Category Archives: Nature

EnviroWatch: Heat, water woes, power hunger


We open with a scorcher from The Hill:

NASA: August 2014 hottest on record

The globe just experienced its hottest recorded August, according to new data released by NASA on Monday.

While last month is ranked the No. 1 August by temperature, the difference among the top five is fewer than .03 degrees Celsius, NASA said in an email to The Hill.

All together, summer 2014 ranked fourth out of the warmest summers on record.

One consequence of heat, via the Guardian:

Where the wildfires are: if there’s smoke, there are costly health problems

  • Scientists fear that climate change could lead to more wildfires – and to lingering, expensive, public health crises as smoke spreads thousands of miles away from the actual fire sites

There are plenty of immediate concerns in a fire: protecting homes and businesses, saving lives, limiting the number of acres consumed and so on. But increasingly, researchers and policymakers are finding that the lingering health and safety impacts of wildfires may be far more worrisome – and more widespread.

Smoke, after all, can travel any way the wind takes it, exacerbating an array of health problems in cities hundreds of miles from the original fire. In 2002, for example, a fire in Canada caused a 30-fold increase in fine particulate matter in the air in Baltimore, 1,000 miles away.

According to Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist with the health and environment program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), that level of air pollution can contribute to a variety of respiratory and cardiac issues and has even been correlated with premature death and low birth weights. In a 2011 study, conducted in partnership with researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at San Francisco, Knowlton found that more than 760,000 encounters with the health system between 2000 and 2009 could be attributed to exposure to wildfire smoke.

These health problems carried a steep price tag: $740,000 in direct healthcare costs and more than $14bn in overall health costs once the value of lives lost prematurely was factored in. The 2003 wildfire season in southern California alone resulted in 69 premature deaths, 778 hospitalizations, 1,431 emergency room visits, and 47,605 outpatient visits, mostly for respiratory and cardiovascular health problems aggravated by smoke exposure.

From the Associated Press, control of the commons contested:

EPA administrator pushes for water rules

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday she’s not backing down on her agency’s efforts to implement a new rule that would assert regulatory authority over many of the nation’s streams and wetlands despite criticisms that it amounts to a federal water grab.

The U.S. House approved a bill last week that would block the agency from moving forward with the rule, which aims to clarify the streams and waterways that could be protected from development under the Clean Water Act.

McCarthy denied the rule would expand the jurisdiction of the act, but she said it’s time — given drought pressures in the West and the effects of climate change — to clarify some of the act’s provisions to make them more understandable and to establish regulatory certainty when it comes to drinking water supplies.

From the Guardian, a phenomenon resurgent:

California water witches see big business as the drought drags on

  • Dowsers, sometimes known as ‘water witches,’ are in high demand in drought-stricken California, where four dry years find farmers and vintners taking desperate measures

As California rounds the corner towards a four-year historic drought, many farmers and vintners have become completely reliant on groundwater. After divvying surface water allotments to satisfy urban, ecosystem and industrial needs, farmers in many parts of the state received little or no irrigation water from state agencies this year. In a normal year, allotments would cover roughly two-thirds of farmers’ needs.

Under these severe drought conditions, the success or failure of a well can mean the success or failure of a farm or vineyard, so before the drill bit hits the dirt, landowners need an educated guess as to where to find the most productive well site on their property. To get that, they can call in a professional hydrogeologist, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars – or they can drop a fraction of the cost on a dowser.

Despite a distinct lack of empirical evidence regarding dowsers’ efficacy, demand is high and dowsers’ phones are ringing off the hook.

From the Guardian, a mixed fracking report card:

Drinking water contaminated by shale gas boom in Texas and Pennsylvania

  • Faulty natural gas well casings blamed in study for methane leakage in Barnett Shale and the Marcellus formation

The natural gas boom resulting from fracking has contaminated drinking water in Texas and Pennsylvania, a new study said on Monday.

However, the researchers said the gas leaks were due to defective gas well production – and were not a direct result of horizontal drilling, or fracking.

The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences validated some of the concerns raised by homeowners in the Barnett Shale of Texas and the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania about natural gas leaking into their water supply.

On a parallel note with BBC News:

Water stress may curtail fracking, says WRI

Water shortages could hinder fracking for shale oil and gas in many parts of the world, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has said.

In the first report of its kind, the WRI found that 38% of the world’s shale resources were in arid areas or in those with severe water stress.

Accessing fresh water was likely to present “serious challenges”, it said.

Until now, concerns about fracking and water have focused on contamination of local supplies.

Killing with our cultural excreta, via the Guardian:

Plastic rubbish from land, not ships, killing Australian sea life, say scientists

  • Research shows three-quarters of rubbish was plastic and debris concentrated near cities

Mounds of plastic rubbish along Australia’s coastline are growing and killing wildlife which is ingesting or becoming ensnared in it, researchers say.

Scientists visited more than 170 sites along the coast and found about three-quarters of the rubbish was plastic from the land, not vessels on the ocean, and debris was concentrated near cities.

The density of plastic ranged from a few thousand pieces per square kilometre to more than 40,000 pieces, a CSIRO scientist, Denise Hardesty, said.

More Down Under water woes with the Guardian:

Great Barrier Reef plan ‘not enough to ward off UN in-danger listing’

  • Federal and Queensland government proposal to improve water quality ‘little more than business as usual’, say environmentalists

A plan to improve the Great Barrier Reef’s water quality and conserve species such as turtles may not be enough to stave off a United Nations “in danger” listing for the ecosystem, environmentalists have warned.

