Category Archives: Environment

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.’

READ MORE…

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.’

READ MORE…

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.’

READ MORE…

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.’

READ MORE…

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.’

READ MORE…

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.’

READ MORE…

China wants blue skies for world leaders when it hosts APEC forum

The Top Censored Stories of 2014: Interview with Mickey Huff

Abby Martin interviews, Mickey Huff, Director of Project Censored, about some of the top 25 censored stories of 2014, covering everything from the lack of police brutality statistics to the impact of ocean acidification.’ (Breaking the Set)

The Toxic Uzbek Town and Its Museum of Banned Soviet Art

Stephen Bland writes for VICE News:

‘Making our way out of Uzbekistan’s Xorazm Province, we began our three-hour drive to the city of Nukus, capital of the country’s autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. Up until the late-1990s, the land we were driving through was still cotton fields; today, it’s just an expanse of salty grey emptiness.

Once a thriving agricultural center, Karakalpakstan is now one of the sickest places on Earth. Respiratory illness, typhoid, tuberculosis and oesophageal cancers are rife, and the region has the highest infant mortality rate in the former USSR.’

READ MORE…

‘Ethical’ funds still pouring money into coal, oil and gas, new report finds

Rupert Jones reports for The Guardian:

‘Should ethical investment funds be putting millions of pounds of people’s money into oil, gas and coal companies?

A new report says too many UK ethical funds are still invested in fossil fuels and heavily polluting industries, at a time when growing numbers of people are looking to reduce their exposure to these sectors.

Launched to coincide with Good Money Week (the new name for National Ethical Investment Week), which kicks off on Sunday 19 October, the report from ethical independent financial adviser firm Barchester Green names the “sinners” and “winners” of the multibillion-pound ethical and environmental funds industry.’

READ MORE…

Japanese Governor Says It’s Too Soon To Restart Nuclear Reactors After Fukushima

Mari Yamaguchi reports for the Associated Press:

‘A Japanese governor said Wednesday the country should not restart any nuclear plants until the cause of the Fukushima meltdown is fully understood and nearby communities have emergency plans that can effectively respond to another major accident.

Hirohiko Izumida, governor of central Niigata prefecture — home to the seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant — said regulators look at equipment but don’t evaluate local evacuation plans.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to restart two reactors in southern Japan that last month were the first to be approved under stricter safety requirements introduced after the Fukushima disaster. Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has called the new standard one of the world’s highest.

Abe has said he will restart all reactors deemed safe, reversing the previous government’s policy of phasing out nuclear power.’

READ MORE…

The Maldives’ Trash Island

Stephanie Valera reports for Weather.com:

Miles of litter: Thilafushi is an artificial island in the Maldives where about 400 tonnes of rubbish is dumped every day‘With its luxurious resorts, white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters, the Maldives is known as a luxury destination. Its tourism industry has been steadily growing the past few years. In 2013, the stunning archipelago located in the Indian Ocean , according to Maldives’ Minivan News.

But there’s a dark side to paradise.

Not far from the Maldives’ capital of Male, only a half-hour boat ride away, mountains of trash and waste pile up on Thilafushi island, marring the seascape of the normally idyllic archipelago. The artificial island, created as a municipal landfill, receives almost 400 tons of garbage a year.’

READ MORE…

Amid Ebola, ISIS and Ukraine, Britain’s Preppers Ready Themselves for Black Swan Events

Shane Croucher reports for the International Business Times:

Steve Hart's Every Day Carry kit‘The walls of society are falling down. After months of geopolitical crises tearing through every region, the global economy has seized up and there are supply shortages of everything: food, water, energy. News comes through that riots are breaking out across the UK. What would you do?

John Bland knows exactly what he would do because he is a “prepper”. Preppers are, as the nickname suggests, prepared. To them the collapse of society is not probable, but it is still possible. So they prepare for it in all ways, from boning up on survival skills to having fully stocked bunkers.’

READ MORE…

Pentagon: Climate change will change how US military trains and goes to war

Suzanne Goldenberg reports for The Guardian:

Global warming and climate change will change how US military trains and goes to war ‘Global warming is changing the way the US trains for and goes to war – affecting war games, weapons systems, training exercises, and military installations – according to the Pentagon.

[…] The Pentagon’s strategic planners have for years viewed climate change as a “threat multiplier”– worsening old conflicts and potentially provoking new clashes over migration and shortages of food and water in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and opening up new military challenges in a melting Arctic.

But with Monday’s report, climate change moved from potential threat to an immediate factor in a wide range of operational and budgeting decisions.’

READ MORE…

Bronx Activists Take Local Fight Against ‘Environmental Racism’ to a Global Stage

Alice Speri reports for VICE News:

‘For more than two years, a group of South Bronx residents has been fighting against the planned relocation of a giant online grocery store to their doorstep — arguing their case at an endless string of court hearings, community meetings, and street rallies.

