Category Archives: Environment

EnviroWatch: Poles, noise, oceans, & nukes


We begin with the southern polar regions with the Atlantic Monthly:

Antarctica Tourism Could Be Making Penguins Sick

  • Human visits to the South Pole may threaten the adorable creatures with deadly diseases

Antarctica remained largely untouched until roughly 200 years ago, and now, more than 10,000 people travel there every year. But tourists bring more than cameras. Scientists are warning that pathogens brought by visitors could threaten the continent’s most iconic inhabitant: the penguin.

Isolation has left local wildlife populations particularly vulnerable to diseases commonplace elsewhere in the world. “The effects of both a growing tourism industry and research presence will not be without consequences,” Wray Grimaldi of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, said to New Scientist. “Penguins are highly susceptible to infectious diseases.”

Her team of Antarctic researchers found multiple infectious agents—bacteria such Salmonella and E. coli, viruses such as West Nile and the Avian pox virus—in captive penguins dating back to 1947. Outbreaks from those diseases have killed thousands of penguins over the years, the team reported in a paper published this month in the journal Polar Biology.

Then head to the northern polar region with the New York Times:

Snow Is Down and Heat Is Up in the Arctic, Report Says

The Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the globe, and with greater repercussions, scientists are reporting.

The new findings appear in the Arctic Report Card, first published in 2006 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and updated annually. The report card catalogs the wide-ranging changes caused by the rising temperatures, in large part driven by emissions of greenhouse gases.

Snow cover, measured since 1967, was below average and set a record low in April in the Eurasian region of the Arctic. Sea surface temperatures are rising, particularly in the Chukchi Sea, northwest of Alaska, where the waters are warming at a rate of almost one degree Fahrenheit per decade.

The extent of Arctic sea ice, which retreats in summer, did not hit a record low in 2014. But it was the sixth lowest since satellite measurements began in 1979, and the scientists noted that the eight smallest extents have occurred in the last eight years.

And again with Common Dreams:

Chevron Halts Arctic Drilling Plans ‘Indefinitely’

  • Decision ‘further proof that technical challenges of drilling in icy waters, where a spill is all but inevitable.’—Farrah Khan, Greenpeace Canada

In a move cheered by environmental groups, Chevron has put its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic “on hold indefinitely,” the energy company said Wednesday.

It had planned on drilling by 2020 in the Beaufort Sea, but in a letter to Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB), Chevron cited “the level of economic uncertainty in the industry” for its decision, Reuters reports.

CBC News reports that Chevron has already spent over $100 million on exploration in the Beaufort Sea.

NEB policy is that companies engaged in drilling must be able to drill a “same season relief well” in the case of an out-of-control well—an ability, according to the Financial Times, Chevron said was “not feasible.” Chevron was in the process of creating an alternate to such a relief well and have it meet approval of the regulatory body.

Oil news further south with Reuters:

Oil shock to tilt Mexico energy opening in private sector’s favor

Mexico, the world’s 10th biggest crude producer, last week announced bidding terms for the first set of production-sharing contracts, unveiling 14 shallow-water exploration blocks that will pay winning firms a share of each project’s output.

The overhaul aims to reverse a decline in crude output of 30 percent since 2004, but the slumping prices have cut potential returns, putting the onus on Mexico to make it more attractive for firms to invest – at the government’s expense.

By law, what companies must pay the government include a range of taxes and a basic royalty which will vary depending on the price of oil.

The most important consideration in determining who wins the contracts will be what share of operating profits bidders offer the government above a minimum level.

“What will the government do? Well, if it planned on a certain percentage for a given (project), it’s just going to have to reduce the percentage,” said German Pacheco, a congressman from the opposition National Action Party who helped craft the energy reform.

From the Guardian, an oceanic crisis:

Major coral bleaching in Pacific may become worst die-off in 20 years, say experts

  • Warm sea temperatures are causing massive coral reef die-off across the Northern Pacific in what could be the start of an historic bleaching event around the world

Scientists warn extreme sea temperatures could cause a “historic” coral reef die-off around the world over the coming months, following a massive coral bleaching already underway in the North Pacific. Experts said the coral die-off could be the worst in nearly two decades.

Reports of severe bleaching have been accumulating in the inbox of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch programme since July.

A huge swathe of the Pacific has already been affected, including the Northern Marianas Islands, Guam, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Kiribati and Florida. Some areas have recorded serious bleaching for the first time.