The draft Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan, a joint strategy by the federal and Queensland governments, has been released in an attempt to satisfy Unesco, which has warned it may place the reef on its list of threatened sites in 2015.

Port developers, the agriculture industry and environment groups helped draft the plan.

The plan stipulates a 50% reduction in nitrogen and a 60% drop in pesticides flowing on to the reef by 2018. There is also a protection plan for dugongs and turtles and a commitment to prioritise “functional ecosystems critical to reef health”.

On the contentious issue of dredging the seabed and dumping it within the Great Barrier Reef’s waters, there is a commitment to prohibit dredging within the world heritage area for new ports for the next 10 years as well as a “code of practice” for dredging.

Water woes on the subcontinent with The Diplomat:

Cleaning Up the Ganges

  • Narendra Modi will need more than just rhetoric to clean up India’s most important river.

Already, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cleanup plan for the Ganges river has come in for criticism from various quarters. The sharpest censure came recently from India’s Supreme Court, which observed that the government’s action plan may not result in a clean Ganges “even after 200 years.”

The apex court has ordered the government to provide a cleanup plan with stages and a schedule.

Promises to clean the Ganges figured in Modi’s election speeches and in his party’s election manifesto. Soon after coming to power in May, he signaled that the Ganges would be a priority by creating a Ministry for Water Resources, River Development and Ganges Rejuvenation. A flurry of meetings followed. In July, the government announced “Namami Ganga,” (in Sanskrit it means “obeisance to the Ganges”), an Integrated Ganges Development Project, and allocated around $334 million for it. It promised a clean Ganges in three years.

However, little is known about the Ganges project or what it entails.

A anthropogenic die-off after an exceptionally long run, via the Guardian:

Wild Chinese sturgeon on brink of extinction in polluted Yangtze

  • The fish has survived for 140m years but failed to reproduce last year according to Chinese researchers

The wild Chinese sturgeon is at risk of extinction after none of the rare fish were detected reproducing naturally in the polluted and crowded Yangtze river last year.

One of the world’s oldest living species, the wild Chinese sturgeon is thought to have existed for more than 140m years but has seen its numbers crash as China’s economic boom has brought pollution, dams and boat traffic along the world’s third-longest river.

For the first time since researchers began keeping records 32 years ago, there was no natural reproduction of wild Chinese sturgeon in 2013, according to a report published by the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences.

The Guardian, with another riverine threat:

Drought bites as Amazon’s ‘flying rivers’ dry up

  • Scientists say deforestation and climate change responsible for forests not producing vapour clouds that bring rain to Brazil, reports Climate News Network

The unprecedented drought now affecting São Paulo, South America’s giant metropolis, is believed to be caused by the absence of the “flying rivers” – the vapour clouds from the Amazon that normally bring rain to the centre and south of Brazil.

Some Brazilian scientists say the absence of rain that has dried up rivers and reservoirs in central and southeast Brazil is not just a quirk of nature, but a change brought about by a combination of the continuing deforestation of the Amazon and global warming.

This combination, they say, is reducing the role of the Amazon rainforest as a giant “water pump”, releasing billions of litres of humidity from the trees into the air in the form of vapour.

From New Europe, an attack on anthropocentric arrogance:

EU leads an international demarche against whaling by Iceland

  • Countries asked Iceland to respect the IWC’s global moratorium and end its commercial whaling

The EU, its 28 Member States and the governments of the United States, Australia, Brazil, Israel, New Zealand, Mexico and Monaco, today declared their opposition to the fact that the Icelandic government still permits commercial whaling, in particular the hunting of fin whales and the subsequent trading of fin whale products.

The EU’s Ambassador to Iceland, Matthias Brinkmann, along with the diplomatic representatives of the United States, France, Germany and the UK delivered a demarche to this effect to the Icelandic government this morning. The Ambassador also pointed out that public opinion in the countries that are Iceland’s main trading partners is very much against the practise of whaling.  This is evidenced by the public pressure put on companies around the world to boycott Icelandic goods, not to mention the pressure that voters and various organisations put on their politicians, encouraging them to send Iceland an increasingly stronger message.

Reuters documents another case of biological and ultimately suicidal form of corporate arrogance:

Farmaceuticals

  • Documents reveal how poultry firms systematically feed antibiotics to flocks
  • Pervasive use fuels concerns about impact on human health, emergence of resistant superbugs

Major U.S. poultry firms are administering antibiotics to their flocks far more pervasively than regulators realize, posing a potential risk to human health.

Internal records examined by Reuters reveal that some of the nation’s largest poultry producers routinely feed chickens an array of antibiotics – not just when sickness strikes, but as a standard practice over most of the birds’ lives.

In every instance of antibiotic use identified by Reuters, the doses were at the low levels that scientists say are especially conducive to the growth of so-called superbugs, bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines used to treat people. Some of the antibiotics belong to categories considered medically important to humans.

The internal documents contain details on how five major companies  – Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, George’s and Koch Foods – medicate some of their flocks.

The documented evidence of routine use of antibiotics for long durations was “astonishing,” said Donald Kennedy, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner.

For our final item and from MintPress News, consumptive media:

Report: “Critical Action” Needed To Fight Enormous Energy Waste At Data Centers

Data centers consume colossal amounts of energy and water, with most waste — largely stemming from operating inefficiencies — actually coming from the country’s millions of small data centers.

