Endangered Forest In Florida Will Be Leveled To Make Room For Walmart And Chick-Fil-A
By Anonymous July 17, 2014 8:20 am
To make room for Walmart, a developer is going to level a habitat housing many endangered species.
If there's one thing the world needs, it's more Walmarts and Chick-fil-a restaurants. The University of Miami sold about 88 acres of Pine Rockland, a globally-endangered habitat containing plants, animals, and insects found nowhere else, to Ram, a Palm Beach County developer in order to build a Walmart, a Chick-fil-a, LA Fitness center, Chili's, and some apartments–because progress.
While only 2,900 acres of Rockland exist outside Everglades National Park, the developer plans to follow through with construction. It has agreed to set aside just under half of that, 40 acres, as a preserve.
While some may consider this generous according to Miami-Dade County, more than 20% of the plant species found in the habitat are found nowhere else in the world–five of them are federally listed as threatened or endangered. The Rockland provides a habitat for many endangered species, including the bald eagle, indigo snake, the Florida bonneted bat, and two butterflies expected to be named as endangered this summer–the Bartram's hairstreak and the Atala hairstreak, the latter of which is still clawing its way back from a near-extinction in the middle of the twentieth century.
"You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM," said attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association.
Ram CEO Casey Cummings argues that the destruction of this dwindling and beautiful habitat does not matter because this represents "unique chance to create . . . a place where people can easily walk from the neighborhood to shops and elsewhere" and meets a demand for "high-quality rental housing, shopping, fitness and dining options."
CA halts injection of fracking waste, warning it may be contaminating aquifers
By Pro Publica
Friday, July 18, 2014 15:24 EDT
California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review more than 100 others in the state’s drought-wracked Central Valley out of fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers there.
The state’s Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources on July 7 issued cease and desist orders to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting their waste into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, and stating that their waste disposal “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources.” The orders were first reported by the Bakersfield Californian, and the state has confirmed with ProPublica that its investigation is expanding to look at additional wells.
The action comes as California’s agriculture industry copes with a drought crisis that has emptied reservoirs and cost the state $2.2 billion this year alone. The lack of water has forced farmers across the state to supplement their water supply from underground aquifers, according to a study released this week by the University of California Davis.
The problem is that at least 100 of the state’s aquifers were presumed to be useless for drinking and farming because the water was either of poor quality, or too deep underground to easily access. Years ago, the state exempted them from environmental protection and allowed the oil and gas industry to intentionally pollute them. But not all aquifers are exempted, and the system amounts to a patchwork of protected and unprotected water resources deep underground. Now, according to the cease and desist orders issued by the state, it appears that at least seven injection wells are likely pumping waste into fresh water aquifers protected by the law, and not other aquifers sacrificed by the state long ago.
“The aquifers in question with respect to the orders that have been issued are not exempt,” said Ed Wilson, a spokesperson for the California Department of Conservation in an email.
A 2012 ProPublica investigation of more than 700,000 injection wells across the country found that wells were often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure, outcomes that were likely polluting underground water supplies that are supposed to be protected by federal law. That investigation also disclosed a little-known program overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that exempted more than 1,000 other drinking water aquifers from any sort of pollution protection at all, many of them in California.
Those are the aquifers at issue today. The exempted aquifers, according to documents the state filed with the U.S. EPA in 1981 and obtained by ProPublica, were poorly defined and ambiguously outlined. They were often identified by hand-drawn lines on a map, making it difficult to know today exactly which bodies of water were supposed to be protected, and by which aspects of the governing laws. Those exemptions and documents were signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, who also was governor in 1981.
State officials emphasized to ProPublica that they will now order water testing and monitoring at the injection well sites in question. To date, they said, they have not yet found any of the more regulated aquifers to have been contaminated.
“We do not have any direct evidence any drinking water has been affected,” wrote Steve Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor, in a statement to ProPublica.
Bohlen said his office was acting “out of an abundance of caution,” and a spokesperson said that the state became aware of the problems through a review of facilities it was conducting according to California’s fracking law passed late last year, which required the state to study fracking impacts and adopt regulations to address its risks, presumably including underground disposal.
California officials have long been under fire for their injection well practices, a waste disposal program that the state runs according to federal law and under a sort of license — called “primacy” – given to it by the EPA.
For one, experts say that aquifers the states and the EPA once thought would never be needed may soon become important sources of water as the climate changes and technology reduces the cost of pumping it from deep underground and treating it for consumption. Indeed, towns in Wyoming and Texas — two states also suffering long-term droughts — are pumping, treating, then delivering drinking water to taps from aquifers which would be considered unusable under California state regulations governing the oil and gas industry.
In June 2011, the EPA conducted a review of other aspects of California’s injection well program and found enforcement, testing and oversight problems so significant that the agency demanded California improve its regulations and warned that the state’s authority could be revoked.
Among the issues, California and the federal government disagree about what type of water is worth protecting in the first place, with California law only protecting a fraction of the waters that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires.
The EPA’s report, commissioned from outside consultants, also said that California regulators routinely failed to adequately examine the geology around an injection well to ensure that fluids pumped into it would not leak underground and contaminate drinking water aquifers. The report found that state inspectors often allowed injection at pressures that exceeded the capabilities of the wells and thus risked cracking the surrounding rock and spreading contaminants. Several accidents in recent years in California involved injected waste or injected steam leaking back out of abandoned wells, or blowing out of the ground and creating sinkholes, including one 2011 incident that killed an oil worker.
The exemptions and other failings, said Damon Nagami, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in an email, are “especially disturbing” in a state that has been keenly aware of severe water constraints for more than a century and is now suffering from a crippling drought. “Our drinking water sources must be protected and preserved for the precious resources they are, not sacrificed as a garbage dump for the oil and gas industry.”
Still, three years after the EPA’s report, California has not yet completed its review of its underground injection program, according to state officials. The scrutiny of the wells surrounding Bakersfield may be the start.
EPA blocks huge Alaska mine project with environmental restrictions
• Pebble mine decision protects state's largest salmon fishery
• Copper and gold mine stood to affect Manhattan-sized area
Peter Moskowitz in New York
theguardian.com, Friday 18 July 2014 21.26 BST
The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a set of restrictions that will in effect prevent the development of a controversial copper and gold mine in Alaska which many said would have been disastrous for the state’s largest salmon fishery.
Pebble Mine, located in south-west Alaska near Bristol Bay, would have been one of the largest opencast mines in the world — more than a mile deep, the depth of the Grand Canyon. And the total impact of the mine – from the project itself to the huge waste ponds and piles it would have required – could take up an area the size of Manhattan, according to the EPA. That, the EPA’s regional administrator, Dennis McLerran, said on Friday, was unacceptable for the environment, for those who rely on the salmon in Bristol Bay for work, and for the Native community who have argued that the area is integral to their way of life.
“Bristol Bay is an extraordinary ecosystem that supports an ancient fishing culture and economic powerhouse,” McLerran said in a statement. “The science is clear that mining the Pebble deposit would cause irreversible damage to one of the world’s last intact salmon ecosystems.”
Pebble Partnership, the company set up by the two mining corporations that sought to develop the mine, along with the state of Alaska, sued the EPA in May claiming the agency was overstepping its legal authority by weighing in on the development.
The EPA’s decision on Friday could theoretically be affected by that lawsuit, but many consider the suit a long shot.
Supporters of the mine, who say the EPA is killing the potential for an economic boom in the state, saw Friday’s announcement as an all-out attack on states' rights.