“On a global scale it’s a major bleaching event. What it may be is the beginning of a historic event,” said Coral Reef Watch coordinator Dr Mark Eakin.

A delightful discovery, via BBC News:

Birds ‘heard tornadoes coming’ and fled one day ahead

US scientists say tracking data shows that five golden-winged warblers “evacuated” their nesting site one day before the April 2014 tornado outbreak.

Geolocators showed the birds left the Appalachians and flew 700km (400 miles) south to the Gulf of Mexico.

The next day, devastating storms swept across the south and central US.

Writing in the journal Current Biology, ecologists suggest these birds – and others – may sense such extreme events with their keen low-frequency hearing.

Other sounds, ominous in themselves, via Environment News Service:

EU Traffic Noise Causes 10,000 Premature Deaths a Year

More than 125 million Europeans could be exposed to levels of road traffic noise above legal guidelines, causing up to 10,000 premature deaths each year, finds a new assessment published today by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

“Noise in Europe 2014,” the EEA’s first noise assessment report, analyzes exposure to noise levels and the environmental and public health problems that result.

The effects of noise are particularly widespread. For the one in four Europeans exposed to noise levels above the EU’s threshold for assessment and action, 55 decibels, there are both direct and indirect health effects, the report states.

Traffic noise annoys almost 20 million and disturbs the sleep of an estimated eight million residents of the 28 European Union Member States.

Another Obama administration disappointment, from Salon:

EPA goes soft on toxic coal ash

  • New regulations for the dangerous coal byproduct fail to treat it as hazardous waste

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the nation’s very first regulations for coal ash disposal Friday afternoon. But, in a major disappointment to those hoping the agency would come down hard on the substance, it opted to regulate it as solid, instead of hazardous, waste.

Coal ash is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants — one that’s less well-known than carbon dioxide emissions, but is also far more prevalent than many likely realize. It’s the second-largest form of waste generated in the U.S., the 140 tons of it that are produced annually stored at over 2,000 disposal sites across the country.

Some of those dump sites have been known to leak contaminants, which include arsenic, mercury and dangerous heavy metals, posing a health risk to the people living nearby. And sometimes things go really wrong. You may remember, for example, the disaster earlier this year in North Carolina, when Duke Energy spilled over 82,000 tons of the stuff into the Dan River.

On to Japan and Fukushimapocalypse Now!, via the Japan Times:

Taiwan says 3/11 ban on Japanese food exports to remain in place

Taiwan will continue to ban food imports from five prefectures tainted by the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster despite Tokyo’s efforts to apply stricter export inspections.

An official at the Health and Welfare Ministry said Friday the import ban will remain in place and that Taiwanese authorities have no plans to lift it any time soon.

“Both sides have been discussing the issue since the ban was put in place,” he said. “We proceed at our own pace and will conduct an overall assessment before making any decision.”

The Japan Times again, with damages sought:

Hundreds of Fukushima evacuees sue Tepco for ¥6 billion

More than 340 people forced to evacuate by the atomic meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011 filed a lawsuit Friday against Tokyo Electric Power Co. demanding around ¥6 billion in compensation.

In the case, filed with the Tokyo District Court, the 344 plaintiffs from Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, are seeking ¥10 million in damages for mental suffering and monthly payments of ¥200,000 for three years from the utility once the evacuation order for the Odaka area is lifted, their lawyers said.

The evacuees had sought to settle the case through an alternative dispute resolution system but decided to take it to court after Tepco, which runs the plant, rejected the terms of settlement, the lawyers said.

And from ABC News, the latest on that underground radioactive-waste-enclosing organic cat litter explosion in New Mexico:

Report: Radiation Leak at Nuclear Dump Was Small

A final report by independent researchers shows the radiation leak from the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico was small and localized.

The report released Thursday by the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center also says no negative health effects are expected among workers or the public.

The center is associated with New Mexico State University.

Its technicians have been collecting samples since February, when a container of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory ruptured after being placed in a storage room at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

EnviroWatch: Climate, health, pollution, nukes


And food, via the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Climate change could cut world food output 18 percent by 2050

Global warming could cause an 18 percent drop in world food production by 2050, but investments in irrigation and infrastructure, and moving food output to different regions, could reduce the loss, a study published on Thursday said.

