Category Archives: Agriculture

DroughtWatch: California’s gettin’ drier again

From the United States Drought Monitor, while a minuscule part of the very tip of the Golden State’s southeast remains out of drought, the percentage of the state in the very worst drought condition, “Exceptional Drought,” is edging up once again. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Drought

EbolaWatch: Numbers, food, schools, vaccines

We begin with the latest numbers, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola

More on the numbers from the News in Monrovia, Liberia:

WHO Reports Spike In Ebola Cases

The number of new Ebola cases rose for the second week in a row in West Africa, nearly doubling in Guinea, suggesting declines in the disease seen earlier this year had stalled, the World Health Organization stated in its latest situation report.

Efforts to wipe out the deadly virus are being hampered by people’s mistrust of health workers, and the number of people continuing to hide sick friends and relatives from authorities, particularly in Guinea’s capital Conakry, officials said.

West Africa recorded 144 new confirmed cases of Ebola in the week to Feb. 8 compared with 124 the previous week, the WHO said in a report.

“Despite improvements in case finding and management, burial practices, and community engagement, the decline in case incidence has stalled,” the U.N. agency said.

From the Associated Press, the high price of Ebolaphobia appealed:

Morocco appeals sanctions for refusing to host African Cup

Morocco has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the heavy sanctions it faces for withdrawing as host of the African Cup of Nations because of the Ebola epidemic.

Morocco was expelled from the 2017 and 2019 tournaments and was fined $1 million by the Confederation of African Football. CAF also demanded a further $9 million in compensation.

CAS says it received the appeal Tuesday from the Moroccan Football Federation, which seeks to have the sanctions lifted and requested that a final ruling be issued by the end of March.

Next up, food, first from Outbreak News Today:

Ebola impact in Guinea: 470,000 people might be food insecure by March

Tens of thousands of people in rural areas of Guinea worst-hit by the Ebola epidemic will receive training on how to prevent the spread of the disease and support in producing food and generating income, through an agreement involving the World Bank, the country’s government, and FAO.

As part of the initiative, $5 million will be invested in FAO’s Ebola Response Programme which aims to assist rural households whose livelihoods and access to food are severely threatened by the impact of Ebola.

“The funding is a much needed contribution towards building the resilience of communities whose already precarious situation of chronic food insecurity has been exacerbated by Ebola-related disruptions to farm labour, agricultural production and food markets,” said Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General/Regional Representative for Africa.

More on the African food situation from IRIN:

A map of hunger in 2015 – where to watch

Food shortages are often portrayed as random – the result of freak weather conditions or short-term political crises. Yet they are often deeply predictable – while short-term trends can exaggerate the impact, most of the causes are structural.

Last week the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS Net) released its latest forward-looking analysis of food needs in key countries. The data track not just which countries are likely to have food shortages this year but when they are likely to occur.

IRIN’s interactive map highlights countries that are particularly prone to crisis. Click on a country to see how many people are at risk, the level of crisis and when the potential lean season is.

FEWS Net doesn’t cover all countries with food crises. Syria, India, and Iraq, for example are excluded. This is partly due to FEWS Net’s  background – it was founded in Africa – and also partly because in the case of Syria and Iraq these trends are still new.

And the map itself:

BLOG Africa hunger

From the United Nations News Center, a tour draws to a close:

Ebola: UN development chief begins last leg of West Africa mission

The top United Nations development official today began the last leg of her Ebola-recovery focused visit to West Africa a day after she witnessed the reopening of schools in Liberia and urged the international community to support “recovery from this terrible crisis” beyond the emergency phase.

Before leaving the Liberian capital, Monrovia, Helen Clark, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said late Monday that the crisis will not be over until there are zero cases of Ebola, which has affected more 23,000 people, with some 9,300 deaths. “It is clear that no one will be happy until there are zero cases across all three epicentre countries,” the UNDP Administrator told a press conference in Monrovia. “But the important message now is that international solidarity with Liberia should not end at the end of the emergency phase. It must continue in support of recovery from this terrible crisis.

Noting schools had re-opened in Liberia on Monday, shuttered for more than six months to help prevent transmission, were finally re-opened, she said Liberia was emerging from a “very traumatic time”. There was now, she said, reason for hope.

Tasked by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the lead the UN system’s recovery efforts, UNDP is committed to working with Liberia as it follows its path to recovery in a way that is consistent with the Government and people’s own longer term development aspirations.