“The EPA is setting a precedent that strips Alaska and all Alaskans of the ability to make decisions on how to develop a healthy economy on their lands,” Senator Lisa Murkowski said. “This [decision] is a blueprint that will be used across the country to stop economic development.”
The agency’s decision does not rule out future development of the mine, but it sets environmental restrictions so burdensome that moving forward with the project would probably be financially untenable. While more action from Pebble Partnership and other supporters of the project is likely, those against the mine viewed the EPA’s announcement as a decisive win.
“This has been looming over us for a decade,” said Alannah Hurley, programme manager for the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, which represents different tribal groups in the area. “For the tribal community, everything that makes us who we are was at stake. For the EPA to recognise that Bristol Bay is worth protecting is huge.”
Killer mosquito-borne virus arrives in eastern Massachusetts
By David Ferguson
Saturday, July 19, 2014 14:07 EDT
A potentially deadly mosquito-borne virus called Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE or triple-E) has infected at least one patient in eastern Massachusetts.
WWLP Channel 22 reported Friday that the disease has infected one person and that conditions are right for the disease to spread.
EEE is a viral brain infection that causes fever, headache, hallucinations and seizures, and in one-third of infected patients, death. A patient in Plymouth County tested positive for EEE infection on July 15.
“Even though the only reported case of EEE in Massachusetts was more than 80 miles to our east, our chances in western Massachusetts of getting it just went up. But it probably wouldn’t be the mosquitoes bringing it here,” said Channel 22 meteorologist Nick Bannin.
The disease travels over long distances in the bodies of birds, but is spread to other animals when mosquitos bite the birds and carry the virus to their next host animal.
Entomologist Bob Russell of American Pest Solutions said to Channel 22, “Mosquitoes are an unusual insect because bacteria can survive in its gut and then it can be regurgitated or come out in its saliva when it bites and that’s how you get transmission.”
According to the CDC, the incubation period between a bite by an infected mosquito and the appearance of the first symptoms is typically 4 to 10 days.
The virus has two modes of infection, systemic and encephalitic.
“Systemic infection has an abrupt onset and is characterized by chills, fever, malaise, arthralgia [joint pain], and myalgia [muscle pain],” said the CDC website. “The illness lasts 1 to 2 weeks, and recovery is complete when there is no central nervous system involvement. In infants, the encephalitic form is characterized by abrupt onset; in older children and adults, encephalitis is manifested after a few days of systemic illness. Signs and symptoms in encephalitic patients are fever, headache, irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, cyanosis [blueness of the lips and extremities], convulsions, and coma.”
Approximately 33 percent of patients with full-blown encephalitis will die of the disease. Typically, death comes 2 to 10 days after the first symptoms, but can actually come much later. Of those who do survive a brush with the deadly brain infection, many are left with permanent damage.
After-effects on the brain from EEE can range from minor damage to significant mental impairment, personality disorders, seizures, paralysis, and cranial nerve dysfunction. Many severely afflicted patients die within a few years of infection.
Area residents are urged to avoid outdoor activity at the mosquito-heavy times of day, dawn and twilight. Mosquito repellants are recommended, as well as long sleeves and pants. Wet or heavily wooded areas should be avoided.
There is no vaccine for EEE, and CDC recommends that “(p)atients with suspected EEE should be evaluated by a healthcare provider, appropriate serologic and other diagnostic tests ordered, and supportive treatment provided.”
Germany, UK and Poland top ‘dirty 30’ list of EU coal-fired power stations
Environmental study highlights health affects from pollution, with Germany coming top, and the UK third in total coal consumption
theguardian.com, Tuesday 22 July 2014 12.55 BST
The UK and Germany lead a list of the EU’s most polluting coal-fired power stations compiled by environmental campaigners, who say coal emissions are undermining efforts to combat climate change. Both countries have nine of the so-called “dirty 30” and the campaigners say coal burning is increasing due to the relatively low price of the fuel compared to gas.
“Germany and the UK are the self-declared climate champions of the EU,” says the new report. “However, Germany uses more coal to generate electricity than any other EU country, while the UK comes third in absolute coal consumption for power after Poland.” The report argues current EU policy on climate, energy and air pollution in the power sector is not strong enough to achieve the switch from coal to renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Poland’s Belchatow plant came top of the list, with annual CO2 emissions of 37m tonnes in 2013. The UK’s largest coal plant, Drax, was sixth, with four German plants occupying second to fifth place.
Germany’s increase in coal burning has been criticised by supporters of nuclear energy because Germany opted to phase out all nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster. The report shows that the electricity generation lost from the closed nuclear plants (43 TWh from 2010-2013) was more than compensated for by the increase in renewable electricity (47 TWh 2010-2103). The increase in the proportion of electricity generated from coal (3.6 percentage points between 2010 and 2013) was the same as the reduction of electricity from gas burning. Germany also exported a record amount of electricity in 2013 (33 TWh).
EU coal-fired power station emissions. EU coal-fired power station emissions. Graphic: Guardian
The total emissions from the EU energy sector fell modestly in 2013 but the campaigners say the rising use of cheap coal puts the EU in danger of not meeting future climate targets. The price of pollution permits in the EU’s emission trading scheme remains far below the level which would make it more economic to use gas, which produces about half as much carbon emissions. According the International Energy Agency, the share of coal in EU electricity generation must be below 4% by 2035 but is currently about 25%.
The report also highlights the negative health impacts of coal burning, stating that air pollution in the form of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, particulates and mercury is estimated to cause 1,600 deaths a year in the UK.
“Our political leaders are justifiably proud of their record on supporting tackling climate change on the global stage,” said Jenny Banks at WWF-UK, one of the groups that produced the report. “But they must make sure they’re not saying one thing and doing another. Coal is by far the most polluting source of electricity. Tackling climate change means making sure that emissions from coal power are phased out over the next decade.”
“Each of the largest coal power stations in Europe is responsible for hundreds of millions of external health costs,” said Julia Huscher, at the Health and Environment Alliance, another group behind the report.”The phase-out of coal in Europe will be a win-win, because it will help to achieve clean air for more people, and avoid further health damage from climate change.”
The report said rising emissions from coal plants were due to increasing use of existing facilities, rather than new ones opening. It warned policymakers against allowing extensions to the lifetimes of coal plants, most of which were built in the 1960s and 1970s.
Falling behind: U.S. among the least energy efficient of the world’s largest economies
By Climate Central
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 8:16 EDT
Germany is the global leader in energy efficiency, and the U.S., with its ingrained car culture, is among the least energy efficient of the world’s largest economies.
That’s the conclusion of a new report released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, which ranks the world’s 16 largest economies based on 31 different measurements of efficiency, including national energy savings targets, fuel economy standards for vehicles, efficiency standards for appliances, average vehicle mpg, and energy consumed per square foot of floor space in residential buildings, among other metrics.
The ACEEE report ranked the U.S. 13th overall, with Germany, Italy, smaller European Union nations, France and China making up the top five most energy efficient economies in the world.
Using energy more efficiently is a critical step countries can take to reduce their fossil fuels consumption and its related climate change-driving carbon dioxide and methane emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency used state energy efficiency standards to help set CO2 emissions reductions goals for each state in the agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, announced in June.
The U.S. was the 9th most energy-efficient economy in the ACEEE’s 2012 ranking, which criticized the country for focusing more on road construction than expanding public transportation.
Since then, the U.S. has made very little progress toward using energy more efficiently, the 2014 report says.
This year, the U.S. took a major hit for its lack of a national energy savings plan or national greenhouse gas reduction plan, and its ongoing resistance to public transit.
