Category Archives: Nature

The drought map: No change from last week

Despite all the rain experienced in the past week,California’s drought picture remains unchanged, though we suspect the current storm may be reflected by a small change in next week’s map.

From the United States Drought Monitor:

BLOG Drought

EnviroWatch: Fracking, fuel, dolphins, & climate

And more.

We begin with the Guardian:

Fracking and Lima climate talks slammed at Nature Rights Tribunal

  • Thirteen judges meet in Peru to hear accusations that the rights of ‘Mother Earth’ are being violated

It’s difficult to know what was more moving or arresting. There was the Ponca lady, Casey Camp-Horinek, starting to cry as she spoke about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, on her people in what she called “occupied” Oklahoma in the US, and saying “We’re having a funeral a week… We’re this close to being fracked to death.”

Then there was Kandi Mossett, from North Dakota, a fracking “victim who wasn’t able to come”. She appeared on the projector and broke down too, telling how “these radioactive frack socks [that are] off the charts on the Geiger counters” are being dumped and found by children who say things like, “Hey, we’re catching bugs with our nets.”

That was right after Shannon Biggs, the executive director of Movement Rights, had explained that fracking in the US is destroying lives, livelihoods, groundwater, rivers, farms, prairies, communities and landscapes, as well as causing “earthquakes where earthquakes don’t exist” and poisoning “millions and millions and millions” of gallons of water that are “taken out of the hydrological cycle forever”.

Camp-Horinek and Biggs were speaking before the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature which met in Lima, Peru, on Friday and Saturday. The objective was to investigate cases of possible violations of the Rights of Nature as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth made in Bolivia in 2010.

In total 12 cases were heard, by 13 judges, with an Ecuadorian lawyer, Ramiro Avila, acting as “prosecutor for the earth” and numerous experts and impacted people from around the world called as witnesses. One such case was made against fracking for its impacts on “the subsoil of Mother Earth”, and another against “climate change caused by human activities” – just as the United Nations’ climate talks are being held elsewhere in Lima.

Next, from teleSUR, a record-setting march:

South America’s Largest Ever Environmental March

  • As the official COP 20 meetings continue behind closed doors, tens of thousands take to the streets in defense of the environment.

On Wednesday, estimates indicate that up to 15,000 people took part in the March in Defense of Mother Earth in Lima, Peru. People came together from all over the world in what was the largest march in Peru in decades and the largest environmental demonstration in South America.

The march was organized by social organizations to pressure government authorities meeting at the COP 20, the official UN Climate Change Conference.

One of the organizers, Laura Santa Cruz, explained, “We expected this many people because we have put all our efforts into this, we have worked without rest, and we have struggled to push this forward. We believe that it is necessary to articulate our cause at a global level to confront the [environment] crisis that is already affecting us, and that only seems to be getting worse.”

BBC News protest blowback:

Peru moves to sue Greenpeace over Nazca banner

Peru says it will sue activists from the environmental pressure group Greenpeace after they placed a banner next to the Nazca Lines heritage site.

The activists entered a restricted area next to the ancient ground markings depicting a hummingbird and laid down letters advocating renewable energy.

Peru is currently hosting the UN climate summit in its capital, Lima. A Greenpeace spokeswoman said the group was investigating but its activists had been “absolutely careful”.

Luis Jaime Castillo, a Peruvian deputy culture minister, said Peru would file charges of “attacking archaeological monuments” against the activists from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Another cause for protest from EcoWatch:

Latin Americans Pay Price for Corporate Climate Destruction

Information contained in a new report that details how multi-national corporations are destroying the environment and causing serious climate damage in Latin America brings attention to an important area not being discussed at the UN COP 20 climate negotiations being held in Peru.

The report describes in detail how the destruction caused by three European multi-national corporations is typical of the damage caused by multi-nationals throughout the continent.

While the climate discussions in Lima are focussing on what nation states need to do to reach a binding climate agreement a year from now, what is missing is a discussion about how corporations are not held accountable for the climate damage they cause in developing countries—damage that those countries are held accountable for.

The Guardian covers a return:

Olkola reclaim traditional Cape York land after three-decade struggle

More than 6,300 square kilometres of former cattle grazing land in Queensland is formally handed back to Indigenous owners, spelling the end of uranium exploration in the area and the start of a quest to develop tourism opportunities

One of the largest returns of land to traditional owners in Queensland’s history has killed off the prospect of uranium mining in a key part of Cape York.

The Olkola, who reclaimed more than 6,300 square kilometres of former cattle grazing land in a formal ceremony on Wednesday, are instead seeking business opportunities in adventure tourism.

Just over 1000 sq km of Olkola land is licensed for uranium exploration by French corporation Areva, which has spoken of north Queensland’s potential to match Kazakhstan as a source for nuclear fuel.

