Our second headline collection focuses on the environment, and the costs of living a world where consumption — and the attendant damages to the earth, our fellow living creatures, and ourselves — has become the driving impetus of the systems of power and control.
First up, MintPress News covers stark reality:
Criminal Prosecution Rates For Corporate Environmental Crimes Near Zero
Grappling with a shrinking budget and limited manpower, the EPA pursues criminal charges in “fewer than one-half of one percent” of total legal violations.
While U.S. regulators are actively flagging and tracking corporate violations of federal environmental laws, the government is rarely pursuing criminal penalties for those infractions.
The Environmental Protection Agency, the key department in safeguarding the country’s health from pollutants, pursues criminal charges in fewer than one-half of one percent of total violations, according to new research. Both the EPA and the Department of Justice do continue to score high-visibility accountability successes for environmental crimes every year, but most of these are civil charges, which require less evidence to prove and fewer resources to prosecute.
Yet critics worry that civil proceedings, which typically result in fines but no jail time or restitution, don’t offer the robust deterrent effect necessary to substantively impact corporate decision-making or offer compensation to affected communities.
“More than 64,000 facilities are currently listed in agency databases as being in violation of federal environmental laws, but in most years, fewer than one-half of one percent of violations trigger criminal investigations,” according to a newinvestigation from the Crime Report, a publication of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
BBC News combines the deplorable and the devastating:
Global decline of wildlife linked to child slavery
New research suggests the global decline in wildlife is connected to an increase in human trafficking and child slavery.
Ecologists say the shortage of wild animals means that in many countries more labour is now needed to find food.
Children are often used to fill this need for cheap workers, especially in the fishing industry.
The decline in species is also helping the proliferation of terrorism and the destabilisation of regions.
From Mother Jones, a subject of our ongoing concern:
California Farms Are Sucking Up Enough Groundwater to Put Rhode Island 17 Feet Under
In addition to affecting agricultural production the drought will cost the state billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and a whole lot of groundwater, according to a new report prepared for the California Department of Food and Agriculture by scientists at UC-Davis. The authors used current water data, agricultural models, satellite data, and other methods to predict the economic and environmental toll of the drought through 2016.
- The drought will cost the state $2.2 billion this year: Of these losses, $810 million will come from lower crop revenues, $203 million will come from livestock and dairy losses, and $454 million will come from the cost of pumping additional groundwater. Up to 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs will be lost.
- California is experiencing the “greatest absolute reduction in water availability” ever seen: In a normal year, about one-third of California’s irrigation water is drawn from wells that tap into the groundwater supply. The rest is “surface water” from streams, rivers, and reservoirs. This year, the state is losing about one-third of its surface water supply. The hardest hit area is the Central Valley, a normally fertile inland region. Because groundwater isn’t as easily pumped in the Valley as it is on the coasts, and the Colorado River supplies aren’t as accessible as they are in the south, the Valley has lost 410,000 acres to fallowing, an area about 10 times the size of Washington, DC.
- Farmers are pumping enough groundwater to immerse Rhode Island in 17 feet of it: To make up for the loss of surface water, farmers are pumping 62 percent more groundwater than usual. They are projected to pump 13 million acre-feet this year, enough to put Rhode Island 17 feet under.
- “We’re acting like the super-rich:” California is technically in its third year of drought, and regardless of the effects of El Niño, 2015 is likely to be a dry year too. As the dry years accumulate, it becomes harder and harder to pump water from the ground, adding to the crop and revenue losses. California is the only western state without groundwater regulation or measurement of major groundwater use. If you can drill down to water, it’s all yours. (Journalist McKenzie Funk describes this arcane system in an excerpt from his fascinating recent book, Windfall.) “A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” said Richard Howitt, a UC-Davis water scientist and co-author of the report. “We’re acting like the super-rich, who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”
The report is posted online here [PDF]:
From Project Syndicate, another ravaged continent:
Antarctica’s Point of No Return
Recent satellite observations have confirmed the accuracy of two independent computer simulations that show that the West Antarctic ice sheet has now entered a state of unstoppable collapse. The planet has entered a new era of irreversible consequences from climate change. The only question now is whether we will do enough to prevent similar developments elsewhere.
What the latest findings demonstrate is that crucial parts of the world’s climate system, though massive in size, are so fragile that they can be irremediably disrupted by human activity. It is inevitable that the warmer the world gets, the greater the risk that other parts of the Antarctic will reach a similar tipping point; in fact, we now know that the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica, as big or even bigger than the ice sheet in the West, could be similarly vulnerable.
There are not many human activities whose impact can reasonably be predicted decades, centuries, or even millennia in advance. The fallout from nuclear waste is one; humans’ contribution to global warming through greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, and its impact on rising sea levels, is another.
Indeed, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated, in uncharacteristically strong terms, that the sea level is “virtually certain” to continue to rise in the coming centuries or millennia. Moreover, the greater our emissions, the higher the seas will rise.
Via DutchNews.nl, Big Pharma strikes again:
Criminal investigation begun into banned antibiotic in animal feed
The public prosecution department has launched a criminal investigation into the use of a banned antibiotic in Dutch animal feed from a producer near Utrecht.
In a statement on Friday the department said business premises and a private house have been searched as part of the investigation.
Food safety inspectors have shut 102 Dutch pig and veal farms and 11 in Germany because they were delivered feed containing the antibiotic furazolidone, the Financieele Dagblad said earlier on Friday.