From the Guardian, another European alarm:

Ebola: British health worker brought to UK from Sierra Leone for assessment

  • Woman potentially had contact with virus but Public Health England stresses risk of infection is very low

A British health worker potentially exposed to Ebola has been brought back to the UK for assessment and monitoring.

Public Health England (PHE) said the woman had potential contact with the deadly virus while in Sierra Leone.

“The individual has not been diagnosed with Ebola, does not currently have any symptoms and their risk of developing the infection remains very low,” PHE said.

On to Sierra Leoneitself and a vaccine trial with StarAfrica:

S/Leone: Ebola vaccine trial begins in March

Sierra Leone will commence the first trial of Ebola vaccine in the second week of March, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation said on Tuesday. The Sierra Leone Ebola Vaccine Evaluation Study (SLEVES) will take part in the exercise in four districts, including the capital, Freetown, covering all areas of the country currently hardest hit by the disease.

At least 6000 people will take part in the trial, mostly health workers and other people involved in the fight against the epidemic, Dr Mohamed Samai, Provost of the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone, said Tuesday.

Dr Samai told reporters at a special press briefing marking the formal presentation of the program that Sierra Leone has lost 12 doctors, among them hundreds of other health workers, and that as such it was crucial that they were protected.

FrontPageAfrica covers back to school day:

‘Poor Show’: Some Schools Resume Classes in Liberia

The resumption of schools in Liberia got off to a slow start Monday, as many schools in the country did not reopen as expected. In Monrovia, most of the Private schools appeared to have opted to resume classes on March 2, 2015, the previous date announced by the government before it somersaulted less than a day later to February 16. Students turned up at the William V. S. Tubman High School one of the most prestigious government-run high schools in the country in drops.

Many of the students were seen in color clothes instead of uniforms with some wearing flip-flops on their feet. They seemed happy to be back though after the long break caused by the deadly Ebola Virus Disease. Theo Jallah, a student at the school said he could not be in school because he only had a uniform shirt and no trousers. He said things have been tough and he lost a lot during the Ebola Outbreak.

“I cannot wear a uniform to school right now because I don’t have it. I have lose many things during the last year and the Ebola situation made it worse,” he said. Peter Okoka, a 12th grader says he is happy to be back in school because he just sat at home idle with nothing to do.

And a second FrontPageAfrica story on the topic:

UNICEF Provides Ebola Prevention Kits to Aid Schools

As schools begin reopening in Liberia today, thousands of kits containing basic hygiene items and thermometers are helping parents, staff and other community members keep children safe from infection from Ebola. In partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), UNICEF has provided over 7,000 kits, which partners have been distributing to over 4,000 schools in all 98 school districts. School normally resume academic activities in September, but had remained closed because of Ebola.

“The Ebola outbreak has had a devastating effect on our health and education systems and our way of life in Liberia. We have managed to beat back the spread of the virus through collective efforts,” said Hon. Etmonia D. Tarpeh, Liberia’s Minister of Education. “Reopening and getting our children back to school is an important aspect of ensuring children’s education is not further interrupted,” she added.

With the support of UNICEF, and other international partners, the Government of Liberia has developed protocols for the safe re-opening of schools. Among other steps, these protocols call for setting up hand-washing stations, checking the temperature of anyone entering the school, establishing an isolation area for children and staff who may fall ill, and having in place a system of referral to the nearest health facility.

From the News, vaccine questions:

Civil Society Meet On Trial Vaccines

The Civil Society Ebola Response Task Force on Tuesday, February 10 held a consultation with Dr. Stephen Kennedy, Co-investigator of the Partnership for Research on Ebola Vaccines in Liberia (PREVAIL).

The meeting which was held at Search for Common Grounds in Sinkor was geared towards educating members of the Civil Society Task Force and media practitioners about the ongoing trials of two experimental Ebola vaccines in Liberia.

Dr. Kennedy told the gathering that PREVAIL is a joint Liberia – US partnership geared towards developing Liberia’s capacity to study common infectious diseases in Liberia and developing the country’s clinical research capacity.

And the Liberian Observer covers an ongoing crisis:

Ebola Survivors and Workers against Discrimination & Stigmatization

..Says Mercy Corps

Several Ebola survivors and health workers in Liberia’s fifteen counties have expressed displeasure about the issue of discrimination and stigmatization in their communities and country at large.

The survivors and Ebola health workers made the disclosure recently following Mercy Corps massive citizen-led community survey of people’s attitude and behavior relating to Ebola, which has so far received over 12,500 responses from across Liberia.

