EcoWatch

A feed from EcoWatch, one of the US’s leading environmental news sites at the forefront of uniting all shades of green to ensure the health and longevity of our planet.


18 June 2018. India Suffers 'Worst Water Crisis in Its History'

India is facing its "worst-ever" water crisis, according to a report from a government think tank issued last week.

Around 200,000 Indians die each year due to lack of water access, the report finds, and demand will be twice as much as supply by 2030.


"Part of [the crisis] is because of the rising temperature, and the changing rainfall patterns that come with the changing climate," Mridula Ramesh, founder of the Sundaram Climate Institute, told Al Jazeera.

"Part of it is because of unwise choices we have made in managing our waste and water."

As reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

"About 200,000 Indians die every year due to inadequate access to safe water and 600 million face high to extreme water stress, the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog said on Thursday, citing data by independent agencies.

'Critical groundwater resources that account for 40 percent of India's water supply are being depleted at unsustainable rates,' the report said, calling for an immediate push towards sustainable management of water resources.

'India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat,' it said."

For a deeper dive:

New York Times, Al Jazeera, CNN, Thomson Reuters Foundation

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

18 June 2018. Urban Gardening 101: How to Deal With Contaminated Soil

By Brian Barth

Urban soils are particularly prone to contamination. Fifty years ago, your yard could have belonged to a farmer, who, perhaps not knowing any better, disposed of old bottles of anti-freeze or contaminated diesel in a hole out behind the tractor garage. Or perhaps the remains of a fallen down outbuilding, long ago coated in lead-based paint, was buried on your property buy a lazy contractor when your subdivision was built.


For those wanting to garden on non-residential urban property—school yards, church grounds, parks, commercial areas, vacant lots—the likelihood of contamination is even higher. There is no telling what sort of past activities took place there, all visible signs of which have disappeared. Prior the 1970s, environmental rules were very lax, and it was not uncommon for all sorts of hazardous chemicals to be dumped at any location where they were used. Many such chemicals persist in the soil for decades, if not longer.

The good news is that if the property was redeveloped (any significant new construction, demolition or change of use) since environmental laws tightened, it would have had to go through a strict assessment to determine if contamination was present. If anything unacceptable was found, the owner would have been forced to remediate the soil before starting construction. However, if the property has remained more or less as-is since the 1970s (or earlier), it is unlikely that anyone has ever investigated what might be lurking in the soil.

What Are the Dangers of Contaminated Soil?

Anyone working in close contact with contaminated soil, as gardeners do, is at risk of chemical exposure through skin absorption, as well as through inhalation of soil particles. Plants absorb chemicals from the soil—and not just in their roots, but in their shoots, leaves, fruits and seeds, too—passing on the toxicity to people who eat the produce.

Depending on the contaminant, low level exposures may result in nausea, dizziness, fatigue, headaches and rashes; exposure at higher levels can result in neurological conditions, reproductive disorders, birth defects and an increase risk of cancer.

Children, pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with compromised health are especially vulnerable. Gardens are a wonderful opportunity for kids of all ages to learn and play, but small children are prone to sucking on dirty fingers, or even consuming soil directly, which poses a much more acute health risk than simply touching contaminated soil or even eating produce grown in it.

Common Urban Soil Contaminants

Lead is by far the most common urban soil contaminant in residential areas, largely because most exterior paint contained lead before it was outlawed in 1978. If the paint on an old house, barn or pile of scrap lumber was left to disintegrate, the adjacent soil will be full of little paint flakes, creating a health risk. Lead doesn't leach through the soil very far from its point of origin, so if you think painted surfaces on your property may contain paint of that age, one simple solution is to avoid growing food, or any doing any sort of digging, within 10 feet of the surface.

Arsenic is also common residential areas, as it was the predominant type of wood preservative from the mid-1900s until 2004, when it was outlawed. Any "pressure treated wood" from that time period likely contains arsenic. Like lead, arsenic doesn't travel far from its point of origin, though one never knows where there might have been a wooden structure that is no longer standing. Arsenic, as well as copper, have long been used for various agricultural applications, so they may also be present in areas that were previously farmed—which most urban areas were at some point.

A variety of other heavy metals, as well as industrial chemicals like PCBs and PAHs, are occasionally found in urban areas, though not usually in residential areas. Wherever past industrial uses are suspected, however, these substances should be tested for as well.

How to Test for Contaminated Soil

Fortunately, it's fairly easy to test soil for toxicity, especially common culprits like lead and arsenic. Many public universities offer mail-in soil testing services, as do private companies. These labs usually also test for nutrients and organic matter, which is also good information to have.

Testing for heavy metals typically incurs a small additional fee, though the total is typically less than $100, even at a private facility. Here is a list of soil labs, including several that offer heavy metal tests. The lab will provide instructions on how to collect soil samples properly, though you can check out Modern Farmer's soil testing guide.

Note: Many municipalities may require more in-depth testing for for school and community gardens, and urban farms. This usually requires the help of an environmental engineer, who will first do an historical assessment of the property to determine the likelihood that contaminants are present based on past uses. If there is reason to believe the site is at risk, the expert will conduct a thorough soil analysis and recommend steps for remediation.

Interpreting Soil Test Results

For heavy metal tests, the lab will typically help you interpret the results. There are no national regulations that restrict urban food production based on soil contamination, though the EPA and many local government agencies have established guidelines, especially for lead. The EPA considers lead to be a hazard for food gardens at levels above 400 parts per million. At levels between 100 and 400 parts per million, the EPA still suggests taking precautions to minimize exposure. The State of California has published guidelines that recommend taking precautions at levels down to 80 parts per million.

What to Do if Your Soil Is Contaminated

If contaminants are identified only in certain areas of the site, one option is to simply avoid gardening in those areas and plant grass or ornamental species that are not intended for consumption. Where low levels of contamination are detected, such as lead between 80 and 400 parts per million, the EPA recommends tilling deeply and mixing large quantities of compost with the soil to dilute the level of contamination, and to avoid planting crops where the root or foliage are consumed. Fruits and seeds do not accumulate heavy metals as readily, so vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers, along with fruit trees and berry bushes, are less of a risk.

Where more acute toxicity is present, one option is to hire a professional to safely remove the contaminated soil and replace it with clean soil. This is very costly, however. The less expensive and often more practical option is to build raised beds for planting food crops. In this case, lay a sheet landscape fabric (also known as weed cloth), on the bottom of the bed before adding topsoil. The fabric is designed to let moisture through, but prevents the roots from contacting the contaminated soil below.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

18 June 2018. Sea Level Rise Could Put 2.4 MIllion U.S. Coastal Homes at Risk

More than 300,000 U.S. coastal homes could be uninhabitable due to sea level rise by 2045 if no meaningful action is taken to combat climate change, a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) study published Monday found.

The study, Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods and the Implications for U.S. Coastal Real Estate, set out to calculate how many coastal properties in the lower 48 states would suffer from "chronic inundation," non-storm flooding that occurs 26 times a year or more, under different climate change scenarios.


Researchers combined property data from Zillow with three different sea level rise scenarios calculated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and found that, in a high sea level rise scenario, $117.5 billion worth of homes, which currently house 550,000 people, would be in danger from chronic flooding within the lifespan of a 30 year mortgage.

"Even homes along the Gulf coast that are elevated would be affected, as they'd have to drive through salt water to get to work or face their kids' school being cut off. You can imagine people walking away from mortgages, away from their homes." UCS senior climate scientist Kristina Dahl told The Guardian.

The report further found that around 14,000 commercial properties worth $18.5 billion would also be at risk by 2045.

By the end of the 21st century, the numbers could rise to 2.4 million homes impacted, worth a total of $912 billion and home to 4.7 million people. If you add commercial properties, the total number of properties impacted by 2100 could be worth more than $1 trillion.

Florida would be the state most impacted by coastal flooding, losing more than 10 percent of its residential properties—about one million homes—by 2100 in a high sea level rise scenario. New Jersey would be second with 250,000 homes lost by 2100, followed by New York with 143,000 homes.

The report also found that around 175 different coastal communities could face chronic flooding that impacted 10 percent or more of their housing stock by 2045. Nearly forty percent of those communities already face poverty levels above the national average. The number of poor communities that stood to lose homes was highest in Louisiana, but low-income communities in North Carolina, New Jersey and Maryland were also at risk.

"People living in these doubly vulnerable communities stand to lose the most, yet have fewer resources to adapt to flooding or relocate to safer areas," the report said.

If action is taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the impact of sea level rise could be less financially devastating to coastal property owners. Under NOAA's calculations for a moderate level of sea level rise, around 140,000 homes would be at risk by 2035 and more than 2.1 million by 2100. But in a low sea level rise scenario in which warming is limited to the levels set in the Paris agreement, the number of homes at risk by 2060 would decrease by nearly 80 percent, the study found.

18 June 2018. NASA Climate Scientist Warned Us About Warming 30 Years Ago

Climate science marks a troubling anniversary this week: in June of 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen told Congress that global warming had already begun to affect the world and would only get worse.


A sweeping AP analysis finds that in the decades since Hansen's testimony, global temperatures have risen nearly 1 degree F, while the U.S. is nearly 1.6 degrees warmer. The AP also reports that all of the 188 U.S. cities it reviewed have gotten warmer, while daily heat records have been broken more than two million times in cities across the country.

"Thirty years ago, we may have seen this coming as a train in the distance," said NOAA's Deke Arndt, one of the more than 50 scientists interviewed who confirmed the breadth of the AP's findings. "The train is in our living room now."

As reported by the AP:

"Clara Deser, climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said that when dealing with 30-year time periods in smaller regions than continents or the globe as a whole, it would be unwise to say all the warming is man-made. Her studies show that in some places in North American local—though not most—natural weather variability could account for as much as half of warming.

But when you look at the globe as a whole, especially since 1970, nearly all the warming is man-made, said Zeke Hausfather of the independent science group Berkeley Earth. Without extra carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, he said, the Earth would be slightly cooling from a weakening sun. Numerous scientific studies and government reports calculate that greenhouse gases in the big picture account for more than 90 percent of post-industrial Earth's warming.

'It would take centuries to a millennium to accomplish that kind of change with natural causes. This, in that context, is a dizzying pace,' said Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at Georgia Tech in Atlanta."

For a deeper dive:

Changes: AP. Hansen interview: AP. Original 1988 AP report: AP

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

18 June 2018. 4 Ways You Can Make a Difference on Climate

By Jaime Nack

"Where do I start?"

Whatever the forum, whatever the audience, it's always the first question I hear when I talk to people about sustainability and personal impact.


We all want to make a difference on climate change, but many of us don't know how we can or where to begin. It can seem overwhelming.

The good news is that even on a challenge as huge as global climate change, everyday people can make a real difference in their everyday lives. We'll be talking a lot about this at the upcoming Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Los Angeles from Aug. 28—30 and you should be there.

Join Climate Reality for the training in LA and learn more about all the ways you can have a real impact on your local and global community with the decisions you make daily. As a preview, here are four ways to start.

Individual Impact: Start the Conversation

Do you ever think about how many decisions you make on a daily basis? Research shows that the average person makes around 35,000 decisions every single day.

