50 doomiest stories of 2014

Desdemona Despair’s 50 Doomiest stories of 2014.

There really ARE a lot of legitimate, crazy scary reasons to despair our current situation. There’s not any comforting words to be had; it could get really dark on this planet soon. Try to be as loving and compassionate as you can in the years ahead. 

Members of the Peasant Unified Movement of Bajo Aguan, Honduras, carry mock coffins bearing pictures of people killed in land conflict clashes. There were 109 activist deaths between 2002-13 in Honduras, making it the world's second deadliest country for communities defending natural resources. Photo: Orlando Sierra / AFP / Getty Images

Desdemona defines “the end of the world” as the destruction of the biosphere in which humans evolved. Conversely, “saving the world” would mean preserving at least some of the original biosphere. The human impulse for acquisitiveness drives the accelerating destruction. As the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) observed, “our planet is constantly losing its incredible diversity of life, largely due to our destructive actions to satisfy our growing appetite for resources.” The “Dalai Lama of the Amazon”, Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, says, “large-scale mining seems like a big monster that wants to destroy the earth, to destroy nature.”

In some parts of the world, anybody who stands in the way of humanity’s insatiable appetite for resources is in mortal danger. In 2014, the war escalated against activists who are trying to save what little is left of the biosphere from resource extraction. Indigenous forest activists were murdered by vested interests in Peru and Ecuador, capping a decade in which more than 900 environmental advocates were slain. These killings occur with impunity and are essentially sanctioned by governments – only 10 killers have been convicted during this period. Peru codified open season on activists in 2014 with Law 30151, which gives:

… members of the armed forces and the national police exemption from criminal responsibility if they cause injury or death, including through the use of guns or other weapons, while on duty. Human rights groups, both nationally and internationally, the Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoria del Pueblo), as well as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights all expressed deep concern about the law. In the words of the [Lima-based] Instituto Libertad y Democracia [IDL], the law equates, in practice, to a “licence to kill.”

This is the business end of the globalized markets. Captain Paul Watson observes that the message is clear: “Get in the way of our profits, and we will kill you.”

Murder rate of environmental and indigenous activists globally, 2002-2013. The 'Deadly Environment' report by Global Witness looks at known killings of people defending environmental and land rights. It identifies a clear rise in such deaths from 2002 and 2013 as competition for natural resources intensifies. In the most comprehensive global analysis of the problem on record, we have found that at least 908 people have died in this time. Disputes over industrial logging, mining, and land rights are the key drivers, and Latin America and Asia-Pacific are particularly hard hit. A time lag on reporting means killings for 2013 are likely to be higher than shown here. Graphic: Global Witness

A great deal of this resource extraction, like deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and toothfish poaching in the Southern Ocean, is nominally illegal, but governments either lack the political will to intervene (New Zealand), are compromised by forces of organized crime (Costa Rica, Honduras, Brazil), or they cooperative actively with vested interests to criminalize dissent, deregulate environmental safeguards (Peru), and suppress science (Canada). When you read through the 2014 list of doomiest stories, you may wonder, “Why doesn’t anyone stop this?” Usually, the answers are “money”, “corruption”,  and “globalized markets”.

As the human population rockets upward toward 12 billion by the end of the century, with no peak in sight, Desdemona expects that globalized resource extraction will become increasingly brutal, displacing and destroying most indigenous populations, and erasing what little is left of the natural world.

Check out Desdemona’s doomiest posts of previous years:

January 2014

The 'bathtub ring' around Lake Mead is clearly visible, as the Colorado River level falls to record lows. To help the Colorado, federal authorities in 2014 will for the first time reduce the water flow into Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir, created by Hoover Dam. Photo: Jim Wilson / The New York Times

Colorado River: 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years – ‘If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1000, we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in Nevada’

By MICHAEL WINES
5 January 2014

LAKE MEAD, Nevada (The New York Times) – The sinuous Colorado River and its slew of man-made reservoirs from the Rockies to southern Arizona are being sapped by 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years.

The once broad and blue river has in many places dwindled to a murky brown trickle. Reservoirs have shrunk to less than half their capacities, the canyon walls around them ringed with white mineral deposits where water once lapped. Seeking to stretch their allotments of the river, regional water agencies are recycling sewage effluent, offering rebates to tear up grass lawns and subsidizing less thirsty appliances from dishwashers to shower heads.

But many experts believe the current drought is only the harbinger of a new, drier era in which the Colorado’s flow will be substantially and permanently diminished.

Faced with the shortage, federal authorities this year will for the first time decrease the amount of water that flows into Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, from Lake Powell 180 miles upstream. That will reduce even more the level of Lake Mead, a crucial source of water for cities from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and for millions of acres of farmland.

About 100,000 bats dead after Australia heatwave – ‘The heatwave was basically a catastrophe for all the bat colonies in south-east Queensland’

[“We were all sitting around having lunch, and it flew into the tree next to the back deck, and it took its last breath and screamed and fell on the deck in front of everybody.”

Desdemona remembers when thousands of birds fell from the sky in Australia during the record heatwave of 2009.]

By Josh Bavas
8 January 2014

(ABC) – About 100,000 bats may have died as a result of last weekend’s heatwave in southern Queensland, the RSPCA says.

Mass deaths at about 25 separate colonies have been reported since the weekend, including at Mt Ommaney, Redbank, Boonah, Palmwoods, Laidley, and Gatton.

RSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty says the heatwave was a significant hit to the population of bats across the state.

“The heatwave was basically a catastrophe for all the bat colonies in south-east Queensland,” he said.

“That’s obviously going to have a pretty disturbing impact on those colonies and those colonies are vital to our ecosystem.”

China approves massive new coal capacity despite pollution fears

By David Stanway; Editing by Richard Pullin
8 January 2014

BEIJING (Reuters) – China approved the construction of more than 100 million tonnes of new coal production capacity in 2013 – six times more than a year earlier and equal to 10 percent of U.S. annual usage – flying in the face of plans to tackle choking air pollution.

The scale of the increase, which only includes major mines, reflects Beijing’s aim to put 860 million tonnes of new coal production capacity into operation over the five years to 2015, more than the entire annual output of India.

While efforts to curb pollution mean coal’s share of the country’s energy mix is set to dip, the total amount of the cheap and plentiful fuel burned will still rise.

More than three quarters of large carnivores now in decline – ‘Their ranges are collapsing. Many of these animals are at risk of extinction, either locally or globally.’

By Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent
9 January 2014

(BBC News) – Three quarters of the world’s big carnivores – including lions, wolves and bears – are in decline, says a new study.

A majority now occupy less than half their former ranges according to data published in the journal, Science.

The loss of this habitat and prey and persecution by humans has created global hotspots of decline.

The researchers say the loss of these species could be extremely damaging for ecosystems the world over.

The authors say that in the developed world, most carnivorous animals have already succumbed to extinction.

Antarctica’s massive Pine Island Glacier ‘has started a phase of self-sustained retreat and will irreversibly continue its decline’ – Could raise sea level by 1 centimeter

By Ari Phillips
13 January 2014

(Climate Progress) – An international team of researchers found that Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier, the single largest Antarctic contributor to sea-level rise, could add as much as one centimeter to ocean levels within the next 20 years.

“At the Pine Island Glacier we have seen that not only is more ice flowing from the glacier into the ocean, but it’s also flowing faster across the grounding line — the boundary between the grounded ice and the floating ice,” Dr. G. Hilmar Gudmundsson, a researcher on the project, told Planet Earth Magazine.

The glaciologists found that that glacier’s grounding line, which has already receded up to 10 kilometers this century, is “probably engaged in an unstable 40-kilometer retreat.”

Shocking study finds lions are nearly extinct in West Africa – ‘It was devastating to realize that no lion sign could be found in so many areas’

By John R. Platt
8 January 2014

(Scientific American) – Back in 2005, before the survey began, West African lions were believed to live in 21 different protected areas. But now a paper about the survey, published today in PLoS One, confirms that lions actually exist in just four of those sites. Worse still, the researchers estimate that the total population for West African lions is only about 400 animals, including fewer than 250 mature individuals of breeding age.