Data centers are wasting electricity so excessively that only “critical action” can prevent the pollution and rate hikes that some U.S. regions could eventually suffer as a result of power plant construction intended to ensure that the ravenous facilities are well-fed, a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Anthesis warns.

The report, “Scaling Up Energy Efficiency Across the Data Center Industry: Evaluating Key Drivers and Barriers” [PDF], was issued on Aug. 26. Data centers, which number in the millions, are collections of servers (in-house or otherwise) which store and process data for businesses as ordinary as real estate firms or as large as social media platforms like Facebook.

The NRDC report describes the inefficient approach to server management common in practically all U.S. businesses, and recommends a variety of actions to save energy by tackling those inefficiencies.

EbolaWatch: Religion, promises, measures, death


We open with a rather chilling video, shot on the streets of Liberia’s capital, in which Christian fundamentalists conduct a very risky [note the touching] faith-healing prayer session around a prone Ebola patient.

From RadioAfrica:

LIBERIA:(RELIGION AND THE FIGHT AGAINST EBOLA)

Program notes:

Group of Liberians Evangelist prays over a suspected Ebola patient. All facing the possibility of contracting the deadly virus.

On to the hard news, first with the Associated Press:

UN Security Council to meet on Ebola

The United States called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council Thursday on the Ebola crisis in West Africa, saying the situation on the ground is “dire” and getting worse every day.

U.S. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said the United States has asked the 193 U.N. member states to come to the meeting with “concrete commitments” to tackle the outbreak, especially in hardest-hit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

“The trendlines in this crisis are grave, and without immediate international action we are facing the potential for a public health crisis that could claim lives on a scale far greater than current estimates, and set the countries of West Africa back a generation,” Power told reporters on Monday. “This is a perilous crisis but one we can contain if the international community comes together to meet it head on.”

Word from Washington leaked, via Reuters:

Obama to detail plans on Ebola offensive on Tuesday: WSJ

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to detail on Tuesday a plan to boost his country’s involvement in mitigating the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

The plan would involve a greater involvement of the U.S. military in tackling the worst recorded outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the proposal.

The U.S. government has already committed around $100 million to tackle the outbreak by providing protective equipment for healthcare workers, food, water, medical and hygiene equipment.

Obama could ask Congress for an additional $88 million to fund his proposal, the WSJ reported. Plan details are expected during Obama’s visit Tuesday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

More from Science:

U.S. government set to announce surge of help for Ebola epidemic

A week after sharp criticism met the U.S. military’s announcement that it planned to help Liberia combat its Ebola epidemic with a “deployable hospital” that has a mere 25 beds, U.S. President Barack tomorrow plans to unveil dramatic new efforts to assist the West African countries besieged by the disease.

Obama, who will be visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to discuss the U.S. response, likely will announce plans to send more deployable hospitals, critical medical supplies like personal protective gear, and doctors and other healthcare workers who can care for infected people and help contain spread. (A  U.S. Senate hearing on Ebola will also take place tomorrow with testimony from key public officials and Ebola survivor Ken Brantly.)

Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), spoke with ScienceInsider on Friday and said she expected there would be “a substantial surge” in the U.S. government’s assistance. She particularly wants to see more attention paid to providing infected people with good care. “There’s a very, very wide variability in what’s being delivered as clinical care,” says Lurie, noting that case fatality rates differ dramatically  in different locations. “We know that simple interventions are likely to save the most lives.”

From the Associated Press, a question:

US works to step up Ebola aid, but is it enough?

The American strategy on Ebola is two-pronged: Step up desperately needed aid to West Africa and, in an unusual step, train U.S. doctors and nurses for volunteer duty in the outbreak zone. At home, the goal is to speed up medical research and put hospitals on alert should an infected traveler arrive.

Amid criticism that the world still is not acting fast enough against the surging Ebola epidemic, President Barack Obama travels Tuesday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss the outbreak with health officials who’ve been there.

Also Tuesday, a Senate hearing will examine the U.S. response. An American missionary doctor who survived the disease is scheduled to testify.

The administration hasn’t said how big a role the military ultimately will play — and it’s not clear how quickly additional promised help will arrive in West Africa.

Trooping in, via the Monrovia [Liberia] Inquirer:

U.S. Military To Build 25-Bedroom Ebola Hospital

It has been disclosed in Monrovia that the United States (US) Military will build a 25-bedoom hospital in the country to buttress efforts aimed at fighting the Ebola virus.     United State Ambassador accredited near Monrovia, Madam Debra Malac, said discussions are ongoing as where the hospital should be built but was certain that it would be constructed in Montserrado County.

Ambassador Malac addressing the weekly Press Briefing at the Ministry of Information said the unprecedented outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in West Africa is an International Security priority for the U.S. Government and as such they will continue to be engaged in the region to eradicate the disease.

The U.S. Envoy said, “This is the worst outbreak of this virus in 40 years since it was first discovered. We defeated it and this time we will defeat it again. We will stop Ebola and it will take more work.”

Here’s a video report on her press conference from FrontPageAfrica:

FPA WEB TV: Uncle Sam’s Ebola AID

Program note:

U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Debora Malac outlines how much financial assistance in kind and in dollars the U.S. has contributed to the West Africa Ebola Outbreak.

From the Monrovia Inquirer, another hospital inaugurated:

Save The Children Constructs Central Region 1st Ebola Treatment Unit

Save the Children has turned over a 50-bed Ebola Treatment facility in Suakoko, Bong County worth about US$170,000 intended to serve the central region as part of its contribution to the national fight against the spread of the virus in other parts of the country.