Globally, irrigation systems should be expanded by more than 25 percent to cope with changing rainfall patterns, the study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters said.

Where they should be expanded is difficult to model because of competing scenarios on how rainfall will change, so the majority of irrigation investments should be made after 2030, the study said.

“If you don’t carefully plan (where to spend resources), you will get adaptation wrong,” David Leclere, one of the study’s authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Infrastructure and processing chains will need to be built in areas where there was little agriculture before in order to expand production, he said.

Another food threat from the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Tropical deforestation threatens global food production

Tropical deforestation in the southern hemisphere is accelerating global warming and threatening world food production by distorting rainfall patterns across Europe, China and the U.S. Midwest, a study released on Thursday said.

By 2050, deforestation could lead to a 15 percent drop in rainfall in tropical regions including the South American Amazon, Southeast Asia and Central Africa, the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change said.

Much of the logging taking place is to clear land for agriculture. This can cause a vicious cycle, increasing global warming, lowering food production on farms which in turn leads to growers cutting down more trees for farmland, experts say.

“When you deforest the tropics, those regions will experience significant warming and the biggest drying,” Deborah Lawrence, a University of Virginia professor and the study’s lead author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Coal, the gift that keeps on giving, via the Washington Post:

Dam breaks, tainted wells prompt new look at coal-ash dumps that escaped EPA review

Since the 1970s, utility companies have been allowed to dispose of coal-ash under state laws that vary widely across jurisdictions. The exemption was created by Congress, which, to avoid rules that might discourage the use of coal, blocked the EPA from classifying coal ash as hazardous waste, or even subjecting it to the same national standards that apply to other kinds of solid waste.

That could change as early as Friday as the EPA prepares to issue new rules that will, for the first time, include coal ash in federal guidelines for waste disposal. The long-awaited decision could significantly increase disposal costs for utility companies, depending on whether the EPA decides to classify coal ash as “hazardous” waste, requiring more stringent standards for disposal and cleanup.

Industry officials are bracing for tighter rules while hoping the EPA will opt for something short of a “hazardous” label that they say will hurt companies and raise utility rates. Thomas H. Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, said stricter laws are unnecessary for a waste product that has been deemed harmless enough for use as an additive in cement and tarmac. He accused “anti-coal groups” of promoting a “steady stream of misleading publicity regarding the safety of coal ash.”

But community activists and environmental groups point to a decades-long record of dam breaks, spills and leaks in demanding greater protection for those living near such dumps. Hardly harmless, residue from coal-burning contains significant concentrations of arsenic, mercury and heavy metals that are toxic to humans and wildlife, environmentalists and regulators say.

Fears of a British health crisis from the Independent:

Norovirus closes wards in nine hospital amid fears of winter NHS crisis

Nine hospitals have been forced to close wards because of outbreaks of the norovirus, according to a report.

As the flu season got underway, ITV News reported that five wards had closed to visitors and all other adult wards had restricted visiting hours at Warwick Hospital. Four wards at Southampton General have stopped taking new patients and Weston General in Weston-super-Mare had been closed.

Hull Royal Infirmary, Diana Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby, James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth, Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Warwickshire’s Ellen Badger Hospital and Royal Bournemouth have also been affected.

From McClatchy Washington Bureau, more fruits of neoliberalism:

Most states unprepared to handle infectious disease outbreaks, health group says

Most states are not prepared to handle outbreaks of severe infectious diseases, according to a new report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases” found that half the states and the District of Columbia scored five or lower out of a possible 10 on measures related to the prevention, diagnosis, detection and response to disease outbreaks.

Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia led all states, each scoring eight out of 10. California, Delaware, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were next, scoring seven out of 10.

Arkansas had the nation’s lowest score with two. It was followed by Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Wyoming, which each scored a three.

Another gift of fuelishness, via Bloomberg News:

Air Pollution Exposure in Pregnancy Linked to Autism in Study

Women who are exposed to high levels of air pollution during their third trimester of pregnancy may be twice as likely to have an autistic child, a study found.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found the risk of autism rises in parallel with exposure to fine particulate matter during pregnancy, with the biggest effect occurring in the final months of gestation. The results appear in the Dec. 18 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.

The findings add to other research suggesting the environment plays a role in the development of autism, a developmental disorder marked by repetitive behaviors and trouble communicating and socializing. The study, which started in 1989 and involved more than 100,000 nurses from across the U.S., will help researchers home in on the causes of autism and potential ways to prevent it, said Marc Weisskopf, a senior study author.

