Category Archives: Environment

Punished for saving water: A drought Catch-22

The L.A. Times reports:

‘Talk about mixed messages: While Gov. Jerry Brown is warning that California faces its worst drought since record-keeping began and regulators have approved fines of up to $500 for wasting water, some Southern California cities are continuing to issue warnings and citations to residents who let their lawns go brown.

After a Glendora couple decided that they’d water their lawn only twice a week, which left it with brown patches and bald spots, they received a letter from the city’s code enforcement unit warning them to turn their grass green again or face $100 to $500 in fines and possible criminal action, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.’

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Companies proclaim water the next oil in a rush to turn resources into profit

Suzanne McGee reports for The Guardian:

water bottles‘After spending nearly 30 years of my life writing about business and finance, including several years dedicated to the commodities market, the idea of treating water as a pure commodity – something to bought and sold on the open market by those in quest of a profit rather than trying to deliver it to their fellow citizens as a public service – made me pause.

Sure, I’ve grown up surrounded by bottled mineral water – Evian, Volvic, Perrier, Pellegrino and even more chi-chi brands – but that has always existed alongside a robust municipal water system that delivers clean water to whatever home I’m occupying. All it takes is turning a tap. The cost of that water is fractions of a penny compared to designer bottled water.

This summer, however, myriad business forces are combining to remind us that fresh water isn’t necessarily or automatically a free resource. It could all too easily end up becoming just another economic commodity. At the forefront of this firestorm is Peter Brabeck, chairman and former CEO of Nestle.’

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Biologist warn of early stages of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event

Science Daily reports:

‘The planet’s current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But it may be reaching a tipping point. In a new review of scientific literature and analysis of data published in Science, an international team of scientists cautions that the loss and decline of animals is contributing to what appears to be the early days of the planet’s sixth mass biological extinction event.

Since 1500, more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates have become extinct. Populations of the remaining species show a 25 percent average decline in abundance. The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life. And while previous extinctions have been driven by natural planetary transformations or catastrophic asteroid strikes, the current die-off can be associated to human activity, a situation that the lead author Rodolfo Dirzo, a professor of biology at Stanford, designates an era of “Anthropocene defaunation.”‘

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PETA Offers To Help Pay Water Bills For Struggling Detroit Residents — But Only If They Go Vegan

Think Progress reports:

‘Detroit residents are struggling to pay their water bills at such an alarming rate that the city’s utility announced a few months ago that it would cut off water for between 1,500 and 3,000 people every week. The situation has gotten so bad that the United Nations has had to step in and tell the city that such massive water shut-offs are a violation of human rights. People are desperate just to keep their taps turned on, as about half the city has fallen behind on its bills. As a resident recently told ThinkProgress, “when half of the city can’t do something, it tells you it’s a systemic problem.”

Now, an unlikely group seems to think it can step in and solve this systemic problem. PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, announced in a blog post on Thursday that it will offer financial assistance to 10 families who can’t afford their water bills — if the families go vegan, that is.’

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Blackmail Insurance Sale & The Germ Code

‘In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert discuss reputational apartheid and delusion insurance as we all become blackmailable. In the second half, Max interviews microbiologist, Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Code, about what germs can teach us about the modern economy and about the similarities between Las Vegas and C.Dificile.’ (Keiser Report)

Report: China fuels illegal logging of Mozambique’s forests

Thin Lei Win reports for Reuters:

‘China’s insatiable demand for timber has led to illegal and unsustainable logging of Mozambique’s forests, costing the country millions of dollars in lost duties and taxes and affecting impoverished rural communities, a report released Wednesday said. A staggering 93 percent of logging in 2013 in Mozambique, one of the world’s least developed nations, was illegal, fuelled by poor law enforcement, endemic corruption, insufficient funding and incompetent leadership, said the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “All of this crime and environmental mismanagement has robbed Mozambique’s rural poor and wider population of $146 million” in terms of lost taxes since 2007, the report said.’

