Category Archives: Science

EnviroWatch: Poles, noise, oceans, & nukes


We begin with the southern polar regions with the Atlantic Monthly:

Antarctica Tourism Could Be Making Penguins Sick

  • Human visits to the South Pole may threaten the adorable creatures with deadly diseases

Antarctica remained largely untouched until roughly 200 years ago, and now, more than 10,000 people travel there every year. But tourists bring more than cameras. Scientists are warning that pathogens brought by visitors could threaten the continent’s most iconic inhabitant: the penguin.

Isolation has left local wildlife populations particularly vulnerable to diseases commonplace elsewhere in the world. “The effects of both a growing tourism industry and research presence will not be without consequences,” Wray Grimaldi of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, said to New Scientist. “Penguins are highly susceptible to infectious diseases.”

Her team of Antarctic researchers found multiple infectious agents—bacteria such Salmonella and E. coli, viruses such as West Nile and the Avian pox virus—in captive penguins dating back to 1947. Outbreaks from those diseases have killed thousands of penguins over the years, the team reported in a paper published this month in the journal Polar Biology.

Then head to the northern polar region with the New York Times:

Snow Is Down and Heat Is Up in the Arctic, Report Says

The Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the globe, and with greater repercussions, scientists are reporting.

The new findings appear in the Arctic Report Card, first published in 2006 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and updated annually. The report card catalogs the wide-ranging changes caused by the rising temperatures, in large part driven by emissions of greenhouse gases.

Snow cover, measured since 1967, was below average and set a record low in April in the Eurasian region of the Arctic. Sea surface temperatures are rising, particularly in the Chukchi Sea, northwest of Alaska, where the waters are warming at a rate of almost one degree Fahrenheit per decade.

The extent of Arctic sea ice, which retreats in summer, did not hit a record low in 2014. But it was the sixth lowest since satellite measurements began in 1979, and the scientists noted that the eight smallest extents have occurred in the last eight years.

And again with Common Dreams:

Chevron Halts Arctic Drilling Plans ‘Indefinitely’

  • Decision ‘further proof that technical challenges of drilling in icy waters, where a spill is all but inevitable.’—Farrah Khan, Greenpeace Canada

In a move cheered by environmental groups, Chevron has put its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic “on hold indefinitely,” the energy company said Wednesday.

It had planned on drilling by 2020 in the Beaufort Sea, but in a letter to Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB), Chevron cited “the level of economic uncertainty in the industry” for its decision, Reuters reports.

CBC News reports that Chevron has already spent over $100 million on exploration in the Beaufort Sea.

NEB policy is that companies engaged in drilling must be able to drill a “same season relief well” in the case of an out-of-control well—an ability, according to the Financial Times, Chevron said was “not feasible.” Chevron was in the process of creating an alternate to such a relief well and have it meet approval of the regulatory body.

Oil news further south with Reuters:

Oil shock to tilt Mexico energy opening in private sector’s favor

Mexico, the world’s 10th biggest crude producer, last week announced bidding terms for the first set of production-sharing contracts, unveiling 14 shallow-water exploration blocks that will pay winning firms a share of each project’s output.

The overhaul aims to reverse a decline in crude output of 30 percent since 2004, but the slumping prices have cut potential returns, putting the onus on Mexico to make it more attractive for firms to invest – at the government’s expense.

By law, what companies must pay the government include a range of taxes and a basic royalty which will vary depending on the price of oil.

The most important consideration in determining who wins the contracts will be what share of operating profits bidders offer the government above a minimum level.

“What will the government do? Well, if it planned on a certain percentage for a given (project), it’s just going to have to reduce the percentage,” said German Pacheco, a congressman from the opposition National Action Party who helped craft the energy reform.

From the Guardian, an oceanic crisis:

Major coral bleaching in Pacific may become worst die-off in 20 years, say experts

  • Warm sea temperatures are causing massive coral reef die-off across the Northern Pacific in what could be the start of an historic bleaching event around the world

Scientists warn extreme sea temperatures could cause a “historic” coral reef die-off around the world over the coming months, following a massive coral bleaching already underway in the North Pacific. Experts said the coral die-off could be the worst in nearly two decades.

Reports of severe bleaching have been accumulating in the inbox of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch programme since July.

A huge swathe of the Pacific has already been affected, including the Northern Marianas Islands, Guam, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Kiribati and Florida. Some areas have recorded serious bleaching for the first time.

“On a global scale it’s a major bleaching event. What it may be is the beginning of a historic event,” said Coral Reef Watch coordinator Dr Mark Eakin.

A delightful discovery, via BBC News:

Birds ‘heard tornadoes coming’ and fled one day ahead

US scientists say tracking data shows that five golden-winged warblers “evacuated” their nesting site one day before the April 2014 tornado outbreak.

Geolocators showed the birds left the Appalachians and flew 700km (400 miles) south to the Gulf of Mexico.

The next day, devastating storms swept across the south and central US.

Writing in the journal Current Biology, ecologists suggest these birds – and others – may sense such extreme events with their keen low-frequency hearing.

Other sounds, ominous in themselves, via Environment News Service:

EU Traffic Noise Causes 10,000 Premature Deaths a Year

More than 125 million Europeans could be exposed to levels of road traffic noise above legal guidelines, causing up to 10,000 premature deaths each year, finds a new assessment published today by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

“Noise in Europe 2014,” the EEA’s first noise assessment report, analyzes exposure to noise levels and the environmental and public health problems that result.

The effects of noise are particularly widespread. For the one in four Europeans exposed to noise levels above the EU’s threshold for assessment and action, 55 decibels, there are both direct and indirect health effects, the report states.

Traffic noise annoys almost 20 million and disturbs the sleep of an estimated eight million residents of the 28 European Union Member States.

Another Obama administration disappointment, from Salon:

EPA goes soft on toxic coal ash

  • New regulations for the dangerous coal byproduct fail to treat it as hazardous waste

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the nation’s very first regulations for coal ash disposal Friday afternoon. But, in a major disappointment to those hoping the agency would come down hard on the substance, it opted to regulate it as solid, instead of hazardous, waste.

Coal ash is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants — one that’s less well-known than carbon dioxide emissions, but is also far more prevalent than many likely realize. It’s the second-largest form of waste generated in the U.S., the 140 tons of it that are produced annually stored at over 2,000 disposal sites across the country.

Some of those dump sites have been known to leak contaminants, which include arsenic, mercury and dangerous heavy metals, posing a health risk to the people living nearby. And sometimes things go really wrong. You may remember, for example, the disaster earlier this year in North Carolina, when Duke Energy spilled over 82,000 tons of the stuff into the Dan River.

