Category Archives: Nature

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, critters, & nukes


With begin with an enigma, via the Atlantic Monthly:

The Mysterious Polio-Like Disease Affecting American Kids

  • Doctors are stumped about the condition’s origins—and its treatment

More than 100 cases of a polio-like syndrome causing full or partial paralysis of the arms or legs have been seen in children across the United States in recent months, according to doctors attending the annual meeting of the Child Neurology Society.

Symptoms have ranged from mild weakness in a single arm to complete paralysis of arms, legs, and even the muscles controlling the lungs, leading in some cases to a need for surgery to insert a breathing tube, doctors said.

The outbreak, which appears to be larger and more widespread than what has largely been previously reported by medical and news organizations, has neurologists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scrambling to find out what is causing these cases and how best to treat it.

“We don’t know how to treat it, and we don’t know how to prevent it,” said Keith Van Haren, a child neurologist at Stanford University School of Medicine. “It actually looks just like polio, but that term really freaks out the public-health people.”

And another outbreak spreads, via MercoPress:

France reports four cases of chikungunya locally acquired infections

On 21 October 2014, WHO was notified by the National IHR Focal Point for France of 4 cases of chikungunya locally-acquired infection in Montpellier, France. The cases were confirmed by tests conducted by the French National Reference Laboratory for arboviruses on 20 October 2014. This is the first time that locally-acquired transmission of chikungunya has been detected in France since 2010.

The 4 cases of chikungunya infection occurred within the same family, with symptoms onset between 20 September and 12 October. The cases live in Montpellier in the vicinity of a chikungunya case imported from Cameroon. The cases have no history of travel out of their district of residence in the 15 days prior to the onset of symptoms.

Big Agra, deep pockets, via the Guardian:

Pro-GM labelling campaign hugely outspent in Colorado and Oregon ballot

  • Industry giants are spending more than $25m to defeat campaigns for mandatory GM food labelling in the two states, in the runup to next month’s vote

Biotech and supermarket giants are spending more than $25m (£15.6m) to defeat ballot initiatives in two western states that would require labelling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.

In Colorado, Dupont and Monsanto food companies are outspending supporters of mandatory labelling by 22-1 ahead of the 4 November vote, according to state campaign finance records.

In Oregon, meanwhile, industry is outspending supporters of the ballot measure by about 2-1.

The heavy industry spending resembles the last-minute infusions of cash for television ads, direct mail, and campaign staff that helped defeat earlier campaigns for mandatory GM labelling in California and Washington state.

From the Los Angeles Times, the first of two California Scorched headlines:

A parched farm town is sinking, and so are its residents’ hearts

Beneath this small farm town at the end of what’s left of the Kings River, the ground is sinking.

Going into the fourth year of drought, farmers have pumped so much water that the water table below Stratford fell 100 feet in two years. Land in some spots in the Central Valley has dropped a foot a year.

In July, the town well cracked in three places. Household pipes spit black mud, then pale yellow water. After that, taps were dry for two weeks while the water district patched the steel well casing.

In September, the children of migrant farmworkers who usually come back to Stratford School a few weeks late, after the grape harvest, never came back at all. By October, there were new faces in the drought relief line in front of the school, picking up boxes of applesauce, canned tomatoes, peanut butter, rice.

And the second, via the Los Angeles Times:

For Sierra resident, the well runs dry — along with her options

Things were bad enough for Rochelle Landers before her well went dry. No job. No money for eye glasses or dentures. And now, for the last month and a half, no water.

Landers, a onetime school secretary, does not live in the parched heart of the state: the San Joaquin Valley, where some people get sand when they turn on the faucet.

She has an acre in the Sierra foothills, in a sparsely populated town an hour northeast of Sacramento with a seemingly abundant water supply despite the drought. Except for one thing: Her water comes from a well. And her well, which is shallow, has gone dry.

Last month, when her faucet stopped working, Landers thought her water pump was broken. What did she know? She’d purchased her dilapidated home 18 months earlier, moving back to California after a stint in Virginia. Four men from the drilling company slid the heavy concrete cover off her well and peered inside.

“Can you believe it?” she said. “They charged me $150 to tell me it was dry.”

Going, going, and how soon gone? From the Washington Post:

Collapse of Antarctic ice sheet is underway and unstoppable but will take centuries

The collapse of the giant West Antarctica ice sheet is underway, two groups of scientists said Monday. They described the melting as an unstoppable event that will cause global sea levels to rise higher than projected earlier.