For all of us, these decisions are opportunities to have a powerful impact on our climate. Some may be inconsequential (like which shoe to put on first or what to listen to on your way to work). However, the majority can have a tremendous positive impact if we're intentional about them. Decisions like:

  • What should I eat for lunch?
  • How should I commute to work today?
  • Should I work for an organization aligned with my values?
  • Should I work for a large company where I can help drive change from the inside out?

Your individual decisions as a consumer not only signal demand for certain products to companies, they show your friends, family members and colleagues what kind of world you support. And your example goes a long way.

Community Impact: Your Neighborhood

What communities do to fight climate change comes down to the people who live there. So whether you're living in a town already committed to renewable electricity or a city yet to start recycling, you can help push your hometown forward.

If your community is already moving in the right direction, show your support. Use social media and write a letter to the editor of the local paper to show that people in the neighborhood are behind climate action.

Plus, many communities have advisory groups where residents can give feedback and advice on initiatives from electric vehicle charging stations to restaurant composting programs to green home educational programs for residents. It's your chance to help shape local policies that directly affect you and the planet.

If your community is still just getting started, you can push for sustainability programs that encourage broad participation and buy-in across sectors. One example would be the creation of an environmental task force or advisory committee to help develop local environmental policies and programs.

The business community can be a powerful ally. In some cases, including the chamber of commerce or leaders in the local business community may be an easier lift than working directly with city departments. Chambers across the globe have seen the benefits of creating "Green Business Programs," which educate businesses about how to go green and promote those that have sustainable practices.

Industry Impact: Your Workplace

No matter where you work, from corporations to nonprofits to government agencies to universities, there are lots of ways to help create change within your workplace.

As a first step, research whether there are environmental standards, certifications or industry organizations for your field. If you found some, great! Start talking to decision-makers at your organization to find out how you can engage them. If not, find others in your field who are passionate about sustainability and develop your own.

For instance, the events industry has developed green event standards (ISO 20121 and APEX/ASTM), green event certifications, and industry organizations (Green Meeting Industry Council, Sustainable Event Alliance, Green Sports Alliance).

These standards have pushed all industry stakeholders, like venues, event producers, caterers and suppliers of event products, to up their sustainability game—with huge results.

Why are industry standards such a big deal? Consider that the Olympics is essentially one large $5 billion event. The importance of the International Olympic Committee embracing the ISO 20121 standard as a requirement for all Olympic Games from 2012 onward is massive in terms of the carbon emissions, pollutants and waste it prevents.

Global Impact: Your World

Yes, the climate crisis is a global challenge. Yes, it's big. Too big for any one person to solve on their own. But together with thousands and thousands of other committed activists spread across every time zone? Now that's a different story.

That story is the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, nearly 14,500 (and growing) everyday people of all ages who all decided that our climate and our planet are too important to leave in the hands of others.

They all believed they had to do something themselves. So they came to train with former Vice President Al Gore and others. They learned how to organize their communities and create pressure for action that policymakers couldn't ignore.

Together, they've become a powerful force for change, helping push cities and universities to go 100 percent renewable and making business more sustainable all around the world.

You can train as a Climate Reality Leader and join them. You can be part of this global movement that is reshaping the world we live in. After all, these Leaders are working for solutions in ways that ripple across the planet, but they all started off as someone just like you. Someone asking, "What can I do?"

Ready for Action?

If you're ready to learn how you can make a difference in your community and for the planet, join a host of incredible speakers like former Vice President Al Gore at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in LA Aug. 28—30.

It's three days of inspiring sessions on climate science and solutions. Three days of conversations with other world-changers just like you. Three days that point the way forward to a sustainable future. Three days that will change your life.

Applications are open and the training is free to attend, so apply today.

18 June 2018. U.S. Sees Steady Solar Growth Despite Trump, But China Slashes Subsidies

By Andy Rowell

Donald Trump can't stop the sun from shining. Despite the climate denier's pro-fossil fuel agenda, and despite his tariffs on imported solar panels, the U.S. still installed more solar than any other source of energy in the first quarter of the year.

The amount of solar power installed in the U.S. climbed 13 percent in the first quarter, according to the trade body, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).


The trade body said that solar accounted for 55 percent of all new power generation, beating new wind and natural gas turbines for a second straight quarter.

The SEIA expects new installations this year to be roughly the same as last year, despite Trump's antics with tariffs that are expected to increase costs. The association said it expected 10.8 gigawatts of solar to be installed, rising to 14 gigawatts by 2024.

"Solar has become a common-sense option for much of the U.S., and is too strong to be set back for long, even in light of the tariffs," SEIA Chief Executive Officer Abigail Ross Hopper told Bloomberg.

The Chinese solar industry, however, is now struggling after what is known as the "solar-coaster" where just as increased subsidies can signal a boom, removing them can lead to a downturn.

At the beginning of this month, the Chinese government announced that subsidies via feed in tariffs would be slashed, even though the country has been the largest solar installer for the last four years. Indeed, last year the country installed a whopping 55 gigawatts of solar power. This is more than five times the amount in the U.S. market.

According to the Economist, some 20 GW of projects could now be scrapped in China, leading to a potential stall in the global solar market and huge market vulnerability. The only positive of this is as demand falls, the cost of panels could also fall too, making solar more economic in other countries.

So in the short term, Yvonne Liu, solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, argues that "2018 is likely to be the first-ever year seeing negative annual [worldwide] installation growth."

But medium term, there is the prospect of Chinese manufacturers flooding the global market with panels, which could help solar compete globally.

The Economist reports that Bloomberg New Energy Finance believes that this fall in panel costs could mean that, in the longer term, "more markets may embrace solar … The cheaper solar gets, the more appealing it becomes, especially in poor countries struggling to satisfy rising energy demand."

Nick Boyle, chief executive of Lightsource BP, a leading solar developer, said about the Chinese move, "For us it is only good."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Oil Change International.

18 June 2018. How a Minor Change to EPA Rules Could Slash Environmental Protection

By Joseph Aldy

Since the Reagan administration, federal agencies have been required to produce cost-benefit analyses of their major regulations. These assessments are designed to ensure that regulators are pursuing actions that make society better off.

In my experience working on the White House economic team in the Clinton and Obama administrations, I found cost-benefit analysis provides a solid foundation for understanding the impacts of regulatory proposals. It also generates thoughtful discussion of ways to design rules to maximize net benefits to the public.


On June 7, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed changing the agency's approach to this process in ways that sound sensible, but in fact are a radical departure from how government agencies have operated for decades.

As the agency frames it, the goal is to provide "clarity and real-world accuracy with respect to the impact of the Agency's decisions on the economy and the regulated community." But I see Pruitt's proposals as an opaque effort to undermine cost-benefit analysis of environmental rules, and thus to justify rolling back regulations.

The Importance of Co-Benefits

Have you ever done something for more than one reason? An action that you justified because it "kills two birds with one stone"? When a regulation leads to improvements that it was not designed to produce, government agencies call the unexpected payoffs "co-benefits."

For example, the Clean Air Act's Acid Rain Program was designed to reduce sulfur dioxide pollution from electric power plants, a key ingredient in acid rain. Some utilities complied by installing devices called scrubbers to capture sulfur dioxide emissions from plant exhaust.

The scrubbers also reduced fine particulate matter, which is linked with a wide range of health effects that can cause premature deaths and illnesses. This represented a huge co-benefit—one that economists have estimated to be worth $50 billion to $100 billion yearly.

Historically, federal agencies have given co-benefits full weight in regulatory impact analysis because they help to show how Americans would be better off under the policy for multiple reasons. Pruitt wants to change this policy.

Eliminating Co-Benefits From Rule-Making

Pruitt's proposal solicits public comment on how to weigh co-benefits from pollution reductions. While this request may appear neutral, it reflects an interest in trying to minimize or eliminate consideration of co-benefits.

According to an EPA analysis, amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990 that tightened emissions standards will produce benefits through 2020 that exceed their costs by a factor of more than 30 to one.USEPA

Why would EPA's administrator seek to reduce estimated benefits of regulations? As I see it, the agency faces a regulatory conundrum. President Trump issued an executive order in 2017, focused on the costs of regulations that required agencies to eliminate two rules for every new rule they issue. Since regulations have benefits as well as costs, if an existing rule delivers more benefits than costs, then striking it would impose net harm on the public.

For example, Pruitt is seeking to roll back three Obama administration air pollution initiatives: the Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, and combined carbon emission and fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles and heavy-duty vehicles. Halting these rules would save money for some electric utilities and vehicle manufacturers, but would also greatly increase air pollution.

Specifically, one recent analysis estimates that eliminating these rules would increase premature deaths from inhaling fine particulate matter by more than 80,000 over a decade. In today's dollars, and using the current value EPA employs to monetize mortality risk reduction, public health costs from reversing these three rules amount to nearly $75 billion per year—far more than any potential benefits to industry.

Even for an administration with a strong deregulatory tilt, such a step would raise political red flags. It also would run afoul of another executive order that has governed regulatory review in Democratic and Republican administrations since 1993, and requires agencies to issue rules if their benefits justify the costs. The Obama administration concluded that each of these air pollution regulations passed that test.

But what if the EPA can find a way to ignore major categories of benefits, such as zeroing out estimated co-benefits from reducing premature deaths? Then regulatory rollback could appear to pass a cost-benefit test on paper, even if it makes the American people worse off in the real world.

Pruitt has already taken other steps in this direction. Notably, the EPA has reduced its estimate of the damages from climate change from $42 per ton of carbon pollution at the end of the Obama administration to as low as $1 per ton now. This makes the social benefit of actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as the Clean Power Plan, look much smaller than they actually are.

EPA Administrator William Reilly, left, watches as President George H.W. Bush signs the Clean Air Act Amendments, November 15, 1990.USEPA archive / Carol T. Powers

Gaming the Numbers

The late Nobel laureate Gary Becker, who often called for limited government intervention in the economy, once wrote that "cost-benefit analysis may also be useful for undermining misleading claims of self-interested political pressure groups." By this he meant that rigorous, transparent assessment of a regulation's social benefits and costs makes it politically hard for special interests such as the coal industry to hijack the rule-making process.

Some conservative critics argue that under the Obama administration, the EPA gamed cost-benefit analysis to justify overregulation by introducing what they describe as speculative "social costs" and "social benefits." But this approach is not new or imprecise. When regulators do cost-benefit analysis, they are calculating the net change in "social welfare" that a regulation is expected to produce. This term comes from the White House guidance to agencies for conducting such analysis. Economists define social welfare as social benefits minus social costs.

The EPA used this process during the Reagan administration to show that the public would benefit from reducing lead in gasoline. Under President George H.W. Bush, the EPA's cost-benefit analysis supported phasing out chlorofluorocarbons that were destroying the ozone layer. Cost-benefit analysis has also supported hundreds of other EPA regulations over more than 30 years.

Indeed, transparent analysis of the social benefits and costs of regulations helps to hold regulators accountable. But if agencies put their thumbs on the scale by excluding major public health benefits, they will weaken the legitimacy of regulatory policy and make the American people worse off.

Joseph Aldy is associate professor of public policy at Harvard University.

Disclosure statement: Joseph Aldy receives funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Administrative Conference of the United States. He is affiliated with Resources for the Future, the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

18 June 2018. America’s Most Obscure Desert Is in Alaska

By Michael Engelhard

Time slipping, a tabula rasa. Footprints erased, slopes advanced, ripples unsculpted. A whole world recast by whims of weather. Besides snowfields and foreshores, few landscapes appear so clean-cut and subtle. Here, emptiness is the main attraction.


I'm perched on a pile of gear at the lip of a sand dune adjacent to a boreal forest--Lawrence of Beringia. The two Guatemalans I'm shepherding on a weeklong sampler tour of national parks busy themselves snapping last photos of Ahnewetut Creek, which borders the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes' smooth, scalloped bays. Each time I think I detect our scheduled plane's whine it turns out to be either a hungry mosquito or just the high pitch of silence in this place. The bugs have been so pesky that my clients proposed camping atop the flat hard-packed sand where the pilot dropped us off two days ago. It's too far from water, I told them, and that sand would infiltrate every crevice, but even so they took to eating their meals up here, drunk on the views, safe from bloodsuckers and moose marauders, in the herb-scented breeze.

Thirty-five miles north of the Arctic Circle, just shy of Alaska's Brooks Range, lies Kobuk Valley National Park, one of America's least explored park units. The reason s evident: To get here, you have to either charter a wheeled aircraft in Kotzebue or else backpack two miles from a loop in the river, delivered by a raft or floatplane or skiff.

Including their Little Kobuk and Hunt River outliers, the continent's largest active high-latitudes dunes smother thirty square miles like a mini-Sahara. Summer temperatures can hover around 100 degrees, fooling you with mirages--heat waver, anvil-head mountain peaks, sprawling coalescing "lakes." This is a desert birthed by retreating glaciers.Easterly winds transported rock finely abraded by Pleistocene ice flows, dumping it along the Kobuk Valley. As the climate kept changing, the Aeolian conveyor belt slowed or accelerated, and the dune field shrank or expanded tenfold. The buff humps aligned into serried ridges, divided by 10-story troughs. If the Statue of Liberty stepped off her pedestal, her torch would barely stick out from the tallest mounds.

These dunes disguise soggy sediments below, whose moisture percolates through the superimposed sands. Plant succession shows with textbook clarity: Sedges, sparse grasses, dwarf lupines, locoweed, wild rye, and islands of spruce all struggle for toeholds, anchoring substrate with root feelers tapping reservoirs that freeze solid part of the year.

Signs of wildlife abound. Loons wail. Wolf paws shadow zipper tracks left by caribou from the Western Arctic Herd, often ending in piles of vertebrae. Moose nuggets and bear scat nest in the lichen and moss pillows that abut the sliding cliffs. Willow-stick dams clog the Ahnewetutamidst alders girdled by porcupines; beavers push V-wavelets through its shallows. While I scoop buckets of cooking water for dinner, black beady eyes gleam from a root hollow in the bank.

Like Saint-Exupéry air racing toward Saigon above the Lybian desert, I succumbed to the first sand sea I saw--three decades ago, when a Death Valley "shortcut" almost killed me. The desert is a harsh mistress, strict and serene—it's hard not to wax philosophical in her presence. Life and death balance on her scimitar edge of curved swells. Echoes of Ozymandias linger. Crazed hermits and prophets inhabit these furnaces, forging messianic religions. Eons unspool in streams of grains running through your fingers, cycled through weathering's mill not once, but repeatedly. Hunting camps thousands of years old dot the Kobuk dunes' margins. One wonders what the ancient ones thought of this golden, shifting void.

Scientists, too, rack up field days here, prepping for distant worlds. Comparing satellite images of a single Martian scene over time, astrophysicists discovered dune fronts marching across the red planet. They used a remote-sensing technique they'd developed to estimate the speed of the Kobuk dunes, finding that these Arctic hills progress more slowly than those near the equator. Strangely, the data also suggested that the larger northern dunes inch forward faster than the dwarf ones. Drilling boreholes in March, taking the dunes' winter temperatures, and scanning them with ground-penetrating radar, the researchers learned that unfrozen crests of some giants—those surpassing their neighbors—bear the wind's brunt, which gives them more momentum. Snow-covered smaller surges, lee sides, and sinks by comparison remain fairly static. Coated with carbon dioxide and frost, polar dunes on our sibling planet behave in a similar manner.

Inner or outer frontiers—the exquisite parched waste of the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes confounds us with mysteries, compelling us to tiptoe the line between annihilation and thrill.

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

18 June 2018. First Glyphosate Trial, of Thousands, Begins as Plaintiff Fights for His Life

Monsanto may have dropped its name, but it can't drop the thousands of cases being brought against it by cancer sufferers claiming its weed-killer Roundup gave them non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the first of which goes to trial Monday, CNN reported.


The first plaintiff to get his day in court is Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old Bay-area father of two, but for Johnson that is a dubious honor. Johnson is being granted an expedited trial because his doctors say he is nearing death, and California law facilitates speedier trials in such cases.

Johnson worked doing pest management for a county school system and used Roundup 20 to 30 times per year in the line of duty. Now, he has days when lesions cover 80 percent of his body and he is too ill to speak.

"Mr. Johnson is angry and is the most safety-oriented person I know," his attorney Timothy Litzenburg told CNN. "Right now, he is the bravest dude in America. Whatever happens with the trial and his health, his sons get to know that."

Litzenburg also represents "more than 2,000 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma sufferers who used Roundup extensively," he told CNN.

The trial will hinge on whether Roundup's key ingredient glyphosate causes cancer and whether Monsanto failed to adequately warn customers.

Monsanto, for its part, has long insisted on glyphosate's safety.

"More than 800 scientific studies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institutes of Health and regulators around the world have concluded that glyphosate is safe for use and does not cause cancer," Scott Partridge, Monsanto's vice president of strategy, said in a statement reported by CNN.

But the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) ruled in 2015 that glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic to humans" based on studies of exposure in the agricultural sector published in the U.S., Canada and Sweden since 2001 and on laboratory experiments conducted on animals.

In March, a San Francisco judge unsealed documents casting doubt on the legitimacy of the studies finding glyphosate safe. The documents revealed Monsanto employees had ghostwritten glyphosate research for academics to sign and that a senior EPA official had killed a glyphosate review after speaking with Monsanto.

Johnson's trial will begin nearly a week after another California judge ruled that the state could not require cancer-risk labels on products containing glyphosate, saying evidence was inconclusive, AgriPulse reported. The new labels were scheduled to be required in July, but the judge's ruling has delayed their roll-out, though it is not the final ruling in the case.

18 June 2018. Orca Whale 'Crewser' Presumed Dead as Population Reaches Its Lowest Point Since 1984

Following the suspected death of an orca whale nicknamed Crewser, the population of southern resident orca whales is the lowest it has been in 34 years, The Seattle Times reported Saturday.


The Center for Whale Research (CWR) declared the whale, officially known as L92, "missing and presumed dead" on Friday. L92 had not been seen since November 2017 and was "conspicuously absent" from 2018 sightings. He was 23 years old.

With L92s death, the number of southern resident orca whales, who travel between waters in Washington State and southwestern British Columbia, fell to 75, the lowest it has been since 1984. Orca whales were listed as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2005.

Despite a baby boom, the southern orca population has fallen by eight since 2016, The Canadian Press reported.

Deaths are being blamed on a decline in Chinook salmon, the whale's main prey, as well as noise and boat traffic, The Seattle Times reported.

Conservationists are concerned that the increased shipping associated with the Trans Mountain pipeline could exacerbate these risks, since it will increase tanker traffic in the Salish Sea by 700 percent, according to the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

"Even without oil spills the additional noise from Kinder Morgan tanker traffic increases the risk of extinction to already imperilled Southern Residents. Today's approval of the Kinder Morgan project sanctions the probable extinction of Southern Resident killer whales. We are now considering our options including additional legal action," Raincoast Executive Director Chris Genovali said in 2016, when the pipeline was first approved.

L92's death is a reminder of the urgency of the orca's situation, coming three months after Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed an executive order to protect orcas and Chinook salmon.

"The problems faced by orcas and salmon are human-caused, and we as Washingtonians have a duty to protect these species," Inslee said at the time. "The impacts of letting these two species disappear would be felt for generations."

He ordered state agencies to outline both immediate and long-term solutions to ensure both species' survival.

L92 was a member of L pod, the largest group of orca whales that spends time in Washington and BC waters. The smaller J and K pods complete the southern resident population.

On June 11, the CWR counted 50 whales in inland waters. The CWR said the whales were spending less and less time inland in the spring as Fraser River Chinook salmon runs decreased. 2018 looks to be an especially low year for Fraser River Chinook salmon, the CWR reported.

17 June 2018. Taking Your First Steps Into Local Climate Action

Yes, yes—it can feel daunting. The climate crisis is more urgent than it's ever been. Some days we feel like we're making good progress, when we hear of countries powered by 100 percent renewable energy or a big commitment to take on fossil fuel corporations from a city like New York. But other days, it's a heavy burden knowing there's so much more that needs to be done to unseat the fossil fuel industry and move to a just, Fossil Free, renewably-powered world.


Last weekend, we saw how national and international leadership keeps failing to meaningfully address the problem. While the Paris agreement rightly acknowledged how much damage we'll see in a 2-degree warmer world, it's not clear that process is going to be enough to stop it from happening.

So people are trying something new. The We Are Still In coalition in the U.S. unites local governments, businesses, civil society and non-state actors to work together and overcome limited national means. In the international C40 Cities network, mayors of iconic cities around the globe are pushing for fossil fuel divestment. Gov. Jerry Brown of California is hosting a summit in San Francisco in September to bypass the national and "take ambition to the next level." And of course, grassroots movements, from Kenya to the Philippines to Brazil, are securing important wins.

All these local efforts—and so many others of varying form and size across the globe—give us hope. People power is keeping us in the game. By speaking truth to power and working tirelessly in our communities and with local governments, we can create the change we want to see. We're not falling for empty words. We know the solutions are simple: ambitious and just renewable commitments, "no" to all new fossil fuel projects, and an end to finance for the fossil fuel industry.

So, don't get discouraged. Here's what you can do right now for an injection of hope:

1. Start or Join a Fossil Free Group Near You

Often, we only catch the headlines—but behind the scenes, groups of people are learning together how to effect real change in their communities with targeted, local campaigns. Start here—and check out some of the amazing tools and the network of groups already out there to help you get started.

2. Join or Organize a Local Rise for Climate Action Where You Live on September 8

Ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, the climate movement is gearing up for a huge day of action. With 3 months still to go, 100 actions around the world are already organized—but we know we can scale it to more than 1,000. This is a chance to get creative and come together with friends and your community: All you need to know is here.

3. Spread the Word About #RiseforClimate on Social Media

Don't underestimate the power of keeping the conversation going, sharing personal stories and amplifying other inspiring voices from around the world. Find sample graphics, video, text and lots more to help you spread the word here. And if you're in California, join the in-person mass mobilization.

17 June 2018. 'Eating Animals' Drives Home Where Our Food Really Comes From

It started with a call from actress and animal rights activist Natalie Portman to author Jonathan Safran Foer. The latter had recently taken a break from novel-writing to publish 2009's New York Times best-selling treatise Eating Animals—an in-depth discussion of what it means to eat animals in an industrialized world, with all attendant environmental and ethical concerns. The two planned a meeting in Foer's Brooklyn backyard, and also invited documentary director Christopher Dillon Quinn (God Grew Tired of Us) over. The idea was to figure out how to turn Foer's sprawling, memoiristic book into a documentary that would ignite mainstream conversations around our food systems.


The fruit of that discussion is now open in select theaters. Narrated by Portman, Eating Animals begins with the simple question about how much we really know about the food on our plates. The film succinctly traces the history of farming from its small-scale, agrarian roots to the rise of large-scale industrialized farming—which incidentally started in 1923, when Delaware housewife Celia Steele accidentally ordered 500 rather than 50 chicks and experimented with keeping them inside and maximizing their productivity, thus creating the first "broiler house." This planted the seed that resulted in today's proliferation of industrial livestock operations, through which huge agribusinesses pit contracted farmers against one another to produce ever more Chicken McNuggets, KFC and cheap grocery meat. The film follows several farmers—including a factory farmer running one such operation (which he describes as a "treadmill of debt"), a rancher who raises heritage turkeys, an Iowan raising the healthy hogs that end up on conscientious foodies' plates and others. All sources are united in their desire to bring farming back to its roots in the American heritage, and away from its polluting, health-endangering and increasingly inhumane state. Early on in the film, Portman, quoting Foer's writing, states that whereas farmers used to profit by working in concert with nature, Big Ag's goal is to calculate "how close to destruction we can keep the environment without losing it altogether."

Eating Animals isn't necessarily out to expose the cruelty that feeds so much of American life; in fact, much of its content is devoted to pastoral footage of happy animals that are beloved by their farmers and granted great pre-slaughter lives. Yes, other footage does reveal massive stacks of chickens in battery cages, the Pepto-Bismol pink fecal hog lagoons of North Carolina, and the many antibiotic-doused animals that have been bioengineered to grow obese and lame during their few weeks of existence. "They've calculated how close to death we can keep an animal without killing it," Portman intones. However, Eating Animals doesn't offer what so many activists and whistleblowers already have: a blow-by-blow account of the horrors of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or what happens inside slaughterhouses.

That's because this film isn't presenting the horrors of industrialized farming as news, per se, but rather urging audiences to consider what they already know to be true. Eating Animals conveys a great deal of compassion for the farmers themselves, many of whom would not be able to survive today's economy if not for being the pawns of mega corporations like Tyson and Smithfield. It also reveals the ways in which lawmakers funded by Big Ag have passed statutes that institutionalize the cycle of producing and consuming cheap, factory-farmed meat.

That said, pro-vegetarian propaganda this film is not. While Portman is a vegan and Foer, a credited producer, is vegetarian, Quinn is a omnivore, which the others saw as an asset. After all, Eating Animals doesn't posit that consuming meat is intrinsically bad, but rather that the circumstances surrounding it—environmental degradation, increased use of antibiotics, "ag gag" laws, and animal-tending practices developed to be as cost-efficient as possible—are becoming overwhelmingly urgent. Americans are consuming more meat than we were when Foer published the book; what's more, our animal product-intensive eating habits are proliferating throughout the world. As the global population is expected to balloon to nine billion in the next 50 years, industrial farming—which already accounts for 50 billion animals raised for food—is only poised to further explode.

This film offers an objective look not only at the debate over eating animals, but also discusses ways in which we can sustainably raise animals and avoid the inherent problems of factory farming. It also brings in Temple Grandin to discuss some positive changes the industry has made. To learn more about the years-long process of creating this complex, unsettling, and absorbing film, Sierra called up director Christopher Dillon Quinn.

Sierra: The film seems to be only loosely based on Foer's 2009 book. Can you talk about that adaptation process?

Quinn: During that first meeting with Jonathan and Natalie, I made it clear that I wanted to, as Jonathan did in the book, create a personal case for why food matters from a family standpoint. We decided not to go down the same road Jonathan had in the book, which started with family stories about his grandmother, but I still wanted to follow subjects very closely, so that through their eyes, you start to see the bigger picture. The part of the book that probably captivated me most were the many open letters from farmers themselves, where Foer just let them say what they wanted. I sought to expand those narratives. So we followed subjects like one such farmer from the book, Frank Reese, the Kansas rancher raising heritage turkey breeds that have been around for centuries. It was fascinating to follow these farmers and see the contrast, because by and large, the chicken we eat today has been hybridized by genetic companies to become broad-breasted birds designed that can create as much white meat as possible, and whose bodies are compromised in such a way that they start to break down in just a couple of weeks.

Who was your intended audience?

We wanted to cast a wide net, but it's hard because a lot of people don't want to look under the hood and really think about where their meat, dairy, and eggs come from. We didn't want to wag the finger and tell people not to eat meat, but rather to portray the food industry from as many angles as possible so that anyone could watch it and find value in it. It's why audiences see how the contract farmers are under the thumb of a very large, vertically integrated system that holds many in debt their whole lives—it's not just the animals suffering. And of course, there's nothing else on the planet that causes more environmental degradation than raising animals for our food, so that's pertinent to absolutely everyone. Everybody knows something's wrong with our food system and that compromises are made, so hopefully this film offers a way to ultimately make some choices.

What was the most difficult part of making this film?

It forces you to adapt and change, and nobody likes that—I certainly didn't! I've opted out of commodity meat altogether, but I was at an event recently honoring Frank Reese and I was happy to eat his bird when it was put on my plate. The other was the visceral reaction I had to really seeing where my milk, my butter, my cheese come from. But the film is really meant to help facilitate those difficult conversations around whether you want to support a system that takes so much from our environment and society, and gives so little back. With the world's population set to explode, this is kind of the most pressing thing we have to address—we don't have enough water or resources to keep feeding people like this—and I so I like to think this film could be a starting point for a conversation that could result in real change.

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

16 June 2018. A Ghanaian Chef Feeding His Country and Combating Food Waste

Ghanaian chef Elijah Amoo Addo is on a mission to feed his nation on the excesses the food industry creates. Since 2012, he has been collecting unwanted stock or food nearing its use-by date from suppliers, farmers and restaurants in Ghana to redistribute to orphanages, hospitals, schools and vulnerable communities through his not-for-profit organization Food for All Africa. They provide meals through a Share Your Breakfast program in addition to donating stock to be used later. The organization supports and encourages communities to farm and works with stakeholders within Ghana's food industry on ways to combat waste.


The idea was born in 2009 when Amoo Addo was on his way to work at a top restaurant in Ghana's capital Accra, when he came across a mentally challenged man collecting leftover food from street vendors to hand out to other vulnerable people. The young chef asked what the man was doing.

He told him that if he didn't help others who needed it, who would?

Making sure everyone had access to nutritious food was a "shared responsibility," Amoo Addo decided.

With support from public and private organizations, Food for All Africa studied food waste in Ghana, estimating that around 45 percent of all food goes to waste. A 2016 U.N. International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report found 3.5 million children (28.3 percent) live in poverty in Ghana, with 1.2 million of those living in households unable to provide adequate food. The National Development Planning Commission also found that 24 percent of all child mortality cases in Ghana are associated with undernutrition, and the annual costs associated with child undernourishment are estimated at around US$1 billion.

Amoo Addo sees reducing food loss as a way to provide food to those in need throughout the nation, helping Ghana reach the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal Number 2—eradicating hunger.

Along with still doing the work of going out to feed those in need his organization is now looking for nationwide, policy change. Over the past year, Food for All Africa has been working on a National Food Donors Encouragement Bill to help simplify the process for businesses within Ghana's food supply chain to donate their excesses.

While Amoo Addo found France's 2016 decision to ban some forms of food waste inspiring, it was a bit too extreme to work in Ghana, he said. Regulating the system and making it easier for suppliers to donate is a better place to start, he found.

"We realized it's not as if they don't want to donate. The willingness is there—they want to give. It's more the stress they have to go through in giving," Amoo Addo said. The bill will make it easier and straightforward to get the tax breaks on donations, he added.

Currently, it takes weeks and a lot of back and forward between different government departments to get tax benefits on the donations, according to Amoo Addo.

Despite the challenges, there are more and more people and companies willing to help feed those in feed. The charity's biggest donor, the food distribution company Kwatsons, gave close to US$91,000 worth of products in 2017. It saw a 48 percent increase in food donations from the previous year.

Around the 2017 Christmas holiday season in Ghana, Amoo Addo noticed a lot more organizations and community groups focused on combating waste and hunger than in previous years, by doing either direct donations to those in need or organizing free meals through the nation. "It gave me a source of encouragement. People are now thinking more and caring more—most especially the youth. A lot of the youth are now focusing more on combating hunger," Amoo Addo noted.

Never one to sit back on his plans, Amoo Addo and his Food for All Africa have also developed an app intended to make it easier for those who have food to donate to connect with those who are in need.

Smartphone use and penetration in Ghana is high, from cheap models to the latest iPhone, more people are likely to have a smartphone than a laptop—in 2016, 65.74 percent of the population had mobile data access. The organization hopes to harness this usage and launch the app in 2018. Amoo Addo wants to see the National Food Donors Encouragement Bill passed this year, as well. He is also expanding a new venture: community food centers where vulnerable people are able to collect food donations, much like a food bank in developed nations.

16 June 2018. Hunting, Fishing Cause Dramatic Decline in Amazon River Dolphins

By Claire Asher

Populations of two species of river dolphin in the Amazon are halving every decade, according to the results of a twenty-two year survey.

The Amazon rainforest is home to the Amazon river dolphin, or Boto (Inia geoffrensis) and the Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis). But the results of a long-term study published in PLoS ONE show that both of these once abundant aquatic mammals are now in rapid decline in the Brazilian Amazon, likely due to hunting and fishing.


Vera da Silva from the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, in Manaus, Brazil, and colleagues conducted monthly surveys of river dolphins in the Mamirauá Reserve in Amazonas state between 1994 and 2017. They found steep declines in both species over the last two decades, with Boto populations halving every ten years and Tucuxi every nine years—some of the most severe declines seen in cetaceans since the moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect in the 1980s.

"Data from over 22 years of monitoring … revealed a precipitous decline of [Boto] in the last two decades," said da Silva. "Before 2000, the population was quite stable."

Boto Amazon river dolphins (Inia geoffrensis). According to researchers, Boto populations are halving every ten years in the study area. Image courtesy of Associação Amigos do Peixe-Boi (AMPA)

The IUCN Red List categorizes both species as "data deficient," meaning that there is insufficient information to determine their conservation status; the murky waters of the Amazon river make them difficult to study. But the authors say that applying the IUCN Red List Criteria to their data would result in the species being listed as Critically Endangered, having suffered greater than 90 percent declines since 2000 (the Boto declined by 94 percent, and the Tucuxi by 97 percent in the study area, according to the researchers).

"In my opinion, the real importance of this paper is it shows that populations in their study site have a negative growth trend, and [the research] does it with quantitative information," said Elizabeth Campbell, a conservation scientist at ProDelphinus Peru, a conservation NGO based in Lima, Peru who was not involved in the current research. Although other studies have attempted to estimate population trends for these enigmatic creatures, "this is the only study that has had a constant presence for 20+ years, through different seasons, in [the same] area," she said.

Finding these illusive creatures requires patience and an eagle eye: "The Botos and Tucuxis come to the surface to breathe every 1-2 min," explained da Silva, which provides a brief window of opportunity to spot the creatures, before they disappear back into the muddy waters.

The scientist said that when they first began their surveys, the dolphins were plentiful. "When we started our work with these dolphin populations in 1994, we were astonished by the number of animals in the area," da Silva said. "It was impossible to go out by boat without seeing dolphins."

A Boto surfaces in the Marañón River, Peru. Difficult to detect in Amazonia's murky waters, both species are listed as "Data Deficient" by the IUCN. But researchers maintain that if region-wide surveys were conducted both species would end up being listed as Critically Endangered. Clara Ortiz-Alvarez

Over the years, the team not only counted the numbers of dolphins, it also captured and marked some, allowing the researchers to identify individuals in the field. As time passed, they started noticing huge scars from harpoon and machete injuries on the river dolphins they caught. Interviewing local fishermen confirmed the team's suspicions: "Botos were being hunted for bait, and in large numbers," said da Silva.

Around the turn of the millenium, catches of commercially important catfish known as Piracatinga or Mota (Calophysus macropterus) in Colombia were shrinking, so new fisheries began to spring up in Brazil to meet market demand.

By 2011, subsistence fishermen had shifted toward becoming commercial fishermen in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, as they hauled in 4.4 million kilograms (9.7 million pounds) of catfish each year. Part of their success could have been due to the bait they used. "They started using caiman meat," said da Silva, but soon found that Boto carcasses from entanglement with fishing gear were a more effective bait. "Dolphin meat lasted longer and [the catfish] preferred Boto carcasses," she said.

The supply of accidentally-killed Botos was soon exceeded by demand, and the fishermen started actively hunting them.

River dolphin leaping. Amazon river dolphins had been considered resilient compared to their Asian relatives. But this latest study shows that South America's river dolphins may also be headed toward oblivion unless action is taken to reduce hunting, fishing and other pressures on both species.F. da Silva VM

The dolphins were abundant at the time, and their high densities in small river inlets and bays, combined with their natural curiosity, made them easy targets, da Silva explained. The Brazilian government placed a five-year moratorium on fishing for piracatinga in 2014, but the practice still continues illegally.

Botos are found throughout both the Amazon and Orinoco river basins. In the wet season, the dolphins leave river channels and swim out into the flooded forests to search for prey among the roots and trunks of partially submerged trees.

Although legally protected in the Amazon, poor enforcement has meant that the species is still routinely entangled in fishermen's nets and gear, as well as deliberately hunted for fat and blubber. Some fishermen see the dolphins as a nuisance—competing with them for fish and damaging their equipment—and so kill them intentionally. "Fisherman do not like Botos because they damage the fish and the fishing gear," said da Silva.

In contrast to Boto, the survey showed that Tucuxi have been declining consistently since at least the mid-1990s. Unlike the Botos, Tucuxi don't enter the flooded forests to feed, but instead stick to the main river channels and tributaries. The species is smaller and faster-moving than the Boto, and is generally considered friendly and not a pest by local fishermen, making it less vulnerable to deliberate hunting. However, gear entanglement remains a serious threat, particularly because fishing nets are often set at the mouths of river channels where the Tucuxi tend to congregate.

Boto swimming in the Rio Amazonas, Brazil in 2016. A lack of political will, drastic cuts to the Brazilian environmental ministry budget, and continued illegal dolphin hunting and fishing are putting these aquatic mammals at risk.Martha de Jong-Lantink on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The decline of both species is significant for aquatic ecology. River dolphins are a key part of the Amazonian ecosystem—Botos are known to feed on 43 different species of fish, most of which live near the river bottom, while Tucuxis feed on at least 28 species, mostly small schooling fish found higher in the water column. Many of these fish are commercially exploited, too, putting the dolphins in direct competition with local fishermen.

"The takeaway message for me is that fisheries interaction with river dolphins is probably the most significant threat these species face," said Campbell, adding that "populations are decreasing faster than we could expect."

Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve, where the study was conducted, is a 4,300 square-mile (11,000 square-kilometer) protected area—one of the largest in the Brazilian Amazon. Within the reserve, where commercial fishing is banned, mortality of dolphins is primarily the result of accidental deaths from subsistence fishing. However, some Botos travel up to hundreds of kilometers, straying outside the reserve where they may encounter other threats, including direct hunting, commercial fishing gear and pollution from agricultural run-off and mining.

One danger: toxic mercury, often used in mining to separate gold from soil and rock, accumulates in river sediments and can cause problems for top predators, like river dolphins, that consume large quantities of pollutants in the fish they prey on. The mercury bio-accumulates in increasing, eventually deadly, amounts in the dolphins' fat.

Amazon river dolphins had been considered resilient compared to their Asian relatives, the endangered Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) and the critically endangered Baiji (Lipotes vexillifer), which many conservationists believe may be extinct in the wild. Da Silva and colleagues' latest study shows that South America's river dolphins may also be headed toward oblivion.

Tucuxi swimming. Brazil's struggling economy means that fishermen are likely to try to increase their catches, even if that means illegally using dolphins for bait, or killing them either by accident or intentionally.Mike LaB on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

If Amazon basin dolphins are to survive, the Brazilian government needs to take the first step of strengthening existing protections and improving enforcement, da Silva said. "Controlling the fisheries catching catfish and preventing fishermen setting nets at the entrances of rivers, lakes and channels," would be a good start, she said.

Implementing dolphin protections and preventing illegal hunting in the flooded forests of the Amazon would be challenging, but is possible, da Silva said. But Brazil's environment ministry has seen draconian budget cuts (51 percent in 2017 alone) under the Temer administration, so it lacks the staff, equipment and fuel needed to monitor remote Amazonian regions. And as in many countries, there is currently a lack of political will to pass and enforce strong environmental legislation. Meanwhile, Brazil's struggling economy means that fishermen are likely to try to increase their catches, even if that means illegally using dolphins for bait, or killing them either by accident or intentionally.

"Fisheries in the Brazilian Amazon are not well controlled and quantified," da Silva said. And there is no sign that that reality will change soon.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

15 June 2018. 'Historic First': Nebraska Farmers Return Land to Ponca Tribe in Effort to Block Keystone XL

By Jessica Corbett

In a move that could challenge the proposed path of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline—and acknowledges the U.S. government's long history of abusing Native Americans and forcing them off their lands—a Nebraska farm couple has returned a portion of ancestral land to the Ponca Tribe.


At a deed-signing ceremony earlier this week, farmers Art and Helen Tanderup transferred to the tribe a 1.6-acre plot of land that falls on Ponca "Trail of Tears."

Now, as the Omaha World-Herald explained, rather than battling the farmers, "TransCanada will have to negotiate with a new landowner, one that has special legal status as a tribe."

The transfer was celebrated by members of the Ponca Tribe as well as environmental advocates who oppose the construction of the pipeline and continue to demand a total transition to renewable energy.

"We want to protect this land," Larry Wright Jr., the chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, told the World-Herald. "We don't want to see a pipeline go through."

"While TransCanada is trampling on Indigenous rights to fatten their bottom line, Native leaders are resisting by building renewable energy solutions like solar panels in the path of the pipeline," said 350.org executive director May Boeve.

"Repatriating this land to the Ponca Tribe raises new challenges for the Keystone XL pipeline and respects the leadership of Native nations in the fight against the fossil fuel industry," she added. "Tribal sovereignty is central to the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground and build a more just society for all."

Author and 350.org cofounder Bill McKibben called the land transfer an "important strategic move," while also noting that "it's sacred ground."

In recent years, the Tanderups have worked with Ponca leaders to grow the tribe's sacred corn on the land that's now been returned. The signing ceremony featured the fifth planting of the corn and a performance by Ponca singers and grass dancers.

"It's an honor to be here today to celebrate this gracious and generous donation nation to the Ponca Nation," Wright said at the ceremony. "This event is another step to healing old wounds and bringing our people together again to a land once ours."

The Tanderups—who have joined with Indigenous and environmental advocates to protest Keystone XL—said the possibility of blocking the pipeline was only one of the factors that contributed to their decision.

"The Ponca and people of this community continue to build strong relationships as they work in collaborative efforts," Art Tanderup told the Norfolk Daily News. "It is only fitting that out of the tragedy of the Ponca Trail of Tears that a small piece of this historic trail be transferred to them."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

15 June 2018. Sustainable Fashion Innovator Makes Fiber From Pineapple Leaves

In 1960, 97 percent of the fibers used in clothing came from natural materials. Today that number has fallen to 35 percent. But sustainable fashion veteran Isaac Nichelson wants to reverse that trend.

His company, Circular Systems S.P.C. (Social Purpose Corp.), has developed an innovative technology for turning food waste into thread, according to a Fast Company profile published Friday.


"We want to enable food crops to become our primary fibers," Nichelson told Fast Company.

That technology, the Agraloop™ Bio-Refinery, uses pineapple leaves, sugarcane bark and banana, hemp and flax stalks to make a textile-grade fiber. The technology recycles problems into solutions. 270 million tons of banana waste is left to rot each year, contributing to methane pollution and crop disease. But burning crops causes more than 10 percent of global annual air pollution deaths, according to the product's website. Instead, Nichelson wants people to wear that waste instead; just the five crops currently used in the Agraloop could produce 250 million tons of fiber a year, enough to exceed global demand 2.5 times.

"[It's a] regenerative system that uses plant-based chemistry and plant-based energy to upgrade the fibres whilst enriching the local communities and creating a new economic system," Nichelson said in a press release. The Agraloop systems are intended for farmers and producers to own so that they can dispose of their own waste and use it to augment their own revenue, according to Fast Company.

In April, Circular Solutions won the 2018 Global Change Award from the H&M Foundation, which comes with a $350,000 grant Nichelson said he would use to scale up production of the Agraloop.

The Agraloop isn't the only sustainable technology that Circular Solutions has developed. Texloop targets the problem of textile waste—almost 85 percent of used clothing gets sent to landfills—by upcycling it into new fabrics. Orbital™ Hybrid Yarns are high-quality yarns made from recycled food and textile fibers.

Nichelson, who is developing partnerships with H&M and Levis to use his fibers, told Fast Company that the fashion industry was increasingly interested in sustainability, largely for economic reasons. This year's McKinsey and Company and Business of Fashion annual survey said the industry would see losses of three to four percent unless it could increase efficiency and reduce waste.

"Right now, it's so extractive and so destructive, and we're looking at these resources becoming more and more finite as the population grows," Nichelson said.

15 June 2018. Chair of Senate Environment Panel to Call Scott Pruitt to Testify on Scandals

The Republican chairman of the Senate committee with oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to call the agency's embattled chief Scott Pruitt to testify, specifically in response to multiple scandals and investigations surrounding the administrator.

Through a spokesperson, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., informed Reuters of his decision to compel Pruitt to come before the Environment and Public Works Committee to answer questions about his alleged abuse of his office.


Barrasso also formally requested Senate appropriators provide the EPA's inspector general with "sufficient funding" to carry out ongoing investigations into Pruitt's behavior.

"Scott Pruitt's low-rent grifting has finally become an albatross for those who have supported and defended him even as the scandals and investigations mounted," said EWG President Ken Cook. "It's one thing when Pruitt's swamp stench lingers over only him, but it appears to be infiltrating the airspace around Republicans in Congress and President Trump."

Sen. Barrasso is the latest Republican senator to demonstrate growing impatience with Pruitt. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and close friend and political mentor to Pruitt, blasted the administrator during an appearance on Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham's radio show and in an interview with The Washington Post this week.

Ingraham called on President Trump to fire Pruitt after learning he tasked an aide with reaching out to conservative donors for help getting his wife a job.

In her Tweet, Ingraham blasted Pruitt for damaging Trump.

And the same day, the conservative magazine National Review published an editorial calling for Pruitt's dismissal.

15 June 2018. Senate’s Farm Bill Moves Forward—But What Is It, Anyway?

By Shannan Lenke Stoll

The Senate Agriculture Committee just passed its version of a farm bill in a 20-1 vote Thursday. It's one more step in what has been a delayed journey to pass a 2018–2022 bill before the current one expires in September.


The farm bill is a colossal piece of highly partisan legislation passed every five years. It sets federal food policy, including determining where about $100 billion a year in taxpayer money is spent. These allocations impact farming livelihoods, how food is grown, and what kinds of food are grown, touching everything from climate change (this Senate bill includes a program that would pay farmers for building soil and measuring soil carbon) to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (protected under this Senate bill).

Next, this bill will be considered by the full Senate. Because it's a strongly bipartisan measure, its chances of passage are good. Meanwhile, the House Republican version of a bill was already defeated in May, and House leadership has said it will try again with its bill on June 22. Then the Senate and House will negotiate.

Why is the farm bill so important, and how does it work? In this video, the Food & Environment Reporting Network explains the bill that dictates the way we produce and eat food.

Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.

15 June 2018. There’s Now an App for Mapping Seagrass, the Oceans’ Great Carbon Sink

The launch of an online crowdsourcing database for seagrass hopes to breathe new life into efforts to conserve the underwater flowering plants, which act as both important habitats for marine species and a major store of carbon dioxide.

Patchy mapping of seagrass meadows has hampered efforts to protect the plants (which are distinct from seaweed) from threats such as coastal development, sedimentation, coral farming and sand mining, according to Richard Unsworth, a marine biologist at Swansea University in the UK and co-founder of environmental charity Project Seagrass.


The group on June 4 launched SeagrassSpotter, a collaborative initiative that allows anyone with a camera to upload images of seagrass sightings and tagged locations from anywhere in the world. The online tool also provides species information to help ordinary users identify the seagrass they find. The platform is accessible via website or mobile app for Android and iOS.

"We're asking people visiting the coast or going out to sea—for diving, fishing, kayaking—to keep their eyes out for seagrass so that they can take a picture [to] upload to our website," Unsworth told Mongabay. "The more people that get involved the more likely we are to develop a better understanding of the world's seagrass."

Seagrasses grow in shallow coastal regions, providing a crucial nursery habitat for young fish of many species. Previous reports suggest that more than 600 species of fish in Southeast Asia alone rely on these meadows for their growth and development. Seagrass beds are also an important home for marine invertebrates, such as sea cucumbers, prawns and crabs.

Some seagrass meadows also serve to store large quantities of so-called blue carbon, the carbon dioxide absorbed by the world's oceans and coastal ecosystems. It's been estimated that seagrass meadows may be able to store more CO2 in their roots than all the world's rainforests.

The online tool SeagrassSpotter aggregates reported sightings of seagrass ecosystems from around the world to help in the effort to conserve the underwater plants.Image courtesy of SeagrassSpotter

The platform also provides information on seagrass species to help with identification.Image courtesy of SeagrassSpotter

Seagrasses are disappearing at rates that rival those of coral reefs and tropical rainforests, losing as much as 7 percent of their area each year, according to the IUCN. More than 70 species of seagrass worldwide cover a global area estimated at up to 600,000 square kilometers (about 232,000 square miles)—an area larger than the island of Madagascar.

"We increasingly know how seagrasses support biodiverse fauna but we know little about how to manage them to be resilient into the future and how to restore these systems once they've been lost," Unsworth said.

He pointed to Indonesia as an example of a seagrass hotspot, where the dearth of knowledge about the plants could potentially lead to the extinction of these underwater gardens across the archipelago.

Indonesia is widely considered an important country for seagrass conservation. In 1994, researchers estimated the country was home to 30,000 square kilometers (11,600 square miles) of seagrass, perhaps the world's largest concentration of the plant. But in June 2017, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), a government-funded research agency, put the country's seagrass cover at just 1,507 square kilometers (582 square miles).

"Having worked extensively on seagrass in Indonesia since 2003, I see that seagrass is largely not on the conservation radar," Unsworth said.

"When you visit marine parks and places with seagrass, its conservation is commonly not included or just there as a token inclusion. The focus is always on coral reefs, even though often the majority of the fishing effort is on nearshore shallow seagrass."

At least two studies by researchers in Indonesia have attempted to map seagrass meadows in certain locations, but both noted that nationwide mapping efforts were practically non-existent.

A handful of seagrass meadow sightings in Indonesia have been submitted to SeagrassSpotter. Image courtesy of SeagrassSpotter

According to Unsworth, LIPI now runs a seagrass monitoring program, but it's only on seagrass meadows in marine parks where threats aren't as prevalent and widespread as in other, unprotected, coastal regions in Indonesia.

"Funding for projects by NGOs largely ignores seagrass or when budgets are stretched, they always pull the seagrass component first," he said. "Having met with fisheries officers, park managers and local government officials over many years, my overwhelming opinion is that seagrass is not considered to be of much importance."

A search of the academic literature on coral reefs versus seagrass in Indonesia reveals that five times as many studies were published about the former in the period between 1970 and 2018, Unsworth said.

He also pointed to dataset compiled by the U.N. Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre showing huge gaps where seagrass has been mapped.

"The gaps are places where the environmental conditions suggest seagrass should be prevalent," Unsworth said. "This includes many areas where I personally have observed extensive seagrass, such as Buton, Selayar, Central Sulawesi."

The latest figures from LIPI indicate that only 40 percent of seagrass in Indonesia is considered in healthy condition. Coastal land development, sedimentation, waste pollution, coral aquaculture and sand mining are the top threats to Indonesia's seagrass.

Unsworth and his team of researchers published a report in April that indicates 90 percent of the seagrass meadows they examined in Indonesia had been extensively damaged and degraded over the past five years.

"Seagrasses in some parts of Indonesia are very well mapped, but across the nation knowledge is very poor and this comes at an important time given what we know about the losses of seagrass," he said.

Other countries, like Australia, have also reported findings of extensive seagrass meadows in seabeds deeper than 20 meters (66 feet), but "next to no deepwater seagrass has ever been documented in Indonesia," Unsworth said.

"This is probably because no one has ever looked for it," he said.

To date, SeagrassSpotter has collected more than 1,000 records of seagrass around the UK and northern Europe. Globally, the group hopes to obtain at least 100,000 records by engaging people from around the world to collect data about seagrass in their locality. All collected data will be freely available to the public.

"If people don't know where seagrass is and why it's of value," Unsworth said, "then they won't take action to preserve it."

Healthy seagrass on the ocean floor. Seagrass provides an important source of income and food for communities around the world, but its importance often goes unnoticed. Image courtesy of Benjamin Jones / Project Seagrass

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

15 June 2018. Senate Committee Moves to Force Public Disclosure of Drinking Water Contamination

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a spending bill Thursday that includes report language requiring the Trump administration to release a key scientific study it buried. The study proposed safe levels for fluorinated, or PFAS, chemicals in drinking water at levels nearly six times lower than those the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends.


The amendment to the committee report, authored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. and approved in the Interior-Environmental spending bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services to publish the study within two weeks of the bill becoming law.

Internal emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and reported by Politico revealed that the top aides to EPA head Scott Pruitt, as well as Department of Defense and White House officials, sought to block the study's release, fearing a "public relations nightmare" that could follow.

"Scott Pruitt and the White House clearly will do anything to hide information from the public on any number of issues, including the poisoned drinking water of 100 million Americans," said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at Environmental Working Group. "But lawmakers from both sides of the aisle understand full well how important clean drinking water is for their constituents and all Americans."

15 June 2018. South Dakota High Court Blocks Bid to Halt Keystone XL

The South Dakota Supreme Court disappointed an attempt by Native American tribes and state activists to block the Keystone XL pipeline on Wednesday, ruling that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to hear their appeal, The Associated Press reported.


The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Yankton Sioux Tribe and conservation and family agriculture group Dakota Rural Action had appealed a decision by a judge last year to uphold the Public Utilities Commission's decision to let the controversial pipeline cross the state.

Dakota Rural Action attorney Robin Martinez called the decision "disappointing" on Thursday but affirmed that "fight is not over," The Associated Press reported further.

Terry Cunha, the spokesperson for TransCanada Corp., the company behind the pipeline, told The Associated Press in an email that the company was pleased with the court's decision.

TransCanada was in the news just last week when one of its natural gas pipelines exploded in West Virginia.

Its Keystone XL pipeline would transport as many as 830,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil daily through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would hook up with pipelines taking oil to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Activists thought they had defeated the pipeline when former president Barack Obama rejected it in 2015, partly over concerns about its contribution to climate change. But President Donald Trump resurrected it with an executive order days into his presidency. TransCanada now hopes to start construction in the beginning of 2019, according to The Associated Press.

The South Dakota appeal wasn't the only play made by pipeline opponents to block Trump's decision. Environmental groups have sued the administration over the decision to approve the pipeline, and Nebraska land owners have also sued over their state's Public Service Commission's decision to sign-off on the pipeline's proposed path, The Associated Press reported.

In an attempt to further frustrate the pipeline's progress, Nebraska land owners Art and Helen Tanderup signed over a 1.6 acre plot of their land to the Ponca Indian Tribe on Sunday, according to The Associated Press.

The piece of land both sits on the pipeline's route and has been used by the tribe to plant sacred corn for the last five years.

"What the impact will be, I don't know," Tanderup told The Associated Press. "But now, they'll have a voice in this issue. They will be a player at the table."

Ponca Tribe of Nebraska attorney Brad Jolly told The Associated Press he was not sure if deeding the land to the tribe would provide a legal avenue to stop the pipeline. He said he was still focused on the ongoing Nebraska suit against the pipeline's approval.

15 June 2018. 'Fish Fights' Could Erupt as Climate Change Drives Species Across Borders

A study published in Science on Friday warned that climate change could spark global conflict over an unexpected resource: fish.

As waters warm, fish and other animals are already moving into new territory at a rate of 70 kilometers (approximately 43.5 miles) per decade, and that pace could accelerate in the future. If we do not act to lower greenhouse gas emissions, new fish species will enter the waters of at least 70 countries by 2100, challenging the regulatory framework for managing fishing rights, according to a University of British Columbia (UBC) press release.


This could lead both to overfishing and international conflict as countries compete for moving species.

"I've got a three-year-old son, and sometimes it seems like he's better at sharing than countries are with fisheries," lead author and Rutgers University assistant biology professor Malin Pinsky told National Geographic.

The research team included marine ecologists, fisheries scientists, social scientists and lawyers and used models to predict the movement of 892 different fish stocks, according to the UBC press release. Climate change tends to urge marine life towards the poles. By 2100, at least a third of many countries' national catch could come from species that didn't live in their waters decades before. In East Asia, where there are already tensions over fishing rights due to illegal fishing and disputed boundaries, some countries could find at least 10 new species in their waters that were managed by other countries before, National Geographic reported.

"Marine fishes do not have passports and are not aware of political boundaries; they will follow their future optimal habitat," study co-author and UBC postdoctoral fellow Gabriel Reygondeau said in the press release. "Unfortunately, the potential change of distribution of highly-valuable species between two neighbouring countries will represent a challenge for fisheries management that will require new treaties to deal with transboundary fish stocks."

The paper cited two examples of past disputes that hint at what's to come.

In the 1990s, Pacific salmon moved from British Columbia to U.S. waters as the ocean warmed, igniting a "salmon war," according to the Huffington Post. The UBC release explained that U.S. fishermen caught fish heading to Canada, while Canadian fishermen caught fish migrating to the U.S. At one point, Canadian fishermen even blockaded an Alaskan ferry, and British Columbia sued the U.S. In 2000, the two countries finally came to a new agreement and the suit was dropped, the Huffington Post reported.

In another example, conflict escalated in 2007 when mackerel migrated en masse into Iceland's waters, leading to a "mackerel war" between Iceland and the Faroe Islands and the EU over the two countries' rapidly increased mackerel takes. The war also escalated to a blockade when Scottish fisherman prevented a Faroese ship from unloading. Scientists said the dispute led to unsustainable fishing of the silvery fish, according to National Geographic, and the Huffington Post reported that the conflict scuttled Iceland's entry into the EU.

"Even in the countries with the best of governments, those disputes are difficult to manage," study co-author and sustainability researcher with the Stockholm Resilience Center Jessica Spijkers told National Geographic.

The paper urged governments to forestall future conflict by implementing policies that allow nations to trade fishing permits and quotas.

"Examples of such flexible arrangements already exist, such as the agreement for U.S.-Canada Pacific salmon and Norway-Russia Atlantic herring," senior study author and UBC Institute for Oceans and Fisheries associate professor William Cheung said in the press release. "Fisheries management organizations can draw from these experiences to proactively make existing international fisheries arrangements adaptable to changing stock distributions."

14 June 2018. Starbucks Urged to Cut Ties With Hong Kong Chain That Still Serves Shark Fin

Starbucks is being pressured to cut ties with popular Hong Kong restaurant chain Maxim's Caterers Limited over its offering of dishes with shark fin.


Maxim's said it phased out the controversial product in 2017 but undercover investigators with the wildlife conservation charity WildAid found that the eatery still offers shark fin on a secret "premium" menu, the South China Morning Post reported.

Now, activist groups are calling on the coffee giant to break its 18-year partnership with Coffee Concepts (HK) Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Maxim's Caterers Limited.

In a letter to Starbucks executives last month, WildAid urged the company to end its relationship with Maxim's Caterers ahead of its upcoming expansion in China.

"Maxim's seemingly contradictory status as Hong Kong's largest retailer of shark fin soup casts a stain on Starbucks' reputation," the letter stated, as quoted by Hong Kong Free Press. "[We] sincerely urge Starbucks to call on its Hong Kong licensee Maxim's Caterers Limited, to halt all cruel, dirty, unsustainable, and often illegal shark fin trade with immediate effect."

Shark fin soup is mostly served in Chinese banquet menus as a symbol of prosperity and for its supposed health benefits. But the shark fin trade poses a danger to vulnerable shark species. More than 70 million sharks are killed each year and a quarter of species are threatened with extinction, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

WildAid did not appear impressed with Starbucks' response to their letter, tweeting on Tuesday "we got the brush off from Starbucks customer service about two weeks ago. Since then, nothing."

Gary Stokes, Asia director for Sea Shepherd Global, also spoke out against the partnership.

"The shark fin industry is not limited to just the shark fin traders, but spans from the fisherman who killed the shark all the way to the restaurants that serve shark's fin soup," he said in a statement. "By licensing Starbucks' brand to Maxim's Caterers Limited who openly sell shark's fin on their menus, Starbucks has partnered with the shark fin trade itself."

Despite the protests, Maxim's Caterers told Hong Kong Free Press on Thursday that they will continue to sell shark fin products "upon request" at their Hong Kong restaurants. They also claimed to only use shark fins from Blue Sharks—a "Lower Risk-Near Threatened" species.

"We have stringent sourcing process, and all suppliers must provide legal shark fin import documentations that met regulatory requirements. We are also the first Chinese chain restaurant to proactively conduct independent DNA testing on shark fin to ensure that the supply is from the lower risk species," they told the publication.

In their press release, Sea Shepherd noted that Starbucks' environmental mission statement includes commitments such as "understanding of environmental issues and sharing information with our partners," "striving to buy, sell and use environmentally friendly products," and "encouraging all partners to share in our mission."

Stokes commented, "None of the above points in the mission statement are in line with or justify selling shark fin soup. With between 100-200 million sharks being killed annually, no business can claim that they are environmentally friendly or responsible when they sell shark fin soup."

"Starbucks needs to demand that Maxim's Caterers Limited drop shark fin from their menus across their group or cancel their license to operate Starbucks in Asia. Tarnishing the brand of Starbucks should not be an option, and Starbucks customers deserve to be informed if the mission statement has changed," Stokes concluded.

EcoWatch has reached out to Starbucks for comment.

14 June 2018. Samsung Commits to 100 Percent Renewable Energy by 2020

Samsung Electronics announced Thursday an aim to source 100 percent renewable energy for its energy used in all of its factories, office buildings and operational facilities in the U.S., Europe and China by 2020.

Specific locations were chosen as they are "well-equipped with infrastructure for the development and transmission of renewable energy," the South Korean tech giant said on its website. Samsung has 17 of its 38 global manufacturing factories, offices and buildings in those markets.


As part of its initial commitment, the company will install around 42,000 square meters of solar panels at its headquarters in Suwon. It will also add about 21,000 square meters of solar arrays and geothermal power generation facilities at its campuses in Pyeongtaek and Hwaseong.

What's more, the electronics firm plans to work with 100 of its top partner companies to assist their own renewable energy targets in alignment with the Carbon Disclosure Project supply chain program, which Samsung intends to join next year.

The Carbon Disclosure Project's supply chain program helps organizations and suppliers identify and manage climate change risks, as well as deforestation and water-related risks.

"Samsung Electronics is fulfilling its duty as a corporate citizen by expanding and supporting the use of renewable energy," said Won Kyong Kim, Samsung Electronics' executive vice president and head of global public affairs, in a statement.

"As demonstrated by our expanded commitment, we are focused on protecting our planet and are doing our part as a global environmental steward."

Further details regarding the company's renewable energy plans will be disclosed in Samsung's sustainability report 2018 to be released Friday.

The announcement was celebrated by environmental organizations. Greenpeace noted that Samsung's commitment—the first from an Asian electronics manufacturing company—comes after months of campaigning and global protests pushing the company to set clear renewable energy goals for its operations and supply chain.

According to a Greenpeace press release, renewable energy currently accounts for only 1 percent of Samsung Electronics' total energy consumption.

"Samsung's announcement is a major step forward for the movement to build a renewably powered future," Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International's executive director, said in a statement. "If the company follows through with meaningful actions, it will join the ranks of innovative business leaders recognizing the sense of urgency around climate change and showing a different future is still possible."

Samsung's move follows efforts made by other major tech brands. In April, Apple announced that its global facilities are now powered with 100 percent clean energy. The same month, Google also announced it now purchases more renewable energy than it consumes as a company.

Insung Lee, IT campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, urged other companies to follow suit and advocated for governments to promote policies that allow companies to easily procure renewable energy.

"[Samsung's] commitment could have an enormous impact in reducing the company's massive global manufacturing footprint, and shows how critical industry participation is in reducing emissions and accelerating the transition to renewable energy," Lee stated.

"Greenpeace and the thousands who took action with us will be watching Samsung carefully to ensure it follows through on its commitments," Lee noted.

14 June 2018. Toxic Leftovers From Giant Mine Found in Snowshoe Hares

By Som Niyogi and Solomon Amuno

Even though it was closed decades ago, the Giant Mine on the outskirts of Yellowknife has left a long environmental legacy.


The gold extraction process, which required roasting ores at extremely high temperatures, created a toxic byproduct called arsenic trioxide. For about 55 years (1948-2004), arsenic and other toxic elements were released into the environment, causing widespread contamination of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems around Yellowknife.

About 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide dust is buried underground, and several nearby lakes show arsenic contamination.

Elevated arsenic levels have also been reported in soil, vegetation and fish around Yellowknife, but we knew little about how it has affected the health of the small mammals that live in the area.

Many of these fur-bearing animals are still being trapped for their pelts and for food, so knowing their arsenic levels is also important for human health.

Weak Bones

Small mammals can serve as sentinels for environmental contamination. Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) live in a relatively small area and eat soil, so they are likely to accumulate higher levels of arsenic and other trace metals from the environment.

Exposure to elevated levels of arsenic can cause damage to the liver and other organs. And cadmium, a toxic metal and another byproduct of the gold extraction process, can replace calcium in the bones, leading to bone deformities and weakness.

In humans, chronic arsenic exposure (usually from water) can lead to changes in skin colour, skin growths and cancers of the skin, lung and internal organs.

When we measured arsenic and cadmium levels in hares living within two kilometres of the Giant Mine and compared them to hares living about 20 kilometres away from Yellowknife, the results were striking.

The arsenic levels in the guts of snowshoe hares living near the Giant Mine were 20-50 times greater than those living away from it. We also saw higher concentrations of arsenic in the organs and nails of the Giant Mine hares.

Cadmium levels were also higher but the difference wasn't as marked. Hares from both locations had weaker bones and showed signs of osteoporosis, probably due to chronic exposure to cadmium.

Ecological Implications

This chronic exposure to elevated levels of arsenic and cadmium may explain why snowshoe hares living near the Giant Mine are in poor health.

Wildlife living in metal contaminated areas in other parts of the world have also shown problems with reproduction, osteoporosis, neurological damage and chronic metabolic disease. But in Canada, it's the first time we've seen small wild mammals with chronic arsenic poisoning.

The high levels of pollutants could compromise the long-term survival of the snowshoe hare and other small mammals in the Yellowknife area.

The high arsenic and cadmium burden in hares could have consequences for other animals that prey on them, such as foxes, wolves or other carnivorous mammals, and for the people who hunt them.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.


14 June 2018. Eco-Friendly Sneaker Startup Fights Fast Fashion With 85 Percent Lower Carbon Footprint

Two San Francisco fashionistas are working on an innovative shoe that is good for both your feet and your carbon footprint. The Bendy is a sneaker flat for women made ethically in the U.S. using less than one-sixth the carbon that it takes to produce the average sneaker, according to the product's media kit.


Mary Sue Papale and Yvette Turner spent their careers in the fashion industry before kicking off on their own in 2011 to start Ashbury Skies, a curated website for indie shoe designers. They are therefore well aware of the ecological and labor-rights violations rampant in what they call "fast fashion." The outsourcing of clothes manufacturing overseas in search of cheap labor has led to overproduction, unjust working conditions and enormous greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, a 2017 report found that the fashion industry emits more greenhouse gases each year than shipping and international flights combined, The Guardian reported. With the Bendy, Papale and Turner are doing their part to nudge fashion down the footpath towards sustainability.

"It was clear to us that the planet did not need just another shoe. But what it did need was a shoe with a conscience. We will not BS you and tell you that these shoes have zero environmental impact—going barefoot is zero impact. Instead, we have a simple construction of great materials made by some very kind and talented folks in downtown LA. That allows for less transportation (low CO2) and fair wages paid to California workers, keeping it right in our backyard," Turner said.

While the average sneaker production emits 30 pounds of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of leaving a 100-watt light bulb switched on for a full week, the Bendy only emits 4.5 pounds. Turner and Papale broke it down further. While the average sneaker emits 15 pounds of carbon dioxide in manufacturing, nine pounds in material processing and six pounds in transport, the Bendy emits only 2.2 pounds in manufacturing, 1.45 pounds in materials processing and 0.9 pounds in transport.

It is also designed to hit the comfort and style sweet spot. It has a flexible bottom, a cushioned, sneaker-like footbed and a soft leather body. The shoes only use four materials: leather, thread, bottom and the footbed. They are hand-stitched to avoid the use of toxic glue and the leather is sourced from a responsible tanner in Italy.

The shoes are not yet available, but anyone who signs up for information via their Indiegogo campaign will be notified when the shoes are ready and will be eligible for early supporter discounts.

14 June 2018. The World Cup of Climate Change

By Tan Copsey and Bridgette Burkholder

The World Cup starts today, when billions of people around the world are expected to tune in to the greatest show on Earth. Everyone from economists to an octopus (RIP) have tried to predict who will win. Germany, Brazil and Spain are early favorites to take the cup. But we wanted to know, which countries are tackling climate change, kicking out fossil fuels and trying to score a better future? We set out to bracket our predicted winners accordingly.


Working this out is harder than it sounds. How do you judge what makes a champ? One way is simply to look at the greenhouse gas emissions people in each country produce. So we ran the numbers. Nigeria has the best shirts in the tournament, as well as one of the cooler songs, and they are also the per-capita-emissions champions, contributing a tiny 0.55 metric tons GHG per person, according to the World Bank.

But, like all World Cup winners, their route to victory included some controversy. They beat Senegal, a West African nation with similarly low emissions, in the semi-final. But energy wonks and Senegalese fans could point to the fact that Nigeria is a major oil exporter and most of the emissions associated with that oil are not included here. Costa Rica, who Nigeria beats in this low-emissions final, is the first and only country in the world that has said it will ban fossil fuels entirely. Some may call foul on declaring Nigeria the victor.

Our prediction for the per capita emissions champion.

Are per capita emissions the best measure of whether a country is really a climate champion? To decarbonize the economy while improving living standards, deployment of renewable energy may ultimately be more important. So we ran our brackets again, this time using International Renewable Energy Agency stats.

Traditional powerhouses Spain, Germany and Brazil, who have 10 titles between them, all made the semi-finals. Correlation does not equal causation, but deploying more renewable energy is clearly something other nations should get on to immediately. Brazil's victory owes more to a reliance on hydropower than Neymar, but as with the team itself, there are some pleasing signs of diversification away from a single source of energy or goals.

Our prediction for the energy efficiency champion.

The agony suffered by American soccer fans, who saw their team miss out on qualification, will be compounded by the fact that this is one World Cup they could have won. The U.S. has deployed more renewable energy than any of the other nations competing this year. Only China has better stats, and the Chinese have only ever qualified for one World Cup.

Fighting climate change isn't just about greenhouse gas emissions or renewable energy. In soccer, you have to defend as well as attack. The same goes for climate change. We've already seen global temperatures increase by about 1° C since the 1880s, and even with serious action, we're going to see the impacts of climate change increase as well. So who's best prepared for climate change? We used data from ND-Gain to find out.

Unfortunately, our per capita emissions champions were immediately eliminated, along with every African nation present, which should be a wake up call for some of the richer nations at the tournament, who are supposed to be financing efforts to adapt. Instead, the adaptation World Cup is dominated by small, rich European nations. And even then, it's a pretty low scoring affair, most nations simply aren't ready for climate change.

Our prediction for the most climate-prepared champion.

On top of this worrying news, the next World Cup is scheduled to take place in Qatar. A nation of scorching desert temperatures, and the highest per capita emissions in the world. Qatar has a lot of work to do if it wants to be a World Cup climate champion.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

14 June 2018. Global Warming to Exceed 1.5°C Threshold by 2040, UN Draft Report Warns

A final draft report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says only "rapid and far-reaching" changes in the world economy can keep global warming below the internationally agreed target barrier.

"If emissions continue at their present rate, human-induced warming will exceed 1.5°C by around 2040," the draft states, according to Reuters, which obtained a copy of the report.


The report, dated June 4, is due for publication in October at the 48th Session of the IPCC in South Korea after revisions and approval by governments. The document will be the main scientific guide to stave off disastrous climate change.

The 2015 Paris agreement, signed by 197 countries, sets a warming limit of "well below 2°C" over pre-Industrial Revolution levels with an aspirational 1.5°C target to avoid dangerous climate effects such as sea level rise, extreme weather and droughts.

In January, a leak of an earlier draft suggested a "very high risk" the 1.5°C target will be surpassed by mid-century. The current draft reaffirms the findings of the earlier draft, but also includes 25,000 comments from experts and a wider pool of scientific literature, Reuters noted.

The latest news further cements worldwide failure to meet the goals struck in Paris. Last year's Emissions Gap Report from the UN's environment program found that greenhouse gas emissions are set to overshoot the climate accord by about 30 percent. National pledges only covered a third of the cuts needed by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Annual emissions are likely to hit 53.0-55.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, which greatly exceeds the 42 billion ton threshold for avoiding the 2°C temperature rise, the report found. Notably, even if the national pledges are fully implemented, it is "very likely" global average temperature increase will be at least 3°C by 2100.

"Should the United States follow through with its stated intention to leave the Paris Agreement in 2020, the picture could become even bleaker," the Emissions Gap Report pointed out, referring to President Donald Trump's controversial withdrawal from the Paris agreement. The U.S. is one of the world's largest single emitters of greenhouse gases.

14 June 2018. 5 Best Indoor Office Plants—and How to Care for Them

By Andrew Amelinckx

Having a plant or two in your office can really brighten up your space. Studies have found that keeping plants at the office leads to heaps of positive benefits, including increased productivity, better memory retention and reduced stress. But not all of us are born green thumbs.


That's why we've pulled together this simple guide to choosing the best—and easiest-to-care-for indoor office plants, as well as a few simple instructions to prevent your new green friend from heading to an early grave.

Best Indoor Office Plants

It's important to set up yourself—and your office mates—for success. That means choosing a plant that will do well without a ton of natural light, isn't incredibly water-sensitive and that can tolerate the often-dry office air. These five fit the bill:

1. The snake plant (Sanseveria trifasciata) is perfect for the office. It's super-easy to care for and is great at purifying the air, according to NASA. It has stiff spear-like leaves that shoot upwards and are often streaked with yellow. It does well in indirect sunlight and only needs to be watered every two to three weeks. This is a plant you actually have to try to kill—overwatering is really its only kryptonite.

2. Devil's ivy (Epipremnum aureum) is far less intimidating that it sounds. Also commonly known a pathos, this vine-y plant with heart-shaped, waxy, green leaves (sometimes with splashes of white or yellow) earned its moniker because it's nearly impossible to kill. Perfect for an office setting! Devil's ivy does fine in low light and doesn't require much attention. Water when the soil is dry to the touch.

3. Another plant with a high tolerance for neglect is the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum). This beauty has narrow leaves with white or yellow stripes, and in the spring, producers "runners" that spawn more little baby plants that sort of resemble spiders, hence the name. This is another great one for air purification. Care is simple: Water when the top inch or two of soil is dry, and allow it to dry out between waterings. Bright to medium, indirect sunlight is best, but the spider spider plant is tough and should do fine even in offices without a ton of natural light.

4. Parlor palms (Chamaedora elegans) require a bit more water than some of the other suggestions in this list, but they don't require much else. These slow growing densely-leaved single trunked palms do well in lower-light situations and don't need a ton of space. When the top of the soil is dry, give them a good soaking. In winter or low light conditions they require less watering than if they're getting a lot of sun.

5. Finally, we have the jade plant (Crassula ovata), which is a type of branched succulent shrub that originated in South Africa. Jades do well in dry, warm settings, and they prefer a bit more light. A south-facing windowsill is ideal. Water when the top of the soil is dry to the touch.

What to Avoid

It's best to steer clear of blooming plants, such as tropical hibiscus and Arabian Jasmine, since they tend to require more natural light, could set your office mates' pollen allergies into overdrive, and can be overly perfume-y for a shared workspace.

A Final Word of Advice

As mentioned above, every type of plant has its own needs when it comes to watering. That said, here's a word to the wise: It's much easier to overwater a plant that you realize. Over-watering can kill most of these plants more quickly than under-watering (over-watering causes root rot, and there's no coming back from that). In general, if the plant is drooping, getting brown tips or dry, yellow leaves towards the bottom, you're probably under-watering it. Water less in winter or in offices where the air conditioning is kept on high. A rigid watering schedule isn't required for the plants we've suggested, but if there are multiple people caring for your greenery, or you tend to be forgetful, a watering schedule is a good idea. And lastly: Always use a pot with a drainage hole.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

14 June 2018. Hawaii Bans Use of Toxic Pesticide Chlorpyrifos

In a win for public health, Hawaii Governor David Ige signed a bill banning the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to increased risk of learning disabilities, lower IQs, developmental delays, and behavior problems in children. "Hawaii is showing the Trump administration that the states will stand up for our kids, even when Washington will not," said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior scientist at NRDC.


The news comes after nearly six years of advocacy from Protect Our Keiki coalition, Hawaii Center for Food Safety, Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, Pesticide Action Network, Hawai'i SEED, and communities across the islands who have been demanding protections from harmful pesticides and healthier farming practices.

At the federal level, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has refused to finalize a ban on chlorpyrifos—despite the recommendation by the EPA's own scientists—allowing the toxic chemical to continue to be sprayed on numerous U.S. crops, including kids' favorites, like apples, oranges and strawberries. Studies have found that current uses in agriculture leave harmful residues on common fruits and vegetables that lead to exposures in children up to 14,000 percent of the EPA's safety limit; residues have even been found under the peels of citrus fruits and in the flesh of melons. In April 2017, NRDC and partners took the EPA to court for illegally putting the brakes on the proposed ban.

"Scott Pruitt is doing everything he can to keep this pesticide on the market, benefiting the [Trump] administration's friends at Dow Chemical despite his own agency's warning that it is toxic to children's brains," Rotkin-Ellman said, referring to the nation's largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, which reportedly donated $1 million for President Trump's inauguration. Dow Chemical's CEO also played a chief advisory role to the president, heading up his now defunct American Manufacturing Council.

"We celebrate this hard-fought victory for public health and community protections over corporate profits and thank the coalition of groups and communities in Hawaii for showing us how states can lead," Rotkin-Ellman said. "We will continue to fight back to get this pesticide off the fruits and vegetables we feed our kids nationwide."