Americans drive more than 9,300 miles per year, more than citizens in any other major world economy, according to the report. Australians, ranking second-to-last for annual per-capita vehicle miles traveled, drive 6,368 miles per year. India tops the list, driving 85 miles per year per capita, followed by China with 513 miles per year.
Americans also ranked last for the percentage of their travel accomplished using public transit — 10 percent, tying with Canada. Residents of China use transit 72 percent of the time, followed by Indians, who use transit 65 percent of the time.
The U.S. scored well for its energy efficiency tax credit and loan programs. And, it scored well for efficient ovens and refrigerators.
“We’re a leader in appliance and equipment standards,” said the report’s lead author, ACEEE national policy research analyst Rachel Young.
The report called EnergyGuide appliance labels and Energy Star labels “best practices” for voluntary appliance and equipment standards.
The ACEEE gave the U.S. credit for energy efficiency standards included in residential and commercial building codes in many states, but criticized the country for not having adequate national building standards in place.
Young said the U.S. may improve in the energy efficiency rankings if the Clean Power Plan is finalized because a state may be able to increase the efficiency of its power plants and buildings as ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.
“The rule could spur greater investment in energy efficiency throughout the country,” she said.
By contrast, Germany scored well in nearly every category in the survey, including spending on energy efficiency measures, aggressive building codes, and the country’s tax credit and loan programs.
Germany has set a national target of a 20 percent reduction in primary energy consumption below 2008 levels by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050.
The U.S. is one of only two countries in the survey with no national energy savings plan or greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan.
EU agrees to improve energy efficiency 30% by 2030
EU climate chief says energy-saving deal is not good news for Putin, but others hoping for 40% target are disappointed
theguardian.com, Wednesday 23 July 2014 14.55 BST
European Union member states will have to improve their energy efficiency by nearly a third in the next 15 years, under new proposals unveiled on Wednesday by the European commission.
The target – to improve efficiency by 30% by 2030 – had been the subject of dispute, as some industries wanted to avoid setting a firm goal and instead rely on the market and the EU’s carbon price to provide an economic incentive to cut energy waste. But others had been pushing for a tougher target, of 40% energy savings by 2030, and were disappointed.
Günther Oettinger, EU commissioner for energy, said: “Our proposal is the basis to drive the EU towards increased security of supply, innovation and sustainability, all in an affordable way. It is ambitious and at the same time it is realistic. Our aim is to give the right signal to the market and encourage further investments in energy-saving technologies to the benefit of businesses, consumers and the environment.”
He said that the goal would result in cost savings for consumers, as infrastructure and appliances from buildings to fridges would all have to be made more efficient to comply with the new rules.
Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate chief, was more outspoken, pointing out that the move could cut Europe’s reliance on imports of gas and other fossil fuels from states such as Russia.
Currently, the EU spends more than €400bn (£315bn) a year on imports of fossil fuels, a large proportion of which come from Russia through gas pipelines. The commission has calculated that for every 1% in energy savings, EU gas imports could be expected to fall by 2.6%.
“Today the commission is sending a strong message on energy efficiency: a 30% energy savings target for 2030,” said Hedegaard. “This is of course very good news for the climate. It’s also good news for investors, and it’s very good news for Europe’s energy security and independence. Meaning no such good news for Putin.”
However, it is not clear whether the new target will be translated into individual legally binding targets for each member state. The 2030 renewable energy target, after pressure from the UK government, is an EU-wide target and is not to be broken down into targets for member states, an omission which many green campaigners have said will render it much less effective.
Energy efficiency experts and green campaigners were critical of the new efficiency target, which some said was inadequate to the challenge of tackling climate change and saving on imports.
Monica Frassoni, president of the European Alliance to Save Energy, said: “The European commission appears to have lost credibility. Its supposedly leading role aiming to build a low carbon economy around an energy efficiency target, shows an obvious lack of ambition in the final proposal. The proposal is clearly not based on a real scientific assessment and a serious cost-benefit analysis, otherwise a target between 35% and 40% would have been proposed.”
She called the move the route of least resistance and regressive, based on narrow politics and a lack of vision. A more stringent target could have produced economic benefits in the form of cost savings and more jobs, she said.
Frederic Thoma, energy policy adviser at Greenpeace, was scathing of the deal, and also invoked the EU’s reliance on Russian gas. “In its dying days, the outgoing commission has tabled another gutless plan on energy that is a gift to the oligarchs of this world. An ambitious efficiency target would drastically cut the need for expensive imports of fossil fuels from Russia and elsewhere and help Europe stand up to bullies like Putin.
"The commission’s own research shows efficiency could also create three-and-a-half million jobs, while helping tackle climate change. It’s a no-brainer that EU leaders cannot ignore. They must put Europe’s energy policy back on track.”
Separately, the commission also said it would not challenge the UK’s move to create a “capacity market” for electricity, which is a key plank of the coalition government’s electricity market reforms.
The news was greeted with dismay by some green campaigners, who argued that the capacity market – which rewards electricity generators for keeping their power stations open, in order to protect the grid against surges in demand – would end up giving excess profits to coal-fired and other fossil fuel power plants. Coal-fired power stations could receive special payments until 2033 under the scheme.
Jenny Banks, energy and climate change specialist at WWF-UK, said: “The capacity market risks pushing up bills and holding up progress towards a decarbonised power sector by throwing money at the UK’s old, dirty coal plants. It’s hard to believe that a country which has just reaffirmed its commitment to tackling climate change by choosing not to amend the fourth carbon budget is about to introduce a policy which could lock in vast payments to its oldest and dirtiest power stations until the 2030s.”
She said the capacity market was “skewed in favour of large existing generators while sidelining valuable sources of flexible capacity such as interconnection, demand reduction and response and electricity storage. Allowing these technologies to compete on a level playing field could push down prices and help integrate renewables into the UK electricity mix.”
China's red furniture craze fuelling illegal logging in Guinea-Bissau
Appetite for African rosewood has driven a surge in illegal deforestation that threatens to destabilise local communities
IRIN, part of the Guardian development network
theguardian.com, Wednesday 23 July 2014 14.48 BST
Between March and May, during the cashew harvesting season, it is typical to see trucks line Amílcar Cabral Avenue in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau's capital, waiting to offload their cargo on to ships. But when they line up all year long, suspicion is raised, especially as demand for the nut has plummeted.
From interior regions of Guinea-Bissau, the trucks openly haul tree trunks, said Constantino Correia, an agro-engineer and former director of the country's forest management agency. The cargo, mainly African rosewood, is destined for China, according to Abílio Rachid Said of the government Institute of Biodiversity and Protected Areas (Ibap).
Environmental activists have been denouncing illegal logging in Guinea-Bissau for years, but now it may be too late, "as we risk not having [the African rosewood] in the coming years", Said warned. "It is a type of wood in extremely high demand in the Chinese market."
Worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Bissau-Guinean rosewood is used, among other things, to make hongmu furniture, red luxury Chinese pieces replicating the styles of the Qing period.
Reports by the Environmental Investigation Agency indicate that China's craze for rosewood has driven dramatic increases in illegal logging elsewhere in the world.
After the April 2012 military coup, rule of law deteriorated in Guinea-Bissau, heightening corruption and fanning illegal and wanton deforestation. "There has always been illegal cutting of trees," Fodé Mané, president of Human Rights Network in Guinea-Bissau, said. "The difference is that it wasn't as abusive as it is now."
He said protests by communities worried about the loss of the forests and source of their livelihood have resulted in intimidation and abuse by the National Guard and military.