The human encounters also illustrated some of the dangers the lions face (the cats are often killed as pests). “In many of the protected areas we surveyed, we also conducted interviews with various groups about the potential presence of lions,” says Philipp Henschel, Lion Program Survey Coordinator for the big-cat conservation organization Panthera. “One group we targeted for interviews were herders of the Fulani ethnic group, which is the largest migratory pastoralist group in Africa, and extends across all of West Africa. We often encountered Fulani herders and their cattle deep inside protected areas, and individuals interviewed almost uniformly admitted to carrying poison to kill any lions that attacked their herds.”

Even harder than the travel was the fact that the researchers rarely saw evidence of any lions. “It was devastating to realize that despite all this physical effort, despite weeks spent searching for spoor, no lion sign could be found in so many areas,” he says.

February 2014

20 million people face starvation in Africa’s Sahel region – ‘The climate is increasingly erratic; it puts enormous stresses on farmers and pastoralists’

By Jeremy Hance
4 February 2014

(mongabay.com) – The UN and partner humanitarian groups today called on the international community to spend $2 billion to avoid a famine in Africa’s Sahel region, which includes nine nations along the southern edge of the Sahara. Although the Sahel is chronically prone to food insecurity, the situation has dramatically worsened as the UN estimates 20 million people are at risk of hunger up from 11 million last year.

“This year is make or break for the Sahel,” Robert Piper, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, told Reuters. “It’s the year we see if we can translate theory into practice and start bringing aid workers together to work with national governments and reverse these trends that have been deteriorating year after year.”

The figures are grim. The UN estimates that 5 million children under five currently suffer from malnutrition, while 2.5 million people in the region require immediate food assistance to avoid starvation.

“The climate is increasingly erratic; it puts enormous stresses on farmers and pastoralists,” says Piper in a recent video. Precipitation rates have fallen considerably in the region since the 1960s, a trend which may be connected to global warming.

Marine heat waves causing ‘almost unprecedented’ damage to Australia corals – ‘To see them badly damaged, or completely dead, as a result of bleachings that happened over previous years, and likely the one in 2013, was surprising’

By Katie Valentine
13 February 2014

(Climate Progress) – The Earth’s oceans are warming rapidly, absorbing about 90 percent of the heat created by anthropogenic climate change. Now, new research shows that this heat has caused “almost unprecedented” damage to ancient corals of the coast of Western Australia.

The research, which has yet to be published but is part of a five-year study out of the University of Western Australia, found that, in the summer of 2012-2013, a marine heat wave killed off 400-year-old porites corals, which had previously been thought to be some of the more resistant to the effects of climate change. The coral’s survival depends on algae, but that algae was destroyed by the marine heatwave, causing the coral to become bleached and more susceptible to death.

“It is a lot easier for oceans to heat up above the corals’ thresholds for bleaching when climate change is warming the baseline temperatures,” C. Mark Eakin of the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told the New York Times in 2010. “If you get an event like El Niño or you just get a hot summer, it’s going to be on top of the warmest temperatures we’ve ever seen.”

The Overburden Conveyor Bridge F60 is the largest movable technical industrial machines in the world. Photo: Gordon Welters / The New York Times

German village resists plans to strip it away for the coal underneath

By MELISSA EDDY
18 February 2014

ATTERWASCH, Germany (The New York Times) – A grove of apple saplings grows on the lee side of Ulrich Schulz’s barn. He did not plant them for the fruit, he said, but as an act of rebellion against a nearby mining company that wants to raze his farm, which his family has owned since 1560, to get at the coal beneath his land.

“A nod to Martin Luther,” said Mr. Schulz, 53, gesturing at the two rows of spindly trees. “He said that if he knew the world was coming to an end, he would plant an apple tree.”

It may not be the end of the world, but it could be the end of Atterwasch, population 241. While Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised her country a future virtually free of fossil fuels, it may seem strange that this village in eastern Germany, and two neighboring ones, are still fighting plans to wipe them, quite literally, off the map.

But Germany’s sudden hunger for coal has emerged as the dirty side of Ms. Merkel’s ambitions to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022 and eventually move Germans mostly to renewable energy. In fact, last year Germany burned more brown coal than at any time since its Communist-era factories began closing in 1990, according to AG Energiebilanzen, an association that tracks energy consumption.

Lemurs could be extinct ‘very soon’ – ‘One cyclone or other natural event could wipe out the entire population. In fact, anybody who decides to go out lemur hunting could tip the species over the edge.’

By Kashmira Gander
20 February 2014

(The Independent) – Lemurs could “very soon” be extinct, some of the world’s leading experts on the primates warned as they unveiled a three-year plan to save them, on Thursday.

A combination of the destruction of their habitat and bush meat hunting by impoverished local people, means that Lemurs are now the world’s most threatened mammal group.

A five-year political crisis in the Indian Ocean island Madagascar, the only place where lemurs live, and a subsequent breakdown of environmental law enforcement have worsened the situation for the roughly 100 species of lemurs, experts said.

“Extinctions could begin very soon if nothing is done,” said Christoph Schwitzer, head of research at the Bristol Zoological Society in Britain who led a team of 19 scientists that drafted the emergency lemur preservation plan published in the journal Science.

Only fifty of the rarest northern sportive lemurs remain, he added.

Diseased vegetables said to be caused by pollution from a chemical plant. Chinese scientists have warned that the country's toxic air pollution is now so bad that it resembles a nuclear winter, slowing photosynthesis in plants – and potentially wreaking havoc on the country's food supply. Photo: How Hwee Young / EPA

China’s toxic air pollution resembles nuclear winter, say scientists – ‘Now almost every farm is caught in a smog panic’

By Jonathan Kaiman
25 February 2014

Beijing (theguardian.com) – Chinese scientists have warned that the country’s toxic air pollution is now so bad that it resembles a nuclear winter, slowing photosynthesis in plants – and potentially wreaking havoc on the country’s food supply.

Beijing and broad swaths of six northern provinces have spent the past week blanketed in a dense pea-soup smog that is not expected to abate until Thursday. Beijing’s concentration of PM 2.5 particles – those small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream – hit 505 micrograms per cubic metre on Tuesday night. The World Health Organisation recommends a safe level of 25.

He Dongxian, an associate professor at China Agricultural University’s College of Water Resources and Civil Engineering, said new research suggested that if the smog persists, Chinese agriculture will suffer conditions “somewhat similar to a nuclear winter”.

She has demonstrated that air pollutants adhere to greenhouse surfaces, cutting the amount of light inside by about 50% and severely impeding photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light into life-sustaining chemical energy.

Early this month the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences claimed in a report that Beijing’s pollution made the city almost “uninhabitable for human beings“.

March 2014

Global warming spreads malaria to higher altitudes – ‘In Ethiopia, based on the distribution of malaria with altitude, a 1C rise in temperature could lead to an additional three million cases in under-15-year-olds per year’

By Rebecca Morelle
6 March 2014

(BBC World Service) – Warmer temperatures are causing malaria to spread to higher altitudes, a study suggests.

Researchers have found that people living in the highlands of Africa and South America are at an increased risk of catching the mosquito-borne disease during hotter years.

They believe that temperature rises in the future could result in millions of additional cases in some areas.

The research is published in the journal Science.

Prof Mercedes Pascual, from the University of Michigan in the US, who carried out the research, said: “The impact in terms of increasing the risk of exposure to disease is very large.”

Forests around Chernobyl aren’t decaying properly – ‘It’s striking, given that in the forests where I live, a fallen tree is mostly sawdust after a decade of lying on the ground’

By  Rachel Nuwer
14 March 2014

(Smithsonian Magazine) – Nearly 30 years have passed since the Chernobyl plant exploded and caused an unprecedented nuclear disaster. The effects of that catastrophe, however, are still felt today. Although no people live in the extensive exclusion zones around the epicenter, animals and plants still show signs of radiation poisoning.

Birds around Chernobyl have significantly smaller brains that those living in non-radiation poisoned areas; trees there grow slower; and fewer spiders and insects—including bees, butterflies and grasshoppers—live there. Additionally, game animals such as wild boar caught outside of the exclusion zone—including some bagged as far away as Germany—continue to show abnormal and dangerous levels of radiation.