The construction of the ETU which is a project solely undertaken by Save the Children according to its acting Country Director, Mercy Gichuhi who turned over the unit, was as a result of a request made to them from the local health team of Bong County.

Madam Gichihi said Save the Children believes that the construction of the health facility will go a long way in responding to the health need in that region and that Phebe Hospital focuses more on primary health care and at the same time give confidence to the health workers who will know that they have a place to refer confirmed Ebola patients.

Al Jazeera English covers critical context:

Nigeria’s weak health sector confronts Ebola

Spread of Ebola contained, but health system is having trouble dealing with treatable diseases which kill thousands.

Africa’s biggest oil producer and largest economy has one of the world’s highest child and maternal mortality rates. In 2012, an estimated 827,000 children under five died, while the reported maternal mortality rate was 550 per 100,000 live births, according to UNICEF.

Most of Nigeria’s childhood deaths are due to preventable or curable diseases: mainly malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhoea. Primary healthcare, run by local governments – Nigeria’s smallest unit of government – is tasked with handling these common illnesses.

The level of care in each centre varies, but generally, primary facilities do not have enough health workers, supplies, equipment, training, or transport – including ambulances to take patients to state or federal hospitals, says Michael Asuzu, a public health and epidemiology professor at the University of Ibadan.

From BBC News, a Brit on the scene:

Ebola virus: ‘Biological war’ in Liberia

With warnings from officials that the Ebola virus is “spreading like wildfire” in Liberia, Sarah Crowe, who works for the UN children’s agency (Unicef), describes her week on the Ebola front line:

Flights into disaster zones are usually full of aid workers and journalists. Not this time.

The plane was one of the first in after some 10 airlines stopped flying to Liberia because of Ebola, and still it was empty.

When I was last in Liberia in 2006, it was to work on reintegration of child soldiers in a time of peace. Now the country is fighting a “biological war” from an unseen enemy without foot soldiers.

As we enter the airport, an unnerving sight – a team of health workers kitted out with masks and gloves asks us to wash our hands with a chlorine solution and takes our temperatures.

A parallel set of American eyes from the Washington Post:

A virus hunter faces the big one: Ebola

Joseph Fair hunts viruses. That’s his thing. The 37-year-old American loves chasing dangerous pathogens, studying them in secure labs or searching for them in jungles where the microbes lurk.

And one virus has always loomed as the big one — Ebola. The scientists who first chased this dreaded microbe back in the ‘80s and ‘90s became legends, inspiring a generation of virologists like Fair. He read their books and papers. He studied how they contained the pathogen’s spread. And the scientists always won. The outbreaks ended, Ebola driven away.

So when the call came in March to travel to Sierra Leone, Fair was excited. He loved Mama Salone, as locals know the nation. He’d worked here for years. His new job: to advise Sierra Leone’s government on a tiny Ebola outbreak in neighboring Guinea, at the behest of the U.S. Defense Department. He set up an Ebola emergency operations center. He trained medical staff. He drew up just-in-case plans. By mid-May, the outbreak seemed on its way out. Fair packed his bags and left.

Then Ebola exploded.

From FrontPageAfrica, high-level visitors take a pre-opening hospital tour:

FPA WEB TV: ‘Liberia Will Beat Ebola’

Program notes:

World Health Organization (WHO) team tours the soon-to-be completed 120-Bed Ebola Clinic at the Island Clinic in Monrovia. WHO and its partners have supported construction of this new centre, which will be able to provide treatment for 120 patients at a time. Additional centers for about 400 more patients will be completed in the coming weeks.

BBC News covers a donation:

Ebola outbreak: Malaysia sends W Africa medical gloves

Malaysia plans to donate more than 20 million protective rubber gloves to five African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak, the government says.

They will be distributed among medical workers in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A shortage of protective equipment has been one factor in the virus spreading.

Joseph Harker asks a question we’ve also entertained, via the Guardian:

Why are western health workers with Ebola flown out, but locals left to die?

  • The death of Dr Olivet Buck after the WHO refused to fly her out of Sierra Leone is not just wrong: it’s making the Ebola epidemic worse

My brother-in-law, Albert, is a GP based in the West Midlands. His sister Olivet Buck was a doctor too: though her work was quite different. She practised in the land of their birth, Sierra Leone. For the past few months she was fighting in the desperate battle against Ebola ravaging parts of her country. Last Tuesday came the awful news that she’d caught the virus.

To save her life, local campaigners called for her to be evacuated to Germany to receive treatment – all three previous doctors who had caught the disease in the country had died. Sierra Leone’s president backed her, saying that a hospital in Hamburg was “in readiness to receive her”. Last Friday, though, the World Health Organisation said it would not allow her to leave Sierra Leone, and refused to fund the move. Desperate attempts were made to try to overturn this decision but on Sunday came the news everyone was dreading: Olivet had died.

Albert, distraught, told me: “I shall never stop weeping at all our loss. Olivet was a truly remarkable person. She died because she would not forsake her service to others.”

But the death of Olivet, a 59-year-old mother of three, raises wider questions about how the world responds to the Ebola crisis, and how it protects those working closest to stop its spread.

Despite the fate of the previous doctors, the WHO had said merely that it would work to give Buck “the best care possible” in Sierra Leone.