The crisis has piled pressure on the country's mainly rural population, as donors froze funds, while the prices of its main export commodity, cashew nuts, plunged due to falling demand. About 80% of the country's 1.6 million people are involved in cashew nut production.
The falling price has led the terms of trade for cashew to deteriorate sharply for the local population, with 1kg of rice being exchanged for 3kg of cashew nuts in 2013, up from a 1:1 ratio the previous year, according to an assessment by the World Food Programme in 2013.
To access their forests, loggers may typically pay impoverished communities about $500; young villagers may be paid just $2-6 to cut a tree. The average price per kilogramme of cashew nuts was about two US cents in 2013, though prices have improved to about 50 US cents.
While tree felling provides communities with quick money, many are worse off as they are deprived of their source of survival.
"It is from the forests that the people obtain wood, which is their primary domestic source of energy," Correia said. "It is to the forests that the population goes to get its medicine … [and] meagre sources of protein though hunting animals. At this pace, deforestation is going to destroy the animals' natural habitats and cause their disappearance."
On the other hand, a container of wood fetches between $6,000-10,000, while the price of a container of rosewood can reach $18,000, sources say. Rosewood can take almost 50 years to mature.
Lassana Seidi, the country's former corruption chief, describes the illegal logging as barbarism that epitomises Guinea-Bissau's decline. Nearly 70% of citizens of the west African country, which has been jolted by coups and instability, live in poverty, according to the World Bank.
It appears that the illegal loggers have obtained licences to harvest and export logs without requisite conditions, such as setting up sawmills, wood shelters and subjecting themselves to the supervision of the general directorate of forests and wildlife to ensure compliance with regulations, according to environmental activists. "Now, anyone who owns a saw can have a licence," Said said.
According to the forestry regulations, only processed timber can be exported. But local newspapers have reported that containers of unprocessed logs are being shipped out of the country. Recently, Ação Cidadã, or Citizen Action, said logging concessions were being given for wood harvesting in protected areas and in forests held sacred by local communities.
In a petition, the group said extensive logging was ongoing under the eyes of the military in Dulombi national park in western Guinea-Bissau and Lagoas de Cufada park near the Atlantic Ocean.
Correia said that despite certain weaknesses, strict application of the regulations could significantly improve forest conservation. "The problem," he said, "is the inexistence of the state."
In April, Guinea-Bissau elected a new government to end the post-coup transition, and the country hopes to reverse its international isolation and economic decline.
Local populations have continued to decry the extensive wood harvesting, but their efforts have have been hampered by harassment and repression. "The locals, poor as they are, cannot resist the bribes offered. Sometimes even if they want to resist, they don't have the strength to do so. Against the military, there is no possible resistance," Correia said.
As criticism against illegal logging increases, the Chinese operators, to avoid further exposure, have started offering higher prices for the wood at Bissau's port, Mané said. "The trafficking chain now involves a lot of nationals," he added.
There are suspicions that the trafficking involves the police, forest guards as well as high-level government and military officials, which makes law enforcement difficult.
A source, who requested anonymity, said army or police officers allow the logs to reach the port for a $200 bribe.
There may be irreversible losses resulting from the deforestation, warns Said, who has called for immediate implementation of reforestation plans and suspension of wood-harvesting concessions.
Activists and experts agree that, above all, the law must be enforced. The end of the two-year transition period is bringing hope for a new beginning. The council of ministers recently announced a temporary suspension of timber exports and prioritised cashew exports.
Mané said the election of a new civilian government was starting to be a deterrent to deforestation. However, not all share the optimism. Much of the illegal logging benefits a few military officials who are unlikely to easily give up huge profits. According to some activists, illegal logging will continue but under more subtle guises.
China’s Plan to Limit Coal Use Could Spur Consumption for Years
By CHRIS BUCKLEY
JULY 24, 2014
HONG KONG — Under pressure to reduce smog and greenhouse gas emissions, the Chinese government is considering a mandatory cap on coal use, the main source of carbon pollution from fossil fuels. But it would be an adjustable ceiling that would allow coal consumption to grow for years, and policy makers are at odds on how long the nation’s emissions will rise.
Senior officials are debating these issues as they formulate a new five-year development plan, to be finalized by the end of next year. China emits more carbon dioxide than any other country, so what President Xi Jinping and his colleagues decide will have far-reaching consequences for efforts to contain climate change.
China’s leaders have not detailed their views on coal or carbon emission limits. But there is robust support among senior policy advisers for a firm national cap on coal starting in 2016, Wang Yi, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing who studies environmental policy, said in a telephone interview.
“I think there’s a broad consensus on this, and it’s a question of how to implement it,” said Professor Wang, who is a senior member of China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress. “If we can have a cap on coal, that would almost be equivalent to a cap on carbon, because coal is such a dominant source of pollution and emissions.”
Professor Wang and others say a coal ceiling would be easier to enforce than a cap on carbon emissions from all fossil fuels, which some experts have proposed. China accounts for half of global coal consumption.
The coal cap would be stricter than current limits, which are not mandatory and are only loosely enforced. But it would be pegged to expected economic growth and energy demand, so coal use could keep rising for years.
Chinese policy advisers remain divided about how quickly the country should move to cut coal consumption. Some officials fear stricter limits would drag down the economy. They cite the prospect of mine closings, job losses and energy shortfalls if alternative sources of energy, such as nuclear, hydroelectric and solar power, fail to deliver in time.
“The main difficulty is the time it takes to develop the substitutes for coal, and the uncertainties of bringing them online,” said Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University in eastern China. “The government is now more focused on cleaning up smog, but if the economy falters, then it’s possible the government’s focus could shift back to economic growth.”
Strict limits are also likely to face opposition from the powerful coal industry and allied officials, said Ailun Yang, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute in Washington who works on emissions and energy policy in China. Growth in coal use has slowed markedly in the past couple of years, but the China National Coal Association said last year that it expected the country to consume 4.8 billion metric tons annually by 2020.
“The real debate is about how to engage the big state-owned fossil-fuel companies, and also the big provinces whose economies are very, very dependent on these industries,” Ms. Yang said.
On the other side, some economists argue that bold efforts to reduce coal consumption would be an economic and environmental boon in the long term by encouraging new, clean modes of growth.
And, experts say, there is new pressure on the government from rising domestic anger over smog. Coal burned in power plants, boilers and furnaces is a main source of the grimy pollution that swamps Beijing and other cities, and many steps to cut smog would also cut carbon emissions.
“The whole air pollution situation has changed the debate dramatically,” Ms. Yang said. “There’s a lot more political space to argue for control measures.”
A dozen provinces and major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have already set firm limits on coal use or goals to reduce consumption.
Yet the most worrisome new threat to China’s carbon-cutting efforts could come from coal gasification plants, which officials have promoted as a way to reduce particulate air pollution, said Barbara A. Finamore, the Asia director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Those plants can feed gas to big cities, cutting coal demand in those cities, but producing the gas emits large quantities of carbon dioxide. A report issued by Greenpeace East Asia this week said local governments in China had proposed 48 such plants, in addition to two already running.
“Without a national cap, there is a real danger that coal production and air pollution will simply move to other parts of China,” Ms. Finamore said.
China’s National Energy Administration called this year for research proposals for “caps for total energy and coal consumption for 2020, and a practical path for implementing caps on energy and coal consumption.”
A recent study that Professor Wang oversaw at the Chinese Academy of Sciences proposed that China aim for coal consumption to peak in 2025 around 4.5 billion metric tons. But other Chinese and foreign researchers say an earlier peak at a lower level is feasible and necessary.
