Category Archives: Nature

California drought: Still dry as a bone


From the U.S. Drought Monitor [click on the image to embiggen], and with no change from last week:

BLOG Drought

EnviroWrap: Ills, climate, water, & nukes


Plus a whole lot more.

We open with another deadly disease with a global rich, first with a graphic from disease which preys on the poor, via Agence France-Presse:

BLOG TB

More from BBC News:

WHO revises global tuberculosis estimate up by 500,000

The World Health Organization has revised up its estimate of how many people have tuberculosis by almost 500,000.

In 2013 nine million people had developed TB around the world, up from 8.6 million in 2012, the WHO said. However, the number of people dying from TB continued to decline, it added.

TB campaigners said that one of the biggest problems in tackling the deadly disease was gauging how many people were affected.

About 1.5 million people had died in 2013 from TB, including 360,000 people who had been HIV positive, the WHO said in its Global Tuberculosis Report 2014. And in 2012, there had been 1.3 million tuberculosis deaths.

Next, the latest move in a fight against a growing outbreak in the Caribbean from Public Radio International:

Jamaica declares a state of emergency to try to stop the spread of painful chikungunya virus

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller announced on Monday that her country is in a “national emergency” this week after the outbreak of the chikungunya virus.

Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne virus transmitted by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. “It’s very rarely lethal,” says Dr. Babatunde Olowokure of the Caribbean Public Health Agency — but it’s very painful.

The diesase shares many of the same symptoms as dengue: high fever, headaches, muscle and joint pains, nausea and rashes. The symptoms can last up to 10 months, and have lasted years in some cases.

“This [disease] tends to occur in people who have, maybe, an underlying disease, such as hyper-tension or a cardiovascular issue, and our elderly,” Olowokure says.

The disease has spread throughout the region since surfacing on the island of St. Martin in 2013. Now there are almost 800,000 suspected cases in the Caribbean.

The epidemic’s reach from the Centers for Disease Control:

BLOG Chimi

Antidepressants depressing avian populations?, via the Guardian:

Prozac may be harming bird populations, study suggests

  • Starlings who were fed same levels of antidepressant drug found in sewage earthworms suffered loss of libido and appetite

Increasing consumption of antidepressant drugs may be helping humans but damaging the health of the bird population, according to a new study.

An expert who has looked at the effects of passive Prozac-taking on starlings says it has changed not only their feeding habits but also their interest in mating.

Dr Kathryn Arnold, an ecologist from the University of York, said: “Females who’d been on it were not interested in the male birds we introduced them to. They sat in the middle of the cage, not interested at all.”

Big Agra bites back, from BBC News:

EU pesticide bans ‘could hit UK crops’

The EU’s decision to ban the use of some pesticides could threaten UK crops, increase food prices and hit farmers’ profits, a report has claimed.

The report commissioned by three farming bodies said the EU was on course to “ban” use of 40 chemicals by 2020 to reduce environmental damage.

It said this could lead to a surge in pests, affecting production of apples, carrots and peas, among other crops.

Conservation groups said reducing pesticides would help the environment.

From the Guardian, and now for a word from their sponsor?:

Former Environment Agency head to lead industry-funded fracking task force

  • Lord Chris Smith will lead a new ‘independent’ task force, funded by shale gas companies, to look into the risks and benefits of fracking in the UK

The risks and benefits of fracking for the UK are to be examined by a “independent” task force, led by the former head of the Environment Agency, Lord Chris Smith, and funded by shale gas companies.

“We will assess the existing evidence, ask for new contributions and lead a national conversation around this vitally important issue,” said Smith, who as chair of the Environment Agency oversaw key fracking regulation. “The Task Force on Shale Gas will provide impartial opinions on the impacts, good and bad, that the exploitation of shale gas will have on the UK.”

The government is “going all out” for the rapid development of shale gas in the UK, according to David Cameron. Conservatives say it can increase energy security, help reduce carbon emissions if gas replaces coal and be a boon to poor parts of the UK.

Fracktacular questions from Al Jazeera America:

Green groups say EPA underestimates methane leaks from fracking

  • The EPA touted decreased methane leaks during fracking, but environmentalists say the numbers are skewed

The EPA uses relatively low estimates of how much methane leaks during the natural gas production process. The agency’s estimates are based on a bottom-up approach to monitoring, in which data from individual sources is collected largely through voluntary reporting from the industry and analyzed to paint a broad picture of U.S. methane emissions. Through this method, the EPA has estimated that about 1.2 percent of the gas produced by fracking leaks into the atmosphere during the process.

But a growing list of studies — most of them using top-down approaches, in which monitoring equipment measures emissions over a wide area — throw the EPA’s estimates into question.

“Consistently, studies show [methane leaks] are between 4 and 17 percent,” said Seth B.C. Shonkoff, a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley and the executive director at science policy think tank PSE Healthy Energy. “The most authoritative say the EPA underestimates methane emissions by about 50 percent. It seems the EPA is forgetting this big field of independent science.”

A scientific review led by Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University, also found that most studies on the topic estimate natural gas methane leakage to be significantly higher than the EPA’s estimates.

