Category Archives: Nature

Global Fishing Watch: Environmental tech at work


From Global Fishing Watch, technology at work to monitor and protect the marine ecology:

Program notes:

Global Fishing Watch is the product of a technology partnership between SkyTruth, Oceana, and Google that is designed to show all of the trackable fishing activity in the ocean. This interactive web tool – currently in prototype stage – is being built to enable anyone to visualize the global fishing fleet in space and time. Global Fishing Watch will reveal the intensity of fishing effort around the world, one of the stressors contributing to the precipitous decline of our fisheries.

With hundreds of millions of people around the world depending on our ocean for their livelihoods, and many more relying on the ocean for food, ensuring the long-term sustainability of our ocean is a critical global priority. We need a tool that harnesses the power of citizen engagement to hold our leaders accountable for maintaining an abundant ocean.

Global Fishing Watch will be available to the public, enabling anyone with an internet connection to monitor when and where commercial fishing is happening around the globe. Citizens can use the tool to see for themselves whether their fisheries are being effectively managed. Seafood suppliers can keep tabs on the boats they buy fish from. Media and the public can act as watchdogs to improve the sustainable management of global fisheries. Fisherman can show that they are obeying the law and doing their part. Researchers will have access to a multi-year record of all trackable fishing activity.

The tool uses a global feed of vessel locations extracted from Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracking data collected by satellite, revealing the movement of vessels over time. The system automatically classifies the observed patterns of movement as either “fishing” or “non-fishing” activity.

This version of the Global Fishing Watch started with 3.7 billion data points, more than a terabyte of data from two years of satellite collection, covering the movements of 111,374 vessels during 2012 and 2013. We ran a behavioral classification model that we developed across this data set to identify when and where fishing behavior occurred. The prototype visualization contains 300 million AIS data points covering over 25,000 unique vessels. For the initial fishing activity map, the data is limited to 35 million detections from 3,125 vessels that we were able to independently verify were fishing vessels. Global Fishing Watch then displays fishing effort in terms of the number of hours each vessel spent engaged in fishing behavior, and puts it all on a map that anyone with a web browser will be able to explore.

EnviroWatch: Health, climate, fuel, nukes


From RT, new hope for people like Ted Kennedy and our own mother who died of brain cancer:

Cannabis combined with radiotherapy can make brain cancer ‘disappear,’ study claims

Two cannabis components can have a significant effect on the size of cancerous tumors in the brain, especially when combined with radiotherapy, according to new research. The study says the growths can virtually “disappear.”

The research was carried out by specialists at St Georges, University of London and published in the Molecular Cancer Therapeutics journal.

There are some 85 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, but the two that had a demonstrably positive effect were tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Combining their use alongside radiotherapy shows a drastic effect, the study claims.

And a possible source of the medication from the Guardian:

Can Zambia save its environment with marijuana?

  • Green party’s presidential candidate Peter Sinkamba is promising voters to cut country’s dependency on mining – by growing and exporting marijuana

For decades, Zambia has staked its economic fortunes on copper mining. But when voters in this southern African nation go to the polls in January to select a new president, at least one candidate will be looking to send that tradition up in smoke.

On Friday, Peter Sinkamba will announce his candidacy on the Green party ticket to replace the late President Michael Sata, who died on 29 October from an undisclosed illness. Sinkamba, regarded as Zambia’s leading environmentalist for his battles against the country’s big copper mines, is running on an unlikely platform, especially in this socially conservative nation: legalising marijuana.

His plan, first announced in April, calls for cannabis’ legalisation for medicinal use in Zambia, which would be a first in Africa. The surplus crop would be exported abroad, earning Zambia what Sinkamba claims could be billions of dollars.

A serious cause for concern from BBC News:

Warning over plastics used in treating premature babies

US researchers have warned that premature babies are being exposed to high levels of a potentially dangerous chemical in plastics.

A study suggested babies may be exposed to high levels of a phthalate called DEHP in medical equipment. Some US healthcare providers have banned the use of DEHP, and other products were available, the researchers said.

The UK is currently re-evaluating its position on phthalate use in devices. Evidence on the safety of phthalates in humans has been inconclusive, but European regulators have classified DEHP as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

Tragedy on the Subcontinent from the New York Times:

India Sterilization Deaths Linked to Pills Tainted With Rat Poison, Officials Say

The women who died after sterilization surgery in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh might have been given antibiotic pills contaminated with rat poison, a senior official said on Friday.

Sonmoni Borah, the divisional commissioner in the district of Bilaspur, in Chhattisgarh, said that tablets of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin that were seized in police raids of Mahawar Pharma, a small company supplying medicines to the state government, were found to contain the chemical zinc phosphide.

“If you do a quick Google search, you will find it is rat poison, and the women were displaying symptoms similar to poisoning,” Mr. Borah said in a telephone interview. State officials issued an urgent warning on Friday to practitioners across the state, telling them to stop distributing or using ciprofloxacin “with immediate effect,” he said.

Another outbreak threatens, from MercoPress:

Fears of a new Chikungunya viral strain in Brazil with the coming of summer

The Chikungunya outbreak which continues to affect thousands of Caribbean residents since it first appeared in St. Martin last year has been relatively self-limiting in the United States, due to the fact that the current strain only spreads through the Aedes egypti mosquito vector, which is uncommon on the US Eastern seaboard.

But recent diagnoses of a new viral strain in Brazil may turn the current hemispheric spread of the crippling disease on its head. The strain – which is prevalent in some African states and which has been the cause of several outbreaks in South-east Asian countries – readily infects the Aedes albopictus mosquito, a hardier species which is common along the US East Coast, and which is adapted to colder climates.

Brazil has recorded over 200 cases of Chikungunya – predominantly in the country’s east-coast Bahia state – but according to Kansas State University virologist Stephen Higgs, the African strain in Brazil has not yet developed the type of dangerous mutations observed in South-east Asia.

Such mutations could make the strain up to 100 times more infectious to mosquitoes, says Higgs, allowing the vectors to become more easily infected and pass the virus on to humans. The virus itself has been shown to develop rapid adaptive mutations, underscoring fears of eventual epidemic circulations of the new strain.

From Reuters, and closer to the U.S.:

Mexico detects first case of mosquito-borne chikungunya virus

Mexico has detected its first domestic case of the painful mosquito-borne viral disease chikungunya in the southwest of the country, the state government of Chiapas said on Saturday.

Chikungunya is spread by two mosquito species, and is typically not fatal. But it can cause debilitating symptoms including fever, headache and severe joint pain lasting months.

The government of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala, said an 8 year old girl became the first person to contract the disease in Mexico, and that she was treated in hospital in the town of Arriaga. The girl has since been released.

Polio-vaccine-pressured Pakistan, from the Express Tribune:

Travel restricted for Pakistanis without polio certificate, says IHC

In a meeting held by the International Health Committee, restrictions have been placed on Pakistani’s travelling abroad without a polio certificate, Express News reported Saturday.