However, there are even more fundamental issues going on in the environment. According to a new study published in Oecologia, decomposers—organisms such as microbes, fungi and some types of insects that drive the process of decay—have also suffered from the contamination. These creatures are responsible for an essential component of any ecosystem: recycling organic matter back into the soil. Issues with such a basic-level process, the authors of the study think, could have compounding effects for the entire ecosystem.

The team decided to investigate this question in part because of a peculiar field observation. “We have conducted research in Chernobyl since 1991 and have noticed a significant accumulation of litter over time,” the write. Moreover, trees in the infamous Red Forest—an area where all of the pine trees turned a reddish color and then died shortly after the accident—did not seem to be decaying, even 15 to 20 years after the meltdown.

Typhoon survivors living in temporary shelters are seen near ships that ran aground, nearly 100 days after super Typhoon Haiyan devastated Tacloban city in central Philippines 14 February 2014. Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,200 people and left tens of thousands homeless when it struck in November last year. Photo: Erik De Castro / REUTERS

Climate change set to displace hundreds of millions of people by end of century

WASHINGTON, 18 March 2014 (ANI) – A new UN report suggests that climate change will displace hundreds of millions of people by the end of this century, increasing the risk of violent conflict and wiping trillions of dollars off the global economy.

The second of three publications by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due to be made public at the end of this month, is the most comprehensive investigation into the impact of climate change ever undertaken.

A draft of the final version seen by the Independent says the warming climate will place the world under enormous strain, forcing mass migration, especially in Asia, and increasing the risk of violent conflict.

Based on thousands of peer-reviewed studies and put together by hundreds of respected scientists, the report predicts that climate change will reduce median crop yields by 2 percent per decade for the rest of the century – at a time of rapidly growing demand for food. This will in turn push up malnutrition in children by about a fifth, it predicts.

The report also forecasts that the warming climate will take its toll on human health, pushing up the number of intense heatwaves and fires and increasing the risk from food and water-borne diseases.

Voracious worm evolves to eat biotech corn engineered to kill it – ‘There needs to be a fundamental change in how the technology is used’

By Brandon Keim
17 March 2014

(Wired) – One of agricultural biotechnology’s great success stories may become a cautionary tale of how short-sighted mismanagement can squander the benefits of genetic modification.

After years of predicting it would happen — and after years of having their suggestions largely ignored by companies, farmers and regulators — scientists have documented the rapid evolution of corn rootworms that are resistant to Bt corn.

Until Bt corn was genetically altered to be poisonous to the pests, rootworms used to cause billions of dollars in damage to U.S. crops. Named for the pesticidal toxin-producing Bacillus thuringiensis gene it contains, Bt corn now accounts for three-quarters of the U.S. corn crop. The vulnerability of this corn could be disastrous for farmers and the environment.

“Unless management practices change, it’s only going to get worse,” said Aaron Gassmann, an Iowa State University entomologist and co-author of a March 17 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study describing rootworm resistance. “There needs to be a fundamental change in how the technology is used.”

Percentage yield change as a function of temperature for the three major crops and for temperate and tropical regions for local mean temperature changes up to 5.5 degrees.  Shaded bands indicate the 95 percent confidence interval of regressions consistent with the data based on 500 bootstrap samples, which indicate use of the full datase (blue) or the subset of data used in AR4 (orange). Graphic: Challinor, et al., 2014 / doi:10.1038/nclimate2153

Climate change will reduce crop yields much earlier than we thought – ‘Climate change means a less predictable harvest, with different countries winning and losing in different years’

16 March 2014 (PhysOrg) – A study led by the University of Leeds has shown that global warming of only 2°C will be detrimental to crops in temperate and tropical regions, with reduced yields from the 2030s onwards.

Professor Andy Challinor, from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds and lead author of the study, said: “Our research shows that crop yields will be negatively affected by climate change much earlier than expected.”

“Furthermore, the impact of climate change on crops will vary both from year-to-year and from place-to-place – with the variability becoming greater as the weather becomes increasingly erratic.”

The study, published today by the journal Nature Climate Change, feeds directly into the Working Group II report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, which is due to be published at the end of March 2014.

China is building the world's largest coal base. Photo: Lu Guang / Greenpeace

China is building a ‘coal base’ the size of Los Angeles

By Brian Merchant
13 February 2014

(Motherboard) – China, faced with ever-worsening pollution in its major cities—a recent report deemed Beijing “barely suitable for living”—is doing what so many industrializing nations have done before it: banishing its titanic smog spewers to poor or rural areas so everyone else can breathe easier. But China isn’t just relegating its dirty coal-fired power plants to the outskirts of society; for years, it’s been building 16 unprecedentedly massive, brand new “coal bases” in rural parts of the country. There, they won’t stifle China’s megacities; they’ll churn out enough pollution to help smother the entire world.

The biggest of those bases, the Ningdong Energy and Chemical Industry Base, spans nearly 400 square miles, about the size of LA. It’s already operational, and seemingly always expanding. It’s operated by Shenhua, one of the biggest coal companies in the world. China hopes to uses these coal bases not just to host some of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants, but to use super-energy intensive technology to convert the coal into a fuel called syngas and use it to make plastics and other materials.

Australia scientists resign ‘living dead’ species to extinction, call for triage debate – ‘I’m afraid to tell everybody we’re in a terminal situation. We’re confronting a whole raft of species about to go over the extinction cliff.’

By Margot O’Neill
20 March 2014

The dramatic ongoing loss of Australian animal and plant species has prompted influential scientists to call on governments to start making tough decisions about which ones to save – and which species should be left to face extinction.

The proposal to triage Australia’s unique species comes from some of the nation’s most senior conservation biologists.

It is a radical and controversial shift from decades of hard-fought conservation victories aiming to preserve all species and wilderness.

“I’m afraid to tell everybody we’re in a terminal situation. We’re confronting a whole raft of species about to go over the extinction cliff,” Professor David Bowman, an expert in environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, said.

Professor Corey Bradshaw, director of the Environment Institute’s Climate and Ecology Centre at The University of Adelaide, says Kakadu National Park has suffered a 95 per cent decline in mammals.

“Kakadu National Park, our largest national park, is basically a biodiversity basket case,” Professor Bradshaw said.

“The Great Barrier Reef has been suffering biodiversity declines for decades. Now if we can’t get it right in our two biggest and most well-known and certainly the best-funded parks and protected areas in Australia, what hope have we for the rest of our national parks?”

Around Australia at least 100 unique species have already become extinct since European settlement with more than 1,500 under threat, but scientists suspect many more have vanished or are on the brink without anyone realising.

It is a worldwide phenomenon, with global extinction rates of species not seen at this level since the loss of the dinosaurs.

The Oxygen babies market bottled oxygen across China to help people cope with dangerous levels of air pollution. The Oxygen babies have been touring the country, promoting the new products, which are currently free of charge, and were pictured in the city of Hangzhou in east China's Zhejiang province. Photo: Central European News

Oxygen stations set up across China to provide relief from air pollution

By Suzannah Hills
30 March 2014

(Daily Mail) – It is one of the most polluted countries on earth.

So it may come as little surprise that the latest fad in China is literally offering its city dwellers a breath of fresh air.

Numerous fresh air stations have been set up in some of China’s most polluted cities.

The stations are stocked with individual air bags which provide users with pollution-free fresh air.

And they have proved to be a big hit with one air station in Zhengzhou city in central China’s Henan province which was inundated with visitors.

Uniformed air hostesses hook up visitors to oxygen masks so they can breathe air sourced from the Laojun Mountain scenic spot in Luanchuan county, which is 80% green land, in Henan province.

There was no shortage of takers as locals flooded to enjoy the free fresh air.

User Feng Lin, 75, said: ‘The air is really good, but the time is too short. I had to stop too soon but it was really great until then.’

Climate change could make humans extinct, warns health expert – ‘We can’t possibly evolve to match this rate of warming’

31 March 2014
By Deborah Snow and Peter Hannam

(Sydney Morning Herald) – The Earth is warming so rapidly that unless humans can arrest the trend, we risk becoming ”extinct” as a species, a leading Australian health academic has warned.

