Category Archives: Environment

U.S. army sees ‘megacities’ as the future battlefield

Paul McLeary reports for The Army Times:

‘When the Army looks to the future, it sees cities. Dense, sprawling, congested cities where criminal and extremist groups flourish almost undetected by authorities, but who can influence the lives of the population while undermining the authority of the state.

And the service is convinced that these “megacities” of 20 million or more people will be the battleground of the future.

The problem from a military strategists’ point of view, however, is that no army has ever fought it out in a city of this size. So in thinking through the issue of what to do about the coming age of the megacity, the Army’s Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) got together with US Army Special Operations Command, the chief of staff’s Strategic Studies Group and the UK’s Ministry of Defence in February to explore these types of urban operations.’

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Business Insider’s 18 Most Innovative Cities

Drake Baer writes for Business Insider:

Cape Town, South Africa‘Cities might be humanity’s greatest invention — if you listen to Harvard economist Ed Glaeser, author of  “Triumph of the City.”

“So much of what humankind has achieved over the past three millennia has come out of the remarkable collaborative creations that come out of cities,” he said in an interview. “We are a social species. We come out of the womb with the ability to sop up information from people around us. It’s almost our defining characteristic as creatures. And cities play to that strength.”

Indeed, many modern metros are pushing the limits of industry, design, and urban planning, while rethinking the way people live and work.’

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Hurricane Katrina 9 Years On: Interview with Greg Palast

Shutoff: Detroit’s Water War

‘Earlier this year, Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department began turning off water utilities for overdue or delinquent accounts. Since April, the department has cut off the water for nearly 3,000 households per week — meaning roughly 100,000 Motor City residents are without water. Entrenched at the bottom of Detroit’s current economic crisis, many of those without water are the city’s poorest resident. The city’s shut-off campaign has garnered international press attention, and has been called “an affront to human rights” by representatives of the United Nations. VICE News traveled to Detroit to see first-hand how residents are dealing with the water shut-offs, speak with local government representatives about the issue, and discuss possible resolutions with activist groups.’ (VICE News)

Despite Calls for Humanity, Detroit Resumes Water Shutoffs

Lauren McCauley reports for Common Dreams:

‘Despite widespread public outcry and international condemnation, the city of Detroit on Tuesday resumed shutting off the water supply to thousands of city residents. Ending the month long moratorium on shutoffs, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) public affairs specialist Gregory Eno confirmed to Common Dreams that the city turned off the water to roughly 400 households that are delinquent on their water bills and have not yet set up a payment plan. More shutoffs are expected.

According to the citizens group Detroit Water Brigade, the only thing that changed since shutoffs began in March is that the city has lowered the required down payment water bills from 30% to 10%. “The water is still too expensive for Detroit,” they said. Detroit is one of the poorest cities in the United States with over 38% of the population living below the poverty line, according to Census Bureau statistics.

Members of the Detroit Water Brigade are calling on the city to halt the shutoffs altogether and consider alternatives for helping people pay their bills, arguing that restricting access to water for the city’s poorest residents is “doing nothing more than hurting people,” DWB volunteer DeMeeko Williams told a local CBS affiliate.’

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Pulitzer-winning scientist warns wildlife face a ‘biological holocaust’

Tom Bawden reports for The Independent:

‘Half the planet should be set aside solely for the protection of wildlife to prevent the “mass extinction” of species, according to one of the world’s leading biologists. The radical conservation strategy proposed by Dr E.O. Wilson, the hugely-influential 85-year old Harvard University scientist, would see humans essentially withdraw from half of the Earth.

Dr Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, warned that we are facing a “biological holocaust” as devastating as the extinction of the dinosaurs unless humans agree to share land more equally with the planet’s 10 million other species. Outlining his audacious “Half Earth” theory, he said: “It’s been in my mind for years that people haven’t been thinking big enough – even conservationists.’

