Category Archives: Agriculture

BP abandons its cellulosic agrofuel ambitions


Yep, the British oil giant’s dream that spawned the largest corporate academic grant in history is dying, reports Bloomberg:

BP Said Planning to Close US Cellulosic Operation by End-1Q 2015

BP Plc (BP/) plans to close down its U.S. cellulosic operation by the end of next year’s first quarter, according to a person familiar with the development.

The business was part of an effort to find ways to produce ethanol from sources such as switchgrass, wood chips and agricultural waste as an alternative to biofuels from food crops. BP Biofuels North America paid $98.3 million in 2010 for Verenium Corp.’s cellulosic biofuels business. The purchase included facilities in Jennings, Louisiana and San Diego.

Cellulosic biofuel is a liquid fuel made by extracting sugars out of grass. At the time of the purchase from Verenium, BP executives said they intended to be a leader in the industry in the U.S.

BP is exploring options to sell the demonstration plant in Jennings, a technology center in San Diego, the Highlands feedstock farm in Florida and some activities in Brazil, Houston or London, spokesman Brett Clanton, said in an e-mail.

The British firm, once known as the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, failed in its bid to leverage the power of American academics here at the University of California at Berkeley in partnership with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to create a  genetically engineered microbe capable of turning plant fiber into fuel at a reasonable cost.

The half-billion-dollar grant, the largest ever given to a public university, created the Energy Bioscience Institute, housed in a taxpayer-funded building in downtown Berkeley, which housed a team of scientists from the university and the oil company.

The pact between the university and the petro giant was negotiated in secret and the deal was announced without consultation with the university’s academic senate, prompting a general furor and student and faculty protests, leading to an eventual submission to the senate, where debate was tightly controlled and the outcome a foregone conclusion.

Leading the charge for the deal was the-then president of the UC Board of Regents and spouse of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rich “Greasy Thumb” Blum, who is currently adding to his millions by selling off the historical legacy of the U.S. Postal Service, for which the CBRE Group, Inc. which he chairs draws a tidy commission.

Back in the days when we reported for the Berkeley Daily Planet, we covered the controversy surrounding the project and senate vote, and were persuaded by the evidence offered by Tad Patzek, then a petroleum geologist on Cal’s faculty, and others such as Cal plant microbiologist Ignacio Chapela that BP’s vision was based on flawed and ecologically dangerous scientific premises. The deal was also riddled with conflicts of interest, and research was underway before the deal was even signed.

Now even BP is giving up on the dream.

Another fuelish dream slowly dies. . .

Some of the biggest boosters of the BP deal have made millions of agrofuel dreams by building up and selling off companies using genetic engineering techniques developed while on the public payroll,

The most notable example is Amyris, which gave Cal “bioengineer” Jay Keasling a nice ten-figure profit when he cashed out. Amyris promised to develop cost efficient fuels far more energy efficient than ethanol.

Good thing for Keasling that he cashed out when he did, since even massive cash infusions from Bill Gates, French oil giant Total [BP’s major European competitor along with Shell], and the Singapore government’s investment company haven’t been able to save the company’s dream.

The only commercial products the company’s been able to produce in commercially viable quantities have been cosmetic oils, not vehicle fuels. . .which may account for which the firm’s shares are currently selling for $2.42, down from the post-IPO high of $33.85.

We really wonder what’s happening inside that massive building in Downtown Berkeley where BP’s scientists toiled away in hopes of fulfilling their oh-so-profitable fuelish dreams. While the deal was heavily covered at the time it went down, it’s been virtual silence ever since.

Now that BP’s abandoned its production dreams in the U.S., hopefully one of the local papers will pick up the lead and follow through.

Noam Chomsky on police, climate, race & more


teleSUR’s Laura Flanders holds an illuminating and wide-ranging conversation with MIT linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky.

While the topics cover a broad gamut, especially notable are Chomsky’s remarks about the long and noxious history of American racism and its still largely unacknowledged role in the rise of the industrial northern States as well in the agrarian South.

Also notable is Chomsky’s discussion of the hidden subtext of the recent U.S./China climate accord.

From the Laura Flanders Show on teleSUR English:

Laura Flanders Show – Noam Chomsky

Program notes:

A wide-ranging discussion with one of the most important intellectuals of the last century or this one. Noam Chomsky discusses the recent climate agreement between the US and China, the rise of ISIL, and the the movement in Ferguson against racism and police violence. Chomsky is the author of more than a hundred books and the subject of several films about his ideas. He is a political theorist and philosopher who has dissected the contradictions of US empire and inspired several generations of activists. This episode also features a special report on successful worker organizing among low-wage workers in New York City.

EbolaWatch: Meds, music, politics, & anger


We begin with a corporate boom from the Guardian:

US firms to be given special dispensation in bid to boost search for Ebola vaccine

  • HHS secretary Sylvia Burwell announces step under Prep Act
  • ‘Legitimate liability concerns must not hold back Ebola vaccine’

The US Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday offered liability protections to drugmakers rushing to develop Ebola vaccines and urged other countries to follow suit.