On to Japan and Fukushimapocalypse Now!, via the Japan Times:

Taiwan says 3/11 ban on Japanese food exports to remain in place

Taiwan will continue to ban food imports from five prefectures tainted by the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster despite Tokyo’s efforts to apply stricter export inspections.

An official at the Health and Welfare Ministry said Friday the import ban will remain in place and that Taiwanese authorities have no plans to lift it any time soon.

“Both sides have been discussing the issue since the ban was put in place,” he said. “We proceed at our own pace and will conduct an overall assessment before making any decision.”

The Japan Times again, with damages sought:

Hundreds of Fukushima evacuees sue Tepco for ¥6 billion

More than 340 people forced to evacuate by the atomic meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011 filed a lawsuit Friday against Tokyo Electric Power Co. demanding around ¥6 billion in compensation.

In the case, filed with the Tokyo District Court, the 344 plaintiffs from Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, are seeking ¥10 million in damages for mental suffering and monthly payments of ¥200,000 for three years from the utility once the evacuation order for the Odaka area is lifted, their lawyers said.

The evacuees had sought to settle the case through an alternative dispute resolution system but decided to take it to court after Tepco, which runs the plant, rejected the terms of settlement, the lawyers said.

And from ABC News, the latest on that underground radioactive-waste-enclosing organic cat litter explosion in New Mexico:

Report: Radiation Leak at Nuclear Dump Was Small

A final report by independent researchers shows the radiation leak from the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico was small and localized.

The report released Thursday by the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center also says no negative health effects are expected among workers or the public.

The center is associated with New Mexico State University.

Its technicians have been collecting samples since February, when a container of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory ruptured after being placed in a storage room at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

EnviroWatch: Fracked, nuked, heated, dried


Plus critters, health, and more.

First, via United Press International, a major development:

New York state bans fracking

New York state on Wednesday banned the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a means of extracting natural gas after a years-long study by environmental and health officials.

There had been an indefinite moratorium placed on fracking in the state since 2008 when then-N.Y. Gov. David Paterson ordered a review on the safety of the controversial process.

N.Y. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Wednesday declared he wouldn’t be comfortable if his own children were to live near a fracking site.

“I cannot support high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” he said during a year-end meeting of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet.

From Al Jazeera America, implications:

New York fracking ban reverberates nationally

  • Activists say the ban, announced by Gov. Cuomo Wednesday, will embolden the anti-fracking movement in several states

The news took even the most seasoned environmental activists by surprise: after years of review, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York State would ban hydraulic fracturing.

“I can barely contain myself,” said Nadia Steinzor, the eastern coordinator for national non-profit Earthworks. “Even though Cuomo recently said he was going to make a clear decision, we were not expecting something as exciting and straightforward as this.”

Activists hope that Cuomo’s decision will spark more bans across the country. “The fact that they took such a clear conclusion on these health risks sends a very strong signal that will reverberate nationwide about the risks to water, land and health,” Steinzor said.

From EcoWatch, more reinforcement:

Families Forced to Flee Their Homes From Out-of-Control Leak at Fracking Well

More than two dozen families have been forced to flee their homes in Monroe County in eastern Ohio as natural gas poured from a leak at an unused fracking well, the C0lumbus Dispatch revealed.

According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle, crews lost control of the well Saturday and have not yet been able to stop the leak. Families were evacuated from homes within a 1.5-mile radius of the well near the Ohio River. “There’s still a steady stream of natural gas coming from the wellhead,” said McCorkle.

Texas-based Triad Hunter, which owns the drilling site, released a statement saying it had “experienced a loss of control of a well, the Stalder 3UH, located in Monroe County, Ohio. The previously drilled and completed Stalder 3UH well had been temporarily plugged and abandoned in preparation for the drilling of three additional Utica horizontal wells on the Stalder pad. However, despite numerous precautionary measures taken in connection with the temporary plugging and abandonment operation, the well began to flow uncontrollably while recommencing production operations. Triad Hunter personnel were removing the well’s night cap flange when a pressure disruption occurred. They attempted to bolt back down this equipment but were not able to safely do so prior to natural gas flowback.”

From the Ecologist, more fracking woes, potentially much more devastating:

With sub-$60 oil, fracking and tar sands losses threaten the whole financial system

A new financial crisis is threatening to dwarf the ‘subprime’ mortgage debacle, writes Paul Mobbs. Cheap money from central banks has fuelled some $1.3 trillion of risky investments in high-cost ‘unconventional’ oil and gas. Now, with oil sinking below $60, all that paper is turning to junk – and that’s putting the entire economic system at risk.

Brought about by the recent fall in oil prices, investors are beginning to review the economics of unconventional oil and gas. For the last few years there have been a number of damning reports about the economics of unconventional fossil fuels.

Now it seems those long-ignored observations are being taken seriously by the money-lenders of Wall Street.

Deck the halls with. . .Whoa! WTF? Via the Guardian:

Toxic chemicals found in majority of holiday decorations

A new study tested seasonal products from retailers Walmart, Target and CVS. Two-thirds contained substances linked to cancer, learning disabilities and other health problems

A range of seasonal holiday products containing high levels of toxic chemicals are being sold by top retailers, including Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Kroger, Lowe’s, CVS and Dollar Tree, according to a new study.

Researchers for the environmental non-profit The Ecology Center tested 69 seasonal holiday products and found that two-thirds contained one or more hazardous chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems.

Purchased at seven retail stores in southeast Michigan, researchers tested beaded and tinsel garlands, artificial wreaths and greenery, stockings, figurines and other tabletop decorations, and gift bags. The study identified lead, flame retardants, tin compounds and phthalates, among other hazardous substances. These have been variously linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer.

Measles on the rise in South Africa, via StarAfrica:

S/Africa on measles alert

South Africa’s five provinces of Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and Western Cape have been hit by measles, Health Ministry spokesman Joe Maila confirmed on Tuesday.

Some 49 laboratory stations confirmed measles cases had been noted since the beginning of this year, with the majority of the cases being reported in the Northern Cape Province which has recorded 18 measles cases to date, Maila said.

He said the ministry was working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to contain the virus and ensure that it would not spread further.

“Indeed, there is a breakout of measles in South Africa. However, we are doing everything (possible) to make sure that we contain it so that it should not spread at the level that would get people worried,” he added.

Global Times covers the tragic:

Village votes to expel HIV-positive child

  • Expert: needs care ‘immediately’

An 8-year-old boy was allegedly facing expulsion from a village in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province for being HIV-positive, news portal people.com.cn reported on Wednesday.

More than 200 villagers, including the boy’s grandfather, in Shufangya village, Liqiao township, signed an agreement on December 7 agreeing to expel the boy in an effort to “protect villagers’ health.”

