,000- hectare corner of the park and, in the process, help to redistribute wealth from rich nations to the developing world and wildlife.

But a little more than a year after it was launched, this bold project is as much at risk as the wildlife. Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, told the Guardian the results have been disappointing.

"This was a revolutionary idea. With a logic that I would call perfect: it implied a substantial change in the management of natural resources in the fight against climate change. It meant a transfer of resources from the richest countries – which are the biggest polluters – to poorer countries," he said. "But what has happened since has been the opposite: because the US, UK and others can consume the assets generated by the amazon jungle for free, they have committed absolutely nothing. The Yasuni ITT initiative has raised a lot less than expected."

With enthusiasm for the project cooling, the Guardian has discovered evidence that the oil companies are moving closer. A road is being built in a neighbouring oil exploration block inside the Yasuni park.

Huge ecological wealth is at risk. One Yasuni hectare – the area of two football pitches – is home to a wider variety of trees, birds, reptiles and amphibians than in the US and Canada combined.

"One hectare per continent is a figure that slaps you in the face. Whatever group you look at, they are crazy numbers," says Kelly Swing, founding director of the Tiputini biodiversity station run by the San Francisco University in Quito." I have been coming to Yasuni since 1979 and I still can't walk five minutes without seeing something I haven't seen before. That's why I'm still here. It's like a gift every few minutes."

The comparisons with Britain are still more mind-blowing. There are only about 50 native tree species in the UK, compared to 2,200 species in Yasuni. Terry Erwin of the Smithsonian Institution estimates there are more than 100,000 different types of insects per hectare. When scientists elsewhere find new species, they publish papers in journals and give them clever Latin names. Erwin has found so many that he has started to play with the appellations. He has named one beetle after the actor Kate Winslet and punned with another of the Agra genus by adding "vate".

This ecological wealth is not just of interest to boffins, animal lovers and tourists. The UNEP estimates that 40% of the global economy is based on biological products and processes. Biodiversity loss, it says, is becoming a greater concern for businesses than international terrorism. Pharmaceutical companies have based countless patents on results from the forest, where the chemical mix and match is immeasurably more dynamic than that of any science lab.
Sunrays coming through the mist, Yasuni National Park, Ecuador Yasuni national park is the most biodiverse region on Earth. Photograph: Corbis

Diverse ecosystems are more flexible, more efficient and more resilient than monocultures. Research published in July shows that biodiversity makes forests more resilient to drought. Other studies have shown how they are less vulnerable to disease. This is crucial because the Amazon is also the world's greatest oxygen supplier and carbon sink, with more than half of the world's above-ground carbon in its trees.

In international bodies, biodiversity loss was long treated as a poor cousin to climate change. But this is changing amid growing awareness that both are approaching dangerous tipping points as a result of human pressures. Earlier this year, a group of leading scientists warned that biodiversity loss could result in a "global-scale state shift".

"Much as the consensus statements by doctors led to public warnings that tobacco use is harmful to your health, this is a consensus statement by experts who agree that loss of Earth's wild species will be harmful to the world's ecosystems and may harm society by reducing ecosystem services that are essential to human health and prosperity," noted Prof Bradley Cardinale, an associate professor at the University of Michigan who led the study published in Nature. "We need to take biodiversity loss far more seriously – from individuals to international governing bodies – and take greater action to prevent further losses of species."

But the trend is in the opposite direction. WWF says we are in an ecological overshoot situation in which it now takes 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate what we use in a year. The UN says almost one-fifth of vertebrate species are close to extinction, with amphibians most at risk. Each year, 52 vertebrate species move one category closer to extinction in the IUCN's "red list" of endangered species.

The ITT initiative, which covers the Ishpingo, Tambococha and Tiputini oil fields in Yasuni that make up an area of less than one-fifth of Yasuni's national park, aims to address this in a core area for protection. Last year, it reached its target of raising $100m thanks to some creative accounting and generous public support (the UK was top for individual donations after featuring in the Guardian), and contributions from Bo Derek, Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton and Al Gore.

Ivonne Baki, who is spearheading the fundraising effort, says the project has now raised $200m, but more is needed. "The cost of not doing something now will be far higher than the economic crisis. If we are serious about reducing emissions of CO2 and doing something – which is all they talk about at international meetings – then this is the place giving oxygen to the world."

Yet, there are clearly many challenges. Money is not yet filtering through to local communities, where it is supposed to be used to improve social capital as well as protect biodiversity. Although locals accept that it is still at an early stage, there are concerns that President Correa may have lost some of his enthusiasm for the project.

"I want to meet the president because he has lost focus," said village chief Giovanni Rivadeneira, a member of the Kichwa indigenous group. "We are concerned about education in our community. There was a promise from the president to work on that. He left a promise here and we are still waiting to hear about that."

The governments of wealthy nations have given only tepid backing. Some accuse Ecuador of environmental extortion, which could set a dangerous precedent. Most of the government-level "donations" so far are from Italy, which wrote off $51m of its external debt as a contribution, and Germany, which is giving technical assistance to Yasuni rather than the ITT project.

Much of the hesitation is due to concerns that Ecuador might change its mind after accepting the money. To offset this, Correa's government has worked with the United Nations Development Programme to establish a trust fund for the ITT initiative. It promises to return donations of more than $50,000 if the oil is exploited, which is possible under a clause that says it can be used in the case of a national emergency.

This is the plan B, dreaded by conservationists, but a clear and growing risk.

Carlos Andrés Vera, the director of a documentary about the Taromenane uncontacted tribe in the park, says 40% of Yasuni is already being exploited by oil companies and the ITT area is being prepared for the same treatment. "The oil companies have already carried out exploratory studies there. I have testimonies from local people who say they are already building tracks to they can push ahead with plan B. They say they are trying to save Yasuni, but that's bullshit."

To the alarm of many, PetroEcuador is pushing ahead with development of extraction block 31, which sits on the edge of the ITT. The Guardian has testimonies from two recent visitors who say a road is under construction on the edge of the ITT project in an area that is famous for jaguar sightings.

This follows a destructive pattern seen in other parts of the national park and surrounding areas, where oil companies have drilled wells and – most destructively – built roads. This opens the way for migrants, loggers, farmers, hunters, invasive species and disease.

The risks are obvious as you fly into Coco, the gateway to Yasuni. Seventy years ago, the forest stretched hundreds of kilometres west of this city, but today all you can see from the air are plantations of palm oil and other cash crops.

Freshwater ecosystems are also deteriorating. A discarded oil drum bobbing in the Napo highlights the pollution from the oil barges and river traffic. Locals blame oil for the demise of balsa trees and water-skier insects from the banks of the trunk rivers.

"My father said there used to be a lot in the Napo river, but they have disappeared because of the gasoline from the oil companies and many boats," said Remi Grefa, a guide from the Kichwa indigenous group.