The committee had declared Pakistan to be a nation responsible for spreading the polio virus across the globe.

Between July and now, three cases of polio have arisen in Afghanistan, for which the committee attributes blame to Pakistan.

In attempts to eradicate polio in six months, the International Health Committee have come down hard on Pakistan and ordered that no Pakistani could travel abroad without a polio certificate.

Infectious sausage, via BBC News:

One in 10 sausages ‘carries risk of hepatitis E virus’

One in 10 sausages and processed pork meat products in England and Wales could cause hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection if undercooked, experts warn.

There has been an “abrupt rise” in the number of cases in England and Wales as people do not realise the risk, scientists advising the government say. Sausages should be cooked for 20 minutes at 70C to kill the virus, they said.

Although serious cases are rare, HEV can cause liver damage or be fatal.

Wikidemiology, via the Los Angeles Times:

Scientists use Wikipedia search data to forecast spread of flu

Can public health experts tell that an infectious disease outbreak is imminent simply by looking at what people are searching for on Wikipedia? Yes, at least in some cases.

Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory were able to make extremely accurate forecasts about the spread of dengue fever in Brazil and flu in the U.S., Japan, Poland and Thailand by examining three years’ worth of Wikipedia search data. They also came up with moderately success predictions of tuberculosis outbreaks in Thailand and China, and of dengue fever’s spread in Thailand.

However, their efforts to anticipate cases of cholera, Ebola, HIV and plague by extrapolating from search data left much to be desired, according to a report published Thursday in the journal PLOS Computational Biology. But the researchers believe their general approach could still work if they use more sophisticated statistics and a more inclusive data set.

Keystone pipelined, from BBC News:

Keystone XL pipeline approval passes House

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The legislation will now be put to a vote in the Senate next week, where its prospects are unclear.

The 875-mile (1,408km) pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the US state of Nebraska where it joins pipes running to Texas.

President Barack Obama is said to take a “dim view” of the legislation, but has not directly threatened a veto.

More from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Keystone pipeline good for Canada, not U.S., Obama says

As a pro-Keystone XL effort gathered bipartisan steam in Congress, President Barack Obama suggested that the controversial pipeline may be good for Canada but doesn’t offer much to Americans.

The Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed – by a 252-161 vote – a pro-Keystone XL bill intended to force Mr. Obama to approve the Canadian oil export project.

It was the ninth time the House of Representatives has passed a pro-Keystone XL measure. The Senate is expected to take up a similar bill next week.

More from the Christian Science Monitor:

Keystone XL pipeline: Obama says he ‘won’t budge’

A Keystone bill swept to easy approval in the House Friday, with 31 Democrats joining the Republican majority, and a parallel bill is scheduled for Senate action next week.

Mr. Obama saying he’ll act on immigration reform because Congress has failed to, while Congress is acting on Keystone to try to end what many lawmakers view as presidential obstructionism.

And now Obama is squaring off formally against fellow Democrats, as well as Republicans.

A Keystone bill swept to easy approval in the House Friday, with 31 Democrats joining the Republican majority, and a parallel bill is scheduled for Senate action next week, with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana as a lead sponsor. (Until now Senate majority leader Harry Reid has kept the issue off the Senate floor, in a bid to protect Democrats from a divisive vote.)

After jump, heads in sand in G20 climate protest as Obama shines a spotlight on Abbott and lobbyists battle over the Great Barrier Reef, one of climate change’s more striking effects, a legal battle over the humanity of chimps, then it’s on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with new questions over health risks, more radiation spikes, the new governor takes the tour, and a waste site decision delayed again, China mulls adding more new nuclear power plants, and an appetite for an Iranian nuclear deal. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Flu, fuels, pols, toxins, & nukes


And a whole lot more. . .

First, a microbial invasion, via the Japan Times:

Highly pathogenic bird flu virus detected in Shimane

A highly pathogenic strain of bird flu has been found in Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture, the Environment Ministry said Thursday.

The H5N8 subtype was detected from two samples of droppings of migratory Bewick’s swans that were collected on Nov. 3, the ministry said.

The ministry has designated 10 km from the spot in question as an intensive wild bird monitoring area and decided to send an emergency investigation team there.

The H5N8 subtype is the same virus strain as the bird flu that broke out at a poultry farm in Kumamoto Prefecture in April.

From BBC News, a watershed moment:

World is crossing malnutrition red line, report warns

Most countries in the world are facing a serious public health problem as a result of malnutrition, a report warns.

The Global Nutrition Report said every nation except China had crossed a “malnutrition red line”, suffering from too much or too little nutrition.

Globally, malnutrition led to “11% of GDP being squandered as a result of lives lost, less learning, less earning and days lost to illness,” it added.

And from ABC Australia, via Journeyman Pictures, a troublesome question:

Catalyst: Extreme Weather – How our climate is not just becoming warmer, but also increasingly extreme and unpredictable.

Program notes:

The world has undergone some frightening weather extremes in recent years: from scorching heat waves in Europe to apocalyptic floods in Australia and blizzards in the Middle East. Record temperatures, both high and low, are constantly being smashed across the world. At first glimpse, the emission of greenhouse gases may only seem to account for high temperatures. But as Anja Taylor discovers, warmer average temperatures are tampering with the mechanics that drive all kinds of weather events across the world. It seems like the term ‘global warming’ may be misleading, since mankind will need to face up to more frequent extreme and unpredictable weather in the future.

A fracking fatality, via the Los Angeles Times:

Fracking accident leaves 1 dead, 2 injured in Colorado

The rupture of a pipe at a Colorado fracking site left one Halliburton employee dead and two seriously injured Thursday morning, law enforcement and company officials said.

Workers were trying to warm a frozen pipe at a site near Fort Lupton, Colo., about 30 miles north of Denver, when it burst around 9:30 a.m., Sgt. Sean Stanridge, public information officer for the Weld County Sheriff’s Office, told the Los Angeles Times.

One person died at the scene and the injured were taken to area hospitals. One underwent surgery, and both are expected to survive, Stanridge said.

The industrial site is operated by Anadarko Petroleum Corp., and Halliburton employees are contracted to work on the grounds, Anadarko spokesman John Christiansen said.

Another fracking hazard from the Denver Post:

Fracking sand in oilfields stirs up a serious health risk for workers

Health concerns about oil field fracking have been focused on the mixed brew of chemicals injected into wells. But it is another innocuous-sounding substance — sand — that poses a more serious danger to workers.

Government overseers of workplace safety first highlighted the problem three years ago and issued a hazard alert a year later warning that high levels of fine quartz sand around fracking operations could lead to silicosis and other lung illnesses.