According to the survey, half of those surveyed said, that they would be uncomfortable visiting the house of an Ebola survivor while  nearly two thirds said they are not  comfortable eating from the same bowl as an Ebola worker.

The survey also proves that survivors and workers are also facing serious discrimination of which their families and frontline workers is having sometimes tragic Psychological and economic consequences, the NGO cautioned.

Big Tobacco: The real dangerous drug peddlers

John Oliver does another deft takedown of a giant corporate cabal, this time Big Tobacco, and its relentless drive to bludgeon national governments into submission — a move increasingly reliant on using the power of vastly expensive litigation and hordes of Wall Street lawyers and high-priced lobbhyists .

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Tobacco

Program notes:

Thanks to tobacco industry regulations and marketing restrictions in the US, smoking rates have dropped dramatically. John Oliver explains how tobacco companies are keeping their business strong overseas.

One point Oliver fails to complete has to do with that trade court action Australia is currently confronting.

What’s happening there is merely an early warning indicator of more litigation to come as the Obama administration relentlessly pushing both trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic deals in which corporations and banksters will acquire vastly greater power to quash citizen protections put in place by national governments, thanks to the secret trade tribunals incorporated in the agreements.

Under that legal regime, cases are heard in secret, no transcripts are ever provided to the public, and the only announcement of the binding decisions comes in a terse announcement devoid of background and other details — just as already exists for NAFTA.

And who partakes in drafting these noxious “free trade” agreements?

Consider the case of one such agreement now in negotiation, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP], and this from Corporate Europe Observatory:

BLOG Eurolobby

And who does those lobbyists represent?

Again from Corporate Europe Observatory:

BLOG Eurolobby 2

UPDATE: Those Aussie plain cigaret packs really do work.

From the Guardian:

Plain cigarette packaging can deter the take-up of smoking, studies suggest

  • Researchers say that standardised packaging – first introduced in Australia – would likely reduce smoking and can prevent people from taking up the habit

Studies on the health impact of “plain” or standardised cigarette packs suggest they can deter non-smokers from taking up the habit and may cut the number of cigarettes smokers get through, scientists said on Tuesday.

In a collection of scientific papers in the journal Addiction, researchers said that while standardised packs were still too new to provide substantial evidence, studies so far showed they were likely to reduce smoking rates.

Britain plans before May to become the second country in the world to introduce non-branded, standardised packaging for cigarettes, after the government promised last month to pass legislation that would come into effect in 2016.

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, toxins, water, fracking

We begin with the measles, via Outbreak News Today:

Measles in Ontario continues to rise, advisory issued for ‘Acquire the Fire’ concert goers

The Canadian province of Ontario continues to see a trickle of new measles cases this year. The number of cases reported since the beginning of the year has reached 13 with newly reported cases in Toronto and Niagara in the past day.

Of the 13 total cases recorded, the majority are from Toronto with nine. The remaining cases include two cases from the Niagara Region, and one each from York Region and Halton Region, according to the latest data from Ontario Public Health Feb.16. This compares to the 22 measles cases reported in the province during the entire 2014.

Of concern to public health officials is the possible measles exposure at the two-day Christian youth event in Toronto called “Acquire the Fire”. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care was advised today of a person with a newly-confirmed case of measles who had attended this event during the measles infectious period.

And from the Guardian, grandfathered poisons:

Untested chemicals are everywhere, thanks to a 39-year-old US law. Will the Senate finally act?

  • Many chemicals that are restricted or banned in Europe remain in use – and in some cases, untested – in the US, thanks to federal regulations that haven’t been updated since 1976. A new bill to overhaul the law is expected this spring

While the Keystone XL pipeline and power plant carbon regulations are grabbing headlines, another environmental battle is brewing in the month-old 114th US Congress over the future of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The federal law, also known as TSCA, regulates chemicals that Americans encounter daily in electronics, furniture, clothing, toys, building materials, cleaning and personal care products, and much more. It was enacted in 1976, and – in spite of the introduction of thousands of new chemicals, as well as enormous progress in the understanding of chemicals’ environmental and health impacts – hasn’t been updated since then.

While the law has helped reduce use of some of the most hazardous chemicals – polychlorinated biphenyls and lead, for example – it also has made it extremely difficult to take many other potentially dangerous chemicals off the market.

Unlike the current system in Europe, the 60,000-plus chemicals in production when the US’s TSCA took effect 39 years ago continued to be used without any safety reviews. Most are still in use today, although some have since filed toxicity data.