But last month, South Bronx Unite took its campaign against FreshDirect to a very different stage — the UN Climate Summit.

The neighborhood’s issues — from food sovereignty, to clean air, to climate-related displacement — are the same that affect poor communities across the world, the group says. And, while they feel marginalized in New York City, local residents have been building connections “with communities of color, working communities and the global south who, like the people of the Bronx, are often on the frontlines of climate change,” the group wrote in a statement announcing their participation in the international event.’

READ MORE…

Detroit Faces “Humanitarian Crisis” as City Shuts Off Water Access for Thousands of Residents

‘We are on the road in Detroit, broadcasting from the “Great Lakes State” of Michigan, which has one of the longest freshwater coastlines in the country. But its residents are increasingly concerned about their access to affordable water. A judge overseeing Detroit’s bankruptcy recently ruled the city can continue shutting off water to residents who have fallen behind on payments after a judge concluded there is no “enforceable right” to water. The city began cutting off water to thousands of households several months ago, prompting protests from residents and the United Nations. Today, some 350 to 400 customers reportedly continue to lose water service daily in Detroit, where poverty rate is approximately 40 percent, and people have seen their water bills increase by 119 percent within the last decade. Most of the residents are African-American. Two-thirds of those impacted by the water shutoffs involve families with children. We speak with Alice Jennings, the lead attorney for residents who have lost their water access. “What’s happening here is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis,” Jennings says. “In a military way, the truck would start at one end of the street, and by the time it reached the other end maybe 50 percent of the homes were shut off.”’ (Democracy Now!)

Islamic State militants’ key weapon is water

Erin Cunningham writes for The Washington Post:

‘The Islamic State militants who have rampaged across northern Iraq are increasingly using water as a weapon, cutting off supplies to villages resisting their rule and pressing to expand their control over the country’s water infrastructure.

The threat from the jihadists is so critical that U.S. forces are bombing the militants close to both the Mosul and Haditha dams — Iraq’s largest — on a near-daily basis. But the radical Islamists continue to menace both facilities.’

READ MORE…

UN Report Finds the Number of Megacities Has Tripled in Since 1990

Charley Cameron reports for Inhabitat:

los angeles, megacities, mega city, mega-city ,population growth, urban‘A United Nations report has found that the number of megacities in the world has increased almost three-fold in the past 24 years. A megacity is defined as an urban area with over 10 million inhabitants—New York City formed the world’s first in the 1950s—and as of 1990, ten such cities had grown up around the globe. But as of this year, there are now a staggering 28 megacities. And while dense urban environments may provide certain environmental benefits, they also create significant hazards.’

READ MORE…

The Destruction of Mecca

Ziauddin Sardar writes for The New York Times:

Image ‘When Malcolm X visited Mecca in 1964, he was enchanted. He found the city “as ancient as time itself,” and wrote that the partly constructed extension to the Sacred Mosque “will surpass the architectural beauty of India’s Taj Mahal.” Fifty years on, no one could possibly describe Mecca as ancient, or associate beauty with Islam’s holiest city. Pilgrims performing the hajj this week will search in vain for Mecca’s history.

The dominant architectural site in the city is not the Sacred Mosque, where the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims everywhere, is. It is the obnoxious Makkah Royal Clock Tower hotel, which, at 1,972 feet, is among the world’s tallest buildings. It is part of a mammoth development of skyscrapers that includes luxury shopping malls and hotels catering to the superrich. The skyline is no longer dominated by the rugged outline of encircling peaks. Ancient mountains have been flattened. The city is now surrounded by the brutalism of rectangular steel and concrete structures — an amalgam of Disneyland and Las Vegas.’

READ MORE…

Liberalism and Gentrification

Gavin Mueller writes for Jacobin:

1871 Mitchell DC-1000x1000Like a lot of cities, Washington is really two cities in the same space. We’ve got “Washington,” the place of popular imagination, gleaming white marble monuments and Aaron Sorkin speechifiers, the mostly-from-out-of-town professional class keeping the rusty wheels of state administration turning.

We’ve also got “DC,” the city distinct from the operations of the federal government, made up of “residents,” who are mostly poor and mostly black. These two cities are locked in a one-sided war of attrition, with affluent “newcomers” and their local allies conducting clear-and-hold operations against their less well-heeled neighbors. I can watch from what Forbes magazine, that barometer of bohemianism, has labeled the sixth-hippest neighborhood in the US, where I live.

This is gentrification, which, if you’re reading this and live in a city, is a process you’re caught up in. There’s a violent side of gentrification — think Rudy Giuliani and his “broken windows” alibi for crackdowns on petty crime. But there’s a softer side to this war as well, the liberal project of city governance whose patron saint is the activist Jane Jacobs, author of Death and Life of American Cities.’