From the Economic Times, conditional reistance to the globalization regime in the name of food autonomy:
US sees ‘crisis’ in WTO over customs disaccord with India, others
The World Trade Organisation is facing a “crisis” because of disagreement, most notably with India, over improved customs procedures, the United States said Friday.
“We are deeply disappointed that backsliding on Trade Facilitation has brought the WTO to the brink of crisis,” the US ambassador to the world trade body, Michael Froman, said in a statement.
“The current state of play on Trade Facilitation threatens to deal a serious blow to the credibility of the multilateral trading system and to set back the development needs of many countries around the world,” he said.
Off to Japan and the latest installment of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first from NHK WORLD:
TEPCO: Groundwater bypass showing limited effects
Work to pump up groundwater to keep it from flowing into the contaminated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is apparently having limited effects.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, reported the results of the operation so far at a meeting of experts at the industry ministry on Friday.
TEPCO began the so-called groundwater bypass operation in May. It involves draining water from wells and releasing it into the sea to keep it from flowing into reactor buildings and becoming contaminated.
NHK WORLD reassures
Agency: Nuclear waste can be directly disposed of
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is reported to be looking at the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel instead of reprocessing it.
NHK has obtained a draft report compiled by the agency which analyzed the environmental impact of disposing of spent nuclear fuel.
The conclusion of the analysis is expected to touch off controversy, because the government has long maintained the policy of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel. It has conducted few studies about disposing of it as waste.
Spent nuclear fuel is known to have higher radiation levels than high-level radioactive waste.
And speak of the devil! From Nextgov:
Did a Misplaced Glove Cause Nuke Waste Dump Fire?
A glove accidentally left in a drum of nuclear waste may have been responsible for rupturing the container leading to the spewing of radiation in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, in February.
That’s according to a new report this week filed by Patrick Malone of the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Nan Sauer, associate director for chemistry, life and Earth sciences at Los Alamos National Laboratory, told the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee the container “held a volatile mix: a lead-laden glove, highly acidic waste, organic kitty litter and trace metal residue,” which ripped open the container stored in the WIPP – the country’s only storage site for waste generated during the development of nuclear weapons.
The Associated Press ties it up:
U.S. Fukushima report: Think about unthinkable disasters
A U.S. science advisory report says Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident offers a key lesson to the nation’s nuclear industry: Focus more on the highly unlikely but worst case scenarios.
That means thinking about earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, solar storms, multiple failures and situations that seem freakishly unusual, according to the National Academy of Sciences report released on July 24. Those kinds of things triggered the world’s three major nuclear accidents.
“We need to do a soul searching when it comes to the assumptions” of how to deal with worst case events, said University of Southern California engineering professor Najmedin Meshkati, the panel’s technical adviser. Engineers should “think about something that could happen once every, perhaps 1,000 years” but that’s not really part of their training or nature, he said.
Echoes of an earlier disaster resonate anew. From the Guardian:
Belarus anti-nuclear activist fears for ‘another Chernobyl’ on her doorstep
- Tatyana Novikova says new Russian-funded nuclear plant bypassed planning rules and violates international conventions
In 2009, Tatyana Novikova bought a wooden house near the border between Belarus and Lithuania. She chose the area carefully, she says. It’s next to a lake, untouched by industry and – crucially for the mathematician who worked on contamination models in the aftermath of Chernobyl – unaffected by the fallout from the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.
But six months after she bought her dream home, Belarus announced that a new nuclear power station, financed by Russia, would be built nearby in Ostrovets.
“I’m completely devastated,” says Novikova, who says the government bypassed official planning regulations, ignored safety concerns and failed to carry out an adequate environmental impact assessment for the plant.
The beneficiaries of all this mayhem, via United Press International:
85 wealthiest are richer than poorest 3.5 billion
- The report found 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day.
The U.N.’s annual Human Development Report released Thursday shows that the world’s 85 richest people are wealthier than the poorest 3.5 billion.
The top five countries ranked in the Human Development Index (HDI) are Norway, Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United States. The bottom five are all from Africa: Mozambique, Guinea, Burundi, Burkina Faso and Eritrea. The U.N. attributed slowing improvements in health, education and income to worsening income inequality, climate change and government corruption.
The authors found that nearly one-third of people are poor or vulnerable to poverty with 1.2 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day. The report says that human development can be improved by “universal access to basic social services, especially health and education; stronger social protection, including unemployment insurance and pensions; and a commitment to full employment, recognizing that the value of employment extends far beyond the income it generates.”
And to close, one of those beneficiaries wages war on the commons, via the San Francisco Chronicle:
Vinod Khosla blames costly demands for Martins Beach trial
The ugly courtroom clash over Martins Beach, near Half Moon Bay, would not have happened if government and environmental zealots had not made unreasonable and costly demands, billionaire investor Vinod Khosla said Thursday in defense of a beach closure that has captivated Californians up and down the coast.
The venture capitalist said he closed the 53-acre property to the public after San Mateo County, the California Coastal Commission and the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation unfairly tried to impose their will on him.
“If they wanted you to make your backyard a park, would that hurt you?” he asked. “The Coastal Commission and the county have been completely unreasonable. They have been taking an extreme view and don’t want to compromise on anything.”
Closing arguments were given last week in the Martins Beach civil trial, which is seen by many as a test case of California laws declaring that beaches are public property below the mean high tide line and that they must remain open.