The US allows the use of many chemicals that are banned elsewhere, and its primary chemicals law has failed to keep up with thousands of chemicals currently in use, including the approximately 2,000 new chemicals introduced each year.

On a related note, via the NPR Science Desk:

Beyond BPA: Court Battle Reveals A Shift In Debate Over Plastic Safety

BPA-free isn’t good enough anymore if you’re trying to sell plastic sippy cups, water bottles and food containers.

The new standard may be “EA-free,” which means free of not only BPA, short for bisphenol A, but also free of other chemicals that mimic the hormone estrogen.

At least that’s the suggestion of a recent legal battle between a chemical company and an academic scientist with business interests in the plastics industry. The proceedings offer a glimpse of the struggle for the hearts and minds of consumers concerned about the safety of plastics.
Nomar Bodon, a senior research assistant for CertiChem, a PlastiPure partner, tests samples of plastics and prepares them for an automated cell assay. The assay is used to determine if the material has estrogenic activity.

The roots of the legal conflict go back to 2002, when Eastman Chemical began developing a new plastic called Tritan. It was designed to be “a tough, clear, high-temperature, chemically resistant and also dishwasher-resistant product,” says Chris Killian, a vice president for specialty products at Eastman.

Avian flu claims two more victims, via Outbreak News Today:

H5N1: Two tigers die from the avian flu in Guangxzi, China zoo

A total of eight tigers contracted the H5N1 avian influenza virus at a Chinese zoo, according to a report from the FAO Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) this month.

The tigers are housed at Nanning City zoo in Guangxzi Province. The report notes that two of the tigers perished as a result of the lethal bird flu. H5N1 HPAI was confirmed by National authorities.

This is not the first time H5N1 avian influenza has been reported in the large cat. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) Global Alert and Response from 2006 it states:

From the Washington Post, an ichthyological win:

Pebble Mine debate in Alaska: EPA becomes target by planning for rare ‘veto’

Just north of Iliamna Lake in southwestern Alaska is an empty expanse of marsh and shrub that conceals one of the world’s great buried fortunes: A mile-thick layer of virgin ore said to contain at least 6.7 million pounds — or $120 billion worth — of gold.

As fate would have it, a second treasure sits precisely atop the first: the spawning ground for the planet’s biggest runs of sockeye salmon, the lifeline of a fishery that generates $500 million a year.

Between the two is the Obama administration, which has all but decided that only one of the treasures can be brought to market. How the White House came to side with fish over gold is a complex tale that involves millionaire activists, Alaska Natives, lawsuits and one politically explosive question: Can the federal government say no to a property owner before he has a chance to explain what he wants to do?

As early as this spring, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to invoke a rarely used legal authority to bar a Canadian company, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., from beginning work on its proposed Pebble Mine, citing risks to salmon and to Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay, 150 miles downstream. The EPA’s position is supported by a broad coalition of conservationists, fishermen and tribal groups — and, most opinion polls show, by a majority of Alaskans. National environmental groups, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy activists have made the defeat of the mine a top priority, raising millions of dollars to campaign against it.

The New York Times covers another ichthyological conflict:

Threatened Smelt Touches Off Battles in California’s Endless Water Wars

“We tend to say that this is the single biggest water management challenge that California faces,” said Ellen Hanak, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. The debate over the delta, she said, ranks with those over other great national ecological landmarks, like the Everglades, the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

“The future of this watershed is going to affect most people in the state,” she added.

The immediate future looks grim. Despite a few powerful winter storms, California is facing a likely fourth year of drought, which is wreaking havoc on the delta’s ecosystem. The waterway where the federal researchers were working contained large patches of water hyacinth, an invasive plant that has proliferated in the dry conditions. Last fall, scientists doing a comprehensive survey recorded their lowest-ever seasonal tally of delta smelts, by a substantial margin. Another species, the longfin smelt, hit its second-lowest number.

Salmon, too, have taken a hit, not only from the drought but also from last year’s record-breaking heat, which warmed the water above their comfort level. Most salmon in California swim through the delta to and from the ocean, and scientists have estimated that 95 percent of salmon eggs and young that were spawned last summer in the upper Sacramento River died because of the heat. Partly as a way to recoup the losses, hundreds of thousands of salmon were recently released from a hatchery to swim to the ocean.

