Blog Archive

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The week's environmental news by rjs

As heroin epidemic rages, Hep C cases soar - - Hepatitis C infections soared in 2015 in Hamilton County, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky with more than 1,000 new cases reported. The region now has nearly 4,000 cases of hepatitis C, which is costly to treat and can be deadly if untreated. What's worse, the spread of hepatitis C – a direct impact of the raging heroin epidemic – shows no sign of stopping, public health officials say.  Its spread also raises the specter of the potential for an HIV outbreak, since the bloodborne illnesses are typically spread the same ways. Between the five counties and Cincinnati, the local areas together saw a 43 percent jump over 2014 for a disease often associated with intravenous drug use.   Roughly a quarter of those infected with hepatitis C will recover. But at least 75 percent will develop chronic hepatitis C, which can lead to severe liver damage, liver cancer, liver failure and death. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 3.5 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. Approximately 15,000 people die every year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. One course of hepatitis C medication costs $80,000, according to the Northern Kentucky Health Department. To provide an idea of costs the public pays through Medicaid for hepatitis C treatment, the health department provided this example: In 2014, Kentucky's Medicaid program spent more than $50 million to treat just 800 of the people infected with hepatitis C in the commonwealth. Northern Kentucky had been struggling with one of the nation's highest rates of hepatitis C even before its 2015 count of newly diagnosed cases. The region tallied 1,132 such cases, up from 891, or a 27 percent jump from 2014, health records show.

Urging Openness About Superbug Infections, Doctor Omits Cases In Own Hospital | Kaiser Health News: As superbug outbreaks raised alarm across the country last year, a prominent doctor at a Philadelphia cancer center wrote in a leading medical journal about how to reduce the risk of these often-deadly patient infections. Dr. Jeffrey Tokar, director of gastrointestinal endoscopy at Fox Chase Cancer Center, pointed to recent outbreaks from contaminated medical scopes and discussed steps doctors and hospitals should take to ensure patient safety his Sept. 22 article in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  “Health care facilities and providers should strive to establish an environment of open information exchange with patients about what is being done to maximize their safety,” Tokar and his two co-authors wrote. What Tokar didn’t mention was that a tainted device at his own cancer center may have infected three patients with drug-resistant bacteria. In accordance with federal rules, the hospital reported the possibility to the manufacturer, Fujifilm, in May 2015, and the manufacturer filed the information with U.S. regulators. But the public was none the wiser. The information only came to light last month when a U.S. Senate committee unveiled the results of a yearlong investigation into scope-related infections that sickened nearly 200 patients across the country from 2012 to 2015, including those potential cases at Fox Chase in Philadelphia.

The growing life-expectancy gap between rich and poor - Brookings --There's nothing particularly mysterious about the life expectancy gap. People in ill health, who are at risk of dying relatively young, face limits on the kind and amount of work they can do. By contrast, the rich can afford to live in better and safer neighborhoods, can eat more nutritious diets and can obtain access to first-rate healthcare. People who have higher incomes, moreover, tend to have more schooling, which means they may also have better information about the benefits of exercise and good diet. Although none of the above should come as a surprise, it's still disturbing that, just as income inequality is growing, so is life-span inequality. Over the last three decades, Americans with a high perch in the income distribution have enjoyed outsized gains. Using two large-scale surveys, my Brookings colleagues and I calculated the average mid-career earnings of each interviewed family; then we estimated the statistical relationship between respondents' age at death and their incomes when they were in their 40s. We found a startling spreading out of mortality differences between older people at the top and bottom of the income distribution. For example, we estimated that a woman who turned 50 in 1970 and whose mid-career income placed her in the bottom one-tenth of earners had a life expectancy of about 80.4. A woman born in the same year but with income in the top tenth of earners had a life expectancy of 84.1. The gap in life expectancy was about 3½ years. For women who reached age 50 two decades later, in 1990, we found no improvement at all in the life expectancy of low earners. Among women in the top tenth of earners, however, life expectancy rose 6.4 years, from 84.1 to 90.5. In those two decades, the gap in life expectancy between women in the bottom tenth and the top tenth of earners increased from a little over 3½ years to more than 10 years. Our findings for men were similar. The gap in life expectancy between men in the bottom tenth and top tenth of the income distribution increased from 5 years to 12 years over the same two decades.

Israeli Researchers Find Mobile Phones Cause Male Fertility Problems -- Men who carry their mobile phone in a trouser pocket or talk on it for just an hour a day risk suffering with fertility problems, scientists warn. Research shows that sperm count can also be reduced by talking on a phone that is charging, or even keeping it close by on a bedside table at night. The quality of sperm among men in Western countries is steadily decreasing, and is considered the factor in 40 per cent of cases in which couples have difficulty conceiving a child. Heat and electromagnetic activity which emanate from a mobile phone are thought to be ‘cook’ sperm, causing them to die. The findings have led to a leading British fertility expert to warn men about the risks of being ‘addicted’ to mobile phones. Israeli scientists monitored 106 men attending a fertility clinic for a year. The study revealed that men who chatted on the phone for more than an hour daily were twice as likely to have low sperm quality as those who spoke for less than an hour, while those who talked on the phone as it charged were almost twice as likely to suffer problems. It also found that 47 per cent of men who kept their phones within 20 inches of their groin had sperm levels that were seriously affected, compared with just 11 per cent of the general population. The findings, published in Reproductive BioMedicine, support a long-feared link between dropping male fertility rates and the prevalence of mobile phones.

Organic Panty Liners Pulled From Shelves After Traces of Glyphosate Found - The French consumer rights group 60 Million Consumers has released a report warning women that a number of feminine care products such as tampons, sanitary napkins and panty liners may contain trace amounts of potentially toxic substances such as pesticidesdioxins and glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto‘s Roundup weedkiller that has been linked to cancer. The report, published Tuesday in the group’s magazine, said that glyphosate was detected in five of 11 feminine hygiene products they tested, according to The Guardian. Popular brands such as O.B., Tampax, Always and the European brand Nett were faulted in the report. A “surprising” discovery, as the report noted, was the detection of pesticides and insecticides in Always sanitary napkins even though they are made of viscose and cellulose, not cotton. Small amounts of glyphosate were also found in panty liners sold by the brand Organyc, which touts only using organic cotton. Although the traces of chemicals were small, this does not completely reassure the consumer group, which is demanding these brands shed light on the composition and manufacturing process of their products.“It’s not because the rates are low we can guarantee zero risk,”

Johnson & Johnson to Pay $72 Million in Lawsuit Linking Talcum Powder to Ovarian Cancer  --  On Monday, Johnson & Johnson lost a case brought against them by a woman who claimed that her daily use of Johnson & Johnson products caused ovarian cancer. Jacqueline Fox, who lived in Birmingham, Alabama, said that she used the company’s talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products for more than 35 years. Unfortunately, the Johnson & Johnson-caused cancer took Fox’s life before the ruling on her case could be given. Johnson & Johnson has been ordered by a Missouri state jury to pay a hefty $72 million fine for damages to the family of the woman, but is that enough for the company that knowingly exposed generations of Americans to a dangerous product?  Several studies have been conducted which link talc powder to ovarian cancer and talc is a common ingredient in many Johnson & Johnson products. In 23 case-controlled studies conducted by the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer in May of 2015 found that talc use increased the risk of ovarian cancer by 30-60 percent in “almost all well-designed studies.” While studies had been previously unable to determine whether talc played a role in ovarian cancer, International Journal of Gynecological Cancer concluded that their results “suggest that talc use causes ovarian cancer.” Several other recent studies, including one conducted by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, confirmed those same results.

Wal-Mart, Kraft Sued Over Selling Parmesan Cheese With Wood Pulp Filler -- Wal-Mart‘s “Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” is at the center of new litigation that accuses the brand of, well, not being 100 percent cheese. Tests shows that the big box retailer’s cheese contained as much as 10 percent cellulose, a wood-based additive that prevents clumping in pre-shredded cheese according to a complaint filed yesterday in Manhattan federal court, Bloomberg reported.  The lawsuit—Moschetta v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.—was filed at the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York on behalf of customer Marc Moschetta. He claims that the 100 percent representation of the Wal-Mart’s cheese “was false and mis-characterized the amount and percentage of Parmesan cheese in the container.”  Cellulose has been called “wood pulp” because it is extracted from ground-up wood. The additive is OK’d by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for consumption and is actually pretty standard in many shredded cheese varieties and other foodstuffs such as ice cream, puffed snack foods, baked goods and more.