Han Wenke, director general of the state Energy Research Institute in Beijing, has urged China to start cutting coal consumption around 2020. China’s “actual consumption of coal is already very close to four billion tons, which is at the limits of endurance for the domestic environment,” he wrote in a recent paper.
A parallel debate is whether China should set a date for a peak in its carbon emissions, and if so, what that date should be. Other governments have pressed China to set a date so they can better map out how global greenhouse gas levels could rise.
So far, the Chinese government has resisted doing so, partly out of fear that a deadline could become hostage to onerous international demands. But China’s chief climate talks negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, said this month that the government could “propose a peak year for carbon emissions” in the first half of 2015, reported Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.
Governments negotiating a new climate change treaty have agreed to propose national contributions to emissions reduction as part of efforts to reach an agreement in Paris next year. Previous efforts have foundered in part because China and other large developing countries have refused to accept calls from rich nations to take on binding emission targets.
China has been the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels since around 2006, when it passed the United States, and most research indicates that its emissions are likely to keep rising for at least another decade, driven by industrialization, rising affluence and the growth of cities.
Just how long they will rise is a question that divides experts, even those close to the government.
“There is major controversy,” Pan Jiahua, an expert on global warming and greenhouse gas policy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said in a telephone interview. “I’m personally more optimistic and believe that 2025 is a viable time for a carbon emissions peak, but others think that’s unrealistic and say we have to wait until 2030 or later.”
At international talks in Copenhagen in 2009, governments agreed to try to hold greenhouse gas concentrations below levels likely to cause the average global temperature to rise 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial average during this century.
Virtually no country is acting fast enough to be on track to reach that target. Even if advanced countries do far more to cut carbon emissions, China’s must peak by the mid-2020s to keep hope alive for the Copenhagen goal, said Niklas Höhne, director of energy and climate policy at Ecofys, a consulting company. He and others said China could do that by around 2025, given the right industry, taxation and consumption policies.
“If a coal cap can help us reach a peak in coal in 2020, we can be confident that the CO2 peak will be about 2025,” said Yang Fuqiang, a former energy researcher for the Chinese government and now a senior adviser for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Beijing, referring to carbon dioxide.
But several experts at Chinese government institutes said it would be too economically perilous to peak so soon, and two recent Chinese studies have said that any attempt to do so before 2030 would be impractical.
“If you wanted a peak right now, China could do it by stopping economic growth,” said Professor Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “But the price would be that the ordinary people would go out onto the streets.”
Groundwater disappearing in southwest, prompting fears it may become depleted
Friday, July 25, 2014 6:36 EDT
Underground stores of water in the southwestern United States have receded dramatically amid ongoing drought that has parched states from Oklahoma to the Pacific Coast and is costing California billions in lost crops and jobs, a new study shows.
The study released Thursday by the University of California, Irvine, shows that groundwater in the Colorado River basin has dropped by 40 million acre-feet over the past five years, the equivalent of two of the nation’s largest reservoirs.
“If drought conditions like this continue, there is a possibility we will entirely deplete our groundwater storage,” said researcher Stephanie Castle, the report’s author.
The data comes as policymakers are wrestling over how to manage the use of groundwater, accessed via wells and often the last resort for farmers unable to buy water from reservoirs in dry years.
Using satellite data, Castle tracked the ebbing water in the Colorado River basin, which stretches through seven states.
Underground water is an important backup during times of drought, relied on by farmers and others with access to wells when streams and reservoirs become depleted.
As drought conditions have continued, the underground water in the basin – not to be confused with the water in the river itself or the huge reservoirs it feeds – receded at a far faster rate than expected, Castle said.
Most of the reduction was in the Lower Colorado River Basin, she said.
In bone-dry California, the reservoirs that millions rely on for their water have also become depleted in the drought, new data from state water officials showed Thursday.
The newly released data show that each of the state’s 12 major reservoirs are below historical averages, while 10 of them are below 50 percent capacity and the five largest below 40 percent capacity.
Northern California’s Lake Shasta, the state’s largest reservoir, is holding 1.6 million acre-feet of water, just 36 percent of its total capacity and nearly half the amount it held last year. Neighboring Lake Oroville and Trinity Lake, the second- and third-largest reservoirs, are at 37 percent capacity, also nearly half that of last year.
“The reservoirs are clearly holding less water this year than they did a year ago today and that is a concern that we all share,” said Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources.
Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm Of July 2012
July 25, 2014 9:07 am
"If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," says Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado.
Dr. Tony Phillips, Science@NASA
If an asteroid big enough to knock modern civilization back to the 18th century appeared out of deep space and buzzed the Earth-Moon system, the near-miss would be instant worldwide headline news.
Two years ago, Earth experienced a close shave just as perilous, but most newspapers didn't mention it. The "impactor" was an extreme solar storm, the most powerful in as much as 150+ years.
[ Watch: ScienceCasts: Carrington-Class CME Narrowly Misses Earth ]
"If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," says Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado.
Baker, along with colleagues from NASA and other universities, published a seminal study of the storm in the December 2013 issue of the journal Space Weather. Their paper, entitled "A major solar eruptive event in July 2012," describes how a powerful coronal mass ejection (CME) tore through Earth orbit on July 23, 2012. Fortunately Earth wasn't there. Instead, the storm cloud hit the STEREO-A spacecraft.
"I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did," says Baker. "If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.
Extreme solar storms pose a threat to all forms of high-technology. They begin with an explosion -- a "solar flare" -- in the magnetic canopy of a sunspot. X-rays and extreme UV radiation reach Earth at light speed, ionizing the upper layers of our atmosphere; side-effects of this "solar EMP" include radio blackouts and GPS navigation errors. Minutes to hours later, the energetic particles arrive. Moving only slightly slower than light itself, electrons and protons accelerated by the blast can electrify satellites and damage their electronics. Then come the CMEs, billion-ton clouds of magnetized plasma that take a day or more to cross the Sun-Earth divide. Analysts believe that a direct hit by an extreme CME such as the one that missed Earth in July 2012 could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn't even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.
Before July 2012, when researchers talked about extreme solar storms their touchstone was the iconic Carrington Event of Sept. 1859, named after English astronomer Richard Carrington who actually saw the instigating flare with his own eyes. In the days that followed his observation, a series of powerful CMEs hit Earth head-on with a potency not felt before or since. Intense geomagnetic storms ignited Northern Lights as far south as Cuba and caused global telegraph lines to spark, setting fire to some telegraph offices and thus disabling the 'Victorian Internet."
A similar storm today could have a catastrophic effects. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.
"In my view the July 2012 storm was in all respects at least as strong as the 1859 Carrington event," says Baker. "The only difference is, it missed."
In February 2014, physicist Pete Riley of Predictive Science Inc. published a paper in Space Weather entitled "On the probability of occurrence of extreme space weather events." In it, he analyzed records of solar storms going back 50+ years. By extrapolating the frequency of ordinary storms to the extreme, he calculated the odds that a Carrington-class storm would hit Earth in the next ten years.
The answer: 12%.
"Initially, I was quite surprised that the odds were so high, but the statistics appear to be correct," says Riley. "It is a sobering figure."