Kunkun (pseudonym), the boy, was found to be HIV-positive in 2011 when he received treatment for minor injuries, according to his grandfather, surnamed Luo.

Luo, 69, said that the HIV virus was transmitted to the boy from his mother.

From the Associated Press, corporate killings:

14 charged in deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak

In the biggest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine, 14 former owners or employees of a Massachusetts pharmacy were charged Wednesday in connection with a 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people.

The nationwide outbreak was traced to tainted drug injections manufactured by the now-closed New England Compounding Pharmacy of Framingham.

Barry Cadden, a co-founder of the business, and Glenn Adam Chin, a pharmacist who was in charge of the sterile room, were hit with the most serious charges, accused in a federal racketeering indictment of causing the deaths of 25 patients in seven states by “acting in wanton and willful disregard of the likelihood” of death or great bodily harm.

Among other things, Cadden, Chin and others are accused of using expired ingredients, failing to properly sterilize drugs and failing to test them to make sure they were pure. The other defendants were charged with such crimes as fraud and interstate sale of adulterated drugs.

From the Guardian, GMO incrementalism?:

Australian organic regulator pushes for GM-tainted crops to retain certification

  • Move would protect farmers from losing their organic certification because of accidental contamination

One of the bodies that regulates Australian organic standards is pushing to allow crops that are accidentally contaminated with genetically modified material to retain their organic certification, in a move that would bring Australia in line with European regulators.

Under current Australian organic standards, products lose organic certification if they contain any level of GM material.

That’s what happened to Western Australian farmer Steve Marsh, who took his neighbour Mark Baxter to the WA supreme court claiming GM pollen from Baxter’s farm caused him to lose organic certification on part of his property. Marsh lost the case and has lodged an appeal.

But regulator Australian Certified Organic (ACO) has applied to the Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council (OISCC) to change the standards to allow a minimum level of “advantageous contamination” in organic crops, so long as GM material is not detectable in the end product.

Reuters covers more GMO politicking:

U.S, China making progress on biotech crop talks: USDA’s Vilsack

The United States and China are making progress in talks over Beijing’s acceptance of new biotechnology for crops, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Wednesday.

The countries are “moving toward an understanding of how we might be able to establish a strategic dialogue on biotechnology,” Vilsack told Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang in a bilateral meeting in Chicago.

Biotech crops are a key trade issue between the countries because China has rejected more than 1 million tons of U.S. corn containing traces of a type of genetically modified corn, Agrisure Viptera, in the past year. The strain, developed by Syngenta AG, is approved for planting in the United States but not for import by Beijing.

From the Guardian, resistance to the neoliberal environmental agenda:

Italy says it will oppose EU plans to scrap environment law

  • Eleven member states signed letter opposing withdrawal of draft EU law on air quality and waste

Plans by European policymakers to scrap a draft EU law on air quality and waste send a “negative signal” about Europe’s ambition to curb climate change and governments will challenge them, the Italian environment minister said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the European commission laid out its legislative plans for 2015, saying it would focus on priorities such as jobs and economic growth. At the same time, it planned to withdraw some proposals made by the previous EU executive, including on improving air quality and cutting waste.

Environment minister Gian Luca Galletti of Italy, holder of the rotating EU presidency, was one of 11 EU ministers who signed a letter to the commission saying they opposed plans to tear up environmental legislation. He told journalists the opposition would continue.

After the jump, climatic grounds for pick-me-up angst, the U.S. Southwest looks to replenish a critical reservoir, oceans now come with a plastic lining?, Obama saves a bay — at least for now, Peruvian environmental murders, the tragic price of Chinese ivory hunger, the Navajo coal problem, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now! and yet another leak, and a singularly bad timing problem, bad news for Japan’s power customer, another nuclear plant moves closer to a restart, and more ratepayer woes. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Bugs, climates, water, & nukes


And more. . .

We begin with the bugs, via BBC News:

Brazil Olympics: Super-bacteria found in Rio sea waters

Researchers in Brazil have discovered drug-resistant bacteria in the sea waters where sailing and windsurfing events will be held during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The “super-bacteria” are usually found in hospital waste and produce an enzyme, KPC, resistant to antibiotics.

Researchers found the bacteria in samples taken from Flamengo beach.

Nearly 70% of sewage in Rio – a city of some 10 million people – is spilled raw into the waters of Guanabara Bay.

Asian bugs from Kyodo News:

Pathogenic bird flu strain detected at western Japan poultry farm

The Miyazaki prefectural government said early Tuesday morning that a genetic test confirmed a highly pathogenic H5 strain of avian influenza in three birds that earlier tested positive at a chicken farm in Nobeoka city in Japan’s top poultry producing prefecture.

The local government in western Japan started culling all the roughly 4,000 chickens raised at the farm at 2:30 a.m. In line with the law on preventing domestic animal infectious diseases, the government also asked nearby poultry farms to restrict the movements of livestock.

According to the prefecture, the farm in Nobeoka reported that 16 chickens died Monday, of which three preliminarily tested positive for bird flu. Ten chickens had died the day before, but tests results were negative.

On to climate with doubt from the New York Times:

Is a Two-Degree Limit on Global Warming Off Target?

The nations of the world agreed in 1992 to try to head off the worst damage, in an ambitious but vague treaty that called for action to prevent dangerous interference with the climate.

That raised the question of how much warming would be dangerous. In the mid-1990s, the German government picked up on the 2C finding as a way to breathe life into the treaty.

A decade of subsequent research added scientific support to the notion that 2C was a dangerous threshold. Experts realized, for example, that at some increase in global temperature, the immense Greenland ice sheet would begin an unstoppable melt, raising the level of the sea by as much as 23 feet over an unknown period. Their early calculations suggested that calamity would be unlikely as long as global warming did not exceed about 1.9 degrees Celsius.

“Risking a loss of the whole Greenland ice sheet was considered a no-go area,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, head of earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “We are talking about really sinking a lot of coastal cities.”

The Christian Science Monitor loses its cool:

Why Greenland could lose more of ice sheet than predicted

Newly discovered ‘winterproof’ lakes within the upper layers of the ice sheet in Greenland, as well as year-round aquifers, could speed the loss in a warming climate.

Researchers say they have uncovered perennial freshwater lakes embedded within the upper layers of Greenland’s ice sheet – previously unknown features that could play a role in the rate at which the sheet loses mass in a warming climate.

The discovery comes as glaciologists are still trying to digest news from a year ago that the southeastern section of the ice sheet hosts a year-round aquifer of liquid water. The aquifer covers some 27,000 square miles and ranges from 16 to nearly 165 feet thick, researchers have estimated. Since then, researchers have found other aquifers.