However, foreign health and aid workers have been sent abroad from Sierra Leone and Liberia for treatment – including the British nurse William Pooley, who survived and now wishes to go back to Sierra Leone to continue helping to fight the disease. Only last Friday, two Dutch doctors were flown home after coming into contact with infected patients.

But so far no local health workers have been evacuated: even though, according to the WHO, in west Africa 301 have so far caught Ebola and 144 have died. Dr Sheik Humarr Khan, Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor, was being considered for evacuation to a European country when he died of the disease in late July.

More from the Associated Press:

Sierra Leone: WHO too slow to help doc with Ebola

Sierra Leone accused the World Health Organization on Monday of being “sluggish” in facilitating an evacuation of a doctor who died from Ebola before she could be sent out of the country for medical care.

Dr. Olivet Buck died Saturday, hours after the U.N. health agency said it could not help evacuate her to Germany.

Buck is the fourth Sierra Leonean doctor to die in an outbreak that has also touched Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal. The West African outbreak has been blamed for more than 2,400 deaths, and experts say it is out of control. The U.S. has called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council for this week to discuss the crisis.

At a heated news conference Monday, a Sierra Leonean government official read a statement saying that the Buck is the second doctor from that country to die because negotiations on evacuation had dragged on. Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, the country’s top Ebola expert, was being considered for evacuation when he died of the disease in July.

From the Kampala, Uganda, Daily Monitor, a warning:

Tanzania at high risk of Ebola outbreak

Last week, the Tanzanian government assured the public of its unwavering commitment to keeping Ebola out after standard thermal scanners to detect Ebola suspects were installed at four major airports-Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar-es-Salaam, Kilimanjaro International Airport, Zanzibar and Mwanza.

At the weekend, Health ministry authorities were hard at work allaying fears of an outbreak in Tanzania. But a new study titled “Mapping the zoonotic niche of Ebola virus disease in Africa” has raised the alarm in Tanzania and other countries across Africa where Ebola has never been reported.

It suggests that governments in those countries should start thinking of new ways to deal with the Ebola threat beyond targeting major airports and seaports. The researchers, who published the findings in eLife Journal this week, believe the Ebola virus is thriving in wild animals, which are its major reservoir. Tanzania, Burundi and 13 other African countries where no case of Ebola has been reported so far are home to wild animals.

Public Radio International makes that critical point:

This American doctor says racism is to blame for the slow response to the Ebola outbreak

Why has the global response to the Ebola outbreak been so slow? “I think it’s racism,” says Dr. Joia Mukherjee.

“I think it’s easy for the world — the powerful world, who are largely non-African, non-people of color — to ignore the suffering of poor, black people,” says Mukherjee, a professor at Harvard Medical School and chief medical officer at the Boston-based non-profit Partners in Health.

Race isn’t the only reason she believes it’s easy to dismiss the issues. “I think it’s also classism,” she says. “These are not countries that contribute massively to the global economy, so it’s easy to just otherize this problem.”

In that context, consider this from a country where a disproportionately large percentage of those in need of assistance are African American, via Salon:

Arizona GOPer quits after disgusting comment — but there’s a catch

  • Russell Pearce called for sterilizing Medicaid recipients. It’s gross, but here’s why the problem’s bigger than him

Pearce’s proposal was abhorrent, but it also laid bare the dehumanizing logic of Republican programs that punish the poor. If the GOP wants to distance itself from punitive and invasive policies that hurt low-income families, they should look in the mirror and start slowly backing away from their reflections.

A few things here. Pearce’s idea isn’t new. The United States has an ugly history of forced or otherwise coerced sterilization against people of color, the poor and others considered “unfit to procreate,” including rape victims and people with disabilities. Between 1907 and 1980, nearly 65,000 Americans were sterilized under state-sponsored programs. In total, 31 states had sterilization programs that directly targeted welfare recipients. North Carolina recently acted to compensate victims of its forced sterilization program, which specifically targeted black women and children. (And last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that nearly 150 women in California’s prison system were sterilized between 2006 and 2010, often without their knowledge or consent. The state legislature acted this year to end the program.)

That said, Pearce isn’t the only Republican to float the idea of coercively sterilizing welfare recipients in recent years. And his proposal is hardly the only assault on low-income families in the state. Arizona, you’ll remember, is where Shanesha Taylor was arrested after leaving her children in the car so she could attend a job interview.

From Punch Nigeria, help wanted:

ECOWAS seeks support for research

The Economic Community of West African States has appealed to its partners to support the regional initiatives aimed at strengthening epidemiological and therapeutic research as well as surveillance and improvements in health facilities in order to prevent and control the Ebola Virus Disease.

The sub-continental body called for support for the Regional Solidarity Fund to fight Ebola and welcomed the pledges made by some multilateral and bilateral partners to support some of the affected countries.

Speaking at the opening of the 10th edition of the ECOWAS/Development Partners Annual Coordination meeting at the ECOWAS Secretariat on Monday, in Abuja, President of the Commission, Mr. Kadre Ouedraogo, said the group welcomed the coordinated approach adopted to combat the viral disease through the World Health Organisation.

StarAfrica covers another donation:

China donates 80mn francs worth of Ebola prevention materials to Mali

The Malian president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has returned from his trip to China with a CFA 80 million francs worth medical material aimed at backing his government’s efforts to prevent the Ebola virus from entering the country, the Malian presidency disclosed Sunday.

The Chinese donation includes 1,000 sprays, 1,000 protective gears, 30 medically-equipped isolation tents, 600 protective masks, 600 shoes and 1,000 thermometers.

