Category Archives: Agriculture

EnviroWatch: Flu, fuels, pols, toxins, & nukes

And a whole lot more. . .

First, a microbial invasion, via the Japan Times:

Highly pathogenic bird flu virus detected in Shimane

A highly pathogenic strain of bird flu has been found in Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture, the Environment Ministry said Thursday.

The H5N8 subtype was detected from two samples of droppings of migratory Bewick’s swans that were collected on Nov. 3, the ministry said.

The ministry has designated 10 km from the spot in question as an intensive wild bird monitoring area and decided to send an emergency investigation team there.

The H5N8 subtype is the same virus strain as the bird flu that broke out at a poultry farm in Kumamoto Prefecture in April.

From BBC News, a watershed moment:

World is crossing malnutrition red line, report warns

Most countries in the world are facing a serious public health problem as a result of malnutrition, a report warns.

The Global Nutrition Report said every nation except China had crossed a “malnutrition red line”, suffering from too much or too little nutrition.

Globally, malnutrition led to “11% of GDP being squandered as a result of lives lost, less learning, less earning and days lost to illness,” it added.

And from ABC Australia, via Journeyman Pictures, a troublesome question:

Catalyst: Extreme Weather – How our climate is not just becoming warmer, but also increasingly extreme and unpredictable.

Program notes:

The world has undergone some frightening weather extremes in recent years: from scorching heat waves in Europe to apocalyptic floods in Australia and blizzards in the Middle East. Record temperatures, both high and low, are constantly being smashed across the world. At first glimpse, the emission of greenhouse gases may only seem to account for high temperatures. But as Anja Taylor discovers, warmer average temperatures are tampering with the mechanics that drive all kinds of weather events across the world. It seems like the term ‘global warming’ may be misleading, since mankind will need to face up to more frequent extreme and unpredictable weather in the future.

A fracking fatality, via the Los Angeles Times:

Fracking accident leaves 1 dead, 2 injured in Colorado

The rupture of a pipe at a Colorado fracking site left one Halliburton employee dead and two seriously injured Thursday morning, law enforcement and company officials said.

Workers were trying to warm a frozen pipe at a site near Fort Lupton, Colo., about 30 miles north of Denver, when it burst around 9:30 a.m., Sgt. Sean Stanridge, public information officer for the Weld County Sheriff’s Office, told the Los Angeles Times.

One person died at the scene and the injured were taken to area hospitals. One underwent surgery, and both are expected to survive, Stanridge said.

The industrial site is operated by Anadarko Petroleum Corp., and Halliburton employees are contracted to work on the grounds, Anadarko spokesman John Christiansen said.

Another fracking hazard from the Denver Post:

Fracking sand in oilfields stirs up a serious health risk for workers

Health concerns about oil field fracking have been focused on the mixed brew of chemicals injected into wells. But it is another innocuous-sounding substance — sand — that poses a more serious danger to workers.

Government overseers of workplace safety first highlighted the problem three years ago and issued a hazard alert a year later warning that high levels of fine quartz sand around fracking operations could lead to silicosis and other lung illnesses.

But efforts to update the 44-year-old exposure limits on sand dust are dragging on. Engineering solutions to the problem are still being researched. And, while many energy companies are taking steps to lessen the amount of what is referred to as “respirable crystalline silica” by scientists or “frac sand” by oilfield workers, the industry, with support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is also opposing much in proposed new regulations.

From EcoWatch, a fracking fail:

Fracking Support Plummets Among Americans

Fracking is quickly losing favor with Americans, a new Pew Research Center poll finds.

As more stories emerge about the dangers posed by the toxic fallout from the aggressive drilling process to communities near the operations, support for fracking tilts negative for the first time, with 41 percent favoring increased use of fracking and 47 percent opposing it. That’s a huge swing from 20 months ago. In Pew’s March 2013 poll 48 percent supported more fracking while only 38 percent opposed it.

Support for fracking has dropped most steeply among women and people under 50, whose opinions turned against it by 10 points, while shifting slightly against it among those over 50 by two points. Fifty-four percent of women now oppose fracking, with only 31 percent supporting it. Among men, 52 percent support it with 40 percent opposed, representing a three-point drop from March 2013. People 18-29 moved from 49/41 in support to 53/39 against, while those 30-49 who formerly favored it 48/41 now oppose it 50/38.

Tar sands heat up, via BBC News:

Keystone XL pipeline to get vote in Congress

The House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. The move comes as Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu has pushed for a similar vote in the Senate as she fights a runoff campaign for her seat.

The 875-mile (1,408km) pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the US state of Nebraska where it joins pipes running to Texas.

President Barack Obama could find the approved bill on his desk next week. The White House has not directly threatened a veto of the legislation if it passes both chambers.

More from Reuters:

Keystone bill unlikely to rescue Landrieu in U.S. Senate runoff

A push by U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu to pass a bill authorizing the contentious Keystone XL pipeline is unlikely to give the Louisiana Democrat a significant boost against her Republican challenger in a December runoff, political analysts said on Thursday.

Landrieu, who faces an uphill battle to win a fourth term against Republican congressman Bill Cassidy, is renewing efforts to pass the measure unpopular with many Democrats as she fights to retain her seat in a state increasingly inhospitable to her party.

“It’s really too little, too late,” said G. Pearson Cross, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette political scientist. “Doing this only when her job is in peril will be seen as not significant – or desperate.”

Still more from The Hill:

Senate nears 60 on Keystone

Supporters of the Keystone XL oil pipeline are nearing 60 votes in the Senate ahead of a vote next week on whether to approve the project.

With passage of a pipeline bill in the House all but assured, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) says she is “confident” she can rally the 60 votes needed for a filibuster-proof majority in the upper chamber.

“It is ready for a vote and we have the 60 votes to pass it,” Landrieu said on Wednesday.

From RT, costly ignorance:

Shell ignored ‘risk & hazard’ of Nigeria pipes, downplayed size of 2008 spills – court documents

Royal Dutch Shell was aware that its Nigerian pipelines were poorly maintained prior to the 2008 Bodo oil spills, and later underestimated the size of the leaks to avoid paying compensation, Amnesty International reported after studying court documents.

Fifteen-thousand members of the Bodo community are suing Shell in London’s High Court, claiming the two oil spills in 2008 devastated an area of up to 90km in Ogoniland, southern Nigeria. The oil giant earned $450 billion in revenues last year.

“The result was an environmental catastrophe for the Bodo Community and the biggest loss of mangrove habitat in the history of oil spills. The 40,000 residents of the Bodo Community primarily relied on fishing and their way of life and source of livelihoods has been destroyed for years to come,” said Martyn Day, a senior partner at Leigh Day, which is representing the plaintiffs.

Among the documents obtained by Amnesty from the ongoing case is an internal note written by an employee eight years before the spills, which says “the remaining life of most of the Oil Trunklines [in the area] is more or less non-existent or short, while some sections contain major risk and hazard.”

From BuzzFeed, another fuel, another court:

CEO In Charge Of West Viriginia Mine That Killed 29 People Could Get 31 Years In Prison

Don Blankenship is facing conspiracy charges for his role in the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years.

In 2010, a mine in West Virginia exploded, killing 29 people. Now, the boss of the company in charge of the mine is facing criminal charges and up to 31 years in prison.

Don Blankenship was the chairman and CEO of Massey Energy Company in April 2010, when an explosion tore through Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. The mine included a maze of passageways more than 1,000 feet underground, and none of the miners who were inside at the time survived. The death toll ultimately climbed to 29, making the explosion the worst mining disaster in 40 years.