Despite the many challenges faced by Yasuni, conservationists still hope Ecuador and Yasuni can set a model for conservation. A few billion dollars here, they say, is the best investment humanity can make in its future. "It is absolutely worth it," said Indian ecological activist and philosopher Vandana Shiva, on a trip through the region. "What is not worth it is the old way of fossil fuels as the central resources rather than living waters, living streams, living trees, living forests, living cultures. And a fossilised mindset that should have disappeared 100 years ago."


Yasuni's most unusual species - in pictures

Yasuni national park in Ecuador is the most biodiverse region on Earth. Here is a selection of some of the weird and wonderful species, photographed and explained by Kelly Swing, founding director of the Tiputini biodiversity station.

Click to watch:

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« Reply #620 on: Aug 18, 2013, 07:37 AM »

Ecuador’s president denounces Chevron as ‘enemy of our country’

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 17, 2013 17:45 EDT

Ecuador’s firebrand leftist President Rafael Correa lambasted US oil giant Chevron as an enemy for allegedly besmirching his country as part of a lengthy court battle over Amazon pollution.

Last year an Ecuadoran court ordered Chevron to pay $19 billion dollars for polluting the rain forest.

The case is still alive and Correa says the company has spent $400 million and hired an army of hundreds of lawyers to discredit the government and get the ruling overturned on appeal in the country’s highest court.

In a weekly address on Saturday, Correa referred to Chevron as “that enemy of our country.”

“We are going to tell Latin America what Chevron has done in our country to shirk its responsibility, with that criminal campaign that is waging against Ecuador,” Correa said.

Chevron has never worked directly in Ecuador but inherited the pollution lawsuit when it acquired Texaco in 2001.

Texaco operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1990 and after leaving it was sued by indigenous groups in pollution-related legal proceedings that have dragged on for nearly 20 years.

Correa is strong on protecting the environment and six years ago came up with a novel plan: have rich countries pay $3.6 billion into a trust fund for Ecuador in exchange for its not drilling in the Amazon.

But this week Correa finally abandoned the plan because so little money had been contributed.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #621 on: Aug 19, 2013, 06:31 AM »

Texas is Fracked: More than 30 Towns Will be Out of Water due to Fracking


More than 30 towns in West Texas will soon be out of water as a direct result of diverting their underground water supplies for use in hydraulic fracking. Largely unregulated fracking, it should be said. Largely unregulated fracking that is definitely putting arsenic into the ground it happens to be drying out. Before you start acting horrified, though, consider: this is exactly what Texas’ mental-midget teabillies voted for.

Please, let me be the first to say it.

Ha-ha! Texas is stupid!

Despite the vast consensus of climate scientists, the highly publicized destructive effects of fracking on water supplies, fracking’s seismic impact, and the evidence of their own senses, the mentally deficient residents of Texas keep electing politicians who believe climate change is a myth, and who think the best course of action to address Texas’ crippling drought is several days of organized prayer. Really.

Maybe Rick Perry and the idiots that voted him back into office will be able to pray in some new drinking water while the non-stupid people of Texas pray for a governor with a triple-digit IQ. While you’re waiting to see how that works out for the citizens of West Texas, take some time to watch this interview with Antonia Juhasz, an oil and energy analyst, author, and journalist.

Fair warning, though: if you live in Texas, you probably won’t enjoy it.

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« Reply #622 on: Aug 19, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Residents Of Mayflower, Arkansas Look Back On Pegasus Pipeline Spill

Jo Borrás

Lies, misinformation from corporations and public officials, and silence. That’s what residents of Mayflower, Arkansas say they’re fighting against in trying to ascertain and clean up the damage caused by the spring’s ExxonMobil oil spill. The spill occurred when the Pegasus pipeline ruptured, dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude into a residential neighborhood. You can read the whole story regarding the current struggle, originally published on Gas2, below.

ExxonMobil Hopes You’ve Forgotten About Mayflower, Arkansas and the Pegasus Pipeline

On March 29th, ExxonMobil’s Pegasus oil pipeline ruptured, pouring (what ExxonMobil said was) 200,000 gallons of oil into Mayflower, Arkansas. Now, months later, the residents of Mayflower are trying to sift through the lies and misinformation to find out exactly what’s happened to them, and what — of anything — they’ll be able to do about it.

“For days, the stench blowing from the sour heavy Canadian crude was rank,” explains the Arkansas Times. “Burning tires,” is what one resident, Ann Jarrell, called it. “It was just putrid. You’d smell it and you would gag.”

No one, though, told Ann that the smell was anything to worry about. On the contrary, in fact! When Ann called the Mayflower police to ask whether she was in danger, a man on the other end told her she was merely noticing an additive meant to alert people to a leak (similar to the non-toxic chemical that gives natural gas its “rotten potato” aroma). A few days later, an Exxon employee working on the cleanup came near her house told her not to fret. “I didn’t know what we were breathing in was toxic,” she said. “Nobody was giving us any information.”

ExxonMobil was Lying

Jarrell stayed put in her house. Only in late April would she learn about a report by a Louisiana firm called the Subra Co., that the “Wabasca Heavy Crude” that Exxon was forcing through the Pegasus pipeline needed “a formidable shot of lubricating chemicals, called diluents, to grease its passage.” The brew, it turned out, was brimming with polyaromatic hydrocarbons, carcinogens that causes a range of sicknesses with acute exposure.

In the days after the pipe rupture, air monitoring tests show that the surrounding neighborhood showed dangerous levels of benzene and possibly harmful levels of octane, cyclohexane, heptane, and hexane, along with detectible levels of toluene, butane, pentane, and several other industrial chemicals. Some sources claim that it’s impossible, at this point, to say how much of what spilled were these polyaromatic hydrocarbons, but even conservative estimates would place the number in the tens of thousands of gallons of poison in the town’s air.

Many people in the neighborhood, like Jarrell, didn’t understand the risks. Outside the Northwoods subdivision of Mayflower, where 22 of 62 homes were marked for mandatory evacuation, there’s scant evidence that anyone from Exxon, the Environmental Protection Agency or the state Department of Health showed any urgency to notify residents that they were breathing an unknown quantity of known poisons. No one involved seemed to care, and — many in Mayflower believe — they still don’t.

You shouldn’t be.

Let’s not forget about Mayflower, Arkansas, and let’s all remember what’s really at stake here as millions of Americans find themselves endangered by the ridiculous teabilly nonsense that is Canadian shale oil and the Keystone XL pipeline. Share and Like, people — and head over to the original article for more photos and local interviews.