After the jump, BP spins Gulf Oil cetacean deaths, small farmers hold the key to seed diversity, conflict lumber looting in Africa gives rise to a ban, arboreal GMO coporateering nears a greenlighting, power from the earth takes a first, and to close, fracking China. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, climate, water, fracking

We begin with the measles, via Medical Daily:

California Has 3 New Measles Cases, Arizona Says Outbreak Winding Down

California public health officials have confirmed three more cases of measles in an outbreak that began in late December, bringing to 113 the total number of people believed to have been infected in the state.

Health officials in Arizona, where seven cases of measles have been documented, said the outbreak would likely be considered over in that state if no further infections were reported over the weekend.

Across the United States, more than 150 people have been diagnosed with measles, many of them linked to an outbreak that authorities believe began when an infected person from out of the country visited Disneyland in late December.

rom Outbreak News Today, another continent, another outbreak:

Dengue fever in Malaysia: 18,000 cases and 44 deaths

The dengue fever outbreak in Malaysia last year reached approximately 100,000 cases, about a three-fold increase from 2013.

It would seem that 2015 will be another harsh dengue fever season in the southeast Asian country based on numbers reported by the Malaysia Ministry of Health Friday (computer translated).

The total cumulative dengue cases reported from Jan. 4 to Feb. 13, 2015 is 17,918. This included the 450 cases reported on Friday alone. Of this total, health authorities are reporting 44 dengue-related fatalities.

And another, via Medical Daily:

India Sees Rapid Increase In Swine Flu Deaths

India has seen a sharp rise in the number of swine flu deaths and reported cases this year, prompting officials to investigate the cause and step up efforts to combat the virus.

The H1N1 virus caused 485 deaths in India between Jan. 1 and Feb. 12, additional health secretary Arun Kumar Panda told reporters on Friday.

He said more than 6,000 people had tested positive for the virus during that time.

IPS-Inter Press Service covers another continent and another plague:

Cancer Locks a Deadly Grip on Africa, Yet It’s Barely Noticed

Hidden by the struggles to defeat Ebola, malaria and drug-resistant tuberculosis, a silent killer has been moving across the African continent, superseding infections of HIV and AIDS.

World Cancer Day commemorated on Feb. 4 may have come and gone, but the spread of cancer in Africa has been worrying global health organisations and experts year round. The continent, they fear, is ill-prepared for another health crisis of enormous proportions.

By 2020, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 16 million new cases of cancer are anticipated worldwide, with 70 percent of them in developing countries. Africa and Asia are not spared.

Medical Daily covers another health threat:

Unemployed People Undergo Changes In Personality, Making Them Less Agreeable, Conscientious

It’s well known that being unemployed for a significant amount of time can have a negative effect on your physical and emotional wellbeing. It’s likely to raise your risk of depression and suicide. But according to a new study, being unemployed can actually alter your personality too, making you less agreeable and influencing your levels of conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, examined 6,769 Germans and asked them to self-evaluate the few core personality traits stated above over the course of a couple years. When the participants first began the survey they all had jobs, but a chunk of them slowly lost jobs over the course of a few years. Some remained unemployed, while others found new jobs.

“Unemployment has a strongly negative influence on wellbeing,” the authors wrote, but they wanted to find out if it could also change a person’s basic personality traits. “Whether personality changes arise through natural maturation processes or contextual/environment factors is still a matter of debate. Unemployment, a relatively unexpected and commonly occurring life event, may shed light on the relevance of context for personality change.”

From Reuters, a small but notable comeback accelerates:

U.S. wildlife managers mark population rise for rare wolf

The number of imperiled wolves found only in the American Southwest climbed to 109 in 2014, marking the fourth consecutive year that the population of Mexican gray wolves has risen by at least 10 percent, federal wildlife managers said Friday.

Wild Mexican wolves were believed to be all but extinct in the United States in 1998 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing the animal to its native range.

At that point there had been no sightings of the wolves, which are native to western Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains, in the wild in the United States since the 1970s, said Benjamin Tuggle, the Service’s southwest regional director.

Fox News Latino covers significant environmental preservation proposed:

Colombia proposes world’s largest eco-corridor with Brazil, Venezuela

Colombia’s government will draw up plans to join with Brazil and Venezuela in creating the world’s largest ecological corridor, a project aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change and preserving biodiversity, President Juan Manuel Santos announced.

The corridor will span 135 million hectares (521,240 sq. miles) of rainforest, Santos said Friday after a Cabinet meeting in Leticia, capital of Colombia’s southeastern jungle province of Amazonas.

The Colombian head of state said he expects the three countries will present the so-called Triple A initiative at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21, late this year in Paris.

“This would become the world’s largest ecological (corridor) and would be a great contribution to that fight of all humanity to preserve our environment, and in Colombia’s case to preserve our biodiversity,” Santos added.

Corporateers and banksters aim to recolonize Africa, via the Ecologist:

Land and seed laws under attack as Africa is groomed for corporate recolonization

  • Across Africa, laws are being rewritten to open farming up to an agribusiness invasion – displacing the millions of small cultivators that now feed the continent, and replacing them with a new model of profit-oriented agriculture using patented seeds and varieties. The agencies effecting the transformation are legion – but they are all marching to a single drum.

A battle is raging for control of resources in Africa – land, water, seeds, minerals, ores, forests, oil, renewable energy sources.

Agriculture is one of the most important theatres of this battle. Governments, corporations, foundations and development agencies are pushing hard to commercialise and industrialise African farming.

Many of the key players are well known. They include the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the G8, the African Union, the Bill Gates-funded ‘Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa’ (AGRA), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC).

Together they are committed to helping agribusiness become the continent’s primary food commodity producer. To do this, they are not only pouring money into projects to transform farming operations on the ground – they are also changing African laws to accommodate the agribusiness agenda.

From the McClatchy Foreign Staff, water wonder or water woe?:

Beijing now drinking from vast water project environmentalists decry

Drinking water is flowing to Beijing from China’s controversial south-north water project – enough to fill 20,000 Olympic-size swimming pools in the first six weeks, the city reported Friday.

But concerns continue to swirl about the project’s environmental and human costs even as Beijing taps into a new water source nearly 800 miles away.

The central route of the south-north water project is China’s largest public works undertaking since the Three Gorges Dam, and it’s similarly contentious. It consists of a 400-foot-wide canal, aqueducts and other water works that stretch 798 miles to Beijing, starting at the Danjiangkou Reservoir in Henan province.

Environmentalists say the water diversions are sure to damage the ecology of the Han and lower Yangtze rivers. Construction of the canal also prompted the forced relocation of 100,000 people.

From the Guardian, can you say Frackenstein?:

Germany moves to legalise fracking

  • Four-year moratorium on shale drills set to be overturned as country initiates process to allow regulated hydraulic fracturing for shale gas

Germany has proposed a draft law that would allow commercial shale gas fracking at depths of over 3,000 metres, overturning a de facto moratorium that has been in place since the start of the decade.

A new six-person expert panel would also be empowered to allow fracks at shallower levels

Shale gas industry groups welcomed the proposal for its potential to crack open the German shale gas market, but it has sparked outrage among environmentalists who view it as the thin edge of a fossil fuel wedge.

Senior German officials say that the proposal, first mooted in July, is an environmental protection measure, wholly unrelated to energy security concerns which have been intensified by the conflict in Ukraine.

And our lone entry in the Fukushimapocalypse Now ! category, via EcoWatch:

Will Ohioans Be Forced to Pay the Bill to Keep the Crumbling Davis-Besse Nuke Plant Alive?

As the world’s nuke reactors begin to crumble and fall, the danger of a major disaster is escalating at the decrepit Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio.

Now the plant’s owners are asking the Ohio Public Utilities Commission to force the public to pay billions of dollars over the next 15 years to subsidize reactor operations.

But Davis-Besse’s astonishing history of near-miss disasters defies belief. Its shoddy construction, continual operator error and relentless owner incompetence would not be believed as fiction, let alone as the stark realities of a large commercial reactor operating in a heavily populated area.

Time and again Davis-Besse has come within a fraction of an inch and an hour of crisis management time. Today its critical shield wall is literally crumbing, with new cracks opening up every time the northern Ohio weather freezes (like this week).

And now for something completely different

Call ‘em videos on hot times on the old spheres.

The first sphere in question is that big, bright thing in the daytime sky, in the form of a five-year time-lapse assemblage of videos from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Via NASA Goddard:

NASA | 5 Year Time-lapse of the Sun

Program notes:

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) celebrates its 5th anniversary since it launched on February 11, 2010. This time-lapse video captures one frame every 8 hours starting when data became available in June 2010 and finishing February 8, 2015. The different colors represent the various wavelengths (sometimes blended, sometimes alone) in which SDO observes the sun.

The second sphere is the one we stand on, good ol’ terra firma. And in this video, NASA depicts the likely very dry future of the American West in the decades to come, and it ain’t pretty.

NASA | Megadroughts Projected for American West

Program notes:

NASA scientists used tree rings to understand past droughts and climate models incorporating soil moisture data to estimate future drought risk in the 21st century.

While the focus of the second video is aimed at the folks who elect the representatives who hold the space agency’s purse strings, what alarms us is the very dire fate indicated for Mexico even if aggressive measures to curb emissions.

Given the state of violence already prevalent in Mexico, we shudder at the thought of what may come, especially given that much of the Colorado River, has been co-opted by the U.S., where even more water will be needed to maintain the industrial agriculture of California’s Imperial Valley. Then there’s the water of the orther great binational river, the Rio Grande.

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, climate, water, nukes

And more.

A new U.S. exporter to Germany, via the Associated Press:

Berlin measles traced to refugees, but 2 cases linked to US

Berlin has recorded 347 cases of measles since the start of the year, more than twice the number it had during all of 2014.

Officials believe the outbreak started with a child asylum seeker from Bosnia, because many subsequent infections among refugees were genetically linked.

“We consider this child to be the index case, because the measles virus this child had is identical to the ones that followed,” said Dr. Dirk Werber of Berlin’s state health office.

Werber said at least two cases in Berlin have been linked to the United States. One involved a woman who developed symptoms in the United States before traveling to Berlin; a second involved a child who developed the infection after returning from the U.S.

A kingdom fearing loss of magic, via CBC News:

Disney offers measles advice to California health officials

  • No evidence anyone downplayed seriousness of the outbreak or misled the public

As the measles outbreak spread last month, Disneyland executives sent a series of emails to California health officials asking them to emphasize that the theme park was not responsible for the illnesses and was safe to visit, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

There is no evidence Disneyland — or health officials, who incorporated at least some of the theme park’s suggestions — tried to downplay the seriousness of the outbreak or mislead the public. Nor is it unusual for companies to try to get public officials’ ear during a crisis.

But the email exchange pulls back the curtain on what can be a delicate process. And it shows Disneyland’s concern about the disease’s potential harm to “The Happiest Place on Earth” even as the theme park worked with health authorities to alert the public to the danger.

Another African viral outbreak ebbs, via the Guardian:

Africa close to wiping out wild polio after six months free of disease

  • Hopes high that virus beaten as Somalia and Nigeria reach milestone, but experts counsel caution amid fears Ebola has undermined healthcare systems

Africa has gone six months without any new cases of wild polio for the first time, experts say, raising hopes that the disease could be wiped out on the continent sooner than expected.

Wednesday marked half a year since the last polio case in Somalia. Nigeria achieved the same landmark on 24 January, though it has suffered some cases of vaccine-derived polio, a rare mutation from the oral polio vaccine in areas of poor sanitation.

“This is incredible progress,” said the Global Health Strategies, a New York-based health consultancy. “This is the first time ever that Africa has gone a full six months without a single case of wild polio virus. Combined with the recent successes in Nigeria, today’s milestone is a strong sign that Africa may soon be polio-free.”

From Newswise, veterinary vaccine advocacy:

Wildlife at Risk around the Globe – Scientists Say Vaccinating Endangered Carnivores of Increasing Importance

  • International Experts Agree on “Top 5″ Actions Needed

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and its Feline Health Center, and the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine have just co-convened the first “Vaccines for Conservation” international meeting at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo in New York City. Experts from around the world focused on the threat that canine distemper virus poses to the conservation of increasingly fragmented populations of threatened carnivores. While canine distemper has been known for many years as a problem affecting domestic dogs, the virus has been appearing in new areas and causing disease and mortality in a wide range of wildlife species, including tigers and lions. In fact, many experts agree that the virus should not be called “canine distemper” virus at all, given the diversity of species it infects.

The forum brought together many of the world’s top disease ecologists, wildlife biologists, immunologists, virologists, vaccinologists, epidemiologists, wildlife veterinarians and pathologists, and policy experts to explore whether it would be appropriate and feasible to develop approaches to canine distemper vaccination to protect at-risk wild carnivore populations. The group looked at examples of distemper outbreaks around the world, including the recent case study offered by the Amur tiger population in the Russian Far East. In 2010 canine distemper virus was diagnosed in tigers that died in widely separated locations across the Amur tiger range. While it is challenging to assess the overall impact on the population of such a wide ranging and elusive big cat, the virus contributed to the decline of one well-studied sub-population, which went from 38 individuals to 9 between the years 2007 and 2012.