But efforts to update the 44-year-old exposure limits on sand dust are dragging on. Engineering solutions to the problem are still being researched. And, while many energy companies are taking steps to lessen the amount of what is referred to as “respirable crystalline silica” by scientists or “frac sand” by oilfield workers, the industry, with support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is also opposing much in proposed new regulations.

From EcoWatch, a fracking fail:

Fracking Support Plummets Among Americans

Fracking is quickly losing favor with Americans, a new Pew Research Center poll finds.

As more stories emerge about the dangers posed by the toxic fallout from the aggressive drilling process to communities near the operations, support for fracking tilts negative for the first time, with 41 percent favoring increased use of fracking and 47 percent opposing it. That’s a huge swing from 20 months ago. In Pew’s March 2013 poll 48 percent supported more fracking while only 38 percent opposed it.

Support for fracking has dropped most steeply among women and people under 50, whose opinions turned against it by 10 points, while shifting slightly against it among those over 50 by two points. Fifty-four percent of women now oppose fracking, with only 31 percent supporting it. Among men, 52 percent support it with 40 percent opposed, representing a three-point drop from March 2013. People 18-29 moved from 49/41 in support to 53/39 against, while those 30-49 who formerly favored it 48/41 now oppose it 50/38.

Tar sands heat up, via BBC News:

Keystone XL pipeline to get vote in Congress

The House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. The move comes as Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu has pushed for a similar vote in the Senate as she fights a runoff campaign for her seat.

The 875-mile (1,408km) pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the US state of Nebraska where it joins pipes running to Texas.

President Barack Obama could find the approved bill on his desk next week. The White House has not directly threatened a veto of the legislation if it passes both chambers.

More from Reuters:

Keystone bill unlikely to rescue Landrieu in U.S. Senate runoff

A push by U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu to pass a bill authorizing the contentious Keystone XL pipeline is unlikely to give the Louisiana Democrat a significant boost against her Republican challenger in a December runoff, political analysts said on Thursday.

Landrieu, who faces an uphill battle to win a fourth term against Republican congressman Bill Cassidy, is renewing efforts to pass the measure unpopular with many Democrats as she fights to retain her seat in a state increasingly inhospitable to her party.

“It’s really too little, too late,” said G. Pearson Cross, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette political scientist. “Doing this only when her job is in peril will be seen as not significant – or desperate.”

Still more from The Hill:

Senate nears 60 on Keystone

Supporters of the Keystone XL oil pipeline are nearing 60 votes in the Senate ahead of a vote next week on whether to approve the project.

With passage of a pipeline bill in the House all but assured, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) says she is “confident” she can rally the 60 votes needed for a filibuster-proof majority in the upper chamber.

“It is ready for a vote and we have the 60 votes to pass it,” Landrieu said on Wednesday.

From RT, costly ignorance:

Shell ignored ‘risk & hazard’ of Nigeria pipes, downplayed size of 2008 spills – court documents

Royal Dutch Shell was aware that its Nigerian pipelines were poorly maintained prior to the 2008 Bodo oil spills, and later underestimated the size of the leaks to avoid paying compensation, Amnesty International reported after studying court documents.

Fifteen-thousand members of the Bodo community are suing Shell in London’s High Court, claiming the two oil spills in 2008 devastated an area of up to 90km in Ogoniland, southern Nigeria. The oil giant earned $450 billion in revenues last year.

“The result was an environmental catastrophe for the Bodo Community and the biggest loss of mangrove habitat in the history of oil spills. The 40,000 residents of the Bodo Community primarily relied on fishing and their way of life and source of livelihoods has been destroyed for years to come,” said Martyn Day, a senior partner at Leigh Day, which is representing the plaintiffs.

Among the documents obtained by Amnesty from the ongoing case is an internal note written by an employee eight years before the spills, which says “the remaining life of most of the Oil Trunklines [in the area] is more or less non-existent or short, while some sections contain major risk and hazard.”

From BuzzFeed, another fuel, another court:

CEO In Charge Of West Viriginia Mine That Killed 29 People Could Get 31 Years In Prison

Don Blankenship is facing conspiracy charges for his role in the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years.

In 2010, a mine in West Virginia exploded, killing 29 people. Now, the boss of the company in charge of the mine is facing criminal charges and up to 31 years in prison.

Don Blankenship was the chairman and CEO of Massey Energy Company in April 2010, when an explosion tore through Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. The mine included a maze of passageways more than 1,000 feet underground, and none of the miners who were inside at the time survived. The death toll ultimately climbed to 29, making the explosion the worst mining disaster in 40 years.

Investigations traced the source of the explosion to worn out cutting gear that created a spark and ignited coal dust and methane.

And from Yale Environment 360, black lung returns:

A Scourge for Coal Miners Stages a Brutal Comeback

Black lung — a debilitating disease caused by inhaling coal dust — was supposed to be wiped out by a landmark 1969 U.S. mine safety law. But a recent study shows that the worst form of the disease now affects a larger share of Appalachian coal miners than at any time since the early 1970s.

Experts at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that, by 2012, the rate of severe black lung had reached 3.2 percent of workers in the Central Appalachian coalfields of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. That’s a nearly tenfold increase over the disease prevalence 15 years earlier — a shocking statistic. In a brief report published in the September 15 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, NIOSH researchers said, “Each of these cases is a tragedy and represents a failure among all those responsible for preventing this severe disease.”

Black lung is caused by inhaling coal dust. The accumulation of dust particles in the lungs makes it hard to breathe. As the disease progresses, victims develop a cough or shortness of breath.

“Living with black lung is thinking about every breath you take,” former miner Robert Bailey Jr. told a congressional committee earlier this year.

And from MintPress News, another occupational hazard:

EPA Finally Updating Pesticide-Use Guidelines For Farm Workers

  • Advocates say a draft of the updated Worker Protection Standard is imperfect, but still offers greater protections to laborers in one of the country’s most hazardous industries

U.S. regulators are moving into the final stages of a major update to guidelines on the use of pesticides by agricultural workers, changes that labor advocates have been urging for more than a decade.

Indeed, it’s been almost a quarter-century since the Environmental Protection Agency updated the guidelines, known as the Worker Protection Standard. These rules not only have a direct impact on the health and well-being of the country’s estimated two million farmworkers but also on their families and communities. Pesticides and related residues, which can easily be brought home on clothing, are a key example of the broader impact of agricultural regulations and guidelines.

When the EPA released a draft of its update to the Worker Protection Standard in February, the agency’s administrator Gina McCarthy lauded it as a “milestone” for farmworkers. She also noted that protecting agricultural laborers from pesticide exposure “is at the core of EPA’s work to ensure environmental justice.”