In his study, Riley looked carefully at a parameter called Dst, short for "disturbance – storm time." This is a number calculated from magnetometer readings around the equator. Essentially, it measures how hard Earth's magnetic field shakes when a CME hits. The more negative Dst becomes, the worse the storm. Ordinary geomagnetic storms, which produce Northern Lights around the Arctic Circle, but otherwise do no harm, register Dst=-50 nT (nanoTesla). The worst geomagnetic storm of the Space Age, which knocked out power across Quebec in March 1989, registered Dst=-600 nT. Modern estimates of Dst for the Carrington Event itself range from -800 nT to a staggering -1750 nT.
In their Dec. 2013 paper, Baker et al. estimated Dst for the July 2012 storm. "If that CME had hit Earth, the resulting geomagnetic storm would have registered a Dst of -1200, comparable to the Carrington Event and twice as bad as the March 1989 Quebec blackout."
The reason researchers know so much about the July 2012 storm is because, out of all the spacecraft in the solar system it could have hit, it did hit a solar observatory. STEREO-A is almost ideally equipped to measure the parameters of such an event.
"The rich data set obtained by STEREO far exceeded the relatively meagre observations that Carrington was able to make in the 19th century," notes Riley. "Thanks to STEREO-A we know a lot of about the magnetic structure of the CME, the kind of shock waves and energetic particles it produced, and perhaps most importantly of all, the number of CMEs that preceded it."
It turns out that the active region responsible for producing the July 2012 storm didn't launch just one CME into space, but many. Some of those CMEs "plowed the road" for the superstorm.
A paper in the March 2014 edition of Nature Communications by UC Berkeley space physicist Janet G. Luhmann and former postdoc Ying D. Liu describes the process: The July 23rd CME was actually two CMEs separated by only 10 to 15 minutes. This double-CME traveled through a region of space that had been cleared out by yet another CME four days earlier. As a result, the storm clouds were not decelerated as much as usual by their transit through the interplanetary medium.
"It's likely that the Carrington event was also associated with multiple eruptions, and this may turn out to be a key requirement for extreme events," notes Riley. "In fact, it seems that extreme events may require an ideal combination of a number of key features to produce the 'perfect solar storm.'"
"Pre-conditioning by multiple CMEs appears to be very important," agrees Baker.
A common question about this event is, how did the STEREO-A probe survive? After all, Carrington-class storms are supposed to be mortally dangerous to spacecraft and satellites. Yet STEREO-A not only rode out the storm, but also continued taking high-quality data throughout.
"Spacecraft such as the STEREO twins and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (a joint ESA/NASA mission) were designed to operate in the environment outside the Earth's magnetosphere, and that includes even quite intense, CME-related shocks," says Joe Gurman, the STEREO project scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. "To my knowledge, nothing serious happened to the spacecraft."
The story might have been different, he says, if STEREO-A were orbiting Earth instead of traveling through interplanetary space.
"Inside Earth's magnetosphere, strong electric currents can be generated by a CME strike," he explains. "Out in interplanetary space, however, the ambient magnetic field is much weaker and so those dangerous currents are missing." In short, STEREO-A was in a good place to ride out the storm.
"Without the kind of coverage afforded by the STEREO mission, we as a society might have been blissfully ignorant of this remarkable solar storm," notes Baker. "How many others of this scale have just happened to miss Earth and our space detection systems? This is a pressing question that needs answers."
If Riley's work holds true, there is a 12% chance we will learn a lot more about extreme solar storms in the next 10 years—when one actually strikes Earth.
Says Baker, "we need to be prepared."
Delaying climate action will carry heavy economic cost, White House warns
President's council of economic advisers sounds warning over delaying EPA power plant rules in face of industry lobbying
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 July 2014 11.00 BST
The White House has warned that delaying action on climate change would carry a heavy price, racking up an additional 40% in economic losses from climate impacts and other costs over the course of 10 years.
White House officials said the stark finding from the president's council of economic advisers underlined the urgency of Barack Obama's efforts to cut carbon pollution.
In addition to a new report on the economic cost of delay, the White House is poised to launch two new initiatives on Tuesday dealing with fast-rising methane emissions from the natural gas industry, and buffering food security against future climate change.
“We are pushing across the board on the elements of the climate action plan,” John Podesta, Obama's counsellor, told a conference call with reporters.
Several former treasury secretaries and a couple of billionaires have come forward in recent weeks to warn Americans about the economic risks of climate change. By producing its own report on the costs of climate change, the White House appeared to be moving to bolster Obama's climate agenda from industry attacks.
Industry groups claim that new Environmental Protection Agency rules for power plants will cripple the economy.
In their rebuttal, Obama's economic team said the costs of delaying action to cut carbon pollution would be far higher in the long term - 40% over the course of a decade, in terms of the increased costs of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and dealing with climate impacts.
The costs were projected to rise even more steeply with each additional degree of warming above the 2C threshold for dangerous climate change, the report said.
“Each decade we delay acting results in an added cost of dealing with the problem of an extra 40%,” Jason Furman, chairman of the council of economic advisers, told a conference call with reporters. “The total amount we would have to pay today would be 40% larger if we waited a decade instead of acting now.”
Delaying action would deepen the risks to property and livelihoods. It would also make it more costly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A 3C rise above pre-industrial levels would shave about 0.9% a year off global GDP, or about $150 billion a year, the report said. A 4C rise would cost the global economy 3.1% of global GDP a year, it said.
“The cost …..ramps up potentially astronomically to the point that even if you want to you couldn't actually stabilise the temperature,” Furman said.
Furman said the finding was based on an analysis of 16 different economic models, and took into consideration economic damage due to climate change, and lost investment and other opportunities.
The report – and the other interventions – appeared timed to build support around the main pillar of Obama's climate action plan, regulations limiting carbon pollution from power plants.
The EPA is holding public hearings in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington DC this week on regulations to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30% over the next 16 years.
The EPA regulations, which target the country's largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions, are the main pillar of Obama's climate plan – one of the signature issues of his second term - and by default contentious.
More than 1,600 people have signed up to speak at the hearings, and 300,000 have sent in written comments. Some 680 groups have signed up to lobby the EPA, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics – more than any other government department.
The regulations are critical to Obama's commitment to the international community to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17% on 2005 levels by 2020.
The EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, told reporters on Monday that she expected opponents to focus on the economy. “We are bound to hear this week and beyond that EPA actions are bad for the economy,” she said.
Industry groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, accuse the EPA of waging a “war on coal” and say the regulations will damage the economy.
A Republican congressman, Mike Kelly, likened the regulations to terrorism, in an event at the conservative Heritage Foundation on Monday. “You talk about terrorism, you can do it in a lot of different ways,” he said. “But you terrorise the people who supply everything this country needs to be great – and you keep them on the sidelines – my goodness what have we become?”
Opponents of the EPA regulations also argue that they will be ineffective unless China and other big emitters also take action on climate change.
But McCarthy told the call America had to take actions at home to cut carbon pollution “or a global solution on climate change won't make it to the table”.
She said there were already signs that the EPA regulations had encouraged China and other countries to do more to cut their own emissions.
The White House, the EPA Senate Democrats, economists, and environmental groups argue the regulations represent an opportunity – and that it would be far more costly to delay action.
The former treasury secretary, Robert Rubin, wrote in the Washington Post last week that framing the regulations as a trade-off between the environment and the economy was as false choice.
“The real question should be: What is the cost of inaction? In my view — and in the view of a growing group of business people, economists, and other financial and market experts — the cost of inaction over the long term is far greater than the cost of action,” Rubin wrote.
Senate Democrats are expected to expand on that argument at a budget committee hearing on Tuesday called “The costs of inaction: the economic and budgetary consequences of climate change”.
European and British economists have warned for years about the costs of inaction on climate change, with Nicholas Stern coming out with his landmark report in 2006.