The Malian press reported recently the complaints of the medical staff deployed in Bamako road station where passengers from Ebola-hit neighboring Guinea are hosted.

The medical staff had lamented a lack of protective means which increases the risk of contagion.

From Punch Nigeria, a reminder about a key player:

Private sector in the first line of battle

The management of the Ebola Virus Disease has cost the Federal Government N2.1bn so far. Last month, a sum of N1.9bn was released to the Federal Ministry of Health for disbursement to the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Lagos State, as the first epicentre of the outbreak, also got a separate N200m support from the Federal Government.

The funds, no doubt, are a drop in the ocean in providing Personal Protective Equipment discarded daily after use by health workers in isolation centres across the country; intravenous fluid and other drugs for infected people, diagnostic machines, daily payment for volunteers and other sundry expenses attached to the management of the virus.

Ahead of the September 22 resumption date for all primary and post primary schools in the country, a coalition of players in the private sector are seeking for an active participation in preventing a future outbreak of the EVD, especially in congested communities across the country.

The Guardian questions:

As Ebola closes schools in Africa, how do we help children learn?

  • As Ebola robs children of schooling, the seeds are being sown for continued problems. Vigilance and flexibility may be our best response to the virus

In response to the growing threat of Ebola across west Africa, the governments of Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have closed their schools. The closures are only temporary, but that could change if the spread of the virus continues and accelerates.

As of 12 September, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are facing widespread and intense transmission of Ebola (about 100 to 200 new cases per country per week). In other affected countries, the outbreak has been more localised. But in each affected areas the threat could expand rapidly, and there are credible predictions that Ebola could migrate to 15 additional countries and infect more than 20,000 people.

With that prognosis, closing schools is an understandable and prudent step to protect children and their families from exposure. The most immediate priority is to put out a raging and growing fire that threatens to affect more lives and territory.

And the Kampala, Uganda, Daily Monitor throws another handful of sand into gearbox:

Residents uproot cassava in fear of floods

Farmers in Omoro Sub-county, Alebtong District have begun uprooting their cassava, fearing it might rot in gardens. The move follows persistent rains that have caused flooding in the area.

Farmers who spoke to Daily Monitor said uprooting the cassava might save them from totally losing out as other crops have been washed away by floods.

As a measure, residents are drying their crops on roof tops and others have constructed high raise houses where they can temporarily sleep as they wait for floods to reduce.

And from StarAfrica, our final item and another critical bit of context:

Namibia ropes in Ethiopian pharmacists to address shortage

Currently, Namibia has 55 pharmacists working in the public health sector, of which ten are Namibians while the rest are expatriates.

With the population of just over two million, the country needs at least 1000 pharmacists, as in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended ration.

In 2012, the University of Namibia established a School of Pharmacy, an edition to the Medical School, which the Health Minister said are part of the country’s long-term effort to address the shortage of qualified health personnel.

EnviroWatch: Climate, water woes, power


A shorter than usual assemblage today because Sunday was, how to say, a slow news day.

We begin with the latest episode of Moyers & Company, offering a religious perspective on climate change that doesn’t come from the far right:

Climate Change — Faith and Fact

Program notes:

The latest in a string of dire reports on climate change came this week from the United Nations’ meteorological advisory body, which said that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2013, due to a “surge” in carbon dioxide, prompting fears of an accelerated warming of the planet.

A majority of Americans think global warming is real and that human activity’s a factor, believing in the science behind reports on climate change. But some two-thirds of white evangelical Christians aren’t convinced.

In the face of those who use religion to deny the worldwide crisis of climate change, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian, believes that her faith is compatible with science. This week she speaks to Bill about ending the gridlock between politics, science and faith in order to find solutions to the widespread threats associated with global warming.

“…The New Testament talks about how faith is the evidence of things not seen,” says Hayhoe, who was recently named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. “By definition, science is the evidence of things that are seen, that can be observed, that are quantifiable. And so that’s why I see faith and science as two sides of the same coin.”

The Guardian covers California agrarian water woes:

Alarm as almond farms consume California’s water

  • Extreme drought and soaring global demand is threatening supplies of one of the world’s favourite snacks

Touted as the ultimate superfood and an essential ingredient in everything from mezze to marzipan: the humble almond has never been so popular. But with prices at a nine-year high, almonds are in the frontline of a battle over water as California struggles to cope with one of its worst-ever droughts – stoking fears of an almond shortage over Christmas.

Californian farmers, estimated to grow around 80% of the world’s almonds, have been accused of siphoning off groundwater at the expense of the state’s future water reserves.

As rivers and lakes have dried up, with more than 80% of the state in the grip of “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, the state’s farmers have resorted to pumping groundwater – underground reserves – to nourish almond trees, vineyards and orchards. David Zetland, economics professor at Leiden University College in the Netherlands, says farmers are pumping water at a rate four to five times greater than can be replenished: “The people of the state of California are more or less destroying themselves in order to give cheap almonds to the world.”

From United Press International, global water woes to come:

Fracking may put drinking water supply at risk for many countries, study finds

  • Fracking is said to use 7 billion gallons of water a year just in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and North Dakota alone

A new study by the World Resources Institute finds that many places with water scarcity are using too much of their resources on fracking. “Eight of the top 20 countries with the largest shale gas resources face arid conditions or high to extremely high baseline water stress where the shale resources are located; this includes China, Algeria, Mexico, South Africa, Libya, Pakistan, Egypt, and India,” the study states. The United States is also at risk, according to the study, since many of the places inside the United States that are good for fracking are going through a drought or generally have low water supply.