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The Tree of Forty Fruits

Facing mass protests, Detroit temporarily halts water shutoffs

‘Detroit is temporarily suspending its policy of cutting off water for low-income residents who are delinquent on their bills. In March, the city sent out 45,000 shutoff notices and began turning off water for thousands of citizens. After a public backlash, rallies against the policy and even calls to the UN for humanitarian assistance, the bankrupt city decided it may need to reevaluate how it is handling the situation.’ (Meghan Lopez)

NYC Approves Apartment Building With Separate Entrance for Poor People

Andy Cush reports for Gawker:

NYC Approves Apartment Building With Separate Entrance for Poor People‘It would be difficult to come with a more on-the-nose metaphor for New York City’s income inequality problem than the new high-rise apartment building coming to 40 Riverside Boulevard, which will feature separate doors for regular, wealthy humans and whatever you call the scum that rents affordable housing.

Extell Development Company, the firm behind the new building, announced its intentions to segregate the rich and poor to much outrage last year. Fifty-five of the luxury complex’s 219 units would be marked for low-income renters—netting some valuable tax breaks for Extell—with the caveat that the less fortunate tenants would stick to their own entrance.’

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The Commodification of Nature & the Market-Based Approach

Alyssa Rochricht writes for CounterPunch:

‘Taken for granted in the climate change discussion is the assumption that nature or the environment is something that can or should be commodified, yet the structure of capitalism is such that it seeks to commodify everything, including human life (labor) and the environment (land and natural resources). The commodification of nature and the environment, inherent in the capitalist system, is problematic in its own right. Within this economic system, land, as well as labor, are seen as a commodity – something that can be purchased – and an essential part of industry. Yet what does it mean to say that something like “labor” and “land” are commodities? Karl Polanyi, the great economist, anthropologist, philosopher and sociologist, argued that both are not created as something to be sold. Labor is essentially human activity, a necessary part of life. Land, synonymous with nature, is not produced by man and in fact, encompasses man as a part of itself. When we sell the right to harm the natural environment, we are effectively selling something that is not ours.

Yet many seek to solve the climate change crisis through market mechanisms and through the buying and selling of rights to pollute or degrade the natural environment through things like carbon taxing and trading. This is effectively selling the rights to pollute something that is not ours to sell. Many economists have proposed the idea of a carbon economy, where a market would be created for the trading of carbon permits, where states, corporations, or even individuals would be given a certain allocation of permissible carbon emissions and those permits could be sold or traded. While this raises many important issues with regard to rich countries taking advantage of poor, underdeveloped countries, as well as leaving much room for manipulation by states and corporations, one of the fundamental problems has to do with permitting pollution so long as an agent is able to pay. When polluters are fined for actions that have an adverse effect on the environment, the wrongness of the action remains intact. When carbon permits are offered (pollution permits), it is as if the action of pollution is now permissible, and the wrongness of the act is absolved.’

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Agenda 21 Fears Sweep Across America

Josh Voorhees writes for Slate:

‘State lawmakers in Missouri last week revived an effort to significantly curtail local planners’ ability to adopt the type of smart-growth policies long touted by urban developers, demographers, and climate scientists. The bill, which sailed through the state’s lower chamber this past Monday, represents the latest victory for a onetime fringe movement that has spent the past two decades slowly gaining traction among conservatives by warning of an actual, real-life U.N.-orchestrated global takeover.

The specific target of the Missouri legislation may be well-known to heavy consumers of conservative media, but most Americans have probably never heard of it: Agenda 21, a nonbinding resolution that was signed by President George H.W. Bush and 177 other world leaders at the end of the United Nations’ 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The effort was hailed at the time as an important, albeit voluntary, action plan to promote sustainable development in the face of a rapidly expanding global population, but ultimately failed to become much more than a feel-good Democratic talking point back in the United States. In 2012 a full 85 percent of Americans didn’t know enough about the U.N. resolution to have an opinion on it, according to a poll commissioned by the American Planning Association that summer.