But those findings did not get wide airing in the American media until earlier this year when a group of billionaires and former treasury secretaries came out with their report, Risky Business, on the costs of ignoring the climate problem.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration will on Tuesday announce a number of new initiatives on containing fast-rising emissions of methane from the natural gas industry.
The White House is also due to announce a new effort by companies such as Microsoft and Coca Cola on plans to help protect food production.
West African countries announce new measures to stop Ebola spread
Nigeria quarantines hospital and Liberia shuts borders but lack of resources and understanding fuels deadly outbreak
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 19.41 BST
Authorities across west Africa have announced a series of measures aimed at stopping the spread of the Ebola virus, which reached a fourth country last week with a death in Lagos, Africa's most populous city.
Nigeria closed and quarantined the hospital where a man died on Friday in the country's first recorded case of the deadly and highly contagious pathogen.
The closure of the clinic in one of the city's most densely populated districts came as police were called in to guard Sierra Leone's main Ebola treatment centre, while Liberia shut almost all its borders and banned public gatherings. Attempts to halt the seven month-crisis, which has spiralled into the world's biggest and most widespread outbreak of Ebola, have been hampered by a lack of resources and poor understanding in a region which has never experienced an epidemic.
Ebola has killed 672 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since it was first diagnosed in February. The pathogen is passed through contact with bodily fluids of infected patients or eating infected meat, and has no known cure, although chances of survival improve dramatically with early detection and treatment.
"We have shut the hospital to enable us to properly quarantine the environment. Some of the hospital staff who were in close contact with the victim have been isolated," Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris said during a press conference on Monday.
Authorities set up an isolation ward and began tracing those who had been in contact with Patrick Sawyer, a 40-year-old civil servant whose flight from his home in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, stopped over in Togo and Ghana. Some 60 contacts had been traced, including 44 health workers and 15 airport officials. Not all of the flight's passengers had been contacted as the airline had yet to provide a manifest, state officials said.
Derek Gatherer, a virologist at the University of Lancaster, said anyone on the plane near the infected man could be in "pretty serious danger".
"It depends on how much damage this traveller has already done," he said.
But he said Nigeria was richer than the other countries in the region, so could more easily mobilise resources to tackle an outbreak. "Nigerians have deep pockets and they can do as much as any western country could do if they have the motivation and organisation to get it done."
Liberian and Nigerian airports and seaports began screening international arrivals for Ebola symptoms, which can take up to 21 days to appear. Arik Air, a major carrier for the region, has suspended flights between Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as travel peaks this week during the Muslim holiday of Eid.
Sawyer is believed to have contacted the virus from his sister, who died of Ebola earlier this month. But his travelling despite not feeling well has angered many.
"One of our compatriots met his untimely death and put to risk others across borders because of indiscipline and disrespect for the advice which had been given by health workers," Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said during the country's independence day celebrations on Saturday.
She announced stringent new measures after two American volunteer doctors tested positive for Ebola, and the lead medical doctor at the country's largest hospital died. Samuel Brisbane had treated himself at home in an attempt not to infect other health workers, many of whom have been ostracised by their communities.
In Sierra Leone, where 454 have died, angry crowds gathered outside Kenema hospital in the country's remote east, where dozens are receiving treatment for the virus, and threatened to burn it down and remove the patients.
The 1,000-strong crowd marched to the hospital after a former nurse told traders in a nearby fish market that "Ebola was unreal and a gimmick aimed at carrying out cannibalistic rituals", assistant inspector general Alfred Karrow-Kamara told Reuters.
Residents said police fired teargas to disperse the crowds and that a nine-year-old boy was shot in the leg by a police bullet.
Many communities have been left bewildered and angered by the deaths, and a belief that health workers living among the community are spreading the disease.
"It's not just superstition, it's just a scary situation for people there. Some of the reporting around it, that there is no treatment and that people bleed to death, may also discourage people from coming to hospital," said a researcher who spent time in Sierra Leone.
Others still live in denial. "I was one person that was saying the government was just playing tricks and want more money but now the way I see this thing killing people, I believe it," said Tenneh Fahnbulleh, a resident in Monrovia. The mother of three said her husband remained unconvinced even after a woman had died on their street in the past week.
Ebola outbreak in Africa: the key questions
There is no cure and little treatment for the deadly virus, which has killed at least 660 people in several African countries
Sarah Boseley, health editor
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 15.18 BST
What is Ebola?
Ebola virus disease, which used to be called Ebola haemorrhagic fever, was named after the river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where one of the first two villages to report cases in 1976 was located. The other was in Sudan. Ebola is a severe viral illness with a sudden onset that comes from direct contact with infected living or dead rainforest animals, including chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, fruit bats, forest antelope and porcupines. It kills up to 90% of those who are infected.
How is it transmitted?
The virus is passed from one human to another, carried in blood and bodily fluids and secretions, but also beds, sheets, clothes or other surfaces that a sick person has touched. Burial ceremonies that involve touching the body are also a risk. The virus enters the body through broken skin or mucous membrane.
The group at highest risk are health workers, caring for those with Ebola. They have to wear full protective clothing, including facemasks and goggles, and should change their gloves between one patient and the next.
What are the symptoms?
The early signs are sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and a sore throat. Vomiting and diarrhoea follow, raising the chances that the sick man or woman will infect somebody else. The kidney and liver are affected and there can be both internal and external bleeding, which is why it was originally called Ebola haemorrhagic fever. Patients are infectious once the symptoms show, which is two to 21 days after they have contracted the virus.
What is the treatment?
There is very little treatment. Patients will need intensive supportive care, with intravenous fluids or oral rehydration salts. They must be kept in isolation and their nurses and visitors must wear full protective suits. If people are to be nursed at home, their carers need instructions and equipment to safeguard themselves. There are no drugs to treat the disease or vaccine to prevent it, although research on a vaccine is under way.
Why is there no cure?
It has proved very hard to find drugs to treat viral diseases from animals, from influenza to HIV. Although the death rate is high, outbreaks of ebola are infrequent and have so far been contained each time. As with many of the so-called neglected tropical diseases, there is not a potentially lucrative market for drug companies, so they will be reluctant to invest in research and development.
If outbreaks can be contained and brought to a halt with good infection control, why do they return?
They can be contained in human populations but the viral reservoir still exists in animals. There will always be a risk that hunters will kill infected animals or that people will pick up those that have died of the infection in the forest and the virus will be reintroduced to the human population.
Will closing borders help?
Containment is key to the strategy against ebola. Quarantine has been used in some outbreaks for the relatives of people who become sick. Because people are not infectious until they become obviously ill, it should in theory be possible to focus efforts on the community where the outbreak began. In the past, that has usually been villages in close proximity to rainforests.
Confirmation of a case in a city such as Lagos is a real concern, but transmission must involve direct contact with a sick individual, so is more likely in a family setting or a hospital. The biggest worry is probably that somebody showing symptoms will be taken to hospital where nursing staff are unprotected, because the disease is not recognised, sparking an outbreak that spreads to their families in turn.
Closing borders may not help keep the disease out because borders are permeable in much of Africa. The World Health Organisation says closures may hinder travel and trade without detecting cases.
Is the rest of the world threatened by ebola?
Clearly somebody infected with the virus could theoretically get on a plane and spark an outbreak – probably in a hospital – anywhere in the world. However, as with the Mers virus, which arrived in London via a patient who was taken to St Thomas' hospital, infection control measures are so stringent in more affluent countries that it is probable the virus would be very rapidly contained.