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« Reply #623 on: Aug 20, 2013, 06:03 AM »

08/20/2013 12:59 PM

'Liconomics': China's Green Revolution Arrives

By Gerald Traufetter and Bernhard Zand

China has changed course and announced an ambitious new plan to push sustainable energy. The initiative by Li Keqiang's government signals a turning point in the country's approach to the environment -- and could mean big business for Germany.

This August, China's leaders withdrew to Beidaihe, a bathing resort on the Bohai Sea where they have gone to calmly debate issues of power and personnel since the days of Mao. Politics, or so it seemed, had gone on a summer holiday.

But that's where, on Sunday, August 11, the government released a guideline with the modest title "Opinions of the State Council on Accelerating the Development of Energy-Saving and Environmental Protection Industries." According to the document, the government is upgrading the environmental sector to the rank of a "key industry," a title that had been reserved for the steel and pharmaceutical industries, as well as biotechnology. Under the new guideline, the sector is expected to earn a massive $728 billion (€545 billion) by 2015, and to grow at twice the rate of the rest of the economy.

Beijing wants to boost manufacturers of energy-efficient power plant equipment, significantly increase the number of cars and buses running on liquefied natural gas and further expand the number of wind and solar farms, as well as nuclear power plants.

The government plans to achieve all of this using investments, tax breaks and direct subsidies -- from which companies with foreign investors are expressly to benefit as well.

It appears that the world's second-largest economy and biggest climate offender is on the verge of an energy shift, and German industry could be one of the largest potential beneficiaries.

'You Could Call It Liconomics'

"The new guideline is so important because it uses strictly economic arguments," says ecologist Zou Ji of the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation. Beijing's message, he explains, is tailored primarily to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese people: "Environmental protection can make you rich!"

The new government of Premier Li Keqiang, which came into office in March, wants to urbanize the country and convert China's economy from an industrial to a more environmentally friendly service economy. "You could call it Liconomics," says Zou, noting that if he were an entrepreneur today, he would know where there is money to be made: "First, in waste water treatment; second, in the expansion of the power grid; and third, in the construction of subway systems."

Energy expert Wang Xiaokun of the consulting firm Sublime China Information predicts that the Germans, with their position at the cutting edge of environmental technology, will play an important role in China's energy offensive. "German companies can sell high-priced products and will encounter favorable import conditions," she says, adding that the new guideline is a turning point in China's environmental policy. "The Chinese market has great potential."

Ma Jun, one of China's most prominent environmental activists, says he too "likes" the new document. Whereas earlier administrations primarily engaged in environmental rhetoric, a new strategy is now taking shape. "It's still about growth," says Ma, "but as of this point it's the kind of growth that China really needs: healthy growth."

A Political Calculation

None of the experts has any illusions why China's rulers have suddenly developed such foresight. "The shift came last winter," says Ma. The urban elites, he explains, were unsettled by the smog that blanketed northern China for weeks, and since then Beijing has exerted massive pressure on local governments to reduce emissions -- especially in Hebei Province, to which Beijing has outsourced many of its power plants and factories.

"What's happening in China is unbelievable," says Stephan Kohler, director of the German Energy Agency (dena). He was in China last week to sign consulting agreements, including a contract with the state-owned Chinese grid operator on how to integrate solar energy into the power grid. But the Chinese are also interested in advice on cutting the costs of heating residential buildings that house hundreds of millions of people.

"China will build as much new residential space in two years as there is all of Germany now," says Kohler. And the Chinese, he adds, now know that they have to design new residential and office space to be as energy-efficient as possible.

"Even today, China is having to import more and more oil and gas," Kohler explains. "The Chinese have an aversion to this dependency." Beijing, he says, has always emphasized autonomy, which is why the leaders' motivations for the new energy initiative are also political.

German energy companies should definitely go to China, says Kohler. He notes that the Chinese are primarily interested in modern German control technology for the power grid and, of course, in machines to build green energy systems. "There's something that was drowned out in the dispute over punitive tariffs against Chinese photovoltaic facilities," says the head of dena, referring to the conflict around this summer's imposition of anti-dumping duties on Chinese solar panels by the European Union. "80 percent of all machines used to produce solar panels in China are from Germany."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #624 on: Aug 21, 2013, 05:35 AM »


Russia blocks Greenpeace ship from entering Arctic waters

Activists condemn refusal to allow Arctic Sunrise icebreaker entry to Northern Sea Route as attempt to stifle peaceful protest

Associated Press, Wednesday 21 August 2013 10.59 BST   

Russia has blocked a Greenpeace ship from entering Arctic waters where the environmentalist group was planning to protest against oil exploration activities by Rosneft and Exxon Mobil, the group has said.

Russian authorities had denied the icebreaker Arctic Sunrise entry to the Northern Sea Route, citing questions over the vessel's ice strengthening, Greenpeace said in a statement.

It said the Arctic Sunrise has a higher ice classification than many of the more than 400 vessels that have been granted access to the northern sea route this year.

"This is a thinly veiled attempt to stifle peaceful protest and keep international attention away from Arctic oil exploration in Russia," Greenpeace campaigner Christy Ferguson said.

"The Arctic Sunrise is a fully equipped icebreaker with significant experience of operating in these conditions, while the oil companies operating here are taking unprecedented risks in an area teeming with polar bears, whales, and other Arctic wildlife."

Russia's northern sea route administration referred calls seeking comment to its transport ministry, which did not respond.

Greenpeace said it wanted to expose the offshore activities of Russian oil company Rosneft and its US partner Exxon Mobil in the Kara Sea, north of western Siberia. The companies are preparing to begin drilling operations there next year.

Greenpeace and other environmentalists have warned that drilling in the remote and icy Arctic could lead to devastating spills, threatening fish and wildlife already under pressure from climate change.

The activists have scaled offshore platforms in waters off Greenland and northern Russia, stunts that were carried out to draw attention to the oil industry's move into the Arctic.

US officials estimate the region holds up to 13% of the world's undiscovered oil and 30% of its untapped natural gas. Climate change is expected to make those deposits easier to reach as the Arctic ice cap shrinks.

The melt is also opening up Arctic sea lanes like the Northern Sea Route, where shipping activities are growing rapidly.

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« Reply #625 on: Aug 21, 2013, 06:12 AM »

August 21, 2013

Japan's Nuclear Crisis Deepens, China Expresses 'Shock'


TOKYO — Japan's nuclear crisis escalated to its worst level since a massive earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima plant more than two years ago, with the country's nuclear watchdog saying it feared more storage tanks were leaking contaminated water.

The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Wednesday it viewed the situation at Fukushima "seriously" and was ready to help if called upon, while nearby China said it was "shocked" to hear contaminated water was still leaking from the plant, and urged Japan to provide information "in a timely, thorough and accurate way".