Not everyone forgot about it, however. Agenda 21 remained front and center for a subset of right-wing conservatives who warned that it was a harbinger of a looming new world order that would culminate with the seizure of land and guns, and an end to the American way of life. If that last part sounds like the plot of a dystopian novel written by Glenn Beck, well, that’s because it is. But what began as a far-fetched conspiracy theory has since transformed into an effective, almost methodical movement to block the type of “livability” initiatives that President Obama and his allies have made a priority. If you look past the black helicopters in the anti-Agenda 21 origin story, you’ll find a series of smart-growth-blocking victories at the state and local levels in nearly every corner of the country…’

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Aid to Africa: Donations from west mask ‘$60bn looting’ of continent

Mark Anderson writes for the Guardian:

MDG : Parched soil in the Greater Upper Nile region of north-eastern South Sudan

‘Western countries are using aid to Africa as a smokescreen to hide the “sustained looting” of the continent as it loses nearly $60bn a year through tax evasionclimate change mitigation, and the flight of profits earned by foreign multinational companies, a group of NGOs has claimed.

Although sub-Saharan Africa receives $134bn each year in loans, foreign investment and development aid, research released on Tuesday by a group of UK and Africa-based NGOs suggests that $192bn leaves the region, leaving a $58bn shortfall. The report says that while western countries send about $30bn in development aid to Africa every year, more than six times that amount leaves the continent, “mainly to the same countries providing that aid”.’

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U.S. House bans the Department of Energy from acknowledging climate change

Lindsay Abrams reports for Salon:

House bans the Department of Energy from acknowledging climate change‘Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., is on a roll. After successfully passing a budget amendment back in May that basically forbids the Pentagon from acknowledging climate science — despite the fact that the Department of Defense considers doing so to be vital to national security — his newest effort prohibits both the U.S. Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers from spending “to design, implement, administer or carry out specified assessments regarding climate change.”

“Spending precious resources to pursue a dubious climate change agenda compromises our clean-energy research and America’s infrastructure,” McKinley said on the House floor, according to the WV Gazette. “Congress should not be spending money pursuing ideologically driven experiments.” Neither amendment is likely to get past the Democrat-controlled Senate, of course, but they remain nonetheless a fascinating exercise in anti-science sentiment among House Republicans (only five Democrats supported the most recent amendment).’

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Coca-Cola Forced To Shut Bottling Plant in India

Fatima Hansia reports for CorpWatch:

Coca-Cola, the world’s largest beverage producer, has been ordered to shut down its bottling plant in Varanasi, India following local complaints that the company was drawing excessive amounts of groundwater. After an investigation, government authorities ruled that the company had violated its operating license.

…This is not the first time that the company has been in trouble in India for unsustainable water extraction practices. In 2004 a bottling plant in Plachimada, Kerala, was closed for excessive water consumption. Later Kerala passed legislation that allows Coca-Cola to be sued for as much as $47 million in damages as result of the operations. And last year, community organizers in Charba, Uttarakhand, defeated Coca-Cola’s plans to build a new factory as soon as the proposal went public.’

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‘Water war’ threatens Syria lifeline

Danya Chudacoff writes for Al Jazeera:

‘When severe water cuts began to hit Aleppo province in early May, residents started referring to a “water war” being waged at the expense of civilians. Images of beleaguered women and children drinking from open channels and carrying jerry cans of untreated groundwater only confirmed that the suffering across northern Syria had taken a turn for the worse. However, lost in the daily reports was a far more pernicious crisis coming to a head: a record six-metre drop in Lake Assad, the reservoir of Syria’s largest hydroelectric dam and the main source of water for drinking and irrigation to about five million people.

Under the watch of the  Islamic State group – formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – levels in Lake Assad have dropped so low that pumps used to funnel water east and west are either entirely out of commission or functioning at significantly reduced levels. The shortages compel residents in Aleppo and Al Raqqa to draw water from unreliable sources, which can pose serious health risks. The primary reason behind the drop appears to be a dramatic spike in electricity generation at the Euphrates Dam in al-Tabqa, which has been forced to work at alarmingly high rates.’