The perennial lakes and aquifers are acting as a kind of internal thermometer, signaling that “the ice sheet is warming, not only from the surface but internally as well,” noted Lora Koenig, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., during a briefing Monday at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The meeting runs through Friday.

The Los Angeles Times covers a potential seismic shift:

Earthquake could destroy L.A.’s water lifeline

Los Angeles gets 88% of its water from three major aqueducts, flowing from the Colorado River, Owens Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

But as they make their way into the region, the aqueducts cross the San Andreas fault a total of 32 times.

Officials have long warned that a massive temblor on the San Andreas could destroy key sections of the aqueducts, cutting off the water supply for more than 22 million people in Southern California.

L.A. officials are for the first time taking concrete steps to address the problem. Making L.A.’s water supply less vulnerable in a huge quake will probably cost billions, and it remains unclear where that money would come from.

And from the Sacramento Bee, keep it comin’:

California needs more big storms to beat drought

Despite the heavy storm that hit California last week – complete with flooded creeks and mudslides, closed highways and downed trees – it will take a lot more of the same to end the drought. In fact, experts say it may take five or six more storms like it to consider the drought over.

One reason is that, as wet as the storm seemed on Thursday and Friday, it was not so stormy everywhere. California’s water supplies are largely reliant on mountain snowpack, and this was a warm “Pineapple Express” storm. The state’s reservoirs had capacity to collect nearly all the rainfall runoff that flowed in. But the storm did not deliver a great deal of snow to the Sierra Nevada, which provides the snowmelt that California relies on in summer and fall.

The state needs a lot more storms – and cold ones – to assure there’s enough snowmelt to meet water demand next summer.

A species on the precipice from the Los Angeles Times:

5 northern white rhinos left in the world

With the death at San Diego Zoo Safari Park of a northern white rhino, the species is five animals away from extinction.

The death of Angalifu, a 44-year-old male northern white rhino, leaves an elderly female at the park, three in a Kenyan preserve and one at a Czech Republic zoo.

There were more than 2,000 northern whites in 1960, according to the World Wildlife Fund, but poachers obliterated the population. By 1984, there were about 15 of the rhinos left. That population was doubled by 1993 through aggressive conservation efforts. But heavily armed poaching gangs have now virtually annihilated the species, the WWF says.

Poachers are known to use helicopters, guns with silencers and night-vision equipment to harvest rhinos’ horns, which are in huge demand in Asia and sell for as much as $30,000 a pound.

The Guardian covers efforts to save another creature:

EU under pressure to ban diclofenac to protect Europe’s vultures

  • Veterinary drug for cattle that led to collapse of vulture populations of Asia is a risk to 55,000 birds, says European Medicines Agency

Pressure is mounting on Europe to immediately ban a drug used by vets which has been linked to the poisoning of vultures and other birds which feed on the corpses of cows treated with it.

The use of veterinary diclofenac, a pain-killing anti-inflammatory medecine given to livestock led to the unintentional but almost complete collapse of many vulture populations in Asia in 1990s and early 2000s. But a loophole in Europe allows it to be legally used in Spain and Italy where nearly all Europe’s estimated 55,000 vultures live.

Now, following an investigation of the death of a Spanish vulture in 2012, the European Medicines Agency has confirmed that vultures and other carrion-eating birds are at risk. The European commission asked the agency, which is responsible for the scientific evaluation of all medicines developed by EU drug companies, to consider the risks it posed to birds after scientists and ornithologists protested when Spain authorised use of the drug on cattle last year. A dose of just 0.1–0.2 mg/kg body weight can cause rapid, lethal kidney failure.

The first of a pair of stories from the Los Angeles Times with a common theme:

Keystone XL pipeline teed up as first debate in the new GOP Senate

Votes to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline will be the first of the new GOP-controlled Senate, the incoming majority leader promised Tuesday, as Republicans sought to move past internal divisions and confront President Obama.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the pledge on Keystone as Congress wraps up the final days of its lame duck session. Republicans are set to take control of the Senate in January, and broaden their ranks in the House.

“We’ll be starting the New Year with a job-creating bill that enjoys significant bipartisan support,” McConnell said.

And the second, via the Los Angeles Times:

Keystone XL pipeline may no longer make economic sense, experts say

With the GOP about to take control of both houses of Congress, backers of the pipeline say they are close to having a veto-proof majority for a bill that would order the Obama administration to give the project the federal permit required for pipelines that cross a U.S. border.

But “the political debate is not paralleled by the realities” in the market, said Sandy Fielden, director of energy analytics at Texas-based RBN Energy. “The economics of this project are becoming increasingly borderline.”

The problem is that extracting oil from tar sands is difficult and costly. Prices need to be relatively high to make the extra effort profitable.

For pipeline boosters, market conditions have turned gloomy as world oil prices have dropped to the lowest point in five years.

After the jump, electric car green cred questioned while growing economic clout wins organic farming tax breaks, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with a Fukushima Olympic bid, a triumphant Shinzo Abe gets ready to let the reactors rumble, a new tech plant pushes ahead, while owners of an aging reactor pair run a dog and pony media show, and close with a fecal holiday campaign. . . Continue reading

Map of the day: Geography of scientific plagiarism


From Science, a map showing the percentages of suspect sources in a study of scientific articles from across the globe:

BLOG Plagiarism

InSecurityWatch: Cops, torture, hacks, zones. . .


And so very, very much more. . .

We begin with action on the domestic front from Reuters:

Marchers in Washington, New York, Boston protest police killings

Thousands marched in Washington, New York and Boston on Saturday to protest killings of unarmed black men by police officers.

Organizers said the marches were among the largest in the recent wave of protests against the killings of black males by officers in Ferguson, Missouri; New York; Cleveland; and elsewhere. The protests were peaceful, although police in Boston said they arrested 23 people who tried to block a highway.

Decisions by grand juries to return no indictments against the officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York have put police treatment of minorities back on the national agenda.

“We’re going to keep the light on Mike Brown … on all of the victims. The only way you make roaches run is to keep the light on,” said civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network organized the Washington rally.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau covers umbrage taken:

Police officers across U.S. upset at being seen as brutal racists

Police officers dispatched to investigate a 911 hang-up last week in an Idaho suburb were surprised by the reaction they got from the mother of the children who’d been playing with the phone.

“She said, ‘I’ve told my kids not to talk to you because you’re the people who kill us,’ “ recalled Tracy Basterrechea, deputy police chief in Meridian, Idaho, near Boise. The mother was Hispanic and her children African-American, he said.

Police in Meridian and other cities across the country are facing an angry backlash from the public after a series of police killings of unarmed African-Americans.

