Category Archives: Environment

Agricultural insecticides pose a global risk to surface water bodies, researchers find

Science Daily reports:

Streams within approximately 40 percent of the global land surface are at risk from the application of insecticides. These were the results from the first global map to be modelled on insecticide runoff to surface waters, which has just been published in the journal Environmental Pollution by researchers from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Koblenz-Landau together with the University of Milan, Aarhus University and Aachen University. According to the publication, particularly streams in the Mediterranean, the USA, Central America and Southeast Asia are at risk.’

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Philomena Cunk’s Moments of Wonder: Climate Change

Editor’s Note: A hilarious piece on climate change by Philomena Cunk from Charlie Brooker‘s Weekly Wipe

The Bleak Science Bankrolled by the Pentagon

Nafeez Ahmed writes for VICE Motherboard:

Minerva Research InitiativeThe ​US military is increasingly concerned about the risk of social, political, and economic collapse due to resource stress and climate change. The Pentagon’s ​latest call for research throws light on where and how the military suspects that resource stress could fuel political grievances on a mass scale.

The call, whose deadline to receive proposals is today [Feb 19th], comes on behalf of the US Department of Defense (DoD) ‘Minerva Research Initiative,’ a multimillion dollar social science program. Minerva is designed so the Pentagon can draw on leading-edge academic expertise outside the military, on issues where it lacks sufficient internal knowledge on specific subjects or regions. By examining its areas of focus, we’re offered a rare glimpse into where and how the Pentagon fears conflict will grip the world in the future.’

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Global Challenges: 12 Risks That Threaten Human Civilisation

The Global Challenges Foundation just issued a report on ’12 risks that threaten human civilisation':

12riskThis report has, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, created the first list of global risks with impacts that for all practical purposes can be called infinite. It is also the first structured overview of key events related to such risks and has tried to provide initial rough quantifications for the probabilities of these impacts.

With such a focus it may surprise some readers to find that the report’s essential aim is to inspire action and dialogue as well as an increased use of the methodologies used for risk assessment.

The real focus is not on the almost unimaginable impacts of the risks the report outlines. Its fundamental purpose is to encourage global collaboration and to use this new category of risk as a driver for innovation.

The idea that we face a number of global risks threatening the very basis of our civilisation at the beginning of the 21st century is well accepted in the scientific community, and is studied at a number of leading universities. But there is still no coordinated approach to address this group of risks and turn them into opportunities.’

READ THE FULL REPORT…

Pentagon Makes No Secret of Wanting to Monitor Social Change Activism

Nafezz Ahmed writes for AlterNet:

The US military is increasingly concerned about the risks to social, political and economic stability from resource stress and climate change, and whether they might lead governments to collapse. That’s the upshot of the latest call for proposals from the Pentagon’s flagship social science research program, the Minerva Research Initiative.

Minerva is a multi-million-dollar research program led by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and founded in 2008 under the watch of then-defense secretary Robert Gates. The final deadline for submissions for the latest research round is next month.

The research call, which was put out near the end of last year by the Office of Naval Research, shows that the Pentagon is particularly taken aback by sudden “societal shifts like those seen recently in North Africa and the Middle East,” as well as in “Central Eurasia.”’

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Why Animals Eat Psychoactive Plants

Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, recently published an excerpt from his book at Boing Boing:

‘The United Nations says the drug war’s rationale is to build “a drug-free world — we can do it!” U.S. government officials agree, stressing that “there is no such thing as recreational drug use.” So this isn’t a war to stop addiction, like that in my family, or teenage drug use. It is a war to stop drug use among all humans, everywhere. All these prohibited chemicals need to be rounded up and removed from the earth. That is what we are fighting for.

I began to see this goal differently after I learned the story of the drunk elephants, the stoned water buffalo, and the grieving mongoose. They were all taught to me by a remarkable scientist in Los Angeles named Professor Ronald K. Siegel.’

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Doomsday Clock: We are closer to doom than at any time since the Cold War, say scientists

Tom Bawden reports for The Independent:

‘The end of the world has come a lot closer in the past three years, with every single person now in danger as climate change and nuclear weapons pose an escalating threat – according to the scientists behind the Doomsday Clock, a symbolic measure which counts down to armageddon.

They moved the minute-hand of their 68-year old concept clock forward by two minutes today, showing a time of three minutes to twelve, to reflect the fact that the “probability of global catastrophe is very high”.

The time change symbolised their damning assessment of world leaders and the outlook for their citizens.’

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Detroit Renaissance? Mike Papantonio Interviews Abby Martin

‘Abby Martin, Breaking the Set, joins Mike Papantonio to discuss her visit to Detroit, the city’s “tent city,” the water shut offs, bankruptcy and how the city is still feeling the effects of the foreclosure crisis.’ (The Big Picture)

Davos: 1700 private jets to fly in 2500 people for forum on “decarbonizing the global economy”

Alanna Petroff reports for CNN Money:

swiss airportBillionaires and world leaders from across the globe are flying en masse to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — and they insist on traveling in style.

Roughly 1,700 private flights are expected over the course of the week, which is twice as many as normal, according to WINGX Advance, a tracking firm. Traffic is expected to rise 5% compared to last year’s event.

Private jet companies have warned clients to plan ahead, as securing spots for landing, take-off and parking can become a logistical nightmare.’

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An Entrepreneur’s Unique Way To Beat Sky-High Rents In U.S. Cities

How Solar Power Could Slay the Fossil Fuel Empire by 2030

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Vice Motherboard:

‘In just 15 years, the world as we know it will have transformed forever. The ​age of oil, gas, coal and nuclear will be over. A new age of clean power and smarter cars will fundamentally, totally, and permanently disrupt the existing fossil fuel-dependent industrial infrastructure in a way that even the most starry-eyed proponents of ‘green energy’ could never have imagined.

These are not the airy-fairy hopes of a tree-hugging hippy living off the land in an eco-commune. It’s the startling verdict of ​Tony Seba, a lecturer in business entrepreneurship, disruption and clean energy at Stanford University and a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Seba began his career at Cisco Systems in 1993, where he predicted the internet-fueled mobile revolution at a time when most telecoms experts were warning of the impossibility of building an Internet the size of the US, let alone the world. Now he is predicting the “inevitable” disruption of the fossil fuel infrastructure.

Seba’s thesis, set out in more detail in his new book Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation, is that by 2030 “the industrial age of energy and transportation will be over,” swept away by “exponentially improving technologies such as solar, electric vehicles, and self-driving cars.”’

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Doubts deepen over Chinese-backed Nicaragua canal as work starts

Gabriel Stargardter reports for Reuters:

‘When one of the poorest countries in the Americas and a little-known Chinese businessman said they planned to undertake one of the biggest engineering projects in history, few people took them seriously.

A year and a half after the $50 billion project to build a canal across Nicaragua was launched by President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla, the doubts have only grown.

Work officially began this week. But reporters hoping to see any evidence of how it would be done in a fraction of the time it took to build the much-shorter Panama Canal, or discover who would pay for it, were left with more questions than answers.’

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Breaking The Set’s Top 5 Most Positive Stories of 2014

John Perkins on Embracing Cuba, TPP Kiss of Death & Restoring the Life Economy

Abby Martin interviews Author and Activist, John Perkins, discussing the economic impact of the US’ new policy towards Cuba as well as the damage that international free trade agreements do to third world economies.’ (Breaking the Set)

Loggers Assassinating Peru’s Land Defenders: Interview with Kate Horner

Abby Martin interviews Kate Horner, Forest Campaigns Director, about the massacre of four indigenous activists in Peru for standing up for their land, and the trade of illegal logging worldwide.’ (Breaking the Set)

Earth faces sixth ‘great extinction’ with 41% of amphibians set to go the way of the dodo

Robin McKie reports for The Guardian:

‘A stark depiction of the threat hanging over the world’s mammals, reptiles, amphibians and other life forms has been published by the prestigious scientific journal, Nature. A special analysis carried out by the journal indicates that a staggering 41% of all amphibians on the planet now face extinction while 26% of mammal species and 13% of birds are similarly threatened.

Many species are already critically endangered and close to extinction, including the Sumatran elephant, Amur leopard and mountain gorilla. But also in danger of vanishing from the wild, it now appears, are animals that are currently rated as merely being endangered: bonobos, bluefin tuna and loggerhead turtles, for example.

In each case, the finger of blame points directly at human activities. The continuing spread of agriculture is destroying millions of hectares of wild habitats every year, leaving animals without homes, while the introduction of invasive species, often helped by humans, is also devastating native populations. At the same time, pollution and overfishing are destroying marine ecosystems.’

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Study: Vast Majority of Vegetarians and Vegans Return To Meat

Fast Company reports:

‘After decades of a growing appetite for meat, U.S. consumption is finally dropping after hitting “peak meat” a decade ago. But while many people are eating less meat, giving it up totally is much harder. Few people stick with their decision to become vegetarian or vegan.

In an attempt to move animal-free diets “from the margins more towards the center,” the Humane Research Council just put out the first study to put numbers to the lapsed vegetarian phenomenon. Their main takeaway is essentially what people have said for years: getting people to reduce their meat and dairy intake will be more effective overall than demanding “purity,” or complete elimination of animal products from their diet.’

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The Ocean Contains Over Five Trillion Pieces of Plastic Weighing More than 250,000 Tons

Rachel Nuwer reports for Smithsonian:

‘Plastic is the most pervasive pollutant in the ocean today. But researchers have struggled to estimate just how much of the 6 billion tons of plastic that has been manufactured since the mid-20th century ultimately winds up in the ocean.

Now a carefully vetted estimate of our oceans’ plastic burden shows that the answer is not pretty. Based on the calculations, at least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic—weighing nearly 269,000 tons—are currently bobbing around in the ocean. A team of researchers from six countries reported the finding today in PLOS ONE.

Revealing this disturbing figure required the team to conduct 24 garbage-collecting expeditions between 2007 and 2013. Those trips to sea included visits to all five sub-tropical gyres—large systems of constantly rotating currents infamous for their roles in creating garbage patches—plus the Mediterranean Sea, the Bay of Bengal and Australia. At all of the sites, teams collected water samples for estimating the amount of microplastic, pieces of plastic smaller than 4.75 millimeters. They also tallied up larger pieces using standardized visual surveys. These data represent the most comprehensive tally yet done for ocean plastic pollution.’

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At Global Climate Conferences, Spying Is Just Part of the Woodwork

Alleen Brown writes for The Intercept:

‘[…] The resigned attitudes toward spying at the climate talks signal a normalization of broad surveillance by states like the U.S. and Britain. It seems that spying has become part of the woodwork of international ecological negotiations.

Intelligence gathering is fading into the background in part because it has become so ubiquitous, expanding well beyond traditional redoubts like diplomacy and military affairs into corporate operations, political activism and, yes, environmental affairs. Faiza Patel, who helps lead efforts against surveillance overreach at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, says, “The big point of this story for me is the fact that both the GCHQ and NSA shroud their actions as if it’s all about national security, when what we’ve seen over and over again is that it’s not.”’

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‘Palestine is not an environment story’: How Nafeez Ahmed was censored from The Guardian for writing about Israel’s war for Gaza’s gas

Editor’s Note: Nafeez Ahmed recently launched a crowdfunding drive in order to support his great journalism and with the hopeful aim of creating his own investigative journalism collective. Please support him in any way you can. You can find links to more of his work here.

Nafeez Ahmed writes Medium:

‘After writing for The Guardian for over a year, my contract was unilaterally terminated because I wrote a piece on Gaza that was beyond the pale. In doing so, The Guardian breached the very editorial freedom the paper was obligated to protect under my contract. I’m speaking out because I believe it is in the public interest to know how a Pulitizer Prize-winning newspaper which styles itself as the world’s leading liberal voice, casually engaged in an act of censorship to shut down coverage of issues that undermined Israel’s publicised rationale for going to war.

I joined the Guardian as an environment blogger in April 2013. Prior to this, I had been an author, academic and freelance journalist for over a decade, writing for The Independent, Independent on Sunday, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, among others.

On 9th July 2014, I posted an article via my Earth Insight blog at The Guardian’s environment website, exposing the role of Palestinian resources, specifically Gaza’s off-shore natural gas reserves, in partly motivating Israel’s invasion of Gaza aka ‘Operation Protective Edge.’ Among the sources I referred to was a policy paper written by incumbent Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon one year before Operation Cast Lead, underscoring that the Palestinians could never be allowed to develop their own energy resources as any revenues would go to supporting Palestinian terrorism.’

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Land of Waste: How Albania Became Europe’s Rubbish Tip

‘Albania is slowly sinking under the weight of Europe’s waste. This report investigates an industry of waste that is both necessary for survival, yet a threat for many Albanians. For how long can it continue? “For us, the Roma, it is our only work, because nobody will hire us”, says Renato, a scavenger earning half the average national wage. In the “dustbin of Europe”, countries such as Serbia, Slovenia and Russia dump their scrap in vast quantities. Yet Albania’s infrastructure is insufficient for dealing with this often toxic waste. Despite efforts to restrict imports, waste continues to enter under the guise of “raw material”. In towns such as Elbasan, home to a large metallurgical plant, the poor control on the industry is beginning to destroy the health of its workers. As one doctor describes, “On one hand, the community has been here for a long time, and needs work. But on the other, it cannot afford the sacrifice”.’ (Journeyman Pictures)

Carbon Colonialism: How the Fight Against Climate Change Is Displacing Africans

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Motherboard:

global-land-grabCarbon trading—one of the biggest weapons touted by governments and business in the global fight against climate change—could end up killing the planet. In Africa, human rights campaigners say, it is already killing people.

Since the launch of a World Bank sponsored conservation programme in west Kenya eights years ago, the Bank-funded Kenya Forest Service (FKS) has conducted a relentless scorched earth campaign to evict the 15,000 strong indigenous Sengwer community from their ancestral homes in the Embobut forest and the Cherangany Hills. The pretext? The Sengwer are ‘squatters’ accelerating the degradation of the forest.

This October, with violence escalating, pressure from campaigners finally elicited a public response from World Bank president Jim Yon​g Kim, who promised to help facilitate “a lasting, peaceful resolution to this long, unfinished business of land rights in Kenya.”

But according to British film-maker Dean Puckett, who is currently on the ground in Embobut forest in west Kenya capturing extraordinary footage of recent events, the plight of the Sengwer has only worsened dramatically since Kim’s intervention.’

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The Coming Blackout Epidemic

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Motherboard:

‘​Industrialized countries face a future of increasingly severe blackouts, a new study warns, due to the proliferation of extreme weather events, the transition to unconventional fossil fuels, and fragile national grids that cannot keep up with rocketing energy demand.

“We need a fundamental re-think about how electricity is generated and distributed and who controls this,” said lead author Prof Hugh Byrd of Lincoln University, a specialist in international energy policy and urban sustainability. “It is not in the interests of the privatized power industry to encourage less electricity consumption.”

Every year, millions of people around the world experience major electricity blackouts, but the country that has endured more blackouts than any other industrialized nation is the United States. Over the last decade, the number of power failures affecting over 50,000 Americans has more than doubled, according to federal data.’

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G20 Summit Failed to Seriously Address Global Problems: Interview with James Henry

Editor’s Note: James Henry is an economist and author who serves as a senior advisor at the Tax Justice Network. In this interview with the Real News he discusses how the recent G20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia neglected serious focus on long-term issues like tax reform, infrastructural investment, and climate change.

Construction of Nicaragua canal to begin December 22

Reuters reports:

Nicaragua ChannelConstruction of Nicaragua’s $50 billion Interoceanic Grand Canal, expected to rival the Panama Canal, will begin Dec. 22 after feasibility studies have been approved, the committee overseeing the project said on Thursday.

The route suggested for the 172-mile (278-km) canal, which would be longer, deeper and wider than the Panama Canal, was approved in July. Construction will be led by Hong Kong-based HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co Ltd (HKND Group).

Opponents of the plan are concerned about the canal’s effect on Lake Nicaragua, an important fresh water source for the country, as well as the impact on poorer communities.

Committee member Telemaco Talavera said the feasibility studies were expected to be approved next month. The plan is to finish the canal within five years, with it becoming operational around 2020.’

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Worldwide ship traffic up 300% since 1992

Science Daily reports:

‘Maritime traffic on the world’s oceans has increased four-fold over the past 20 years, likely causing more water, air and noise pollution on the open seas, according to a new study quantifying global ship traffic. The research used satellite data to estimate the number of vessels on the ocean every year between 1992 and 2012. The number of ships traversing the oceans grew by 60 percent between 1992 and 2002. Shipping traffic grew even faster during the second decade of the study, peaking at rate of increase of 10 percent per year in 2011.’

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The US/China Climate Pact: Why the Deal is Not a Hallelujah for the Planet

Peter Lee writes for CounterPunch:

leeclimate3‘I suppose the fact that I can still be amazed at the magnitude of botched mainstream misreporting is a sign that I still retain a sense of childlike wonder.

A HUGE deal is being made out of the US-China climate change agreement.  The hoopla is ludicrous.  The U.S. makes a statement about its determination to achieve non-binding targets, the PRC talks about its determination to achieve non-binding targets.

At least the Chinese are promising to do something they’re already planning to do and capable of doing: peaking CO2 emissions by 2030.  Going green and, in particular, dealing with the horrific smog problems in Beijing and other major Chinese cities is a key element in the social and political pact the CCP wants to make with China’s urban middle class, so the PRC, even if it is ready to see the rest of the planet go to hell, has strong domestic political imperatives driving its greenhouse gas policies.

As for the U.S. goal–26%-28% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2025–it’s strictly voluntary and subject to the tender mercies of the now Republican-controlled Congress.’

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How a national food policy could save millions of lives

Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador and Olivier De Schutter write for The Washington Post:

‘How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on Americans’ well-being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of our economy; food touches everything from our health to the environment, climate change, economic inequality and the federal budget. Yet we have no food policy — no plan or agreed-upon principles — for managing American agriculture or the food system as a whole.

That must change.

The food system and the diet it’s created have caused incalculable damage to the health of our people and our land, water and air. If a foreign power were to do such harm, we’d regard it as a threat to national security, if not an act of war, and the government would formulate a comprehensive plan and marshal resources to combat it. (The administration even named an Ebola czar to respond to a disease that threatens few Americans.) So when hundreds of thousands of annual deaths are preventable — as the deaths from the chronic diseases linked to the modern American way of eating surely are — preventing those needless deaths is a national priority.’

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How to Buy a City: Chevron Spends $3 Million on Local California Election to Oust Refinery Critics

‘The oil giant Chevron is being accused of attempting to buy the city government of Richmond, California. The company has spent more than $3 million to back a slate of pro-Chevron candidates for mayor and city council ahead of Tuesday’s election. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Chevron has paid for TV attack ads, purchased space on virtually every billboard in town, funded a flood of mailers and financed a fake “news” website run by a Chevron employee. The move comes two years after a massive fire at Chevron’s oil refinery in Richmond sent 15,000 residents to the hospital. It was the third refinery fire since 1989 in the city. The city of Richmond responded to the latest fire by suing Chevron, accusing officials of placing profits and executive pay over public safety. We speak to one of the politicians being targeted, outgoing Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. She was elected mayor of Richmond in 2006, becoming the first Green Party official to represent a city of more than 100,000. Due to mayoral term limits, McLaughlin is now running for Richmond City Council.’ (Democracy Now!)

Climate Change, Land Grabs, and Revolution in Burkina Faso

Alexander Reid Ross, author of Grabbing Back writes for CounterPunch:

Like virtually every country in Africa, Burkina Faso has been assailed by North Atlantic military intervention over the past four decades, as well as an escalation of land grabs since 2008. More land has been grabbed in Africa over the past 15 years than in the rest of the world combined—more than 55 million hectares, according to Blessing Karumbidza of the Global Justice Ecology Project. The economic tensions between local producers and international powers that have contributed to the revolutionary dissatisfaction with the establishment in Burkina Faso can be found in virtually any country subject to the harsh and cruel conditions of the global land grab and the crisis of climate change. The revolution in Burkina Faso represents a crucial break, summoning the revolutionary leaders of past generations to maintain a legacy of popular control.

The popular movement that has spread throughout the small African state contains the process of liberation both inspired by and inspiring different forms of political engagement throughout the continent. While some, including the present military junta, insist that we are seeing a youth rebellion, the revolution has formulated a deeper, systemic challenge. The promise of Thomas Sankara, the “Che Guevara of Africa” who ruled Burkina from 1983 until his assassination in 1987, was the suture of the generation gap and the progression of egalitarian economic policies. While Sankara emerged as a powerful leader in Burkina Faso in the 1970s, a powerful student movements broke through in nearby Sierra Leone, the independence movement of Guinea-Bissau ascended to power, and the People’s Republic of Benin was declared. West Africa was uniting under common dreams of liberation fueled by the legacy of Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, and other noteworthy West African leaders of the 1950s and 1960s. After the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and the assassination of Amílcar Cabral, Sankara appeared among the most important radical leaders in all of Africa. The current revolution, with its rekindling of Sankara’s legacy, can be seen as a return to the legacy of national liberation—not just as a youth movement, but a rejection of the neoliberal trajectory set into place after Sankara’s death.’

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