After the jump, an Eurocratic GMO supporter’s job eliminated, warm waters melting Antarctic icecap, a bag ban not in the bag, Australian environmental policy diminished, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now! and hot waste bagged up with no permanent place to go, decades of work ahead and little cause for hope, hot water woes and complications tunneling in, and a hot head at the moment of crisis, public opposition ignored, a new nuclear plant gets an operational deadline, and an aging plant’s operator asks a four-decade operating extension, and a costly retirement plan for two hundred reactors. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Nukes, climate, toxins, GMOs


We’ll get right to it, first with Science:

Fukushima radiation nears California coast, judged harmless

After a two-and-a-half year ocean journey, radioactive contamination from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan has drifted to within 160 kilometers of the California coast, according to a new study. But the radiation levels are minuscule and do not pose a threat, researchers say.

Shortly after the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in March 2011, Tokyo Electric Power Co. estimated that the facility had released a staggering 7000 trillion becquerels—a measure of emitted radiation—into of radiation into nearby seawater. Meanwhile, Japan’s Ministry of the Environment reported readings of 45.5 million becquerels per cubic meter of water, high enough to cause reproductive problems in fish.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that the power plant’s radiation dissipated quickly as it spread from the coast, however. It arrived at this conclusion by measuring cesium-134, a kind of radiation “fingerprint” unique to Fukushima because of its relatively short 2-year half-life. By June 2011, cesium-134 was found 600 kilometers offshore from Japan producing 325 becquerels per cubic meter. Building models based on early readings, the World Health Organization and public health departments in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska all forecast that Fukushima radiation would not pose a human health risk in North America.

From radioactive mass to radioactive ass, via Vocativ:

Climate Change Denier to Oversee U.S. Environmental Policy

  • James Inhofe, the Hill’s most outspoken global warming skeptic, will take over the Senate’s top environmental job

James Inhofe is about to take charge of the Senate committee that oversees U.S. environmental policy. As it happens, the Oklahoma Republican is also the Hill’s most notorious critic of climate change, dismissing global warming as a “conspiracy” and a “hoax.”

Inhofe has been denying the science behind climate research for 20 years, long before it became a fashionable cause for the Tea Party. His crusade reached its zenith (or is that nadir?) with the publication of his 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, a 300-page valentine to the anti-environmental movement.

Once Inhofe inherits the Senate’s top environmental job, his judgment won’t be clouded by sober, unbiased analysis. Nor will he be influenced by uppity climatologists, 97 percent of whom believe that manmade climate change is real. In short, there’s now zero chance of addressing rising sea levels and carbon dioxide emissions before President Obama leaves office. According to The New York Times, the senator “is expected to open investigations into the EPA, call for cuts in its funding” and delay any impending regulations for “as long as possible.”

More of the same from the New York Times:

Republicans Vow to Fight E.P.A. and Approve Keystone Pipeline

The new Republican Congress is headed for a clash with the White House over two ambitious Environmental Protection Agency regulations that are the heart of President Obama’s climate change agenda.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the next majority leader, has already vowed to fight the rules, which could curb planet-warming carbon pollution but ultimately shut down coal-fired power plants in his native Kentucky. Mr. McConnell and other Republicans are, in the meantime, stepping up their demands that the president approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry petroleum from Canadian oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

At this point, Republicans do not have the votes to repeal the E.P.A. regulations, which will have far more impact on curbing carbon emissions than stopping the pipeline, but they say they will use their new powers to delay, defund and otherwise undermine them. Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, a prominent skeptic of climate change and the presumed new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to open investigations into the E.P.A., call for cuts in its funding and delay the regulations as long as possible.

Which leaves us wondering whether this is anything but a Pyrrhic gesture. From Mother Jones:

The US and China Just Announced a Huge Deal on Climate—and it’s a Gamechanger

The surprise agreement aims to double the pace of carbon pollution reduction in the United States.

In a surprise announcement Tuesday night, the world’s two biggest economies and greenhouse gas emitters, United States and China, said they will partner closely on a broad-ranging package of plans to fight climate change, including new targets to reduce carbon pollution, according to a statement from the White House.

The announcement comes after President Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping today in Beijing, and includes headline-grabbing commitments from both countries that are sure to breathe new life into negotiations to reach a new climate treaty in Paris next year.

According to the plan, the United States will reduce carbon emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, nearly twice the existing target—without imposing new restrictions on power plants or vehicles.

From the Guardian, making a contribution:

World’s biggest mine: Inside US coal

Program notes:

Barack Obama’s pledge to cut carbon emissions has not stopped North Antelope Rochelle mine in Wyoming. In fact, production is booming – and climate change is off the agenda. The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg gets a rare look inside the biggest coal mine in the world.

More fuel for the warming flames from Bloomberg:

Fossil Fuels With $550 Billion in Subsidy Hurt Renewables

Fossil fuels are reaping $550 billion a year in subsidies and holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy, the International Energy Agency said.

Oil, coal and gas received more than four times the $120 billion paid out in subsidy for renewables including wind, solar and biofuels, the Paris-based institution said today in its annual World Energy Outlook.

The findings highlight the policy shift needed to limit global warming, which the IEA said is on track to increase the world’s temperature by 3.6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That level would increase the risks of damaging storms, droughts and rising sea levels.

And then there’s this, via EcoWatch:

‘Keystone XL Clone’ to Pump Tar Sands Oil Starting Next Year

As Republicans get set to test their new majority in the U.S. Senate and their complete control of Congress to push through approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, a new investigative report by editor Lou Dubose at the Washington Spectator reveals that the construction of a “Keystone XL clone” pipeline with almost the same capacity is already taking place. While TransCanada continues to battle the public outcry against its Keystone XL project, another company, Enbridge, is quietly building the Alberta Clipper pipeline. Like Keystone XL, it will pumped 830,000 oil barrels (bbl) a day of tar sands bitumen crude oil from the Alberta oil fields to U.S. refineries.

“In six to eight months the Canadian tar-sands spigot opens to full capacity,” wrote Dubose. “Barring litigation or action by the State Department, Enbridge will achieve what has eluded TransCanada. And it will have done so with scant attention from the media and without the public debate generated by campaigns against the Keystone XL.”

The Spectator analyzed State Department documents, annual reports and interviews with Enbridge officials and lawyers to learn how the company pushed through a pipeline virtually identical to Keystone XL without a public process or attracting much attention. While a pipeline that crosses international borders requires presidential and State Department approval declaring that the project is “in the national interest,” the Spectator says Enbridge used a creative interpretation of an existing 1967 permit to circumvent the law and public opinion.

Which may account for this, via CBC News:

Canadian oil comparatively strong amid global crude sell-off, TD says

  • Lower dollar helps Canadian oil companies weather price decline of crude

Amid a global crude slowdown pushing oil prices to multi-year lows, Canadian oil companies are faring better than their overseas counterparts, TD Bank says.

In a recent report, TD economist Leslie Preston says Canadian oil companies are somewhat sheltered from plunging oil prices in part because the decline of the Canadian dollar is cushioning the blow.