Helen Berry, associate dean in the faculty of health at the University of Canberra, said while the Earth has been warmer and colder at different points in the planet’s history, the rate of change has never been as fast as it is today.

”What is remarkable, and alarming, is the speed of the change since the 1970s, when we started burning a lot of fossil fuels in a massive way,” she said. ”We can’t possibly evolve to match this rate [of warming] and, unless we get control of it, it will mean our extinction eventually.”

April 2014

Video: Warmer winters killing New Hampshire moose as ticks eat them alive – ‘Literally, this is the walking dead’

7 April 2014 (NPR) – KRISTINE RINES, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department: April is the month of death, when most of these animals seem to just — they are completely depleted and they just start dying.

HARI SREENIVASAN: According to Eric Orff, New Hampshire field biologist for the National Wildlife Federation, the deaths have been dramatic all along North America’s southern moose range.

ERIC ORFF, National Wildlife Federation: When you look at a precipitous decline in the last decade, you know, the needle is headed in the wrong direction, you know, all across the southern edge of the range, from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Minnesota, Michigan, all across the southern fringe of their range, moose numbers are in a significant decline.

The main theory New Hampshire researchers are pursuing is that the massive moose die-off is caused primarily by a devastating parasite, the winter tick.

On the day we visited, biologists retrieved a dead calf that was completely covered with winter ticks.

PETER PEKINS: Literally, this is the walking dead. The animal is totally emaciated. And there is no way it can survive.

These are the engorged adult ticks.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It is suspected the ticks latch on in fall and live off the animal’s blood for months.

PETER PEKINS: They are literally being sucked dry of blood. So, they can’t consume protein to replace the blood loss. Their only choice is to catabolize their own tissues. And that is going to be their muscles. The hind legs on a moose are some the most powerful legs in North America. And that animal doesn’t have any. And it’s because it has chewed up its own body to survive as long as it can.

And you can see that that is quite a bit of blood.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The winter tick parasite is not new, but its explosive population growth is. Reaching an animal like this calf soon after death allows scientists to document just how many ticks there were before they drop off in pursuit of a live host.

Scientists suspect that warmer winter temperatures are leading to the increased number of parasites.

Nautilus Minerals plans to mine the ocean floor near Papua New Guinea. The mine, known as Solwara-1, will be excavated by a fleet of robotic machines steered from a ship at the surface. Construction of the largest machine, the 310-tonne Bulk Cutter (shown here), was completed by an underwater specialist manufacturer, Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD), based in Newcastle, UK. The plan is to break up the top layer of the seabed so that copper ore can be pumped up as a slurry. Photo: BBC News

First-ever deep ocean mine to destroy seabed for ore – ‘It’s a resilient system and studies show that life will recover in 5-10 years’

By David Shukman, Science editor
25 April 2014

(BBC News) – Plans to open the world’s first mine in the deep ocean have moved significantly closer to becoming reality.

A Canadian mining company has finalised an agreement with Papua New Guinea to start digging up an area of seabed.

The controversial project aims to extract ores of copper, gold and other valuable metals from a depth of 1,500m.

However, environmental campaigners say mining the ocean floor will prove devastating, causing lasting damage to marine life.

Japan will ‘redesign’ Antarctic whaling program to make it more ‘scientific’ – ‘They intend to ignore the verdict of the International Court of Justice, and they intend to continue killing whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary’

Tokyo, 18 April 2014 (AFP) – Japan says it will redesign its controversial Antarctic whaling mission in a bid to make it more scientific, after a United Nations court ruled it was a commercial hunt masquerading as research.

The bullish response, which could see harpoon ships back in the Southern Ocean next year, sets Tokyo back on a collision course with environmentalists.

Campaigners had hailed the decision by the International Court of Justice, with hopes that it might herald the end of a practice they view as barbaric.

“We will carry out extensive studies in cooperation with ministries concerned to submit a new research program by this autumn to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), reflecting the criteria laid out in the verdict,” said Yoshimasa Hayashi, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

May 2014

Mountain Bull, the magnificent six-ton elephant, featured prominently in CBS reporting on the poaching crisis in Africa for CBS Evening News and CBS Sunday morning, has been discovered dead. In this photo, Mountain Bull is seen after rangers sawed off the elephant's tusks in an effort to protect him from poachers. Photo: CBS News

Mountain Bull, legendary Kenyan elephant, found slaughtered by poachers – ‘He was killed while being tracked night and day with modern technology and within the confines of a fenced national park and World Heritage site’

By M. Sanjayan
16 May 2014

(CBS News) – Mountain Bull, the magnificent six-ton elephant, featured prominently in our reporting on the poaching crisis in Africa for CBS Evening News and CBS Sunday morning, has been discovered dead.

Perhaps he had been living on borrowed time, but the manner and place of his death is shocking and deeply disheartening to conservationists and Kenyans.

He was a troublesome elephant at least according to human standards – intelligent, wide ranging, and fence breaking with his massive, perfectly matched tusks. During the dry season he would often retreat to the protected and secluded cool forests of Mount Kenya, but in the wet season, he would strike out for undiscovered country far to the north. Fences were but a minor nuisance for him. He knocked them down with his tusks and neighboring crops became a tasty snack for his journeys.

Last week his GPS-GSM enabled collar installed by Save the Elephants had stopped moving — rare for this restless bull. Conservationist Ian Craig noticed the discrepancy and dispatched a team of rangers who found his body, not in a farm field or near a community as perhaps expected, but in one of the best protected national parks in the country. Mountain Bull had been killed silently with spears within the apparent safety of Mt. Kenya National Park, his massive tusks hacked out of his skull.

In the end, and in the prime of his life, Mountain Bull was killed not for his rogue behavior but simply for being an elephant.

Report: Impossible to conserve nature as is, thanks to climate change

By Elizabeth Harball and ClimateWire
15 May 2014

(Scientific American) – When President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon in 1903, he famously admonished the attending crowd to avoid meddling with the landscape. “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it,” he said. True to Roosevelt’s message, America’s conservationists have since focused on maintaining the status quo, or at least restoring ecosystems to their natural state.

But due to the growing impacts of climate change, this can no longer continue, according to a new guide for land managers backed by multiple state and federal agencies.

“Addressing the growing threats brought about or accentuated by rapid climate change requires a fundamental shift in the practice of natural resource management in conservation,” states the document, released yesterday by the National Wildlife Federation in partnership with the National Park Service, U.S. EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey and several other federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations.

“While managers traditionally have looked to the past for inspiration, increasingly we will be faced with future conditions that may have no historical analogs,” it states.

Brazil laundering illegal timber on a massive and growing scale – ‘Logging in the Brazilian Amazon is absolutely out of control’

By Jonathan Watts and John Vidal
14 May 2014

(theguardian.com) – Illegally logged timber in Brazil is being laundered on a massive and growing scale and then sold on to unwitting buyers in the UK, US, Europe, and China, Greenpeace claimed on Thursday.

After a two-year investigation, the environmental campaign group says it has uncovered evidence of systematic abuse and a flawed monitoring system that contradicts the Brazilian government’s claims to be coping with the problem of deforestation in the Amazon.

In a report released on Thursday, Greenpeace cited five case studies of the fraudulent techniques used by the log launderers, including over-reporting the number and size of rare trees, logging trees protected by law, and over-extraction. It notes how forest management officials are implicated in the wrongdoing and several have previously been fined or detained for similar crimes in the past.

Far more than half of the wood from the two biggest timber producing regions of Brazil probably comes from illegal sources, it says, citing figures from the Brazilian environmental research NGO, Imazon, that 78% of the wood shipped from the vast Amazonian state of Pará is illegally felled, while the figure is 54% in Mato Grosso.

“Logging in the Brazilian Amazon is absolutely out of control. The current control system is being used to launder illegal timber,” said Marcio Astrini, a campaigner who was part of the two-year investigation.

Widespread abuse of the current regulations for timber extraction allow illegal loggers to acquire dubiously obtained credits, according to environmental campaigners and federal prosecutors.

With little oversight, big landowners obtain permission to cut down more trees than they intend to log and then sell on unused credits to lumber mills and other farmers.