From the Guardian, toxic swap syndrome?:

UN climate debt swap is ‘fundamentally unjust’, say development agencies

  • A UN offer of debt relief for small island states to pay for climate change adaptation merges legitimate and illegitimate debt

A UN proposal that would see small island states offered debt relief to pay for climate change contains a “fundamentally unjust” blind spot, according to development groups.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is working on an initiative that would see rich countries write off debt owed to them by Small Island Developing States (Sids) in exchange for the money being spent on climate change adaptation.

But development agencies are concerned the proposal conflates legitimate and illegitimate debt. So-called “dictator debt” – money lent by rich countries to poor countries ruled by strongmen, who commonly used it to finance military ventures or vast follies – is estimated at US$735bn, almost one fifth of the total debt owed by the developing world. Many concerned with development believe this debt to be unjust and that it is impossible to enter into any kind of equitable debt swap until these “dictator debts” are unreservedly cancelled.

The ol’ political grip-and-green from the New York Times:

Environmental Issues Become a Force in Political Advertising

In Michigan, an ad attacking Terri Lynn Land, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate, opens with a shot of rising brown floodwaters as a woman says: “We see it every day in Michigan. Climate change. So why is Terri Lynn Land ignoring the science?”

In Colorado, an ad for Cory Gardner, another Republican candidate for Senate, shows him in a checked shirt and hiking boots, standing in front of a field of wind turbines as he discusses his support for green energy.

And in Kentucky, a spot for the Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, depicts him flanked by coal miners as a woman intones, “The person fighting for our coal jobs is Mitch McConnell.”

The Los Angeles Times brings us Golden State water woes:

Amid California’s drought, a bruising battle for cheap water

The signs appear about 200 miles north of Los Angeles, tacked onto old farm wagons parked along quiet two-lane roads and bustling Interstate 5.

“Congress Created Dust Bowl.” “Stop the Politicians’ Water Crisis.” “No Water No Jobs.”

They dot the Westlands Water District like angry salutations, marking the territory of California’s most formidable water warrior. Their message is clear: Politicians and environmental laws are more to blame for Westlands’ dusty brown fields than the drought that has parched California for the last three years.

From the Guardian, the gondolier blues:

Death in Venice: long-admired gondola feature threatened by rising waters

  1. Gondoliers increasingly forced to remove iron ornament from stern to get their boats under bridges during high waters

Gliding through Venice, its brocaded velvet seats occupied by a sullen pair of tourists, the boat is almost everything a gondola should be: black, sleek and gleaming, with a genial man in stripes rowing it expertly to the canal-bank.

Just one thing is missing from this quintessentially Venetian scene, and while it is passes unnoticed by most visitors it is an absence that aficionados see as a cruel blow to the city’s heritage.

On the stern, where there should be a curved piece of iron recalling the skilled movement of the gondolier’s oar – or, say some romantics, the shape of a lion’s mane – there is nothing. “Shall I put it back on?” asks Stefano, the gondolier, bending down to pick the iron stern ornament up from where it is lying, discarded, beside the seats. “This morning there was acqua alta [high water] and I had to take it off,” he says. “It’s a necessity.”

Dammed if they do, via the Guardian:

India’s largest dam given clearance but still faces flood of opposition

  • The 3000MW Dibang dam, rejected twice as it would submerge vast tracts of biologically rich forests, is to get environmental clearance – but huge local opposition could stall the project

Dibang dam will not only generate power but supposedly control floods in the plains of neighbouring Assam state. The dam’s reservoir was estimated to submerge 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) of dense forests along the Dibang river valley. The forest advisory committee (FAC), which examines the impact of infrastructure projects on wilderness areas, was appalled and rejected it.

For a project so large, the environmental impact assessment (EIA) failed to assess critical components of the project and was widely criticised for inadequately predicting the dam’s effects on the environment. Its evaluation of impacts on wildlife is a farce. The authors of the document list creatures not found in that area, such as Himalayan tahr, and concocted species not known to exist anywhere in the world, such as brown pied hornbill. Of the ones they could have got right, they mangled the names, referring to flycatchers as ‘flying catchers’ and fantail as ‘fanter’.

In his scathing critique, Anwaruddin Choudhury, an expert on the wildlife of north-east India, sarcastically concluded the EIA makes a case for the project to be shelved, as Dibang was the only place in the world “with these specialities!” Despite listing these amazing creatures, the EIA goes on to say “no major wildlife is observed”.

The Asahi Shimbun covers a seismic shift:

Nautical charts to be revised to reflect unprecedented changes caused by tsunami

Tsunami breakwaters were destroyed in the ports of Ofunato and Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture, where water depths lost a maximum of 10 meters. But in a July 2011 survey, the water was 15 meters deeper than indicated in the nautical chart at one location in Hachinohe Port, Aomori Prefecture. It is believed that the tsunami induced a big eddy that scooped out part of the seafloor.

Coast Guard officials said local governments that administer ports are in charge of surveying any small changes, such as those resulting from wharf construction. The Coast Guard uses those survey results to modify its nautical charts.