And from the Center for Public Integrity, a very generous giver in a ten-gallon Stetson:

Texas weakens chemical exposure guidelines, opens door for polluters

In 2007, Texas regulators quietly relaxed the state’s long-term air pollution guideline for benzene, one of the world’s most toxic and thoroughly studied chemicals. The number they came up with, still in effect, was 40 percent weaker, or less health-protective, than the old one.

The decision by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) was a boon for oil refineries, petrochemical plants and other benzene-emitting facilities, because it allowed them to release more benzene into the air without triggering regulatory scrutiny. But it defied the trend of scientific research, which shows that even small amounts of benzene can cause leukemia. The American Petroleum Institute, lobbyist for some of the nation’s largest benzene producers, privately acknowledged as early as 1948 that the only “absolutely safe” dose was zero.

It’s “the most irresponsible action I’ve heard of in my life,” said Jim Tarr, an air-quality consultant who worked for the TCEQ’s predecessor agency in the 1970s. “I certainly can’t find another regulatory agency in the U.S. that’s done that.”

The benzene decision was part of Texas’ sweeping overhaul of its air pollution guidelines. An analysis by InsideClimate News shows that the TCEQ has loosened two-thirds of the protections for the 45 chemicals it has re-assessed since 2007, even though the state’s guidelines at the time were already among the nation’s weakest.

A Big Agra GMO win in China, via Shanghai Daily:

Green light for GM crops from US

CHINA has approved the import of a genetically modified corn strain it blocked last year, and has given clearance to biotech soybeans that had been waiting years for clearance in a sign of warmer ties with the United States.

US Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said China had approved imports of American-grown Viptera corn developed by Swiss-based Syngenta, known as MIR 162, as well as shipments of biotech soybeans developed by DuPont Pioneer and Bayer CropScience.

Industry sources and analysts said China’s change of heart was due to a warmer political climate between Beijing and Washington since the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum last month, where the two nations announced a joint plan to limit carbon emissions and made breakthroughs on eliminating duties on technology products.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Times:

3,700 Fukushima evacuees running out of time to claim compensation

Some 3,700 of those forced to flee during the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011 have yet to exercise their right to claim compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co., a company executive said Thursday.

Tepco has received claims for provisional compensation from some 166,000 evacuees who fled coastal areas around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant because of the triple core meltdown.

Of them, 3,713 had yet to apply for full compensation as of the end of November, Tepco Executive Vice President Yoshiyuki Ishizaki said in an interview.

A bill due for the reactors’ owner, via the Yomiuri Shimbun:

TEPCO’s 1st repayment due for emergency loan

Tokyo Electric Power Co. will soon repay some of the ¥2 trillion in emergency loans it took out just after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, according to sources.

TEPCO will repay a total of ¥150 billion in loans due on Dec. 26 to main creditor banks Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ and Mizuho Bank.

The firm will make the repayment because it hopes to take out fresh loans from the three banks in fiscal 2015 and later to secure enough operating funds.

In a business rationalization report, TEPCO said it needs ¥300 billion in funds in fiscal 2015 and an additional one trillion yen by the end of fiscal 2016, during which the company aims to return to the corporate debt market.

Drought reduction: Lookin’ better in California


From the U.S. Drought Monitor, two weeks of rain from the “storm of the decade” wrought a major pluvial relief for California, leaving less than a third of the state in the worst “Exceptional Drought” category, down from more than half just a week ago.

That state, the whole state remains under drought conditions to one degree or another, so there’s a long way to go.

Click on the mage to enlarge:

BLOG Drought

Chart of the day: Call it political fuelishness


From a new report [PDF] from the Pew Research Center, with the GOP ruling both houses of Congress, prepare for some drillin':

BLOG Fuelish

EnviroWatch: Fracked, nuked, heated, dried


Plus critters, health, and more.

First, via United Press International, a major development:

New York state bans fracking

New York state on Wednesday banned the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a means of extracting natural gas after a years-long study by environmental and health officials.

There had been an indefinite moratorium placed on fracking in the state since 2008 when then-N.Y. Gov. David Paterson ordered a review on the safety of the controversial process.

N.Y. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Wednesday declared he wouldn’t be comfortable if his own children were to live near a fracking site.