Shells of marine life dissolving off the coast of the U.S. – ‘We did not expect to see pteropods being affected to this extent in our coastal region for several decades’

By Jeremy Hance
8 May 2014

(mongabay.com) – It could be the plot of a horror movie: humans wake up one day to discover that chemical changes in the atmosphere are dissolving away parts of their bodies. But for small marine life known as sea butterflies, or pteropods, this is what’s happening off the West Cost of the U.S. Increased carbon in the ocean is melting away shells of sea butterflies, which are tiny marine snails that underpin much of the ocean’s food chain, including prey for pink salmon, mackerel, and herring.

“We did not expect to see pteropods being affected to this extent in our coastal region for several decades,” said William Peterson, Ph.D., an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Northwest Fisheries Science Center who co-authored the findings in a paper for the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Sampling sea butterflies in the species Limacina helicina off California, Washington, and Oregon in the summer of 2011, researchers found that over 50 percent of onshore sea butterflies suffered from “severe dissolution damage,” according to the paper. Offshore, 24 percent of individuals showed such damage.

The shells of sea butterflies are dissolving due to increased acidification in the oceans caused by society’s CO2 emissions. While emissions from burning coal, gas, and oil are pumped into the atmosphere, the oceans eventually soak up nearly a third of the global cumulative emissions. This increase in CO2 in the oceans leads to a decrease in the availability of calcium carbonate and its crystal form, aragonite, which sea butterflies use to make their shells. Many other key species require calcium carbonate, such as corals, crustaceans, mollusks, and some plankton species.

Fewer polar bear cubs are being born in the Arctic islands, survey finds

By Damian Carrington
28 May 2014

Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard (theguardian.com) – The proportion of polar bear females around the Arctic islands of Svalbard who gave birth to cubs crashed to just 10% in 2014, according to a small scientific survey of the animals. It follows a series of warm years and poor sea ice.

The Barents Sea population of a few thousand polar bears is one of the biggest in the world. But global warming is rapidly reducing the extent of sea ice on which the bears hunt seals, their main food.

The annual survey undertaken by Jon Aars and his colleagues at the Norwegian Polar Institute was conducted in April, just after cubs and mothers leave their dens. They discovered that just three of the 29 adult females they tracked and examined had a cub born that year.

“This is a lower number than we would have expected,” he told the Guardian. “Typically one third or more of the adult females have cubs from that year.” But even this higher level is in long-term decline: annual records dating back two decades show that about half of adult females in Svalbard had cubs in the mid-1990s.

A farmer walks in a dust storm on drought-stricken lands near Felt, Oklahoma, on 1 August 2013. 'When people ask me if we'll have a Dust Bowl again, I tell them we're having one now,' says Millard Fowler, age 101. Photo: Ed Kashi, VII

Parched: A New Dust Bowl Forms in the Heartland –  “Exceptional drought” makes for tough times in Oklahoma.

By Laura Parker
16 May 2014

(National Geographic) – In Boise City, Oklahoma, over the catfish special at the Rockin’ A Café, the old-timers in this tiny prairie town grouse about billowing dust clouds so thick they forced traffic off the highways and laid down a suffocating layer of topsoil over fields once green with young wheat.

They talk not of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, but of the duster that rolled through here on April 27, clocked at 62.3 miles per hour.

It was the tenth time this year that Boise City, at the western end of the Oklahoma panhandle, has endured a dust storm with gusts more than 50 miles per hour, part of a breezier weather trend in a region already known for high winds.

“When people ask me if we’ll have a Dust Bowl again, I tell them we’re having one now,” says Millard Fowler, age 101, who lunches most days at the Rockin’ A with his 72-year-old son, Gary. Back in 1935, Fowler was a newly married farmer when a blizzard of dirt, known as Black Sunday, swept the High Plains and turned day to night. Some 300,000 tons of dirt blew east on April 14, falling on Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and, according to writer Timothy Egan in his book The Worst Hard Time, onto ships at sea in the Atlantic.

“It is just as dry now as it was then, maybe even drier,” Fowler says. “There are going to be a lot of people out here going broke.”

June 2014

Tree-killing beetles attacking California’s forests – ‘We have no known treatment. We have no capacity to fend it off.’

7 June 2014 (CBS News) – Southern California is already plagued by a crippling drought and wildfires.

Now you can add a legion of seemingly unstoppable beetles to the list of threats facing the region’s forests.

They’ve already invaded hundreds of tree species, and they are showing no signs of slowing down.

“We have lost numerous trees,” said Jim Folsom, director of the Huntington Botanical Gardens outside of Pasadena, California.

“On the property, in these 200 acres, we have over 700 species of large tree, woody tree. Of those, fully one-third, over 200 different kinds, different species of tree have proven to be invaded or impacted by this borer,” Folsom said.

Scientists zero in on cause of starfish die-offs – ‘It’s the largest mortality event for marine diseases we’ve seen. It’s been causing catastrophic mortality.’

By Ashley Ahearn and Katie Campbell, Earthfix
17 June 2014

ORCAS ISLAND, Washington (PBS) – Drew Harvell peers into the nooks and crannies along the rocky shoreline of Eastsound on Orcas Island. Purple and orange starfish clutch the rocks, as if hanging on for dear life.

In fact, they are.

“It’s a lot worse than it was last week,” said Harvell, a marine epidemiologist at Cornell University. She’s been leading nationwide efforts to understand what is causing starfish to die by the millions up and down North America’s Pacific shores and on the east coast as well. It’s been called sea star wasting syndrome because of how quickly the stars become sick and deteriorate.

“It’s the largest mortality event for marine diseases we’ve seen,” Harvell said. “It affects over 20 species on our coast and it’s been causing catastrophic mortality.”

Scientists have been working for months to find out what’s causing the massive die-off and now Harvell and others have evidence that an infectious disease caused by a bacteria or virus may be at the root of the problem. The disease, they say, could be compounded by warming waters, which put the sea stars under stress, making them more vulnerable to the pathogen.

Acid seas threaten creatures that supply half the world’s oxygen

By Martha Baskin and Mary Bruno
16 June 2014

(Crosscut) – What happens when phytoplankton, the (mostly) single-celled organisms that constitute the very foundation of the marine food web, turn toxic?

Their toxins often concentrate in the shellfish and many other marine species (from zooplankton to baleen whales) that feed on phytoplankton. Recent trailblazing research by a team of scientists aboard the RV Melville shows that ocean acidification will dangerously alter these microscopic plants, which nourish a menagerie of sea creatures and produce up to 60 percent of the earth’s oxygen.

The researchers worked in carbon saturated waters off the West Coast, a living laboratory to study the effects of chemical changes in the ocean brought on by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. A team of scientists from NOAA’s Fisheries Science Center and Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, along with teams from universities in Maine, Hawaii and Canada focused on the unique “upwelled” zones of California, Oregon and Washington. In these zones, strong winds encourage mixing, which pushes deep, centuries-old CO2 to the ocean surface. Their findings could reveal what oceans of the future will look like. The picture is not rosy.

Scientists already know that ocean acidification, the term used to describe seas soured by high concentrations of carbon, causes problems for organisms that make shells. “What we don’t know is the exact effects ocean acidification will have on marine phytoplankton communities,” says Dr. Bill Cochlan, the biological oceanographer from San Francisco State University oceanographer who was the project’s lead investigator. “Our hypothesis is that ocean acidification will affect the quantity and quality of certain metabolities within the phytoplankton, specifically lipids and essential fatty acids.”

Acidic waters appear to make it harder for phytoplankton to absorb nutrients. Without nutrients they’re more likely to succumb to disease and toxins. Those toxins then concentrate in the zooplankton, shellfish and other marine species that graze on phytoplankton.

Oil and gas blocks in the western Amazon in 2008. Solid yellow indicates blocks already leased out to companies. Hashed yellow indicates proposed blocks or blocks still in the negotiation phase. Peru's Amazon rainforest is extensively contaminated from decades of oil and gas drilling. Graphic: Matt Finer, Clinton Jenkins, and Bill Powers / LiveScience.com

Oil drilling has contaminated western Amazon rainforest, study confirms

By Becky Oskin, Senior Writer
14 June 2014

SACRAMENTO, California (LiveScience.com) – Peru’s Amazon rainforest is extensively contaminated from decades of oil and gas drilling, researchers reported yesterday (June 12) here at the annual Goldschmidt geochemistry conference.

In the past decade, volatile demonstrations by indigenous groups and tangled lawsuits against oil companies have exposed the toxic legacy of decades of oil drilling in the Western Amazon. People living in the rainforest say they are suffering health effects from the nearby polluted drilling and waste sites, and from eating plants and wildlife laced with heavy metals and petroleum compounds.

But lax government regulations during the early years of oil exploration, combined with a lack of environmental monitoring, mean there’s little data on the true extent of contamination in the richly diverse rainforest.

“I was surprised by how little has been published,” said study co-author Antoni Rosell-Melé, an environmental chemist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain.

“We know a lot about the impacts of deforestation, but very little has been published about the impacts of oil exploration,” Rosell-Melé said.

The results confirm the complaints from indigenous and green groups: Pollutant levels exceed government and international standards, the researchers said.

“When we extract oil, it has a very high price for the environment, and sometimes, it’s not paid by those who use the oil,” Rosell-Melé said.

Nearly 70 percent of the river water samples exceed Peru’s limits for lead, and 20 percent exceed cadmium limits, Rosell-Melé said. “There’s clearly been impacts from discharge into the rivers,” he said.

Ninety-nine percent of plastic pollution in the oceans is missing –‘Yes, animals are eating it’

By Angus Chen
30 June 2014

(Science) – Millions of tons. That’s how much plastic should be floating in the world’s oceans, given our ubiquitous use of the stuff. But a new study finds that 99% of this plastic is missing. One disturbing possibility: Fish are eating it.

If that’s the case, “there is potential for this plastic to enter the global ocean food web,” says Carlos Duarte, an oceanographer at the University of Western Australia, Crawley. “And we are part of this food web.”

Humans produce almost 300 million tons of plastic each year. Most of this ends up in landfills or waste pits, but a 1970s National Academy of Sciences study estimated that 0.1% of all plastic washes into the oceans from land, carried by rivers, floods, or storms, or dumped by maritime vessels. Some of this material becomes trapped in Arctic ice and some, landing on beaches, can even turn into rocks made of plastic. But the vast majority should still be floating out there in the sea, trapped in midocean gyres—large eddies in the center of oceans, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

To figure out how much refuse is floating in those garbage patches, four ships of the Malaspina expedition, a global research project studying the oceans, fished for plastic across all five major ocean gyres in 2010 and 2011. After months of trailing fine mesh nets around the world, the vessels came up light—by a lot. Instead of the millions of tons scientists had expected, the researchers calculated the global load of ocean plastic to be about only 40,000 tons at the most, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We can’t account for 99% of the plastic that we have in the ocean,” says Duarte, the team’s leader.

July 2014

Price of ivory triples in China – ‘Although half a world away, China holds the key to the future of the African elephant’

By Jeremy Hance
7 July 2014

(mongabay.com) – In the last four years the price of ivory in China has tripled, according to new research from Save the Elephants. The news has worrying implications for governments and conservationists struggling to save elephants in Africa amidst a poaching epidemic, which has seen tens-of-thousands of elephants butchered for their tusks across the continent annually.

“The average price paid by craftsmen or factory owners, for good quality, privately-owned 1-4 kilograms elephant tusks in Beijing in early 2014 was $2,100 per kilogram,” said Esmond Martin, who conducted a survey in May along with Lucy Vigne. “The average price for similar tusks in 2010 was $750 per kilogram.”

According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), last year at least 20,000 elephants were killed in Africa. This is a slight decline from a high of 25,000 in 2011. However other conservation groups believe far more elephants are being killed. For example, Save the Elephants puts the number at 33,000 every year between 2010-2012. […]

“Without concerted international action to reduce the demand for ivory measures to reduce the killing of elephants for ivory will fail,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants. “Although half a world away, China holds the key to the future of the African elephant.”

An frayed American flag stands sentinel over the harsh Texas Panhandle landscape and Lucas Spinhirne’s farm southwest of Vega, Texas. The tattered edge is a testament to the relentless wind in the Panhandle. Photo: Gil Aegerter / NBC News

The last drop: America’s breadbasket faces dire water crisis – ‘We’re headed for a brick wall at 100 miles per hour’

By Brian Brown
6 July 2014

VEGA, Texas (NBC News) – While a high-pitched wind rattles the windows, and assaults a flapping, fraying American flag in the front yard, Lucas Spinhirne knows he’s staring into an abyss that many in Texas—and across the world—may be forced to contemplate.

The once bounteous quantities of water that flowed under his farmland in the Texas Panhandle are a distant memory–pumped to the last drop. Now there is only one source of water for his wheat and sorghum: the sky above. “We try to catch anything that falls,” Spinhirne says.

The scope of this mounting crisis is difficult to overstate: The High Plains of Texas are swiftly running out of groundwater supplied by one of the world’s largest aquifers – the Ogallala. A study by Texas Tech University has predicted that if groundwater production goes unabated, vast portions of several counties in the southern High Plains will soon have little water left in the aquifer to be of any practical value.

The Ogallala Aquifer spreads across eight states, from Texas to South Dakota, covering 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles. It’s the fountain of life not only for much of the Texas Panhandle, but also for the entire American Breadbasket of the Great Plains, a highly-sophisticated, amazingly-productive agricultural region that literally helps feed the world.

This catastrophic depletion is primarily manmade. By the early eighties, automated center-pivot irrigation devices were in wide use – those familiar spidery-armed wings processing in a circle atop wheeled tripods. This super-sized sprinkler system allowed farmers to water crops more regularly and effectively, which both significantly increased crop yields and precipitously drained the Ogallala.

Compounding the drawdown has been the nature of the Ogallala itself. Created 10 million years ago, this buried fossil water is–in many places—not recharged by precipitation or surface water. When it’s gone, it’s gone for centuries.

“This country became what it became largely because we had water security,” says Venki Uddameri, Ph.D., director of the Water Resources Center at Texas Tech. “That’s being threatened to a large degree now.”

Global warming already having profound impacts on lakes in Europe – ‘Cyanobacteria like it hot, which is part of the reason why we’re seeing more toxic algae blooms’

By Lisa Borre
21 July 2014

(National Geographic) – For perspective on how climate change is affecting lakes, those of us here in the U.S. can just look across the pond, where scientists and the agencies involved in meeting the European Union’s Water Framework Directive have amassed an impressive body of research on the topic.

Not only are extreme weather events such as droughts and intense rainstorms becoming more common, climate warming is leading to increased algal growth and more frequent toxic algal blooms. It also affects the entire aquatic food web, including the number, size and distribution of freshwater fish species, according to the latest research.

New evidence from studies in Europe shows that a warming climate, in particular, is already having a profound impact on lakes, according to Dr. Erik Jeppesen at Aarhus University in Denmark. As I have noted in earlier posts, this is an important issue because other studies show that lake temperatures are on the rise throughout the world.

Climate warming exacerbates lake eutrophication, a natural aging process whereby a lake becomes more enriched with nutrients and algal growth over time. This process, sometimes called “cultural” eutrophication because it is accelerated by nutrient pollution from humans (think Lake Erie), has become one of the greatest problems facing lakes throughout the world.

As water temperature increases, it has a similar effect on a lake as increasing nutrient loading, although the mechanisms are different, Jeppesen says. The natural mechanisms that control phytoplankton growth weaken in a warmer climate. The lake’s growing season is longer, the nutrients are more readily available, and predation on phytoplankton is lower. This leads to more algal growth.

August 2014

TEPCO: More than 150 billion Bq per day of radioactive isotopes discharged to Pacific Ocean from Fukushima plant

26 August 2014 (SimplyInfo) – TEPCO made the startling admission today at a press conference that the plant is leaking 8 billion bequerels per day (8 gigabequerels).

  • 5 billion bq of strontium-90
  • 2 billion bq of cesium-137
  • 1 billion bq of tritium (later corrected to 150 billion bq)

This is the ongoing daily release to the Pacific. These release numbers are also within the realm of what some oceanographers have been warning about since last year, that there was an ongoing and considerable leak to the sea. According to journalist Ryuichi Kino TEPCO said this may be due to failings of some sort within the “glass” wall at the sea front. This is an underground wall made in the soil by injecting a solidifying agent to block water flow.

This daily release would add up to 11,680,000,000,000 = 11 terabequerels over 4 years time in addition to the initial sea releases during the meltdowns.

After 90 percent decline, Federal protection sought for monarch butterfly – ‘The widespread decline of monarchs is driven by the massive spraying of herbicides on genetically engineered crops’

WASHINGTON, 26 August 2014 (CBD) – The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety as co-lead petitioners joined by the Xerces Society and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower filed a legal petition today to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for monarch butterflies, which have declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years. During the same period it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.

“Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range,” said Lincoln Brower, preeminent monarch researcher and conservationist, who has been studying the species since 1954.

“We’re at risk of losing a symbolic backyard beauty that has been part of the childhood of every generation of Americans,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The 90 percent drop in the monarch’s population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio.”

The butterfly’s dramatic decline is being driven by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a uniquely potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in midwestern corn and soybean fields.

“The widespread decline of monarchs is driven by the massive spraying of herbicides on genetically engineered crops, which has virtually eliminated monarch habitat in cropland that dominates the Midwest landscape,” said Bill Freese, a Center for Food Safety science policy analyst. “Doing what is needed to protect monarchs will also benefit pollinators and other valuable insects, and thus safeguard our food supply.”

September 2014

Obesity in U.S. adults by race, 1999-2012. Graphic: Trust for America's Health

Obesity rates reach historic highs in more U.S. states

By Sharon Begley; Editing by Ken Wills
4 September 2014

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Rates of adult obesity increased in six U.S. states and fell in none last year, and in more states than ever – 20 – at least 30 percent of adults are obese, according to an analysis released on Thursday.

The conclusions were reported by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and were based on federal government data. They suggest the problem may be worsening despite widespread publicity about the nation’s obesity epidemic, from First Lady Michelle Obama and many others, plus countless programs to address it.

From 2011 to 2012, by comparison, the rate of obesity increased in only one state.

The 2013 adult obesity rate exceeds 20 percent in every state, while 42 have rates above 25 percent. For the first time two states, Mississippi and West Virginia, rose above 35 percent. The year before, 13 states were above 30 percent and 41 had rates of at least 25 percent.

Adult obesity rates increased last year in Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

Billionaire Richard Branson failed to deliver on $3 billion global warming pledge

By Suzanne Goldenberg
13 September 2014

(theguardian.com) – Richard Branson has failed to deliver on his much-vaunted pledge to spend $3bn (£1.8bn) over a decade to develop a low carbon fuel.

Seven years into the pledge, Branson has paid out only a small fraction of the promised money – “well under $300m” – according to a new book by the writer and activist, Naomi Klein.

The British entrepreneur famously promised to divert a share of the profits from his Virgin airlines empire to find a cleaner fuel, after a 2006 private meeting with Al Gore.

Branson went on to found a $25m Earth prize for a technology that could safely suck 1bn tons of carbon a year from the atmosphere. In 2009, he set up the Carbon War Room, an NGO which works on business solutions for climate change.

But by Klein’s estimate, Branson’s “firm commitment” of $3bn failed to materialise.

“So the sceptics might be right: Branson’s various climate adventures may indeed prove to have all been a spectacle, a Virgin production, with everyone’s favourite bearded billionaire playing the part of planetary saviour to build his brand, land on late night TV, fend off regulators, and feel good about doing bad,” Klein writes in This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs The Climate.

Great Barrier Reef plan ‘like saving a sinking ship with a thimble’

15 September 2014
By Amy Remeikis

(Brisbane Times) – It’s the 35-year plan designed to stave off UNESCO’s “in danger” rating and save the reef, but conservationists are already doubting it will work.

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell announced the Reef 2050 plan on Monday while the government was in Yeppoon for community cabinet.

The plan, which is open to public consultation until October 27, is a joint federal and Queensland government project that aims to address all threats to the reef, and comes just days after the government announced it would not allow offshore dredge spoil dumping as part of the Abbot Point port expansion.

Australian Marine Conservation Society’s Felicity Wishart said the plan was “too little” and likely “too late”.

“If the reef were a sinking ship it feels like they are trying to bail it out with a thimble,” she said.”And the plan admits it is doing nothing to address the biggest long term threat to the reef, namely climate change which leads to sea level rise, warmer water, more acidic water and more storms, all bad news for the reef.”

A nearly dry irrigation ditch on Eric Barlow’s Central Valley farm, September 2014. Photo: Matt Black

Zero percent water: Record drought killing off century-old California farms

By Alan Heathcock
22 September 2014

(Matter) – Welcome to the Central Valley, ground zero of the water war. Outsiders take heed for this is a troubled land.

Before we get to what this drought means?—?the anger and paranoia, the heartbreak and bitterness?—?it’s important to remember the Central Valley isn’t just any valley. It’s one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Our country’s breadbasket. Our primary source for tomatoes, almonds, grapes, cotton, and dozens of other products. I’m scheduled to see all of it, on what I’m told will be a “tour of destruction.” My first stop is a beer with a man named “Mule.”

October 2014

Scottish otters dying early because of poisoned seas – ‘Our otters are not living long enough to significantly expand the population further’

By Mike Merritt and Tristan Stewart-Robertson
13 October 2014

(The Scotsman) – Scottish otters are only living a third of the lifespan of those on mainland Europe because of poisoned seas, a leading expert on the species has warned.

Zoologist Dr Paul Yoxon said chemicals in everyday products are accumulating in fish and shellfish on which the mammals feed, weakening their immune systems.

The zoologist, who runs the International Otter Survival Fund (IOSF) on Skye with his biologist wife Grace, said hormone-disrupting chemicals, commonly found in shampoos and plastics, are also believed to be behind shrinking genitals of the male otter, affecting reproduction rates.

Research has shown Scottish otters are living only about five or six years, compared to 15-16 years in Germany and the Czech Republic.

Dr Yoxon said: “The problem is that our otters are not living long enough to significantly ?expand the population further.

“If you consider that a female in Scotland does not become sexually mature until she is 18 months, and has on average two cubs – only one of whom will survive to adulthood – and she is with them for 13-14 months, she will only have two litters in her short lifetime.

‘‘That is much less than those on the Continent where they have cleaned up their industrial pollution much better. Because otters in Scotland are not living past 5-6 years on average, there is a serious problem. Toxicology tests have shown that they have accumulated high levels of cadmium and mercury in their bodies from the fish they eat.

‘‘Those fish mainly originate in the North Sea, which traditionally has had high levels of industrial pollution.”

Seven-week-old orca calf has died – Orca bodies are so contaminated that mothers are feeding toxic milk to their babies

By Gary Chittim and Elizabeth Wiley
21 October 2014

SEATTLE (KING 5 News) – The death of a baby southern resident orca is part of a trend that doesn’t bode well for survival of the endangered pods.

On the same day the “L” pod thrilled whale watchers with a late season visit to the waters near Vashon Island, researchers announced the death of L-120, an orca born seven weeks ago.

L-120 apparently died while its pod was in the open ocean off Washington or British Columbia, the Center for Whale Research said.

The pod was offshore for a week to 10 days, and the orca designated L-120 might have been lost in a storm in the middle of last week, researcher Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research said.

No orca births were recorded last year, and it’s been three years since the J, K, and L pods produced a baby that survived more than a year.

The southern resident population has dipped to 78, which is less than it was in 2005 when NOAA added the southern resident orcas to the Federal Endangered Species List.

Sea level rise over past century unmatched in 6,000 years – ‘What we’ve seen is unusual, certainly unprecedented for these interglacial periods’

By Oliver Milman
13 October 2014

(theguardian.com) – The rise in sea levels seen over the past century is unmatched by any period in the past 6,000 years, according to a lengthy analysis of historical sea level trends.

The reconstruction of 35,000 years of sea level fluctuations finds that there is no evidence that levels changed by more than 20cm in a relatively steady period that lasted between 6,000 years ago and about 150 years ago.

This makes the past century extremely unusual in the historical record, with about a 20cm rise in global sea levels since the start of the 20th century. Scientists have identified rising temperatures, which have caused polar ice to melt and thermal expansion of the sea, as a primary cause of the sea level increase.

Kurt Lambeck, who led the research at ANU said the sea level increase of the past 100 years is “beyond dispute”, backed up by separate data from salt flats and also changes to the sea floor caused by the extra weight of water.

“What we’ve seen is unusual, certainly unprecedented for these interglacial periods,” he said.

“All the studies show that you can’t just switch off this process. Sea levels will continue to rise for some centuries to come even if we keep carbon emissions at present day levels.”

Amazon rainforest losing ability to regulate climate, scientist warns – ‘Amazon deforestation is altering climate. It is no longer about models. It is about observation.’

By Jonathan Watts
31 October 2014

(Rio de Janeiro) – The Amazon rainforest has degraded to the point where it is losing its ability to benignly regulate weather systems, according to a stark new warning from one of Brazil’s leading scientists.

In a new report, Antonio Nobre, researcher in the government’s space institute, Earth System Science Centre, says the logging and burning of the world’s greatest forest might be connected to worsening droughts – such as the one currently plaguing São Paulo – and is likely to lead eventually to more extreme weather events.

The study, which is a summary drawing from more than 200 existing papers on Amazonian climate and forest science, is intended as a wake-up call.

“I realised the problem is much more serious than we realised, even in academia and the reason is that science has become so fragmented. Atmospheric scientists don’t look at forests as much as they should and vice versa,” said Nobre, who wrote the report for a lay audience. “It’s not written in academic language. I don’t need to preach to the converted. Our community is already very alarmed at what is going on.”

A draft seen by the Guardian warns that the “vegetation-climate equilibrium is teetering on the brink of the abyss.” If it tips, the Amazon will start to become a much drier savanna, with calamitous consequences.

November 2014

Demonstrators on Parliament Hill protest research cuts and the government's muzzling of Canadian scientists, 16 September 2013. Photo: Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Government muzzling of Canada scientists widespread, survey suggests – ‘We live in a climate of fear’

OTTAWA, 7 November 2014 (The Canadian Press) – The union representing scientists and other professionals in the federal public service is abandoning its tradition of neutrality in elections to actively campaign against Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) says delegates to its annual general meeting have agreed the union should be more politically active heading into next year’s federal election.

In particular, delegates have agreed that the union should energetically expose the damage they believe the Harper government has done to federal public services.

Members of the union have complained bitterly about what they claim is the muzzling of federal scientists and political interference with their work.

The union, which represents some 55,000 professionals in the public service, has traditionally chosen to stay at arm’s length from elections.

But union president Debi Daviau says the government’s war on labour unions and its cuts to public service jobs have forced a change in strategy.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary actions,” Daviau said in a written statement Friday.

“This government has forced non-partisan organizations such as ours to make a very difficult choice: to remain silent or to speak out. We have chosen to speak out.”

Aerial view of drought-plagued grazing land in New South Wales, Australia. Graziers are desperate for rain after a hot October 2014. Photo: ABC News

Farmers in three Australia states experience lowest rainfall on record – ‘We’re starting to see communities collapse’

By Chris Uhlmann
5 November 2014

(ABC News) – CHRIS UHLMANN: It’s being described as a once-in-a-100-year drought. Parts of New South Wales and large swaths of western Queensland and Victoria have chalked up the lowest rainfall on record over the past two years.

The Abbot Government is preparing to re-allocate $100 million in low interest loans to farmers in the worst affected areas.

Brent Finlay is the president of the National Farmers’ Federation and he joins me now from Darwin.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And what would the loans be used for?

BRENT FINLAY: Well it’s certainly- it’s restocking when it does rain. And right at the moment it’s hard to do anything. What we obviously need is rain and a lot of rain. But it’s restocking and it’s replanting crops and getting these businesses back on their feet.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Isn’t this just propping up, though, businesses that are marginal? If the Government doesn’t do it for workers in the manufacturing industries, why should it support farmers?

BRENT FINLAY: I think in your intro you were talking about a one in 50, or one in 100 year drought. And before this drought, these businesses were strong, they were viable. And when it rains they will be again.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Will they be again or are you expecting that over time, with climate change, you might see less rain in these areas, they become ever more marginal?

BRENT FINLAY: Well climate change and discussions around that are obviously at the forefront of everybody’s mind. Farmers, we adjust to the climate we see every day. And we read all the predictions and adjust our production systems accordingly.

Polar bears disappearing from southern Beaufort Sea – ‘We suspect that they are dying of starvation’

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
17 November 2014

WASHINGTON (Associated Press) – A key polar bear population fell nearly by half in the past decade, a new U.S.-Canada study [pdf] found, with scientists seeing a dramatic increase in young cubs starving and dying.

Researchers chiefly blame shrinking sea ice from global warming.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and Environment Canada captured, tagged and released polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea from 2001 to 2010. The bear population shrank to about 900 in 2010, down from about 1,600 in 2004. That area is one of two main U.S. polar bear regions.

“These estimates suggest to me that the habitat is getting less stable for polar bears,” said study lead author Jeff Bromaghin, a USGS statistician.

December 2014

Deforestation may be at root of Brazil drought – ‘We’re like the Titanic moving straight toward the iceberg’

By BRAD BROOKS and ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON
4 December 2014

SÃO PAULO (Associated Press) – Vera Lucia de Oliveira looks to the sky, hoping for any sign of rain.

For weeks, the taps in her home have run dry as São Paulo has suffered its worst drought in eight decades, with rainfall at one-third the normal level. Without heavy and prolonged rain, the megacity of 23 million could soon run out of water, experts warn.

“We are always thinking: The rain is coming, the rain is coming,” said Oliveira.

But it doesn’t, and a growing consensus of scientists believes the answer to what is happening to Oliveria and her neighbors lies not in the sky above their heads but in decades of deforestation of Amazon rainforest hundreds of miles away.

The cutting of trees, scientists say, is hindering the immense jungle’s ability to absorb carbon from the air — and to pull enough water through tree roots to supply gigantic “sky rivers” that move more moisture than the Amazon river itself. More than two-thirds of the rain in southeastern Brazil, home to 40 percent of its population, comes from these sky rivers, studies estimate. When they dry up, drought follows, scientists believe.

It’s not just Brazil but South America as a whole for which these rivers in the sky play a pivotal meteorological role, according to a recent study by a top Brazilian climate scientist, Antonio Nobre of the government’s Center for Earth System Science.

A man stands in front of the CCTV building in Beijing, wearing a filter against the dense smog. Beijing's air quality has long been a cause of concern, but the effects of its extreme levels of pollution can now been seen in physical changes to the architecture of the city. Photo: Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

Inside Beijing’s airpocalypse, a city made almost uninhabitable by pollution – ‘Now we have the dome, it’s perfect weather all year round’

By Oliver Wainwright
16 December 2014

BEIJING (The Guardian) – The scene could be straight from a science-fiction film: a vision of everyday life, but with one jarring difference that makes you realise you’re on another planet, or in a distant future era.

A sports class is in full swing on the outskirts of Beijing. Herds of children charge after a football on an artificial pitch, criss-crossed with colourful markings and illuminated in high definition by the glare of bright white floodlights. It all seems normal enough – except for the fact that this familiar playground scene is taking place beneath a gigantic inflatable dome.

“It’s a bit of a change having to go through an airlock on the way to class,” says Travis Washko, director of sports at the British School of Beijing. “But the kids love it, and parents can now rest assured their children are playing in a safe environment.”

The reason for the dome becomes apparent when you step outside. A grey blanket hangs in the sky, swamping the surroundings in a de-saturated haze and almost obscuring the buildings across the street. A red flag hangs above the school’s main entrance to warn it’s a no-go day: stay indoors at all costs. The airpocalypse has arrived.

Beijing’s air quality has long been a cause of concern, but the effects of its extreme levels of pollution on daily life can now be seen in physical changes to the architecture of the city. Buildings and spaces are being reconfigured and daily routines modified to allow normal life to go on beneath the toxic shroud.

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