WCS Russia Program Director Dale Miquelle stated that “Like many large carnivores, tigers face an array of serious threats throughout their range, including poaching (of tigers themselves and of their prey), habitat loss, and conflict with local people. Addressing these very clear threats remains the top priority for the allocation of scarce tiger conservation resources. Importantly, these threats have led to tiger populations becoming smaller and more fragmented, making them much more susceptible to sudden population declines and even extinction due to disease. I therefore welcome the technical help and resources of the veterinary community to enhance our preparedness for addressing pathogens such as canine distemper virus.” In fact, additional analysis by WCS and international colleagues has shown that smaller populations of Amur tigers are more vulnerable than larger populations to extinction from distemper. Populations consisting of 25 individuals are 1.65 times more likely to disappear in the next 50 years if the virus is present. That finding is profoundly disturbing for wild tigers, given that in most sites where wild tigers persist they are limited to populations of less than 25 breeding adults.

Another lethal impact of air pollution, via Newswise:

Middle-Aged Men at Highest Risk of Suicide After Breathing Poor Air

  • Study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found increased risk of suicide associated with short-term air pollution exposure

A new study from the University of Utah is adding to the small, but growing body of research that links air pollution exposure to suicide.

In research published today in The American Journal of Epidemiology, investigator Amanda Bakian, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah, and her colleagues outline chemical and meteorological variables that are risk factors for suicide. Their study, titled “Risk assessment of air pollution and suicide,” examines how those factors play out among different genders and age groups. The findings build on other research by Bakian released in April 2014, when she found that fine particulates and nitrogen dioxide in air pollution are linked with an increased risk for suicide.

In the latest study, Bakian and researchers found an increased risk of suicide associated with short-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter among Salt Lake City residents who died by suicide between 2000 to 2010. In particular, men and Salt Lake City residents between 36 to 64 years of age experienced the highest risk of suicide following short-term air pollution exposure.

“We are not exactly sure why risk of suicide was higher in these two groups but suspect that it might be because these two groups were either exposed to higher levels of air pollution or that other additional factors make these two groups more susceptible to the effects of air pollution,” said Bakian.

And just the place to breathe that bad air, via Environmental News Network:

When you stop at a red light you are exposed to higher levels of air pollution

UK commuters spend an average of about 1.5 hours a day at the wheel. Road vehicles in particular are known to emit polluting nanoparticles which contribute to respiratory and heart diseases. Now, researchers at the University of Surrey have found that where drivers spend just 2% of their journey time passing through traffic intersections managed by lights, this short duration contributes to about 25% of total exposure to these harmful particles.

The team monitored drivers’ exposure to air pollutants at various points of a journey. Signalised traffic intersections were found to be high pollution hot-spots due to the frequent changes in driving conditions. With drivers decelerating and stopping at lights, then revving up to move quickly when lights go green, peak particle concentration was found to be 29 times higher than that during free flowing traffic conditions. As well as concentration, researchers found that as cars tend to be close together at lights, the likelihood of exposure to vehicle emissions is also significantly increased.

“Air pollution was recently placed in the top ten health risks faced by human beings globally, with the World Health Organization linking air pollution to seven million premature deaths every year,” said lead author, Dr Prashant Kumar, from the University of Surrey.

Another kind of deadly traffic, via

Baby dies in ambulance as hospitals are full

A newborn baby in Sicily died in an ambulance on Thursday because there were no bed spaces in three local hospitals, prompting Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin to launch an investigation.

Baby Nicole died in an ambulance en route to a hospital in Ragusa, south-east Sicily, hours after being born in Catania where three emergency rooms allegedly refused to admit the sick newborn.

She was born with breathing problems in a private clinic in Catania, leading staff to phone nearby paediatric intensive care units. All three said there was no space for the baby, La Stampa reported.

Medics at the clinic then decided to drive Nicole to Ragusa, a journey of around 100km, but the baby’s condition worsened and she died on the way to hospital.

After the jump, GMO apples approved in the U.S., a water crisis in Pakistan, a major water crisis in Brazil — with video, a global draft climate deal readied, a stunning Chinese pollution admission, a major California fracking policy hearing, fracking the Gulf of Mexico, an indigenous Latin American win over a Peruvian petro project, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with rateful restart expectations in Japan, and new nuclear power corporateer Bill Gates seeks Chinese partnership. . . Continue reading