From United Press International, via the Department of Implausible Excuses:

Police officer disciplined for playing ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ at protest

The man who recorded “Sweet Home Alabama” coming from a Chicago police car at a protest said he knows some groups use it as “an anthem of Southern pride and those Confederate-type values.”

A Chicago police officer said he played “Sweet Home Alabama” at a weekend protest because he is a University of Alabama fan, the department said.

In a statement released Thursday, police officials said the officer faces disciplinary action. The Chicago Tribune said it was told by a source he will be suspended for 10 days if Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy approves the penalty.

Gabriel Michael, a Chicago resident who was at Sunday’s “Black lives matter” march, which protested the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York, heard the Lynyrd Skynyrd song coming from what appeared to be an unmarked police car. Michael said the car was in the midst of a group of police cars following the march.

Michael videotaped the car.

“Some of the lyrics in themselves aren’t racist … but I know it’s also been co-opted by groups, maybe bigoted groups, as an anthem of Southern pride and those Confederate-type values,” Michael told the Tribune. “That’s what was so jarring to me. To hear that playing from a police car at the end of a protest against police brutality and the murder of African-Americans, it was just jarring.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution covers police injustice compensated:

Cobb County to pay $100K to woman arrested for ‘F-bombing’ cops

Cobb County is paying $100,000 to a woman who police arrested for shouting profanity to protest their actions.

Amy Elizabeth Barnes, a well-known political activist, sued in federal court saying the county violated her First Amendment rights and maliciously prosecuted her when it jailed her on charges of disorderly conduct and the use of abuse words to “incite an immediate breach of the peace.”

She had been shouting “Cobb police suck” and “(Expletive) the police” and raising her middle finger while riding her bicycle past two officers questioning an African-American man outside a convenience store on Easter Sunday 2012.

“Ms. Barnes’ comments to the police may have been offensive, but no one in the United States of America should be chased down and arrested for their free speech,” said lawyer Cynthia Counts, who represented Barnes in her civil and criminal litigation. “The officers argued that it was a bad neighborhood and you shouldn’t disrespect the police because it could create issues,” she added.

The Guardian again, with the cost of another case of overzealous policing:

New York woman wins $1.12m after arrest for snapping military base for website

  • Deputy sheriff allegedly said he wanted to make an example of ‘right-wingers’
  • Jailed for four days and misdemeanor trespass charge was dismissed

A New York woman who claimed she was falsely arrested outside an Air National Guard base for taking photographs for a “Support Our Troops” website has been awarded $1.12m in compensatory damages, her attorney said on Friday.

“What they took from this woman cannot be measured in money,” said prominent Long Island civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington. “There is no reason to treat another human the way they treated her.”

He said Suffolk County sheriff’s deputies humiliated Nancy Genovese after arresting her in July 2009 while she took photographs of a decorative helicopter on display outside the Gabreski Airport Air National Guard base in Westhampton Beach on eastern Long Island. A deputy sheriff allegedly said he would arrest her for terrorism to make an example of other “right-wingers”, according to Brewington.

From the the Los Angeles Times, oy vey:

San Diego council aide suspended for comments about protesters

A San Diego City Council member has suspended a staffer without pay for two weeks for referring to police-conduct protesters as idiots and suggesting – in jest – that she wanted to shoot them.

The comments were made after a council meeting Wednesday in which two dozen protesters indicated opposition to the decisions by grand juries in Ferguson, Mo., and New York not to indict white police officers in the deaths of two unarmed black men.

Children in the group wore black sweat shirts with the phrase: “Don’t Shoot.”

In the moments after the meeting, Shirley Owen, staff member to Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, reportedly told a friend that the protesters were “ … idiots” and “I wanted to shoot them.”

The McClatchy Washington Bureau poses a question:

Will police protests fade like tea party and Occupy?

Protesters may find they’ll have to channel their energy into community organizing or other non-traditional means rather than rely on the political process.

“People today see politicians as spinally challenged,” said South Carolina state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee’s Southern Caucus. “They know we ought not to see getting elected to office as the only way to change the system.”

That’s a big change from days past, making the legacy of today’s protests uncertain.

This much, though, is clear, said Shackelford: “These protests are making people think about change again.”

And from the Sacramento Bee, a look at a step in the right direction, not a panacea:

Stockton Police Department demonstrates body camera

Program notes

The Mobile Field Force Operation of the Stockton Police Department has equipped its officers with body cams for over a year now. Only two of the more than a dozen law enforcement agencies in the greater Sacramento area equip police with body cameras meant to record officers’ interactions with civilians. Andrew Seng/Aseng@sacbee.com

Drone scare from the London Telegraph:

Drones ‘could be used as flying bombs for terror attack on passenger jet’

  • Terrorists could “with impunity” fly multiple drones to take out passenger aircraft, a leading expert warns, following report into ‘near-miss’ at Heathrow Airport

Drones could be used as flying bombs by terrorists to take down a passenger aircraft, according to a leading expert, who called for improved security measures to deal with the “gaping hole” in the national defences.

Prof David H Dunn, of the University of Birmingham, said that jihadis could “with impunity” fly multiple remote-controlled unmanned aircraft into the engines of a jumbo jet, causing it crash.

Prof Dunn was speaking after it emerged that a drone flew within 20ft of an Airbus A320 as it landed at Heathrow Airport in July.

While SciDev.Net covers a drone boon:

View on Migration: Drone searches aid refugee rescues

  • Italy has cut its migrant search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean
  • A charity has been using drones to spot migrants in trouble and alert help
  • But even the Migrant Offshore Aid Station must fundraise to continue work

While Italy has scaled back its operations, a new NGO based in Malta has been assisting migrants with the help of cutting-edge technology: Schiebel camcopter drones. “We are using equipment for humanitarian reasons that — up to now — has been used almost exclusively by the military,” says Martin Xuereb, the NGO’s director.

The NGO, called the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), was launched last April by Christopher and Regina Catrambone, two entrepreneurs based in Malta who committed US$2.64 million of their own funds to the project. Since then, MOAS has been using the military grade camcopters to locate migrants in trouble on the sea, and then either alert the relevant authorities or dispatch its own rescue boats. So far 3,000 people — mainly Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers — have received help from MOAS.

“We feel this is a global problem that should be addressed globally, and not only by nation-states or international organisations; we have a moral responsibility to ensure that nobody dies at sea,” Xuereb tells me.

A Scandinavian terror scare from TheLocal.dk:

Terror threat in Denmark has increased: PET

A new report from the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) says that the number of Danes fighting in Syria and Iraq has increased, as has the risk of a terror attack.