What's in your food? Nobody really knows | Center for Public Integrity -- Why doesn’t government know what’s in your food? Because industry can declare on their own that added ingredients are safe. It’s all thanks to a loophole in a 57-year old law that allows food manufacturers to circumvent the approval process by regulators. This means companies can add substances to food without ever consulting the Food and Drug Administration about potential health risks. Read the investigation. So how do new ingredients get from the lab to your dinner table? When companies create new food additives – to improve their product’s texture, taste, appearance, or to extend their shelf life – they have two choices: The “Food Additive Highway” is a gridlocked route marked by government potholes. Traffic here is policed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - the federal agency that regulates 80 percent of the nation’s food supply. Companies traveling this path must submit their food additives to extensive review. Then the FDA may issue its formal approval. This journey can take years -- even decades -- to complete. So it’s no surprise that companies often take an alternative route. This road is paved by a legal loophole that hinges on what counts as a “food additive.” Changes to the law in the fifties created this two-lane system where anything “Generally Recognized As Safe,” or GRAS, travels down a much smoother road to market. These “GRAS” ingredients are not considered food additives and effectively get a pass to the fast lane. This “GRAS” clause means companies can determine on their own that what they’re adding to our food is safe. Then it’s up to the company to inform the FDA if they want to. That’s right. Companies have no legal obligation to tell the FDA what they’re putting in our food.

Under Pressure the FDA Says It Will Test for Glyphosate Residues In Food  The FDA is required by law to test and regulate food additives. As part of the product design and intended use of herbicide tolerant GMOs such as the Roundup Ready system, pesticide residues such as those of glyphosate suffuse the cells of the crops including any eventual food products. These are food additives according to any reasonable definition. The same is true of the insecticidal endotoxins in Bt crops. The FDA has directly flouted the law in refusing to regulate these highly toxic additives or even to require their listing among the ingredients of food. One reason why the FDA has refused to test glyphosate residues is to help give it the pretext of ignorance. A surprisingly common excuse among regulators is to say in effect, “We can’t do anything, because we don’t have any information, because we refuse to test for that information (and reject it when others test for it and offer it to us).” Listen to what the likes of the FDA and EPA say and you’ll come across it frequently. So it is with glyphosate levels in food. But as the political pressure mounts against regulator dereliction and collaboration where it comes to pesticides, glyphosate especially, we see regulators scrambling to make weak or sham concessions. Wherever direct defiance is looking politically ineffective, the goal becomes delay at all costs. So it is with the FDA’s announcement that it will start testing glyphosate levels in food, forced in part by strong criticism from GAO auditors. The FDA’s lack of willingness is clear, given how it calls the matter “sensitive” and only now admits that such testing won’t break the bank.  Although in theory the FDA and USDA split the duty of testing for pesticide residues in food, with USDA testing meat and dairy, FDA fruits and vegetables, in practice neither tests for glyphosate precisely because it’s likely the most prevalent poison in the food, and is certainly the most commonly used in agriculture.

FDA Officially Belongs to Big Pharma With Senate Confirmation of Dr. Robert Califf  -- It is hard to believe only four senators opposed the confirmation of Robert Califf, who was approved Wednesday as the next Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner. Vocal opponent Bernie Sanders condemned the vote from the campaign trail. But where was Dick Durbin? Where were all the lawmakers who say they care about industry and Wall Street profiteers making money at the expense of public health? Califf, chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke University until recently, received money from 23 drug companies including the giants like Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Merck, Schering Plough and GSK according to a disclosure statement on the website of Duke Clinical Research Institute. Not merely receiving research funds, Califf also served as a high level Pharma officer, say press reports. Medscape, the medical website, discloses that Califf “served as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for Genentech.” Portola Pharmaceuticals says Califf served on its board of directors until leaving for the FDA. In disclosure information for a 2013 article in Circulation, Califf also lists financial links to Gambro, Regeneron, Gilead, AstraZeneca, Roche and other companies and equity positions in four medical companies. Gilead is the maker of the $1000-a-pill hepatitis C drug AlterNet recently wrote about. This is FDA commissioner material? Califf has gone on record that collaboration between industry and regulators is a good thing. He told NPR, “Many of us consult with the pharmaceutical industry, which I think is a very good thing. They need ideas and then the decision about what they do is really up to the person who is funding the study.”

Assessing the cumulative risk of pesticides on people: The cumulative risks from exposure to pesticides on people is often discussed, but there is limited information. Now a new European study will consider the impact on the thyroid and nervous systems. The study has been commissioned by the European Food Safety Authority and the objective, when the findings are published early in 2017, will consider the effect on people of long-term exposure to pesticides.  The study will take into account 100 different substances found in a range of common pesticides. These are listed in the European Food Safety Authority Panel on Plant Protection Products and their Residues. The statistical tool used in based on Monte Carlo Risk Assessment and a special database is being generated so that data from member states can be captured. A key focus will be with running mathematical and experimental approaches that allow assessment of the links between the effects of pesticides in individuals and ecological changes in regions where intensive farming is practiced. There will also be an assessment of pesticide residues on food.   Once the report has been published, irrespective of the outcome, the European agency intends to have an annual risk assessment in place that will report on the chronic and acute risks that pesticides pose to consumers. If the outcome requires changes to the maximum residue levels of pesticides in food, this will take the form of a recommendation to the European Commission.

DARK Act Is Back With New Bill in the Senate  - Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has released a draft bill that can best be described as the Denying Americans the Right to Know ((DARK) Act. The bill would prevent states from requiring labeling of genetically engineered (GMO) foods and stop pending state laws that require labeling from going into effect.  We urge senators to oppose this bill that will ensure that big food processing companies and the biotechnology industry continue to profit by misleading consumers or any version that would result in anything less than mandatory on-package labeling.  The vast majority of the public wants to know if the food they buy contains GMO ingredients. It’s time for Congress to create a mandatory on-package labeling requirement so people can decide for themselves whether they want to eat a food that has been produced using genetic engineering. Instead, Sen. Roberts’s bill would strip away the power of the states to protect the public’s right to know what is in their food.We urge senators not to support this bill. The majority of Americans support labeling for GMOs and will hold their elected officials accountable if they vote to strip away transparency about how their food is produced.

What if They Pass the DARK Act?  What would the preemption of labeling mean in itself? Labeling is not sufficient, and is conceptually flawed if envisioned as a worthwhile goal in itself. It implies the continuation of industrial agriculture and food commodification, and globalization as such. It merely seeks Better Consumerism within that framework. If people saw labeling as a temporary measure within the framework of an ongoing movement to abolish industrial agriculture and build Food Sovereignty, that would be good. If people saw the campaign for labeling as primarily a movement-building action, an occasion for public education, for democratic participation in a grassroots action, and to help build a permanent grassroots organization, that would be good. But labeling never could be a panacea. Especially the claim that we can expect miracles from it: Labeling = the end of Monsanto. This is highly doubtful. GMO labeling only indirectly tells us some things about the pesticide content, which is a far worse crisis. I think the most meaningful labeling campaign would have to fight for pesticide residues to be labeled/listed among the ingredients, since by any objective measure they’re intentionally inserted food additives. Also, just because a labeling initiative or law is passed doesn’t mean it will be enforced with any alacrity. It’s still the same old pro-Monsanto government which would be in charge of enforcement. That’s why getting an initiative or law passed would be just the first and easiest step. Then the real work of vigilance, forcing the enforcers to follow through, would begin. That, too, was a reason why the campaign needs to be, even more than just an intrinsic campaign, the building ground of a permanent grassroots organization.