But the deal negotiated by the Olkola has forced Areva to give up its exploration licences in areas given over to a national park, and the clan has no intention of allowing mining elsewhere.

And from, another record:

2014 set to be the warmest year in three centuries

This year will go on record as the warmest in three centuries with an average temperature almost 1.5 degrees above average, the KNMI weather bureau said on Wednesday.

With much of December still to go, this year the average temperature is likely to be 11.5 Celsius, beating the 11.2 Celsius records set in 2006 and 2007.

It was warmer than average in every month but August and eight months also set temperature records, the KNMI said. And in parts of the country, it has not frozen at all in 2014.

Newswise covers an accelerant:

Warmer Pacific Ocean Could Release Millions of Tons of Seafloor Methane

Off the West Coast of the United States, methane gas is trapped in frozen layers below the seafloor. New research from the University of Washington shows that water at intermediate depths is warming enough to cause these carbon deposits to melt, releasing methane into the sediments and surrounding water.

Researchers found that water off the coast of Washington is gradually warming at a depth of 500 meters, about a third of a mile down. That is the same depth where methane transforms from a solid to a gas. The research suggests that ocean warming could be triggering the release of a powerful greenhouse gas.

“We calculate that methane equivalent in volume to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is released every year off the Washington coast,” said Evan Solomon, a UW assistant professor of oceanography. He is co-author of a paper to appear in Geophysical Research Letters.

While scientists believe that global warming will release methane from gas hydrates worldwide, most of the current focus has been on deposits in the Arctic. This paper estimates that from 1970 to 2013, some 4 million metric tons of methane has been released from hydrate decomposition off Washington. That’s an amount each year equal to the methane from natural gas released in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout off the coast of Louisiana, and 500 times the rate at which methane is naturally released from the seafloor.

From EcoWatch, passin’ more gas:

Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells ‘High Emitters’ of Methane Gas

Natural gas has been sold to us as the environmentally friendly fossil fuel compared to gas or coal since it doesn’t release carbon emissions. We’ve learned that’s not true, since drilling for natural gas can release methane, a far more potential greenhouse gas in contributing to climate change.

Now there’s some more bad news regarding the methane that’s a byproduct of oil and gas drilling operations, including fracking operations. Two studies found that the amount of methane leaked by oil and gas operations is probably being underestimated. Both hoped to provide information to make wells safer.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of abandoned gas and oil wells in western Pennsylvania found that they continue to leak methane into the atmosphere long after their productive life has ended. In fact, millions of old wells could be leaking methane that’s not being included in any emissions data base, with an estimated 300,00 to 500,000 disused wells in Pennsylvania alone.

“Millions of abandoned wells exist across the country and some are likely to be high emitters,” the group of researchers from Princeton University wrote. “Additional measurements of methane emissions from abandoned wells and their inclusion in greenhouse gas inventories will aid in developing and implementing appropriate greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies.”

And SINA English nixes a deal:

U.S. says no China-style climate deal in works for India

The United States on Wednesday played down prospects for a wide-ranging deal with India to curb greenhouse gas emissions next year along the lines of a plan agreed to with China last month.

President Barack Obama will visit India in January at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The visit has prompted speculation that the two nations might be preparing cooperation on climate change similar to a U.S. plan with Beijing.

“We don’t have that kind of process going on with India,” U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern told a news conference during Dec. 1-12 talks among 190 nations in Lima on ways to slow global warming.

After the jump, endangered dolphins threatened by Indian oil spill and Florida dolphins threatened by a virus, FBI busts a former chemical company boss over a toxic spill, Catholic bishops cal for an end to fossil fuels and the Church of England threatens a Big Oil divestment, Native Americans demand Big Coal return their ancestors’ bones, the unending Union Carbide-spawned Bhopal tragedy, and from Fukushimapocalypse Now!, an increased radition exposures mulled. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Disease, climate, water, fuel

And more. . .

We begin with another global health crisis, via Spiegel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Vanguard in Lagos, good news and bad:

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

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

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

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

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

From India Today, a toxic crisis:

Garbage dumping sites pose big threat to Delhi

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

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

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

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

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

Tragic victims of the climate game, via the Ecologist:

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

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

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

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

A related story, via the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

SciDev.Net raises questions:

Experts question slowing Amazon deforestation trend

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

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

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

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

A related story from the Ecologist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EnviroWatch: Polio, land use, and mining plans

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

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

Polio: Six new cases reported across the country

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

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

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

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

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

The Thomson Reuters Foundation covers a question of balance:

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

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

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

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

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

And Fusion covers a major mining development to the north:

Canada’s untouched wilderness is now open to mining

Program notes:

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

EnviroWatch: Fines, land grabs, GMOs, & nukes

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

Mishaps at nuke repository lead to $54 million in penalties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ecuador indigenous leader found dead days before planned Lima protest

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

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

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

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

More native American umbrage, via MintPress News:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General

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

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

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

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

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

4158 bq/kg Mushrooms Found In Tochigi Prefecture

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

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

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

NRA draft plan to require ID checks for nuclear plant workers

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

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

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

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

Nuclear power projects open to private capital

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

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

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

EnviroWatch: Climate, health, species, nukes

NOTE: While we can embed video and graphics, WordPress isn’t letting us hotlink, so rather than not post we opted for including the unlinked URLs. Our apologies. . . 