Using a small but significant change in language, domestic intelligence agency PET has warned of a greater risk of a terror attack in Denmark.

The latest threat level assessment from PET’s Center for Terror Analysis (CTA) states that “the terror threat against Denmark is serious, but the risk of being the victim of a terror attack in Denmark is limited”.

In CTA’s previous threat level assessment, the agency called the risk of a terror attack “very limited”.

Off to the war with BBC News:

‘Hundreds’ more UK troops to be sent to Iraq – Michael Fallon

Hundreds of British troops will be sent to Iraq in the New Year, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said.

The deployment – to help train local forces – will be in the “very low hundreds” but could also include a small protection force of combat-ready soldiers, he said. About 50 UK troops are already training Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq.

The Ministry of Defence said the move had not yet been formally approved. An MoD spokesman said: “No decision on troop numbers, units or locations have yet been made”.

Weaponizing water with Homeland Security News Wire:

ISIS uses control of water as a tool of war

Global security analysts have warned for some time now that water scarcity due to climate change will be used as a tool of war in regions with poor government.

The on-going wars in Iraq and Syria provide the first examples of the strategic and tactical use of water as a tool of war, as militant groups operating in both countries have been using water against residents of areas they control. “ISIS has established a blueprint that can be used by other entities to take advantage of drought and water scarcity,” writes on researcher.

“For all the conversation about ISIS taking control of oil refineries, one could argue that their control of water is even more significant, as it deprives the population of a resource necessary for daily sustenance and gives the militant group significant leverage over local governments and populations.”

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, treating us like mushrooms [kept in the dark and fed with bullshit]:

U.S. providing little information to judge progress against Islamic State

The American war against the Islamic State has become the most opaque conflict the United States has undertaken in more than two decades, a fight that’s so underreported that U.S. officials and their critics can make claims about progress, or lack thereof, with no definitive data available to refute or bolster their positions.

The result is that it’s unclear what impact more than 1,000 airstrikes on Iraq and Syria have had during the past four months. That confusion was on display at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing earlier this week, where the topic – “Countering ISIS: Are We Making Progress?” – proved to be a question without an answer.

“Although the administration notes that 60-plus countries having joined the anti-ISIS campaign, some key partners continue to perceive the administration’s strategy as misguided,” Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the committee’s chairman, said in his opening statement at the hearing, using a common acronym for the Islamic State. “Meanwhile, there are grave security consequences to allowing ISIS to control a territory of the size of western Iraq and eastern Syria.”

Messaging the media with the New York Times:

Online Trail Leads to Arrest of Indian as Man Behind Posts Backing Extremists

Police in Bangalore, India, arrested on Saturday the man accused of being behind @ShamiWitness, the Twitter handle of a fervent and widely followed English-language supporter of the Islamic State extremist group.

The authorities had been on the hunt for the man, Mehdi Masroor Biswas, since Channel 4 news in Britain broke the improbable story of a clean-shaven Indian executive who it said lived a double life: spending his hours off from his food company far from any Middle Eastern battlefield cheering on the Islamic States’ advances and trying to rally Muslims from around the world to its jihadi cause.

The police said Mr. Biswas, 24, would be charged with multiple offenses, including waging war against Asiatic states.

And on to torture, first with enablers in white coats from the Washington Post:

CIA report describes medical personnel’s intimate role in harsh interrogations

As the tempo of harsh CIA interrogation of terrorism suspects increased in early 2003, an agency medical officer observed to a colleague that their role of providing an “institutional conscience and the limiting factor” for the program had clearly changed.

Medical personnel, the officer wrote in an e-mail, were becoming “the ones who are dedicated to maximizing the benefit in a safe manner and keeping everyone’s butt out of trouble.”

As described in the Senate Intelligence Committee report released this week, CIA medical doctors, as well as psychologists, were intimately involved in virtually every interrogation session to a far greater extent than was previously known.

Oops! Where failures of intelligence andmorality meet, via the New York Times:

Amid Details on Torture, Data on 26 Who Were Held in Error

The Senate Democratic staff members who wrote the 6,000-page report counted 119 prisoners who had been in C.I.A. custody. Of those, the report found that 26 were either described in the agency’s own documents as mistakenly detained, or released and given money, evidence of the same thing.

The C.I.A. told the Senate in its formal response that the real number of wrongful detentions was “far fewer” than 26 but did not offer a number. Human rights advocates who have tracked the C.I.A. program believe that considerably more than 26 were wrongfully detained. Another Yemeni client of Ms. Satterthwaite, for instance, Mohammed al-Asad, was left out of the Senate’s count, even though he languished for months in C.I.A. prisons without being questioned, was sent home to Yemen and was never charged with a terrorism-related crime.

“The U.S. caused a great deal of suffering to people who posed no threat,” said Anne FitzGerald, director of research and crisis response at Amnesty International, who visited Yemen eight times to talk to Mr. Bashmilah, Mr. Asad and others who appeared to be former C.I.A. detainees. “International standards are there for a reason — they protect everyone.”

From the Hill, a damaging admission:

Bush attorney general says CIA overstepped legal guidance

Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Friday that it appeared that the Central Intelligence Agency had overstepped Justice Department guidance offered by the agency on the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

“You know, we provided a guidance, and, you know, it was up to the CIA to comply with that guidance. As I started hearing about some of the items in the report, I became a little — I became troubled, because some of those things, some of what was being referenced appear beyond the guidance,” Gonzales said on NewsMaxTV’s “Steve Malzberg Show.
Gonzales was White House counsel when the Justice Department issued its memos on the CIA’s ability to use torture. He later became Attorney General.

He also said that the drone program — which President Obama has supported — was likely as damaging to America’s reputation abroad as waterboarding.

VICE News notes context:

CIA Torture Was No ‘Rash’ Mistake

This week, the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed this with the release of its 500-page executive summary of its $40 million report on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program: broken bones stood on, forced rectal feeding, near drowning. On it went, because no one wanted to be “that guy” who said “enough.” Anyone who did was crushed.

In the polemic and fictional world of Zero Dark Thirty — and in the minds of real-life politicians — this barbarism effectively served a dangerous political requirement to find the monster in the cave: Torturing bad guys would lead us to bin Laden. Of course, as the report found, torture did not actually lead us to that prize — but let’s imagine that by some unhappy accident, it did. Would we then rest easy with the fact that American agents systematically, and with ample funding and support, became torturers? Would it have been worthwhile to waterboard, and freeze, and beat, and so much more? All for an infamous corpse in Abbottabad, tossed out the chambers of the sea.