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How the Gates Foundation’s Investments Are Undermining Its Own Good Works

Charles Piller writes for The Nation:

‘[...] For all its generosity and thoughtfulness, the Gates Foundation’s management of its $40 billion endowment has been a puzzling ethical blind spot. In 2007, with colleagues at the Los Angeles Times, I examined whether those investments tended generally to support the foundation’s philanthropic goals. Instead, we found that it reaped vast profits by placing billions of dollars in firms whose activities and products subverted the foundation’s good works.

For example, Gates donated $218 million to prevent polio and measles in places like the Niger Delta, yet invested $423 million in the oil companies whose delta pollution literally kills the children the foundation tries to help. It had vast holdings in Big Pharma firms that priced AIDS drugs out of reach for desperate victims the foundation wanted to save. It benefited greatly from predatory lenders whose practices sparked the Great Recession and chocolate makers said by the US government to have supported child slavery in Ivory Coast.

After our investigations were published, the foundation briefly considered changing its policy of blind-eye investing, but ultimately pulled funds only from firms that provided the financial basis for genocide in Darfur. Even in that case, when the glare of adverse publicity faded, the foundation hopped back into such companies, including the Chinese construction giant NORINCO International.’

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Street lighting getting smarter and greener

New Scientist reports:

‘Hundreds of lights are being erected in a Danish industrial park in a suburb of Copenhagen. When ordinary citizens pass through the area, they’ll be taking part in a massive experiment to work out how we should light our cities in the future.

[...] Several cities around the world are already investigating smart street lighting. Last year, in the biggest project of its kind to date, Los Angeles swapped its entire system for LED lamps – along with a pilot remote control system made by General Electric. The Spanish city of Barcelona, too, is rolling out lights that can detect motion and weather conditions. DOLL wants to encourage more cities to make the change by demonstrating what different types of lamps can do.

[...] Fitting street lamps with complex sensors – and hooking them up to a larger network that controls the city will have implications far outside of lighting, says Robert Karlicek, director of the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. If a street lamp senses a sudden rush of people in an area that’s usually deserted at night, police could be tipped off to go check the area out.’

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Amazing Satellite Photos That Will Change Your Perspective On Planet Earth

From Demilked:

Bourtange, Vlagtwedde, Netherlands

satellite-aerial-photos-of-earth-1

53.0066°N 7.1920°E. Bourtange is a village with a population of 430 in the municipality of Vlagtwedde in the Netherlands. The star fort was built in 1593 during the Eighty Years’ War when William I of Orange wanted to control the only road between Germany and the city of Groningen. Bourtange was restored to its mid-18th-century state in 1960 and is currently used as an open-air museum.

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Charles Eisenstein: Stories That Once Offered My Life Meaning No Longer Satisfy

Charles Eisenstein, author of ‘The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible’, writes:

‘[...] And as my horizons broadened, I knew that millions were not supposed to be starving, that nuclear weapons were not supposed to be hanging over our heads, that the rainforests were not supposed to be shrinking, or the fish dying, or the condors and eagles disappearing. I could not accept the way the dominant narrative of my culture handled these things: as fragmentary problems to be solved, as unfortunate facts of life to be regretted, or as unmentionable taboo subjects to be simply ignored.

On some level, we all know better. This knowledge seldom finds clear articulation, so instead we express it indirectly through covert and overt rebellion. Addiction, self-sabotage, procrastination, laziness, rage, chronic fatigue, and depression are all ways that we withhold our full participation in the program of life we are offered. When the conscious mind cannot find a reason to say no, the unconscious says no in its own way. More and more of us cannot bear to stay in the “old normal” any longer.

This narrative of normal is crumbling on a systemic level too. We live today at a moment of transition between worlds. The institutions that have borne us through the centuries have lost their vitality; only with increasing self-delusion can we pretend they are sustainable. Our systems of money, politics, energy, medicine, education, and more are no longer delivering the benefits they once did (or seemed to). Their Utopian promise, so inspiring a century ago, recedes further every year. Millions of us know this; more and more, we hardly bother to pretend otherwise. Yet we seem helpless to change, helpless even to stop participating in industrial civilization’s rush over the cliff.’