READ MORE…

The Dystopian City and Urban Policy

Annalee Newitz writes for Slate:

Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images‘Perhaps because cities are hotbeds of social and technological innovation, they often have starring roles in futuristic stories. But these aren’t generally tales of a better tomorrow. They’re ugly and dystopian, with drone-patrolled slums, pollution, overpopulated high-rises, and ubiquitous surveillance machines. But we can’t dismiss these stories as pure nihilistic sensationalism. They are also twisted messages of hope. If we could just heed these fictional warnings to city planners about how our cities might fail, we might figure out how to fix them before disaster strikes.’

READ MORE…

Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire

Tim Dickinson writes for Rolling Stone:

‘The enormity of the Koch fortune is no mystery. Brothers Charles and David are each worth more than $40 billion. The electoral influence of the Koch brothers is similarly well-chronicled. The Kochs are our homegrown oligarchs; they’ve cornered the market on Republican politics and are nakedly attempting to buy Congress and the White House. Their political network helped finance the Tea Party and powers today’s GOP. Koch-affiliated organizations raised some $400 million during the 2012 election, and aim to spend another $290 million to elect Republicans in this year’s midterms. So far in this cycle, Koch-backed entities have bought 44,000 political ads to boost Republican efforts to take back the Senate.

What is less clear is where all that money comes from. Koch Industries is headquartered in a squat, smoked-glass building that rises above the prairie on the outskirts of Wichita, Kansas. The building, like the brothers’ fiercely private firm, is literally and figuratively a black box. Koch touts only one top-line financial figure: $115 billion in annual revenue, as estimated by Forbes. By that metric, it is larger than IBM, Honda or Hewlett-Packard and is America’s second-largest private company after agribusiness colossus Cargill. The company’s stock response to inquiries from reporters: “We are privately held and don’t disclose this information.”

But Koch Industries is not entirely opaque. The company’s troubled legal history – including a trail of congressional investigations, Department of Justice consent decrees, civil lawsuits and felony convictions – augmented by internal company documents, leaked State Department cables, Freedom of Information disclosures and company whistle­-blowers, combine to cast an unwelcome spotlight on the toxic empire whose profits finance the modern GOP.’

READ MORE…

Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF

Damian Carrington reports for The Guardian:

‘The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London found.

“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” said Professor Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. “But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.” He said nature, which provides food and clean water and air, was essential for human wellbeing.’

READ MORE…

Totalitarianism, American Style

Chris Hedges recently spoke during a panel discussion in New York:

‘We have undergone a transformation during the last few decades—what John Ralston Saul calls a corporate coup d’état in slow motion. We are no longer a capitalist democracy endowed with a functioning liberal class that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible. Liberals in the old Democratic Party such as the senators Gaylord Nelson, Birch Bayh and George McGovern—who worked with Ralph Nader to make the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Mine Safety and Health Act, the Freedom of Information Act and the OSHA law, who made common cause with labor unions to protect workers, who stood up to the arms industry and a bloated military—no longer exist within the Democratic Party, as Nader has been lamenting for several years. They were pushed out as corporate donors began to transform the political landscape with the election of Ronald Reagan. And this is why the Democrats have not, as Bill Curry points out, enacted any major social or economic reforms since the historic environmental laws of the early ’70s.

We are governed, rather, by a species of corporate totalitarianism, or what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin describes as “inverted totalitarianism.” By this Wolin means a system where corporate power, while it purports to pay fealty to electoral politics, the Constitution, the three branches of government and a free press, along with the iconography and language of American patriotism, has in fact seized all the important levers of power to render the citizen impotent.’

READ MORE…

Zeitgeist’s Peter Joseph on Wealth Illusion, Structural Violence & Hope for Survival

Abby Martin interviews the creator of the Zeitgeist Movement, Peter Joseph, covering everything from the upcoming Zeitgeist Festival in Los Angeles on October 4th to economic and societal solutions to global problems ranging from environmental destruction to mass inequality. (Breaking the Set)

Chris Hedges on Wilful Blindness, Climate Corporatism & the Underground Revolt

Abby Martin speaks with journalist and author, Chris Hedges, going over where the recent mass climate change demonstrations in New York fall short, as well as why he believes revolt is the only solution to restoring a functioning American democracy.’ (Breaking the Set)

Study: Natural gas won’t save us from global warming

Max Ehrenfreund reports for The Washington Post:

‘In his January State of the Union address, President Obama said that natural gas could be a low-emission “bridge fuel” that could allow the U.S. to help slow global warming. Demonstrators at Sunday’s climate protest in New York apparently didn’t get the talking points memo from the White House — many carried signs calling for an end to fracking.

The reality is that shale gas probably won’t have much effect on climate change either way, according to a new study published Wednesday. “If you increase the use of gas, that will actually delay the deployment of renewable energy,” said Christine Shearer of the University of California, Irvine, one of the authors of the study.’

READ MORE…

​Lagos: Africa’s Fastest Growing Megacity