The answer is no. We play a dangerous game in decrying torture because it is ineffective and not because it is torture. We also, in focusing on the failure of CIA torture in getting results, give an easy pass to the recent historical context that birthed the interrogation program. The widespread use of torture was a vile consequence; the problem was a paranoid national security ideology that would, did, and does justify any violation of rights and liberties under the pretext of fighting terror. To hold itself accountable in any honest way, which it will not, the US must admit that it was wrong because it perpetrated crimes. But beyond that, the country must face the fact that after 9/11, it would have done anything — torture, and much more.

The Guardian covers Old Blighty blowback:

Britain convulsed by its dirty secret in wake of CIA torture report

  • Senate report on rendition contrasts with recalcitrant UK, whose judge-led inquiry was shut down by Cameron

In September 2005, on the day the Guardian published its first edition in the new Berliner format, the newspaper informed its readers that a fleet of CIA aircraft had been using the UK’s airports during the agency’s so-called extraordinary rendition operations.

Aircraft from the 26-strong fleet had flown into and out of the UK at least 210 times since 9/11, the newspaper reported, “an average of one flight a week”, refuelling at RAF bases and civilian airports that included Northolt, Heathrow, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Belfast and – the agency’s favourite destination – Prestwick.

“It is not a matter for the MoD,” one Ministry of Defence official told the newspaper. “The aircraft use our airfields. We don’t ask any questions.”

Since then, a handful of British parliamentarians, judges, human rights activists and journalists have dragged into the public domain one piece of damning evidence after another to construct an incomplete but nonetheless disturbing picture of the UK’s involvement in the global kidnap and torture programme that was launched immediately after 9/11.

Reuters covers the Polish case:

After U.S. torture report, Poland asks what its leaders knew

The disclosure of details about the CIA’s brutal interrogation program could provide new leads for Polish prosecutors investigating how much Poland’s leaders at the time knew about a secret jail the agency was running in a Polish forest.

Prompted by a U.S. Senate report on the CIA’s “black sites” for interrogating al Qaeda suspects, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, at a joint news conference with former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, said on Wednesday he knew about the facility in Poland.

He said the CIA had denied Polish officials access to the site, a villa on the grounds of a Polish intelligence training academy, so they did not know people inside were being tortured. He said that while he and Miller knew people were detained there, they were told the detainees were cooperating willingly with U.S. intelligence and would be treated as prisoners of war.

Lawyers for former detainees say however that even if the detainees were treated as prisoners of war – which the lawyers dispute – it is illegal to detain anyone in secret, and Poland had a legal obligation to prevent this happening.

And from MercoPress, trained by the masters:

US/UK trained Brazil military in torture techniques; British were particularly sophisticated

Officials from the United States and the United Kingdom spent years teaching members of the Brazilian military how to develop and improve their torture techniques during the country’s two-decade long dictatorship (1964/1985), it was confirmed this week by the National Truth Commission, CNV, report.

According to that document the Brazilian Armed Forces’ “systematic use of torture,” which concluded that more than 400 individuals, considered to have been “subversives”, were killed or disappeared by the state, received international training to that purpose.

In effect as part of Washington’s support for anti-Communist governments in Latin America, United States trained more than 300 military officers from Brazil at the notorious ‘School of the Americas’, based in Georgia, the report says. The officers received “theoretical and practical lessons on torture,” it adds, with the intention that they could “replicate” their ideas in Brazil.

The CNV reports also reveals that the UK government shared the anti-communist crusade, and also contributed knowledge on torture techniques in training sessions with Brazilians.

Yet another intel failure, via CNN:

2003 CIA cable casts doubt on claim linking Iraq to 9/11

A recently released CIA cable casts heavy doubt on a key claim used by the Bush administration to justify the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

It discounts intelligence that said Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 ringleaders, met with an Iraqi official in the Czech Republic a few months before the attacks.

The Bush administration — which maintained that Atta had met with Iraqi agent Ahmad al-Anian in Prague in April 2001 — had used the report to link the September 11 attacks to Iraq.

CIA Director John Brennan included a portion of the cable in a letter to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan. Levin, the retiring chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made the letter public on Thursday.

The cable reads that “there is not one USG (counterterrorism) or FBI expert that…has said they have evidence or ‘know’ that (Atta) was indeed (in Prague). In fact, the analysis has been quite the opposite.”

In a 2001 interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” then-Vice President Dick Cheney said, “It’s been pretty well confirmed that (Atta) did go to Prague, and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in (the Czech Republic) last April, several months before the attack.”

After the jump, new light coming on a mysterious death, Washington rescinds demands that reporters spill their sources, a European leak prosecution, Sweden ups defense spending in Cold War 2.0, another Russian close encounter in Swedish air space, Congress grants new powers to the NSA, a German court turns down a Snowden visit to Germany, Germany says no proof NSA tapped Merkel’s cell but Spiegel stands by their story, cell phone spy gear covers the capital, Google’s NSA response, the Army gets cyberwar serious while Homeland Security extends is cyberpowers, Canada claims a Chinese hack of its research agency, a claim that Iran hacked Sheldon Adelson casinos and claims Iran is busily hacking American firms and universities, a major hacking campaign targets Russia, a Murdoch editor cops to phone hacks, on to the Sony hack, first with an executive’s future clouded, how the Game of Zones forced a Seth Rogen reedit, a Bond script and studio anti-Google strategies leaked as well as sleazy Maureen Down promises, and Sony own DDOS attacks on computers hosting the leaks, protesting Spain’s draconian new anti-protest law, Google retreats from Russia, an Argentinian Dirty War mass grave revealed, mass protests shut down Karachi, Washington hopes for North Korean talks, Hong Kong Occupy final shutdown set for Monday while Beijing hints at stronger measures ahead, the ape of Nanjing commemorated, Obama pressure on Tokyo for talks with Seoul, challenged to Abe’s Japanese militarization turned back by court, A-bomb survivors question Manhattan Project National Park plans, and your camera shake can ID you like a fingerprint. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Climate, fracking, water, Fukushima


And much more. . .

We begin with an impasse from the Guardian:

Lima climate summit extended as early optimism is overtaken by discord

  • Talks stumble amid rising frustration over ‘ridiculously low’ cash commitments for emissions cuts from rich nations

Climate talks in Lima ran into extra time amid rising frustration from developing countries at the “ridiculously low” commitments from rich countries to help pay for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The talks – originally scheduled to wrap up at 12pm after 10 days – are now expected to run well intoSaturday , as negotiators huddle over a new draft text many glimpsed for the first time only morning.

The Lima negotiations began on a buoyant note after the US, China and the EU came forward with new commitments to cut carbon pollution. But they were soon brought back down to earth over the perennial divide between rich and poor countries in the negotiations: how should countries share the burden for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and who should pay?