"We hope the Japanese side can earnestly take effective steps to put an end to the negative impact of the after-effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident," China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement faxed to Reuters in Beijing.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the situation "deplorable", and the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said it feared the disaster - the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl a quarter of a century earlier - was "in some respects" beyond the plant operator's ability to cope.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco, has been criticised for its failure to prepare for the disaster and has since been accused of covering up the extent of the problems at the plant. After months of denial, Tepco recently admitted the plant was leaking contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean from trenches between the reactor buildings and the shoreline.

It said on Tuesday that contaminated water with dangerously high levels of radiation was leaking from a storage tank - the most serious problem in a series of recent mishaps, including power outages, contaminated workers and other leaks.

The NRA said it was worried about leakage from other similar tanks that were built hastily to store water washed over melted reactors at the station to keep them cool. Water in the latest leak is so contaminated that a person standing close to it for an hour would receive five times the annual recommended limit for nuclear workers.

A spokesman for the NRA said the agency plans to upgrade the severity of the crisis from a Level 1 "anomaly" to a Level 3 "serious incident" on an international scale for radiological releases. An upgrade would be the first time Japan has issued a warning on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) since the three reactor meltdowns at Fukushima in March 2011. Explosions then led to a loss of power and cooling, triggering a maximum INES Level 7 at the plant.


NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka likened the stricken nuclear plant to a house of horrors at an amusement park. "I don't know if describing it this way is appropriate, but it's like a haunted house and, as I've said, mishaps keep happening one after the other," he told reporters. "We have to look into how we can reduce the risks and how to prevent it from becoming a fatal or serious incident."

He said the NRA would consult with the IAEA about whether it was appropriate to assign a rating to the leakage at the plant.

"Japanese authorities continue to provide the Agency with information on the situation at the plant, and Agency experts are following the issue closely," Gill Tudor, spokesperson at the Vienna-based IAEA, said in an e-mailed statement.

"The IAEA views this matter seriously and remains ready to provide assistance on request."

Each one-step INES increase represents a 10-fold increase in severity, according to a factsheet on the IAEA website. ( A Level 3 rating is assigned when there is exposure of more than 10 times the limit for workers, according to the factsheet.

In an emailed comment, Andrew Sherry, director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester, said: "Though serious, this leak is a long way from the Level 7 incident we were facing in 2011. The approach taken by Tepco to drain the tank, pump leaked water to temporary storage, and protect the drainage of contaminated water to ground water, is entirely sensible."

"This incident highlights the need for an inspection programme for these many hundreds of storage tanks, and the need to consider replacing bolted or sealed storage tanks, which were relatively quick to build, with a more robust welded design."

South Korea's Asiana Airlines Inc said it would cancel charter flights between Seoul and Fukushima city in October due to public concerns over the radioactive water leaks.

The city, around 60 kms (37 miles) from the nuclear facility and with a population of some 284,000, is a popular destination for golfers and tourists visiting nearby local hot springs and lakes.

(With additional reporting by Kentaro Hamada, Olivier Fabre and Chris Meyers in TOKYO, Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Kim Miyoung in SEOUL, Fredrik Dahl in VIENNA and Kate Kelland in LONDON; Writing by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Edmund Klamann, Paul Tait and Ian Geoghegan)


Tank Has Leaked Tons of Contaminated Water at Japan Nuclear Site

Workers raced to stop the leakage at the Fukushima plant, but its operator said much of the water had seeped into the soil.

Published: August 20, 2013

TOKYO — Three hundred tons of highly contaminated water has leaked from a storage tank at the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on Japan’s Pacific coast, its operator said Tuesday, prompting regulators to declare a “radiological release incident” for the first time since disaster struck there in 2011 and adding new fears of environmental calamity.

Workers raced to place sandbags around the leaking tank to stem the spread of the water, contaminated by levels of radioactive cesium and strontium many hundreds of times as high as legal safety limits, according to the operator, Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco. The task was made more urgent by a forecast of heavy rain for the region.

But a Tepco spokesman, Masayuki Ono, acknowledged that much of the contaminated water had seeped into the soil, which would have to be dug up and removed. And he said the tainted water could eventually reach the ocean, adding to the tons of radioactive fluids that have already leaked into the sea from the plant.

The new leak raises disturbing questions about the durability of the nearly 1,000 huge tanks Tepco has installed about 500 yards from the site’s shoreline. The tanks are meant to store the vast amounts of contaminated liquid created as workers cool the complex’s three damaged reactors by pumping water into their cores, along with groundwater recovered after it poured into the reactors’ breached basements.

Hints of the latest leak began to emerge on Monday, when workers discovered puddles of radioactive water near a tank. Further checks revealed that the 1,000-ton vessel, thought to be nearly full, contained only 700 tons, with the remainder having almost certainly leaked out.

Mr. Ono said that Tepco had assumed the tanks would last at least five years. But the tank that leaked could have been in place no more than two, and workers previously found smaller leaks from similar tanks at least four times. And Hiroshi Miyano, an expert in nuclear system design at Hosei University in Tokyo, said that the tanks would be vulnerable to earthquake or tsunami, with the potential for a huge spill.

A powerful earthquake and tsunami knocked out the Fukushima complex’s cooling systems in March 2011, causing meltdowns at three reactors. The accompanying radiological release was rated at Level 7, the highest on the scale and on par with the 1986 accident at Chernobyl. Japanese regulators said Wednesday that they were preparing to raise the rating for the latest leak to Level 3, indicating a “serious incident,” from an initial reading of Level 1.

Each increase on the scale is meant to represent a 10-fold increase in the severity of the leak, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which introduced the scale in 1990. Ratings are made by local regulators or sometimes even the plant operators themselves, and not by the I.A.E.A., however.

Tepco has stumbled repeatedly in its handling of the disaster and its efforts to clean up the plant. After its recent admission that contaminated water had reached the open ocean after breaching an underground barrier built to contain it, Japan’s popular prime minister, Shinzo Abe, ordered his government to intervene.

Tepco hopes to clean the water using an elaborate filtering system and start releasing water contaminated at low levels into the ocean. Those plans have been delayed by technical problems and protests from fishermen.

Desperate for options to stem the leaks, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has suggested surrounding the plant with a huge underground ice wall. That plan has its own drawbacks, however, and would require huge amounts of electricity.

“We are extremely concerned,” Hideka Morimoto, a spokesman for the authority, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.

At some point, Tepco will have no choice but to start releasing some of the water, said Dr. Miyano, the expert in nuclear system design. The continued problems have heightened public scrutiny of Tepco and have made it harder to build public consensus around any release of water, he said.

“That just makes the problem worse, with no viable solution,” he said.

Makiko Inoue contributed reporting.

