Category Archives: Environment

FEMA Is Trying To Get Back $5.8M in Hurricane Sandy Aid Money

Alice Speri reports for VICE News:

‘The US disaster response agency is now asking Hurricane Sandy victims to return millions that it accidentally handed out following the devastating storm, which in the fall of 2012 affected the entire eastern seaboard of the US, from Florida to Maine, and as far west as Wisconsin.

The agency is hoping to recoup some $5.8 million in aid it disbursed to households affected by the “superstorm” that flooded several communities and killed dozens of people while damaging or destroying tens of thousands of homes.

FEMA shelled out some $1.4 billion in aid following the storms — but it is now looking into some 4,500 households it has found to be ineligible for the funds, and it has already sent out letters to about 850 of them asking for its money back, the Associated Press found in an investigation of the agency’s records.’

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Severe black lung returns to 1970s levels

James R. Carroll reports for The Courier-Journal:

fileblacklung.jpg‘Coal miners in Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia are contracting serious cases of black lung disease at rates not seen since the early 1970s — just after preventive regulations were enacted, according to a study published Monday.

Only 15 years ago, progressive massive fibrosis — an advanced form of black lung for which there is no cure — was virtually eradicated, health researchers say. But now, the prevalence of the disease in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia is at levels not seen in 40 years… Black lung is caused by the excessive inhalation of coal dust.’

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Study: Workers who cycle, walk and use public transport are “happier than drivers”

The Daily Mail reports:

No traffic: Including a form of exercise such as walking to the bus stop, and then 'switching off' during the ride to work improves mental and physical well being ‘Active travel’ such as cycling or walking to the bus stop improves well-being, while those who get behind the wheel of a car feel under strain and less able to concentrate, the University of East Anglia suggests.

While most commuters associate public transport with cramped Tube carriages and delays, it appears that they are better off than those in their cars. Including some form of exercise in the daily commute, whether it’s cycling the entire way or simply walking to the train station, improves mental well-being as well as physical.  ‘Switching off’ during a ride on public transport is also beneficial.’

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World population could rise by three billion more than expected

David Usborne reports for The Independent:

‘Life on earth is set to become even more cheek-by-jowl than previously thought, a report by a team of scientists and statisticians warned last night. The study, by researchers from the University of Washington and the United Nations, says there is an 80 per cent chance that by the end of this century the global population could have reached between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion people.’

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Illegal land clearing for commercial agriculture responsible for half of tropical deforestation

Science Daily reports:

‘A comprehensive new analysis released today says that nearly half (49%) of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of illegal clearing for commercial agriculture. The study also finds that the majority of this illegal destruction was driven by overseas demand for agricultural commodities including palm oil, beef, soy, and wood products. In addition to devastating impacts on forest-dependent people and biodiversity, the illegal conversion of tropical forests for commercial agriculture is estimated to produce 1.47 gigatonnes of carbon each year — equivalent to 25% of the EU’s annual fossil fuel-based emissions.’

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Global Warming President Presides Over Drill-Baby-Drill America

Michael Klare writes for TomDispatch:

‘Considering all the talk about global warming, peak oil, carbon divestment, and renewable energy, you’d think oil consumption in the United States would be on a downward path. By now, we should certainly be witnessing real progress toward a post-petroleum economy. As it happens, the opposite is occurring. U.S. oil consumption is on an upward trajectory,  climbing by 400,000 barrels per day in 2013 alone, and if current trends persist, it should  rise again both this year and next.

In other words, oil is back. Big time.’

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South Downs and New Forest national parks under threat from electricity pipeline plan

Tom Bawden reports for The Independent:

The South Downs and New Forest national parks are potentially under threat from plans drawn up by a major Conservative donor to build a giant electricity pipeline from France to southern England.

Alexander Temerko, a former boss of the Russian oil giant Yukos, is developing an interconnector from the Flamenville nuclear power station in north-west France to the village of Lovedean, near Portsmouth. It would bring enough electricity to power 1.4 million households.

But the electricity grid in the South of England is already operating so close to capacity that Mr Temerko claims he has been told by the National Grid that he cannot plug in his pipeline at Lovedean substation.’

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British oil giant accused of bribery in tussle over Africa’s oldest national park

Jim Armitage reports for The Independent:

‘Contractors and agents working on behalf of a major London-based oil company paid bribes to officials and rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo in their bid to explore for oil in Africa’s oldest national park, according to anti-corruption activists.