But the 2011 disaster created so many changes that the Coast Guard took the unusual step of conducting comprehensive surveys and republishing nautical charts for all 24 ports affected.

Antarctic conservation from the Antarctic Ocean Alliance via MercoPress:

AOA calls on CCAMLR to agree on marine protection of the Ross Sea and East Antarctica

  • As representatives of the 25 Members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meet this week in Hobart, where they will decide the fate of two key protection proposals in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) called on the member countries to honor their conservation commitments and finally agree to lasting and significant Southern Ocean protection.

A joint US-NZ proposal to designate a Ross Sea marine protected area (MPA) of 1.32 million km2 (with 1.25 million km2 area proposed as “no take”) is under consideration. The Ross Sea, is often referred to as “The Last Ocean” due to its status as one of the most pristine oceans remaining on earth.

Australia, France and the EU are once again proposing an MPA to protect 1.2 million km2 of East Antarctic waters. Their proposal would allow for exploratory and research activities within the MPA if they are consistent with the maintenance of the MPA’s objectives.

More marine peril from Yale Environment 360:

Drive to Mine the Deep Sea Raises Concerns Over Impacts

Armed with new high-tech equipment, mining companies are targeting vast areas of the deep ocean for mineral extraction. But with few regulations in place, critics fear such development could threaten seabed ecosystems that scientists say are only now being fully understood.

For years, the idea of prospecting for potentially rich deposits of minerals on the ocean floor was little more than a pipe dream. Extractive equipment
was not sophisticated or cost-effective enough for harsh environments thousands of feet beneath the ocean’s surface, and mining companies were busy exploring mineral deposits on land. But the emergence of advanced technologies specifically designed to plumb the remote seabed— along with declining mineral quality at many existing terrestrial mines — is nudging the industry closer to a new and, for some environmentalists and ocean scientists, worrying frontier.

More than two-dozen permits have been issued for mineral prospecting in international waters. And in April, after years of false starts, a Canadian mining company signed an agreement with the government of Papua New Guinea to mine for copper and gold in its territorial waters. That company, Nautilus Minerals, plans to begin testing its equipment next year in European waters, according to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a regulatory agency established in 1994 under the auspices of the United Nations. A Nautilus spokesman, John Elias, said the plan is to award a construction contract in November for a specialized mining vessel. “All other equipment has been manufactured and is in final assembly,” he wrote in an email.

Chief among critics’ concerns is that seabed mining will begin without comprehensive regulatory oversight and environmental review. They say
dredging or drilling the seafloor could potentially obliterate deep-sea ecosystems and kick up immense sediment plumes, which could temporarily choke off the oxygen supply over large areas. And powerful international companies, they add, could take advantage of the lax or non-existent review and enforcement capabilities in many small island nations of the Pacific Ocean — precisely where seabed mineral deposits are thought to be highly concentrated.

After the jump, Japanese super-eruption odds, the dope on Afghan dope, battlin’ bees Down Under, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with possible criminal charges, worker woes at the reactor complex, new radioactive particle scrubbers, demolition starts with the end point four decades away [if that soon], still no relief for evacuees and a plea for relief, the cruious semantics of Abve’s restart plans, controversy in Sendai, and Chinese coal-lessing. . .   Continue reading

Crowdsourced science and Fukushima


A remarkable story from Japan about the lingering radioactive legacy of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster and the groundbreaking citizen effort to crowdsource monitoring of the true extent of lingering hot zones in the country.

Needless to say, their findings challenge the government’s official findings while greatly expanding the scope of monitoring efforts.

This is another of those excellent documentaries from ABC Australia, the national broadcaster under continuing attacks from that nation’s neoliberal austerian government.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Catalyst: Radiation Fallout – How Japan is still faced with the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster

Program notes:

On 11 March 2011, a 9-meter-high tsunami wave, triggered by the Great To-hoku Earthquake, slammed into Japan’s eastern coast. The consequent meltdown of the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant brought the added risk of radioactive fallout to the already desperate humanitarian disaster. For the three years since, Japanese authorities and civilian groups have been struggling to clean up the environmental damage caused by this catastrophic fallout of radioactive material. Mark Horstman travels to Fukushima Prefecture in Japan to discover where the radioactive fallout has spread since the nuclear accident.

Journeyman Pictures brings you highlights from the cutting-edge science series, ‘Catalyst’, produced by our long-term content partners at ABC Australia. Every day we’ll upload a new episode that takes you to the heart of the most intriguing and relevant science-related stories of the day, transforming your perspective of the issues shaping our world.

EnviroWatch: Seals, soil, climate, nukes, more


First up, another outbreak from Süddeutsche Zeitung:

Deal Seals In Germany May Have Had Virus, Hunters Called In To Kill Sick

Since early October, at least 180 dead seals have been found along the North Sea coast of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Dead fish and sea creatures often wash up onto beaches along the North and Baltic seas, but experts now say that these seals may have died of a virus that risks spreading further.

The situation is particularly worrisome because 200 of the 1500 seals living on the Danish Baltic Sea island of Anholt have died since August. “A flu virus was found in the cadavers,” says Hendrik Brunckhorst, spokesman for the state government-owned Company for Coastal Protection, National Parks and Ocean Protection in Schleswig-Holstein.