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« Reply #626 on: Aug 21, 2013, 06:19 AM »

Brazilian town takes a stand against Amazon deforestation

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 6:30 EDT

When farmer Luiz Martins Neto first moved to Sao Felix do Xingu a quarter of a century ago, the area had virgin forest, gold and a reservation for the local indigenous people.

“They used to say it was the best place to live,” he said.

But like many others, he created his first fazenda — coffee plantation — with slash and burn techniques, helping to destroy his pristine surroundings.

“In those days, the more you cleared the forest, the better your life was and the more land you acquired,” the 54-year-old said.

This was long the prevailing view in Brazil’s vast Amazon region, particularly during the 1964-85 military dictatorship.

But, decades later, the town in the northern state of Para is turning its back on the destructive ways of the past and trying to save what it has left.

Today, Neto’s farm is part of a model agribusiness project that makes use of deforested land and does not encroach on the remaining forest.

“One learns how to do things right,” he said, flashing a proud smile under his straw hat.

A new forestry law took effect last October, limiting the use of land for farming and mandating that up to 80 percent of privately-owned acreage in the Amazon rainforest remains intact.

More than 60 percent of Brazil’s 8.5 million square kilometers (3.3 million square miles) is covered in forest, but two-thirds of it is either privately owned or its ownership is undefined.

On Neto’s small farm, pastures and the giant trunk of a dead cashew nut tree are visible signs of past deforestation.

The practice is a big part of the history of this town of 90,000 half occupied by indigenous lands and parks.

Mining and cattle ranching are other major activities that have left their mark, attracting several multinational companies.

“The arrival of the white man was like a river wave: It keeps advancing, advancing but does not recede,” said Amauri Bepnhoti Atydjare, a member of the Kayapo ethnic group.

Kayapo territory is a big mantle of forest dotted by small hamlets built around a square.

A decade ago, trucks loaded with timber rumbled through the town and the skies were blackened by smoke from forest-clearing fires.

“Sao Felix do Xingu was a champion of deforestation,” said Mayor Joao Cleber.

“In 2008, the government drew up a list of towns which deforested the most and we were number one,” he added.

“But now we are the ones who have reduced deforestation the most, from 2,500 square kilometers (965 square miles) in 2000, to 169 square kilometers (65 square miles) last year.”

The drive to reverse deforestation followed strong pressure from the federal government.

Five years ago, Brasilia made an international commitment to stem rainforest destruction and cut off access to credit for towns deemed the worst offenders.

Companies that bought production from deforested areas were also penalized.

“The pressure on towns and the industry was key as this led to a pact between the meat industry, city hall and rural producers,” said Ian Thompson, head of the Amazonia program at The Nature Conservancy (TNC). These agreements are monitored by public prosecutors.

“The cattle industry occupies a good part of the territory and is to blame for a major part of the deforestation, but with very low productivity: one cow per hectare,” Thompson said.

“With better methods, we are trying to double production without deforesting more.”

Reversing course is already paying off.

Sao Felix is currently experiencing a cocoa boom as the native Amazonian species helps regenerate deforested areas.

One model project, backed by US agribusiness giant Cargill, involves cocoa cultivation on 100 small production farms.

“Cargill is interested in large-scale and sustainable production and we are guaranteed an income while we regenerate degraded areas” to be in conformity with the new forestry law, said Ilson Martins, president of the local cocoa cooperative Cappru.

“We want to give the region another image. The consumer does not want products that create deforestation,” said Wilton Batista, president of the Rural Producers’ Union.

But keeping deforestation in check is an uphill battle in Sao Felix and the rest of the Amazon due to the size of the area and its difficult access.

In this town of more than 84,000 square kilometers (32,432 square miles), with a little more than 80 percent of rainforest still intact, indigenous lands divide the territory.

At city hall, experts are analyzing satellite data to determine exactly where deforestation is taking place — and who is responsible.

Despite the goodwill and progress, economic challenges remain.

“You have to find a way to provide an income to 25 million people who live in the Amazon or otherwise we will face chaos,” said the local agricultural secretary, Denimar Rodrigues.

Sustainable production requires technical assistance and investment, he said.

Amazonian deforestation reached an alarming peak of 27,772 square kilometers (10,722 square miles) lost per year in 2004 and led Brasilia to pledge to reduce it by 80 percent by 2020.

Last year, deforestation fell to 4,751 square kilometers (1834 square miles), it lowest level in decades.

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« Reply #627 on: Aug 22, 2013, 07:45 AM »


08/22/2013 01:21 PM

Northeast Passage: Russia Moves to Boost Arctic Shipping

By Marco Evers

This year has seen a record number of ships pass through the Northeast Passage in the Arctic Ocean. Russian President Pig Putin is doing all he can to make the route even more attractive.

The earth has rarely been as warm as it is today -- and it has never been this small. In the distant past, traveling from Hamburg to Shanghai by ship meant sailing around Africa, a journey of at least 28,000 kilometers (17,400 miles). A short cut became available in 1869, with the opening of the Suez Canal, an event so epochal that Giuseppe Verdi was asked to compose a hymn for the celebration. After that, the Hamburg-Shanghai route measured only about 20,000 kilometers.

Now another hymn could be needed, albeit a Russian one. Global warming has led to the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice. Where the thick ice pack stretched off the Siberian coast in August only a few years ago, there is nothing but the gray and cold Arctic Ocean today.

The ice cap off Siberia now almost completely disappears in the summer months. Although there are still isolated floes, the Arctic Ocean is navigable. Coastal ice vanished for the first time in the summer of 2005, and it has been disappearing every summer since 2007. There was never as little Arctic ice as in mid-September 2012, and the ice has never melted as quickly as it did in the first half of July 2013, with an area twice the size of Bavaria disappearing every day.

The Barents Sea is now open, as is the Kara Sea, and even the Laptev Sea and the Chukchi Sea are currently navigable without an icebreaker escort (see map). The ice cap only remains intact farther to the north.

The record thaw in the polar region is giving hope to many ship owners, Russian politicians and energy companies like Gazprom and Novatek. As a result of climate change, a maritime route of only 14,000 kilometers now separates Hamburg and Shanghai. And an irresistible treasure lies buried about halfway along this route, in the virtually uninhabited but thawing permafrost of northwestern Siberia: one of the largest natural gas deposits on the planet.

Euphoric Tones

Adventurers and explorers have tried to conquer the legendary Northeast Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for more than 500 years. Many failed, drowned or froze to death. It wasn't until 1879 that a Swedish expedition managed to cross the Northeast Passage for the first time.

The Soviets, with the help of powerful icebreakers, managed to use the route a number of times after 1932, primarily to transport lumber and pelts. But the route never played a role in international maritime traffic. It remained sensitive -- politically, geographically and, most of all, climatically -- until today.