“I cannot support high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” he said during a year-end meeting of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet.

From Al Jazeera America, implications:

New York fracking ban reverberates nationally

  • Activists say the ban, announced by Gov. Cuomo Wednesday, will embolden the anti-fracking movement in several states

The news took even the most seasoned environmental activists by surprise: after years of review, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York State would ban hydraulic fracturing.

“I can barely contain myself,” said Nadia Steinzor, the eastern coordinator for national non-profit Earthworks. “Even though Cuomo recently said he was going to make a clear decision, we were not expecting something as exciting and straightforward as this.”

Activists hope that Cuomo’s decision will spark more bans across the country. “The fact that they took such a clear conclusion on these health risks sends a very strong signal that will reverberate nationwide about the risks to water, land and health,” Steinzor said.

From EcoWatch, more reinforcement:

Families Forced to Flee Their Homes From Out-of-Control Leak at Fracking Well

More than two dozen families have been forced to flee their homes in Monroe County in eastern Ohio as natural gas poured from a leak at an unused fracking well, the C0lumbus Dispatch revealed.

According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle, crews lost control of the well Saturday and have not yet been able to stop the leak. Families were evacuated from homes within a 1.5-mile radius of the well near the Ohio River. “There’s still a steady stream of natural gas coming from the wellhead,” said McCorkle.

Texas-based Triad Hunter, which owns the drilling site, released a statement saying it had “experienced a loss of control of a well, the Stalder 3UH, located in Monroe County, Ohio. The previously drilled and completed Stalder 3UH well had been temporarily plugged and abandoned in preparation for the drilling of three additional Utica horizontal wells on the Stalder pad. However, despite numerous precautionary measures taken in connection with the temporary plugging and abandonment operation, the well began to flow uncontrollably while recommencing production operations. Triad Hunter personnel were removing the well’s night cap flange when a pressure disruption occurred. They attempted to bolt back down this equipment but were not able to safely do so prior to natural gas flowback.”

From the Ecologist, more fracking woes, potentially much more devastating:

With sub-$60 oil, fracking and tar sands losses threaten the whole financial system

A new financial crisis is threatening to dwarf the ‘subprime’ mortgage debacle, writes Paul Mobbs. Cheap money from central banks has fuelled some $1.3 trillion of risky investments in high-cost ‘unconventional’ oil and gas. Now, with oil sinking below $60, all that paper is turning to junk – and that’s putting the entire economic system at risk.

Brought about by the recent fall in oil prices, investors are beginning to review the economics of unconventional oil and gas. For the last few years there have been a number of damning reports about the economics of unconventional fossil fuels.

Now it seems those long-ignored observations are being taken seriously by the money-lenders of Wall Street.

Deck the halls with. . .Whoa! WTF? Via the Guardian:

Toxic chemicals found in majority of holiday decorations

A new study tested seasonal products from retailers Walmart, Target and CVS. Two-thirds contained substances linked to cancer, learning disabilities and other health problems

A range of seasonal holiday products containing high levels of toxic chemicals are being sold by top retailers, including Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Kroger, Lowe’s, CVS and Dollar Tree, according to a new study.

Researchers for the environmental non-profit The Ecology Center tested 69 seasonal holiday products and found that two-thirds contained one or more hazardous chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems.

Purchased at seven retail stores in southeast Michigan, researchers tested beaded and tinsel garlands, artificial wreaths and greenery, stockings, figurines and other tabletop decorations, and gift bags. The study identified lead, flame retardants, tin compounds and phthalates, among other hazardous substances. These have been variously linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer.

Measles on the rise in South Africa, via StarAfrica:

S/Africa on measles alert

South Africa’s five provinces of Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and Western Cape have been hit by measles, Health Ministry spokesman Joe Maila confirmed on Tuesday.

Some 49 laboratory stations confirmed measles cases had been noted since the beginning of this year, with the majority of the cases being reported in the Northern Cape Province which has recorded 18 measles cases to date, Maila said.

He said the ministry was working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to contain the virus and ensure that it would not spread further.

“Indeed, there is a breakout of measles in South Africa. However, we are doing everything (possible) to make sure that we contain it so that it should not spread at the level that would get people worried,” he added.

Global Times covers the tragic:

Village votes to expel HIV-positive child

  • Expert: needs care ‘immediately’

An 8-year-old boy was allegedly facing expulsion from a village in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province for being HIV-positive, news portal people.com.cn reported on Wednesday.

More than 200 villagers, including the boy’s grandfather, in Shufangya village, Liqiao township, signed an agreement on December 7 agreeing to expel the boy in an effort to “protect villagers’ health.”

Kunkun (pseudonym), the boy, was found to be HIV-positive in 2011 when he received treatment for minor injuries, according to his grandfather, surnamed Luo.

Luo, 69, said that the HIV virus was transmitted to the boy from his mother.

From the Associated Press, corporate killings:

14 charged in deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak

In the biggest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine, 14 former owners or employees of a Massachusetts pharmacy were charged Wednesday in connection with a 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people.

The nationwide outbreak was traced to tainted drug injections manufactured by the now-closed New England Compounding Pharmacy of Framingham.

Barry Cadden, a co-founder of the business, and Glenn Adam Chin, a pharmacist who was in charge of the sterile room, were hit with the most serious charges, accused in a federal racketeering indictment of causing the deaths of 25 patients in seven states by “acting in wanton and willful disregard of the likelihood” of death or great bodily harm.

Among other things, Cadden, Chin and others are accused of using expired ingredients, failing to properly sterilize drugs and failing to test them to make sure they were pure. The other defendants were charged with such crimes as fraud and interstate sale of adulterated drugs.

From the Guardian, GMO incrementalism?:

Australian organic regulator pushes for GM-tainted crops to retain certification

  • Move would protect farmers from losing their organic certification because of accidental contamination

One of the bodies that regulates Australian organic standards is pushing to allow crops that are accidentally contaminated with genetically modified material to retain their organic certification, in a move that would bring Australia in line with European regulators.

Under current Australian organic standards, products lose organic certification if they contain any level of GM material.

That’s what happened to Western Australian farmer Steve Marsh, who took his neighbour Mark Baxter to the WA supreme court claiming GM pollen from Baxter’s farm caused him to lose organic certification on part of his property. Marsh lost the case and has lodged an appeal.

But regulator Australian Certified Organic (ACO) has applied to the Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council (OISCC) to change the standards to allow a minimum level of “advantageous contamination” in organic crops, so long as GM material is not detectable in the end product.

Reuters covers more GMO politicking:

U.S, China making progress on biotech crop talks: USDA’s Vilsack

The United States and China are making progress in talks over Beijing’s acceptance of new biotechnology for crops, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Wednesday.

The countries are “moving toward an understanding of how we might be able to establish a strategic dialogue on biotechnology,” Vilsack told Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang in a bilateral meeting in Chicago.

Biotech crops are a key trade issue between the countries because China has rejected more than 1 million tons of U.S. corn containing traces of a type of genetically modified corn, Agrisure Viptera, in the past year. The strain, developed by Syngenta AG, is approved for planting in the United States but not for import by Beijing.

From the Guardian, resistance to the neoliberal environmental agenda:

Italy says it will oppose EU plans to scrap environment law

  • Eleven member states signed letter opposing withdrawal of draft EU law on air quality and waste

Plans by European policymakers to scrap a draft EU law on air quality and waste send a “negative signal” about Europe’s ambition to curb climate change and governments will challenge them, the Italian environment minister said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the European commission laid out its legislative plans for 2015, saying it would focus on priorities such as jobs and economic growth. At the same time, it planned to withdraw some proposals made by the previous EU executive, including on improving air quality and cutting waste.

Environment minister Gian Luca Galletti of Italy, holder of the rotating EU presidency, was one of 11 EU ministers who signed a letter to the commission saying they opposed plans to tear up environmental legislation. He told journalists the opposition would continue.

After the jump, climatic grounds for pick-me-up angst, the U.S. Southwest looks to replenish a critical reservoir, oceans now come with a plastic lining?, Obama saves a bay — at least for now, Peruvian environmental murders, the tragic price of Chinese ivory hunger, the Navajo coal problem, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now! and yet another leak, and a singularly bad timing problem, bad news for Japan’s power customer, another nuclear plant moves closer to a restart, and more ratepayer woes. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Bugs, climates, water, & nukes


And more. . .

We begin with the bugs, via BBC News:

Brazil Olympics: Super-bacteria found in Rio sea waters

Researchers in Brazil have discovered drug-resistant bacteria in the sea waters where sailing and windsurfing events will be held during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The “super-bacteria” are usually found in hospital waste and produce an enzyme, KPC, resistant to antibiotics.

Researchers found the bacteria in samples taken from Flamengo beach.

Nearly 70% of sewage in Rio – a city of some 10 million people – is spilled raw into the waters of Guanabara Bay.

Asian bugs from Kyodo News:

Pathogenic bird flu strain detected at western Japan poultry farm

The Miyazaki prefectural government said early Tuesday morning that a genetic test confirmed a highly pathogenic H5 strain of avian influenza in three birds that earlier tested positive at a chicken farm in Nobeoka city in Japan’s top poultry producing prefecture.

The local government in western Japan started culling all the roughly 4,000 chickens raised at the farm at 2:30 a.m. In line with the law on preventing domestic animal infectious diseases, the government also asked nearby poultry farms to restrict the movements of livestock.

According to the prefecture, the farm in Nobeoka reported that 16 chickens died Monday, of which three preliminarily tested positive for bird flu. Ten chickens had died the day before, but tests results were negative.

On to climate with doubt from the New York Times:

Is a Two-Degree Limit on Global Warming Off Target?

The nations of the world agreed in 1992 to try to head off the worst damage, in an ambitious but vague treaty that called for action to prevent dangerous interference with the climate.

That raised the question of how much warming would be dangerous. In the mid-1990s, the German government picked up on the 2C finding as a way to breathe life into the treaty.

A decade of subsequent research added scientific support to the notion that 2C was a dangerous threshold. Experts realized, for example, that at some increase in global temperature, the immense Greenland ice sheet would begin an unstoppable melt, raising the level of the sea by as much as 23 feet over an unknown period. Their early calculations suggested that calamity would be unlikely as long as global warming did not exceed about 1.9 degrees Celsius.

“Risking a loss of the whole Greenland ice sheet was considered a no-go area,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, head of earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “We are talking about really sinking a lot of coastal cities.”

The Christian Science Monitor loses its cool:

Why Greenland could lose more of ice sheet than predicted

Newly discovered ‘winterproof’ lakes within the upper layers of the ice sheet in Greenland, as well as year-round aquifers, could speed the loss in a warming climate.

Researchers say they have uncovered perennial freshwater lakes embedded within the upper layers of Greenland’s ice sheet – previously unknown features that could play a role in the rate at which the sheet loses mass in a warming climate.

The discovery comes as glaciologists are still trying to digest news from a year ago that the southeastern section of the ice sheet hosts a year-round aquifer of liquid water. The aquifer covers some 27,000 square miles and ranges from 16 to nearly 165 feet thick, researchers have estimated. Since then, researchers have found other aquifers.

The perennial lakes and aquifers are acting as a kind of internal thermometer, signaling that “the ice sheet is warming, not only from the surface but internally as well,” noted Lora Koenig, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., during a briefing Monday at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The meeting runs through Friday.

The Los Angeles Times covers a potential seismic shift:

Earthquake could destroy L.A.’s water lifeline

Los Angeles gets 88% of its water from three major aqueducts, flowing from the Colorado River, Owens Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

But as they make their way into the region, the aqueducts cross the San Andreas fault a total of 32 times.

Officials have long warned that a massive temblor on the San Andreas could destroy key sections of the aqueducts, cutting off the water supply for more than 22 million people in Southern California.

L.A. officials are for the first time taking concrete steps to address the problem. Making L.A.’s water supply less vulnerable in a huge quake will probably cost billions, and it remains unclear where that money would come from.

And from the Sacramento Bee, keep it comin’:

California needs more big storms to beat drought

Despite the heavy storm that hit California last week – complete with flooded creeks and mudslides, closed highways and downed trees – it will take a lot more of the same to end the drought. In fact, experts say it may take five or six more storms like it to consider the drought over.

One reason is that, as wet as the storm seemed on Thursday and Friday, it was not so stormy everywhere. California’s water supplies are largely reliant on mountain snowpack, and this was a warm “Pineapple Express” storm. The state’s reservoirs had capacity to collect nearly all the rainfall runoff that flowed in. But the storm did not deliver a great deal of snow to the Sierra Nevada, which provides the snowmelt that California relies on in summer and fall.

The state needs a lot more storms – and cold ones – to assure there’s enough snowmelt to meet water demand next summer.

A species on the precipice from the Los Angeles Times:

5 northern white rhinos left in the world

With the death at San Diego Zoo Safari Park of a northern white rhino, the species is five animals away from extinction.

The death of Angalifu, a 44-year-old male northern white rhino, leaves an elderly female at the park, three in a Kenyan preserve and one at a Czech Republic zoo.

There were more than 2,000 northern whites in 1960, according to the World Wildlife Fund, but poachers obliterated the population. By 1984, there were about 15 of the rhinos left. That population was doubled by 1993 through aggressive conservation efforts. But heavily armed poaching gangs have now virtually annihilated the species, the WWF says.

Poachers are known to use helicopters, guns with silencers and night-vision equipment to harvest rhinos’ horns, which are in huge demand in Asia and sell for as much as $30,000 a pound.

The Guardian covers efforts to save another creature:

EU under pressure to ban diclofenac to protect Europe’s vultures

  • Veterinary drug for cattle that led to collapse of vulture populations of Asia is a risk to 55,000 birds, says European Medicines Agency

Pressure is mounting on Europe to immediately ban a drug used by vets which has been linked to the poisoning of vultures and other birds which feed on the corpses of cows treated with it.

The use of veterinary diclofenac, a pain-killing anti-inflammatory medecine given to livestock led to the unintentional but almost complete collapse of many vulture populations in Asia in 1990s and early 2000s. But a loophole in Europe allows it to be legally used in Spain and Italy where nearly all Europe’s estimated 55,000 vultures live.

Now, following an investigation of the death of a Spanish vulture in 2012, the European Medicines Agency has confirmed that vultures and other carrion-eating birds are at risk. The European commission asked the agency, which is responsible for the scientific evaluation of all medicines developed by EU drug companies, to consider the risks it posed to birds after scientists and ornithologists protested when Spain authorised use of the drug on cattle last year. A dose of just 0.1–0.2 mg/kg body weight can cause rapid, lethal kidney failure.

The first of a pair of stories from the Los Angeles Times with a common theme:

Keystone XL pipeline teed up as first debate in the new GOP Senate

Votes to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline will be the first of the new GOP-controlled Senate, the incoming majority leader promised Tuesday, as Republicans sought to move past internal divisions and confront President Obama.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the pledge on Keystone as Congress wraps up the final days of its lame duck session. Republicans are set to take control of the Senate in January, and broaden their ranks in the House.

“We’ll be starting the New Year with a job-creating bill that enjoys significant bipartisan support,” McConnell said.

And the second, via the Los Angeles Times:

Keystone XL pipeline may no longer make economic sense, experts say

With the GOP about to take control of both houses of Congress, backers of the pipeline say they are close to having a veto-proof majority for a bill that would order the Obama administration to give the project the federal permit required for pipelines that cross a U.S. border.

But “the political debate is not paralleled by the realities” in the market, said Sandy Fielden, director of energy analytics at Texas-based RBN Energy. “The economics of this project are becoming increasingly borderline.”

The problem is that extracting oil from tar sands is difficult and costly. Prices need to be relatively high to make the extra effort profitable.

For pipeline boosters, market conditions have turned gloomy as world oil prices have dropped to the lowest point in five years.

After the jump, electric car green cred questioned while growing economic clout wins organic farming tax breaks, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with a Fukushima Olympic bid, a triumphant Shinzo Abe gets ready to let the reactors rumble, a new tech plant pushes ahead, while owners of an aging reactor pair run a dog and pony media show, and close with a fecal holiday campaign. . . Continue reading

Major eruption engulfs Cape Verde villages


The story captured in this raw footage from Agence France-Presse — with the most sunning images of fast-flowing lava swallowing buildings you’re ever likely:

And the story, from Sky News:

Volcano Erupts Destroying Cape Verde Villages

Hundreds of residents lose their homes as the eruption of Pico do Fogo destroys two villages

The eruption of the volcano Pico do Fogo has destroyed two villages and threatens a forest reserve.

Around 1,500 people fled their homes before the lava flow reached the villages of Portela and Bangeira on Fogo Island, Cape Verde, fire brigade chief Arlindo Lima said.

“The lava front, (which was) more than 500 metres north of outlying houses in Bangeira a week ago, has swept over much of the village and continues to move forward,” Mr Lima added.

Both villages have now been largely destroyed according to officials.