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Iceland raises Bardarbunga volcano alert to orange

BBC News reports:

File photo: Bardarbunga, 7 November 1996 ‘The risk of an eruption at Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano has increased, with signs of “ongoing magma movement”, Iceland’s meteorological office says. The risk level to the aviation industry has been raised to orange, the second-highest level, the met office said. Any eruption could potentially lead to flooding or an emission of gas, the office added in a statement.

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in 2010, producing an ash cloud that severely disrupted European airspace. The Bardarbunga volcanic system is located under the north-west region of Iceland’s Vatnajokull glacier.’

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Effects Of Radiation From The Fukushima Disaster On The Ecosystem Are Being Slowly Revealed

Chris Pash reports for Business Insider:

‘A range of scientific studies at Fukushima have begun to reveal the impact on the natural world from the radiation leaks at the power station in Japan caused by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Biological samples were obtained only after extensive delays following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown, limiting the information which could be gained about the impact of that disaster. Scientists, determined not to repeat the shortcomings of the Chernobyl studies, began gathering biological information only a few months after the meltdown of the Daiichi power plant in 2011.

Results of these studies are now beginning to reveal serious biological effects of the Fukushima radiation on non-human organisms ranging from plants to butterflies to birds. A series of articles summarising these studies has now been published in the Journal of Heredity. These describe widespread impacts, ranging from population declines to genetic damage to responses by the repair mechanisms that help organisms cope with radiation exposure. “A growing body of empirical results from studies of birds, monkeys, butterflies, and other insects suggests that some species have been significantly impacted by the radioactive releases related to the Fukushima disaster,” says Dr Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, lead author of one of the studies.’

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VICE Mini-Documentary on Fukushima

When Water is a Commodity Instead of a Human Right

Pete Dolack writes for Systemic Disorder:

‘The shutoff of water to thousands of Detroit residents, the proposed privatization of the water system and the diversion of the system’s revenue to banks are possible because the most basic human requirement, water, is becoming nothing more than a commodity.

The potential sale of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is one more development of the idea that water, as with any commodity, exists to produce private profit rather than to be a public necessity. And if corporate plunder is to be the guiding principal, then those seen as most easy to push around will be expected to shoulder the burden.

Thus, 17,000 Detroit residents have had their water shut off — regardless of ability to pay — while large corporate users have faced no such turnoff. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department began its shutoff policy in March with a goal of shutting off the water to 3,000 accounts per week. Residents can be shut off for owing as little as $150. That is only two months of an average bill.’

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Extreme Rainfall Is The New Normal, And We’re Not Ready For It

Emily Gertz writes for Popular Science:

Map of heavy rainfall increase across the USA, 2014

‘This is weather common to tropical regions of the world, not temperate Michigan. But it’s in line with the National Climate Assessment, which found that over the past six decades incidents of extreme precipitation have increased across the continental U.S. due to human-propelled climate change. Rising temperatures increase the evaporation of water into vapor, and warmer air can take on greater amounts of water vapor than cooler. When all that vapor finally condenses into rain (or snow), there’s more of it to dump onto the communities below. This new normal of extreme precipitation is hitting Northeastern states the hardest, followed by the upper Midwest.’

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Invertebrate populations have seen a 45% decline over the last 40 years

Kriston Capps reports for CityLab:

‘A recent article in Science found that most known invertebrate populations have seen a 45 percent decline over the last 40 years. That’s a particular problem for cities, where we don’t know nearly enough about the invertebrates that live alongside us. What we do know about their roles tell us that arthropods are critical for all kinds of things that we take for granted. Without urban insects, our lives might be transformed in ways large and small. City bugs nevertheless remain critically understudied.