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Kill switch: Breeding kamikaze mosquitoes

Kieron Monks reports for CNN:

Female Aedes mosquito feeding‘The Aedes Aegypti mosquito is just two to three millimeters long but its impact is devastating. Of the thousands of mosquito species, this one bears primary responsibility for one of the world’s deadliest and fastest growing diseases. In the past 50 years, incidence of Dengue Fever has multiplied by 30 according to the WHO, spreading from nine countries in 1970 to over 100 today. There is no vaccine or cure for the painful virus known as Breakbone Fever, and of the 50-100 million people infected each year, over 20,000 die.

Aedes Aegypti has spread with this epidemic, and has become the target of efforts to control the disease. But while solutions such as mass spraying of toxic chemicals have proved expensive, ineffective and environmentally damaging, scientists hope to use the insect as the agent of its own destruction. British biotech firm Oxitec is tackling the problem through pioneering genetic modification (GM) of the Aedes Aegypti. Scientists breed large numbers of the insects in laboratories and inject the sperm cells of males with a lethal gene. When the mosquito is released into the wild and mates with a female — always of the same species – the deadly transgene is passed on and the offspring dies.’

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Report: Dubai will overtake Paris on list of world’s most visited cities by 2019

Andy Sambridge reports for Arabian Business:

‘Dubai has risen in a new list of the world’s top destinations for international travellers and is expected to welcome nearly 12 million visitors this year. London topped the annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index for the third time in four years but Dubai rose two places to fifth globally, behind Bangkok, Paris and Singapore.

Visitor figures for the emirate this year represent an increase of 7.5 percent on 2013. This has helped boost the position of Dubai ahead of New York and Istanbul – both of which ranked higher than Dubai last year. MasterCard added that Dubai is one of the fastest growing cities in the global top 10, and is on track to overtake Paris and Singapore within five years.’

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Nicaragua approves route for $40 billion canal linking oceans

From Reuters:

‘A Nicaraguan committee approved a proposed route on Monday for a $40 billion shipping channel across the Central American country that would compete with the Panama Canal.

The committee of government officials, businessmen and academics approved a 172 mile (278 km) route from the mouth of the Brito river on the Pacific side to the Punto Gorda river on the Caribbean that was proposed by executives from the HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co Ltd (HKND Group).

The Hong Kong-based HKND group, which is leading the project, is headed by Chinese lawyer Wang Jing, who also heads Chinese company Xinwei Telecom Enterprise Group.’

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In dry California, water fetching record prices as sellers cash in on drought

Garance Burke writes for the Associated Press:

‘Throughout California’s desperately dry Central Valley, those with water to spare are cashing in. As a third parched summer forces farmers to fallow fields and lay off workers, two water districts and a pair of landowners in the heart of the state’s farmland are making millions of dollars by auctioning off their private caches. Nearly 40 others also are seeking to sell their surplus water this year, according to state and federal records.

Economists say it’s been decades since the water market has been this hot. In the last five years alone, the price has grown tenfold to as much as $2,200 an acre-foot — enough to cover a football field with a foot of water. Unlike the previous drought in 2009, the state has been hands-off, letting the market set the price even though severe shortages prompted a statewide drought emergency declaration this year. The price spike comes after repeated calls from scientists that global warming will worsen droughts and increase the cost of maintaining California’s strained water supply systems.’

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Toppling the Fossil Fuel Empire

Murray Dobbin writes for CounterPunch:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

– Albert Einstein

As the world struggles with how to deal with the slow motion apocalypse of global climate change it becomes more and more apparent that we are trapped in “the kind of thinking” that got us here. While I don’t want to wear out Einstein’s quotability, his other little piece of wisdom that we need to keep top of mind is this: ”Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Our failure of imagination regarding the ever-increasing production and use of fossil fuels will, over time, kill billions of us and irreversibly change all life on the planet. It is a failure of imagination, not at a policy level but at the level of civilization. It’s not a lack of knowledge — we have a staggering amount of information and analysis, a frightening compendium of what we are doing to ourselves and every other species on the planet. We keep piling it on, study after study, dire warning after dire warning, irrefutable science, actual evidence of melting ice-caps, the virtually unprecedented level of agreement on the part of scientists about where we are headed. Additional information is already hitting up against the principle of diminishing returns.