Investigations traced the source of the explosion to worn out cutting gear that created a spark and ignited coal dust and methane.

And from Yale Environment 360, black lung returns:

A Scourge for Coal Miners Stages a Brutal Comeback

Black lung — a debilitating disease caused by inhaling coal dust — was supposed to be wiped out by a landmark 1969 U.S. mine safety law. But a recent study shows that the worst form of the disease now affects a larger share of Appalachian coal miners than at any time since the early 1970s.

Experts at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that, by 2012, the rate of severe black lung had reached 3.2 percent of workers in the Central Appalachian coalfields of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. That’s a nearly tenfold increase over the disease prevalence 15 years earlier — a shocking statistic. In a brief report published in the September 15 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, NIOSH researchers said, “Each of these cases is a tragedy and represents a failure among all those responsible for preventing this severe disease.”

Black lung is caused by inhaling coal dust. The accumulation of dust particles in the lungs makes it hard to breathe. As the disease progresses, victims develop a cough or shortness of breath.

“Living with black lung is thinking about every breath you take,” former miner Robert Bailey Jr. told a congressional committee earlier this year.

And from MintPress News, another occupational hazard:

EPA Finally Updating Pesticide-Use Guidelines For Farm Workers

  • Advocates say a draft of the updated Worker Protection Standard is imperfect, but still offers greater protections to laborers in one of the country’s most hazardous industries

U.S. regulators are moving into the final stages of a major update to guidelines on the use of pesticides by agricultural workers, changes that labor advocates have been urging for more than a decade.

Indeed, it’s been almost a quarter-century since the Environmental Protection Agency updated the guidelines, known as the Worker Protection Standard. These rules not only have a direct impact on the health and well-being of the country’s estimated two million farmworkers but also on their families and communities. Pesticides and related residues, which can easily be brought home on clothing, are a key example of the broader impact of agricultural regulations and guidelines.

When the EPA released a draft of its update to the Worker Protection Standard in February, the agency’s administrator Gina McCarthy lauded it as a “milestone” for farmworkers. She also noted that protecting agricultural laborers from pesticide exposure “is at the core of EPA’s work to ensure environmental justice.”

After the jump, an Eurocratic GMO supporter’s job eliminated, warm waters melting Antarctic icecap, a bag ban not in the bag, Australian environmental policy diminished, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now! and hot waste bagged up with no permanent place to go, decades of work ahead and little cause for hope, hot water woes and complications tunneling in, and a hot head at the moment of crisis, public opposition ignored, a new nuclear plant gets an operational deadline, and an aging plant’s operator asks a four-decade operating extension, and a costly retirement plan for two hundred reactors. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Mali, medicine, pleas, and food

CNN covers the latest American imported case:

Nebraska hospital prepares for new Ebola patient

A surgeon who’s a Sierra Leone national and a legal permanent resident of the United States will be transported from Sierra Leone to the Nebraska Medical Center for treatment for Ebola, a government official familiar with the situation said.

The doctor is expected to arrive this weekend, most likely Saturday, the official said.

The official said it’s not known whether the doctor was working in an Ebola treatment unit or some other type of hospital. The surgeon is married to a U.S. citizen and has children, the official said.

From the Guardian, a legacy of sorts:

Texas Ebola victim’s fiancee to write memoir after signing book deal

  • Louise Troh will have book set for release in April about her relationship with Thomas Eric Duncan, who flew to Dallas from Liberia to marry her

The fiancee of the Liberian man who died of Ebola in Dallas last month has landed a book deal to write her memoir for a publishing company affiliated with movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the company said on Thursday.

Louise Troh, 54, will have a book planned for release in April by Weinstein Books about her relationship with Thomas Eric Duncan, who flew from Liberia to Dallas in September to marry her.

Duncan became ill shortly after arriving and died on 8 October. He is the only person to have died from Ebola in the US.

On to Mali, where the toll has reached four, via Reuters:

Ebola death toll in Mali growing

Program notes:

World Health Organization officials say there are now four confirmed and probable Ebola deaths in Mali. Julie Noce reports.

More from StarAfrica:

Ebola: 22 UN peacekeepers in isolation at a clinic in Bamako

Twenty-two peacekeepers who may have had contact with two people who recently died of the Ebola virus, remained held in quarantine at a clinic in Bamako on Wednesday, according to several sources and the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

About 20 peacekeepers had been admitted over injuries at Pasteur clinic in Bamako where they were staying, at the same time with a 66 year old Guinean man who died of Ebola disease in October.

The Guinean, Sekou Goita, went to the clinic for kidney problems and during his treatment, he was tested positive of the Ebola virus but the officials at the clinic did not notify the Malian authorities.

The body of the dead man passed through a mosque in the capital before being repatriated to Guinea by ambulance. The nurse who took care of him died last Tuesday bringing to three the number of Ebola victims who have so far died in Mali.

Measures in Mali, via Reuters:

Mali toughens anti-Ebola checks at borders, Liberia signals progress

Mali announced tougher health checks at border crossings after registering its second Ebola outbreak, while Liberia on Thursday signalled progress in neutralising the virus by saying it would not renew a state of emergency.

The world’s worst ever epidemic of the haemorrhagic fever has infected more than 14,000 people and killed at least 5,160 since it erupted in March in West Africa, a region dogged by poverty and poor health care. It has ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and spurred a global watch for its spread.

In Mali, which shares an 800-km (500-mile) border with Guinea, a nurse died of Ebola on Tuesday, and on Thursday a doctor at the same clinic was also revealed to be infected. More than 90 people had already been quarantined in the capital Bamako after the nurse’s death, just as a group exposed to Mali’s first case completed their required 21 days of isolation.

Returnees quarantined, via United Press International:

90 U.S. troops returning from Liberia monitored for Ebola

Ninety U.S. troops will undergo 21 days of Ebola monitoring when they arrive Thursday in Virginia from a deployment to Liberia, U.S. officials said

Ninety U.S. troops will undergo 21 days of Ebola monitoring when they arrive Thursday in Virginia from a deployment to Liberia, U.S. officials said.

The troops were scheduled to arrive at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, and though they are showing no signs of the deadly virus, they’ll be in quarantine for three weeks, Read Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said.

A secluded area of the base called the Langley Transit Center was set up to house troops under quarantine.

Another hoax, via the Japan News:

Saitama man arrested over Ebola claim

Police in Saitama Prefecture arrested a man on Thursday for allegedly obstructing the work of a health care center after he claimed he was sick and may have recently visited Liberia, the center of an Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

The man, a 24-year-old resident in Moriyama in the prefecture, denied the charges, saying a friend used his mobile phone to make the claim.

From Voice of America, a media campaign:

Ebola Online Training

Program notes:

Since the beginning of the West Africa Ebola outbreak, health officials worldwide have sought to inform the general public about the virus that has killed some 5,000 people. Digital technology and the internet, when available, make this effort much easier. Doctors without Borders on Tuesday launched an online training program for its staff and others interested in fighting Ebola. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

IRIN reports a deficiency:

Ebola: Diagnostic capabilities need boosting

Critical gaps in “behind-the-scenes” infrastructure are hampering Ebola response times and containment efforts in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, aid agencies and health workers say.

In addition to the obvious need for more beds, medical equipment, and qualified doctors, nurses and lab technicians, they say the ability to quickly and accurately confirm or deny suspected Ebola cases is vital to getting this outbreak under control.

“The country really needs to ramp up its access to diagnostic capabilities,” said Alan Kemp, head of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, which is running a mobile laboratory at the Lakka Ebola Treatment Centre in Freetown. “And that’s not just for Sierra Leone, but for the whole West Africa region.”

