Category Archives: Environment

We’ve Consumed More Than the Earth Can Produce This Year

Gabe Bullard reports for National Geographic:

It may feel like Christmas comes earlier each year, but there’s a less joyful day that really is moving closer on the calendar.

Earth Overshoot Day is the day when—according to estimates—the total combined consumption of all human activity on Earth in a year overtakes the planet’s ability to generate those resources for that year.

How is it measured?

“It’s quite simple,” says Dr. Mathis Wackernagel of the think tank Global Footprint Network. “We look at all the resource demands of humanity that compete for space, like food, fiber, timber, et cetera, then we look at how much area is needed to provide those services and how much productive surface is available.”

Here’s his bottom line metaphor. Earth Overshoot Day is like the day you spend more than your salary for a year, only you are all humans and your salary is Earth’s biocapacity.

Ideally, Overshoot Day would come after December 31.  It wasn’t too far off in 1970, when it occurred on December 23. But Overshoot Day creep has kicked in ever since. August 13 is the earliest yet—four days ahead of last year’s previous record.

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Tokyo Electric executives to be charged over Fukushima nuclear disaster

Kentaro Hamada and Osamu Tsukimori report for Reuters:

A Japanese civilian judiciary panel on Friday forced prosecutors to indict three former Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) executives for failing to take measures to prevent the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The decision is unlikely to lead to a conviction of the former executives, after prosecutors twice said they would not bring charges, but means they will be summoned to appear in court to give evidence.

Tokyo prosecutors in January rejected the panel’s judgment that the three should be charged, citing insufficient evidence. But the 11 unidentified citizens on the panel forced the indictment after a second vote, which makes an indictment mandatory.

The three are former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, and former executives Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69.

Citizens’ panels, made up of residents selected by lottery, are a rarely used but high-profile feature of Japan’s legal system introduced after World War Two to curb bureaucratic overreach.

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UN: Expect 11.2 billion population by the end of the century

Cara Anna reports for the Associated Press:

Move over: The world’s population is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050, a new United Nations report says. And there should be 11.2 billion people on Earth by the end of this century.

Meanwhile, India’s population is set to pass China’s in size around 2022, according to the report released Wednesday.

The population estimates play a huge role as the international community tries to figure out how to slow the danger of global warming, while pursuing the ambitious goals of eliminating both poverty and hunger.

The current world population is 7.3 billion. China and India each have more than one billion people.’

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British oil company’s hand behind Congo army action

Marc Santora writes for Business Day Live:

When a British oil company began prospecting in Africa’s oldest national park, drawing worldwide concern and inspiring an Oscar-nominated documentary last year, the company was adamant in denying any wrongdoing.

Though soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo may have engaged in a campaign of intimidation and coercion against residents who were opposed to drilling in the park, the company said it could not be held responsible for their actions.

“We can’t tell the army to go and kiss off,” Roger Cagle, the deputy chief executive director of the oil company, SOCO International, told The Telegraph newspaper. He said the soldiers had been assigned by the Congolese government to keep the company safe.

But according to documents obtained by Global Witness, an advocacy group, SOCO appears to have paid tens of thousands of dollars to an army officer who has been accused of leading a brutal campaign against those objecting to the company’s oil exploration in the Virunga National Park.’

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What Paul Ehrlich Missed (and Still Does): The Population Challenge Is About Rights

Schuyler Null reports for New Security Beat:

2015-06-03-1433350350-5787894-CountdownpopulationtruckposterfromLibraryFoundationofLosAngelesAlanWeisman.jpgIn 1968, Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich predicted hundreds of millions would starve to death over the next decade, many of them Americans, and the world would generally decline into chaos in his book The Population Bomb.

A retrospective on Ehrlich’s forecast is the subject of a new “Retro Report” in The New York Times. A 12-minute video feature produced by Sarah Weiser with support from the Pulitzer Center is accompanied by a column from Clyde Haberman.

“I do not think my language was too apocalyptic in The Population Bomb,” Ehrlich says in an interview, “my language would be even more apocalyptic today.” His basic premise remains true, he says: “We have a finite planet with finite resources and in such a system you can’t have infinite population growth.”

“I was trying to bring people to get something done,” he says, and he still sees humanity’s dominance over the natural world as a danger to our own life-support system.

But things have changed since The Population Bomb was published almost 50 years ago. Population growth has not continued unabated and in most parts of the world has slowed to at or below replacement level.

One aspect of the story that is somewhat glossed over but helps explain these changes is about rights.’

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Stanford researcher Paul Ehrlich warns sixth mass extinction is here

Editor’s Note: Paul Ehrlich is well known for making predictions of doom about the future going back decades starting with his 1968 book ‘The Population Bomb’. You can learn more about his work (including criticisms) in the links below.