Commodities like oil are priced in U.S. dollars. And even as oil prices have shed more than a quarter of their value in recent months, so too has the Canadian dollar declined a little. That’s allowed Canadian oil companies to squeeze more loonies out of the U.S. greenbacks they receive for their oil.

The Ecologist covers the inevitable:

Denton, Texas hit with lawsuits after landslide fracking victory

Denton’s 59-41 vote to ban fracking has got right up the nose of the state’s fossil fuel elite, writes Julie Dermansky. The Texas city has already been hit with two lawsuits – but it’s going to fight them all the way, with a $4 million legal fund ready and waiting.

Straight after Denton became the first Texas city to ban fracking within city limits, the city is being sued.

The Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association are the first to challenge the new ordinance.

Last week Denton voters passed the fracking ban by a 59-to-41 percent margin, becoming the first Texas city to ban fracking.

And from the Jakarta Globe, one consequence:

Rising Seas Threaten Jokowi’s Maritime Plan

President Joko Widodo may have to rethink his plan to boost Indonesia’s maritime power, with experts questioning whether he is aware of the looming threat posed by rising sea levels, and whether he has considered the potential ecological impact of maritime developments.

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, the Asia regional director of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, reiterated on Monday the “very, very serious threat” posed by rising sea levels, due to climate change, to island nations in Asia, including the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia.

He was citing the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says even if the world could manage to keep rising global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius — the ceiling that many countries have agreed on — it would still damage the environment and threaten many ecosystems and humanity, especially in island nations.

“In Indonesia’s context, even 2 degrees [Celsius] means a much larger increase [in sea levels] in some parts of the country than the global average,” Sheikh said during a discussion of the IPCC’s recently finalized Fifth Assessment Report in Yogyakarta. “A 2 degree [Celsius] rise in this century would mean that many islands and coastal areas in Indonesia will be inundated.”

After the jump, deadly detergents, down in the South Carolina dumps and passin’ deadly gas, on to the GMO front and a Big Ag European setback as Russia launches the biggest ever GMO food safety study, back to Fukushimpocalypse Now! with hot food shipped to the U.S. and a community presses nuke plant owners for a safety agreement, while a U.S. nuclear disaster leads to a $5.5 billion payout. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Climate, pests, land grabs, nukes


And more. . .

First, the military/industrial factor in climate change from the Guardian:

Climate change ‘will see more UK forces deployed in conflicts around world’

  • Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, one of the UK’s most senior military figures, says global warming is a risk to geopolitical security

The impacts of climate change will drive violent conflicts that require the deployment of British military forces around the world, according to one of the UK’s most senior military figures.

“Climate change will require more deployment of British military in conflict prevention, conflict resolution or responding to increased humanitarian requirements due to extreme weather impacts,” said Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti.

“It is posing a risk to geopolitical security, which is a prerequisite for economic growth, good health and wellbeing for all of us.”

Morisetti warned that without sharp cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, even military action would not be able to prevent global instability.

More warming impacts from the Associated Press:

Study: Global warming worsening watery dead zones

Global warming is likely playing a bigger role than previously thought in dead zones in oceans, lakes and rivers around the world and it’s only going to get worse, according to a new study.

Dead zones occur when fertilizer runoff clogs waterways with nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous. That leads to an explosion of microbes that consumes oxygen and leaves the water depleted of oxygen, harming marine life.

Scientists have long known that warmer water increases this problem, but a new study Monday in the journal Global Change Biology by Smithsonian Institution researchers found about two dozen different ways — biologically, chemically and physically — that climate change worsens the oxygen depletion.

“We’ve underestimated the effect of climate change on dead zones,” said study lead author Andrew Altieri, a researcher at the Smithsonian’s tropical center in Panama.

Bearly making it, via the Guardian:

Governments agree on new protections for polar bears

  • Convention on Migratory Species meeting in Ecuador adds listings for Cuvier’s beaked-whale, and 21 shark, ray and sawfish

Polar bears are among 31 species approved for greater protections by more than 100 countries, in a move hailed by conservationists as an important step to saving the endangered mammal.

The Convention on Migratory Species conference in Ecuador closed on Sunday, with new listings for a whale capable of the world’s deepest ocean dives, and 21 shark, ray and sawfish. A proposal to list the African lion, however, was rejected due to a lack of data.

The Norwegian proposal to protect the estimated 20,000-25,000 remaining polar bears, which are threatened by melting ice, Arctic oil exploration and hunting, saw the species gain an Appendix II listing. That means countries must work together to put in place conservation plans, as opposed to the stronger Appendix I listing which requires strict protections such as bans on killing an animal.

Another alien invader, via BBC News:

Stink bug pest ‘could get to UK’

An agricultural pest dubbed the stink bug could establish itself within the UK, according to a scientist.

Entomologist Max Barclay said it was “it is only a matter of time” before the brown marmorated stink bug arrives in the country.

Two of the insects have already been found on imported timber headed for Britain.

The bug, which is native to the Far East, has already reached France and Germany.

The Guardian covers secrecy in Beijing:

Apec: China blocks access to US air pollution data for Beijing

  • Chinese websites and apps drop embassy’s air quality readings after other measures fail to cut pollution for international summit

They banned the burning of funeral offerings, closed restaurants and factories, halted deliveries and took millions of cars off the roads. But Chinese leaders were unable to achieve blue skies for this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting in Beijing, with data from the US embassy showing air pollution at six times the World Health Organisation’s safe daily limit.

The one course of action left to officials? Denying access to the US data.

As global leaders tucked into their welcoming dinner, the US reading – still available on the embassy’s own website – was “very unhealthy”, with an air quality index reading of 203. It showed the concentration of PM2.5, the smallest particulate matter, at 153 micrograms per cubic metre. The WHO says the safe daily level is 25 micrograms.

But as the Washington Post reported, Smartphone apps and Chinese websites that normally included the US figures alongside official statistics, had the former removed, while the official Chinese feed crept up to 147 or “lightly polluted”.

A rebuff to Big Oil from Reuters:

U.S. judge rejects BP bid to oust Gulf spill claims chief

BP Plc has failed to persuade a federal judge to oust the administrator overseeing payouts to businesses and individuals claiming damages arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans on Monday rejected several arguments by the London-based oil company to remove the claims administrator, Patrick Juneau.

BP claimed that Juneau had a conflict of interest because he previously advised Louisiana over claims, made misleading statements about that work, and improperly sped up claims of people represented by the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee.

In a four-page order, Barbier said it was “beyond cavil” that BP knew of Juneau’s prior consulting work for Louisiana. The judge also said BP’s arguments were “mostly a regurgitation of old issues or complaints.”

Tar sands avian troubles from OilPrice:

Oil Sands Companies Under Pressure Following Wildlife Deaths

Three oil sands companies say scores of birds were killed after landing at their waste facilities in east-central Alberta, Canada, even though their avian deterrents were operational at the time.