Epic Drought and Food Crisis Prompts South Africa to Ease Restrictions on GMOs -  In the face of a food crisis and a devastating drought, South Africa is planning to relax its rigid laws over genetically modified (GMO) crops and boost imports of its staple food, maize, from the U.S. and Mexico, government officials told Reuters.Government officials said that South Africa needs to import about 1.2m tonnes of white maize and 2.6m tonnes of yellow maize from the U.S. and Mexico.Despite being the world’s eighth largest producer of GMO crops, South Africa has very strict regulations over GMOs. The nation requires that GMO food carry a label, strains entering the country must be government-approved and imported GMO crops are not allowed to be stored. Instead, the crops must be transported immediately from ports to mills.  Makenosi Maroo, spokeswoman at the Department of Agriculture, told Reuters that the country is planning to allow importers to temporarily store consignments of GMO maize at pre-designated facilities, to allow much bigger import volumes.“In anticipation of the volumes expected to be imported into South Africa, the (GMO) Executive Council has approved the adjustment of a permit condition which relates to the handling requirement,” Maroo told the news agency. “There is therefore no intention to relax safety assessment or risk management procedures prescribed.”Since U.S. crops contain a significantly higher amount of genetically modified strains, South African ports could reject suspect shipments even if the import is slightly contaminated.The country has a “zero tolerance” policy for unapproved GMOs and only allows the cultivation of certain strains of white maize, yellow maize, soy and cotton. GMO fruit or vegetables are not allowed on the market.

Many Of The World’s Pollinators Are Facing Extinction, Report Warns - Bees and other pollinators are in trouble — so much so that many of them are facing extinction, according to a new report. The report, released Friday by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), is a two-year assessment of the threats facing pollinators — both vertebrates, such as birds and bats, and invertebrates, such as bees, butterflies, and other insects. It noted that, in some regions, 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species are so threatened by myriad environmental impacts that they’re facing extinction, with butterflies and bees seeing the highest risk. Among vertebrates, 16.5 percent of species are threatened by extinction worldwide. Pollinators are a major group: there are 20,000 species of wild bees across the globe, the report notes, and many of them haven’t been identified yet. Pollinators are also a hugely important group of animals. Almost 90 percent of wild flowering plants depend on pollination by animals, and 75 percent of food crops around the world depend on pollination. Globally, $235 – $577 billion worth of global crops are affected by pollinators each year, the report found. “Without pollinators, many of us would no longer be able to enjoy coffee, chocolate and apples, among many other foods that are part of our daily lives,” said Simon Potts, co-chair of the assessment, said in a statement.

Women infected with Zika should continue to breastfeed: WHO: Women infected with the mosquito-borne Zika virus should continue to breastfeed their babies as there is currently no proof of a risk of transmission, the World Health Organization said Thursday. "In light of available evidence, the benefits of breastfeeding for the infant and mother outweigh any potential risk of Zika virus transmission through breast milk." the WHO said in interim recommendations to authorities in countries affected by the outbreak. The WHO noted that the Zika virus had been detected in the breast milk of two infected mothers, but added "there are currently no documented reports of Zika virus being transmitted to infants through breastfeeding." "A systematic review of evidence will be conducted in March 2016 to revise and update these recommendations," it added. Cases of active Zika transmission have been reported in 28 countries and territories in the Americas and Caribbean, with 1.5 million in Brazil, the hardest-hit country. In nearly all Zika cases, symptoms are mild, resembling those of flu. However, the growing belief that Zika can also trigger microcephaly in babies born to mothers infected while pregnant has spread international alarm. Microcephaly is a congenital condition that causes abnormally small heads and hampers brain development. There is currently no cure or vaccine against the Zika virus.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef (GBR), the world's largest coral bank, is at greater risk than previously thought of dissolving as climate change renders the oceans more acidic, researchers said Tuesday. A decline in aragonite -- the mineral that corals use to build their skeletons -- is likely to accelerate, they found, as oceans absorb carbon dioxide spewed by mankind's burning of fossil fuels. This disturbs ocean chemistry, leading to a drop in the pH level and less aragonite, a crystal form of calcium carbonate. Without this life-sustaining mineral, corals cannot rebuild their skeletons and will disintegrate over time. For the study published in Nature Communications, scientists from Australia and Saudi Arabia created a new model for estimating the level of aragonite saturation -- an indicator of future coral deposits -- at more than 3,000 separate reefs within the larger GBR. Physical measurement of aragonite at each individual reef on the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) structure is an impossible feat. The team used a model of ocean circulation and water chemistry, as well as data from direct observations. They were able to pick up regional differences not observed in previous assessments. Putting it all together, the team estimated that future decline in aragonite saturation "is likely to be steeper on the GBR than currently projected" by the UN's top climate science body, the IPCC. This suggested that even if CO2 emissions are significantly reduced, as countries have pledged to do, it may be too late to prevent "potential losses in coral cover, ecosystem biodiversity and resilience."

Florida Officials Drain Lake Full Of ‘Toilet’ Water To Coast -- Lake Okeechobee, a large inland lake in southern Florida, is experiencing its highest water levels in nearly a century due to heavy rains that fell during the month of January.   But after water levels reached a foot above normal, public officials began to worry that the excess water was putting too much stress on the lake’s aging dike. Officials then made the decision to drain the lake out toward Florida’s coasts. There was one problem: Lake Okeechobee’s waters are toxic.  Local industry has long been using Okeechobee’s waters as a dumping ground for an assortment of chemicals, fertilizers, and cattle manure. David Guest, managing attorney of the Florida branch of the environmental law group Earthjustice, called the lake a “toilet.” While the pollution was once confined to the lake, it now flows toward Florida’s coastal communities via local rivers. The water, which is flowing out of the lake at 70,000 gallons per second, will soon pollute the ocean waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. This pollution has immediate consequences for southern Florida’s environment and economy. The untreated water contains toxic chemicals and fertilizers that are harmful to local flora and fauna, and the fertilizers and chemicals found in the water are known to cause algal blooms, which are known to poison shellfish and make life difficult for the marine food chain. Dawn Shirreffs, a senior policy adviser at the Everglades Foundation, told ThinkProgress that there have been reports of dead fish being found along the coastline. This is especially concerning since many species will migrate to Florida to seek comfortable water temperatures this time of year.

Congress Takes Up Bundy Copycat Bills To Dispose Of America’s National Forests -  Less than two weeks after the arrest of Cliven Bundy and the armed militants who were occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, the U.S. House of Representatives will consider three bills that would dispose of vast stretches of national forests and other public lands across the country. The bills, which will be heard in a meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, represent an escalation of the political battle being waged by the Koch brothers’ political networkanti-government extremist groups, and a small group of conservative politicians led by the committee’s chairman, U.S. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT). The first bill, introduced by Representative Don Young from Alaska (R), would allow any state to seize control and ownership of up to 2 million acres of national forests within its borders — an area nearly the size of Yellowstone National Park. A state would then be able to auction off the lands to private ownership or for mining, logging, and drilling. The second bill, written by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), would give states and counties the right to take direct control of up to 4 million acres of national forests across the country for clear-cut logging, without regard to environmental laws and protections. A third bill, written by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), would turn over what the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance estimates to be 6,000 miles of road right-of-ways on U.S. public lands to counties in Utah, opening the door for road construction and development in protected wilderness areas.  These legislative efforts echo the demands of militant rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons, Ryan and Ammon, that the federal government cede ownership of all national forests and public lands to state, county, and private interests. A federal grand jury in Las Vegas last week indicted the Bundys on conspiracy charges for leading armed standoffs with federal law enforcement officials in 2014 and in Oregon earlier this year. Although Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Governor John Kasich (R-OH) are making Bundy-inspired pitches on the presidential campaign trail, their proposals to seize or sell public lands are deeply unpopular among most Westerners. Recent public opinion research from Colorado College found that approximately six in 10 voters in the region — including a majority in Nevada — are opposed to the idea.

House Republicans seek to open up national forests to mining and logging - Congress is to consider two bills that would allow states to hand over vast tracts of federal land for mining, logging or other commercial activities – just weeks after the arrest of an armed militia that took over a wildlife refuge in Oregon in protest at federal oversight of public land.  The legislation, which will be presented to the House committee on natural resources on Thursday, would loosen federal authority over parts of the 600m acres (240m hectares), nearly one-third of the land mass of the US, it administers. A bill put forward by Republican Don Young would allow any state to assume control of up to 2m acres of the national forest system to be “managed primarily for timber production” in order to address what Young claims is a decline in national logging rates. A further bill, written by Republican Raúl Labrador, would allow state governors to assign up to 4m acres of land as “forest demonstration areas”, which would allow logging free from any federal water, air or endangered species restrictions. The bills, which will be heard by a Republican-dominated committee, come just two weeks after the dramatic end to the armed militia occupation of the Malheur national wildlife refuge in Oregon. The 41-day occupation, which resulted in the fatal shooting of the militia’s spokesman before the arrest of the rest of the group, was sparked by the group’s anger at federal land use regulations.