Russian President Pig Putin has recently taken on euphoric tones when referring to the "Northern Sea Route," as the Russians call their section of the Northeast Passage. With the help of billions in infrastructure investments, Putin hopes to turn the route into the Suez of the north. In his words, the seaway along the tundra has a golden future as an "international trade route."

But the only thing international about it will likely be the customers. The Russians insist that they control the entire Northern Sea Route, even though parts of it pass through international waters.

When Putin recently met with Sergei Frank, the director of the state-owned shipping company Sovcomflot, which is involved in the Northeast Passage, Frank was able to relay this piece of encouraging news to the president: "The new route is coming alive before our very eyes."

Such words still sound brash today. Many polar settlements from the Soviet era have turned into ghost towns. If a ship were in distress in the region, it would take many days for rescue teams to arrive at the scene. Nor are their ship repair yards in the region should a vessel run into technical problems.

Perhaps more concerning, there is also a lack of precise charts and modern meteorological equipment. And no one knows what to do if there were an oil spill.

'Far Greater Impact'

It is clear, however, that even a leak of very small amounts of pollutants, be it oil or residue from a ship's diesel engines, could have dramatic consequences in the polar region. "Toxic substances have a far greater impact here than at other latitudes because they are degraded very slowly," says physicist Marcel Nicolaus of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the northern German port city of Bremerhaven.

It's been only four years since two German cargo ships used the polar shipping route for the first time. The Beluga Fraternity and the Beluga Foresight put out to sea from the South Korean port city of Ulsan in late July 2009 and reached Rotterdam in record time by traveling along the Siberian coast.

In 2010, four ships braved the Northeast Passage, and 46 followed suit last year. Still, the voyage remains a massive undertaking for lack of a safe shipping channel. The trick is to navigate a ship through sea mile after sea mile of ice fields and shallow straits.

In addition, each permit to travel the passage has thus far been preceded by a series of bureaucratic hurdles. This is expected to change radically, now that a new agency opened for business in Moscow in March. The Northern Sea Route Administration (NSRA) was created to develop infrastructure and substantially increase traffic along the route.

As of Thursday, the NSRA had already issued permits to 431 ships to traverse the Northern Sea Route. The agency doesn't even expect an "ice class" from many ships, meaning they are allowed to enter the Arctic Ocean without a hull that is specially reinforced against ice.

The intercontinental highway through the polar sea has been open since July and will begin closing again in late October. Until then, cargo ships carrying ore, coal, fertilizer and grain, as well as supertankers carrying crude oil and liquid natural gas, will travel back and forth between Europe and the Far East. For the first time, Chinese freighters are now among the ships traveling through the Northeast Passage. The Yong Sheng (14,000 gross register tons) is scheduled to arrive in Rotterdam on Sept. 11.

An Arctic Gas Port

Freight volume is at about five million tons this year and is expected to triple by 2017. A French luxury cruise ship has now been given the green light to traverse the Northeast Passage, as has a yacht piloted by 74-year-old English sailor Tony Kearney, AKA "Arctic Tony."

A 40-year-old icebreaker operated by Greenpeace, however, was twice denied a permit. Last year, the environmental organization used the Arctic Sunrise to board a Gazprom oil rig.

Most of the ships currently using the Northern Sea Route are Russian, while others are sailing under the flags of Panama, Liberia, Cyprus, Great Britain, China, Hong Kong, Antigua, France, Norway and the Netherlands. Reederei Nord, a Hamburg-based shipping company, is sending its oil tanker, Two Million Ways (40,000 gross register tons), through the polar sea. The company chose not to comment on the voyage.

A large portion of polar traffic is not headed for the Far East, but for northwest Siberia. In the short Arctic summer, dozens of dredgers, excavators and other special vehicles are arriving off the coast of the Yamal Peninsula, where Russian gas producer Novatek is spending more than €15 billion to build the Sabetta Arctic port and an ultramodern liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal. When cooled to minus 160 degrees Celsius (minus 256 degrees Fahrenheit), natural gas is reduced to only one six-hundredth of its original volume.

Starting in 2016, the Yamal gas will be transported to Europe via the Northern Sea Route. Gas destined for the E.on gas company and the German market will also traverse this route, reducing the importance of pipelines.

In a westerly direction, at any rate, says Novatek Director Frank, the company will be able to operate its shipping traffic all year long, no matter how much ice develops in the winter. In an easterly direction, however, the route will remain restricted to the summer months for now. The current navigable window is five months. But Novatek's Russian investors hope that as climate change progresses, the season could last up to eight months.

'Very Skeptical'

Still, the eastern part of the sea route remains hazardous, even during the summer months. Weather forecasts are unreliable, and ice and fog command the full attention of crews. The NSRA generally requires ship captains to be accompanied by seasoned Arctic skippers while traversing the eastern section. Furthermore, many ships still need an icebreaker escort in the summer. Russia operates six nuclear-powered icebreakers, and a seventh ship is currently being built.

Those who enlist the services of an icebreaker to use the Northeast Passage can expect to pay a hefty sum, partly because of the NSRA's somewhat murky fee structure. But, as the Russians explain, the cost of several hundred thousand euros per cargo ship is offset by substantial savings. A voyage from Shanghai to Hamburg takes 35 days via Siberia -- up to 15 days fewer than through the Suez Canal. Fuel savings alone, say the Russians, are enough to offset the fees. Besides, they add, ships are not exposed to the risk of piracy in the north.

As important as the Northeast Passage may become for transporting oil, gas, coal and ore, it is unlikely to significantly affect container shipping, in which on-time delivery is critical. Niels Harnack, managing director of the China Shipping Agency Germany, prefers to continue sending his ships through the reliable Suez Canal. Harnack says that he is "very skeptical" over whether a "reliable scheduled service" will be possible in the Arctic Ocean. "In the short and medium term," he adds, there will be "no shift in the classic shipping routes between Northern Europe and China."

And in the long term? It is clear that ice will continue to disappear in the Arctic. Experts believe that the North Pole will be completely ice-free in the summer months by as early as 2030, while others say that this won't happen until 2050 or 2080. In that case, both the Northeast Passage and the Northwest Passage, north of Alaska, which remains frozen today, will be open to shipping.

The seaway across the pole would then be the shortest route between continents. And it would come with another advantage: No country could claim it exclusively for itself.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #628 on: Aug 22, 2013, 08:14 AM »

August 21, 2013

Mystery Virus That’s Killed 47 Is Tied to Bats in Saudi Arabia


WASHINGTON — Health officials confirmed Wednesday that bats in Saudi Arabia were the source of the mysterious virus that has sickened 96 people in the Middle East, killing 47 of them.

The outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, has been going on for 15 months, with most victims falling ill in Saudi Arabia and others growing sick after having traveled to the Middle East. In a study released Wednesday, an international team of doctors blamed coronavirus in bats for the human outbreak, but said that many questions remained, in part because a perfect match for the virus was found in only a single insect-eating bat out of about 100 Saudi bats tested. And since such bats do not normally bite people, drool on fruit or do other things that might transmit the disease to people, it was still unclear how the virus leapt to humans.

The bat is a Taphozous perforatus, or Egyptian tomb bat, which roosts in abandoned buildings, and the virus was found in a fecal sample.

So it is possible, said Dr. Jonathan H. Epstein, a veterinarian with the EcoHealth Alliance who helped trap the bats, that victims, like shepherds who might seek shelter in the buildings, picked it up by breathing in dried bat guano — similar to the way that Americans have been infected with hantavirus while sweeping up dried mouse droppings.

But it is also possible that an animal picked it up that way and then infected a human. Pigs, for instance, can get Nipah virus from bats and then pass it to humans in slaughterhouses.

Further tests on camels, sheep, goats and a cow will be finished soon, said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, head of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity, which has already done 15,000 polymerase chain reaction tests tracking the virus.

“It’s a huge amount of work,” he said.

It has been known for several months that bats in Africa and Eastern Europe carried viruses related to MERS, but the relevant virus had not been found in Middle Eastern bats before. Camels in Oman have shown antibodies to a similar virus.

Knowing that one bat had an identical virus is a start, but more testing will be needed, said Dr. Ziad A. Memish, the Saudi deputy health minister who was a co-author on the study and gave a presentation on the virus in Washington on Wednesday.

The infected bat was in an abandoned house in a date palm orchard in Bisha, a small Saudi Arabian city. Investigators from Columbia and EcoHealth Alliance took samples there because the first known victim of the MERS outbreak was a businessman who had lived in Bisha and had his business, a large paint warehouse, nearby. The warehouse had a large garden with fruit trees and insects that attract many kinds of bats. The victim, a wealthy 60-year-old man, got sick in mid-June and died two weeks later, Dr. Lipkin said.

The victim also owned four pet camels that were sampled, but those results are not in yet, Dr. Lipkin added. Samples taken from livestock in countries with endemic foot-and-mouth disease must first be delivered to an Agriculture Department laboratory on Plum Island, Mass., to be certified negative for foot-and-mouth before they can be released for further testing.

Those restrictions can add months to the testing process, Dr. Memish said. That is one reason the bat samples were tested sooner, although other problems emerged: one of two frozen shipments of bat samples – the one the positive bat was in – was opened at Customs on entry into the United States and had thawed out by the time it reached Dr. Lipkin’s lab 48 hours later.

What was recovered from that sample, however, was a 100 percent match, which is virtually unheard of in virology, the study said.

The victim from Bisha had separate houses for his three wives and was building a fourth for a woman he planned to marry, “which suggests he was still vigorous,” Dr. Lipkin said.

But most of those killed by the new virus were old and had chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease. Cases are being found of younger, healthier victims who often have milder symptoms, according to Dr. Memish, so it may soon be established that the disease’s mortality rate is much lower than 60 percent.

In his presentation Wednesday, hosted in Washington by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Center for Health Security, Dr. Memish said he only learned of the existence of the new virus in his own country when he read about it late last September on ProMED, an outbreak-alert service.

Dr. Memish said that by then, it was too late to advise travelers not to come to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which draws 4.5 million pilgrims. “That put an incredible strain on our system,” he said.

His department ordered all Saudi hospitals to look for and report unusual cases of pneumonia. The virus does not spread easily from person to person, but there have been case clusters in which family members or nurses and doctors who cared for patients were infected.

This year, the kingdom has suggested that older people, very young children and those in ill health or with suppressed immune systems not make the pilgrimage.

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« Reply #629 on: Aug 23, 2013, 06:23 AM »

Race to save Ecuador's Yasuní national park from oil lobby

Green groups campaign for a petition to force a national referendum to block president's unilateral sanction for drilling

John Vidal, Friday 23 August 2013 07.00 BST   

The fate of one of the hotspots of global diversity is hanging by a thread as conservation and indigenous groups in Ecuador race to raise a petition of over half a million names which would force a national referendum on whether foreign oil companies be allowed into the Yasuní national park.

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador appeared to sign the death warrant of the park last week when he unilaterally dissolved a radical conservation plan which guaranteed that the 840m barrels of oil thought to lie below one area of the park would remain unexploited if the international community raised $3.6bn (£2.3bn) over 13 years. Although $336m had been pledged by governments, local authorities, charities and individuals around the world, only $13m is said to have been deposited in the two trust funds administered by the UN.

Correa's decision to allow oil companies to drill below one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, where at least one tribe lives in voluntary isolation, was met by demonstrations in Quito and condemnation by international conservation organisations.

The only chance of stopping the companies now is to raise a petition of 5% of the country's 10m voters to force a referendum. If the names can be collected, Correa is likely to be defeated because recent polls suggest a large majority of Ecuadoreans remain in favour of the Yasuní-ITT initiative. This week marches were being planned in cities including Quito, Machala, Cuenca, Puyo and Guayaquil.

"The government doesn't have the right to dissolve the Yasuní-ITT initiative because this doesn't belong to them," said Esperanza Martinez, the president of the Acción Ecológica environmental group, which is part of the coalition. "The initiative was a proposal that came from civil society."

Correa has gone on the offensive, accusing ecologists and his critics of being naive, and saying poverty destroys nature faster than the oil industry. "The real dilemma is this: do we protect 100% of the Yasuní and have no resources to meet the urgent needs of our people, or do we save 99% of it and have $18bn to defeat poverty?" he said. "There are groups that are politicising the Yasuní-ITT issue to finally 'beat' the government, and especially to manipulate young folk."

    ...solamente digitales para ahorrar papel y evitar tanta tala indiscriminada de árboles. Veremos quién es quién. No se dejen engañar...
    — Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael) August 19, 2013

He raised the stakes by threatening to force newspapers to go entirely digital. In a series of tweets he said that if the necessary signatures were gathered and there was a referendum, he would propose that newspapers be published in digital format only "to save paper and avoid so much indiscriminate cutting of trees."

    ...Ahora los mayores "ecologistas" son los diarios mercantilistas. Bueno, si vamos a consutla popular propondremos también diarios ...
    — Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael) August 19, 2013

Environment minister Lorena Tapia promised minimal environmental impact if the oil companies went in. "The park will stay as it is, as much as the government can do. We will use the best technology and the strictest control," she said.

But conservationists said oil would inevitably lead to destruction, not just from pollution of waterways and industry infrastructure, but from tens of thousands of people flooding in to the area in search of land and work, as they have done everywhere else in Ecuador where oil has been exploited. The area north of the Tapo river, just a few miles from Yasuní, was exploited in the 70s and is now a heavily populated, highly polluted area of towns, farms and with little original forest left.