To drill a fracking well takes 5 million gallons of water, on average. States like Texas have a strong fracking industry, but lack of water supplies has forced frackers to import water from elsewhere to continue their business.

The study states that China faces water scarcity in 61 percent of its available fracking locations, Argentina is at 72 percent and the United Kingdom is at 34 percent. The report recommends water risk assessments before drilling, increased transparency of fracking company actions, cooperation between companies and governments and lowering freshwater use in fracking.

From the New York Times, a pattern shifts:

Sun and Wind Alter Global Landscape, Leaving Utilities Behind

Of all the developed nations, few have pushed harder than Germany to find a solution to global warming. And towering symbols of that drive are appearing in the middle of the North Sea.

They are wind turbines, standing as far as 60 miles from the mainland, stretching as high as 60-story buildings and costing up to $30 million apiece. On some of these giant machines, a single blade roughly equals the wingspan of the largest airliner in the sky, the Airbus A380. By year’s end, scores of new turbines will be sending low-emission electricity to German cities hundreds of miles to the south.

It will be another milestone in Germany’s costly attempt to remake its electricity system, an ambitious project that has already produced striking results: Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Many smaller countries are beating that, but Germany is by far the largest industrial power to reach that level in the modern era. It is more than twice the percentage in the United States

The Associated Press covers a call to spare the air:

Chinese march against incinerator for 2nd day

Residents in a southern Chinese town protested against a proposed garbage incinerator for a second straight day Sunday, according to witnesses, as police said ringleaders of earlier demonstrations that saw clashes with police should surrender.

Hundreds of people gathered on a long street in front of the offices of the government in Guangdong province’s Boluo county, with anti-riot police standing by, three residents said. They gave only their surnames, Chen, Huang and Wang, out of fear of reprisals from authorities.

The protest is the latest to highlight how Chinese have become increasingly wary of the environmental hazards of industrial projects but still lack public forums to voice their concerns and affect the government’s decision-making process.

And for our final item, via the Japan Times nuclear uncertainty:

Power companies mull further rate hikes with reactors on hold

A year after the nation’s last nuclear reactor was taken offline, utilities are exploring additional hikes in electricity prices as the cost of offsetting the loss of atomic power continues to climb.

On Sept. 15, 2013, the No. 4 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture was switched off for scheduled checkups, leaving Japan without an operating nuclear power station.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority is screening applications to restart 20 reactors at 13 plants.

EnviroWatch: Dengue, water woes, toxics


We open with the latest on that other outbreak on another continent, via Jiji Press:

Dengue Fever Outbreak in Japan Shows No Signs of Ending

Despite Japanese authorities’ efforts for containment, dengue fever has not yet shown clear signs of subsiding in the country, with the number of domestic infections topping 100.

The health ministry calls for calm, saying there is no need to panic because the spread of the tropical disease, which is transmitted only by tiger mosquitoes, will not last long, daily reports of new infections are stirring up fears.

The first locally transmitted case of dengue fever in nearly 70 years was reported in late August.

From NBC News, water woes in the Golden State:

Not One Drop: How Long Will California Survive Life Without Water?

The old man knew of the $500-a-day fine for people caught wasting water. He heard the plea for conservation from Governor Jerry Brown. But the water police can’t scare a person whose water isn’t running in the first place.

“Look,” said Carlos Chavez, a retired farm hand in the small town of Seville. He turned the wheel on a big outdoor faucet, the kind of high pressure spigot that’s illegal to operate in California without at least a hose attached to it. Nothing came out except air. It was the same story inside his home, where his plates piled up beneath a kitchen faucet as dry as the shop model.

As the California drought approaches its fourth year, Seville’s well is one of hundreds of private water holes coughing up sand and spitting air in the Central Valley, according to Tulare County officials. As many as 100,000 more wells are at risk around the state if the rains don’t come by October.

From NASA Goddard, another water woe:

Phytoplankton Levels Dropping

Program notes:

New research led by NASA researchers has found populations of the microscopic marine plants, phytoplankton, have decreased in the Northern Hemisphere. An analysis using a NASA model in combination with ocean satellite data between 1998 and 2012, showed a 1% decrease of phytoplankton per year.

From the Guardian, all hat, no cattle in Old Blighty:

Richard Branson failed to deliver on $3bn climate change pledge

  • New book by Naomi Klein claims that Virgin founder gave less than a tenth of cash promised to develop low carbon fuel

Richard Branson has failed to deliver on his much-vaunted pledge to spend $3bn (£1.8bn) over a decade to develop a low carbon fuel.

Seven years into the pledge, Branson has paid out only a small fraction of the promised money – “well under $300m” – according to a new book by the writer and activist, Naomi Klein.

The British entrepreneur famously promised to divert a share of the profits from his Virgin airlines empire to find a cleaner fuel, after a 2006 private meeting with Al Gore.

From Chemical & Engineering News, chemical intransigence:

Syngenta Stands Firm On Neonicotinoids

  • Pesticides: Manufacturer seeks to expand uses of thiamethoxam as pressure against chemical mounts

Amid growing concerns and lawsuits linking neonicotinoid pesticides with bee declines, Syngenta is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to increase the allowable levels of the company’s controversial neonicotinoid product thiamethoxam on certain crops.