From the Guardian, finally:

Ebola: experimental drug trials to go ahead in west Africa

  • Médecins Sans Frontières to start three trials in treatment centres run by volunteers in west Africa

Three trials of experimental Ebola drugs will start next month at treatment centres run by the volunteer doctors of Médecins Sans Frontières in west Africa.

The trials are unprecedented because they are being run during an epidemic and the drugs have not been through the conventional process of clinical trials in animals and healthy humans before being given to people who are sick. Also, drugs will not be withheld from a control group.

The trials have been set up with extraordinary speed in the hope that the drugs will cut the 70% death rate from the disease in west Africa. More than 5,000 people have died since the outbreak began in December.

More from the Japan Times:

Ebola treatment trial to use Japanese drug favipiravir

International medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders said Thursday that one of three clinical trials it will host in West Africa next month for treating Ebola patients will use an antiflu drug developed by a Japanese company.

Avigan, developed by a Fujifilm Holdings Corp. unit and known for its generic name favipiravir, will be used in a trial to be held in Gueckedou, southern Guinea, by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research. The trial will cover some 200 patients.

The other two trials will involve convalescent whole blood and plasma therapy in Guinea and an antiviral drug developed by a U.S. company in another location.

From the Associated Press, allocation:

USAID urges emergency funds for Ebola hot spots

A U.S. official estimates there are 3,000 active cases of Ebola in West Africa, many in small clusters dotted throughout the countryside that require a more rapid and flexible response.

“This is a fast-moving and adaptable viral epidemic. We need to be fast-moving and adaptable,” Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday.

Shah spoke as Congress considers the Obama administration’s request for $6.2 billion in emergency aid to fight Ebola in West Africa and shore up U.S. preparedness.

On to Sierra Leone, first with Britain’s Channel 4 News:

How British aid is helping Sierra Leone’s Ebola struggle

Program notes:

The number of Ebola cases is still rising – up by 200 since Friday – and it’s spreading fastest in Sierra Leone. Alex Thomson looks at the British aid efforts in Freetown.

The latest on an ongoing source of infection from StarAfrica:

Sierra Leone’s Ebola response officials promise safer burial methods

Officials at the National Ebola Response Center (NERC) in Sierra Leone have promised to ensure safe and dignified burial for victims as the country seeks yet to revise its strategy on the fight against the epidemic.

According to a recent UN report, while new cases were reducing in neighboring Liberia; until now the hardest hit by the West African Ebola epidemic, cases were increasing in Sierra Leone and Guinea.

For Sierra Leone, the situation has been blamed particularly on unsafe burials. People are reported to be defying advice by health officials against attending to dead bodies of their loved ones. But this has also been blamed for the attitude towards burial teams who have been accused of not only failing to respond on time, but also often do not dispose off bodies in manners acceptable to the public.

From the Washington Post, compounding tragedy:

As Ebola takes lives in Liberia, it leaves hunger in its wake

The Ebola virus, which has killed more than 2,830 Liberians and collapsed the country’s health-care system, is also attacking Liberia’s food supply, bringing intermittent hunger to a wide swath of this country even as its 4.1 million people try to survive the epidemic.

The typical family income, already among the lowest in the world, has declined as the epidemic raged in recent months, shutting workplaces and killing breadwinners. Closed borders with Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast have sharply reduced trade. Markets in villages and towns across the country have been shut down to limit large gatherings, which can abet transmission of the virus.

The planting and harvesting seasons were disrupted when Ebola hit the farm belt in June.

“We need assistance. We need food here in Foya,” said Joseph Gbellie, commissioner for this rural, largely agricultural district in Liberia’s northwest. “If we don’t get help, it’ll be serious, I tell you.”

On to Liberia with BBC News:

Ebola outbreak: Liberia president lifts state of emergency

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has lifted the state of emergency imposed to control an Ebola outbreak that has ravaged the country.

She said the move did not mean “the fight is over”, although numbers of new infections were no longer increasing.

In nationwide address, President Johnson Sirleaf said that night curfews would be reduced and weekly markets could take place across Liberia. She added that preparations were being made for the re-opening of schools.

StarAfrica adds a qualification:

Liberian leader relaxes curfew hours to midnight

Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has relaxed the curfew which previously ran from 9pm to 6am, to now run from 12 midnight to 6am.

In a nationwide address on radio and television Thursday, the Liberian leader however made it clear that residents living in what is considered “Ebola hotspots” will still have to abide by the 9pm to 6am curfew.

The Chief Executive said the adjustment in the curfew has been prompted by progress being made in the fight against Ebola, with recent reports of reduction in cases.

President Sirleaf however cautioned Liberians to note that the adjustment in the curfew does not mean that the fight against the virus has ended.

Finally, from the New York Times, changing tactics:

Health Officials Reassess Strategy to Combat Ebola in Liberia

As the rate of new Ebola infections in Liberia has slowed, American and Liberian officials are debating whether to build all 17 planned Ebola treatment centers in the country or to shift money from the Obama administration that was planned for the centers into other programs to combat future outbreaks.

The United States announced Monday that it had completed the first of the 100-bed centers, some 40 miles outside Monrovia, in Tubmanburg, and turned over its operation to the International Organization for Migration, which will staff and run the center.

Two other treatment units, in Sinje, to the north of Monrovia, and Buchanan, to the south, will be completed by the end of November, American military officials said. Seven additional treatment units across the country are in various stages of construction.

A 25-bed hospital recently opened outside Monrovia, and American and Liberian military officials are clearing the land for two more units. If all of them go ahead as planned, that would bring the total units built by the American and Liberian militaries working together on the project to 13, or four short of the units promised by President Obama on Sept. 16.

EnviroWatch: Ills, toxics, fuels, climate, nukes

From the Express Tribune in Karachi, an ongoing plague, easily prevented:

As more polio cases surface, Centre unhappy with Sindh’s performance

As the 25th case of polio is reported in Sindh, the federal government has expressed dissatisfaction with the provincial government’s efforts to eradicate the virus from the province.

In a follow-up meeting with provincial authorities on Wednesday after meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad, State Minister for National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination, Saira Afzal Tarar, expressed her concerns over the rise of polio cases in Sindh.

The meeting which was attended by top officials of the province, except for the health minister and his secretary, briefed about the routine and special campaigns in the province. Sources at the meeting claim that the minister was displeased with how the routine polio drives were being conducted by the provincial health department. According to the minister, in certain districts there was only six per cent coverage, while in a few others it went as high as 29 per cent. She claimed that the polio virus could be eradicated completely if the provincial government would perform its duties properly. She added it will be impossible to overcome this situation without the exact data which will have to be provided by the provincial government.

The San Jose Mercury News covers residual poisons:

Fire retardant chemicals found in small group of Californians

The study, while small, offers the first glimpse of how these chemicals, which have been shown to cause cancer, neurological diseases and developmental disorders, have been absorbed into people’s bodies simply by sitting on a couch or breathing in dust, and offers a strategy for state and local bio-monitoring programs to test larger populations, experts say. The better people’s exposure to these harmful chemicals can be tracked, advocates say, the better experts can understand how they make people sick, offering more ammunition for legislative change to regulate toxic chemicals.

The findings also underscore the possible consequences of a California law passed in 1975 that set fire safety standards that effectively required furniture manufacturers to inject flame-retardant chemicals into all upholstered furniture sold in the state for the last 40 years. The bill was revised Jan. 1 to remove the flame retardant requirement, but some experts caution that Californians will be dealing with the public health fallout for several years.