UPDATE: Fixed.

We open with Golden State woes from the Los Angeles Times:

California drought most severe in 1,200 years, study says

Californians are living through the most severe three-year drought in the last 1,200 years, according to a new study published this week in an American Geophysical Union journal.

Although other three-year periods have been drier, 2012-14 stands as perhaps the worst drought in a millennium due in part to “anomalously low” precipitation and “record-high” temperatures, the study said.

“One thing is clear,” said Daniel Griffin, an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s department of geography. “Drought is going to continue to happen. This is the kind of thing we get to see in the future.”

Griffin has been doing research on tree rings, moisture and drought in California for a decade. He teamed with co-author Kevin J. Anchukaitis, a paleoclimatologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, to see how the state’s current precipitation levels and drought severity compared with centuries past.

More health woes in a troubled land where suspicion of physicians with needles is already high, via the New York Times:

Pakistani Children Infected With H.I.V. From Transfusions, Report Says

Pakistan’s health ministry said Friday that it was investigating a report that 10 children had been infected with H.I.V. after receiving blood transfusions.

The children have thalassemia, a disease of the blood that requires regular transfusions, and reports of the H.I.V. infections were viewed as fresh evidence of Pakistan’s crumbling national health system.

The infections were first reported by Dr. Joveria Mannan, a senior official of the Thalassemia Federation of Pakistan, at a medical conference on Nov. 29. She said the infected children had come from the capital, Islamabad, and from parts of Punjab Province.

And from the New York Times again, a prediction goes wrong:

Deadlier Flu Season Is Possible, C.D.C. Says

This year’s flu season may be deadlier than usual, and this year’s flu vaccine is a relatively poor match to a new virus that is now circulating, federal health officials warned on Thursday.

“Flu is unpredictable, but what we’ve seen thus far is concerning,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The C.D.C. has alerted doctors to the problem and has urged them to prescribe antiviral drugs like Tamiflu to vulnerable patients with flu symptoms without waiting for a positive flu test.

From the Yomiuri  Shimbun, anxiety in Japan:h

Farms on high alert for bird flu outbreak

The nation’s poultry farms and relevant ministries are on high alert over bird flu, with farmers busy inspecting and disinfecting chicken coops.

The tension is due to a series of cases in which highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses have been detected in migratory birds. No such viruses were detected in the three previous seasons, but four cases have already been reported since November this year. A season is defined as October to May of the following year.

In some Asian nations that serve as stopovers for migratory birds, the viruses have been spreading throughout poultry plants and other facilities.

And the accompanying graphic showing where the virus has been found, and in what:

BLOG Bird flu

And from CBC’s The National, an alarming report that your pet’s flea collar could be dangerous to both your pet and you:

Chemicals in flea collars

Program notes:

The flea collar your pet is wearing could cause sickness in pets and humans alike.

And from the Washington Post, the politics of the dinner table:

Free trade with U.S.? Europe balks at chlorine chicken, hormone beef.

In Europe, this is a season of angst — even paranoia — over a historic bid to link the United States and the 28-nation European Union in the world’s largest free-trade deal.

Passage of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could be a globalization milestone, creating a megamarket of 800 million consumers from Alaska to Finland, Hawaii to Greece. Import duties — many of which already are low — could be further reduced. More important, the deal could finally tackle nontariff barriers, including differing data-protection and food-safety standards that have long stood in the way of transatlantic commerce.

But even as time runs out for President Obama to sign a deal before leaving office, European and U.S. advocates have been surprised by the increasingly hostile reception on this side of the Atlantic. It is jeopardizing the chances of a deal that proponents say could create millions of new jobs by dramatically boosting U.S.-E.U. trade.

China seeks an agricultural change of course, via Reuters:

China looking to curb fertilizer, pesticide use

China, the world’s top producer of rice and wheat, is seeking to cap the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that have helped to contaminate large swathes of its arable land and threaten its ability to keep up with domestic food demand.

More than 19 percent of soil samples taken from Chinese farmland have been found to contain excessive levels of heavy metals or chemical waste. In central Hunan province, more than three quarters of the ricefields have been contaminated, government research has shown.

China is the world’s top consumer of pesticides but almost two thirds of pesticides are wasted, contaminating both land and water, an environment official said last year.