"The greatest fear is that roads will be biuilt and people will enter the park. If that happens Yasuní could be like other oilfield areas in Ecuador. Correa says the bulldozers could be starting work within weeks," said Kelly Swing, professor of environmental science at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and director of the Tiputini research station on the edge of the Yasuní park.

    Disappointing news from Ecuador: Correa OKs drilling in one of most bio-diverse region in world. #noquenelyasuni
    — Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) August 16, 2013

Hollywood stars this week joined international conservationists. Actor Leonardo di Caprio, in a series of tweets, said: "Sad day, but fight is not over. Correa abandoned Yasuní, but people of Ecuador have not."

    MT @AmazonWatch Thx for ur tweets. Sad day, but fight is not over. Correa abandoned Yasuni, but people of Ecuador have not #NoToquenElYasuni
    — Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) August 16, 2013

Leading environmenatal activists accused Correa of "failing the world". Nnimmo Bassey, drector of Environmental rights action in Nigeria and former chair of Friends of the Earth International, said: "Life is more valuable than crude oil. No-one can buy the planet and all she has to offer. All who value the planet, no matter where we are located, must defend Yasuní. The Ecuadorian constitution recognizes the right of nature. Let us tell President Correa that opening up Yasuní ITT to the claws of the oil predators is a blatant abuse of nature and her rights."

He added: "Now, the only hope that remains is the reaction from the people of Ecuador. This act brings to the fore the critical struggle that we must wage around the world to ensure that elected officials do not usurp our sovereignty after being sworn into office. And the protests that greeted the announcement is a sign that the people of Ecuador are clear about the fact that the decision to allow the assault on Yasuní is not with the consent of the people."

Uncertainty surrounds the money that has already been contributed. The Ecuadorian government created both an international and a national trust which together collected about $13m. According to one source in government, deposits below $ 50,000 will not be returned.

Correa's abandonment of the Yasuní initiative is a blow to both global climate change and biodiversity. It is estimated that protection of the park would have avoided 407m metric tons of CO2 emissions and 800m metric tons of CO2 from avoided deforestation.


Ecuador approves Yasuni national park oil drilling in Amazon rainforest

Environmentalists devastated as president blames lack of foreign support for collapse of pioneering conservation plan

Jonathan Watts, Latin America correspondent, Friday 16 August 2013 15.38 BST   

Link to video: Yasuni national park: 'We want to give it as a gift for humanity'

Ecuador has abandoned a pioneering conservation plan in the Amazon that attempted to raise funds from the international community instead of drilling for oil in a pristine corner of the Yasuni national park.

The collapse of the Yasuni ITT initiative is a devastating blow for activists who are trying to save one of the world's most biodiverse regions from development and pollution. It also kills climate campaigners' hopes that the Ecuador plan could provide a model for other nations to resist the lure of oil money and leave fossil fuels under the ground.

President Rafael Correa blamed the failure on the lack of foreign support, after a trust fund set up to manage the initiative received only $13m (£8.3m) in deposits, a tiny fraction of the $3.6bn goal.

"The world has failed us," Correa said in a televised address on Thursday night. "I have signed the executive decree for the liquidation of the Yasuni-ITT trust fund and with this, ended the initiative."

The president said the decision was one of the most difficult he had been forced to make since taking office, but preparations for a U-turn have long been under way and exploration is likely to begin within weeks.

Correa said it would affect less that 1% of the park, but the termination of the conservation initiative has stirred up fury among environmentalists and is likely to upset the population at large. Polls show that between 78% and 90% of Ecuadoreans are opposed to drilling in this sensitive region.

Kelly Swing, the founder of the Tipitini research centre in Yasuni, said the area affected by drilling could be 20 or 30 times more than the government has claimed once access roads are factored in. "A new road is the death knell to any wilderness area, no matter where in the world," he said.

Ecuador had won international praise in recent years for its seemingly progressive environmental policies, including the world's first constitution that recognises the rights of nature, and the ITT initiative, which was widely seen as one of the boldest and most innovative approaches to conservation in the world. But the government is increasingly beholden to energy firms and China, which has extended generous loans to Ecuador backed by oil sales.

The initiative was set up in 2007 after drilling firms discovered 796m barrels of crude under the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini region of Yasuni.

This is an area of the Amazon that contains more species in one hectare than all the wildlife in North America.

Horrified at the environmental and climate implications, the country's energy minister at the time, Alberto Acosta drew up an alternative proposal.

The ITT initiative promised to leave the oil in the ground, thereby preventing more than 400m tonnes of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere, if half the $7.2bn value of the reserve could be raised by the international community by 2023.

"It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change," Correa said in announcing the termination.

Money was not given directly to the Ecuadorean government but administered by the UN development programme working with a board made up of indigenous peoples, local communities, academics and others. They had lined up hydroelectric and solar projects, as well as social programmes, for funding.

The news appears to have taken the UN development programme by surprise. The organisation's Yasuni website is still taking donations for the initiative.

Although it was hailed as idealistic, there were several problems. Critics accused Correa of environmental extortion. Others were sceptical about what would happen to donations if the programme collapsed.

While individuals – including Bo Derek, Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton and Al Gore, as well as many members of the British public (who were the leading private contributors) – made generous donations, government level response was weak.

Italy wrote off $51m of its external debt as a contribution, and Germany offered $50m in technical assistance to Yasuni rather than the ITT project. Chile, Colombia, Georgia and Turkey donated token amounts. Belgium, Brazil, France, Lebanon, Indonesia, Turkey, Spain and Qatar also promised donations.

By the start of this year, pledges totalled $300m, according to its negotiators, but it is now apparent that only a fraction of that amount was actually deposited in the trust.

Oil companies have been quietly preparing for the abandonment of the initiative. PetroEcuador has pushed ahead with development of extraction block 31, which sits on the edge of the ITT. Roads are also under construction close to the ITT project in an area that is famous for jaguar sightings.

Acosta, who drafted the country's constitution, stood against Correa in February's presidential election, warning that the government's environmental policies were under threat.

"If Correa wins, the ITT initiative will be dropped. The infrastructure is already in place to exploit the oil," Acosta predicted during the campaign. "He's preparing to blame rich nations for not giving enough to make it work."

Correa has debts to pay. Ecuador is unable to access finance on international markets. Instead it has sold more oil and borrowed more from China – both of which add to the impetus to exploit fossil fuels in the Amazon.

Although pragmatic, the announcement is a blow to efforts to find alternative funding models for climate change policies and wildlife conservation in the face of increasing pressure from mining companies and farmers.

Animal populations across the planet are 30% smaller now than in 1970, according to the UN environment programme. In tropical regions such as Ecuador, the rate of decline is almost double the global average.

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