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Nafeez Ahmed: World Bank and UN carbon offset scheme ‘complicit’ in genocidal land grabs, say NGOs

Nafeez Ahmed writes for the Guardian:

A Kenyan farmer tends newly planted trees‘Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 500 million acres of land in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean was acquired or negotiated under deals brokered on behalf of foreign governments or transnational corporations. Many such deals are geared toward growing crops or biofuels for export to richer, developed countries – with the consequence that small-holder farmers are displaced from their land and lose their livelihood while local communities go hungry.

The concentration of ownership of the world’s farmland in the hands of powerful investors and corporations is rapidly accelerating, driven by resource scarcity and, thus, rising prices. According to a new report by the US land rights organisation Grain: “The powerful demands of food and energy industries are shifting farmland and water away from direct local food production to the production of commodities for industrial processing.” Less known factors, however, include ‘conservation‘ and ‘carbon offsetting.”

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‘Lost’ Amazonian tribe under threat from illegal loggers operating in their traditional territories

Jonathan Brown reports for The Independent:

‘At first they were little more than fleeting sightings of naked figures on the edge of the forest. But as the days went by, the men and boys grew bolder, venturing into the village to pilfer pots and vegetables before disappearing back into the safety of trees. After they were first glimpsed by other people on the outskirts of an Asháninka indigenous community on the upper reaches of Brazil’s Envira River, “a few dozen” members of an unnamed Amazonian tribe finally made contact with a settled population 20 days ago. That came four years after a tribal group, reportedly from the same Amazonian tribe, were filmed from the air in 2010. When the images were released in January 2011, they created a worldwide sensation.

It is believed the tribe had been driven across the border from their centuries’ old nomadic existence by the activities of illegal loggers and possibly drug-traffickers operating in their traditional territories in Peru. Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department, Funai, confirmed that the group had taken the momentous decision to make contact at the village of Sympatico in the state of Acre, more than a week’s travel by foot and canoe from the nearest road. Sympatico, just 25 miles from the border, is very close to the area where a tribe group was filmed four years ago. It is estimated that there are at least four such communities living in Acre, constituting a population of around 600. A further two tribes are believed to occupy territory in Peru. But no one knows exactly how many individuals there are now living in the pristine forest of the western Amazon.’

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Oil-producing Iran looks to solar power

Ali Akbar Dareini reports for the Associated Press:

‘President Hassan Rouhani’s government has quintupled its spending on solar power projects in the last year, taking advantage of Iran’s 300-odd days of sunshine a year that make its vast sun-kissed lands one of the best spots on earth to host solar panels. While being good for the environment, the panels also offer rural Iran steady power amid uncertainty over the country’s contested nuclear program as it negotiates with world powers.

And as the Islamic Republic cuts back on subsidies that once made gasoline cheaper than bottled mineral water, a push toward self-sustaining solar power could help the government save money and bolster its sanctions-battered economy. “A big change is in the making in Iran,” said Saman Mirhadi, a senior official in charge of solar projects. Iran, home to some 77 million people, is a fossil-fuel powerhouse, even in the crude-oil rich Middle East. It is home to both the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves and massive natural gas reserves. However, sanctions have cut into the country’s refining and production capabilities.’