Syngenta is seeking the change so thiamethoxam can be used as a spray on the foliage of alfalfa, corn, barley, and wheat. Currently, the pesticide is approved for use only as a seed treatment on those crops. In explaining its request, the company says, “Mid- to late-season insect pests are not controlled by seed treatment.”

The environmental group Beyond Pesticides says the move would be a “step backward for pollinator health.” Syngenta’s request “comes at a time when researchers are discovering that even ‘near-infinitesimal’ exposure to this class of pesticides can result in harm to honeybees and other wild pollinators,” the group says.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, global warming sets the stage for conflicts ahead:

U.N. to set new rules for N. Sea Route

The U.N. International Maritime Organization will create the first-ever mandatory safety and environmental regulations for the Northern Sea Route by revising relevant conventions, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The London-based organization decided to formulate international rules for maritime traffic because the number of ships using the route has surged, as global warming has been causing ice in the Arctic Ocean to melt. The new regulations are expected to take effect in 2016.

Currently, no international laws have been established for the Arctic Ocean like those in the Antarctic Treaty, which dictates that nations not make territorial sovereignty or other claims. There have also been concerns that coastal nations such as Russia may implement their own regulations.

The paper also illustrates the routes of the new Northwest Passage:

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From the Contra Costa Times, hints of oily woes ahead:

Crude-by-rail: One federal inspector oversees all California’s railroad bridges, no state oversight

As concerns grow over aging rail infrastructure, earthquake readiness and a dramatic increase in crude oil shipments by train, state railroad regulators are scrambling to hire their first-ever railroad bridge inspectors — two of them.

Once they are hired, the California Public Utilities Commission plans to create a state railroad bridge inventory to determine which are most at risk. That’s right — neither the state nor federal government has a list of railroad bridges for California or the rest of the country. Until that happens, the safety of California’s thousands of railroad bridges — key conduits that carry people and hazardous materials over environmentally sensitive ecosystems and near urban areas — is left up to rail line owners and a single federal inspector who splits his time among 11 states.

“Two more inspectors is better than none, but it’s really a Band-Aid,” said Suma Peesapati, attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental group fighting the oil rail influx. “I think there should be no crude by rail over those bridges until there’s a comprehensive look at all of them.”

And from Global Times oil and water don’t mix:

Kunlun river polluted by oil pipe leaks

A river at the foot of Kunlun Mountain in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has become seriously polluted due to leaks from a diesel oil pipeline, which was broken by criminals who planned to steal oil, media reported Friday.

An unnamed government agency stated that broken valves on the oil pipeline in Qinghai Province, severed by prospective oil thieves, are the cause of the leaks, the Qinghai branch of China National Radio (CNR) reported on its Sina Weibo account Friday.

A total of 6 tons of oil had leaked, and 3 tons have been cleaned up, CNR reported, adding that the broken pipeline has also been repaired.

For our final item, China Daily hints of massive fracking ahead:

Experts: Potential of shale gas huge in China

China is one of the world’s largest markets for energy consumption, but some experts believe China can make significant headway in the natural gas sector by exploiting technology to tap its potentially huge reserves of shale gas.

China Energy 2020, an event that probed China’s place in the global energy market, was held Thursday at the Columbia Club of New York. The event was co-hosted by the China Energy Fund Committee, Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy and the National Committee on US-China Relations.

A report published by Columbia’s new energy policy center, titled Meeting China’s Shale Gas Goals, states that though China has “a huge shale gas resource,” production of shale gas in China is “just starting” to take shape and “will not be substantial” in the next few years.

From NASA: Videos of fires in the heavens


Our first two involve that thermonuclear furnace on which all life on Earth depends.

First, from NASA Goddard:

Late Summer M5 Solar Flare

Program notes:

On Aug. 24, 2014, the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 8:16 a.m. EDT. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and STEREO captured images of the flare, which erupted on the left side of the sun. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

This flare is classified as an M5 flare. M-class flares are ten times less powerful than the most intense flares, called X-class flares.

Next, a flare spotted Thursday:

September 10, 2014 X1.6 flare

Program notes:

The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 1:48 p.m. EDT on Sept. 10, 2014. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground. However — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

This flare is classified as an X1.6 class flare. “X-class” denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc.

Finally, from Science at NASA, another kind of fire in the heavens:

Jellyfish Flame on the International Space Station

Program notes:

Astronauts onboard the International Space Station report seeing flames that behave like jellyfish. Video of the microgravity phenomenon is a must-see.

Quote of the day: Naomi Klein on climate change


From an essay she wrote for the Guardian:

If we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, major cities will drown, ancient cultures will be swallowed by the seas; our children will spend much of their lives fleeing and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts. Yet we continue all the same.

What is wrong with us? I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things needed to cut emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have struggled to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck, because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and benefit the vast majority – are threatening to an elite minority with a stranglehold over our economy, political process and media.

That problem might not have been insurmountable had it presented itself at another point in our history. But it is our collective misfortune that governments and scientists began talking seriously about radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in 1988 – the exact year that marked the dawning of “globalisation”. The numbers are striking: in the 1990s, as the market integration project ramped up, global emissions were going up an average of 1% a year; by the 2000s, with “emerging markets” such as China fully integrated into the world economy, emissions growth had sped up disastrously, reaching 3.4% a year.

That rapid growth rate has continued, interrupted only briefly, in 2009, by the world financial crisis. What the climate needs now is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.

Read the rest.

UPDATE: The latest from Tom Toles, editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post:

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Chart of the day II: California’s heat rockets


From the Los Angeles Times, setting a record high:

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