All three companies – Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL), Syncrude and Suncor – said the birds began landing the morning of Nov. 4 and that their wildlife deterrents were working properly at the time. However, a dense fog was reported at the time, which may have disoriented the birds, contributing to their deaths.

All told, 122 waterfowl died on the companies’ tailing ponds, where waste from oil extraction is dumped, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) reported on Nov. 5. CNRL reported finding 60 dead birds at its Horizon site, and Syncrude said it had to euthanize 30 birds that landed on a similar facility at its Mildred Lake site.

The Guardian covers land grabs:

‘Nightmare’ for Ethiopian pastoralists as foreign investors buy up land

  • Thinktank accuses Ethiopian government of stirring ethnic tensions as Suri displaced to make way for large plantations

Ethiopia’s policy of leasing millions of hectares of land to foreign investors is encouraging human rights violations, ruining livelihoods and disturbing a delicate political balance between ethnic groups, a thinktank report has found.

The US-based Oakland Institute says that while the east African country is now lauded as an economic success story, the report, Engineering Ethnic Conflict, “highlights the unreported nightmare experienced by Ethiopia’s traditionally pastoralist communities”.

A controversial “villagisation” programme has seen tens of thousands of people forcibly moved to purpose-built communes that have inadequate food and lack health and education facilities, according to human rights watchdogs, to make way for commercial agriculture. Ethiopia is one of the biggest recipients of UK development aid, receiving around £300m a year.

And BBC News fuels around Down Under:

Australia ‘losing out’ on renewable energy investment

Investment into renewable energy projects in Australia has dropped by 70% in the last year, according to a new report by a climate change body.

The Climate Council says foreign investors are going to other countries because Australia’s government has no clear renewable energy policy.

Australia has gone from “leader to laggard” in energy projects, it added.

Another new report says Australia will need to raise its carbon emission reduction target to 40% by 2025.

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

TEPCO removes 2nd canopy panel covering Fukushima reactor building

In preparation for clearing debris and eventually removing nuclear fuel from inside, Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Nov. 10 temporarily removed another panel from the canopy covering a damaged reactor building at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The removal opened a large hole in the canopy covering the No. 1 reactor building. Debris inside the building were visible from the opening, which is 40 meters long and 14 meters wide, equivalent to one-third the size of the entire roof.

The first of the six canopy panels was removed on Oct. 31.

Rockin’ it with NHK WORLD:

Fukushima cesium contained in common mineral

Scientists have found most of the radioactive cesium that leaked from the Fukushima nuclear plant settled in a common mineral that comes from granite.

University of Tokyo Associate Professor Toshihiro Kogure and his team studied soil samples from Iitate Village, Fukushima Prefecture, after the accident at the plant.

They used an electron microscope to look for radioactive particles, and discovered most of the cesium was contained in the mineral, called black mica.

And to close, a notable reversal from BBC News:

L’Aquila quake: Scientists see convictions overturned

A group of Italian scientists convicted of manslaughter for failing to predict a deadly earthquake have had the verdict quashed.

The seven men had been given six-year jail sentences after an earthquake devastated the medieval town of L’Aquila in 2009, killing 309 people.

The verdict triggered alarm, with some saying that science itself had been put on trial.

On Monday an appeals court cleared the group of the manslaughter charges.

EnviroWatch: Dumbing down, pollen, nukes


A very slow news day. . .

First, validation of that old phrase “dumber than pond scum” from the Independent:

Virus that ‘makes humans more stupid’ discovered

  • A virus that infects human brains and makes us more stupid has been discovered, according to scientists in the US.

The algae virus, never before observed in healthy people, was found to affect cognitive functions including visual processing and spatial awareness.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the University of Nebraska stumbled upon the discovery when they were undertaking an unrelated study into throat microbes.

Surprisingly, the researchers found DNA in the throats of healthy individuals that matched the DNA of a virus known to infect green algae.

Dr Robert Yolken, a virologist who led the original study, said: “This is a striking example showing that the ‘innocuous’ microorganisms we carry can affect behaviour and cognition.

The products of the products of our finest universities, via Salon:

How fast food targets you: The secret science — and sauce — behind McDonald’s, Snickers, Fritos and more

  • Technology and marketing have revolutionized desire — and made us crave salty, fatty foods

Packaging has the prosaic but still astonishing ability to contain stuff that would otherwise decay, dissipate, or disappear, while also advertising contents to consumers far and wide. In the short space of just over a century, this double role of packaging gradually reached almost every corner of human experience. Consider again the modest case of sugared fizzy drinks.

Bottled soda began as something sold and consumed in restaurants or drugstore fountains, but through the packaged pleasures revolution became widely available to the person on the go. By the early 1920s it was widely sold in vending machines and for home use in six-bottle “homepacks,” bought at newly emerging supermarkets. Coin-operated vending and domestic consumption reaffirmed the same kind of unmediated access and private enjoyment already set in motion by the gumball machine and the phonograph. The process advanced apace: from 1913, motor-powered trucks delivered soda over a much wider territory than was ever possible by horse-drawn wagons, and metal coolers introduced to stores in 1924 offered chilled refreshment at will (a process advanced with the home refrigerator, introduced in 1916 and widely disseminated only a generation later). The cumbersome glass bottle began its long decline in 1936 with the invention of the soda can, first awkwardly shaped like a bottle with a neck and cap, but from 1940 on as a flat-top cylinder. Lightweight aluminum cans came in 1957, followed by can-dispensing vending machines in 1965. In 1970, plastic bottles replaced much heavier and more easily broken glass bottles that had also been slower to cool. By 1965 nonreturnable bottles challenged the expensive and inconvenient (but eco-friendlier) consumer routine of paying a deposit for and then returning used bottles.

All this made shipping soda cheaper and drinking it more convenient. The never-ending quest for convenience hit stride with self-contained can opening, first with the ring pull tab (first used for beer in 1962) and then the less troublesome stay-on-tab in 1974. More-to-drink-packages went along with easier-to-drink-packages. In 1936, Pepsi Cola cut into Coke’s dominance by offering a twelve-ounce bottle for the same price (5¢) as Coke’s six-ounce bottle, the first of many supersizings. By 1960, annual per capita consumption of soda pop in the United States had risen to 185 bottles and by 1975 would reach 485.

EcoWatch issues a sneeze alert:

How Climate Change Could Increase Pollen Levels by 200%

Scientists have identified a new hazard that will arrive as a result of climate change: a huge increase in hay fever and pollen allergies.

Jennifer Albertine and her colleagues at Amherst. . .grew plants in laboratory conditions, using different atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and of ozone—the O3 version of oxygen (O2) that plays an important protective role in the stratosphere, but is a notorious irritant and health hazard in traffic-choked cities.