The health and human services (HHS) secretary, Sylvia Burwell, made the announcement as part of the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (Prep) Act in a move aimed at encouraging the development and availability of experimental Ebola vaccines.

The declaration provides immunity under US law against legal claims related to the manufacturing, testing, development, distribution and administration of three vaccines for the Ebola virus. However, it does not provide immunity for a claim brought in a court outside the United States.

BBC News strikes a discordant note:

British Ebola survivor calls Band Aid 30 ‘cringeworthy’

William Pooley, the British nurse who survived Ebola, has described the Band Aid 30 single as “cringeworthy” and “a bit much”.

He said he heard the first half of the song on his way into work in Sierra Leone where he is treating Ebola sufferers at an isolation unit. Mr Pooley noted the track was “definitely being talked about here among my colleagues”.

“It’s Africa, not another planet,” Mr Pooley told the Radio Times magazine. “Stuff about Do They Know It’s Christmas? It’s just like, actually people live normal lives here and do normal things.

“That sort of cultural ignorance is a bit cringeworthy. There’s a lyric about ‘death in every tear,’ it’s just a bit much.”

And if you haven’t heard it, here’s the song:

Band Aid 30 – Do They Know It’s Christmas? (2014)

Program notes:

Band Aid 30 – ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’
Buy the song. Stop the virus. #BandAid30

Download now on iTunes – http://po.st/DoTheyKnow
Google Play – http://po.st/DoTheyKnowGp

Please donate: http://www.bandaid30.com/donate
Or
Text AID to 70060 to give £5
(UK only, texts cost £5 + standard rate. See T&C’s at www.bandaid30.com)

The physical CD single is available to pre-order here: http://po.st/CDsingle
Or you can pre-order it on Amazon here: http://po.st/DoTheyKnowAm

From the Associated Press, too damn late:

UN: Enough Ebola beds will be operating by Jan. 31

The United Nations’ Ebola chief says enough treatment facilities will be operating in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea by the end of January to ensure that the number of new cases starts dropping in the three worst-affected countries.

Dr. David Nabarro told the Council on Foreign Relations by videoconference from Geneva on Tuesday that there are going to be challenges to control the escalating outbreak in Sierra Leone, which has now recorded the highest number of cases, by Jan. 31.

Sierra Leone said last Friday that between 80 and 100 new cases of Ebola are being reported every day and the country desperately needs more than 1,000 beds to treat victims.

While infection rates in Liberia and Guinea are stabilizing, Nabarro said Ebola can “reinflame” unless it is wiped out completely.

From the Associated Press, another delay:

Training delays Cuban doctors from fighting Ebola

The Cuban doctors were all fired up and raring to get to work: Fidel Castro had praised their commitment and urged them to work even with American troops who might otherwise be considered the enemy, and President Raul Castro came to the airport to wish them well in their mission to fight Ebola in West Africa.

That was more than two months ago.

In Guinea, where the current outbreak started, 37 Cuban doctors, nurses and epidemiologists hang around a hotel pool, holding daily meetings to bolster their morale, crowding around a computer to learn more about the theory of Ebola treatment, and even trying on their protective suits and masks.

“We really thought we would arrive one day and get to work the next, but the reality is different,” Cuban team leader Dr. Carlos Castro told The Associated Press in Conakry, the capital.

More volunteers sought, via StarAfrica:

Namibia encourages volunteers to Ebola-hit W/Africa

The Namibian Health and Social Services Ministry has called on health professionals who might be willing to volunteer to participate in the fight against Ebola in West Africa.

The call is in response to the appeal by the African Union (AU) for member states to provide qualified health personnel to assist in combating the Ebola outbreak, which the union said has worsened over the lack of human resources in the affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The Health and social Services Ministry is coordinating the recruitment on behalf of the AU.

Clenny Murorua, epidemiologists in the Ministry of Health told the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) late on Monday that the much needed personnel are field epidemiologists, physicians, nurses and laboratory technicians.

The latest hot zone from CBC News:

Ebola ‘flaming strongly’ in western Sierra Leone, Guinea’s forests, WHO says

  • Liberia’s president says disease has retreated into places that are hard to reach

Ebola continues to spread in two “troublesome areas” in  Sierra Leone and Guinea’s interior, a senior UN official says.

The outbreak is “still flaming strongly” in western Sierra Leone and some parts of the forested interior of Guinea, the UN’s special envoy for Ebola, David Nabarro, told a news conference in Geneva on Tuesday.

“There are two particularly troublesome areas,” with high levels of transmission, Nabarro said.

The increase in transmission in western Sierra Leone reflects how communities there haven’t yet fully acted to avoid infection themselves. There’s also a lack of fully staffed treatment centres and places to keep those who are sick away from others, he said.

On to Liberia with the United Nations Development Program:

Community volunteers in Liberia are limiting the spread of Ebola

The number of new cases of Ebola in Liberia is decreasing each day and community volunteers’ work has contributed substantially to this result.

UNDP Liberia has recruited 1,300 volunteers who are being paid $80 per month to go door to door, every day in their communities, to track down anyone who shows symptoms of the disease and get urgent medical help.

UNDP’s project Coordinator, Dr Masoka Fallah, said that it’s only by quickly identifying people who have been infected – as soon as they show symptoms – that the spread of the virus can be prevented.

“The people we’ve recruited to be Active Case Finders are already leaders in their community and are highly respected,” he said. “With Ebola, all schools were shut down. Private school teachers aren’t getting paid. We’ve brought in a large number of those teachers to help with Ebola prevention. They know everybody in the community and are listened to.”

Bokaryee Geeplay is an Active Case Finders in Popo Beach, part of New Kru Town on the outskirts of Monrovia and one of the most affected regions of Liberia. One of the first cases he identified was his own niece.

“It was during November. My niece was just six, and she got a fever and wasn’t feeling well. I saw the signs and called headquarters so they could arrange for her to get to the clinic. She struggled for two weeks but eventually she died,” he said.

FrontPageAfrica covers aid crime:

Police Seize Diverted WFP Ebola Food Items in Margibi County

Police in Margibi County have seized a DAF truck full with food items intended for citizens of Grand Bassa some of whom are quarantined and other survivors of Ebola but was diverted for sale on the market.

Even though Police officers conducting the investigation into the incident have refused to speak to the Press, highly-placed sources have hinted FrontPageAfrica that the DAF Truck loaded with two hundred (200) bags of rice, thirty (30) boxes of cooking oil and forty (40) bags of beans was under the supervision of the District Superintendent and Commissioner Samuel P. Karmanjay and Samuel Moore respectively.

Sources also told FPA that the items were intended for an area called Gbakpea Town in the District #1 (Teemor Chiefdom) in Grand Bassa County but were kept aside and later diverted by the two local officials of the government. One source indicated: “Mr. Karmanjay and Mr. Moore made arrangements with some businessmen from Monrovia to purchase the stolen Ebola Food items before the Commissioner and Superintendent

From the Liberian Observer, more anger over a presidential political play:

Executive Order #65 Recalls Memories of 1985 Rigged Elections

Samuel Doe Banned All People from the Streets the Day the Elections Results Were Announced

Robert Sirleaf, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s own natural born son, has filed a lawsuit against her, petitioning the Supreme Court of Liberia to rescind (cancel, repeal) Executive Order 65.

Executive Order #65, signed by the President last Wednesday, bans all concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia during the ensuing special elections, including in particular rallies, demonstrations and parades.  These, according to Executive Order #65, are prohibited and for 30 days after the announcement of December 16 senatorial election results.

These restrictions on the civil liberties of the people, guaranteed them by Liberian Constitution, were, according to the President, “intended to strengthen the efforts of the government to contain the spread of the Ebola virus.”  It is also designed to “protect the security of the state, maintain law and order and promote peace and stability in the country.”

More from FrontPageAfrica:

Justice Void: Ill-Advised Exec. Order Ripple Effects on EJS

With a lot of blame floating around as to how President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf came to her decision to impose her now controversial Executive Order No. 65, more details are emerging that Acting Justice Minister, Attorney General, Cllr. Benedict F. Sannoh was instrumental in convincing the president that the order was the right thing to do.

Mr. Sannoh who has been acting since the resignation of former minister Christiana Tah is a strong proponent of the president enforcing executive orders. The recent issuance of Executive order No. 65 by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordering a halt to rallies, has been criticized by prominent individuals, including the son of the Liberian president Robert Sirleaf; but the Acting Justice Minister insists that the order is to ensure that the spread of the deadly Ebola virus is minimized in Monrovia.

Several critics and legal observers have been pounding on the latest declaration terming it as trampling on the rights of people to free movement. The Executive Order No. 65 ordered all concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia during the ensuing special elections, including in particular rallies, demonstrations and parades prohibited and for 30 days after the announcement of election results.

Still more from Heritage:

14 Lawmakers, CDC condemn Executive Order 65

Fourteen Representatives of Montserrado have  condemned the Executive Order No. 65 recently issued by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

On Thursday, December 4, 2014, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf issued an Executive Order No. 65, ordering all concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia during the ensuing special election, including in particular rallies, demonstrations and parades prohibited and for 30 days after the announcement of election results.

Executive Order #65, the government said is intended to strengthen the efforts of the Government of Liberia to contain the spread of Ebola, protect the security of the State, maintain law and order, and promote peace and stability in the country.

Among other things, the Executive Order No. 65 notes that the existing law requiring persons desiring to march or demonstrate to obtain prior permits from the Ministry of Justice has  proven ineffective to address rallies, parades and concerted mass movements on the streets of Monrovia and its environs.

And on to Sierra Leone with Reuters:

British charity defends management of Ebola centre after criticism

British charity Save The Children on Monday defended its management of an Ebola treatment centre outside Freetown saying it had informed both the British government and Sierra Leone that it lacked frontline experience in running such facilities.