Another Chinese land management practice questioned, via Science:

Poisoning of small animals in China may increase flood risks

The grapefruit-sized pika (Ochotona curzoniae) can be a destructive pest. They thrive in the overgrazed grasslands of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and riddle the land with their burrows. The eroded soil can’t hold the monsoon rains, leading to floods that endanger downstream cities and farmlands across China and Southeast Asia.

In response, the Chinese government has engaged in massive pika eradication campaigns since the 1960s. But that strategy may have backfired, according to a soon-to-be-published study in AMBIO. Researchers measured the rate at which soil absorbed water on grasslands with active pika colonies and in places where pikas had been exterminated for more than 2 years.

Even after first flooding the ground to minimize the effects of recent weather, the team found that the soil near pika burrows soaked up water at least two to three times faster than similar soil from pika-free fields. That in turn decreases the chance for overground runoff and potential flooding, the scientists claim. This evidence of the positive role the pikas’ burrows play may help efforts to protect this keystone species.

EcoWatch covers toxins in the water from a sadly familiar source:

New Coal Ash Leaks Found at Duke Energy’s Buck Power Plant

Back in mid-November, two environmental groups—Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper—spotted a gusher of orange goop below the normal waterline of the Yadkin River, pouring from the unlined coal ash impoundments at Duke Energy’s Buck Station in central North Carolina, located next to the river. Naturally they were curious to know what toxins were flowing into their waterway this time, so they had the stuff tested.

Today the two groups, along with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing them in their ongoing battle over unsafe coal ash storage and pollution at the now-closed Buck Station facility, revealed that the testing showed high levels of arsenic, lead and selenium, along with barium, cadmium, manganese and chromium, all at levels exceeding safe standards for human health. It found known or suspected carcinogens like cadmium at eight times the level allowed for groundwater and surface water. It found arsenic at three times the legal limit and barium at 6,000 times the level deemed safe for human health. These chemicals are routinely found in coal ash.

“This new evidence confirms the extent and magnitude of the coal ash pollution leaking into the Yadkin River,” said John Suttles, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The volume and level of pollution from Duke’s leaky coal ash lagoons will require more than a band-aid solution to protect the river and nearby communities.”

Worrisome news from the Subcontinent, via the New York Times:

Narendra Modi, Favoring Growth in India, Pares Back Environmental Rules

Indian industries have often complained that convoluted environmental regulations are choking off economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Modi promised to open the floodgates, and he has been true to his word. The new government is moving with remarkable speed to clear away regulatory burdens for industry, the armed forces, mining and power projects.

More permanent changes may be coming. In a report made public last week, a high-level committee assigned to rewrite India’s environmental laws assailed the existing regulatory system, saying it has “served only the purpose of a venal administration” seeking to extract bribes.

To speed up project approvals, the committee recommended scrapping a layer of government inspections; instead, it said, India should rely on business owners to voluntarily disclose the pollution that their projects will generate and then monitor their own compliance, an approach the committee described as “the concept of utmost good faith.”

Environmentalists are worried that the new approach will go beyond cutting red tape and will do away with effective regulation altogether.

After the jump, good news for orangutans, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now! starting with a plea to lawmakers, a government call for radioactive waste storage bids, renewable energy falls to the wayside as the push for reactor restarts heats up, and litigation challenges one plant’s restart, while China pushes ahead with a swarm of new nuclear plants. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day II: Plutocratic privilege, w/ video

When you’re upbraided by Great Britain’s Lord Chief Justice, the highest of all British judges, it tends to get notice, especially when you’re worth just a bit less than a half billion dollars and you’ve refused to pay the $700,000 fine levied for causing major damage to some of the island’s most ancient woodlands, located adjacent to the site where the stones for Hadrian’s Wall were quarried, to make them more suitable for hunting pheasants and such.

Philip Edward Day’s obstinacy exercised under the pretense of a decision to wait to pay until his appeals were exhausted, was a bit too much for Sir John Thomas [really], the Lord Chief Justice.

His response was, well, a classic instance of truly high dudgeon and the recognition by the land’s judge of judges that. . .well, here’s his own words, reported by the London Telegraph:

“We send people to prison, we do not wait for the outcome of any appeal – why should this be any different?

“It seems to me there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. It is really of concern that a fine of this magnitude has not been paid, in light of the destruction of part of the common heritage of mankind.

“There is no reason why the exchequer should not have had these funds – if the appeal is successful, they would pay it back.”

One group of Britons might be somewhat reassured by his remarks, those who bear the burden of the neoconservative regime which has been of such benefit to such self-entitled raptors as the tree-uprooting Philip Edward Day.

From teleSUR English:

UK students occupy university offices to demand free education

Program notes:

Hundreds of students in the United Kingdom have occupied university offices to demand free higher education. More than twenty universities were taken over by students Thursday and Friday after tuition fees were increased. The student movement is growing and more protests are expected.