To stem further deaths, seal hunters have been called to kill sick seals on the beaches of Helgoland, Amrum, Föhr and Sylt islands. “Ninety-five percent of the seals found on the beaches are already dead,” says Sylt-based hunter Thomas Diedrichsen.

The Independent covers coming crisis:

Britain facing ‘agricultural crisis’ as scientists warn there are only 100 harvests left in our farm soil

Intense over-farming means there are only 100 harvests left in the soil of the UK’s countryside, a study has found.

With a growing population and the declining standard of British farmland, scientists warned that we are on course for an “agricultural crisis” unless dramatic action is taken.

Despite the traditional perception that there is a green and pleasant land outside the grey, barren landscape of our cities, researchers from the University of Sheffield found that on average urban plots of soil were richer in nutrients than many farms.

Sampling local parks, allotments and gardens in urban areas, Dr Jill Edmondson showed that the ground was significantly healthier than that of arable fields. Allotment soil had 32% more organic carbon, 36% higher carbon to nitrogen ratios, 25% higher nitrogen and was significantly less compacted.

Cooking with the Guardian:

2014 on track to be hottest year on record, says US science agency

  • Global average temperatures in September were highest ever, following warmest year to date since 1998

The world is on course for this to be the hottest year ever, with global land and sea temperatures for September the highest ever recorded for the month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Monday.

The findings, which confirm September as the warmest such month on record, continue a string of record-beating months for global temperature.

The year to date for 2014 is already tied with 1998 as the warmest such period since record keeping began in 1880, Noaa scientists said.

On a parallel note, via BBC News:

Europe emission targets ‘will fail to protect climate’

Europe’s leaders are about to consign the Earth to the risk of dangerous climate change, a UN expert says.

Prof Jim Skea, a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says the EU’s plan to cut CO2 emissions 40% by 2030 is too weak.

He says it will commit future governments to “extraordinary and unprecedented” emissions cuts.

The Commission rejected the claim, saying the 40% target puts Europe on track for long-term climate goals.

From TakePart, chemical killing:

The U.S Approves a Powerful New Pesticide Deadly to Monarch Butterflies

The dominance of genetically modified crops requires ever-more-toxic pesticides that are wiping out the iconic insect’s sole source of food.

Is the monarch butterfly the new polar bear?

The iconic insect, whose numbers have plummeted from 1 billion to 35 million over the past two decades, is emerging as the latest symbol of environmental catastrophe: In this case, the impact of industrial agriculture, genetically modified crops, and skyrocketing pesticide use on wildlife.

The latest fight over the future of the monarch broke out on Wednesday, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved a powerful—and highly toxic—new weed killer called Enlist Duo. Made by Dow AgroSciences and designed to be sprayed on genetically modified corn and soybean crops, Enlist Duo combines glyphosate and 2,4-D in a formula that’s supposed to kill weeds that have developed a resistance to each of those individual pesticides.

One wild plant that has not developed defenses against growing pesticide use is milkweed, which is essential to the monarch’s survival.

And from Al Jazeera America, an American tragedy:

UN officials ‘shocked’ by Detroit’s mass water shutoffs

  • Two UN rapporteurs recommended Detroit immediately resume water service for residents unable to pay their bills

Surrounded by a frenzy of cameras, Detroit resident Rochelle McCaskill explained her predicament to a team of United Nations officials on Sunday: The numbers simply didn’t add up.

Out of her $672 monthly disability check, McCaskill spends $600 rent, she said, leaving her unable to pay the city’s water bills, which have skyrocketed to more than twice the national average.

“They need a category for those of us who cannot pay,” said McCaskill, whose water was shut off this summer as part of a wave of disconnections that, block by block, have left thousands of city residents without running water.

The city turned off McCaskill’s water despite the fact that she had been paying down her $540.10 water bill in increments and that she suffers from MRSA, a contagious infection that the NIH considers a “serious public health concern” and requires frequent bathing.

Spare the air with the Guardian:

India’s air quality figures can’t be trusted

  • Delhi is the most polluted city in the world, but it may actually be worse as faulty instruments, data fudging and lack of regulation allow industries to pollute with impunity

India is changing the way it maps pollution, with an update to its air quality index.. In its initial phase, eight pollutants will be tracked in 46 cities with populations exceeding a million people. After five years, the rest of the country will slowly be brought into the system.

At the launch, the minister for environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar, said it wouldn’t be “business as usual” anymore.

The move couldn’t have come a moment sooner.

Five months ago, World Health Organisation declared Delhi to be the worst polluted city on earth. In a study spanning 1,600 cities across 91 countries, the organisation used India’s own officially released data to show the city had the world’s highest annual average concentration of microscopic airborne particles known as PM2.5.