Sierra Leone’s government last week said most of the beds in the treatment centre were empty because the British handed the facility over to a charity that was not experienced enough to run it.

Save The Children was contracted by the British government to manage the 80-bed Kerry Town Ebola centre, built by the British military as part of international efforts to contain the worst outbreak of Ebola on record.

The centre opened on Nov. 5, but only around one-third of its beds are occupied despite Ebola spreading fast across Sierra Leone.

EnviroWatch: Disease, climate, water, fuel


And more. . .

We begin with another global health crisis, via Spiegel:

Epidemics Expert Jeremy Farrar: ‘The Most Dangerous Emerging Disease Is Drug Resistance’

  • British medical expert Jeremy Farrar is a key figure in the fight against Ebola and other infectious diseases. In a SPIEGEL interview, he says that the development of vaccines is key because drug-resistant viruses and bacteria pose immense dangers.

SPIEGEL: Is that really such a big threat to global health?

Farrar: There’s no doubt that the most dangerous emerging disease is drug resistance. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people die from drug resistant malaria, HIV or TB infections as well as from drug resistant infections in intensive care units over the world. Take the phenomenal Chinese herbal drug for malaria — Qinghaosu, Artemisinin, one of the very, very few true wonder drugs. After about 20 years of use in Southeast Asia, we have started to see Artemisinin-resistant malaria in Cambodia and it’s now spreading to Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. Inevitably, that could spread to Africa.

SPIEGEL: Resistant forms of tuberculosis have also become a serious threat.

Farrar: Yes, and also in HIV. HIV is not a disease like diabetes. A virus changes, it mutates, and at some stage today’s medicines won’t work as well. There are only so many targets for new drugs in this virus. I don’t think this is going to happen tomorrow. But it will happen at some point. If we have not developed new ideas by then, and this includes developing a vaccine, then the diagnosis “HIV positive” could revert to becoming the same as it was in the 1980s and early 90s. I was a young doctor here in London then when HIV first came to London. It was terrible. All these mostly young people simply died, there was very little we could do. An untreatable infection. But I am not overly pessimistic. If we are innovative and we do the right things, we can stop these events from happening. The world can be better.

From Vanguard in Lagos, good news and bad:

Embargo: Malaria deaths halved since 2000, Ebola risks gains: WHO

The number of people dying from malaria has almost halved since 2000, although progress in west Africa risks being reversed by the Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

The UN agency also warned of major gaps in access to mosquito nets and anti-malaria treatments, as well as the worrying emergence of resistance to the most commonly used insecticides.

Worldwide, malaria deaths were down 47 percent between 2000 and 2013 and decreased 53 percent in children under the age of five, the WHO said in its annual report on the disease.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur, the mortality rate decreased by 54 percent — 58 percent in under fives, the equivalent of about 3.9 million children’s deaths averted.

From India Today, a toxic crisis:

Garbage dumping sites pose big threat to Delhi

A huge environmental hazard looms over the Capital as the city’s three landfill sites – Okhla, Bhalswa and Ghazipur – continue to accumulate garbage beyond their shelf life.

A study done by Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Department of Environment shows that the groundsoil of these three sites harbour organic pollutants exceeding the permissible limits by up to 158 times.

These sites were found to be high on compounds like aliphatics, terpenoids, benzenes, ketones, pharmaceuticals and phthalates which do not degrade with time, enter the food chain quickly and cause a variety of health issues such as hormone disruption, reproductive disorders, learning disabilities, heart diseases, diabetes and cancer.

Additionally, Ghazipur was found to accumulate compounds which are more cytotoxic, that is human cell killing, in nature. On the other hand, Okhla contained more of genotoxic compounds which cause alteration in cell DNA. The researchers fear that the contaminated liquid emanating from the garbage, called leachate, will pollute the groundwater beyond cure. This can prove to be disastrous for large populations residing near these three landfill sites which use groundwater. It will also further pollute Yamuna which runs along the course of these three sites.

Pooja Ghosh, a research scholar and co-author of the study, said, “The national Capital produces more than 9,000 tonnes of Municipal Solid Waste daily. The Ghazipur, Okhla and Bhalswa sites are all unengineered, that is lacking a baseline, and oversaturated with waste. Based on amount of rainfall, age of the landfill as well as waste composition and degradation stage of waste, the sites continuously leak contaminants in the groundwater.”

Tragic victims of the climate game, via the Ecologist:

Kenya: a forest people illegally evicted, beaten, imprisoned – paid for by the World Bank

Financed by the World Bank, the Kenya Forest Service has intensified its illegal campaign of evictions, arson, beatings and arrests of the Sengwer forest people of the Embobut forest, Dean Puckett reports from the Cherangani Hills. And behind the violence lies the lure of hard cash – from the prospect of selling the forest’s carbon to international financiers.

When Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, visited Kenya earlier this month, he reportedly urged the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to sort out Kenya’s historical land injustices once and for all, specifically mentioning the plight of the “Sengwer of Cherangani Hills.”

But despite the World Bank having ‘a word’ with its ‘client’, the plight of the Sengwer of Embobut forest has worsened dramatically. An indigenous community is being evicted from their ancestral land in the name of conservation.