Good news from StarAfrica:

Gambia malaria infection on the wane – Report

The infection level of malaria in The Gambia is gradually declining according to a report resulting from the latest medical research on its prevention in the country. According to the report, published in The Lancet, the world’s leading general medical journal and seen by APA on Friday the research was carried out in 96 Gambian villages targeting 8,000 children who were tested for malaria this year.

It attributed the drop in infection to the massive distribution of long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets across the country.

The report also pointed out that using treated bed nets is more effective than spraying insecticide chemicals in homes. “High bed net coverage is sufficient to protect people against malaria in areas of low or moderate transmission” it added.

The Lancet said the study is deemed significant as it was conducted in areas with differing transmission rates of malaria to further assess the effectiveness of combining insecticide sprays with treated bed nets.

Jiji Press sounds an alarm:

Japan on High Alert for Bird Flu

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is on high alert for bird flu, faced with outbreaks around the world.

This year, 245 avian influenza cases have been confirmed in South Korea, and the same bird flu virus strain spread in Europe, leading an official of the ministry to be concerned about “worldwide simultaneous, multiple outbreaks.”

In Japan, bird flu viruses have been found in the droppings of wild birds one after another. Almost throughout the year, South Korea has seen outbreaks of the highly pathogenic H5N8 subtype bird flu virus.

Water woes lead to a food crisis, via the Guardian:

UN: drought in Central America has pushed 2.5m people into food insecurity

  • Subsistence farmers, farm labourers and low-income families especially at risk as UN warns of ‘creeping humanitarian crisis’

A drawn-out drought in Central America has pushed 2.5 million people in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador into food insecurity, the UN warned Friday.

The drought in the three countries is “turning into a creeping humanitarian crisis”, Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva.

Subsistence farmers, farm labourers and low-income families were especially at risk, with young children and pregnant women considered the most vulnerable, he said.

A full 80% of farmers in the worst-hit areas of El Salvador had reported losing all of their crops, while 75% of maize and bean crops in Honduras and Guatemala had failed. The lack of rain has also resulted in the death of thousands of cattle.

Water woes farther South, from the Los Angeles Times:

Sao Paulo, Brazil, officials downplay water crisis as residents suffer

The water crisis is so bad in South America’s largest city that when rain began to dribble from the sky recently, workers in a downtown office high-rise stood up and cheered, running to the windows to celebrate each drop.

A majority of city residents recently surveyed said their water has stopped flowing at some point, usually at night. In some neighborhoods, people say their homes have no water service at all. Although scientists say that the drought has its roots in such changes as deforestation, analysts say poor planning and political manipulation by local authorities have exacerbated the crisis.

Authorities insist that they have not shut off the supply to any neighborhoods and that problems caused by a loss of water pressure may affect 1% to 2% of homes. They recommend that residents use home water tanks. But they acknowledge that without huge amounts of rain over the next months — “floods,” said National Water Agency President Vicente Andreu — the crisis will intensify.

From CBC’s News’s The National, a Canadian import:

Toxic waste from Love Canal coming to Canada

Program notes:

Up to 100 truckloads of toxic material that traces back to Love Canal are being sent to Canada.

Euopean neoliberal deregulation advances in Europe, via EurActiv:

Commission plans to ditch circular economy and air pollution rules

The European Commission plans to scrap its flagship Circular Economy package and anti-air pollution rules next week.

The executive will ditch the rules from its 2015 work programme, sources told EurActiv. That is set to be announced on Wednesday (17 December).

The Circular Economy package is designed to increase resource efficiency and recycling, and the Clean Air Package imposes rules that set member states’ air quality targets.

Sources told EurActiv that Commissioners were handed a secret document yesterday (10 December) at their weekly meeting. The document, outlining a list of bills to be killed off by Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, was taken back from the Commissioners, after it was read and discussed.

Getting slick with United Press International:

Oil slick threatens N.J.’s Sandy Hook Bay

An oil slick discovered in Sandy Hook Bay off the coast of New Jersey could threaten marine life and a federal park, officials said.

The 1-mile-long, 50-yard-wide slick was discovered Thursday about 1.5 miles west of the U.S. Coast Guard station at the northern tip of Sandy Hook. When it was first discovered, the slick had measured 2 miles long and 400 miles wide, but had shrunk as of Friday.

Coast Guard crews installed a boom off Horseshoe cove to protect an environmentally sensitive area from the oil spill.

“We’re concerned. We’re very concerned about this,” said Pete McCarthy, unit coordinator of Sandy Hook for the National Park Service. “We’re worried about what it’s going to do to the shoreline, obviously, (and) what it’s going to do to wildlife.”

Degreening, via the Independent:

New era of cheap oil ‘will destroy green revolution’

The collapsing oil price that is reshaping the global economy could derail the green energy revolution by making renewable power sources prohibitively bad value, experts have warned.

Oil tumbled below $60 a barrel for the first time in more than five years yesterday – a fall of 44 per cent since June. It is forecast to fall further.

“Renewable energy subsidies have been mostly sold to the public on the basis of the economic benefits,” said Peter Atherton, an energy analyst with Liberum Capital. “But the economic arguments hinged on the idea that fossil fuel prices would get more expensive, while expensive renewable subsidies would be able to come down over time. That’s looking doubtful now.”

Anne Robinson, director of consumer policy at the uSwitch price comparison website, said: “More subsidies are likely to be needed [for green power] as the gap between the cost of fossil fuel power and renewable power gets bigger.” The extra subsidies would be borne by households in the form of higher energy bills.

After the jump, more studies reveal fracking health risks as Spain’s neoliberal regime makes a fracking push, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with a deal struck to an interim nuclear waste storage site, a regulators decree that a cement fix will plug underground hot water leaks, nuclear watchdog calls for a massive radioactive water release into the Pacific, South Koreans book a visit, while a volcanic eruption warning sounds for a volcano in the same province, a reactor startup nears in another province, and reactor restarts figure in regional politics as protests continue, While Germans remain nuclear power consumers thanks to a Swiss connection. . . Continue reading

A spectacular shower now underway, not rainy


While for those of us who live in California, the only thing falling from the skies these days has been rain, and lots of it. But for those who live is less watery parts, something else is falling, and it’s really spectacular.

From ScienceAtNASA:

ScienceCasts: Embers from a Rock Comet: The 2014 Geminid Meteor Shower

Program notes:

Earth is passing through a stream of debris from “rock comet” 3200 Phaethon, source of the annual Geminid meteor shower. Forecasters expect as many as 120 meteors per hour when the shower peaks on Dec. 13-14.

And by way of irony, we pass along this somewhat song [there is that drought thing, after all] for our fellow Golden State afflictees, recorded in 1972 by Albert Hammond: