Category Archives: Health

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, water, fuel, GMOs


And more, but we open with more tragedy in Pakistan via the Express Tribune:

Swat reports its first polio case in five years

The first polio case in five years from the scenic Swat valley was confirmed on Monday, which, along with a fresh case from Sindh, raised the national tally to 262.

According to an official of the ministry of health, the cases were confirmed after being tested for polio virus at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

The victim was identified as 21 month-old Abu Takha, son of Noor Muhammad from UC Khwaza Khela of Tarogay Village in the Swat Valley. The second polio case confirmed on Monday was that of Sumaira, daughter of Qadir Bux, from UC Humayon in Hadi Bux Bakhrani, Sheikhupura.
refused drops for their child.

The two cases raise the total number of cases reported in Pakistan this year to 262. These include 163 from Fata,  55 from K-P, 27 from Sindh, three from Punjab and 14 from Balochistan.

The Express Tribune charts the course of polio in Pakistan over recent years [and click on it to enlarge]:

BLOG Pak polio

From the Guardian, another look at another outbreak we’ve been covering;

Chikungunya: Ebola pushes South American epidemic out of the spotlight

  • With global media attention focused on the Ebola outbreak in Africa, the spread of the Chikungunya virus has largely gone unnoticed outside of Latin America

The Americas are experiencing an epidemic that has been largely ignored by the rest of the world as it focuses on west Africa’s Ebola outbreak.

The debilitating mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus has infected almost one million people since it first emerged in South America and the Caribbean less than a year ago. The virus has rapidly spread across the Americas, causing huge pressure on health services in some of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere.

The Dominican Republic, the most popular Caribbean island for tourists last year with 4.7 million visitors, has recorded 500,000 cases. A third of the population lives on 80 pence ($1.25) a day. Central America has also been affected, with 123,000 cases in El Salvador.

The epidemic has failed to attract international media attention amid the Ebola crisis, as deaths from Chikungunya are relatively rare: . About 150 people have died among nearly 931,000 cases in the Americas – the US has had more than 1,830 cases.

From MintPress News, a classic case of the corporate war on public health:

Worldwide, Tobacco Regulators Monitoring Philip Morris Lawsuit Against Uruguay

  • The tobacco giant’s lawsuit against Uruguay is a key example of the growing trend of multinational companies using trade agreements and mechanisms to circumvent national legislation — even legislation meant to protect public health

The issue goes back to new regulations passed by the Uruguayan government in 2009 regarding tobacco product packaging and sales. First, the government required that 80 percent of individual cigarette packs be covered by graphic health warnings, an increase from 50 percent previously.

Second, manufacturers would be allowed to market only a single variation of their brand’s product, and also had to remove language on their packaging that appeared to differentiate different types of cigarettes (“low tar,” for instance). Critics say these practices mislead consumers into believing that the negative health effects of some cigarettes are lower than others.

Philip Morris, which notes that it supported Uruguay’s pre-2009 regulations, says the new rules forced the company to remove seven of its 12 products from the country. The maker of Marlboro is seeking $25 million for costs incurred.

The company also claims that the new 80-percent requirement for cigarette packaging infringes on trademark guarantees included in a trade agreement between Uruguay and Switzerland, where Philip Morris International is based. The case is being heard before an arbitration panel here in Washington, the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

And from the Associated Press, criminals by desperate necessity:

Chilean moms growing support for medical marijuana

Paulina Bobadilla was beyond desperate. The drugs no longer stopped her daughter’s epileptic seizures and the little girl had become so numb to pain, she would tear off her own fingernails and leave her small fingers bleeding.

Bobadilla was driving on a mountain road with Javiera, intent on ending it all by steering their car off a cliff.

“All I wanted to do was to die along with her,” the 34-year-old mother recalled of that day in April 2013. “I told her: ‘This is it.’ But then she said, ‘Mommy, I love you.’ I looked at her and I knew I had to continue fighting.”

Bobadilla’s desperation to ease her daughter’s condition is an emotion familiar to other Chilean parents who say medical marijuana can help their children and who, rather than wait for Congress to act, have taken matters into their own hands.

Despite the risk of jail time, about 100 parents have formed a group, Mama Cultiva or “Mama Grows,” to share knowledge about cultivating marijuana to extract cannabis oil for their seizure-stricken children.

BBC News covers green thumbs in the ‘hood:

Global importance of urban agriculture ‘underestimated’

Urban agriculture is playing an increasingly important role in global food security, a study has suggested.

Researchers, using satellite data, found that agricultural activities within 20km of urban areas occupy an area equivalent to the 28-nation EU. The international team of scientists says the results should challenge the focus on rural areas of agricultural research and development work.

The findings appear in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“This is the first study to document the global scale of food production in and around urban settings,” explained co-author Pay Drechsel, a researcher for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

From the Ecologist, more plutocratic “benevolence” at the expense of the commons:

Why is Bill Gates backing GMO red banana ‘biopiracy’?

The Gates Foundation has sunk $15 million into developing GMO ‘super bananas’ with high levels of pre-Vitamin A, writes Adam Breasley. But the project is using ‘stolen’ genes from a Micronesian banana cultivar. And what exactly is the point, when delicious, popular, nutritious ‘red bananas’ rich in caroteinoids are already grown around the tropics?

Among the controversial projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the development and testing of a biofortified GMO banana developed to boost its iron, Vitamin E and pro-Vitamin A content.

To this end the Foundation, via its Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, has so far given $15 million to Queensland University of Technology for the program run by Professor Dr James Dale, with a latest tranche of $10 million handed over this year.

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the tune of $15 million, and currently in Iowa undergoing human feeding studies, the GMO banana human feeding trials appears have been designed for marketing purposes. Certainly Scientific American calls them simply “market trials”.

From Want China Times, water woes in the world’s most populous nation:

Water pollution recognized as a huge problem for China

Water safety has become a serious problem in China. Half of the nation’s 10 largest water systems are polluted, 40% of major lakes have pollution problems and 17 of the country’s 31 large freshwater lakes are polluted, the People’s Daily Online reports, citing various provincial research reports.

In Hebei province, Beijing and Tianjin, average water resources stand at just 286 cubic meters per capita, far below the international standard for extremely dry levels at 500 cubic meters per capita, while one-third of the region’s groundwater is already polluted.

The region’s major streams are all also heavily polluted, with third-level polluted waters exceeding 60%, according to a 2013 survey.

“Water safety problems have become the scourge of the nation,” said Lu Zhongmei, dean of Hubei University of Economics, who conducted research on environmental law for 30 years.

The Diplomat covers a successfulcorporate conquest where an army was defeated:

Vietnam, Agent Orange, and GMOs

  • An Agent Orange maker is being welcomed back to Vietnam to grow genetically modified organisms

Vietnam continues to roll out the red carpet for foreign biotech giants, including the infamous Monsanto, to sell the controversial genetically modified (GM) corn varieties in the country. Critics say that by welcoming Monsanto, Vietnam has been too nice to the main manufacturer of Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War that left a devastating legacy still claiming victims today.

According to Vietnamese media reports, in August that country’s agriculture ministry approved the imports of four corn varieties engineered for food and animal feed processing: MON 89034 and NK 603, products of DeKalb Vietnam (a subsidiary of U.S. multinational Monsanto), and GA 21 and MIR 162 from the Swiss firm Syngenta.

The Vietnamese environment ministry has to date issued bio-safety certificates for Monsanto’s MON 89034 and NK 603 corn varieties and Syngenta’s GA 21, meaning farmers can start commercially cultivating the crops. The ministry is considering issuing a similar certificate for the other variety, MR 162. Given the current political landscape, it seems that approval is just a matter of time.

Some rare good polar news from the Guardian:

Antarctic ice thicker than previously thought, study finds

  • First of its kind robotic survey of underside of sea ice floes reveals denser ice fringing the continent

Groundbreaking 3D mapping of previously inaccessible areas of the Antarctic has found that the sea ice fringing the vast continent is thicker than previous thought.

Two expeditions to Antarctica by scientists from the UK, USA and Australia analysed an area of ice spanning 500,000 metres squared, using a robot known as SeaBed.

The survey discovered ice thickness average between 1.4m and 5.5m, with a maximum ice thickness of 16m. Scientists also discovered that 76% of the mapped ice was ‘deformed’ – meaning that huge slabs of ice have crashed into each other to create larger, denser bodies of ice

And from teleSUR English, a look at the roots of fracker power:

Interviews from Washington DC – Fracking industry money and Congress

Program notes:

Today’s program looks at how the fracking industry uses its financial power to influence Congress. Jorge Gestoso interviews Melanie Stone, a recognized expert on the issue, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and author of the recently released report “How the fracking industry fuels Congress”. The increase in fracking activity has been accompanied by a massive 231% growth from 2004 to 2012 in the industry’s campaign contributions to congressional and senatorial candidates from districts and states home to such activity, from about US$2.1 million to US$6.9 million. Such cash contributions is money well spent and has effectively bought the silence of many legislators.

And from EcoWatch, frenetic fracker thirst:

‘Monster’ Fracking Wells Guzzle Water in Drought-Stricken Regions

The fracking industry likes to minimize the sector’s bottomless thirst for often-scarce water resources, saying it takes about 2-4 million gallons of water to frack the average well, an amount the American Petroleum Institute describes as “the equivalent of three to six Olympic swimming pools.” That’s close to the figure cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well.

But a new report released by Environmental Working Group (EWG) located 261 “monster” wells that consumed between 10 and 25 million gallons of water to drill each well. Among the conclusions EWG teased out of data reported by the industry itself and posted at fracfocus.org is that between April 2010 and December 2013, these 261 wells consumed 3.3 billions of water between them, a average of 12.7 million gallons each. And 14 of the wells topped 20 million gallons each.

“It’s far more relevant to compare those figures to basic human needs for water, rather than to swimming pools or golf courses,” said EWG’s report. “The 3.3 billion gallons consumed by the monster wells was almost twice as much water as is needed each year by the people of Atascosa County, Texas, in the heart of the Eagle Ford shale formation, one of the most intensively drilled gas and oil fields in the country.”

After the jump, GOP Arctic drilling aspirations, a Canadian author funds pipeline foes, Canary Islands offshore drilling opposition, a toxic Canadian mine threatens to take another dump, World Bank goes green with its green, Massive giraffe die-off underway, and some good news for the Monarch butterly. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Politics, aid, fears, & deadlines


We begin with an interesting story from the New York Times:

Notable Absence of New Ebola Quarantines at New York Area Airports

A day after a doctor who had returned from Guinea about a week earlier became New York’s first Ebola case, the governors of New York and New Jersey announced that they would begin quarantining travelers who had been in contact with Ebola patients in West Africa.

The move, which went beyond federal policy, drew protests from medical aid groups and the Obama administration, who said it would penalize people who were trying to contain Ebola and discourage others from doing so.

But since Kaci Hickox, a nurse, flew into Newark’s airport on Oct. 24 and was kept at a hospital for three days, no one else has been caught up in the quarantine dragnet at the New York and New Jersey airports.

The absence of quarantines is striking, not only because both governors emphatically defended the policy as a necessary precaution, but also because most people returning from Ebola-stricken countries arrive in the United States through Kennedy and Newark Liberty International Airports. Several aid organizations have American health care workers in West Africa, a handful of whom return every week. But New York and New Jersey officials say no one coming through the two airports since Ms. Hickox has reported direct contact with Ebola patients.

From the Associated Press, another European patient evacuated:

Italian doctor with Ebola returning for treatment

An Italian doctor who has been working in Sierra Leone has tested positive for the Ebola virus and is being transferred to Rome for treatment, the health ministry said Monday. It is Italy’s first confirmed case of Ebola.

The doctor, who was not identified and who works for the non-governmental organization Emergency, is scheduled to arrive overnight in Italy for treatment at the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome.

Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said in a statement that the doctor experienced a fever and other symptoms overnight, but he was well enough to eat breakfast and drink beverages. The ministry said all measures are being taken to ensure the safe transport of the patient following biohazard protocols.

From the Associated Press, anticipation of cash registers ringing [or beeping, or booping, or whatever]:

Merck, Iowa firm sign Ebola vaccine licensing deal

Merck & Co., one of the world’s top developers and sellers of vaccines, has entered a partnership with a small drug developer to research and manufacture a potential Ebola vaccine now in initial patient testing.

The exclusive deal involves a vaccine candidate called rVSV-EBOV that’s under early development by BioProtection Systems, the vaccine-development subsidiary of NewLink Genetics Corp. of Ames, Iowa.

The vaccine was originally created in labs of the Public Health Agency of Canada, which in 2010 signed a deal giving BioProtection Systems an exclusive license for the vaccine and the technology involved in producing it.

Under the new deal, Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, gets exclusive rights to the vaccine and any follow-up products.

On to Africa, starting in Mali with Voice of America:

Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms.

Mali is scrambling to do the same now, almost a month after a 70-year-old Guinean imam sought treatment at a clinic in Bamako. Five people have already died. Mali confirmed a sixth related Ebola case Saturday; a female relative of a nurse who treated the imam.

Every day, twice a day, teams are checking just over 300 people around Bamako. All of these contacts are linked to the Guinean imam who died of Ebola at a private clinic October 27, two days after he had arrived for treatment.

From the U.N. News Center, the U.N. acts:

Top UN health officials take joint mission to Mali in support of Ebola response

The Executive Director of Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Michel Sidibé and the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, have visited Mali in a joint mission to support the country in its efforts to curb the spread of Ebola, as authorities there announced one new case and that two more suspected patients were being tested.

“The next 15 days are critical for ending Ebola in Mali,” where at least 5 people have died from the virus, UNAIDS said in a press release issued today. “The coordination of action and strategic communication are key to success, as are immediate international funding and technical assistance.”

The UN is ramping up support on many fronts to support both the preparedness and response efforts of the Malian Government, including with the announcement on Friday by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) would establish an office in the country. That office is scheduled to formally open an office in Mali on Wednesday.

Next, on to Liberia with FrontPageAfrica and a shocking allegation:

Ebola Stigma at Firestone: Orphans Thrown to Wolves – An Inhumane Act By A Heartless Company

A DAILY MAIL report suggesting that the Tyre giant Firestone has ordered the children of workers who died from Ebola to leave their homes on its plantation in Liberia is very troubling.

ACCORDING TO THE REPORT, Firestone which is part of the Bridgestone group which last week announced sales for the first nine months of the year totaling £14.5 billion – has told the families they cannot stay on in worker housing and will not get pensions. “At least 57 people have died on Firestone’s giant plantation near the national capital Monrovia since the start of the outbreak in March,” according to the report.

FIRESTONE, like most expatriate and concession companies abandoned Liberia at the height of the outbreak, leaving behind families and workers who labored the plantation in search of rubber which the company then export for profits.

IT IS SAD THAT a company as large as Firestone would throw children in the streets after surviving such a horrific virus.

Next, from the News in Monrovia, police preparations:

Police Ready To Enforce Anti-Ebola Regulations

The Liberia National Police is said to be gearing up for robust enforcement of the government’s anti Ebola and other safety regulations during the pending special senatorial election.

Police Director Chris Massaquoi said the LNP has been ordered to ensure the enforcement of the Ministry of Health and National Elections Commission (NEC) regulations during the election.

Speaking Friday at the Ministry of Information regular press briefing in Monrovia, Director Massaquoi said pursuant to the power granted the Ministry of Health under the Public Health Law, the police will also ensure that all beaches in Liberia remain closed during holidays.

He called on parents, religious leaders and others to warn their children and relatives against going to beaches during holidays.

The LNP Director also stated that except for the political campaign rallies, all public rallies, demonstrations and gathering in public areas will be strictly prohibited until Liberia is declared Ebola free.

However, Director Massaquoi said all political campaign rallies are expected to also be held in keeping with the guidelines and regulations of NEC and the Ministry of Health.

Reuters covers an upbeat assessment:

“Dramatic improvement” in Ebola outlook in Liberia -U.S. general

A U.S. general in the force helping Liberia fight the Ebola epidemic reported on Monday a dramatic improvement in the situation there and confirmed the cancellation of two planned treatment facilities.

Brigadier General Frank Tate, deputy commanding general of U.S. Operation United Assistance, said the drop in the number of cases in the country was all the more encouraging given recent improvements in reporting capacity.

He said new daily cases have fallen to around 20 from close to 80 when the operation was announced in September. Ebola is still spreading in other parts of West Africa.

While FrontPageAfrica covers a contrarian view:

‘Wishful Thinking’: Politics & Ebola Dampens Ebola End by X-Mas

U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Deborah Malac’s description of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s goal of eradicating Ebola by Christmas as “Wishful Thinking”, heralds a key challenge many health experts fear could keep the virus around for quite some time, especially for those contemplating voting in a time of Ebola.

That goal is being compounded by an upcoming senatorial election, many say would be a crucial test of the government’s message against Ebola and Liberia’s reaching a turning point in the outbreak: Avoiding touching, kissing and a large gathering of people can be a hard sell for a nation historically noted for daring conventions.

At the headquarters of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change last Thursday, for example, it was hard not to notice partisans and supporters of senatorial candidates hugging and holding hands as sweat poured amid the celebration.

And StarAfrica covers worrisome numbers:

Liberia: Resurgence of Ebola in Bong County

Reports from central Bong County say the county health team has reported 22 new cases of Ebola over a period of one week, despite huge reduction in the number of cases across the country.Media reports Monday quote the Bong County Health Team Administrator Fatorma Jusu as saying 10 of the 22 cases are confirmed, one probable and eleven suspected.

Jusu attributed the emergence of new Ebola cases in the county to the outbreak in Taylor-ta that has now crossed over to Bomota and Gbatala, all of which are adjacent to Taylor-Ta in Yelequelleh District, Bong County.

Addressing the regular Ebola response Taskforce briefing Monday on Phebe Compound on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Gbarnga, Jusu attributed the new outbreak to the breach of quarantine rules by residents of Taylor-ta, and stressed the need for urgent redress of the situation.

After the jump, a new aid shipment arrives, new treatment centers — one American-built, the other Chinese — open, an economic lament, fears of another flare-up, reintegrating the healed in healing roles, journalists’ ethics challenged, a chief calls on fellows chiefs to join the Ebola fight, American medical missionaries lauded, then on to Sierra Leone where a worsening epidemic thwarts a U.N. goal, a mayor makes a plea, plus a bitter harvest. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, volcanoes, fuel, more


We begin with preparations from the Associated Press:

US looking past Ebola to prepare for next outbreak

The next Ebola or the next SARS. Maybe even the next HIV. Even before the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is brought under control, public health officials are girding for the next health disaster.

“It’s really urgent that we address the weak links and blind spots around the world,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press. “Ebola is a powerful reminder that a health threat anywhere can affect us.”

Ebola sprang from one of those blind spots, in an area that lacks the health systems needed to detect an outbreak before it becomes a crisis. Now the Obama administration has requested $600 million for the CDC to implement what it calls the Global Health Security Agenda, working with an international coalition to shore up disease detection in high-risk countries and guard against the next contagion.

And on to a European outbreak with TheLocal.dk:

Denmark closely eyeing German bird flu case

After a worrying new strain of bird flu was found in northern Germany not far from Denmark, Danish officials say they are watching the situation closely but have not raised national threat levels.

The German agriculture ministry said on Saturday that a goose with the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain was identified in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The ministry told AFP that it marked the first case of the virus outside of a farm setting in Europe.

German officials say they have asked regional authorities to keep an “active watch” on wild birds, which means killing animals suspected of having the virus and conducting screening tests.

And a Swiss alert from TheLocal.ch:

Switzerland bans Dutch poultry imports

Switzerland is banning chicken imports from Britain and the Netherlands after Dutch officials said they detected bird flu on three more farms.

The Swiss move, announced on Friday, came into effect on Saturday and applies to live chickens and chicks as well as eggs from the affected zones in the two countries, the Federal Office for Food Security and Veterinary Affairs said.

Belgium meanwhile ordered poultry owners to confine their birds as a precautionary measure following the outbreak in neighbouring Holland.

The Dutch economic affairs ministry confirmed that a second bird flu outbreak detected on Thursday on a farm at Ter Aar, close to the first case east of The Hague, was the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain, previously detected only in Asia.

From the Los Angeles Times, a seismically alarming development:

Earthquake early alert system ready to expand in California

Officials are planning the first major rollout of California’s earthquake early warning system next year, providing access to some schools, fire stations and more private companies.

The ambitious plan highlights the progress scientists have made in building out the system, which can give as much as a minute of warning before a major earthquake is felt in metropolitan areas.

Until now, only academics, select government agencies and a few private firms have received the alerts. But officials said they are building a new, robust central processing system and now have enough ground sensors in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas to widen access. They stressed the system is far from perfected but said expanded access will help determine how it works and identify problems.

From the Times, an example of how the system might work in esnl’s own back yard:

BLOG Quaker

From Science, chilling out, not eruptile dysfunction:

Thanks, volcanoes! Earth cooler than expected due to recent eruptions

Minor volcanic eruptions substantially slowed Earth’s warming between 2000 and 2013, a new study suggests. The small particles, or aerosols, were spewed high into the atmosphere and scattered sunlight back into space, preventing the global average temperature from rising from 0.05°C to 0.12°C. That cooling effect represents between 25% and 50% of the expected temperature rise during that period because of rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, the scientists say, so the finding helps explain the so-called hiatus in global warming over the last 15 years.

“This is an important paper,” says Brian Toon, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The team’s results “help us understand why Earth didn’t warm as much as expected by climate models in the past decade or so.”

Scientists have long known of the cooling effect of major volcanic eruptions, which spew large amounts of light-scattering aerosols into the stratosphere. The Philippines’ Mount Pinatubo, for example, cooled Earth by a few tenths of a degree Celsius for months after it blew its top in June 1991. But the chilling effect of minor eruptions has been hotly debated, says David Ridley, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. That’s because scientists have presumed that most of the aerosols from minor eruptions do not rise beyond the troposphere, the layer of Earth’s atmosphere where weather occurs and where natural processes quickly clear particles from the atmosphere.

Making this, on balance, a positive development? From Reuters:

Cape Verde orders evacuation after Fogo volcano erupts

A volcano in the Cape Verde archipelago off the coast of West Africa erupted on Sunday morning, the prime minister said, calling for residents to evacuate.

A photograph posted on the local RTC TV station website showed a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky, visible from the capital Praia on a neighbouring island.

“Things could deteriorate in the coming moments, in the coming hours,” Jose Maria Neves in a statement on the government website.

“We’ve called on people to heed the authorities’ instructions. People should abandon Cha das Caldeiras,” he said referring to a hillside community.

And from Science, reporting from Norway on ominous portents:

Arctic faces an ice-pocalypse

Thick sheets of ice coating roads, homes, and pastures. Dead reindeer, no radio transmissions, and flights canceled for days. When ice came to this Arctic mining outpost on the Svalbard archipelago two winters ago, it crippled the community for weeks and devastated wildlife for months. Now, scientists are saying such weather extremes in the Arctic—known as rain-on-snow events—may become more frequent in the future.

“It’s hard to study extreme weather events, which by definition are rare,” says ecologist Brage Hansen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. “So we took the opportunity in 2012.”

Brage and his co-authors focused on the rainy warm spell that brought record-high temperatures and prolonged rain to Svalbard over 2 weeks in January and February 2012. Temperatures during that period were routinely 20°C higher than normal, and on one day, the study notes, a Svalbard weather station recorded a daily average temperature of 4°C, which was “higher than at any weather station in mainland Norway on that day.” Another Svalbard station recorded 272 mm of rain during the 2 weeks; that station’s average for the whole year is 385 mm.

And from the Los Angeles Times, adapting to drought in Wine Country:

Drought revives ‘forgotten art’ at wineries: Farming without irrigation

Everyone used to dry farm wine grapes until the late 1970s, when irrigation was introduced. Dry farmed wines put California on the global map by winning a seminal blind tasting test in 1976 called the “Judgment of Paris.”

Today, only a handful of producers continue the tradition — and only where there’s just enough rain. Adherents are discovering revived interest in the practice now that California’s $23-billion wine industry is facing an emerging water crisis of historic proportions.

“It’s like a forgotten art,” said Frank Leeds, head of vineyard operations for Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford, a leading dry farm and organic wine producer in Napa Valley. “There’s very few guys that dry farm and less guys that actively dry farm. It’s easier, I’m sure, to turn on the tap.”

Leeds estimates that up to 85% of Napa Valley has enough rain to practice dry farming. But it’s hardly an option in Temecula, or in the largely bone-dry San Joaquin Valley, which produces more than 70% of the state’s wine.

Another drought impact from the Contra Costa Times:

EBMUD looking at rate hike if there’s no rain

Saying it is “at risk of running out of water” without a rainy season, the East Bay’s largest water provider is looking to hike rates by 14 percent next month to pay for an emergency supply — and may consider boosting the surcharge to 20 or 25 percent in the spring.

Unless it rains and snows a lot soon, East Bay Municipal Utility District managers say the surcharge will be necessary to buy, pump and treat the emergency water from Freeport a few miles south of Sacramento.

The higher charges would go into effect on or around Jan. 2 for the district’s 1.3 million customers in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The surcharge will be considered on Dec. 9 at EBMUD headquarters in Oakland.

From Want China Times, the high cost of development:

Coal killed 670,000 in China in 2012: report

Coal was the major contributor to the death of 670,000 people and 535.2 billion yuan (US$87 million) in economic losses in China in 2012, according to a report cited in Shanghai-based outlet the Paper.

The results were gleaned from a government research project on coal consumption control and policy that was carried out by Pan Xiaochuan, a professor at Peking University’s School of Public Health in Beijing, and 22 Chinese national and environmental government agencies since October 2013.

Electricity and heat-producing industries, boilers, non-metal mineral processing and ferrous smelting emitted 21 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 23 million tons of nitrogen oxide and 12 tons of smog, powder and dust in China in 2012, which formed the bulk of the country’s pollutants. The PM2.5 particles produced by coal processing amounted to 61% of the pollutants.

The PM2.5 particles are the real killers, according to previous studies of Pan. The professor found that 670,000 people died of diseases related to the fine particles, of which 350,000 died of coronary atherosclerotic heart disease, 170,000 were killed by stroke, 84,000 by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 65,000 by lung cancer. The majority of deaths occurred in provinces and regions where the coal industry is most heavily concentrated.

Occupational diseases within the coal industry numbered 116,000 between 2008 and 2012. More than 94,000, or 82%, suffered from coalminer’s pneumoconiosis.

Economic losses from mining amounted to 2.2 billion yuan (US$359 million) directly and 3.3 billion yuan (US$538 million) indirectly.

Coal consideration in Germany from TheLocal.de:

Germany debates scrapping coal power

After deciding to scrap nuclear power, Germany is pondering saying goodbye to coal, its biggest energy source but also its top polluter and main threat to ambitious climate goals.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is split on the issue, which pits a vocal environmental movement against energy giants and coal mining regions, with only weeks until her cabinet is set to present its next climate action plan.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks has said that if Europe’s biggest economy doesn’t reduce coal use, it has no chance of meeting its 2020 target of cutting Earth-warming carbon emissions by 40 percent from three decades earlier.

After the jump, more environmental woes in China, another British fracking controversy, Shell’s Nigerian oil spill lies exposed, on to Fukushimapocalpyse Now! with a nuclear life extension deliberation and a consolidation of political power, the latest on containment in Chernobyl, and a possible end to a Darwinian legacy. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Caution, false alarms, politics. . .


A slow news day, so straight ahead we go, first with an assessment from USA Today:

War against Ebola in West Africa remains a tough fight

A snapshot of the Ebola epidemic raging across West Africa shows a wildfire of infections only slightly contained.

While cases have been on the decline in Liberia, the outbreak is worsening in neighboring countries, where basic Ebola-fighting tools are impractical.

Identifying the infected and those they’ve touched, and isolating them to break the transmission chain are all but impossible in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown as well as the jungles of Guinea, says Jordan Tappero, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s second-in-command for the regional response.

The new surge of Ebola in Sierra Leone follows a devastating one in Monrovia two months ago. Such a furious spread is something disease trackers say they’ve never seen in the 38 years since the virus was first identified.

The latest domestic false alarm from ABC News:

2 Children Test Negative for Ebola in Ohio

Two young children who were admitted to an Ohio hospital today after they developed fevers following a trip to West Africa have tested negative for Ebola, health officials said.

Two sisters, ages 4 and 6, were taken to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus early this morning after they showed signs of a fever, Jose Rodriguez, director of public affairs and communications for the Columbus Public Health Department, said today.

Instead, the girls tested positive for Influenza A, Rodriguez said.

Before the test results came back, the two were kept in isolation and received supportive care, Jose Rodriguez, director of public affairs and communications for the Columbus Public Health Department, said today.

From KNOE News in Monroe, Louisiana, an interesting development:

CDC sends out Ebola guidelines to funeral homes

  • The Centers for Disease Control has issued guidelines to U.S. funeral homes on how to handle the remains of Ebola patients.

Mulhearn Funeral Home in Monroe confirms they’ve gotten a three-page list of recommendations from the CDC. Among the guidelines, funeral workers are instructed to wear protective gear when handling the remains, since Ebola can be transmitted postmortem. Funeral homes are also told to avoid autopsies and embalming.

According to the Associated Press, Governor Bobby Jindal is urging the Obama Administration to block flights coming into the United States from Ebola-stricken countries.

Friday, Jindal said, “Even countries in Africa have cut back on or stopped accepting flights from countries with Ebola outbreaks.”

Kyodo News cover Asian agreement:

Japan, China, S. Korea agree on Ebola cooperation

The health ministers of Japan, China and South Korea said Sunday they will collaborate closely in preventing Ebola and other deadly diseases from entering their borders.

The trilateral meeting was held in Beijing at a time of tentative signs of a slight improvement in Japan’s relations with China and South Korea, which have been severely strained over territorial and wartime issues.

Despite Japan’s political difficulties with its two neighboring countries, the health ministers agreed to boost countermeasures for the Ebola outbreak and other types of diseases, including pandemic influenza.

On to Liberia and a sad development from FrontPageAfrica:

Infighting in Response Efforts as GoL Unveils Ebola Spending

Though the deadly Ebola outbreak continues to see improvement for several weeks now, the response seems to be marred by poor coordination and infighting between officials at the Ministry of health, donors and agencies helping with the response.

Minutes from the Incident Management Meeting obtained by FrontPageAfrica suggest that there are no data on the quality of contact tracing because the government is not doing it properly and people are going back to treating people in their homes.

Experts believe the government is not taking the issue of contact tracing seriously as it should be doing. Richard Ragan of the United Nations Emergency Ebola Response UNMEER, says: “You always report on suspect cases, but tracking the suspect cases from day to day – what percentage of the suspect cases become actual cases?”

The World Health Organization during the meeting responded to the question, saying: “Give me a functioning database, and I could tell you – but right now, I can’t answer that. There are very important quality improvement activities needed.”

From the African Union, a welcome:

African Union Welcomes Plans by the People’s Republic of China to Build a Hospital in Liberia

AU Commission Chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has welcomed the announcement by the People’s Republic of China that it will build a 100-bed medical centre in Liberia.

This will add to the Ebola treatment infrastructure already being put in place by the USA, France, the United Kingdom and other donor countries in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, addressing the much needed bed-shortage identified as a key constraint in halting and reversing the trajectory of the epidemic.

This latest announcement follows other contributions made by the People’s Republic of China to the Ebola efforts in Africa, including donating medical equipment and personal protective equipment (PPEs), the deployment of Chinese medical personnel and aid personnel, providing food assistance and financial donations to the three affected countries. This is in addition to the financial contribution of USD$2 million China has already made to AU Support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa mission (ASEOWA) and other support given to the World Health Organisation and to the UNMEER.

Finally, from Agence France-Presse, agricultural woes:

Ebola-hit Sierra Leone’s late cocoa leaves bitter taste

Program notes:

The arable district of Kenema in Sierra Leone — at the centre of the Ebola outbreak in May — has been under quarantine for three months as the cocoa harvest comes in.

Chart of the day: The global demographic shift


From the Economist, a stunning shift in the human demographic is underway as birth rates slow and populations age, thanks to modern medicine. Click on the image to embiggen:

BLOG Population

EbolaWatch: Politics, denials, aid, and economics


We begin with political posturing, via the Associated Press:

Officials downplay debates over Ebola aid response

U.S. officials on Thursday acknowledged disagreements over coordinating the international response to the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, but they say most issues are being worked out and the overall fight against the disease there seems to be succeeding.

In a call with reporters, the officials said disputes have erupted over matters like where to build new treatment centers and getting U.S. military helicopters to transport patients and blood samples from remote areas.

But they also minimized the debates, characterizing them as a natural and fleeting part of an intense and complicated battle against the largest Ebola epidemic in world history.

“The proof in the pudding is they get resolved. And we have seen progress in Liberia,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

From Reuters, criminal opportunism:

Ebola becomes latest stock scam, SEC says

U.S. regulators warned investors of stock scams tied to West Africa’s Ebola outbreak and suspended trading in four small companies that they said have made unverifiable claims about products to prevent or treat the deadly virus.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said on Thursday it had suspended trading in over-the-counter stocks of New York-based Bravo Enterprises Ltd, California-based Immunotech Laboratories Inc and Wholehealth Products Inc, as well as Canada-based Myriad Interactive Media Inc.

The SEC cited a lack of publicly available information about their operations and separately warned that “con artists” may be soliciting investors and claiming to be developing Ebola treatments.

And a belated rectification from BuzzFeed News:

Ebola Cleanup Company Removes “Certifications” From Website After BuzzFeed News Investigation

Bio-Recovery Corp. claimed to be “EPA licensed” and won a contract to clean up the New York City apartment of an Ebola patient. But after BuzzFeed News investigated, some of those claims have disappeared from its website.

The company New York City hired to clean up Ebola has erased some of its “certifications” from some of its web pages, after a BuzzFeed News investigation raised questions about whether it was qualified to do the cleanup.

Until recently, Bio-Recovery Corp.’s website claimed to be “EPA Licensed” and an “EPA Certified Hazardous Waste Hauler” in multiple places. BuzzFeed News’ story found no evidence that the company had any active permits and revealed that Sal Pane and his crew showed up to clean up the Harlem apartment of Ebola patient Dr. Craig Spencer with a truck bearing permits that belonged to a dead man.

Pane has a long and colorful history of telling falsehoods. In 2010, Pane was found “personally liable for engaging in fraudulent and illegal acts” for running a mortgage company that scammed customers. BuzzFeed News’ examination found that he has used fake names and made false claims to inflate his credentials, gained credibility from media interviews, and accumulated a trail of people who feel he exploited them when they were vulnerable.

The Los Angeles Times looks into the mechanism of lethality:

Probing Ebola’s deadly inflammatory effect

New research suggests that the massive and destructive inflammation that characterizes Ebola virus disease may be caused by the release of foreign proteins from infected cells.

Although Ebola is infamous for causing bleeding in some of its victims, doctors say the vast majority of deaths are the result of organ failure and shock brought on by the uncontrolled release of cytokines, compounds that cells use to communicate with one another and control immune response.

It remains somewhat of a mystery to scientists exactly why the immune system spins out of control when confronted by Ebola. It releases an excess of signaling compounds that dilate blood vessels and cause blood pressure to plummet, while immune cells inflict collateral damage on otherwise healthy cells during the fight.

From TheLocal.es, recognition:

Spain grants citizenship to ‘Ebola heroes’

Spain on Friday awarded Spanish citizenship to two African missionaries who helped ensure the recovery of Madrid-based nursing assistant Teresa Romero.

Spain has granted citizenship to Paciencia Melgar Ronda from Equatorial Guinea and Helena S. Wolo from Sierra Liberia for the role they played in Romero’s recovery, Spain’s 20 minutos newspaper reported.

Ronda, 47, a nurse who recovered from Ebola after contracting the virus in Liberia, travelled to Madrid to donate blood plasma to Romero. She also allowed doctors to use her as a test case so they could observe the long-term evolution of her recovery.

The 36-year-old Wolo also travelled from her home country of Liberia to Spain and donated plasma used in the treatment of the infected Spanish nursing assistant.

From the Guardian, a critical report:

UN security council criticises discrimination against those from Ebola-hit regions

  • Security council opposes travel restrictions, like those imposed by Australia, on nationals of Guinea, Malia, Liberia and Sierra Leone

Julie Bishop has read a statement from the UN security council expressing concerns about discrimination towards nationals from Ebola-hit countries from other nations.

Last month the immigration minster, Scott Morrison, announced Australia would stop granting temporary visas to visitors from west Africa. The security council statement criticised such blanket bans and urged countries to maintain links with affected countries.

“The security council expresses its continued concern about the detrimental effect of the isolation of the affected countries as a result of trade and travel restrictions imposed on and to the affected countries as well as acts of discrimination against the nationals of Guinea, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone,” Bishop said.

Bishop earlier expressed concern about the Ebola virus outbreak at the security council meeting she chaired on the disease.

From StarAfrica, desiderata:

Ebola treatment requires speed, vaccines – Researchers

Confronted with the Ebola epidemic, West African countries need to act fast and utilize ethical values required to put in place effective treatment regimes and vaccines, African medical researchers said in Dakar on Friday.“The Ebola virus is an epidemic that needs speed and ethics for its treatment and vaccines”, Senegalese specialist in bacteriology-virology, Pr. Souleymane Mboup of the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar (UCAD) told APA.