Amy Savage has devoted her life to myrmecophily, which is an extraordinary word for the interaction between animals and ants, typically denoting positive associations. Her work in entomology focuses on the community-wide consequences of mutualisms, or inter-species interactions and adaptations—like the relationship between ants and aphids, for example. Savage’s work in the more tailored field of urban entomology leads her to believe that invertebrates, and especially insects, play an underexamined role in the human ecosystem.’

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Leaked World Bank lending policies ‘environmentally disastrous’

John Vidal reports for The Guardian:

A palm oil plantation in Sumatra. Changes to the World Bank's lending rules could allow such plantations on indigenous peoples' lands, NGOs fear‘Radical plans by the World Bank to relax the conditions on which it lends up to $50bn (£29bn) a year to developing countries have been condemned as potentially disastrous for the environment and likely to weaken protection of indigenous peoples and the poor.

A leaked draft of the bank’s proposed new “safeguard policies”, seen by the Guardian, suggests that existing environmental and social protection will be gutted to allow logging and mining in even the most ecologically sensitive areas, and that indigenous peoples will not have to be consulted before major projects like palm oil plantations or large dams palm go ahead on land which they traditionally occupy.

Under the proposed new “light touch” rules, the result of a two year consultation within the bank, borrowers will be allowed to opt out of signing up to employment safeguards, existing protection for biodiversity will be shredded, countries will be allowed to assess themselves, and harmful projects are much more likely to occur, according to World Bank watchdog groups including the Bank Information Centre (BIC), the Ulu Foundation and the International Trade Union Confederation.’

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Australia Great Barrier Reef outlook ‘poor and deteriorating’

BBC News reports:

Picture of the Great Barrier Reef, which can be seen from space.‘The outlook for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is poor despite conservation efforts, with further deterioration expected in coming years, a report says. The bleak forecast came in a five-yearly report released by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Climate change remained the biggest threat to the site, the report said. But poor water quality from land-based run-off, coastal development and fishing also posed challenges, it said.

“Even with the recent management initiatives to reduce threats and improve resilience, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009 and is expected to further deteriorate,” the report released on Tuesday said. Greater reduction of all threats at local and regional levels was needed to stop the decline and improve the reef’s ability to recover, it said.’

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Was ISIS Capture of Mosul Dam a ‘Virtual’ Event?

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

‘Early today we reported, on the basis of reports from other media outlets and a confirmation by Nineveh Governor Atheel Nujaifi, that the Mosul Dam, the largest hydroelectric dam in Iraq, was seized by ISIS from Kurdish forces. The following image appears to have been the basis of the story.

Liz Sly from the Washington Post was the first to suggest the story may not have been true, showing photos taken earlier in the day of Deputy Kurdish Premier Qubad Talabani at a conspicuously unconquered Mosul Dam.’

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Even the Gorillas and Bears in Our Zoos Are Hooked on Prozac

Laurel Braitman, author of Animal Madness, featured excerpts from her book in Wired:

Excerpted from Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves‘One of the first nonhumans to be given psychopharmaceuticals as a patient (and not as a test subject) was a western lowland gorilla named Willie B., who was famous in Atlanta, Georgia. He was captured in Congo as an infant in the 1960s and sent to Zoo Atlanta, where he lived for 39 years, 27 of them alone in an indoor cage with a tire swing and a television. According to Mel Richardson, who was working as a veterinarian at Zoo Atlanta at the time, Willie broke a glass window in his enclosure in the winter of 1970–71 and had to be transferred to a much smaller cage for six months while the glass was replaced with heavy metal bars.

“He weighed around 400 pounds, and the cage was way too small for him,” said Mel. “If he stood up and stretched each arm all the way out he could almost touch both sides of the cage at once.” The vet staff decided to medicate him so that the six months would be more bearable. They put Thorazine in the Coca-Cola he drank in the morning. According to Mel, Willie responded to the drug as many institutionalized humans do: He shuffled back and forth across his cage with dulled eyes. “It was a little like watching the men in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Mel said.