U.S. House of Representatives Approves Bill Slashing Wildlife Protections - In a partisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives today passed the so-called “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act” that would end federal protection for gray wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes. The bill includes a grab bag of additional special-interest provisions that primarily benefit the livestock industry, National Rifle Association and those who peddle elephant ivory. More than 60 conservation organizations signed an open letter opposing the Sportsmen’s Act. “There’s nothing sporting about wolf slaughter, elephant poaching or lead poisoning,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In the Sportsmen’s Bill, House Republicans have once again ignored science and protected special interests instead of wildlife.” One of the many bad provisions of the bill not only strips protection from wolves but forbids court challenges. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally stripped federal protections from gray wolves in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota in 2011 and in Wyoming in 2012. Federal judges overturned both decisions for failing to follow the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, failing to follow the best available science and for prematurely turning management over to state fish and game agencies that are openly hostile to wolves. A provision in today’s bill would preempt those court decisions, stop the current appeal process, and permanently end federal protections for gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes.A separate provision of the Sportsmen’s Act would stop a proposed regulation from the Fish and Wildlife Service designed to curtail the ivory trade inside the United States, which is the second-largest market in the world for ivory, after China. Elephant populations across Africa have plummeted due to the ongoing poaching epidemic, with forest elephants declining by 60 percent over the last decade.

Thirteen Bald Eagles Mysteriously Drop Dead in Heavy-Handed Symbolic Performance - In what seems to be a bit of politically pointed commentary on the sad state of American politics, thirteen bald eagles unexpectedly fell from the sky to their deaths on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Frankly, the whole thing feels a little stale to me—I liked it better when Robert Rauschenberg did it 60 years ago and it was called CanyonAccording to WBAL reporter George Lettis, a farmer in Federalsburg discovered the bunch of dead birds on his property over the weekend, and the Maryland Natural Resources police believe they may have been poisoned. Police are offering a $10,000 reward for information about the kill.
El Nino-Linked Drought Is Ethiopia's Worst in 50 Years - More than 10 million (10,000,000) people are in need of food aid in Ethiopia amid a drought worse than the one that triggered the haunting 1984 famine, the U.N. has warned. Crops have withered, animals have died and water sources have dried up in parts of northeastern Ethiopia following the failure of the last two rainy seasons. More than 400,000 children are now at risk of acute malnutrition, according to the U.N. "It is the worst drought as compared to the last 50 years," says Mikitu Kassa, the head of Ethiopia's National Disaster Prevention Committee. In 1984, images of emaciated children were beamed around the world inspiring international donors to reach into their pockets as celebrity musicians trumpeted the call through Live Aid concerts and charity singles including "We Are the World" and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" This year's crisis has been blamed on the massive El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean. The same pattern that has brought extreme wet weather and snowstorms to the United States has delivered blistering heat to much of Africa. However, while the drought might be worse, the country itself is in better shape — this is not the Ethiopia of 1984. Strong economic growth, spurned by development-minded leaders and an influx of foreign aid has better equipped the country to confront the crisis.   But the money only goes so far. The U.N. says $1.4 billion is needed in total humanitarian assistance to support stressed populations in Ethiopia, and has received about half that amount. Aid agencies warn that without emergency funding, existing food stocks could run out by the end of April.

January 2016: Earth still on a hot streak | NOAA -- The planet has been on a hot streak recently. NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information reported earlier today that January 2016 became the ninth month in a row to set a new record-warmest monthly temperature. According to the reportA strong El Niño that evolved in 2015 continued to impact global weather and temperatures at the beginning of 2016. The January 2016 globally averaged temperature across land and ocean surfaces was 1.04°C (1.87°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F), the highest for January in the 137-year period of record, breaking the previous record of 2007 by 0.16°C (0.29°F).  January 2016 also marks the ninth consecutive month that the monthly temperature record has been broken and the 14th consecutive month (since December 2014) that the monthly global temperature ranked among the three warmest for its respective month.The image at right shows how the January 2016 average surface temperature around the planet compared to the rest of the historical record, which dates back to 1880. Most of the tropics was either “much warmer than average” or “record warmest,” including the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans and parts of all major tropical landmasses from South America to Indonesia. The warmth was especially intense in Africa south of the Sahara, where Namibia, Angola, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (labeled DRC on the map), Tanzania, and parts of surrounding countries experienced their record warmest January according to the map.  The graph beneath the map shows how each January since 1880 compared to the twentieth century average temperature, with blue bars showing cooler than average years and red bars showing warmer than average years.  Earth hasn’t had a cooler than average January since 1976.

El Niño has passed peak strength but impacts will continue, UN warns -- The El Niño that caused record temperatures, drought and floods over the last year has passed its peak strength but will continue to have humanitarian impacts for months to come, the UN has said. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said the event, which plays havoc with weather systems around the world, was still strong and its impacts on communities in southern Africa, the Horn of Africa and Central America were becoming increasingly apparent. El Niño is a global climate phenomenon that occurs every few years when a huge warm patch of water forms in the western tropical Pacific Ocean, affecting rainfall from the the western US and South America to Africa, India, Indonesia, and Australia. The UN World Food programme warned earlier this week that 100 million people were facing food and water shortages as a result of the El Niño. The WMO said that although the current episode was closely comparable in strength with the record event of 1997-98, it was too early to say whether the 2015-16 El Niño was the strongest ever. The agency’s confirmation that the peak has passed follows similar recent announcements by national science agencies. The WMO’s new secretary general, Petteri Taalas, said: “In meteorological terms, this El Niño is now in decline. But we cannot lower our guard as it is still quite strong and in humanitarian and economic terms, its impacts will continue for many months to come.”

Earth is warming 50x faster than when it comes out of an ice age -  Recently,  The Guardian reported on a significant new study published in Nature Climate Change, finding that even if we meet our carbon reduction targets and stay below the 2°C global warming threshold, sea level rise will eventually inundate many major coastal cities around the world: Cities including New York, London, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Calcutta, Jakarta and Shanghai would all be submerged. The authors looked at past climate change events and model simulations of the future.  The issue is that ice sheets melt quite slowly, but because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time, the eventual melting and associated sea level rise are effectively locked in. As a result, the study authors found that due to the carbon pollution humans have emitted so far, we’ve committed the planet to an eventual sea level rise of 1.7 meters (5.5 feet). If we manage to stay within the 1 trillion ton carbon budget, which we hope will keep the planet below 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels, sea levels will nevertheless rise a total of about 9 meters (30 feet). If we continue on a fossil fuel-heavy path, we could trigger a staggering eventual 50 meters (165 feet) of sea level rise.  However, two other studies just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the Antarctic ice sheet could melt more quickly than previously thought, and thus contribute to relatively rapid sea level rise. Over the past century,global sea level has risen faster than at any time in the past two millennia, and most of the recent sea level rise is due to human-caused global warming. The Nature Climate Change study didn’t just look at sea level rise; it also looked at global temperature changes. Earth’s sharpest climate changes over the past half million yearshave occurred when the planet transitions from a ‘glacial’ to ‘interglacial’ period, and vice-versa.  Right now we’re in a warm interglacial period, having come out of the last ice age (when New York City and Chicago were under an ice sheet) about 12,000 years ago. During that transition, the Earth’s average surface temperature warmed about 4°C, but that temperature rise occurred over a period of about 10,000 years. In contrast, humans have caused nearly 1°C warming over the past 150 years, and we could trigger anywhere from another 1 to 4°C warming over the next 85 years, depending on how much more carbon we pump into the atmosphere.

Sea levels are rising at their fastest rate in 2000 years: Global sea levels appear exquisitely sensitive to changes in temperature and greenhouse gas levels, according to a set of new studies that examines up to 6 million years of climate change data. The four papers, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), illustrate the growing power of computers to simulate complex interactions between climate, polar ice, and the planet’s oceans. They also underscore the effects that rising greenhouse gases and global temperatures could have on future sea level. “The big takeaway is that the modern rate of sea level rise in the 20th century is faster than anything we’ve seen in the previous two millennia (2,000 years),” says Benjamin Horton, a Rutgers University, New Brunswick, in New Jersey geologist who helped direct one of the studies. “This isn’t a model. This is data.” ... They [the studies] also add to a growing body of research that suggests sea level can change more dramatically over a short time than previously suspected, says Andrea Dutton, a University of Florida in Gainesville geologist and a leading expert on reconstructing ancient sea levels. The first study found that small temperature fluctuations have led to measurable changes in ocean levels over the past 3000 years. As the global thermostat turned down just 0.2°C between 1000 and 1400 B.C.E., for example, the world’s seas dropped an estimated 8 centimeters. By contrast, they have risen about 14 centimeters [5.5 inches] in the 20th century. At least half of that increase is due to human-induced climate change, say the researchers, who add that sea levels are very likely to rise another 0.24 [9.4 inches] to 1.3 meters [51.2 inches = 4.3 feet] during this century.

Seas Are Rising at Fastest Rate in Last 28 Centuries - The New York Times: The worsening of tidal flooding in American coastal communities is largely a consequence of greenhouse gases from human activity, and the problem will grow far worse in coming decades, scientists reported Monday.Those emissions, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, are causing the ocean to rise at the fastest rate since at least the founding of ancient Rome, the scientists said. They added that in the absence of human emissions, the ocean surface would be rising less rapidly and might even be falling.The increasingly routine tidal flooding is making life miserable in places like Miami Beach; Charleston, S.C.; and Norfolk, Va., even on sunny days. Though these types of floods often produce only a foot or two of standing saltwater, they are straining life in many towns by killing lawns and trees, blocking neighborhood streets and clogging storm drains, polluting supplies of freshwater and sometimes stranding entire island communities for hours by overtopping the roads that tie them to the mainland.Such events are just an early harbinger of the coming damage, the new research suggests. “I think we need a new way to think about most coastal flooding,” said Benjamin H. Strauss, the primary author of one of two related studies released on Monday. “It’s not the tide. It’s not the wind. It’s us. That’s true for most of the coastal floods we now experience.” In the second study, scientists reconstructed the level of the sea over time and confirmed that it is most likely rising faster than at any point in 28 centuries, with the rate of increase growing sharply over the past century — largely, they found, because of the warming that scientists have said is almost certainly caused by human emissions. They also confirmed previous forecasts that if emissions were to continue at a high rate over the next few decades, the ocean could rise as much as three or four feet by 2100.

Arctic Sea Ice Is in Record Low Territory (Again) - The winter of discontent in the northern latitudes continues.  Persistent warmth has baked the region, making snow a no show in parts of Alaska and, perhaps more importantly, slowing the growth of Arctic sea ice. Though it’s still likely a month before the Arctic sea ice reaches its maximum, the current trajectory is not a good one. Slow and at times non-existent growth has already led to a record low January extent and preliminary data from February indicate sea ice continues to set daily record lows. It was just last year that Arctic sea ice set its record low winter extent, a record that could be short-lived.  As one of the key indicators of planetary health, the continued disappearance of sea ice raises major concerns about how the planet is faring as the climate warms. The decline continues a long-term trend. Winter Arctic sea ice extent has been decreasing by 3.2 percent per decade since 1979 when accurate satellite measurements began. The region is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the globe, a trend that’s largely responsible for disappearing ice. This year is no different with weirdly warm weather slowing sea ice’s annual growth across the region. Ice is missing in large areas across the Barents, Kara and East Greenland seas in the Atlantic region and the Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk in the Pacific side of the Arctic, according to NASA Earth Observatory. All told, sea ice extent was 402,000 square miles below average in January. That’s enough missing ice to cover an area four times the size of Colorado.

Scientists are floored by what’s happening in the Arctic right now -- Coming off the hottest year ever recorded (2015), January saw the greatest departure from average of any month on record, according to data provided by NASA. But as you can see in the NASA figure above, the record breaking heat wasn’t uniformly distributed — it was particularly pronounced at the top of the world, showing temperature anomalies above 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the 1951 to 1980 average in this region.  Indeed, NASA provides a “zonal mean” version of the temperature map above, which shows how the temperature departures from average change based on one’s latitude location on the Earth. As you can see, things get especially warm, relative to what the Earth is used to, as you enter the very high latitudes: Global warming has long been known to be particularly intense in the Arctic — a phenomenon known as “Arctic amplification” — but even so, lately the phenomenon has been extremely pronounced. This unusual Arctic heat has been accompanied by a new record low level for Arctic sea ice extent during the normally ice-packed month of January, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center — over 400,000 square miles below average for the month. And of course, that is closely tied to warm Arctic air temperatures. “We’ve looked at the average January temperatures, and we look at what we call the 925 millibar level, about 3,000 feet up in the atmosphere,” says Mark Serreze, the center’s director. “And it was, I would say, absurdly warm across the entire Arctic Ocean.” The center reports temperature anomalies at this altitude of “more than 6 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Fahrenheit) above average” for the month. The low sea ice situation has now continued into February. Current ice extent is well below levels at the same point in 2012, which went on to set the current record for the lowest sea ice minimum extent:

Arctic warming: Rapidly increasing temperatures are 'possibly catastrophic' for planet, climate scientist Peter Gleick warns - The rapidly warming Arctic could have a “catastrophic” effect on the planet’s climate, a leading scientist has warned. Dr Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute in California, said there was a growing body of “pretty scary” evidence that higher temperatures in the Arctic were driving the creation of dangerous storms in parts of the Northern Hemisphere. According to a graph on the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre’s website, there were 14.2 million km squared of sea ice on 24 February 2016. On an average year over the last three decades, it would take until about 29 April for there to be as little sea ice as temperatures warm in the spring. Since about 10 February, the area covered by sea ice has been noticeably below any of the last 30 years as the Arctic has experienced record-breaking temperatures of about 4C higher than the 1951-1980 average for the region. Dr Gleick posted the sea ice graph on Twitter with the message: “What is happening in the Arctic now is unprecedented and possibly catastrophic.” And, in emails to The Independent, he explained: “The current trend is below any previous year. What is alarming is how far below any previous ice extent the current data are [and] how early it is for there to be this little ice. “It is certainly possible that the ice extent will track back up if cold enough weather returns, for long enough. It is just very unlikely.”While such changes will have a harmful effect on polar bears, walruses and other elements of the Arctic ecosystem, Dr Gleick said the potential for catastrophe was from “the global implications of those changes.” “The evidence is very clear that rapid and unprecedented changes are happening in the Arctic,” he wrote. “What is much less clear is the complex consequences. We are, effectively, conducting a global experiment on the only planet we have."

The Future is Flooded: Seas Rising Faster Than They Have In 28 Centuries  When it comes to swelling oceans that threaten coastal communities around the world, it's bad, and it's going to get worse. Sea levels are rising faster than they have in the last three millennia, and that rate continues to accelerate due to the burning of fossil fuels, according to new research published Monday.  One study appearing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that "almost certainly, more than half of the 20th century rise has been caused by human activity, possibly even all of it." Employing a database of geological sea-level indicators from marshes, coral atolls, and archaeological sites around the world, the paper shows that global sea levels stayed fairly steady for about 3,000 years. Then, from 1900 to 2000, the seas rose 5.5 inches—a significant increase, especially for low-lying coastal areas. And since 1993, the rate has soared to a foot per century. "The new sea-level data confirm once again just how unusual the age of modern global warming due to our greenhouse gas emissions is—and they demonstrate that one of the most dangerous impacts of global warming, rising seas, is well underway," As the Washington Post reports, "[t]he new work is particularly significant because, in effect, the sea level analysis produces a so-called 'hockey stick' graph—showing a long and relatively flat sea level 'handle' for thousands of years, followed by a 'blade' that turns sharply upwards in very recent times."  Meanwhile, a separate study also published Monday warns that without a sharp reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels worldwide will likely rise by one to four feet by the end of this century.  This study, led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, combined the two most important estimation methods for future sea-level rise to show that "increasingly routine tidal flooding" events, as the New York Times wrote, "are just an early harbinger of the coming damage." Furthermore, it found that "even if ambitious climate policy follows the 2015 Paris agreement," sea levels are still projected to increase by 20 to 60 centimeters by 2100, necessitating coastal adaptation such as building dikes, designing insurance schemes for floodings, or mapping long-term settlement retreat.

That Sinking Feeling: The Politics of Sea Level Rise and Miami's Building Boom - Even from thousands of feet in the air, it’s obvious that Miami is disturbingly low-lying. Luxury sky-high buildings, bridges, and cranes tower over swampy marshlands and the slowly rising sea. The latest development has resulted in a sprawling metropolis on sinking land. Rising seas combine with porous limestone—which is like Swiss cheese—to allow saltwater to infiltrate under the land during floods, and makes the greater Miami area the most climate-vulnerable place in the United States. In Southeast Florida, the sea could rise three feet by 2060, and that doesn’t count temporary storm surges from increasingly intense hurricanes. Seventy-five percent of Florida’s population lives in coastal counties that generate 79 percent of the state’s total annual economy. The infrastructure in these coastal counties had a replacement value of $2 trillion in 2010 and is estimated to increase to $3 trillion by 2030. Of the 2.6 million people who live in Miami-Dade County, nearly 129,000 of them are living less than three feet above sea level. The county alone has more people living less than four feet above sea level than in any other state except Louisiana. The county’s estimated beachfront property value is more than $14.7 billion—not including infrastructure. You might think, therefore, that developers, investors, and homebuyers would be very gun-shy about putting more money into Miami real estate. One good-sized hurricane, or another decade of relentless sea-level rise, and their investment will be washed away. At the very least, values are likely to fall because escalating climate threats will scare off other investors and falling demand will depress property values.

Ocean levels in the Philippines rising at 5 times the global average | Ars Technica: One major threat from climate change is the rising global sea level. At the coast, the rising seas will wipe out infrastructure and threaten wildlife. If ocean water moves deeper into landmasses, the salt will contaminate sources required for drinking water and agriculture. A solid understanding of how quickly the sea level is rising, and the major contributing factors, is critical to developing practical plans to limit the problems and deal with the inevitable. Recently, a team of scientists has dived head-first into this challenge. The main factors influencing rising sea level have been well documented. First, climate change has led to increased global temperatures. As its temperature rises, the sea water expands (a process called steric expansion). In addition, ice sheets and land glaciers all over the world are shrinking through evaporation and melting. All of these factors contribute to rising ocean levels. But the sea level doesn’t rise uniformly across the ocean—variations exist in different regions, and certain areas are more at risk. When assessing regional changes in sea level, the team saw that the contributions of each component differed significantly from those of the global sea level. In the western Pacific and Indian Ocean, the rising sea level was dominated by the volumetric contribution (up to a whopping 75 percent). And it resulted in some dramatic local changes—it was as high as 14.7 ± 4.4 mm/y near the Philippines. The sea level was also strongly affected by the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, despite their distant location. In the central and eastern Pacific, heat-driven expansion contributions had a negative impact (-2.8 ± 11.5 mm/y) on the global sea level, although the margin of error was enormous.

Ocean acidification expected to cause skeletal deformities in 50% of juvenile corals: Tiny juvenile corals face skeletal deformities as ocean acidification gets worse. New research shows that as more atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed in the ocean, corals develop deformed and porous exoskeletons, which does not provide the support required for a long and fruitful life.  Ocean acidification – where more and more carbon dioxide is absorbed by the sea –  has already been shown to cause large-scale coral bleaching. However, research published in the journal Science Advances, now shows that it also causes the corals skeletal structure to be smaller, more fragile and oddly shaped. Juvenile corals – small corals that are less than five centimetres long – are important to the health of the entire reef as they help maintain its genetic diversity and also its recovery after natural disasters such as hurricanes and bleaching events.Why advertise with us"The findings show that juvenile corals are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of high CO2," lead author Taryn Foster told IBTimes UK. "Also for the first time we have shown the specific changes to the structure of the skeleton under high CO2."

Coral ‘will not survive into the next century’ because of acidic oceans: study - Scientists unveiled the first smoking-gun evidence Wednesday that growing ocean acidity caused by global warming is already stifling growth of vital coral reefs. The decline of shallow water corals, home to a quarter of the ocean’s species and a lifeline for a billion people, has long been in evidence. Earlier studies had shown that the rate at which living coral reefs calcify, or accumulate mass, had dropped by about 40 percent in just over 30 years. Up to now, however, it was not possible to tease out the impact of acidification from other threats such as pollution, over-fishing and warming water. The world’s oceans are 26 percent more acidic today than at the start of the Industrial Revolution, when mankind started massively burning fossil fuels which give off harmful carbon dioxide (CO2). About a quarter is absorbed by the oceans, changing their chemical composition, and making the water more acidic and corrosive to corals and shellfish. “Our work provides the first strong evidence from experiments on a natural ecosystem that ocean acidification is already slowing coral reef growth,” said Rebecca Albright, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California. “This is no longer a fear for the future. It is the reality of today.” The findings were published in the science journal Nature.

The key to halting climate change: admit we can't save everything - Climate change, and human resistance to making the changes needed to halt it, both continue apace: 2015 was the hottest year in recorded history, we may be on the brink of a major species extinction event in the ocean, and yet political will is woefully lacking to tackle this solvable problem. Given these dire ecological trends, limited public funding and legislative gridlock, the time is ripe for a budget-neutral, executive-branch approach for managing our natural resources: triage. A science-based triage approach should be used to classify areas and species into one of three categories: not at immediate risk, in need of immediate attention or beyond help.  Refusing to apply triage implicitly assumes that we can save everything and prevent change, which we cannot. Prioritization will occur regardless, just ad hoc and shrouded. This triage system would replace the status quo of inadequately managing our full portfolio of over 1m square miles of public land and 1,589 threatened and endangered species. For areas or species not at immediate risk, we can delay action while monitoring to detect changes in that status. For example, increased temperatures and prolonged periods of drought may increase both wildfires and populations of tree-killing beetles in forests of the Pacific north-west. Knowing this, we can track these variables and explore management options that minimize risk without prematurely devoting disproportionate resources.

Why Two Degrees Is So Important—Fossil Fuel Companies Can No Longer Ignore the Need to Act - “Who knows the perfect temperature for humans on this planet? I wouldn’t mind if it were warmer,” argued one businessman at a roundtable on climate change I was hosting at a conservative Christian college. With a foot of snow on the ground that morning, there were nods all around the circle; who wouldn’t want warmer weather? Given the wild weather swings we’ve all experienced, two degrees seems like a small, even potentially negligible temperature rise.  What happens if our own temperature—or that of our child—suddenly spikes up by two degrees Celsius, three and a half degrees Fahrenheit? Most of us would call the doctor, or (if we were a new parent) maybe even head to the emergency room. We know that even with an average temperature of 98oF, an increase of 3.5oF means something’s seriously wrong; and that’s exactly what’s happening to our planet.My research, and that of my colleagues, puts the numbers on how it’s affecting our water resources, our food and crop yields, the economy, and even our health. In a two degree world, record-breaking hot, dry summers could become the norm across the central United States; around the world, corn and wheat yields could drop by an average of 10 to 30%; and faster evaporation and shifting rainfall patterns could decrease runoff across much of the central and western U.S. by 10 to 30%. The intensity and strength of hurricanes scales with global temperature, as does the duration of heat waves, the risk of wildfire, and even the growth of phytoplankton in the ocean, the base of the food web on which hundreds of millions of people depend.

Fossil-fuel industry gets $2,000 in 'subsidies' for each $1 in party donations -- Major political parties have receive $3.7m in donations from fossil-fuel companies since the last election, and will deliver $2,000 in subsidies to the industry for every dollar donated, according to a report. “The ongoing failure of our politicians to tackle climate change is directly attributable to the political influence of the fossil-fuel industry,” said Blair Palese, the chief executive of Australia.  “If we are serious about climate solutions, we must end the cosy relationship between our politicians and the big polluters.” The activist organisation has launched the report alongside a campaign asking individual federal politicians to sign a “pollution-free politics pledge”, where they commit to refuse donations from the fossil-fuel industry. It has already been signed by all federal Greens politicians, independents Cathy McGowan and Andrew Wilkie, and outgoing Labor MPs Melissa Parke and Kelvin Thomson. A  list of those who have signed is being curated by “The corrupting influence of political donations that the Liberal, National and Labor parties receive from the fossil-fuel sector will only stop when these donations are banned,”

Donald Trump warned against scrapping Paris climate deal -- President Obama’s special envoy for climate change has warned Republican presidential hopefuls including Donald Trump and Ted Cruz that any attempt to scrap the Paris climate agreement would lead to a “diplomatic black eye” for the US.  Speaking to journalists in Brussels, Todd Stern also said that a recent supreme court decision to block Barack Obama’s clean power plan would not affect US climate pledges, or plans to formally sign up to the Paris agreement later this year. Republican candidates such as Trump or Cruz who query climate science on the presidential stump would in practice be “very loathe” to set off the storm that would follow any ditching of the Paris accord, Stern argued. “Paris as an agreement has such broad acceptance and support around the world from countries of every stripe and region and Paris itself was seen as such a landmark - hard-fought, hard-won - deal that for the US to turn around and say ‘we are withdrawing from Paris’ would inevitably give the country a diplomatic black eye,” he said.  Trump, the current frontrunner in the Republican race, described President Obama’s speech to the Paris climate summit last December as “one of the dumbest statements I’ve ever heard.” And Cruz, who won the Iowa caucus, has promised to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, describing Obama’s focus on securing a global accord as “nutty”. EU sources say that there is “significant concern” in Brussels about the possibility of either candidate winning the election in November.

John Kasich: ‘I Know That Human Beings Affect The Climate’ - Republican presidential candidate John Kasich acknowledged humans’ contribution to climate change Saturday, though he stopped short of accepting that humans are the main driver of the global problem.  “I know that human beings affect the climate,” Kasich said at a Vermont town hall event Saturday, in response to a question from a scientist in the audience. “I know it’s an apostasy in the Republican Party to say that. I guess that’s what I’ve always been — being able to challenge some of the status quo.” He added, however, that he didn’t know “how much individuals affect the climate, but here’s what I do know: I know we need to develop all of the renewables, and we need to do it in an orderly way.” Kasich singled out wind and solar, and said the United States also needed to improve battery technology. “We need to be promoting the renewable energies, we need to have more efficiency, and we need to live respecting the resources in our environment.” Kasich’s clarification that he doesn’t know how much people impact climate change has emerged as a common caveat in the presidential race — at least among some of the comparatively moderate Republicans, several of whom have exited the race. Jeb Bush, who dropped out of the presidential race over the weekend, has said that he doesn’t “think the science is clear of what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted.” Chris Christie, who has also dropped out, has similarly said that he thinks climate change is happening, though he’s not entirely sure how much humans contribute.

US Congress backs court challenge to Obama's climate plan (AP) — More than 200 members of the U.S. Congress are backing a court challenge to President Barack Obama’s plan to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. A brief filed Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington argues that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its legal authority and defied the will of Congress by regulating carbon dioxide emissions. Implementation of the new emissions rules is considered essential to the U.S. meeting carbon-reduction targets in a global climate agreement signed in Paris in December. Obama’s plan also encourages more development of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar by further ratcheting down any emissions allowed from new coal-fired power plants, which the administration and environmental groups say the plan will spur new clean-energy jobs. Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, both Republicans, those signing on include Republican presidential candidates and senators Ted Cruz of Texas, and Marco Rubio of Florida. Of the 34 senators and 171 House members listed, Sen. Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia is the lone Democrat. “If Congress desired to give EPA sweeping authority to transform the nation’s electricity sector, Congress would have provided for that unprecedented power in detailed legislation,” the brief says.

States Just Asked The Supreme Court To Halt Another Pollution Rule - If you live in one of these 20 states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, or Wyoming — your attorney general just asked Justice John Roberts to let power plants keep putting mercury the environment.  In a petition filed Tuesday, those states asked the Supreme Court to stay the Mercury Air Toxics Standard, which was issued by the EPA in 2014 and has been bouncing around the courts ever since.  The standard, commonly known as MATS, was the culmination of more than two decades of effort to limit the amount of mercury from coal-fired power plants. Methylmercury, the compound that comes from power plants, is a powerful neurotoxin that can affect coordination, impair speech and hearing, cause muscle weakness, and degrade vision. Exposure to methylmercury in utero and for infants and small children can have significant long term health impacts, including cognitive and fine motor impairments. But in June, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had not properly considered the regulation’s cost to industry, and kicked the rule back to the D.C. Circuit Court. The EPA is expected to submit new cost analysis to the court in April, but in the meantime, the rule is still in effect.  Apparently unwilling to wait for a final ruling from the D.C. Circuit Court, the states, led by Michigan, are looking to put the rule on hold immediately. They were bolstered, perhaps, by recent Supreme Court actions. Last month, the court issued a stay on the Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s carbon-limit rule.

Trade Rules Trump Climate Action: U.S. Blocks India’s Ambitious Solar Plans -- India has been told that it cannot go ahead as planned with its ambitious plan for a huge expansion of its renewable energy sector, because it seeks to provide work for Indian people. The case against India was brought by the U.S. The ruling, by the World Trade Organization, says India’s National Solar Mission—which would create local jobs, while bringing electricity to millions of people—must be changed because it includes a domestic content clause requiring part of the solar cells to be produced nationally.  The World Trade Organization says that its dispute settlement panel “handed the U.S. a clear-cut victory … when it found that local content requirements India imposed on private solar power producers in a massive solar project violated trade rules, although the two sides are still discussing a potential settlement to the dispute.” One official of India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy told India Climate Dialogue that the ruling might make the country’s solar plan more expensive and would definitely hit domestic manufacturing and, consequently, the possibility of creating jobs in the sector. The government-funded program aims to generate 100 gigawatts of solar energy annually by 2022. One gigawatt is enough, for example, to supply the needs of 750,000 typical U.S. homes. Sam Cossar-Gilbert, economic justice and resisting neoliberalism program co-ordinator at Friends of the Earth International, said the ruling “shows how arcane trade rules can be used to undermine governments that support clean energy and local jobs. The ink is barely dry on the UN Paris agreement, but clearly trade still trumps real action on climate change.”

Profit over the planet: WTO’s lawsuit ruling could be a giant blow to the renewable energy movement - A new ruling by the World Trade Organization could be a big blow to the growing renewable energy movement around the world. A WTO tribunal ruled Wednesday that India’s national solar energy program violates trade law, in a lawsuit initiated by the U.S. Almost half of states in the U.S. have programs that are similar to India’s, which subsidize the renewable energy industry and create local, environmentally friendly jobs. Environmental groups say the deal shows that the WTO and U.S. care more about free trade policies and profit than they do about moving toward renewable energy sources. Bill Waren, senior trade analyst at Friends of the Earth, said the organization “is dismayed that climate policy is being made by an international trade tribunal.” “The government of India reasonably provided some preferences for local producers of solar energy in order to convert from a carbon economy to a green economy,” Waren explained, calling the WTO decision “an outrage.” Environmental groups also warned that the WTO ruling could undermine the international agreement reached after two weeks of deliberation at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The Sierra Club called India’s subsidy program “a common-sense solar energy initiative in India that is a core component of the country’s contribution to the Paris agreement to tackle climate disruption.” “Trade law trumps the Paris climate accord,” Friends of the Earth said.

Who’s hitting the EU’s 2020 renewables target — and who’s holding it back? -- The EU has released statistics for 2014, showing its progress in boosting the share of renewables in its overall energy mix.  These figures are broken down by country, showing which ones are transitioning the fastest away from fossil fuels, and which are moving at a slower pace.  Carbon Brief has looked at the numbers to see which countries came out on top in 2014, and which countries were holding back the bloc’s progress on clean energy.  The EU has a target of getting 20% of all its energy – electricity, heat, transport, etc – from renewable sources by 2020.  This target is divided across the bloc, so that wealthier countries that have a higher share of renewables to begin with do more, lifting some of the burden from their EU neighbours who will have a harder time of it. Sweden has a 49% target, for instance, whereas Malta, the country with the lowest renewables target, only has to generate a 10% share of its energy from renewables by 2020. What really matters is that the share of renewables hits an average of 20% across the EU, as a whole. The interactive map below shows how much each country has to achieve as part of this group effort. Despite this effort to place countries on a level playing field, according to their respective capabilities, countries are progressing at different speeds towards their targets.  Some countries have already achieved their 2020 targets and are going beyond them. Others still have yet to hit their 2020 goal. This data shows progress up to 2014, so countries still have six years to make it to their target from this point. The following graph shows which countries have already exceeded their 2020 goals, which have yet to make it, and by how much.

Peak Oil Returns: Why Demand Will Likely Peak By 2030 -  Will global oil demand peak by 2030? Is peak oil demand the new peak oil supply? Many trends now point in the direction of this remarkable possibility:  In December the nations of the world agreed unanimously in Paris to leave most of the world fossil fuels in the ground. Oil demand has been declining in developed countries for over a decade. Electric vehicle sales are exploding around the world, especially China.  Battery prices are continuing their unexpectedly rapid price drop. Tesla and Chevy now say their new 200-mile-range EV could cost Americans $30,000 — a game-changing price. In November, a Bloomberg Business story, “The Oil Industry Has Been Put on Notice,” warned “the transformation of oil markets may be coming sooner than we think.” This recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance chart includes oil forecasts the International Energy Agency (IEA) has made since 1994:  Is it possible that the world is actually going to follow the path of the “Transport Transformation Scenario” and peak in oil demand by 2030 or so? At this point I think is not only possible, but likely. It is increasingly clear that technology will be here to make that possible — indeed, the technology is almost here now (see this recent post, “Tesla And GM Announce Affordable, Long-Range Electric Cars”). Same with the renewables needed to power electric cars carbon-free. The core issue now is whether the nations of the world will embrace the policies needed to accelerate those technologies into the marketplace fast enough to cause demand to actually peak in one to two decades globally — much as oil demand in the industrialized countries appears to have peaked a decade ago.

Could more electric cars mean greater fleet emissions and fuel consumption? -- New CAFE standards that get stricter over time were announced by the NHTSA in 2015. CAFE mandates fleet-wide targets for car makers, with a formula that takes into account the footprint of each model. Bigger cars or light trucks are allowed to get lower fuel efficiency than smaller models, and a car maker's total sales are taken into account to calculate the average across their model range.  At the same time, the EPA has another set of standards for the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across a manufacturer's range (this is separate from the EPA fuel efficiency rating that new cars get, which also differs quite a bit from the CAFE numbers). Failing to meet these targets comes with a set of different consequences. OEMs that don't meet their CAFE target have to pay a fine ($5.50 per 0.1mpg per vehicle sold), which several car makers have historically chosen to accept as cheaper than the alternative. The EPA's emissions standards aren't quite as lenient, however; it's within the agency's power to revoke one's license to sell vehicles inside the US. Built into those greenhouse gas standards are incentives to sell more alternative fuel vehicles—battery electric vehicles (BEV), plug-in hybrid EVs (PHEV), fuel cell vehicles (FCV), and flex-fuel vehicles (FFV), which can use ethanol, methanol, or 85 percent ethanol-gasoline blends. There are various weighting factors and multipliers built in that change over time, so that a BEV or FCV sold in 2017 counts more than one sold in 2020, and a BEV or FCV counts more than a PHEV or FFV. But several analyses of these standards, including the latest study published in Environmental Science and Technology, have found that the incentives can actually have an unintended side effect. The more EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles you sell, the dirtier and less efficient the rest of your cars can be.

Murray Energy idling West Virginia coal mine — A large West Virginia underground coal mine owned by Murray Energy is halting production for nearly two weeks, and the rest of the company’s mines are running on part-time schedules due to reduced demand from electric utilities, the company’s chairman and CEO said Wednesday. The Marion County mine will be idled until at least March 7, Robert Murray said. The mine employs about 500 workers after laying off 80 people in December. Demand for electric power is down as manufacturing moves overseas, and utilities are increasingly turning to natural gas and other alternative sources to generate electricity, Murray said. “So as a result, even though there are contracts with these utilities for them to take the coal, they abrogate their responsibilities, they don’t take the coal,” Murray said. He said suing over the contracts doesn’t work because “they’re still the customer you have to deal with.” He declined to name the utility companies he has contracts with. Ohio-based Murray Energy is one of the nation’s largest coal producers, and like many coal operators it is feeling the sting of a slumping market. Other major operators, including Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, have filed bankruptcy in recent months. Murray said regulatory enforcement from President Barack Obama’s administration is causing less coal to be mined as well as making coal less palatable for power plants, which must adhere to tougher environmental rules. Electricity generation in the U.S. was down 5 percent in November from the previous November, and coal consumption was down 24 percent in the same period, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Natural gas usage was up 21 percent.

Radioactive waste from Hanford Nuclear Reservation spread across Washington highway -- Fall windstorm spread radioactive contamination across Route 4 north of Richland | 21 Feb 2016 | The Environmental Protection Agency has called the uncontrolled spread of small [?] amounts of radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation "alarming" after a Nov. 17 windstorm. Surveys six miles north of Richland after the winds subsided found specks of [radioactive] contamination had spread beyond Route 4, the public highway from Richland out to the Wye Barricade secure entrance to Hanford. The contamination had blown from the 618-10 Burial Ground, which is being cleaned on the west side of the highway. The search also turned up previously undiscovered specks of radioactive waste believed to have been spread by plants or animals outside known contaminated areas.

Fukushima impacts hidden from Japanese public -- The Japanese were kept in the dark from the start of the Fukushima disaster about high radiation levels and their dangers to health, writes Linda Pentz Gunter. In order to proclaim the Fukushima area 'safe', the Government increased exposure limits to twenty times the international norm. Soon, many Fukushima refugees will be forced to return home to endure damaging levels of radiation.  Once you enter a radiation controlled area, you aren’t supposed to drink water, let alone eat anything. The idea that somebody is living in a place like that is unimaginable.   As such, one might have expected a recent presentation he gave in the UK within the hallowed halls of the House of Commons, to have focused on Japan's capacity to replace the electricity once generated by its now mainly shuttered nuclear power plants, with renewable energy.  But Dr lida's passionate polemic was not about the power of the sun, but the power of propaganda. March 11, 2011, might have been the day the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. But it was also the beginning of the Great Japan Cover-Up

Fukushima – Deep Trouble - The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster may go down as one of history’s boundless tragedies and not just because of a nuclear meltdown, but rather the tragic loss of a nation’s soul.Imagine the following scenario: 207 million cardboard book boxes, end-to-end, circumnavigating Earth, like railroad tracks, going all the way around the planet. That’s a lot of book boxes. Now, fill the boxes with radioactive waste. Forthwith, that’s the amount of radioactive waste stored unsheltered in one-tonne black bags throughout Fukushima Prefecture, amounting to 9,000,000 cubic metresBut wait, there’s more to come, another 13,000,000 cubic metres of radioactive soil is yet to be collected. (Source: Voice of America News, Problems Keep Piling Up in Fukushima, Feb. 17, 2016).And, there’s still more, the cleanup operations only go 50-100 feet beyond roadways. Plus, a 100-mile mountain range along the coast and hillsides around Fukushima are contaminated but not cleansed at all. As a consequence, the decontaminated land will likely be re-contaminated by radioactive runoff from the hills and mountains.Indubitably, how and where to store millions of cubic metres of one-tonne black bags filled with radioactive waste is no small problem. It is a super-colossal problem. What if bags deteriorate? What if a tsunami hits? The “what-ifs” are endless, endless, and beyond.“The black bags of radioactive soil, now scattered at 115,000 locations in Fukushima, are eventually to be moved to yet-to-be built interim facilities, encompassing 16 square kilometers, in two towns close to the crippled nuclear power plant,” Ibid. By itself, 115,000 locations each containing many, many, mucho one-tonne bags of radioactive waste is a logistical nightmare, just the trucking alone is forever a humongous task, decades to come. According to Japanese government and industry sources, cleaning up everything and decommissioning the broken down reactors will take at least 40 years at a cost of $250 billion, assuming nothing goes wrong. But dismally, everything that can possibly go wrong for Tokyo Electric Power Company (“TEPCO”) over the past 5 years has gone wrong, not a good record.

The Radioactive Man Who Returned To Fukushima To Feed The Animals That Everyone Else Left Behind - (photo essay) The untold human suffering and property damage left in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan has been well-documented, but there’s another population that suffered greatly that few have discussed – the animals left behind in the radioactive exclusion zone. One man, however, hasn’t forgotten – 55-year-old Naoto Matsumura, a former construction worker who lives in the zone to care for its four-legged survivors. He is known as the ‘guardian of Fukushima’s animals’ because of the work he does to feed the animals left behind by people in their rush to evacuate the government’s 12.5-mile exclusion zone. He is aware of the radiation he is subject to on a daily basis, but says that he “refuses to worry about it.” He does take steps, however, by only eating food imported into the zone. See more about his work and what he has seen in the exclusion zone below!

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