Category Archives: Environment

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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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.