Scientists said the rise in sea level, up to 12 feet, will take centuries to reach its peak and cannot be reversed. But they said a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions could slow the melt, while an increase could speed it slightly.

Warm, naturally occurring ocean water flowing under the glaciers is causing the melt. “We feel it is at the point that it is . . . a chain reaction that’s unstoppable,” regardless of any future cooling or warming of the global climate, said Eric Rignot, a professor of Earth science at the University of California at Irvine. He was the lead author of a NASA-funded study that was one of the two studies released Monday.

The only thing that might have stopped the ice from escaping into the ocean and filling it with more water “is a large hill or mountains,” Rignot said. But “there are no such hills that can slow down this retreat,” he added.

And on a parallel note, via the Ecologist:

Experts ‘stunned’ at how fast oceans are warming

Southern hemisphere oceans are warming at double the expected rate, a new study has found. This may explain why surface warming has slowed over the last decade – the oceans have absorbed the ‘missing’ heat.

Southern Hemisphere ocean temperatures have been rising much more quickly than previously thought, so much so that global ocean warming may have been underestimated by as much as 24 – 55%, according to a new study.

Published by the journal Nature Climate Change and carried out by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the study sought to determine just how much we’ve underestimated long-term upper-ocean warming given the scarcity of data collected on Southern Hemisphere ocean temperature increases.

“It’s likely that due to the poor observational coverage, we just haven’t been able to say definitively what the long-term rate of Southern Hemisphere ocean warming has been”, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Paul Durack.

Likewise, via VICE News:

Here’s How San Francisco is Bracing for Sea Level Rise Estimated to Impact $48 Billion in Assets

San Francisco’s Capital Planning Committee (CPC) has adopted what is being called the most comprehensive guidelines in the nation for preparing for the impacts of sea level rise on a city’s infrastructure.

“This is the first time that I’ve seen a city really actively assessing the risks to new public investments,” Jessica Grannis of Georgetown’s Climate Center told VICE News.

The guidelines assume sea level rise of 11 inches, plus or minus 4 inches, by 2050 and as much as 66 inches by 2100.

San Francisco’s Pacific coastline, the Embarcadero, a roadway and pedestrian promenade along the city’s eastern and northern coastline, the Port of San Francisco, and the San Francisco International Airport already experience periodic flooding.

From CCTV America, a battle for the land:

Indigenous groups fight Illegal logging in Peru

Program notes:

In Peru, officials estimate that nearly 80 percent of the country’s timber exports are harvested illegally. Often this takes place on the lands of local populations where indigenous residents are not only intimidated, but sometimes killed.

Invaders digging in Down Under, via the Guardian:

Biosecurity gaps led to 36 invasive species entering Australia since 2000

  • Invasive Species Council says Australia has not heeded lessons from decision to introduce cane toad in Queensland in 1935

Large gaps in Australia’s biosecurity regime have led to 36 invasive species entering the country since 2000, with potentially ruinous consequences for the environment, documents lodged with the Senate have warned.

Creatures such as the yellow crazy ant, the red-eared slider turtle and the smooth newt have either established themselves in Australia or threaten to do so, while Mexican feathergrass and Myrtle rust pose a threat to Australia’s plant life.

The Invasive Species Council has warned that Australia has not heeded the lessons from the decision to introduce the cane toad in Queensland in 1935, a move that has proved disastrous for native mammals and snakes in northern Australia.

On the wrong track, from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Facing lawsuit, California oil train terminal to shut down

A legal victory in California this week over crude oil operations could have a spillover effect, emboldening critics of crude-by-rail shipments to press their concerns in other jurisdictions.

EarthJustice, a San Francisco-based environmental group, won its battle to halt crude oil train operations in the state as InterState Oil Co., a Sacramento fuel distributor, agreed to stop unloading train shipments of crude oil next month at the former McClellan Air Force Base.

Sacramento County’s top air quality official said his agency mistakenly skirted the state’s environmental rules by issuing a permit for the operation.

EcoWatch covers the inevitable:

Outrage Continues at Susan G. Komen’s ‘Frack for the Cure’ Pinkwashing Campaign

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in what seems to be getting to be a regular occurrence, it’s bringing unwanted awareness to the activities of Susan G. Komen for the Cure (SGK), the behemoth of breast cancer charities, founded in 1982.