Dolphins, whales, sea lions, walruses, and other marine creatures in parks like SeaWorld have also been given psychotropic drugs for what their vets see as depression, anxiety, compulsive regurgitation, flank sucking, or other distressing behaviors. Two marine mammal veterinarians who have spent decades on staff or consulting for American animal-display facilities and the military’s marine mammal program told me that antidepressants and antipsychotics are commonly used but that “no one was going to talk to [me] about it.” Even they wouldn’t speak about the subject on the record.’

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Intersex Fish Showing Up in Pennsylvania Rivers

Megan Gannon reports for Live Science:

A smallmouth bass‘Scientists found intersex fish in three river basins in Pennsylvania, a sign that the water may be tainted with chemicals from human activity.

Male smallmouth bass with female characteristics — namely, immature egg cells in their testes — were discovered in the drainage areas of the Susquehanna, Delaware and Ohio rivers, according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Such abnormalities are linked to estrogen-mimicking chemicals, which likely got into rivers and streams from agricultural runoff and human waste, the researchers said.’

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Humans have tripled mercury levels in upper ocean

Anne Casselman reports for Nature:

‘Mercury levels in the upper ocean have tripled since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and human activities are to blame, researchers report today in NatureAlthough several computer models have estimated the amount of marine mercury, the new analysis provides the first global measurements. It fills in a critical piece of the global environmental picture, tracking not just the amount of mercury in the world’s oceans, but where it came from and at what depths it is found.

…Researchers collected thousands of water samples during eight research cruises to the North and South Atlantic and Pacific oceans between 2006 and 2011. To determine how mercury levels had changed over time, they compared samples of seawater from depths down to 5 kilometres with water closer to the surface, which had been more recently exposed to mercury pollution from land and air.’

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Slaves of Happiness Island: Abu Dhabi and the Dark Side of High Art

Molly Crabapple writes for Vice:

‘[...] Reports about the conditions of workers in the Gulf have been wide and probing. Articles contrast the glittering skyscrapers they build and the scant wages they receive. In May, the New York Timespublished a scathing exposé of labor abuses at NYU Abu Dhabi.

But what’s often lost in much of the reporting about foreign labor in the United Arab Emirates—and Abu Dhabi specifically—is the agency of the workers themselves. The men I met in the Gulf are brave and ambitious—heroes to their families back home. They dared to chase better prospects and were met with repression instead. In a country where the faintest whisper of dissent can get you deported, more than a hundred strikes have rocked the construction industry in the past three years. While workers may be lied to and forced to live and work in brutal conditions, they also—improbably—are fighting back.’

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6 Shocking Facts About Seafood Production

Katherine Martinko writes for Tree Hugger:

‘Gone are the peaceful afternoons of waiting for a fish to bite the line. The seafood industry is a vicious and brutal one, both for animals and humans. Farmed fish are subjected to terrible lives, wild fish are caught unfairly and mindlessly, and all face inhumane deaths. Even humans are enslaved to put cheap shrimp on your dinner table. Here are just a few reasons why you should think twice about eating fish, or go out and catch it yourself.’

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Why ISIS Wants Iraq’s Dams

Nigel Wilson writes for the International Business Times:

‘When the Americans invaded in 2003, securing the Haditha Dam, located on the Euphrates river, was one of their top priorities. The dam is the second largest in Iraq, and contributes around a third of the country’s electricity supply. Moreover, energy experts agree that releasing water from the dam could potentially flood wide regions of the country, destroying all in its path.

[...] The group has also launched an assault on the country’s biggest dam, located outside Mosul on Iraq’s second major river, the Tigris. The dam provides electricity to Mosul’s 1.7 million residents and its capture would amount to a major loss for Kurdish forces that have countered the Islamic State advance. “Definitely the dam is very important and Isis will not do anything to harm it based on understanding this. Isis will use as a pressuring card as by controlling Haditha dam and Mosul dam Isis will have control over 70% of electrical power of the country. So it is not only water but it is also electrical power,” said the London-based expert.’