Sounding out a warning that Ebola is a dangerous disease that has brought an emergency situation, Pr. MBoup opined that the traditional research paradigms for treatment and vaccines, should be scrapped, insisting however that some ethical values should be maintained.

Pr. Mboup was speaking to APA on the sidelines of a two-day meeting of the West African science community on the fight against the Ebola virus organized by the Open Society Initiative in West Africa (OSIWA).

On to Mali, first with the Associated Press:

UN chief: Ebola cases in Mali a ‘deep concern’

The United Nations chief warned Friday that Ebola may be easing in part of West Africa but is still hitting hard in other areas and outpacing the international response.

“If we continue to accelerate our response we can contain and end the outbreak by the middle of next year,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, calling for continued funding and especially health workers to volunteer in the region.

Authorities are closely watching a new front in the outbreak, a cluster of cases in Mali linked to the death of a 70-year-old Muslim imam who was brought to Mali’s capital, Bamako, from neighboring Guinea — and health officials didn’t immediately recognize that he had Ebola.

“The new chain of transmission in Mali is a cause of deep concern,” Ban said. He dispatched World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan to Mali on Friday.

More form the New York Times:

Officials Revise Goals on Containing Ebola After Signs of Wider Exposure in Mali

The leaders of the United Nations and the World Health Organization expressed renewed alarm on Friday about Ebola’s tenacity in Africa and, in particular, its potential to ravage a fourth country, Mali, where they said hundreds of people had been exposed to an infected cleric who died last month.

At a webcast news conference from the World Bank offices in Washington, the United Nations’ secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and the W.H.O.’s director general, Dr. Margaret Chan, also appeared to reset their schedules for containing the Ebola virus, which has sickened at least 15,351 people and killed 5,459, according to a W.H.O. update posted earlier Friday.

Mr. Ban said nothing about the goal of safely burying 70 percent of the dead and treating 70 percent of the sick by Dec. 1, and instead expressed hope that the outbreak could be contained by the middle of next year.

And from Associated Press, another new case:

Mali: New Ebola case confirmed, 2 more suspected

Mali on Saturday confirmed a new case of Ebola and said two more suspected patients are being tested, raising concern about a further spread of the disease which has already killed at least five people in the country.

The patient who tested positive “was placed in an isolation center for intensive treatment,” said a government statement distributed Saturday. No details about the patient were provided.

Mali officials are monitoring 310 people to limit the spread of the disease, said the statement.

Mali’s five confirmed Ebola deaths are linked to a 70-year-old imam who was brought to the capital, Bamako, from Guinea, where the regional Ebola epidemic first began.

While StarAfrica covers a precautionary evacuation:

MSF staff member evacuated from Mali for exposure to Ebola

The international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières /Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has confirmed that one of its international staff members, a Spanish national, has been evacuated from Mali to Spain as a precautionary measure following an exposure incident.

According to a statement issued by MSF on Friday, the staff member, a Spanish national on assignment in Bamako, was injured while working with a patient who had confirmed Ebola. It adds however that the staff member is not showing symptoms of the disease at this time and has not tested positive for Ebola:

“In line with MSF precautionary procedures, the staff member is being transferred to a treatment centre in Madrid using a private aircraft as a precautionary measure and she will be followed up for 3 weeks.”

After the jump, on to Guinea and a crisis stabilized, a theft of suspected Ebola-tainted blood, an upcoming French visitor, and coping with closed schools, on to Liberia and the latest quarantine measures, a report on electoral campaigns in a time of contagion, the economics of an epidemic, a call for media cooperation, Americans mourn a lost colleague, and the economics of an epidemic, plus a Sierra Leone denial of allegations of rotten food aid. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Flu, climate, fuels, & species


And a rare day with no new news from Fukushima and the nuclear power front. . .

From Deutsche Welle, flu news:

Dutch authorities confirm second case of bird flu

Officials have detected the second case of bird flu in a week in the Netherlands. All 43,000 chickens at the affected farm are to be slaughtered and a nationwide ban on poultry transport has been imposed.

Dutch officials on Thursday confirmed the detection of another case of bird flu at a chicken farm, the second time this week that the disease has been found in the Netherlands.

The Dutch food and safety watchdog NVWA said the latest outbreak was detected at a farm in the village of Ter Aar in South Holland, 25 kilometers (15 miles) from a farm where an infection was found last week. All the 43,000 chickens at the farm were being destroyed and the farm disinfected, the NVWA said.

Officials say tests are being conducted to establish what strain of bird flu is involved. The earlier case in the Netherlands was confirmed as H5N8, which is considered as posing a low health risk to humans, but is highly contagious among poultry.

From Grist, temperatures rising:

No surprise, October was the hottest one ever

It’s cold outside, which means it’ll soon be time for the annual rousing chorus of climate change denial from people who think snow means global warming is fake.

Good thing NOAA is here to help. Today the agency released two new maps illustrating that even if you’re cold right now, the planet is still getting hotter. In fact, 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record.

And it’s not just October that was remarkably warm. The entire year so far, since January, has also been the warmest on record – a good 1.22 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. If the trend persists, 2014 will beat out 2010 as the hottest year on record:

BBC News ups the ante:

Climate fund receives $9.3bn pledge

Thirty nations meeting in Berlin have pledged $9.3bn (£6bn) for a fund to help developing countries cut emissions and prepare for climate change.

The Green Climate Fund was to have held at least $10bn by the end of 2014, so the pledge is just shy of the target.

The South Korea-based fund aims to help nations invest in clean energy and green technology.

It is also designed to help them build up defences against rising seas and worsening storms, floods and droughts.

The Guardian covers a preview of a coming attraction:

Merchants of Doubt film exposes slick US industry behind climate denial

  • Robert Kenner’s forthcoming documentary lifts the lid on the ‘professional deceivers’ manipulating US debate on climate change

Who remembers that climate change was a top priority early in George W Bush’s first term as US president? Merchants of Doubt, a new documentary film released in US cinemas this week, reminds us that in June 2001 Bush and the Republican party were 100% committed to curbing carbon emissions causing global warming.

Six months later everything changed. The film shows Republican party leader John Boehner calling the idea of global warming “laughable”, said Merchants of Doubt director Robert Kenner.

With the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center occupying attention, Americans For Prosperity, a powerful, fossil-fuel lobby group founded by the billionaire Koch Brothers, launched a decade-long, multi-pronged campaign to sow doubt about the reality of climate change.

By equating the findings of climate scientists as an attack on personal freedoms, they cleverly shifted the focus away from science to political opinion. “Creating a focus point away from what is actually going on is how magicians pull off their tricks,” said Kenner who directed the Oscar-nominated documentary Food Inc.

From Los Angeles Times editorial cartoonist David Horsey, a look at a favorite project of the climate denial funding Koch Brothers:

BLOG Keystoned

Fueling health problems, via Environmental Health News:

Coal’s black wind: Pregnant women in parts of India advised to stay away

In some regions of India, a married woman will return to her mother’s house for the last trimester of pregnancy and the birth of her child. But in Mettur, pregnant women are advised by their doctors to stay away.

“Black wind” from a coal yard wafts constantly across poor neighborhoods, settling on rooftops, walking paths and even indoor furniture. People complain of asthma, wheezing and frequent colds.

In its bid to industrialize, India relies heavily on energy from coal. Accounting for 71 percent of India’s electricity, coal will remain a key player over the next decade, with 455 new plants proposed, according to energy experts.

A cutback ordered, from Environment News Service:

EU Court Rules British Government Must Limit Diesel Exhaust

The United Kingdom must clean up illegal levels of air pollution “as soon as possible,” the European Court of Justice ruled Wednesday, in its first decision on the European Union’s 2008 air quality law.

The case was originally brought in the British courts by ClientEarth, a London-based environmental group concerned about the 29,000 people who die early in the UK each year as a result of air pollution.

ClientEarth asked the British courts to require the UK Government to revise its plans to meet the statutory limits for nitrogen dioxide under the Air Quality Directive as soon as possible, and by January 1, 2015 at the latest.

EcoWatch covers a reduction proposal:

How Oil and Gas Industry Could Cut Methane Pollution in Half

Leading environmental groups—Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, and Clean Air Task Force—released a summary report today to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laying out how the agency can cut methane pollution in half with low-cost technologies and practices. The report, Waste Not: Common Sense Measures to Reduce Methane Emissions from the Oil and Natural Gas Industry, shows how the U.S. EPA must meet its obligations under the Clean Air Act by requiring the oil and gas industries to halt methane emissions. The full report will be available later this fall.

One of the simple solutions highlighted in the report shows that “most of the industry’s methane pollution comes from leaks and intentional venting that can be identified and curbed with existing, low-cost technology and better maintenance practices.” Mark Brownstein, associate vice president for U.S. Climate and Energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, agrees. “Methane leaks are simply a waste of a valuable national energy resource. The good news is that there are simple technologies and practices that the oil industry can use to substantially reduce this waste, creating new opportunities for American companies and new jobs for American workers.”

The big takeaway from this report is that these standards would cut up to 10 times more methane and up to four times more smog-forming pollutants than other proposals because these standards would apply to oil and gas infrastructure across the country, not just to equipment located in certain areas.

And from the Guardian, fracking funded:

Chemicals giant Ineos to announce £640m UK fracking investment

  • Operator of refinery at Grangemouth recently acquired 729 sq miles of fracking exploration licences in central Scotland

The chemicals giant Ineos is to announce a plan to invest up to £640m in shale gas exploration in the UK. The company, which runs a huge refinery and petrochemicals plant at Grangemouth, on the Firth of Forth, recently acquired 729 sq miles of fracking exploration licences in central Scotland.

The move would make Ineos one of the largest shale gas players in the UK and will be welcomed by government ministers who are seeking to speed up exploration. Ministers see fracking as an opportunity to develop a new domestic energy source as fields in the North Sea decline. Shale gas and oil have transformed the US energy market, although experts say the idea that it will lower energy prices in the UK is “baseless economics”.

Chief executive of Ineos Upstream, Gary Haywood, said: “I want Ineos to be the biggest player in the UK shale gas industry. I believe shale gas could revolutionise UK manufacturing and I know Ineos has the resources to make it happen.”

On to the threatened, first from StarAfrica:

Over 1,000 rhinos poached in S/Africa so far in 2014 – Official

South Africa has lost over 1,000 rhino to poachers so far this year, an official from the country’s Ministry of Environmental Affairs announced on Thursday.

According to the official, some 1,020 rhino have been poached for their horn since January this year, exceeding the 1,004 rhino that were poached in 2013.

The largest number of rhino poached has been in the world famous Kruger National Park in the north of the country, where 672 rhino have been poached this year.

The official said addressing the scourge was not simple, and that the ongoing killing of the rhino for its horns is part of a multi-billion dollar worldwide illicit wildlife trade.

And other critters on the brinks from Agence France-Presse:

Great apes facing ‘direct threat’ from palm oil farming

The destruction of rainforests in Southeast Asia and increasingly in Africa to make way for palm oil cultivation is a “direct threat” to the survival of great apes such as the orangutan, environmentalists warned Thursday.

They said tropical forests were tumbling at a rapid rate, with palm plantations a key driver, despite efforts by the industry’s Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to encourage sustainable cultivation.

The concerns were voiced at the sidelines of the annual RSPO meeting, held this year in Malaysia and which concluded Thursday.

“Orangutan and ape habitats are being destroyed,” said Doug Cress, from the UN Environment Programme’s great ape protection campaign. “The destruction of rainforest in Southeast Asia and increasingly now in Africa is a direct threat to the great apes.”

Finally, via the Guardian, yet another corporocrat spared:

Italian supreme court’s asbestos ruling could have major implications for Brazil

  • Court’s cancellation of Swiss asbestos polluter’s jail sentence dismays activists in Brazil, where substance is widely used

The Italian supreme court ruling on a case brought against Eternit, a Swiss-based building firm, could have major implications for the continued use of asbestos across the world.

On Wednesday, the court in Rome cancelled an 18-year jail sentence on the firm’s former owner Stephan Schmidheiny, who was facing charges of environmental disaster, having been found guilty of failing to comply with safety rules in two previous rulings.

The basis of the court’s ruling was that the statute of limitations had passed – Eternit left Italy 25 years ago – but the local trade unions and the Italian asbestos victims’ association, Afeva, who brought the case jointly, now intend to take it to Strasbourg.

Victims’ families shouted: “Shame on you!” as the verdict was pronounced. The group consisted of about 200 people, most of them from Casale Monferrato, a north-west Italian city where victims of asbestos-related diseases have been numbered in the thousands. Others came from countries including Switzerland, the UK, the US, Argentina, Belgium and Brazil.