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How the Pentagon is Bracing for Societal Collapse: Interview with Nafeez Ahmed

Abby Martin interviews Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, journalist for The Guardian, about a recent article he wrote concerning the Pentagon’s multimillion dollar project to study peaceful protest movements and prepare for the collapse of industrial society due to factors ranging from income inequality to climate change.’ (Breaking the Set)

Peru now has a “licence to kill” environmental protesters

David Hill writes for the Guardian:

Peruvian security forces arrest a protester in June 2009 during conflict that led to more than 30 people dying and over 200 injured. ‘Some of the recent media coverage about the fact that more than 50 people in Peru – the vast majority of them indigenous – are on trial following protests and fatal conflict in the Amazon over five years ago missed a crucial point. Yes, the hearings are finally going ahead and the charges are widely held to be trumped-up, but what about the government functionaries who apparently gave the riot police the order to attack the protestors, the police themselves, and – following Wikileaks’ revelations of cables in which the US ambassador in Lima criticized the Peruvian government’s “reluctance to use force” and wrote there could be “implications for the recently implemented Peru-US FTA” if the protests continued – the role of the US government?’

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BP Seeks Return Of Oil Spill Claim ‘Overpayments’

Kevin McGill reports for the AP:

The Deepwater Horizon burns‘BP wants a federal judge to order restitution — plus interest — of what it says are hundreds of millions of dollars in overpayments to some businesses that claimed losses due to the 2010 Gulf oil spill. In a Friday court filing, BP points to a revised policy for calculating losses that was approved by the court in May. The company says the court should order recalculation of awards paid prior to that change.

Meanwhile, BP continues its legal fight on a related issue: whether businesses have to prove they were directly harmed by the spill to collect money. A district court and an appeals court have ruled that, under the settlement BP agreed to, proof of direct harm isn’t needed. BP has said it plans a Supreme Court appeal on that issue.’

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Seven U.S. states running out of water

Alexander E.M. Hess and Thomas C. Frohlich report for 24/7 Wall Street:

‘The United States is currently engulfed in one of the worst droughts in recent memory. More than 30% of the country experienced at least moderate drought as of last week’s data.

In seven states drought conditions were so severe that each had more than half of its land area in severe drought. Severe drought is characterized by crop loss, frequent water shortages, and mandatory water use restrictions. Based on data from the U.S. Drought Monitor, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the states with the highest levels of severe drought.

In an interview, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meteorologist Brad Rippey, told 24/7 Wall St. that drought has been a long-running issue in parts of the country. “This drought has dragged on for three and a half years in some areas, particularly (in) North Texas,” Rippey said.’

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Report: World’s Oceans on Brink of Collapse, Rescue Needed Within Five Years

Nadia Prupis reports for Common Dreams:

‘The world’s oceans face irreparable damage from climate change and overfishing, with a five-year window for intervention, an environmental panel said Tuesday. Neglecting the health of the oceans could have devastating effects on the world’s food supply, clean air, and climate stability, among other factors.

The Global Oceans Commission, an environmental group formed by the Pew Charitable Trust, released a report (PDF) addressing the declining marine ecosystems around the world and outlining an eight-step “rescue package” to restore growth and prevent future damage to the seas. The 18-month study proposes increased governance of the oceans, including limiting oil and gas exploration, capping subsidies for commercial fishing, and creating marine protected areas (MPAs) to guard against pollution, particularly from plastics.’

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Pop-up solar station can take electricity, water and shelter anywhere

Becky Crew reports for Science Alert:

power‘How do we quickly get power to a remote village sitting miles off the grid or a bunch of homes hit by a natural disaster? “Not very easily”, would usually be the answer, but now we have ’the PowerCube’, a new ‘pop-up’ solar station that can be transported via shipping container and installed anywhere with the push of a button.

Developed over the past seven years by Ecosphere Technologies, a technology and licensing company in the US, the PowerCube is completely self-contained, remotely monitored and controlled, and can be manufactured in three different sizes to match standard shipping container varieties. The first model will be released this month.’

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How Military Exercises Are Killing Millions of Sea Creatures Every Year

Abby Martin goes over the effect war games have on the environment, citing the US and China engaging in the world’s largest naval exercise, as well as how the use of sonar testing harming millions of marine mammals.’ (Breaking the Set)