They selected for the experiment the grass Phleum pratense, widely known as Timothy grass and common in lawns, pasture and meadows everywhere. Then, at the appropriate moment, they bagged the flowers, captured and measured the pollen production, and used enzymes to get at an allergen protein called Phl p 5.

The news is not good for those who dread the start of the hay fever season in spring. As atmospheric CO2 doubled to 800 parts per million, there was a 53 percent increase in pollen production per grass flower.

But that was only part of the effect. A greater number of plants flowered as a result of the stimulus of the extra carbon dioxide, which has an effect on plant fertility. And that brought the increase in pollen levels to a startling 200 percent.

Just what we need. From Motherboard:

What the Republican Takeover Means for American Nuclear Waste

The Republican takeover of the United States Senate can only be viewed as a good thing for boosters of the country’s long-foundering centralized nuclear waste depository. Yucca Mountain, a mostly-constructed, theoretically sealed tomb located about 80 miles north of the Las Vegas Valley, has been held in limbo by the Obama administration, with dethroned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid being one of the project’s most vocal opponents.

Yucca Mountain had already been at least partially reanimated as the result of a 2013 court ruling forcing the Nuclear Regulatory Commision to continue studying the project. In October, the NRC released a report, the first of several, finding that the facility is sufficiently sealed off from the environment to store nuclear waste. That conclusion in itself doesn’t revive the project; for Yucca Mountain to fully get back on track, it would take congressional funding.

That funding, with Reid out as leader and Obama as lame as ducks get in American democracy, seems a whole lot more likely now. Yet, as an op-ed in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists notes, the site in reality remains not nearly as secure as it should be.

EnviroWatch: Ills, drought, GMOs, nukes


We begin with an alien invasion, via Al Jazeera America:

‘Kissing bug’ disease creeps into US, but symptoms often missed

  • Spread through the feces of blood-sucking insects, Chagas can cause heart failure and damage intestines

Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States have been infected with the potentially fatal “kissing bug” disease, but U.S. health care workers’ lack of awareness often prevents successful diagnosis and treatment, according to a report released this week.

The dearth of federally licensed drugs to combat the disease also limits patients’ access to treatment, according to findings presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) on Thursday.

“This is a real health concern in the United States that deserves much more attention, research and funding for patient care and education,” said Dr. Jennifer Manne-Goehler, a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston who was the lead author of the study.

More than 300,000 people in the U.S. have kissing bug, or Chagas, disease, endemic to Mexico, Central America and South America — where there 8 million people have been infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

From SciDev.Net, and a novel way to fight another critter responsible for malaria and much more:

Interest grows in unusual Egyptian method of mosquito control

Plans are progressing to introduce an unusual method of mosquito control which involves sprinkling powdered plant extracts on swampy mosquito nurseries. The Egyptian researchers behind the innovation have set up a company to develop the method and recently signed an agreement with South Sudan’s government to implement the technique there.

The researchers, whose firm is called InRaD (Innovative Research and Development), tell SciDev.Net that they have also had requests from Somalia’s health ministry to do the same.

Later this month, Mahmoud Abdel-Kader, a photochemist at the German University in Cairo, Egypt, and one of the two scientists behind the technique, is due to fly to Switzerland to present the results of laboratory and field research to the WHO. He says he is planning on discussing the possibility of WHO approval of the method.

The technique involves adding a derivative of the plant pigment chlorophyll to wetlands infested with the aquatic larvae of mosquitoes.

The research included three years of laboratory work as well as field experiments in the wetlands of Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda that are full of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. The technique killed between 85 to 100 per cent of larvae, according to a poster summary published in Malaria Journal in 2012.

Via the Japan Times, Comet Siding Spring leaves a little behind:

NASA says comet flyby of Mars changed chemistry of its atmosphere

  • “We believe this type of event occurs once every 8 million years,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

The comet released far more dust than NASA anticipated — thousands of kilograms by preliminary estimates — as it passed 87,000 miles (139,000 km) from Mars.

“The comet’s dust slammed into the upper atmosphere, creating a massive and dense ionospheric layer, and literally changed the chemistry of the upper atmosphere,” Green told reporters.

This additional layer of ions, in an electrically charged layer high above the planet, was temporary.

NASA said it is the first time scientists have ever connected debris from a meteor shower to such a significant change in the atmosphere.

Another fracking fight in the Golden State, via the Guardian:

Kale or fracking? Farmers and corporations fight it out for water

  • In California, fracking is taking the water that farmers need. It’s no anomaly. There is a water conflict looming between industry and agriculture

Which would you rather have: lettuce and carrots for your salads, or affordable gasoline for your car? Affordable food prices or affordable electricity?

You’ll have to make the choice. In fact, if you like a ready supply of tasty, affordable produce – and low food prices generally – this may be the time to start worrying. And not just about the drought in California, where desperate, panicky farmers are responding to the years-long dry spell by hiring dowsers – water witches – to scour their land for hidden wells, or the the south-west, which is in the grip of a “megadrought”.

Even in areas where drought isn’t a problem, the stress on limited water resources is approaching perilous levels, according to a new report from MSCI Inc. Rainfall levels may be just fine in areas like Boston or Long Island, but these regions rely heavily on irrigation to keep crops growing, and competition for those water resources just keeps growing from big industries.

There are simply too many water-intensive industries competing for increasingly scarce water resources. “And now there are conflicts looming,” says Linda-Eling Lee, global head of ESG research for MSCI Inc in New York, who has delved into what this means for all of us.

On desperate but wholly desirable measure, via Homeland Security News Wire:

As drought continues, more Californians turn to greywater

California’s rainy season tends to run from October to late March, but for the third year in a row rain has been relatively absent, meaning that the state is currently suffering from a severe, unprecedented drought. With increasing water rates, a growing number of homeowners in Southern California are relying on greywater systems to support their landscapes and toilet flushing. “If the drought continues, honestly, I could see all new construction will have greywater systems of some kind because it really doesn’t make sense to put usable water in the sewer system,” says one expert.

California’s rainy season tends to run from October to late March, but for the third year in a row rain has been relatively absent, meaning that the state is currently suffering from a severe, unprecedented drought. With increasing water rates, a growing number of homeowners in Southern California are relying on greywater systems to support their landscapes and toilet flushing. ReWater, a high-end greywater system, relies on spent water from showers, bathroom faucets, and washers to supply gardens, but not before it filters the water.

From the Washington Post, another win for the gene-tweaking corporateers:

U.S. approves first genetically modified potato for commercial planting

The Agriculture Department on Friday approved the first genetically modified potato for commercial planting in the United States, a move likely to draw the ire of groups opposed to artificial manipulation of foods.

The Innate potato, developed by the J.R. Simplot Co., is engineered to contain less of a suspected human carcinogen that occurs when a conventional potato is fried, and is also less prone to bruising during transport.