NASA: The Earth is Running Out of Water

Lauren McCauley reports for Common Dreams:

Two new NASA studies led by researchers from the University of California Irvine and published Tuesday show that the depletion of global groundwater resources, due to the dueling impacts of global warming and growing human demand, has caused the world’s water supply to drop to dangerous levels.

The first report compares statistical analysis of water withdrawal to GRACE satellite analysis, which measures variations in gravity on the Earth’s surface, between January 2003 and December 2013. The study compares the difference between the use and availability of these resources to determine the amount of overall renewable groundwater stress, or RGS.

According to the findings, at 21 of the 37 largest aquifers, water is being drained at a greater rate than it is being naturally replenished, 13 of which fell into the most troubled category.’

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Protesters Press Secluded G7 Leaders on Harmful Policies: Interview with Gawain Kripke, Eric LeCompte and Nomi Prins

‘As leaders of the seven wealthy democracies known as the Group of Seven hold talks in a secluded castle in Germany, thousands of protesters have been met with 20,000 police in the largest security operation in the history of Bavaria. Issues on the G7 agenda include climate change, a $10.4 billion bailout package for Greece, and more austerity measures. We are joined by three guests: Gawain Kripke of Oxfam America, which just published the new report, “Let Them Eat Coal”; Eric LeCompte of the Jubilee USA Network; and former banker Nomi Prins, author of “All the Presidents’ Bankers.”‘ (Democracy Now!)

WikiLeaks Launches Campaign to Offer $100,000 “Bounty” for Leaked Drafts of Secret TPP Chapters

Amy Goodman speaks to Julian Assange about Wikileaks seeking to raise a $100,000 reward for anyone willing to leak the remaining unseen chapters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a global trade deal between the United States and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries. It would cover 40% of the global economy, but despite this details have been hidden from the public. A recently leaked “Investment Chapter” highlighted the intent of US-led negotiators to create a tribunal where corporations would be able to sue governments if their laws interfered with a company’s  potential future profits. This is known as the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange warns that the plan could create a chilling effect thereby preventing the adoption of health, environmental and other regulations. (Democracy Now!)

The Palace of the Soviets: A Brief History

A Toxic Affair: How the chemical lobby blocked action on hormone disrupting chemicals

Corporate Observatory Europe reports:

An investigation led by research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and journalist Stéphane Horel exposes corporate lobby groups mobilising to stop the EU taking action on hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The report sheds light on how corporations and their lobby groups have used numerous tactics from the corporate lobbying playbook: scaremongering, evidence-discrediting, and delaying tactics, as well as using the ongoing TTIP negotiations as a leverage. But industry’s interests were also defended by actors within the Commission.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that are present in everyday products – from plastics and cosmetics to pesticides. Because of their ability to interact with the hormonal (endocrine) systems of living organisms, they are suspected of having severe health and environmental impacts.

EU law demands action be taken on endocrine disruptors, with clear deadlines set. According to these rules, if a chemical is identified as an endocrine disruptor, a ban follows. The current approach is that chemicals are assessed following risk assessment procedures and safe levels of exposure are set accordingly. However, for endocrine disruptors it might be impossible to set such ‘safe’ levels.

The Directorate-General (DG) for the Environment of the European Commission was put in charge of establishing a set of scientific criteria for ‘what is an endocrine disruptor’. The chemical industry lobby was up in arms at the potential banning of some EDCs. The main lobby groups involved were the chemical and pesticide lobbies (CEFIC – European Chemical Industry Council & ECPA – European Crop Protection Association), and the corporations at the forefront were BASF and Bayer. But they found allies in various member states, actors within the European Commission, and in the European Parliament.’

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How NATO deliberately destroyed Libya’s water infrastructure

Nafeez Ahmed writes at The Cutting Edge:

‘The military targeting of civilian infrastructure, especially of water supplies, is a war crime under international law and the Geneva Conventions.

Yet this is what NATO did in Libya, and the results have worsened today.

Numerous reports comment on the water crisis that is escalating across Libya as consumption outpaces production. Some have noted the environmental context in regional water scarcity due to climate change, but what they ignore is the fact that the complex national irrigation system that had been carefully built and maintained over decades to overcome this problem was targeted and disrupted by NATO.

During the 2011 military invasion, press reports surfaced, mostly citing pro-rebel sources, claiming that pro-Gaddafi loyalists had shut down the water supply system as a mechanism to win the war and punish civilians.

This is a lie.’

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Want to Help Nepal Recover from the Quake? Cancel its Debt, Says Rights Group

Kanya D’Almeida writes for IPS News:

[…] Questions abound as to how this impoverished nation, ranked 145 out of 187 on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) – making it one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs) – will recover from the disaster, considered the worst in Nepal in over 80 years.

One possible solution has come from the Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based organisations and 400 faith communities worldwide, which said in a press release Monday that Nepal could qualify for debt relief under the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) new Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCR).

The IMF created the CCR this past February in order to assist poor countries recover from severe natural disasters or health crises by providing grants for debt service relief. Already, the fund has eased some of the financial woes of Ebola-impacted countries by agreeing to cancel nearly 100 million dollars of debt.

Quoting World Bank figures, Jubilee USA said in a statement, “Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders and spent 217 million dollars repaying debt in 2013.”

Nepal owes some 1.5 billion dollars each to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, as well as 54 million dollars to the IMF, 133 million dollars to Japan and 101 million dollars to China.’

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Green Revolution? Russell Brand Interviews Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett of the Green Party

Spring Break’s Hidden Underbelly

116 Environmental Defenders Were Murdered Last Year, Mostly in Latin America: Interview with Billy Kyte

‘As we continue to mark Earth Day, we look at a new report that finds killings of environmental activists on the rise, with indigenous communities hardest hit. According to Global Witness, at least 116 environmentalists were killed last year — more than two a week. Three-quarters of the deaths occurred in Central and South America. Just recently, three indigenous Tolupán leaders were gunned down during an anti-mining protest in northern Honduras, which has become the most dangerous country for environmental activists. We speak to Billy Kyte, campaigner for Global Witness and author of their new report, “How Many More?“‘ (Democracy Now!)

Nestlé’s California Water Permit Expired 27 Years Ago

Zoë Schlanger reports for Newsweek:

Last month, California newspaper The Desert Sun published an investigation revealing that Nestlé Water’s permit to transport water across the San Bernardino National Forest for bottling has been expired since 1988. On Friday, the California Forest Service announced it would make it “a priority” to reassess the permit, and that it might impose as-of-yet unspecified “interim conditions” on the bottling operation in light of the severe drought, The Desert Sun reports.

The fact that Nestlé has continued its massive water-bottling operation while the state struggles with crippling water shortages has become a sticking point for activists. A petition demanding Nestlé immediately stop bottling and profiting off California water has drawn 27,000 online signatures and counting, and last month activists reportedly blocked the entrances to Nestlé’s bottling plant in Sacramento.’

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Flat CO2 Emissions Not Enough to Curb Climate Change, Experts Say

Shannon Hall reports for Live Science:

‘Global emissions of carbon dioxide — one of the leading causes of global warming — stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years that there was no climb in CO2 emissions during a time of economic growth. The results suggest that efforts to reduce emissions may be on the upswing, but experts say the situation is not so simple.

In fact, some scientists say that the findings, announced last week by the International Energy Agency (IEA), represents only one data point and that the overall trend in carbon dioxide emissions is continuing upward.’

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Was 1610 the beginning of a new human epoch?

Hannah Devlin reports for The Guardian:

King James was on the throne, Shakespeare’s Cymbeline was playing in the theatre and Galileo discovered four moons of Jupiter. In future, though, 1610 could be chiefly remembered as the geological time-point at which humans came to dominate Earth.

Scientists have argued that it is time to draw a line under the current geological epoch and usher in the start of a new one, defined by mankind’s impact on the planet.

The year 1610 is a contender for marking the transition, they claim, because this is when the irreversible transfer of crops and species between the new and old worlds was starting to be acutely felt.’

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Overpopulation in Indonesia puts pressure on resources

New age of water wars portends ‘bleak future’

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle East Eye:

Behind the escalating violence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as the epidemic of civil unrest across the wider region, is a growing shortage of water.

New peer-reviewed research published by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) shows that water scarcity linked to climate change is now a global problem playing a direct role in aggravating major conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.

Numerous cities in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia are facing “short and declining water supplies per capita,” which is impacting “worldwide” on food production, urban shortages, and even power generation.’

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Corals face ‘slow starvation’ from ingesting plastics pollution, experts find

Oliver Milman reports for The Guardian:

Corals such as those found on the Great Barrier Reef are at risk from the estimated 5tn pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans because researchers have discovered they digest tiny fragments of plastic at a significant rate.

A study led by the ARC centre of excellence for coral reef studies at James Cook University found that corals consumed “microplastics” – plastics measuring under 5mm – about the same rate as their normal food.

These small plastics were found deep within the gut cavity tissue of analysed corals, showing that they weren’t able to expel the fragments.’

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Breaking a decades-long trend, the world gets more violent

Peter Apps reports for Reuters:

‘If you were watching the news last year, it was hard to escape the impression the world was falling apart. Now the data is in. And yes, it turns out the world’s most violent conflicts got a lot bloodier in 2014 — almost 30 percent bloodier, in fact.

According to an analysis of data from the world’s 20 most lethal wars last year, at least 163,000 people died in conflict. That compares to just under 127,000 in the 20 worst wars the previous year, a rise of 28.7 percent.

That’s a pretty disturbing spike by anyone’s terms. And if you look at the first few months of 2015, the violence doesn’t seem to be waning.

What’s even more worrying is that this seems to be part of an ongoing trend that now goes back eight years.’

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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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