These extremely fine particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter are linked with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease as they penetrate deep into the lungs and pass into the bloodstream. Delhi’s annual PM2.5 reading was 153 compared to London’s 16. Indian officials contested the study’s finding but agreed Delhi was as bad as Beijing, although the latter’s PM2.5 reading was only 56.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Asahi Shimbun:

ASAHI POLL: 27% of Fukushima voters want immediate end to nuclear power

Twenty-seven percent of voters in Fukushima Prefecture, home to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, want Japan to immediately abolish nuclear energy, around double the national average, an Asahi Shimbun survey found.

About 55 percent of voters in the prefecture support a break away from nuclear power in the near future, according to the telephone survey conducted on Oct. 18-19.

The survey results showed anti-nuclear sentiment is higher in Fukushima Prefecture than in the rest of the country.

Hot to trot with JapanToday:

Obuchi’s departure won’t affect nuclear reactor restarts

The Japanese government’s plan to restart nuclear reactors shut down after the Fukushima disaster will not be affected by Monday’s resignation of the industry minister, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is losing a convincing advocate of a step most view with suspicion.

The resignation of Yuko Obuchi, 40, from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, six weeks after she was appointed, is the latest hitch in a process bogged down by documentation over safety standards, concerns about natural disasters and local opposition.

“Obviously as a young mother, the youngest cabinet minister, she was a reassuring figure (who showed) that restarting the reactor wouldn’t be as threatening as people feared,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan campus.

“Now that she’s gone, Abe has lost that reassuring presence and it’s unlikely that he’s going to be able to find anyone as convincing as her,” Kingston said.

NHK WORLD covers an okay:

City assembly approves Sendai plant restart

A special panel at a city assembly in southern Japan has approved a petition to allow a local nuclear power plant to resume operations.

The panel at the Satsuma Sendai city assembly in Kagoshima Prefecture discussed petitions both for and against the restart of the Sendai plant on Monday.

The plant is operated by Kyushu Electric Power Company. Last month it became the first to pass new regulations for nuclear plants introduced after the 2011 Fukushima accident.

But the meeting at which the decision was made was marked by controversy, as second NHK WORLD report notes:

Opponents scuffle with officials

People opposed to the restart of the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan scuffled with city officials when they tried to enter a room where the city assembly’s special panel was meeting.

After the panel adopted a petition calling for the restart of the plant, people gathered in front of the Satsumasendai city hall to protest the decision.

And plans for the restart of another nuclear complex are moving forward as well, NHK WORLD reports:

KEPCO to submit revised Takahama safety plan

The operator of a power plant on the Sea of Japan coast says it will submit revised safety measures to the country’s nuclear regulator as early as next week.

Officials of Kansai Electric Power Company say they have completed recalculations of the potential maximum height of a tsunami that could hit the Takahama plant.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority, or NRA, had pointed out to the utility that it underestimated the height in its first assessment. The company was obliged to conduct tsunami simulations for 2 reactors at the plant.

Finally, from the New York Times, what could possibly go wrong?:

Power Plants Seek to Extend Life of Nuclear Reactors for Decades

The prospects for building new nuclear reactors may be sharply limited, but the owners of seven old ones, in Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina, are preparing to ask for permission to run them until they are 80 years old.

Nuclear proponents say that extending plants’ lifetimes is more economical — and a better way to hold down carbon dioxide emissions — than building new plants, although it will require extensive monitoring of steel, concrete, cable insulation and other components. But the idea is striking even to some members of the nuclear establishment.

At a meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in May, George Apostolakis, a risk expert who was then one of the five commissioners, pointed out that if operation were allowed until age 80, some reactors would be using designs substantially older than that.

“I don’t know how we would explain to the public that these designs, 90-year-old designs, 100-year-old designs, are still safe to operate,” he said. “Don’t we need more convincing arguments than just ‘We’re managing aging effects’?”

EnviroWatch: West Nile, spider, smog, volcano


We begin with a story close to home [esnl’s], and an enigma, via the Oakland Tribune:

West Nile cases surging in state, Bay Area

In the midst of a historic drought, public health officials are searching for clues as to why cases of West Nile virus have exploded statewide since last year, making this season the worst for human infections in California since 2005.

The surge in mosquitoes found carrying the virus in 2014 has not only reached unprecedented levels, it’s also creating headaches for local vector and mosquito control districts, which are pushing hard to kill the disease-carrying pests and their larvae.

In Santa Clara County, where more than one-third of the state’s entire count of West Nile-positive birds have been found, fogging operations for mosquitoes have hit an all-time high, as have the number of human cases. Alameda County’s Mosquito Abatement District, too, is pulling out all the stops to quell concentrations of infected mosquitoes in otherwise water-starved areas. And in Contra Costa County, the Mosquito and Vector Control District sprayed for adult mosquitoes 14 times between April and September.

Over the summer, the Santa Clara County Vector Control District found as many as 1 in 20 mosquitoes infected with West Nile in the area, acting manager Russ Parman said.

The Guardian covers a growing environmental disaster:

Amazon deforestation picking up pace, satellite data reveals

  • Data indicates 190% rise in land clearance in August and September compared with same period last year

The deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has accelerated rapidly in the past two months, underscoring the shortcomings of the government’s environmental policies.

Satellite data indicates a 190% surge in land clearance in August and September compared with the same period last year as loggers and farmers exploit loopholes in regulations that are designed to protect the world’s largest forest.