A related story, via the Guardian:

Lima climate talks: pledge to plant 20m hectares of trees

  • Global plan to plant hundreds of millions of trees will save over 1bn tonnes of CO2 a year and restore degraded land as natural forests or as agro-forestry

Eight Latin American countries have pledged to combat deforestation and restore an area of land twice the size of Britain by 2020. The move is part of a global plan to plant hundreds of millions of trees and save over 1bn tonnes of CO2 a year.

Much of the land to be replanted and improved in Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and Costa Rica, has been deforested in the past 15 years and is now used for subsistence farming or is unusable after being intensively farmed. But it will be restored either as natural forests, or as “agro-forestry” which mixes trees with crop lands and “silvo-pasture” which combines trees with animals.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), one of five research groups working with business and government on the ‘Initiative 20×20′, of the 4.2 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases emitted by Latin American and Caribbean countries in 2012, nearly half were from agriculture and the loss of forests. Between 2001 and 2012, the region lost 36m hectares of forest and grassland to agricultural expansion. Cutting down forests to make way for ranches releases carbon.

SciDev.Net raises questions:

Experts question slowing Amazon deforestation trend

“The last five years have seen the lowest deforestation rates ever recorded for the Amazon,” said [Brailian] environment minister Izabella Teixeira.

The recent slowdown of deforestation rates is due to several factors, said Teixeira, such as the work of law enforcement teams and a task force for the environmental regularisation of rural properties.

But some experts believe the true picture is less promising. Marco Lentini, who heads the Amazon Programme run by conservation body WWF’s Brazilian office, says he found the recent announcement surprising.

“We didn’t expect those results since we’ve analysed deforestation data from monthly monitoring system DETER [also from INPE] and other independent sources such as Imazon [the Amazonian Institute of Man and Environment] that have showed an upward trend,” he says.

A related story from the Ecologist:

‘It’s war!’ Peru-Brazil indigenous people pledge to fight Amazon oil exploration

Peru – host of the COP20 UN climate conference now under way in Lima – is facing rebellion by a 3,500 strong indigenous people deep in the Amazon committed to fighting oil exploration in their forest territory, writes David Hill, following the government’s failure to consult Matsés communities or respect their rights.

Members of an indigenous people living on both sides of the Brazil-Peru border in the remote Amazon say they are prepared to fight with spears, bows and arrows if companies enter their territories to explore for oil.

The Matsés have publicly opposed operations by Canada-based firm Pacific Rubiales Energy for at least five years, but they say that neither the company nor Perupetro, the government body which granted the licences to two oil concessions in Peru, are taking any notice.

European long, hot summers ahead, via the New York Times:

Global Warming to Make European Heat Waves ‘Commonplace’ by 2040s, Study Finds

[T]hree scientists from the Met Office, the British weather agency, have concluded that human-caused global warming is going to make European summer heat waves “commonplace” by the 2040s.

Their findings, published on Monday in the online journal Nature Climate Change, suggest that once every five years, Europe is likely to experience “a very hot summer,” in which temperatures are about 1.6 degrees Celsius, or 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit, above the 1961-90 average. This is up from a probability, just a decade ago, that such events would occur only once every 52 years, a 10-fold increase.

To predict how global warming will play out in Europe in the years ahead, Nikolaos Christidis and two of his Met Office colleagues first looked back with a statistical tool called optimal fingerprinting. Their method, in which they entered observed data into complex mathematical models, allowed them to assign responsibility for weather events to natural or human-made factors, an approach that scientists call “climate attribution.”

Dr. Christidis and his colleagues, Gareth S. Jones and Peter A. Stott, studied historical data for an area encompassing most of Western Europe and the Mediterranean. They found a striking rise in the probability of extreme summer temperature events over just two decades, 1990-99 and 2003-12.

After the jump, an Aussie climate change fail, climate change exonerated in California record drought, Big Coal’s dirty climate politics, a British air pollution public health crisis, a call for biodiversity from the country that’s literally eating up the world’s endangered species, BP loses an oil spill appeal, refinery safety closer to Berkeley, unsafe drinking water in China, another Chinese water problem, and for our lone Fukushimapocalypse Now! item, not hot air. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Polio, land use, and mining plans


A very slow day, with the environmental stories making the MSM largely those we’ve already covered.

We begin with the latest Pakistani polio outbreak news from the Express Tribune in Karachi:

Polio: Six new cases reported across the country

As the government prepares to launch its last nationwide anti-polio drive for 2014, six new cases of polio surfaced in three different areas of the country on Saturday, taking the total tally of polio cases reported this year to 276.

The National Institute of Health Islamabad (NIH) confirmed that four of the new cases were reported from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), one from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and one from Balochistan.

The first two of the polio victims – a girl and boy, both eleven months old – are from Jamrud tehsil of Khyber Agency. The third case – a one-year-old old boy – is from Wana tehsil of South Waziristan Agency. The fourth case is a 17-month-old female child from Baka Khel area of Frontier Region Bannu.

The fifth case is that of an 18-month-old male child from Nowshera in K-P while the sixth case was an an 18-month-old boy from the Killa Abdullah area of Chaman, Balochistan.

All the infected children had not received even a single dose of the polio vaccine.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation covers a question of balance:

Better policy, finance needed to balance forests and farming – experts

Initiatives balancing protection for forests and other natural resources with the interests of farmers need more political and financial support if they are to advance the fight against climate change, experts said on Saturday.

A “landscapes approach” that aims to help people think more broadly about how they use ecosystems to boost food security and incomes without harming the planet has gained traction in recent years among researchers and development agencies.

But more effort is required to convince policymakers they need to put this approach into practice on a large scale, Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, told an international forum on the issue in Lima.

“It is very difficult to act in this integrated way,” he said.

And Fusion covers a major mining development to the north:

Canada’s untouched wilderness is now open to mining

Program notes:

The Peel Watershed, a vast territory bordering the Arctic Circle in Canada’s Yukon province, has been called one of the last remaining untouched wilderness areas in the world. It’s the size of Ireland and the provincial government wants to open up large portions of the 26,000 square mile territory to mining.

MexicoWatch: Confirmation, questions, anger


The latest on the identification of one of the 43 missing students from Reuters:

Mexico says evidence proves missing students were burned up

Mexican authorities on Sunday said that mounting evidence and initial DNA tests confirmed that 43 trainee teachers who were abducted by corrupt police 10 weeks ago were incinerated at a garbage dump by drug gang members.

Attorney General Jesus Murillo told reporters that one of the students had been identified by experts in Austria from a bone fragment in a bag of ash and bits of burned tire found in a river where drug gang members said they tossed the students remains.

“This scientific proof confirms that the remains found at the scene coincide with the evidence of the investigation,” Murillo said. “We will continue with the probe until all the guilty have been arrested.”

From teleSUR, a vow:

Ayotzinapa Parents Say ‘We Will Find the Remaining 42 Students’

Speaking on behalf of the parents of the missing students, Felipe de la Cruz also announced that the family no longer recognize the government of Pena Nieto.

The spokesperson for the parents of the disappeared Ayotzinapa students, Felipe de la Cruz, announced the confirmation of the remains of young Alexander Mora and called on the people of Mexico to keep up the struggle to bring their other children back alive. De la Cruz spoke at a rally at the Monument of the Revolution in central Mexico City on Saturday.

“We are not mourning for Alexander. They’d better understand that we will not rest until justice is done. 42 students are still missing and we want them back alive,”  said de la Cruz.

He also declared that the family members no longer recognize the government of Enrique Peña Nieto.

More on the identification from the McClatchy Foreign Staff:

A charred eye socket provides proof that 43 missing Mexico students are dead

One of Mexico’s most horrific mass murders in recent decades has come to rest, in part, on a fragment of a charred human eye socket.

Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said Sunday that Austrian forensic experts have confirmed that the bone fragment is from one of 43 student teachers who went missing 10 weeks ago in a heinous crime that has shaken the country.

“The remains found at one of the scenes coincide with the genetic profile of Alexander Mora Venancio,” Murillo Karam said, naming one of the students.

Media reports showed mourners pouring into the family home of the slain youth in El Pericon, a mountainous rural hamlet along Guerrero’s Pacific coastline. Like most parents of the missing students, those of the Mora family are farmers.

“His only sin was being poor, humble and wanting to be a teacher,” his father told the sinembargo.mx website before a makeshift altar in the family home.

And teleSUR has more about the one student identified:

Some Things to Know About Mexican Student Alexander Mora

  • Alexander Mora was one of the 43 Ayotzinapa students who went missing over two months ago. His remains were confirmed on Saturday.

Key facts about Alexander Mora:

  • He comes from El Pericón, Tecunapa, in the state of Guerrero.
  • His dream was to be teacher, says his father.
  • He studied at the Ayotzinapa Rural School after his cousin urged him to enroll.
  • His family members describe him as a very calm, intelligent student, but one that reacted strongly against injustice.
  • He was 19 years old and really liked to teach classes. That’s what he decided to do.
  • His family lives in the country.
  • He always helped out with household chores.

From Agence France-Presse, ongoing unrest:

Mexicans protest as one missing student’s remains identified

Program notes:

Thousands of protesters take to the streets in Mexico as at least one of the 43 missing students is identified among charred remains found in landfill, raising new fears they were all slaughtered.

From the Latin American Herald Tribune, an ongoing strike and protest over imposition of new fees and curriculum changes at another Mexican university has ended with a settlement:

Mexican Authorities, National Polytechnic Students Sign Accords to End Shutdown

Students of the National Polytechnic Institute, or IPN, and Mexico’s education authorities have signed several accords to end the conflict that has kept that educational center closed since late last September.

After a month of negotiations, the students, organized as the Polytechnic General Assembly, and the nation’s education authorities signed Friday a document with commitments that will be published in the Official Federation Journal and the Polytechnic Gazette.

The document includes an agreement to hold a National Polytechnic Congress that will define new internal rules and will found a new organization in charge of security for its installations.

And the Los Angeles Times reports on the onerous conditions on the Mexican farms providing food for tables north of the border:

Hardship on Mexico’s farms, a bounty for U.S. tables

A Times reporter and photographer find that thousands of laborers at Mexico’s mega-farms endure harsh conditions and exploitation while supplying produce for American consumers.

Farm exports to the U.S. from Mexico have tripled to $7.6 billion in the last decade, enriching agribusinesses, distributors and retailers.

American consumers get all the salsa, squash and melons they can eat at affordable prices. And top U.S. brands — Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Subway and Safeway, among many others — profit from produce they have come to depend on.

These corporations say their Mexican suppliers have committed to decent treatment and living conditions for workers.

But a Los Angeles Times investigation found that for thousands of farm laborers south of the border, the export boom is a story of exploitation and extreme hardship.

The Times found:

  • Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply.
  • Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods.
  • Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It’s common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest.
  • Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors.
  • Major U.S. companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.

And to close, infiltrators uncovered, via teleSUR:

Infiltrators Seized by Protestors during Ayotzinapa Protests

  • 12 people were identified as infiltrators and seized during Saturday protests for Ayotzinapa

During Saturday’s protests in Mexico City for the 43 Ayotzinapa missing students, 12 infiltrates were identified and seized by members of the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) and of the State of Guerrero Coordinator of Education Workers (CETEG) .

According to the information provided by CETEG, the infiltrators where found and seized next to a toll booth in Mexico City, where they were asking for money to “support the Ayotzinapa protests.”

A spokesperson of the CNTE said at the Revolution Monument, where the protesters gathered after having marched from several locations in Mexico city, “We asked them to identify themselves, as no one recognized them as members of the students’ association or any other protest committees. Later on, one of them confessed he was a police officer, and another a soldier. They admitted to having received 400 pesos [US$30] to ask for money to support the protests, saying they were part of the protesters’ committee.”

EnviroWatch: Fines, land grabs, GMOs, & nukes


We begin with the newest cost of federal nuclear ineptness, via the Los Angeles Times:

Mishaps at nuke repository lead to $54 million in penalties

New Mexico on Saturday levied more than $54 million in penalties against the U.S. Department of Energy for numerous violations that resulted in the indefinite closure of the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository.

The state Environment Department delivered a pair of compliance orders to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, marking the state’s largest penalty ever imposed on the agency. Together, the orders outline more than 30 state permit violations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico and at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The orders and the civil penalties that come with them are just the beginning of possible financial sanctions the Energy Department could face in New Mexico. The state says it’s continuing to investigate and more fines are possible.

The focus has been on a canister of waste from Los Alamos that ruptured in one of WIPP’s storage rooms in February. More than 20 workers were contaminated and the facility was forced to close, putting in jeopardy efforts around the country to clean up tons of Cold War-era waste.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation, hot air over hot air:

Lima climate talks split on role of adaptation, finance in new deal

Negotiators at U.N. climate talks in Lima are divided over whether governments should include finance and adaptation commitments in the national offers of action they are due to put forward early next year as the building blocks of a new global climate change deal.

Some developing countries want adaptation efforts to be part of their contributions, arguing it will help determine their needs for funding and technical aid.

The cost of adapting to climate change in developing nations is likely to be at least two to three times higher than previous estimates of $70-100 billion a year by 2050, even with ambitious cuts in planet-warming emissions, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme.

But the European Union and Japan said on Friday they want national offers to be focused only on mitigation – actions to reduce planet-warming emissions.

From the Hill, a rare act of defiance in the Obama cabinet:

Interior secretary ‘profoundly’ disappointed at land swap in Defense bill

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell sharply criticized a proposed land swap deal attached to a defense bill that would threaten sacred American Indian land.

The swap is part of a massive federal parks and energy package that was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act and passed by the House this week.

It would transfer the Arizona site of the proposed Resolution Copper mine — estimated to be one of the largest deposits in the world — to a British mining company, enabling its development.

The land, currently a national forest, contains a site sacred to the San Carlos Apache tribe, where warriors are believed to have leapt to their depth in the 19th century to avoid being captured by troops.

“I’m happy to see public lands bills make progress,” Jewell said Saturday, according to the Washington Post. “The preference on public lands bills is that they go through a typical process of public lands bills and they get debate and discussion.” But she said the copper mine deal is “profoundly disappointing.”

Another contemplated land grab has deadlier consequence for an indigenous American, via the Guardian:

Ecuador indigenous leader found dead days before planned Lima protest

  • Shuar leader José Isidro Tendetza Antún missing since 28 November
  • Activists believe death linked to opposition to state-Chinese mine project

The body of an indigenous leader who was opposed to a major mining project in Ecuador has been found bound and buried, days before he planned to take his campaign to climate talks in Lima.

The killing highlights the violence and harassment facing environmental activists in Ecuador, following the confiscation earlier this week of a bus carrying climate campaigners who planned to denounce president Rafael Correa at the United Nations conference.

The victim, José Isidro Tendetza Antún, a former vice-president of the Shuar Federation of Zamora, had been missing since 28 November, when he was last seen on his way to a meeting of protesters against the Mirador copper and gold mine. After a tip-off on Tuesday, his son Jorge unearthed the body from a grave marked “no name”. The arms and legs were trussed by a blue rope.

More native American umbrage, via MintPress News:

Genetically Engineered Trees: An Environmental Savior Or A Dangerous Money-Making Scheme?

  • Genetic engineering can yield a range of consequences: It can repopulate an entire seaboard with native trees, or it can displace indigenous people and disrupt natural ecosystems.

Organizations against genetically engineered (GE) trees are working across four continents to call for an end to the scientific manipulation that they say damages the environment, infringes upon the rights of indigenous people, and has negative consequences for the health of people, flora and fauna.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee attended an October gathering in the mountains of North Carolina to protest GE trees as a form of colonization. Their concerns were focused on a process of imprinting DNA from a species of wheat onto American chestnut trees.

“I’m very concerned that GE trees would impact our future generations and their traditional uses of trees. Our basket makers, people that use wood for the natural colors of our clay work–there would be no natural life, no cycle of life in GE tree plantations,” said Lisa Montelongo of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.

Meanwhile, groups are working to ban genetically engineering poplar trees for use as biofuels and paper products — technology being researched at a Canadian university. South of the equator, the movement is against vast plantations of non-native eucalyptus trees that displace communities and have severe environmental consequences.

The London Daily Mail discovers yet another consequence of endless self-medication:

Is ibuprofen stunting the growth of CROPS? Anti-inflammatory painkillers change how lettuces and radishes grow, study reveals

  • Common medications for arthritis and migraine altered root development
  • Ibuprofen delayed opening of lettuce leaves but boosted radish root length
  • Study raises concerns over risk to flora and fauna from pharmaceuticals
  • Thirty million of these drugs prescribed every day around the world

Dr Clare Redshaw, who led the study at the European centre for environmental and human health at the University of Exeter, said that the findings raised serious questions about how the medication we use is altering the environment around us.

Environmental researchers have in the past warned that hormones like estrogen from contraceptive drugs are having a devastating impact on fish and amphibian.

Now the latest work suggests that many other common drugs are also having unexpected impacts on the environment and the food we eat.

Dr Redshaw said: ‘These are some of the most widely used drugs in the world, yet we know very little about their effects on flora and fauna.

‘The roots and stems seemed to be the most affected in the plants we looked at, but some of the drugs had opposing effects in different plants.’

From the New York Times, why are we not surprised?:

Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General

Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year.

They share a common philosophy about the reach of the federal government, but the companies also have billions of dollars at stake. And the collaboration is likely to grow: For the first time in modern American history, Republicans in January will control a majority — 27 — of attorneys general’s offices.

The Times reported previously how individual attorneys general have shut down investigations, changed policies or agreed to more corporate-friendly settlement terms after intervention by lobbyists and lawyers, many of whom are also campaign benefactors.

But the attorneys general are also working collectively. Democrats for more than a decade have teamed up with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club to use the court system to impose stricter regulation. But never before have attorneys general joined on this scale with corporate interests to challenge Washington and file lawsuits in federal court.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with precooked mushrooms frp, SimplyInfo:

4158 bq/kg Mushrooms Found In Tochigi Prefecture

Mushrooms from Tochigi prefecture tested and found to have 4158 bq/kg of cesium. The test was recently completed and shows that the problems of radioactive foods it not “over” and not isolated to Fukushima prefecture.

Mushrooms absorb considerable amounts of radiation. Many wild mushrooms in parts of Europe are still banned from consumption or sale due to high levels of radiation decades after Chernobyl.

The Asahi Shimbun covers a stunning omission only now being rectified:

NRA draft plan to require ID checks for nuclear plant workers

A preliminary anti-terrorism plan to create a system that requires identity checks for people accessing nuclear power plants has been approved by a Nuclear Regulation Authority draft committee.

The working committee for the NRA agreed to the plan Dec. 5 in accordance with recommendations made by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA said countries with nuclear power plants should have systems to identify workers in the plants. Currently, among major countries that produce nuclear power, Japan is the only one that does not have such a system.

The committee will next examine the methods taken by electric utilities for identification based on guidelines stipulated by the NRA. It will then report its recommendations to the regulatory agency in January, after which it will decide on concrete steps that will be taken.

And from SINA English, China heads down the nuclear capitalism road:

Nuclear power projects open to private capital

Private capital will be encouraged in new coastal nuclear power projects, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced in a press conference on Thursday.

China will launch additional nuclear power projects under the premise of ensuring safety. Social capital, especially that held in private hands, will be welcomed for such initiatives, alongside others in the power grid and oil-gas industries, reported Beijing Times.

Sound development of nuclear power should be promoted by optimizing capital structure and management, said Liu Baohua, head of the Department of Nuclear Power, National Energy Administration (NEA).