Soco International has been conducting studies on whether it is feasible to drill for oil in Lake Edward in Virunga, the Unesco world heritage site made famous by Dian Fossey and the movie Gorillas in the Mist. In April, the park’s head, Emmanuel de Merode was shot and seriously injured by unknown assailants.’

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What?! Another Massive BP Oil Spill Cover-Up? Interview with Greg Palast

Abby Martin speaks with investigative journalist, Greg Palast discussing the most recent penalties against BP, and aspects of the company’s criminality that have been largely overlooked by the rest of the media including a massive oil spill cover-up in the Caspian Sea.’ (Breaking the Set)

Bacteria found in bees show potential as an alternative to antibiotics

Fiona MacDonald reports for Science Alert:

bees‘A team of researchers from Lund University in Sweden has identified a unique group of 13 lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that come from the honey stomach of bees, and are found in fresh honey, that have an impressive ability to fight pathogens. The honey stomach is one of two stomachs found in bees, and it stores nectar, which worker bees later suck out and store in the hive.

Together, these live bacteria produce a number of active microbial compounds, such as hydrogen peroxide, fatty acids and anaesthetics, that can kill other harmful bacteria – it’s believed that this is the formula that protects the bee colony against collapse. Unfortunately, these LAB are processed out of the honey we buy in shops, but the researchers now believe they could be used to help treat anitibiotic resistance.’

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Chemical Industry using TTIP ‘to attack the precautionary principle’

Axel Singhofen reports for Chemical Watch:

‘The last 12 months have seen a surge of attacks against the EU’s precautionary principle. Some law firms consider it as a potential obstacle to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and UK Conservative MEP Julie Girling considers that “the EU’s expanding embrace of `precautionary’ regulation… may well be the biggest threat” to an agreement being signed off.

Last October, 12 CEOs of mainly chemical companies wrote to the presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament, calling for the formal adoption of an “innovation principle” as a counterbalance to “precautionary legislation”, because they were concerned that “the necessary balance of precaution and proportion is increasingly being replaced by a simple reliance on the precautionary principle and the avoidance of technological risk.’

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Market Farces: Horrifying Images of the “Free” Market at Work

akadjian writes for Daily Kos:

 photo child-labor-sm_zpse67cfcab.jpg‘When economists talk about how a market “regulates itself,” what they mean is that markets reach an equilibrium between supply and demand.

This says nothing about whether or not this equilibrium will be a good thing for society. It simply states that if consumers choose what to buy and producers choose what to sell and how to produce it, the market settles on a product distribution and prices.

Lately, many people I know have argued that “free markets” mean something more. They see markets as ethically right or ethically moral, meaning pursuit of profit always somehow leads to a greater good.

Unfortunately, morality isn’t built into markets.’

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Taxpayer-Guaranteed: Nuclear Power’s Insanities

Ralph Nader writes for CounterPunch:

‘The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) – the corporate lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for the disintegrating atomic power industry – doesn’t have to worry about repercussions from the negative impacts of nuclear power. For nuclear power is a government/taxpayer-guaranteed boondoggle whose staggering costs, incurred and deferred, are absorbed by American taxpayers via a supine government regulatory and subsidy apparatus.’

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From Pine Beetles to Disappearing Glaciers, NASA Scientists Tell of “Dramatic” Planetary Changes

Dahr Jamail writes for Truthout:

Trees turning red in forests that have been attacked by the mountain pine beetle near a wildfire site in Montana, July 7, 2011. Some scientists are increasingly worried that as the warming accelerates, trees themselves could become climate-change victims on a massive scale. (Josh Haner/The New York Times)Until very recently, popular thinking assumed that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) was in a “slow” period. However, last year, a study published in Geophysical Research Letters showed that the planet had experienced more overall warming in the 15 years leading up to March 2013 than it had in the 15 years before that. In case there was any doubt that the planet is warming more quickly than previously thought, a study published in the August 22, 2014 issue of Science has verified this.

Another study from July addressed how regional climate systems were synchronizing, after which “the researchers detected wild variability that amplified the changes and accelerated into an abrupt warming event of several degrees within a few decades.” Shortly thereafter, yet another study showed that rapid warming of the Atlantic waters, most likely due to ACD, has “turbocharged” the Pacific Equatorial trade winds. Whenever that phenomenon stops, it is highly likely we will witness very rapid changes across the globe, including a sudden acceleration of the average surface temperature of the planet.

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99% of Sweden’s waste is now reused

Science Alert reports:

‘Swedes generally waste as much as people in other countries, around 461 kilograms per person each year – but only one percent of that is ending up in landfill, thanks to the country’s innovative “recycling” program. While the Scandinavian country focusses primarily on reducing waste and reusing and recycling items, it has an important extra step in the waste cycle – it burns half its rubbish to generate energy.

[...] However, it’s not a perfect solution – there is plenty of controversy surrounding the burning of garbage. Critics are concerned that the process is counteracting any positive affects by sending more toxins into the atmosphere. The WTE process produces filter ash and flue gas, both byproducts that contain dioxins, and environmental pollutant. But Sweden has heavily regulated their WTE plants to reduce emissions and according to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the introduction of flue-glad cleaning has reduced airborne dioxins produced to “very small amounts”.’

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In Chad, elephants make a comeback

Celeste Hicks reports for Al Jazeera:

‘[...] The dire situation facing Africa’s elephants has become headline news. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists last month warned that poaching had caused elephant populations to reach a tipping point on the continent where more animals are being killed than are being born.

In Central Africa, the number of elephants has declined by 60 percent in just a decade. Zakouma, however, is bucking that trend. There has not been a single case of poaching inside the 19,000-square-mile park for nearly three years.

That’s very different from the situation at the end of the last decade, when a wave of killings hit the park, near the border with Central African Republic. The number of elephants that inhabit the park for most of the year fell from about 4,000 in 2006 to just 450 by 2011.’

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More US Communities Opting to ‘Go Local’ with Greener Power Supply

Lauren McCauley writes for Common Dreams:

‘In the face of a mounting carbon crisis and the lack of action by commercial utility companies to adopt greener energy solutions, communities across the nation are opting to take hold of the power—literally!—and switch to more local, less polluting energy sources.

Reporting from Sonoma County, California on Tuesday, LA Times reporter Evan Halper highlights this growing trend known as Community Choice Aggregation. Established by law in six states thus far, including California, CCA allows communities to pool their energy load and then direct the purchase of their energy supply while working in partnership with existing utilities, who then deliver the power.

Established by law in six states thus far, CCA is an energy supply model that works in partnership with the region’s existing utility which continues to deliver power, maintain the grid, and provide customer service and billing.’

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Coca-Cola and Its Egregious History

Heather Gray writes for CounterPunch:

‘The Coca-Cola Company is, of course, a capitalist company meaning that its goal is to make money virtually any way possible. It’s good at this. Its market cap today is $168.7 billion according to Forbes.  Since it’s founding in the late 1800’s it is now known to be the most recognized product in the world. Its goal of making money is accomplished regardless of the consequences be it environmental degradation, pollution, abuse of and destabilizing water use, worker assassinations, discrimination in the work place, or the health of individuals drinking its product, to name but a few.  Promoting a product that requires purchase by huge numbers of individuals in order to make a profit necessitates deliberate efforts at creating a positive public image. It’s good at that also but it is simultaneously considered by some as one of the most evil corporations in the world – a designation that suits it well.

Living in Atlanta, the home of Coca-Cola, the time has come for me to begin writing about the company, as Alex Cockburn had wanted. The purpose of this article on Coca-Cola is to share an assortment of some of my personal experiences with the corporation in the past few decades in reference to Atlanta, South Africa and the Philippines. For a fairly comprehensive list of criticisms against The Coca-Cola Company throughout the world that I won’t be referring to please go to: Killer Coke.’

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Mount Rubbish: Bali’s tourism demands are threatening its future

‘More than 10 million people visit Bali each year, almost three times its local population. It is a huge stress on its resources, but with tourism so important to its economy, how can the competing demands be met? Many thousands of cubic metres of waste are dumped everyday in Bali. A new local site not to be found on the tourist trail is Mount Rubbish. Worse still, the toxic run-off from this mountain of waste filters into Bali’s source of drinking water. “We are being poisoned by this pile of rubbish”, says environmental activist Moko. But garbage is not the only problem; Bali’s development is based on foreign exploitation, which has made locals feel that their very way of life is under threat. Many Balinese now believe that keeping culture and traditions strong could be their last defence. “We Balinese should take the move to save Bali, before it’s too late”, a local campaigner explains.’ (Journeyman Pictures)

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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