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Report: Homeland Security seizes Land Rover in EPA emission-control crackdown

Cheryl K. Chumley reports for The Washington Times:

‘When it comes to environmental regulation compliance, the Department of Homeland Security isn’t playing — as evidenced by a recent federal raid of a North Carolinian’s home to confiscate a Land Rover that violated EPA emission rules. Jennifer Brinkley said she saw a line of law enforcement vehicles approaching her home and wondered what was wrong, the local WBTV reported. Homeland Security agents then went to her 1985 Land Rover Defender and lifted the hood.

“They popped up the hood and looked at the Vehicle Identification Number and compared it with a piece of paper and then took the car with them,” she said, WBTV reported. She told Fox News that she was told the agents seized the vehicle because they thought it violated the Clean Air Act — though at the time, they weren’t completely sure. She also said her vehicle was just one of 40 that feds seized in various locations that same day for the same reason.’

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Report: World faces water crises by 2040

Renee Lewis reports for Al Jazeera:

‘Globally, there has been a three-fold population increase in the past century and a six-fold increase in water consumption, the report said. If trends in population and energy use continue, it could leave a 40 percent gap between water supply and demand by the year 2030. In most countries, including the United States, energy production is the biggest source of water consumption — even larger than agriculture, researchers said. In 2005, 41 percent of all freshwater consumed in the U.S. was for thermoelectric cooling, according to the study.

Power plants produce excess heat, requiring cooling cycles that use water. Only wind and solar voltaic energy production require minimal water. “If we keep doing business as usual, we are facing an insurmountable water shortage — even if water was free, because it’s not a matter of the price,” Sovacool said.  Researchers said nuclear power and coal — the most “thirsty” power sources — should be eventually replaced with more efficient methods, especially renewable sources like wind and solar, the report said.’

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Farming practices and climate change at root of Toledo water pollution

Suzanne Goldenberg reports for The Guardian:

lake erie water‘The toxins that contaminated the water supply of the city of Toledo – leaving 400,000 people without access to safe drinking water for two days – were produced by a massive algae boom. But this is not a natural disaster.

Water problems in the Great Lakes – the world’s largest freshwater system – have spiked in the last three years, largely because of agricultural pollution. Toledo draws its drinking water from Lake Erie.

…The main cause for such algal blooms is an overload of phosphorus, which washes into lakes from commercial fertiliser used by farming operations as well as urban water-treatment centres. Hotter and longer summers also promote the spread of the blue-green scum.’

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Rio Tinto’s ‘sustainable mining’ claims exposed

Kemal Özkan writes for The Ecologist:

‘Global mining giant Rio Tinto markets itself as a ‘sustainable company’. But serious failures in its reporting, and its attempt to hold an Australian indigenous group to ransom, reveal a very different truth: the company is driven by a reckless pursuit of profit at any cost. Now, a global campaign is demanding that Rio Tinto live up to its sustainability claims.

Rio Tinto subsidiary, Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), has threatened the Mirarr people that if it is not allowed to expand its Ranger uranium mining operations underground, it may be unable to fully fund rehabilitation of the open pit mine.

The Ranger mine is located in the traditional lands of the Mirarr, the world heritage-listed Kakadu national park in Australia’s Northern Territory. If ERA does not complete rehabilitation of the site, which suffered a radioactive spill last year, the water, air quality and soil in the area could be scarred with toxic radiation for generations.’

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India’s Uranium Boss Says Deformed Children May Be ‘Imported’

Rakteem Katakey and Tom Lasseter report for Bloomberg:

‘Confronted with reports villages near Uranium Corp. of India Ltd.’s mines have unusually high numbers of physically deformed people, Chairman Diwakar Acharya said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of those guys are imported from elsewhere, ok?”

A Bloomberg News report on July 9 highlighted the struggles of the locals with disease and early deaths — and the suspicion they shared with some environmental activists that the health conditions are linked to mining waste.’

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