Today’s headlines from the interface between planet and people begins, again, with the story of the day, first from BBC News:
Ebola crisis: Liberia police fire at Monrovia protests
Police in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, have fired live rounds and tear gas during protests after a quarantine was imposed to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.
Residents of the capital’s West Point slum area say the barbed wire blockade stops them buying food and working.
Four people are said to have been injured in the clashes.
Liberia has seen the most deaths – 576 – in the world’s worst Ebola outbreak, which has hit West Africa this year.
The Washington Post delivers good news for Westerners who got treatments with experimental drugs unavailable to most of those stricken with the dread disease which kills ninety percent of those afflicted:
Two Americans who contracted Ebola have been released from the hospital
American doctor Kent Brantly and North Carolina missionary Nancy Writebol, both of whom contracted Ebola while treating infected Liberian patients, have been released from an Atlanta hospital. Writebol was discharged from Emory University Hospital on Tuesday and Brantly was released on Thursday.
“Today is a miraculous day,” Brantly said at an Emory news conference. “I am thrilled to be alive, to be well and to be reunited with my family.”
The Texas doctor appeared near death weeks ago after contracting the disease, which has killed 1,350 people in the four African nations affected by the contagion. He was flown back to the United States from Liberia in a special transport plane that included an isolation unit and arrived at Emory on Aug. 2.
Another patient who got the same drug didn’t fare so well, via El País:
Death was to be expected, say doctors who treated ebola-infected priest in Spain
- The team who looked after Miguel Pajares in Madrid say hardest part was lack of direct contact
The death of Spanish missionary Miguel Pajares from the ebola virus in Madrid was “to be expected” even though doctors fought to save his life “to the very end,” medics who treated him at the capital’s Carlos III Hospital have said.
Speaking to news agency Efe about being the first doctors to treat an ebola patient in Europe, tropical disease specialists Marta Arsuaga and Fernando de la Calle Prieto said that at first they hoped he might pull through despite the virus’s 80 percent mortality rate, since he was being treated in a more advanced health system.
For five days, the team managed to keep 75-year-old Pajares, who had been brought back to Spain after contracting the virus working in a hospital in Liberia, alive. “At that moment we all wanted him to pull through so badly … but it is a very serious virus and the end was to be expected,” said Arsuaga.
And a video report from Deutsche Welle on an African nation on edge:
Ebola fears growing in Nigeria
International health officials have been keeping a close watch on Nigeria since the first cases of Ebola surfaced there a few weeks ago. But intensive government efforts have so far managed to contain the virus to about a dozen cases in Africa’s most populous nation. Still, as DW’s Adrian Kriesch discovered, the mood on the ground is anything but calm.
BBC News closes the borders:
Ebola travel: South Africa bans incomers from W Africa
South Africa says non-citizens arriving from Ebola-affected areas of West Africa will not be allowed into the country.
The health ministry said borders would be closed to all non-citizen travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
South African nationals will be allowed to re-enter the country when returning from high-risk countries, but will undergo strict screening. All non-essential outgoing travel to the affected countries has been banned.
Deutsche Welle answers a question:
How does Ebola spread?
As more doctors treating Ebola patients contract the disease themselves, it’s clear that better prevention is needed. But given the virus’s resilience and the low Ebola awareness in West Africa, this is no easy task.
Ebola has claimed over 1,000 lives in West Africa so far. Despite great efforts on the part of medical specialists, the World Health Organization and aid organizations, the virus continues to spread.
In order to become infected with the disease, people need to come into direct contact with bodily fluids – such as blood, urine, feces and sweat – that contain the virus, or touch a contaminated object. The virus is very resilient and can survive on various surfaces for a long time. It can be transferred via traces of bodily fluids on surfaces like toilet seats and tabletops.
When the carrier dies, the virus doesn’t die right away. Instead, it lives inside the corpse for up to a week, continuing to pose a danger.
Global Times offers a Southeast Asian reassurance:
No Ebola case in Cambodia: PM
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that the country has not seen any case related to the West Africa-hit Ebola virus disease. His remarks came after rumors across social media in recent days that Ebola was found in Cambodia.
“There is no Ebola presence in Cambodia so far,” the prime minister said during a graduation ceremony of students at Beltei International Institute.
He said the country has taken urgent measures to prevent the deadly Ebola virus by installing body-temperature sensors at airports and border checkpoints.
IRIN News observes:
Ebola horror hastens use of test drugs
Ebola’s devastation in West Africa has catapulted experimental drugs from labs to patients and shaken up vaccine development, which was hitherto patchy as outbreaks of the virus have tended to be spasmodic and geographically limited.
“There is no market for Ebola vaccines,” Marie-Paule Kieny, World Health Organization (WHO) assistant director-general, told IRIN. “Outside of an outbreak, who would want to get vaccinated against Ebola? Nobody. Therefore the market is inexistent more or less. So there was not that much investment into developing that. Nevertheless, they were carrying forward.”