Figures released by Imazon, a Brazilian nonprofit research organisation, show that 402 square kilometres – more than six times the area of the island of Manhattan – was cleared in September.

The government has postponed the release of official figures until after next Sunday’s presidential election, in which incumbent Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ party faces a strong challenge from Aécio Neves, a pro-business candidate who has the endorsement of Marina Silva, the popular former environment minister.

And one factor in that deforestation is Europe’s hunger for wood, as Agence France-Presse reports:

Deforestation

Program notes:

Greenpeace denounces the export of wood acquired illegally in Brazil’s Amazon region to European countries like Belgium, France, Sweden and the Netherlands.

From USA TODAY, one damn big arachnid:

Scientist stumbles upon spider as big as a puppy

Strolling through a Guyana rainforest one night, a scientist heard some rustling and thought he’d encountered a furry mammal.

Well, he was right about the furry part.

The creature was actually a Goliath birdeater spider, LiveScience reports — the world’s biggest type of spider, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It can weigh up to 6 ounces. For comparison, National Geographic reports a black widow weighs roughly .035 ounces; that’s 170 times lighter.

Scientist Piotr Naskrecki writes its weight is “about as much as a young puppy,” while its leg span can be a foot long, comparable with a kid’s forearm, notes LiveScience. The body itself is fist-sized, Naskrecki says. The fangs? Two inches long. The thing won’t kill you, but its bite feels “like driving a nail through your hand.”

The Independent covers a Chinese quandary:

Beijing marathon runners choked by smog are forced to wear face masks

Runners were forced to wear face masks as tens of thousands of competitors took part in an international marathon in Beijing under a thick blanket of smog – despite warnings that everyone in the city should avoid outdoor activities.

About 30,000 runners were expected to take part in the event on Sunday morning, with the organising committee making 140,000 sponges available at supply stations along the marathon route so runners could “clean their skin that is exposed to the air,” the Beijing News reported.

“On a normal day, nobody would run in such conditions,” said participant Liu Zhenyu, a computer engineer. “But the event is happening today, so what can we do?”

Although organisers had warned on Saturday night that “there might be slight or moderate smog”, the air was deemed to be severely polluted on Sunday morning, according to the real-time monitoring of Beijing’s environmental centre.

A video report from Deutsche Welle:

Beijing’s Smog Marathon

Program notes:

Thousands of runners have battled thick smog to take part in the Beijing Marathon. Some athletes donned masks as air pollution soared toward 14 times the maximum recommended level. Chinese organizers rejected calls to postpone the event.

For our final item, via JapanToday, an explosive concern:

4,000 take part in Mt Fuji eruption drill

Nearly 4,000 people took part Sunday in a mass evacuation drill to test responses to a possible eruption of Japan’s highest peak Mt Fuji, weeks after a nearby volcano blew its top and killed at least 56.

The 3,776-meter Fuji last erupted in 1707 but geologists have included it as one of 47 volcanoes in the Pacific Rim country believed to be at risk of eruption in the coming century.

Nearly 4,000 residents in 26 cities, towns and villages in Shizuoka, Yamanashi and Kanagawa prefectures around the mountain took part in the first-ever such drill, said a disaster management official for the Shizuoka prefectural government.

Mt Fuji is just 100 kilometers west of Tokyo.

From ABC Australia: Earth on fire


A chilling documentary from ABC Australia [itself the target of fossil-fuel addicted neoliberal Aussie ire and pending major budget cuts], this July documentary presents a chilling [er, scorching] vision of the future, in which vast fires sweep across landscapes around the globe.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Catalyst – Earth of Fire

From the transcript:

NARRATION: Earth is the only planet in our solar system that burns … and there’s one main reason why. Plants.

Since they first evolved more than 400 million years ago, land plants have changed the world, from the soil to the atmosphere.

Even the origin of fire is tied to the origin of plants. Fire couldn’t exist here until the fuel and oxygen from land plants made this planet flammable. So for nearly half a billion years, the Earth has been in flames. In turn, fire shapes the patterns of life, the climate, and ultimately, our own survival. But fire is changing.

Over the past decade, every forested continent has seen an alarming surge in large, uncontrollable fires. Mega-fires.

Prof David Bowman: The sort of metaphoric equivalent of an atomic bomb, that’s what a mega fire is, it’s muscular, it’s mean, it’s big, it’s aggressive.

Prof Tom Swetnam: Really fast burning fires. And their local intensity is just amazing.… these are extraordinary fire events.

NARRATION: So extraordinary, they demolish the very ecosystems that have thrived with fire for millennia.

Anja Taylor: Here in the Southwest US, the fires have become so large and so intense that whole forests are transforming into entirely different landscapes.

NARRATION: No longer can we count on what we thought we knew about fire.

Mark Horstman: In Australia, catastrophic megafires are tearing landscapes apart. It means we all have to rethink how to live on this flammable continent.

EnviroWatch: Struggles, species, and fuels


We begin today’s report on the relationship between people and world with two  videos on struggles to save some of the world’s truly wonderful places from the ravages of development.