Boise, Idaho-based Simplot is a major supplier of frozen french fries to fast-food giant McDonald’s.

More from the Guardian:

‘Innate Potato’ heads for market but GM watchdogs chip away at Simplot success

  • Company says new potato resists bruising, reduces carcinogen
  • Activists ask McDonald’s not to use potato with DNA of other potatoes

The Innate Potato, a trademarked creation of Simplot, has DNA from other potatoes spliced into its own, through a process called RNA interference technology. The USDA also approved genetically modified alfalfa from Monsanto.

Food-safety advocates advised caution.

“If this is an attempt to give crop biotechnology a more benign face, all it has really done is expose the inadequacies of the US regulation of GE crops,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at the advocacy group Center for Food Safety, in a statement.

Gurian-Sherman said the USDA had failed to undertake a “rigorous” analysis of the crop’s possible consequences, and added: “We simply don’t know enough about RNA interference technology to determine whether GE crops developed with it are safe for people and the environment.”

Activists have already asked one of Simplot’s largest customers, McDonald’s, not to use the spuds.

Another GMO win [bringing back the key ingredient in Agent Orange]  from Public Radio International:

EPA approves a new herbicide for GMO crops and lawsuits follow

A coalition of environmental groups and farmers is suing the EPA over its approval of Dow AgroSciences’ new crop herbicide, Enlist Duo. The lawsuit alleges inadequate environmental and health assessments by the agency.

Enlist Duo is a combination of glyphosate (better known as Roundup) and 2,4 D. The EPA approved the herbicide for use on October 15. Lawsuits from a coalition of farmers and other environmental groups quickly followed. The effort is led by the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Center for Food Safety.

“We tried our best to work through the administrative process,” says Bill Freese, science policy analyst for The Center for Food Safety. “For two years we filed detailed scientific comments on the agency’s assessment documents and EPA just hasn’t listened to us. That’s why we’ve been forced to resort to a lawsuit.”

From RT, a fine notion:

Russia may ban fast food commercials in TV programs for kids

Russia may ban the advertising of junk food during children’s shows aired on national TV or radio. The Parliament is considering new amendments to the Advertising Law which would limit marketing of foods containing high amounts of fat, salt and sugar.

A relative new comer to Russian politics, young MP Alena Arshinova, is trying to change the face of the nation by banning fast food commercials from children’s radio and TV channels, by introducing an amendment to the Russia’s Advertising Law.

“Every children’s program is a guide, instilling some values, giving moral guidance. But we must understand that the child does not take advertising in isolation from fairy tales or cartoons. And the favorite program in the future is associated with a particular product, often harmful to health,” explained Arshinova.

From the Los Angeles Times, a shakeup coming?:

Swarm of earthquakes in Nevada desert is intensifying

A swarm of hundreds of earthquakes that has been striking a corner of the Nevada desert near the Oregon border for months has intensified in recent days, prompting new warnings from seismologists.

About 750 earthquakes, mostly magnitude 2.0 to 3.0, have struck the area about 50 miles southeast of Lakeview, Ore., since the swarm started in July, said Ian Madin, chief scientist for Oregon’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

The swarm is beneath an uninhabited part of the Nevada desert near the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, but officials are telling the public, especially the almost 2,300 residents of Lakeview, to develop earthquake plans if they haven’t already.

“If you are not ready for an earthquake, now is an awfully good time to get ready for an earthquake,” said Alison Ryan, a spokeswoman for the department.

From Salon, a very sad prognosis:

The end of beaches? Why the world’s shorelines are in serious trouble

  • As the oceans warm and sea levels rise, humans are trying to save our shorelines — and doing the opposite

We can have our beachfront properties — our Miami high-rises, our Hamptons mansions, our Jersey boardwalks — or we can have our beaches. But as geologist and Duke University emeritus professor Orrin Pilkey has been arguing for decades now, we can’t have both.

As the oceans warm and sea levels rise, coastal living is becoming an increasingly risky proposition. Any climate scientist would tell you not to invest in a beach house, and yet large-scale migration inland is something we’ve yet to see. The beaches themselves can withstand extreme weather, of course. But it’s our attempts to hold them in place, through techno-fixes like seawalls and beach replenishment, that ironically enough will end up destroying them. Sooner or later, Pilkey argues, we’re going to be forced to retreat. The question is whether there’ll be any beach left by then.

“The Last Beach,” which Pilkey co-wrote with J. Andrew G. Cooper, a professor of coastal studies at the University of Ulster, is but his latest attempt to drive home just how wrong-headed our push to build on and preserve shorelines is. It’s been an uphill battle; for Pilkey, what counts as progress was that people acknowledged his plea not to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy instead of just attacking him for suggesting it — even if they didn’t really end up following his advice.

From the Los Angeles Times, a dam delay:

Opponents of planned Colombian dams take heart from OAS report

Opponents of a Chinese plan to construct several dams along Colombia’s longest river said they were encouraged by an international human rights panel’s report Friday that noted “tension” between Latin American mega-projects and “the full exercise of human rights.”

The report, issued by the Organization of American States’ human rights commission, addresses testimony last month in Washington by Colombians who protested alleged human rights abuses, including forced displacement, in connection with plans to dam sections of the nearly 1,000-mile-long Magdalena River.

“The response by the OAS encourages us to continue to resist these mega-projects and to urge the government to adopt a development model other than the mining and energy mega-projects they favor,” said Miller Dussan, a university professor and opposition leader who went to Washington to protest the development plan.

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

Minamata disease group opposes restart of Sendai nuclear plant

Minamata disease victims and supporters have joined the protest against the restart of nuclear reactors in Kumamoto Prefecture, saying safety again is taking a back seat in the drive for economic growth.

“If they miss the danger of nuclear plants because of economic priorities, they have not learned the lessons from Minamata disease,” said Koichiro Matsunaga, who heads the group “Stop restarting nuclear plants Minamata.”

Formed in September by eight members, including three Minamata disease patients, the group plans to collaborate with local organizations to oppose the resumption of operations at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture.

Minamata disease, a sometimes fatal neurological disorder that causes numbness and vision problems, was officially recognized as a health hazard 58 years ago. Caused by consumption of marine products contaminated by mercury discharged into the sea by a chemical factory, the disease remains a negative symbol of Japan’s period of high economic growth.

And from the Japan Times, the silvery corporate lining:

Uranium mining stocks jump as Japan clears way to reactors restart

Uranium prices and producers’ shares soared after Japan cleared the way for restart of the first of the nuclear reactors shut after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Cameco Corp., Canada’s largest uranium producer, increased 11 percent, the biggest gain since August 2010. Denison Mines Corp. climbed 20 percent and explorer Fission Uranium Corp. rose 18 percent in Toronto.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. on Friday received final local approval to resume power generation at its Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture. All reactors in Japan have been shut since the March 2011 meltdowns crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.