The study, by Silent Spring Institute, an environmental nonprofit in Massachusetts, and university researchers in Belgium, found traces of a chemical that has been named a carcinogen on the state’s Proposition 65 list in 15 out of 16 people from Richmond and Bolinas, who had their urine and homes tested for chemicals in 2011.

From the Guardian, mutilation:

India mass sterilisation: women were ‘forced’ into camps, say relatives

  • Brother-in-law of one victim says women were ‘herded like cattle’ after 12 die and scores injured following botched operations

Relatives of the 12 women who died after a state-run mass sterilisation campaign in India went horribly wrong have told local media they were forced by health workers to attend the camp.

More than 80 women underwent surgery for laparoscopic tubectomies at a free government-run camp in the central state of Chhattisgarh on Saturday. About 60 fell ill shortly afterwards, officials said. At least 14 were in a very serious condition by Wednesday and the death toll was expected to rise.

“The [health workers] said nothing would happen, it was a minor operation. They herded them like cattle,” Mahesh Suryavanshi, the brother-in-law of one casualty, told the Indian Express newspaper.

Such camps are held regularly across India as part of a long-running effort to control population growth.

And as we expected, via the Guardian, killing tomorrow’s kids for today’s profits:

Republicans vow to use expanded powers to thwart US-China climate deal

  • Obama’s opponents looking for ways to undermine bold climate change strategy that could bring about drastic reduction in carbon emissions

Republicans promised on Wednesday to use their expanded power in Congress to undermine Barack Obama’s historic deal over carbon emissions with China on Wednesday, claiming Beijing could not be trusted to see through its side of an agreement that would ultimately damage the US economy.

The hard-hitting response from top Republicans to the historic deal between the US and China – the world’s two largest emitters – foreshadowed an expected collision with the White House over climate climate change that looks set to define Obama’s last two years in office and could shape the 2016 presidential elections.

That fight will encompass top-line carbon emissions targets set by White House, rules implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will reduce pollution from power stations and a looming and totemic decision over the Keystone XL pipeline.

We’ll let Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles have the last word:

BLOG Hot air

The Los Angeles Times covers a success story:

Water conservation efforts pay off: U.S. usage lowest in decades

Americans recently passed a milestone when federal officials reported that water use across the nation had reached its lowest level in more than 45 years: good news for the environment, great news in times of drought and a major victory for conservation.

What was surprising in the U.S. Geological Survey report released last week was how little of the 13% decline in national water usage was due to the public cutting back.

In drought-stricken areas, such as California and other states across the West, consumers are used to frequent warnings about the need to save water. Dry public fountains, limits on lawn watering and official requests for shorter showers have all been aimed at reducing water use at a time when reservoirs are shrinking and streams are running dry.

But it turns out that the public reduced water use by only about 5% from 2005 to 2010, the most recent period measured by the USGS.

And the accompanying chart on water use by sector:

BLOG Water

A less salubrious water story from Grist:

California drought leads to a black market for water

The drought in California is bad — so very bad, in fact, that it’s created an illegal gold rush: Poachers are siphoning off fresh water with plans to sell it to the highest bidder.

If that sounds apocalyptic, it kind of is. While the State Water Resources Control Board has 22 employees tasked with investigating such crimes — “illegal diversions,” they’re called — there’s yet to be a concerted statewide effort to track (let alone control and punish) water theft. In some rural areas, wells are running completely dry; local law enforcement thinks the desperation drives theft, and they’re scrambling to keep up. Reports the National Journal:

Officials complain that the penalty for getting caught may not be sufficiently strict: Mendocino County counts water theft as a misdemeanor. County Supervisor Carre Brown considers that a slap on the wrist. “To me this is like looting during a disaster. It should be a felony,” Brown said. …

Another water story, at the source, via NHK WORLD:

Global warming blamed for more rain in Japan

Japanese weather researchers say Japan has experienced heavier hourly rainfalls due to global warming.

The Meteorological Research Institute analyzed the heaviest hourly rainfall recorded in more than 980 locations across Japan between 1978 and 2013.

Researchers learned that the maximum hourly rainfall intensified by about 13 percent in the past 35 years.

Annual rain tends to intensify when temperatures, including water temperatures, are high.

From the Guardian, monetizing nature:

Peru’s forests store more CO2 than US emits in a year, research shows

  • Carbon mapping by the Carnegie Institute for Science reveals nearly seven billion tonnes of carbon stored in Peru’s rainforests, in a technique that could help preserve such stores to reduce carbon emissions

Peru, the host for December’s UN climate change summit, stores nearly seven billion metric tons of carbon stocks, mostly in its Amazon rainforest. That’s more than US annual carbon emissions for 2013 which were calculated at 5.38 billion tons, the new research by the Carnegie Institute for Science (CIS) shows.

Home to the second-largest area of Amazon rainforest after Brazil, Peru is to date the most accurately carbon-mapped country in history thanks to high-resolution mapping which provides a hectare-by-hectare look at its carbon reserves, it was reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The research by CIS’s Greg Asner means Peru now knows precisely how much carbon it is storing in its rainforest and where that carbon is being kept out of the atmosphere, allowing the country to negotiate a fair price for its reserves on the global carbon market.

After the jump, fracking disillusion in Old Blighty, Tar Sands pipeline litigation, a renewable breakdown Down Under, a European biking bonanza, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now! with official regrets, a gubernatorial nuclear dump demurrer, and objections to the restart of another nuclear power plant, plus that Colorado carbon tax on pot. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Nukes, climate, toxins, GMOs

We’ll get right to it, first with Science:

Fukushima radiation nears California coast, judged harmless

After a two-and-a-half year ocean journey, radioactive contamination from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan has drifted to within 160 kilometers of the California coast, according to a new study. But the radiation levels are minuscule and do not pose a threat, researchers say.

Shortly after the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in March 2011, Tokyo Electric Power Co. estimated that the facility had released a staggering 7000 trillion becquerels—a measure of emitted radiation—into of radiation into nearby seawater. Meanwhile, Japan’s Ministry of the Environment reported readings of 45.5 million becquerels per cubic meter of water, high enough to cause reproductive problems in fish.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that the power plant’s radiation dissipated quickly as it spread from the coast, however. It arrived at this conclusion by measuring cesium-134, a kind of radiation “fingerprint” unique to Fukushima because of its relatively short 2-year half-life. By June 2011, cesium-134 was found 600 kilometers offshore from Japan producing 325 becquerels per cubic meter. Building models based on early readings, the World Health Organization and public health departments in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska all forecast that Fukushima radiation would not pose a human health risk in North America.

From radioactive mass to radioactive ass, via Vocativ:

Climate Change Denier to Oversee U.S. Environmental Policy

  • James Inhofe, the Hill’s most outspoken global warming skeptic, will take over the Senate’s top environmental job

James Inhofe is about to take charge of the Senate committee that oversees U.S. environmental policy. As it happens, the Oklahoma Republican is also the Hill’s most notorious critic of climate change, dismissing global warming as a “conspiracy” and a “hoax.”

Inhofe has been denying the science behind climate research for 20 years, long before it became a fashionable cause for the Tea Party. His crusade reached its zenith (or is that nadir?) with the publication of his 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, a 300-page valentine to the anti-environmental movement.

Once Inhofe inherits the Senate’s top environmental job, his judgment won’t be clouded by sober, unbiased analysis. Nor will he be influenced by uppity climatologists, 97 percent of whom believe that manmade climate change is real. In short, there’s now zero chance of addressing rising sea levels and carbon dioxide emissions before President Obama leaves office. According to The New York Times, the senator “is expected to open investigations into the EPA, call for cuts in its funding” and delay any impending regulations for “as long as possible.”

More of the same from the New York Times:

Republicans Vow to Fight E.P.A. and Approve Keystone Pipeline

The new Republican Congress is headed for a clash with the White House over two ambitious Environmental Protection Agency regulations that are the heart of President Obama’s climate change agenda.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the next majority leader, has already vowed to fight the rules, which could curb planet-warming carbon pollution but ultimately shut down coal-fired power plants in his native Kentucky. Mr. McConnell and other Republicans are, in the meantime, stepping up their demands that the president approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry petroleum from Canadian oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

At this point, Republicans do not have the votes to repeal the E.P.A. regulations, which will have far more impact on curbing carbon emissions than stopping the pipeline, but they say they will use their new powers to delay, defund and otherwise undermine them. Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, a prominent skeptic of climate change and the presumed new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to open investigations into the E.P.A., call for cuts in its funding and delay the regulations as long as possible.

Which leaves us wondering whether this is anything but a Pyrrhic gesture. From Mother Jones:

The US and China Just Announced a Huge Deal on Climate—and it’s a Gamechanger

The surprise agreement aims to double the pace of carbon pollution reduction in the United States.

In a surprise announcement Tuesday night, the world’s two biggest economies and greenhouse gas emitters, United States and China, said they will partner closely on a broad-ranging package of plans to fight climate change, including new targets to reduce carbon pollution, according to a statement from the White House.

The announcement comes after President Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping today in Beijing, and includes headline-grabbing commitments from both countries that are sure to breathe new life into negotiations to reach a new climate treaty in Paris next year.

According to the plan, the United States will reduce carbon emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, nearly twice the existing target—without imposing new restrictions on power plants or vehicles.

From the Guardian, making a contribution:

World’s biggest mine: Inside US coal

Program notes:

Barack Obama’s pledge to cut carbon emissions has not stopped North Antelope Rochelle mine in Wyoming. In fact, production is booming – and climate change is off the agenda. The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg gets a rare look inside the biggest coal mine in the world.

More fuel for the warming flames from Bloomberg:

Fossil Fuels With $550 Billion in Subsidy Hurt Renewables

Fossil fuels are reaping $550 billion a year in subsidies and holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy, the International Energy Agency said.

Oil, coal and gas received more than four times the $120 billion paid out in subsidy for renewables including wind, solar and biofuels, the Paris-based institution said today in its annual World Energy Outlook.

The findings highlight the policy shift needed to limit global warming, which the IEA said is on track to increase the world’s temperature by 3.6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That level would increase the risks of damaging storms, droughts and rising sea levels.

And then there’s this, via EcoWatch:

‘Keystone XL Clone’ to Pump Tar Sands Oil Starting Next Year

As Republicans get set to test their new majority in the U.S. Senate and their complete control of Congress to push through approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, a new investigative report by editor Lou Dubose at the Washington Spectator reveals that the construction of a “Keystone XL clone” pipeline with almost the same capacity is already taking place. While TransCanada continues to battle the public outcry against its Keystone XL project, another company, Enbridge, is quietly building the Alberta Clipper pipeline. Like Keystone XL, it will pumped 830,000 oil barrels (bbl) a day of tar sands bitumen crude oil from the Alberta oil fields to U.S. refineries.

“In six to eight months the Canadian tar-sands spigot opens to full capacity,” wrote Dubose. “Barring litigation or action by the State Department, Enbridge will achieve what has eluded TransCanada. And it will have done so with scant attention from the media and without the public debate generated by campaigns against the Keystone XL.”

The Spectator analyzed State Department documents, annual reports and interviews with Enbridge officials and lawyers to learn how the company pushed through a pipeline virtually identical to Keystone XL without a public process or attracting much attention. While a pipeline that crosses international borders requires presidential and State Department approval declaring that the project is “in the national interest,” the Spectator says Enbridge used a creative interpretation of an existing 1967 permit to circumvent the law and public opinion.

Which may account for this, via CBC News:

Canadian oil comparatively strong amid global crude sell-off, TD says

  • Lower dollar helps Canadian oil companies weather price decline of crude

Amid a global crude slowdown pushing oil prices to multi-year lows, Canadian oil companies are faring better than their overseas counterparts, TD Bank says.

In a recent report, TD economist Leslie Preston says Canadian oil companies are somewhat sheltered from plunging oil prices in part because the decline of the Canadian dollar is cushioning the blow.

Commodities like oil are priced in U.S. dollars. And even as oil prices have shed more than a quarter of their value in recent months, so too has the Canadian dollar declined a little. That’s allowed Canadian oil companies to squeeze more loonies out of the U.S. greenbacks they receive for their oil.

The Ecologist covers the inevitable:

Denton, Texas hit with lawsuits after landslide fracking victory

Denton’s 59-41 vote to ban fracking has got right up the nose of the state’s fossil fuel elite, writes Julie Dermansky. The Texas city has already been hit with two lawsuits – but it’s going to fight them all the way, with a $4 million legal fund ready and waiting.

Straight after Denton became the first Texas city to ban fracking within city limits, the city is being sued.

The Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association are the first to challenge the new ordinance.

Last week Denton voters passed the fracking ban by a 59-to-41 percent margin, becoming the first Texas city to ban fracking.

And from the Jakarta Globe, one consequence:

Rising Seas Threaten Jokowi’s Maritime Plan

President Joko Widodo may have to rethink his plan to boost Indonesia’s maritime power, with experts questioning whether he is aware of the looming threat posed by rising sea levels, and whether he has considered the potential ecological impact of maritime developments.

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, the Asia regional director of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, reiterated on Monday the “very, very serious threat” posed by rising sea levels, due to climate change, to island nations in Asia, including the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia.

He was citing the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says even if the world could manage to keep rising global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius — the ceiling that many countries have agreed on — it would still damage the environment and threaten many ecosystems and humanity, especially in island nations.

“In Indonesia’s context, even 2 degrees [Celsius] means a much larger increase [in sea levels] in some parts of the country than the global average,” Sheikh said during a discussion of the IPCC’s recently finalized Fifth Assessment Report in Yogyakarta. “A 2 degree [Celsius] rise in this century would mean that many islands and coastal areas in Indonesia will be inundated.”

After the jump, deadly detergents, down in the South Carolina dumps and passin’ deadly gas, on to the GMO front and a Big Ag European setback as Russia launches the biggest ever GMO food safety study, back to Fukushimpocalypse Now! with hot food shipped to the U.S. and a community presses nuke plant owners for a safety agreement, while a U.S. nuclear disaster leads to a $5.5 billion payout. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Mali, patients, fear, and Africa

And lots of news from Africa, much of it not so good.

We begin with dashed hopes from France 24:

Mali confirms new case of Ebola, locks down Bamako clinic

The government of Mali confirmed the country’s second case of Ebola late on Tuesday and police deployed outside a clinic in the capital, Bamako, that authorities said had been quarantined.

In a statement via Twitter, Mali’s Information Minister Mahamadou Camara said “prevention measures” were being taken, but gave no details on the case. Local officials and diplomats said the new case was unrelated to the first one last month.

Mali became the sixth West African country to record a case of Ebola when a two-year-old girl from Guinea died in October. It has not recorded any confirmed cases since then and 108 people linked to the girl were due to complete their 21-day quarantine period on Tuesday.

Mali shares an 800 km (500 mile) border with Guinea, which alongside Liberia and Sierra Leone, has been worst affected by an Ebola outbreak that has killed nearly 5,000 people this year.

Earlier the New York Times had offered a more optimistic video report:

Ebola Virus Outbreak 2014: Limiting Its Spread in Mali

Program notes:

Mali’s Ebola scare is not yet over. But with a quick diagnosis, extensive communication, and no shortage of luck, authorities and partners may be able to limit the number of cases to one.

Produced by: Nicholas Loomis

Another grim assessment from the U.N. News Center:

West Africa ‘on brink’ of major food crisis in wake of Ebola outbreak – UN expert

As Ebola continues to ravage West Africa, leaving more than 4,000 people dead, the region is now on the brink of a major food crisis, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food has warned today.

“While the countries hardest hit by the Ebola crisis struggle to contain the devastating virus, they now face a new challenge with experts predicting that over a million people in the region need food aid to allay shortages,” Ms. Hilal Elver said in a statement.

Agriculture, the main economic activity in West Africa with two thirds of the population dependent on farming, has taken a severe toll since the Ebola outbreak hit earlier this year.

The closure of border and sea crossings, a reduction in regional trade, along with a decline in foreign investment has left regional countries in a precarious food situation and farmers in disarray.

“Farmers in West Africa have been severely affected by this crisis, with fear and panic resulting in many having abandoned their farms, this in turn has led to a disruption in food production and a soaring rise in food prices,” Ms. Elver noted.

Staple crops such as rice and maize will reportedly be scaled back due to shortages in farm labour with potential “catastrophic” effect on food security, she added.

Meanwhile, good news in the U.S. from USA Today:

Doctor leaves NYC hospital Ebola-free

Program notes:

Craig Spencer, the last Ebola patient in the U.S., left New York’s Bellevue Hospital Ebola-free Tuesday. Spencer was diagnosed with Ebola three weeks ago after returning from West Africa, where he was treating patients with the disease.

From The Hill, a cautionary note:

White House: NY Ebola case won’t be last

The doctor discharged Tuesday from a New York City hospital after recovering from Ebola won’t be the last U.S. case of the deadly virus, the White House warned Tuesday.

“Today is a milestone, but let’s be clear … we’re going to see occasional additional cases of Ebola in our country,” White House Ebola czar Ron Klain told MSNBC. “This is not the last one.”

Craig Spencer, a 33-year-old physician who contracted the virus while treating patients in West Africa, was released from Bellevue Hospital on Tuesday after weeks of isolation and treatment. Spencer was the last known case of Ebola in the United States.

Klain hailed Spencer’s discharge as “a milestone in showing our strategy of identifying, isolating, and treating Ebola patients can be successful,” and he noted that all eight U.S. citizens who had contracted the disease survived. A Liberian man who traveled to Dallas and infected two nurses treating him died from the disease.

The Associated Press covers a walkout:

California nurses strike over patient care, Ebola

As many as 18,000 nurses went on strike Tuesday and picketed in front of Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California to express their concerns about patient-care standards and Ebola.

The nurses, who are in the midst of contract negotiations, held red and yellow “strike for health and safety” picket signs. The two-day strike was expected to affect at least 21 Kaiser hospitals and 35 clinics and last until 7 a.m. Thursday.

Union officials said nurses are striking over claims there has been an erosion of patient-care standards in Kaiser facilities for months and that the company has failed to adopt optimal safeguards for Ebola.

“The nurses are telling story upon story of the lack of safety for patients, the lack of concern for patients,” RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, the union representing the striking nurses, said. “This isn’t about money. This is about something far deeper.”

And has the latest European Ebola scare:

Dane admitted to hospital for Ebola testing

A patient who has recently been in west Africa was being tested for Ebola on Tuesday evening, with test results first expected during the course of the day on Wednesday.

A Dane who recently returned from west Africa was admitted to Hvidore Hospital on Tuesday afternoon on the suspicion of carrying the Ebola virus, the hospital has announced.

“We determined that there were grounds to admit the patient and we have sent a test to the State Serum Institute,” hospital spokesman Toben Mogensen said in a statement.

The patient was put in isolation late on Tuesday and will remain there until the test results return. An initial result was expected to arrive overnight on Tuesday and a secondary sample will be sent for testing on Wednesday morning.

While Jiji Press covers preparations in Japan:

Tokyo Govt Conducts Ebola Response Drill

The Tokyo metropolitan government carried out a drill on Tuesday to deal with a suspected Ebola case.

The drill was carried out under the assumption that a doctor who returned to Japan a week before after working in West Africa, where there is an Ebola epidemic, contacted a public health center, complaining of a fever.

Placed in a capsule-type stretcher, which prevents the Ebola virus from spreading, a man in the doctor’s role was put into an ambulance and taken to a designated hospital in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward.

And RT covers another sort of scare:

Ebola-labeled vial prompts NZ parliament lockdown

What was called a sample of the Ebola virus in an attatched letter has been sent to the New Zealand Parliament’s mailroom, prompting a lockdown of the room. Just hours before, the Auckland office of the New Zealand Herald received a similar package.

Mailroom staff at the Parliament building in Wellington called the police after discovering the unaddressed package. It contained a small liquid-filled vial and documents claiming that the vial contains a sample of the deadly Ebola virus.

“Wellington Police have secured a package delivered to the Parliament mailroom today with the assistance of the Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal team,” New Zealand police said.

More from The Hill:

Ebola packages likely a hoax, says US czar

The U.S. is monitoring reports that New Zealand’s parliament and top newspaper received packages purportedly containing vials of the Ebola virus, but believes the incident was most likely a hoax, the White House said Tuesday.

Ebola czar Ron Klain told CNN he was briefed on the incident earlier in the day, but based on the best available intelligence information, “odds are high that this turns out to be a hoax.”

The New Zealand Herald reported that its Aukland headquarters received a small bottle of liquid with an accompanying message suggesting it contained Ebola. Hours later, the mailroom at the parliament building in Wellington was also closed after reception of a similarly suspicious package. Both packages have been forwarded for forensic testing.

On to Africa, starting with an urgent assessment from the UN News Center:

Stopping Ebola as fast as possible is ‘number one priority’ – UN envoy

The number one priority is to stop Ebola as fast as possible and “get ahead of the virus,” the chief of the United Nations emergency response mission said as the UN health agency today reported that efforts to contain the outbreak in West Africa are being hampered by cumbersome diagnostic tests.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) said that standard tests used in mobile and other laboratories need 2 to 6 hours to test for Ebola and cost around $100, but these requirements are difficult to meet in resource-constrained West African settings, thus severely limiting testing capacity.

“Efforts to contain the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa are currently hampered by cumbersome, slow, and complex diagnostic tests that imposed a number of additional logistical challenges, including requirements for a high level of laboratory biosafety and staff expertise in using sophisticated machines,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters in Geneva.

Anthony Banbury, the head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in New York to brief Member States this week, told the UN News Centre that he is “deeply concerned that the true numbers of people affected by the virus, dying of it, are higher than the numbers being reported.”

From Associated Press, the cost of Ebolaphobia:

Morocco thrown out of African Cup, dumped as host

Morocco was thrown out of the 2015 African Cup of Nations and dumped as the host Tuesday after refusing to commit to the scheduled dates early next year because of fears over Ebola.

The decisions by CAF were taken at a meeting that was forced by Morocco’s refusal to hold the tournament on the planned dates of Jan. 17-Feb. 8 because of the threat of the spread of Ebola. The disease has killed about 5,000 people in West Africa, and Morocco wanted the 16-team soccer event postponed until 2016 because of fears the deadly virus would arrive with supporters and other travelers.

CAF repeatedly refused Morocco’s request to postpone the African Cup, the body’s main money-earning tournament, and gave the country until Saturday to commit to the planned dates. Morocco declined again.

“The Royal Moroccan Football Federation reiterated its refusal to hold the competition on the dates indicated,” CAF said Tuesday. “Therefore having firmly and unanimously notified … its decision to keep the competition on the dates indicated, the executive committee confirmed that the Africa Cup of Nations 2015 will not take place in Morocco.”

From VOA video, old message, new medium:

Ebola Training Available Online

Program notes:

Since an Ebola outbreak began its deadly course through West Africa earlier this year, health officials worldwide have sought to inform the general public about the virus that has killed some 5,000 people. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Tuesday launched an online training program for its staff and others interested in fighting Ebola. Zlatica Hoke has more.

Voice of America covers complexity:

Ebola is More Than Medical Challenge, Experts Say

South Africa knows all too well how it feels to watch a disease rampage through once-healthy communities, to watch the illness divide society and trigger shame, fear and panic, and to be shunned by the rest of the world.

And so as three West African nations battle with the often-deadly Ebola virus, South African experts say the hard lessons they learned in their nation’s HIV epidemic are as important as ever.

Fighting Ebola, they say, will require many of the same tools needed to fight AIDS, an epidemic that fundamentally transformed the way the world looks at diseases — not just through the microscope of science, but through the wider lens of society and development.

From the Sun in Lagos, Nigeria, stunning allegations about the patient who triggered the first U.S. Ebolas outbreak:

How Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer, deliberately infected our staff with Ebola — First Consultant Hospital

Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American who brought Ebola into the country, was a bio-terrorist, bent on a mission to deliberately infect as many Nigerians as possible with the deadly virus, the Chief Medical Director of First Consultant Hospital, Benjamin Ohiaeri, has said.

In a detailed interview with ThisDay newspaper, Mr. Ohiaeri spoke of how Mr. Sawyer lied to his hospital that he had no contact with any Ebola case and how he plotted to be allowed to storm the streets of Nigeria to spread the virus.
He also revealed shocking details of how Mr Sawyer deliberately and systematically infected hospital personnel with the virus.

He said the Liberian- American was not interested in receiving treatment or discussing the option available to him. Rather he demonstrated a deliberate intent to be discharged from the hospital into the public where he would have posed dire public health risk.

After the jump, one to Sierra Leone and good news for the most exposed, hospitals blasted by patient families, another doctor stricken, help from the nuclear realm, and one bright spot, then on to Liberia and another tragedy in another county, a suspected carrier captured, more help from within Africa, a plea for help from Liberian news media, care for kids in quarantine, and help from cells phones, then on to Ghana and a question of awareness. . . Continue reading

Breaking the Set: Cows, compassion, & crisis

In this episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin covers some important ground, including the tremendous environmental impact of pour meat habit.

From Breaking the Set:

Don’t Feed the Homeless, The ‘Cowspiracy’ & 50 Shades of White Voters

Program notes:

Abby Martin Breaks the Set on Arresting Homeless Helpers, Purposeful Voter Suppression, Cowspiracy & The Heroes of Guatemala City.

EPISODE BREAKDOWN: On this episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin talks about the story of a 90-year-old man in Florida who was arrested for feeding the homeless, demonstrating the latest effort to crackdown on this vulnerable population. Abby then discusses the ways that minorities, young people, and the poor are being dissuaded from going to the polls on election day and how both major parties either ignore or pay attention to these demographics when its politically convenient. Abby then discusses the new documentary, “Cowspiracy” with Director, Kip Andersen, about how the meat industry is the biggest contributor to climate change and why environmental groups rarely take it on. BTS wraps up the show with an interview with volunteer paramedic, Dr. Jorge Chiu, and photojournalist, Giles Clarke, about the health system in Guatemala City, and why it is one of the most violent cities in the world.

EnviroWatch: Water, fuel, climate, toxins, nukes

First up, water and war from Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Ground water depletion driving global conflicts – NASA scientist

Global ground water supplies, crucial for sustaining agriculture, are being depleted at an alarming rate with dangerous security implications, a leading scientist said.

“It’s a major cause for concern because most of the places where it (ground water depletion) is happening are major food producing regions,” James Famiglietti, a University of California professor who conducts research for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“India is the worst off, followed by the Middle East, and the U.S. is probably number three … the Chinese, particularly on the north China plain, are more water limited than people believe.”

Famiglietti’s conclusions are based on his latest research paper “The global ground water crisis” published in the journal Nature Climate Change last month.

Green woes in the Golden State from the Los Angeles Times:

State recycling program has been running large deficits

A state audit has found that the cost of the state’s recycling program for beverage containers has exceeded its revenue by over $100 million in three of the last four fiscal years.

The audit released Thursday reviewed the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery’s administration of the Beverage Container Recycle Program, which is meant to encourage and increase consumer recycling.

The audit found that in the last four fiscal years, the beverage program has been operating under an annual deficit. In the last fiscal year, costs exceeded revenue by nearly $29 million–an improvement over the three years before.

From the Los Angeles Times again, not in the bag yet:

Campaign begins to preserve ban on plastic grocery bags

A group of politicians, environmentalists and businesses announced Thursday it is launching a campaign to fight efforts to repeal a ban on single-use plastic bags from stores that is scheduled to take effect July 1.

The new group is trying to counter plastic bag manufacturers, operating as the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which is trying to collect more than 504,000 signatures for a referendum that, if it qualifies, would delay the bag ban until a statewide vote in November 2016.

That effort to repeal the nation’s first statewide bag ban will be fought by a new coalition that includes Sierra Club California, Surfrider Foundation, the California Grocers Assn., Grocery Outlet Inc., Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Assemblyman-elect Kevin McCarty.

The Ecologist covers an unusual electoral win:

Victory! Outspent 87-1, Maui voters back GMO moratorium

A voter initiative in Maui, Hawaii requires a suspension of GMO crops pending a safety review to be paid for by Monsanto and other corporations – although corporations spent almost $8 million trying to defeat the measure. Monsanto is now preparing a legal challenge.

Hawaii voters in Maui County made history this week by backing a ballot initiative to prohibit the growth, testing or cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops in Maui until an environmental and public health study can show that they are safe.

Voters backed the measure by 23,082 to 22,005 – in the face of massive spending by agrochemical companies.

The opposition ‘Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban’ – almost exclusively backed by Monsanto and Dow Chemical to defeat the initiative – raised $7,970,686.12 million for its campaign.

Thar’s an amazing $362.22 per vote earned, or $174.43 per total vote cast – 87 times more than ban supporters – leading the Center for Public Integrity to dub it “the most expensive local initiative in the country”.

Much corporate GMO agriculture is devoted to crops grow to feed our sugar habit, and new research is revealing unsuspected ways in which that addiction is causing major problems for our well-being, as revealed in tis short documentary from ABC Australia, via Journeyman Pictures:

How Sugary Diets Are Destroying Our Immune Systems

Program notes:

Catalyst: Ancient Teeth – By investigating evidence from ancient teeth, we find out about how the human diet and health conditions have changed over time.

Our diets have changed tremendously as humans have developed and progressed over time, from the meat-heavy diets from our hunter-gatherer days, to the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago and the high sugar content of today’s fast, convenient food. Our changing diet has had a variety of effects on our health, not least on our ‘microbiome’; diversity in the bacteria living inside us has decreased dramatically, with severe knock-on effects on our immune systems. Dr Graham Phillips presents evidence from our ancestors’ teeth, which shows just how much our diets and resultant bacterial communities inside our bodies have changed over time.

It could be worse, and probably is, via the Guardian:

New study questions the accuracy of satellite atmospheric temperature estimates

  • A new study finds that satellites may be underestimating the warming of the lower atmosphere

Over the past decades, scientists have made many measurements across the globe to characterize how fast the Earth is warming. It may seem trivial, but taking the Earth’s temperature is not very straightforward. You could use temperature thermometers at weather stations that are spread across the globe. Measurements can be taken daily and information sent to central repositories where some average is determined.

A downside of thermometers is that they do not cover the entire planet – large polar regions, oceans, and areas in the developing world have no or very few measurements. Another problem is that they may change over time. Perhaps the thermometers are replaced or moved, or perhaps the landscape around the thermometers changes which could impact the reading. And of course, measurements of the ocean regions are a whole other story.

An alternative technique is to use satellites to extract temperatures from radiative emission at microwave frequencies from oxygen in the atmosphere. Satellites can cover the entire globe and thereby avoid the problem with discrete sensors. However, satellites also change over time, their orbit can change, or their detection devices can also change.

Death by drought, via the Express Tribune in Karachi:

A matter of negligence? Drought has killed 275 children in 11 months: official list

The unabated drought in Tharparkar coupled with a dearth of health facilities has claimed the lives of 275 children in 11 months, according to an official list prepared by the district administration.

Deputy commissioner (DC) Asif Jameel submitted the list, containing the details of children under the age of five who died between December 2013 and October 2014, to the provincial government on Thursday. Although the deaths are officially recognised as drought-related, the medical causes of mortality have mostly been cited as being pneumonia, blood infection, diarrhoea, birth asphyxia and haemorrhagic fever.

This admission also flies in the face of the Sindh government’s attempts to downplay the effect of the persistent drought and prevailing poverty among children and pregnant mothers. Four more deaths, including that of a mother, have been reported from Tharparkar in the last two days.

The Environment News Service covers a holding action:

Brazilian Judge Sides With Tribe Over Land Threatened by Dams

In a struggle between a Brazilian indigenous tribe and the federal government over two dams that would flood lands claimed by the tribe, a federal judge has ruled that the government must immediately publish its report delineating the tribe’s territory that has been withheld for more than a year.

Last week, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Public Prosecutors’ Office, federal judge Rafael Leite Paulo issued a ruling that requires FUNAI, the federal agency responsible for indigenous people, to publish its report within 15 days and determine the final decision on demarcation of the Sawre Muybu territory.

In October 2013, after completing 12 years of field studies, FUNAI completed a technical report confirming the status of Sawre Muybu as the Munduruku people’s traditional indigenous territory.

But under pressure from the administration of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, FUNAI and the Ministry of Justice have refused to officially publish the report, stalling demarcation.

From MercoPress, a plague afloat:

Greenpeace names twenty “monster vessels, the scourge of the oceans”

Five fishing vessels from Spain are among the 20 most destructive community fishing vessels in the European Union, according to a new report from the environmental organization Greenpeace. Out of the five, two are from Galicia,: Eirado do Costal, with home port in Cangas, and Playa de Tambo, based in Marin.

The other three vessels are from the Basque Country: Albacora Uno, Albatún Tres and Txori Argi.

With the release of the report, “Monster boats, The scourge of the oceans”, Greenpeace intends to warn on overfishing issues and protect the oceans through sustainable fishing. Greenpeace details that other ships belong to the following countries: Netherlands: 2; Portugal: 2; Sweden: 1; UK: 2; France: 1; Germany: 2; Denmark: 1; Lithuania: 2; Poland: 1 and Vanuatu, 1. The only vessel flagged outside the EU is operated by a Greek-registered company.

Greenpeace aim is that the publication of this report forces the vessels mentioned, will eventually withdraw from the oceans.

MintPress News covers fracking woes:

Oil, Gas Sites Spewing Airborne Chemicals Far Above Federal Standards

Formaldehyde and benzene are among the compounds being released into the air around the country’s oil and gas sites at up to hundreds of times the limits deemed safe by the federal government. More alarmingly, these sites are also releasing entirely unknown compounds.

Oil and gas sites in the United States, including fracking wells, are spewing toxic chemicals into the air at levels up to hundreds of times higher than federal safety limits, according to a two-year study in six states.

While no direct link can be established, local communities in five of those states complain that these chemicals are responsible for a spectrum of health problems, including nausea, dizziness, sore throats and more. Further, some of the study’s lead researchers warn that the long-term health impacts of these chemicals remain unknown to community members and to the government regulators vested with safeguarding public health.

The investigation is the result of collaboration between Global Community Monitor, an anti-fracking organization that trains community members to monitor pollution levels, and Coming Clean, an advocacy group that campaigns on issues of health and the environment. The results have been published in two parts, one for a general readership and another, in the journal Environmental Health, for a technical audience.

Organizers say the latter constitutes the first peer-reviewed multi-state investigation into airborne toxics near oil and gas facilities.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with RT:

Fukushima workers injured as steel material for coolant tank collapses

Three workers at the troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant were hurt during an operation to set up a coolant tank for contaminated water. A 13-meter-high steel construction collapsed on them.

One of the workers has been left in critical condition after being knocked unconscious. He was transported to the hospital from the plant by helicopter, according to a TEPCO spokesman, AFP reported.

A second worker has a broken leg, while the third did not sustain any major injuries.

The plant has been facing the worrying issue of contaminated water leaking into the Pacific Ocean. It is looking into ways to clean the water to later release into the ocean without risk.

From the Japan Times, greenlighting a restart:

Kagoshima assembly, governor green-light restart of Sendai reactors

Kyushu Electric Power Co. received approval from the Kagoshima Prefectural Assembly and governor on Friday to restart two nuclear reactors at the Sendai power plant.

The move clears the last major political hurdles to bring Japan’s first two reactors back online, under new nuclear safety regulations introduced in July 2013.

However, some towns and villages that lie within 30 km of the plant have doubts about the restart and are demanding they, too, be consulted as part of promises by the central government and the utility to seek local consensus prior to restarting the units.

Despite protests, via NHK WORLD:

Anti-nuclear rally against plant restart

Anti-nuclear protesters on Friday held a rally in front of the Kagoshima prefectural office. They are opposing the restart of the Sendai nuclear power plant.

The protesters criticized the prefectural assembly members for approving the restart of the plant. They said they regret the assembly made the hasty decision in an extraordinary session, ignoring the views of the people in the prefecture and elsewhere in Japan. They added they will continue to fight against the restart.

A local woman said she can’t understand why the assembly members want to resume the plant operation so prematurely.

A man from neighboring Kumamoto Prefecture said radioactive substances could spread to areas beyond Kagoshima and contaminate them. He added he doubts the effectiveness of the Kagoshima Prefecture’s evacuation program.

To close, via JapanToday, another delay:

Gov’t says interim nuclear waste storage facilities delayed

Work to begin storing nuclear waster from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and surrounding areas in interim storage facilities in two Fukushima towns will most likely not begin in January as scheduled.

Reconstruction Minister Wataru Takeshita told a news conference Friday that the government had not been able to secure the land due to ongoing negotiations with landowners, NTV reported.

In September, former Fukushima Gov Yuhei Sato said the two towns of Futaba and Okuma had agreed to accept the temporary storage of nuclear waste from the disaster, paving the way for an end to a years-long standoff.