Charges of “pinkwashing”—slapping their pink-ribbon logo on hundreds of items manufactured in their signature hot pink—reached a whole new level earlier this month when a story came out that the foundation had made a deal with Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes to launch a “Doing Our Bit for the Cure” campaign. The centerpiece of the campaign is painting 1,000 fracking drill bits hot pink and packing them with information about breast cancer which presumably the mostly male oilfield workers will devour eagerly. “Baker Hughes supports Susan G. Komen’s Mission to End Breast Cancer Forever,” the campaign website proclaimed.

“For the second consecutive year, Baker Hughes is donating $100,000 to support Susan G. Komen, the world’s leading breast cancer organization,” said Baker Hughes. “The year-long partnership with Komen is an extension of the company’s participation each year in the Komen Houston Race for the Cure, where Baker Hughes sponsors the Survivor Pin Celebration. This year, the company will paint and distribute a total of 1,000 pink drill bits worldwide. The pink bits serve as a reminder of the importance of supporting research, treatment, screening and education to help find the cures for this disease, which claims a life every 60 seconds.”

From RT, the perfect transition to Fukushimapocalypse Now!:

Insulated undies: Radiation-proof, sperm-friendly boxers launched

While harm from cell-phone rays has so far been lacking sufficient scientific proof, a US firm wants men to take no chances with radiation – at least when it comes to the most precious of male body parts.

Boxer shorts made with the use of thin silver textile “absorb radiation” will help “protect men’s reproductive organs and maintain fertility health,” according to their producer, Manhattan-based Belly Armor company.

It only launched its male underwear sales this week, but among the company’s earlier products are radiation-proof blankets, belly bands and tops for pregnant women and nursing mothers.

From Reuters, yeah, what could be wrong with that?:

Japan’s Suga: See no problem with trade minister holding Tepco shares

Japan’s top government spokesman said on Friday he does not see any problem with the trade minister holding shares of Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that newly appointed trade minister Yoichi Miyazawa is following the appropriate procedures for holding the shares during his tenure based on rules for ministers.

Miyazawa said on Thursday that his political support group spent funds at a sado-masochism-themed bar in his home district and that he owned shares in the power company, known as Tepco.

Miyazawa said earlier on Friday that there is no change in his stance towards Tepco despite his owning shares in the firm.

Protesting with Jiji Press:

Radioactive Waste Facility Surveys Put Off Again in Miyagi

The Environment Ministry, again on Saturday, failed to begin drilling surveys in three candidate sites in Miyagi Prefecture for a final facility to store radioactive waste produced by the March 2011 nuclear accident.

As was on Friday, a survey team in the town of Kami, where one of the candidate sites is located, was blocked from entering the site by some 60 protesters.

Also in the city of Kurihara and the town of Taiwa, the ministry refrained from taking soil samples to study geographic conditions.

In the northeastern prefecture, the ministry selected government-owned land tracts in the three municipalities as candidate sites to dump waste tainted with fallout from the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s <9501> Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Reuters foreshadows:

Japan warns of increased activity at volcano near nuclear plant

Japan warned on Friday that a volcano in southern Japan located roughly 64 km (40 miles) from a nuclear plant was showing signs of increased activity that could possibly lead to a small-scale eruption and warned people to stay away from the summit.

The warning comes nearly a month after another volcano, Mt Ontake, erupted suddenly when crowded with hikers, killing 57 people in Japan’s worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years.

Ioyama, a mountain on the southwestern island of Kyushu, has been shaken by small tremors and other signs of rising volcanic activity recently, including a tremor lasting as long as seven minutes, an official at the Japan Meteorological Agency’s volcano division said.

For our final item, NHK WORLD hedges its bets:

Japan to ratify nuclear compensation treaty

The Japanese government decided at a cabinet meeting on Friday to seek Diet approval for a treaty to share liability with other countries in compensation for nuclear accidents.

The government will ask the Diet to approve the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage during the current session.

Five countries, including the United States, have signed the treaty. The pact will take effect once it is ratified by Japan.

The treaty obliges each signatory to set aside at least 430 million dollars in the event of a nuclear accident.

If the cost of paying compensation for an accident in Japan exceeds that reserve, the other signatories would provide an additional 65 million dollars.

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.