Scientists warn of ‘time horizon’ when sea level rise overwhelms US infrastructure
Monday, July 28, 2014 12:38 EDT
By Ryan McNeill
(Reuters) – Flooding is increasing in frequency along much of the U.S. coast, and the rate of increase is accelerating along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts, a team of federal government scientists found in a study released Monday.
The study examined how often 45 tide gauges along the country’s shore exceeded National Weather Service flood thresholds across several decades. The researchers found that the frequency of flooding increased at 41 locations. Moreover, they found that the rate of increase was accelerating at 28 of those locations. The highest rates of increase were concentrated along the mid-Atlantic coast.
“We stress that in many areas, the frequency of nuisance flooding is already on an accelerating trajectory, and many other locations will soon follow” if trends in rising sea levels continue, the scientists wrote.
The thresholds are usually associated with minor flooding, also called nuisance flooding, which can overwhelm drainage systems, cause road closures and damage infrastructure not built to withstand frequent flooding or exposure to salt water. Such flooding is one of the more recognizable effects of rising seas, as opposed to less frequent but more damaging extreme storms, such as hurricanes, the scientists said.
In the 1950s, nuisance flooding occurred once every one to five years, the study found. By 2012, the frequency had increased to about once every three months at most NOAA gauges.
These storms “are no longer really extreme,” said William Sweet, a NOAA oceanographer and lead author of the study. “It takes a lesser storm to inundate similar (elevations).”
The study is the latest to examine whether minor flooding is increasing as seas rise. Reuters published the results of its own independent analysis earlier this month that found that the number of days a year that tidal waters reached or exceeded flood thresholds more than tripled in many places.
Another study, by Old Dominion University researchers Tal Ezer and Larry Atkinson, found that the U.S. East Coast is “a hotspot of accelerated flooding.” They also found that flooding outside of storm events has increased in frequency and duration. The results of their study are expected to be published later this year.
Among the NOAA study’s findings:
*The northeast Atlantic coast experienced a “significant increase” in nuisance flooding, largely because of the combination of rising sea levels and subsidence, whereby land sinks due to geological forces and the extraction of groundwater.
*In the southeast Atlantic, five of eight gauges “are now on an accelerating nuisance flood frequency trajectory.”
*Four of the eight gauges on the Gulf coast showed accelerating increases in minor flooding.
Such flooding events “are only going to become more noticeable and much more severe in the coming decades” as the seas continue to rise, Sweet said.
The scientists warned in their report that coastal communities may face a “time horizon” when public and private infrastructure “will become increasingly compromised by tidal flooding.” That time is dependent on how fast seas rise — something scientists can’t predict.
“When that day comes, these impacts are going to be accelerated,” Sweet said, “and that’s going to spell all sorts of issues for communities when it comes to adaptation and resilience.”
Smarter urban water: how Spain's Zaragoza learned to use less
Facing severe crop failure and forest fires, pioneering citizens transformed habits in a decade and reduced water use by 27%
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 09.55 BST
The drought, when it came two decades ago, was severe. As reservoirs across Spain dried up in the early 1990s, the number of forest fires soared, crops whittled and more than 11 million Spaniards faced water shortages. Scientists would go on to note that the five-year drought – the worst on record in the last century – ranked among the country’s worst natural disasters in terms of people affected.
When the rains began to fall again in 1996, municipalities scrambled to secure their quotas and set water restrictions on residents. But in the northern city of Zaragoza, one group took a very different approach.
Water had always been managed in a reactive way in Spain, said Víctor Viñuales, co-founder and director of the Spanish NGO Fundación Ecología y Desarrollo (Ecology and Development Foundation). His approach was, as he put it: “We need water, where will we find it?” It was an approach that had pushed Spain into a counter-intuitive position of having one of the world’s highest per capita water consumption rates despite limited access to freshwater. “There simply weren’t any policies in place to manage the demand.”
Trained as a sociologist, Viñuales wondered what would happen if municipalities focused less on making sure residents had access to all the water they wanted and more on reducing demand. From that thought began a 15-year experiment in Zaragoza that has revolutionised how many in Spain – from locals to public officials – think about water management.
Today Viñuales rattles off statistic after statistic to show how this city of 700,000 has transformed itself. Between 1997 and 2012, per capita use of water in Zaragoza dropped from 150 litres/day to 99 litres/day. The drop even sustained an increase in population; between 1997 and 2008, the city’s population grew by 12% but daily water use dropped by 27%.
The project started simply, with a challenge put to the city’s residents to save 1bn litres of water in a year. “It was a collective challenge with a simple objective that was easy for people to understand,” said Viñuales. “Because behind any of these processes of social transformation lies an exercise in the seduction of the citizens.”
Spurred into action by widespread media coverage and school outreach campaigns, more than 30,000 residents formally pledged to reduce their water use. In the first year of the project, the city’s residents surpassed their goal, saving 1.176bn litres of water, an amount equivalent to 5.6% of annual domestic consumption.
The next phase of the project relied on a network of what Viñuales called 50 volunteer “accomplices”. Free audits were offered to help implement water-saving – and ultimately cost-saving – measures to a diverse group that included a hospital, a fish vendor and a swimming pool. As soon as positive results came rolling in, Viñuales’s group would spread the word to similar business, handing out guidebooks that explained which techniques were used.
He pointed to a local hairdressing salon, where the audit resulted in water savings of 90%. “Immediately we spread the news about these good practices to the other 1000 hairdressing salons in the city.” With the leaders marking the path, the majority soon followed, he said, prompted along by an ongoing large-scale awareness raising campaign.
Behind the scenes, his group worked with the municipality to offer discounts on water-saving products as well as to residents who managed to reduce their water consumption. The city’s water bills were redesigned so that residents could see how much water they had used that month in comparison to previous months. Viñuales’s group also worked with retailers to ensure that water-saving options – for products ranging from toilets to taps – were widely available to citizens. “What we did was articulate the project, then use social and economic actors to weave the project into the lives of citizens. The project really belonged to everyone,” said Viñuales. He and his team are now working with officials across Spain to implement similar programs in various cities and regions.
In Zaragoza, the focus has shifted to innovation in water management, through a research cluster that uses the city as a “living lab,” said Marisa Fernández who leads the Zinnae cluster.
A public park in the city that sits on a steep slope, for example, has become the site of several experiments to tackle erosion. “A plant company from Zaragoza has put a certain type of plant there and a company from Madrid developed a watering system for it. Both are testing to see if they can avoid erosion without wasting water.”
The city’s aquifer is also getting a makeover, as the cluster, the University of Zaragoza and various companies work together to develop a “smart” system to manage its use. “When we began, we inherited years of raising awareness amongst residents, companies and the city,” said Fernández. “There was a trajectory of collaboration of many years.”
As the Spanish economy fights off a double-digit recession and rampant unemployment, environmental issues have been pushed to the back burner, she said. “Municipalities in Spain have limited their spending on infrastructure. They’re not looking for innovation, but rather just maintenance.” The cluster has responded by increasingly tying their work to cost-saving benefits as well as setting their sights beyond the Spanish border, targeting markets across Europe and in central and south America.
Spain’s crippling economic crisis served to underscore a virtue that’s been key to the project, said Viñuales: Patience. “We’re talking about a process of 15 years. To achieve profound change – whether it be environmental, social or cultural – you have to be prepared to take it on for the long haul.
“Here in Zaragoza we’ve had that profound change. The population grew, but we use fewer resources than before.” He paused before he adding, “It’s really what needs to be achieved on a global level.”