First, via Mother Jones:

Fight for Areng Valley

Background from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting:

Fight for Areng Valley

A revolution is awakening in Cambodia—with protests led by a monk who is speaking out against the environmental destruction of his country.

The Cambodian government intends to build a network of 17 dams across Cambodia, hoping this will generate enough electricity to meet domestic demand, reduce energy costs, and export surplus energy abroad. While the goal of transforming Cambodia into the power plant of Southeast Asia may promise economic gain, it also entails significant costs.

For this project, filmmaker Kalyanee Mam travels to Areng Valley, a remote area in southwest Cambodia at the foot of the Central Cardamom Protected Forests. She follows a group of young dissident monks who traveled over 150 miles from Phnom Penh, the capital, to join the Chong people in their fight to protect their forests, livelihood, and heritage from the looming construction of a hydroelectric dam.

Mam looks at how the Chong people of Areng Valley and the monks of Cambodia are striving to protect not only the forests, but also the very essence of the Cambodian people’s livelihood and spiritual well-being, rooted and grounded in nature.

Born in Cambodia, Mam fled her home country in 1979, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, which claimed nearly two million lives. When she returned to Cambodia for the first time in 1998, Cambodia was rebuilding from the rubble of civil war. Now, 16 years later, the country must balance its need to feed the energy demands of a burgeoning society with the necessity of conserving and protecting its natural resources.

Next, via Yale Environment 360:

Indonesia – Dayaks and Drones- How technology can promote sustainable forests and communities

Program notes:

The villagers of Setulang in Indonesian Borneo have enlisted a new ally in their fight against the illegal clearing of their forests for oil palm plantations: aerial drones.

Setulang lies within a forest conservation area managed by the indigenous Dayak people, who have fostered a thriving tourism industry based on the rainforest’s rich biodiversity and their own cultural heritage. After successfully ousting an oil palm company operating illegally in their territory, the Dayaks are now hoping the drones can help them protect their land.

“Dayaks and Drones,” a video produced by Handcrafted Films, chronicles how the villagers teamed up with an Indonesian nonprofit to learn how to program and operate drones. Equipped with GPS technology, the small drones photograph the forest and monitor the area for illegal activities, especially plantations and mines. The villagers will use information gathered by the drones to create a detailed map of their land, which will help in future conservation efforts.

“The international community must help Indonesia accelerate the recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples,” Abdon Nababan, an Indonesian indigenous rights leader, tells the filmmakers.

From the Observer, a magnificent species draws closer to extinction:

Death of white rhino in Kenya leaves only six animals alive in the world

  • Fears grow for future of northern white rhino species after loss of 34-year-old Suni, one of last two breeding males in the world

An endangered northern white rhino has died in Kenya, a wildlife conservancy has said, meaning only six of the animals are left alive in the world.

Suni, a 34-year-old northern white, and the first of his species to be born in captivity, was found dead on Friday by rangers at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Nairobi. While there are thousands of southern white rhinos in the plains of sub-Saharan Africa, decades of rampant poaching has meant the northern white rhino is close to extinction.

Suni was one of the last two breeding males in the world as no northern white rhinos are believed to have survived in the wild. Though the conservancy said Suni was not poached, the cause of his death is currently unclear.

More species in decline via the Hindu:

Over one-fifth of India’s frogs under threat

More than 20 per cent of frogs and toads — 78 of the 340 species — found in India are under threat, according recent findings of the Zoological Survey of India.

In a publication titled ‘Threatened Amphibians of India’, which catalogues these species, the ZSI pointed out that of the species under threat, 17 are ‘critically endangered; 32 are ‘endangered’, 22 are ‘vulnerable’, and the remaining seven are ‘near threatened species’.

According to ZSI scientist Kaushik Deuti, frogs and toads are very sensitive to habitat and climate change and are referred as “bio indicators.” “Their presence or absence denotes whether a habitat is in good condition or is undergoing change and is under threat,” he said. One of the main reasons behind the diminishing numbers of the amphibians, ZSI director K. Venkataraman said, was climate change, widespread deforestation and destruction of the frogs’ natural habitat. Frogs are also captured to be sold off in the global market.

According to the ZSI, of the 17 critically-endangered species — whose total population is less than 250 — one particular species of frog, known as Resplendent Bush Frog (Raorchestes resplendens), can only be found in a 3 sq km area atop the Anamudi Peak in Kerala’s Idukki district.

Still more species in decline from the Ecologist:

African habitat loss driving migrating birds’ decline

A new report reveals huge declines in the UK’s migratory birds that winter deep in Africa’s rainforests. Shorter distance migrants are performing much better, with some recording big population increases.

The latest in the annual series of State of the UK’s Birds report, published today, shows alarming declines among 29 migrant species which nest in the UK in summer and spend the winter around the Mediterranean, or in Africa south of the Sahara Desert.

The most dramatic declines are among species which winter in the humid zone of Africa – stretching across the continent from southern Senegal to Nigeria and beyond.

Of this group of species, which includes whinchat, nightingale, tree pipit and spotted flycatcher, 73% have declined since the late 1980s, 45% by more than half.

One of the most dramatic declines is that of the turtle dove with a decline of 88% since 1995. Heavy declines have also been recorded over the same period for wood warbler, down 66%; pied flycatcher, 53%; spotted flycatcher, 49%; cuckoo, 49%; nightingale, 43%; and yellow wagtail, 43%.

On to fuelishness with In These Times:

Building Trades Chief Lauds Fracking Boom, Shrugs Off Environmental Concerns

On Tuesday, the Oil and Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee released a report by Dr. Robert Bruno and Michael Cornfield of the University of Illinois which found that from 2008 to 2014, oil and gas development created 45,000 new jobs in the Marcellus Shale region—an area that includes parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The data came from the BCTD; the National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee, a joint labor-management committee that oversees collective bargaining agreements in the construction industry; and Industrial Info Resources, a third party specializing in “global market intelligence.”

Two days later, BCTD president Sean McGarvey, who also serves as chair of the Oil and Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee and whose union is a member of the committee, praised the report and defended the thriving industry.

“Oil and gas industry spending in the Marcellus Shale region has led to significant increases in construction and maintenance jobs,” McGarvey told reporters on a conference call. “At a time when the U.S. construction industry was in the midst of what was arguably a depression, … one of the few, if not only, bright spots, were the jobs that were created by virtue of domestic oil and gas development.”

And one side effect from Yale Environment 360:

With the Boom in Oil and Gas, Pipelines Proliferate in the U.S.

The rise of U.S. oil and gas production has spurred a dramatic expansion of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure. As the lines reach into new communities and affect more property owners, concerns over the environmental impacts are growing.

In the spring of 2012, about nine years after Melissa Owen and her husband purchased 640 acres of remote Arizona desert that they hoped to turn into a wildlife refuge, a representative from the energy giant Kinder Morgan knocked on their front door. The man said his company planned to

They didn’t give it, and the Kinder Morgan visit set off what Owen calls some of the most trying years of her life. Petitions to the pipeline company, local county officials, the U.S. government, and a variety of environmental groups failed to stop the pipeline from earning the necessary permits and gaining access to Owen’s land.

“I’d get up at three in the morning, write letters to the government and Kinder Morgan, and research what I could do, then do my ranch work,” she said. “Then I’d start all over again the next day.”

Next, via the Ecologist, a real gas:

NASA confirms US’s 2,500-square-mile methane cloud

When NASA researchers first saw data indicating a massive cloud of methane floating over the American Southwest, they found it so incredible that they dismissed it as an instrument error.

But as they continued analyzing data from the European Space Agency’s Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Chartography instrument from 2002 to 2012, the ‘atmospheric hot spot’ kept appearing.

The team at NASA was finally able to take a closer look, and have now concluded that there is in fact a 2,500-square-mile cloud of methane – roughly the size of Delaware – floating over the Four Corners region, where the borders of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah all intersect.

This discovery follows the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new estimates of methane’s ‘global warming potential’ (GWP): 34 over 100 years, and 86 over 20 years. That number reflects how much more powerful methane is than CO2.

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

Record cesium level detected in Fukushima No. 1 groundwater; Tepco blames heavy rainfall

A record 264,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per liter has been detected in groundwater at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, Tokyo Electric Power Co. disclosed Saturday.

The sample was taken Thursday from an observation well near reactor 2 reactor of the plant, which was destroyed by the March 2011 quake and tsunami.

According to Tepco, recent heavy rains pushed up the levels of groundwater, causing it to reach soil containing highly radioactive water leaked earlier from the plant’s crippled reactors.

The per liter level of cesium-137 rose to 200,000 becquerels from 190,000 becquerels in groundwater sampled from the same well on Wednesday. The cesium-134 level was unchanged at 64,000 becquerels.

Finally, from Corriere della Sera, another nuclear woe:

Italy’s Radiation-porous Ports

  • About € 25 million spent on protecting coastline against contaminated materials but ports remain exposed

Italy spend about L.45 billion in 1999 on scanners that could detect radioactivity in cargo arriving from abroad. But even though another €1 million was paid out for acceptance inspections in 2003, the special portals installed at harbour border crossings have remained out of service.

Italy is a major importer of metals, which means that the issue is exceptionally important, not least because in the past the Bel Paese has featured in the illegal trafficking of radioactive waste. The risk of discovering that items in your home are radioactive is far from hypothetical. Here are one or two examples. At Genoa in 2011, checks carried out by a privately owned company led to the blocking of a container carrying several tonnes of cobalt 60-contaminated metal. The cargo had arrived from the United Arab Emirates and was for use at a factory in the province of Alessandria. Before reaching Liguria, the metal, which was accompanied by a waybill, had passed through the port of Gioia Tauro. No one noticed that the container was releasing radiation. Cobalt 60 has turned up in several places up and down Italy. In 2013, it was detected in kitchen utensils on sale in a number of shops. The goods had passed through the port of Taranto without the slightest difficulty. At Turin in 2012, a batch of household trays was found to be radioactive. It’s easy to imagine how many at-risk items could have crossed Italy’s borders and entered the country undetected in recent years.