From Mother Jones, capitalizing on fear and xenophobia:
Another GOP Candidate Says Migrant Kids Might Have Ebola. (They Don’t.)
Arizona Speaker of the House Andy Tobin is the latest Republican politician to suggest migrants from Central America might bring the Ebola virus with them to the United States. Tobin, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the state’s 1st Congressional District in Tuesday’s primary, made the connection in an interview published in the Tucson Weekly on Thursday.
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) started the GOP Ebola fearmongering trend last month when he wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that “[r]eports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.” In August, Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) leveled the same charge.
Although allegations of disease-ridden migrants are common throughout history, vaccination rates in Central America are higher than in Texas. And Ebola, which is difficult to contract, is not found in Central America.
On to water woes, starting with this from the Los Angeles Times:
Western drought causes Earth’s surface to rise as groundwater drops
A year and a half of drought has depleted 63 trillion gallons of water across the Western United States, according to a new study that documents how the parched conditions are altering the landscape.
The loss of groundwater, as well as surface water such as reservoirs, has been so extreme that it lifted the West an average of one-sixth of an inch since 2013, according to researchers from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the U.S. Geological Survey.
The situation is even worse underneath the snow-starved mountains of California, where the Earth rose up three-fifths of an inch. Groundwater is very heavy, and its weight depresses the Earth’s upper crust. Remove the weight, and the crust springs upward.
And the accompanying graphic:
More from Quartz:
The loss over the last 11 years is about 240 gigatons of water, as of March 2014—the equivalent of the annual mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet. California residents have resorted to painting their lawns green to save water. And the state’s agricultural sector, including a booming marijuana business, has been tough on the water supply—to say nothing of how fast the water is being consumed by regular citizens.
There’s some good news when it comes to earthquake risk, though. Some experts have expressed concern that drought could create more stress on the San Andreas fault that runs through California; but today’s study found that stress changes from the water were “unlikely to affect” earthquake risk.
From the Latin American Herald Tribune, pressure to exact a price for water pollution:
Mexican Congress Urges Government to Cancel Mine Concession after Toxic Spill
Mexico’s Congress has urged the federal government to cancel Grupo Mexico’s concession for a large copper mine in the northwestern state of Sonora after acid spilled into two rivers.
The Permanent Committee, which assumes legislative duties when Congress is in recess, called for a halt to operations at the Cananea mine while authorities assess the damage caused by the Aug. 6 spill of 40,000 cubic meters (10.5 million gallons) of copper sulfate acid solution into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers.
The Mexico City-based mining giant’s negligence in storing chemical residues caused the spill, the committee said.
Public Radio International covers an aquatic cri de couer:
Coral reefs can communicate with fish, and many of them are crying for help
Georgia Tech ecologist Mark Hay calls it part of “the coral reef death spiral.”
“Everything that’s going on,” Hay says, “global warming, overfishing, pollution — means there’s less coral, more algae and more contact between corals and algae.”
And Hay says that contact can start to degrade a reef incredibly quickly — within just two days. “Those corals … start bleaching and tissues start dying where they’re in contact,” he says. “And then on a couple of those corals, that bleaching just spreads [to] the rest of the coral.”
From water to the air with The Verge:
NASA finds unexpectedly high levels of banned ozone-depleting chemical
It’s been decades since the world realized the danger that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs, formerly found in products like aerosol sprays, refrigerants, and solvents) posed to the Earth’s ozone layer. But despite the fact that the CFC known as carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) was banned way back in 1987, a new study from NASA shows a troubling amount of the compound in our atmosphere — something that presents a continued threat to the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.
“We are not supposed to be seeing this at all,” said NASA’s Qing Liang, lead author of the study. “It is now apparent there are either unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources.” Between 2007 and 2012, studies showed now new CCl4 emissions — but this new study shows that worldwide emissions of CCl4 were still at 30 percent of their peak levels back before ban went into effect. The study also showed that concentrations of the compound were declining by only one percent per year during that 2007 to 2012 time period, not by the four percent rate originally estimated.
Beyond the unexplained sources of CCl4, the compound is also staying in the atmosphere 40 percent longer than earlier studies showed. “Is there a physical CCl4 loss process we don’t understand, or are there emission sources that go unreported or are not identified?” Liang asked. But unfortunately, the team behind the study isn’t ready to release any theories about what’s causing the higher-than-expected concentration of ozone-depleting chemicals.
Another atmospheric threat, via the Independent:
Iceland volcano: Fears of eruption and ash cloud increase as Met Office registers 1,000 small earthquakes in region
Fears of another volcanic eruption in Iceland continued today with reports that weather officials have detected 1,000 small quakes in the Barðarbunga volcano, following an unusually strong earthquake on Monday.
Hundreds of people have been evacuated from the highlands north of the Vatnajokull glacier by Iceland’s civil protection department after the volcano began belching huge plumes of smoke.
Iceland’s Met Office released an updated statement this morning, saying: “seismic activity in Bárðarbunga and vicinity is still great. As yesterday, the main activity stems from the intrusive event under Dyngjujökull.”
From Global Times, another environment under siege:
Mountainous forests in East China’s Zhejiang Province are being consumed due to the need to develop more farmland.
In fact, many forests have already been turned into fields. Trees were chopped down and harvested for wood, leaving the land to be plowed and turned into terraced fields.
One of the key factors is the low availability of land. As a leading province in terms of economic development and urbanization, Zhejiang is in constant need of land for industrial and construction use. A lot of farmland, as a result, has been taken over.
On the other hand, because China has a stipulated “red line” base minimum of 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) of fields, the removal of any fields needs to be matched with the addition of the same area of land. This has meant that local governments in Zhejiang have turned their sights toward the mountains.
Inter Press Service covers yet another GMO push:
US, Brazil Nearing Approval of Genetically Engineered Trees
- Governments weighing approval of permit for genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, which critics say would increase deforestation
The U.S. and Brazilian governments are moving into the final stages of weighing approval for the commercialisation of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, moves that would mark the first such permits anywhere in the world.
The Brazilian government is slated to start taking public comments on such a proposal during the first week of September. Similarly, U.S. regulators have been working on an environmental impact assessment since early last year, a highly anticipated draft of which is expected to be released any day.
Despite industry claims to the contrary, critics warn that the use of genetically engineered (GE) trees would increase deforestation. The approvals could also spark off a new era of such products, which wouldn’t be confined solely to these countries.
While RT charts a major reversal:
End of the line: GMO production in China halted
In a surprise U-turn, China’s Ministry of Agriculture has decided not to continue with a program which developed genetically-modified rice and corn. Some environmentalists say public concerns about GM crops played a key role in the decision.
On August 17, when these permits were up for renewal, the Ministry of Agriculture decided not to extend them. In 2009, the ministry’s Biosafety Committee issued approval certificates to develop the two crops, rice and corn.
Developed by the Huazhong Agricultural University, near Wuhan, it was hoped that the GMO strains would help to reduce pesticide use by 80 percent, while raising yields by as much as 8 percent, said Huang Jikun, the chief scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Reuters in 2009. It is illegal to sell genetically-modified rice on the open market in China.
On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Asahi Shimbun:
Local leaders seek disclosure of testimony by former nuclear plant chief
Leaders of local governments near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant want the testimony given by the plant manager months after the accident to be disclosed.
The Asahi Shimbun ascertained that eight local leaders want full disclosure after seeking the views of the Fukushima governor and heads of 13 cities, towns and villages located within 20 kilometers of the plant and areas outside the 20-km radius where radiation levels were more than 20 millisieverts per year.
Masao Yoshida was plant chief when the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami set off the nuclear accident.
The Asahi Shimbun again, with more pressure:
TEPCO shareholders go to court for disclosure of Yoshida testimony on nuclear disaster
Shareholders of Tokyo Electric Power Co. filed a lawsuit Aug. 20 for disclosure of testimony about the 2011 nuclear disaster given by the late manager of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
“(The government) should make public investigative records of 772 people, including Masao Yoshida (then plant manager), to enable a re-examination of what was wrong and what was correct,” said Yui Kimura, who heads the plaintiffs’ group.
The 10 TEPCO shareholders and others are calling on the Cabinet Secretariat to disclose records of the government investigation panel’s interviews with 772 people involved in the nuclear crisis triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Jiji Press advances oversight:
Japan N-Plant Decommissioning Aid Body Starts Operations
Japan’s Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp., which will supervise work to decommission crippled nuclear reactors and control radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, began operations on Thursday.
The Japanese government wants to strengthen its involvement in decommissioning work through the new body. Some 50 experts on decommissioning technologies will be on hand to advise Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the disaster-stricken plant, and develop related technologies.
Takehiko Sugiyama, head of the new organization, and Hajimu Yamana, the senior official in charge of decommissioning, put up a signboard bearing the name of the organization at the entrance of its head office in Toranomon in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on Thursday.
And foor our final item, via NHK WORLD, preparing for a visit:
Residents plan tour to Fukushima evacuation zone
A group of residents near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant plans to organize guided tours of their hometown. The aim is to keep alive the memory of the 2011 nuclear accident.
Areas in 7 municipalities around the nuclear plant are part of a designated no-entry evacuation zone due to high radiation levels there. Residents need to acquire permission to enter the area.
A group of residents of Okuma town say they want outsiders to know that the impact of the accident still lingers. Okuma is one of two towns that host the plant.