Blog Archive

Sunday, March 13, 2016

rjs's environmental news

environment and related links, week ending March 12th

We’re Losing the Race Against Antibiotic Resistance, but There’s Also Reason for Hope -- A century ago, the top three causes of death were infectious diseases. More than half of all people dying in the United States died because of germs. Today, they account for a few percent of deaths at most. We owe much of that, of course, to antibiotics.  It is hard to overstate how much less of a threat infectious diseases pose to us today. But we take antibiotics for granted. We use them inappropriately and indiscriminately. This has led many to worry that our days of receiving benefits from them are numbered. When I was a medical student, doctors around me were panicking about methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Before then, infection with that bacteria had been almost exclusively contained to health care facilities.  . Today, community-acquired MRSA is so common that we pretty much just assume the presence of MRSA for any infections we believe are caused by staph. Concern about the rise of resistance often focuses on overuse of antibiotics. There’s plenty of evidence that we, the users, are the problem. In a recent multicountry study conducted by the World Health Organization, almost two-thirds of people believed that antibiotics could be used to treat colds and the flu, which are, of course, caused by viruses. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses.  The same people also knew that antibiotic resistance was a real problem that could affect them, but this knowledge did not seem to prevent them from misusing the drugs.  Bacteria are very good at the evolution game, and killing off more susceptible strains leaves the more resistant ones to fill the gap. Bacteria have also become good at transmitting resistance abilities through plasmids, small, circular DNA molecules that can be transferred from bacteria to bacteria. The widespread use of antibiotics in the raising of animals has clearly contributed to the development of resistance as well. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that more kilograms of antibiotics are sold in the United States for food-producing animals than for people.

Flesh-eating bacteria: Vibro Vulnificus in Florida ocean hospitalizes 32, kills 10 -   New warnings issued Monday surrounding a bacteria found in the ocean that has already killed several people in Florida. It is called Vibrio vulnificus, a cousin of the bacterium that causes Cholera and it thrives in warm saltwater. "Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater," the Florida Department of Health said in a statement. The Florida Department of Health reports 13 people have contracted the bacteria and 3 have died from the strain. Last year, 41 people were infected and 11 died. Florida isn't the only state to report Vibrio vulnificus infections. Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi have also recorded cases. "It's quite discouraging because the beach is one of the more popular hobbies in Florida," said Tracy Brown of West Palm Beach. Brown, who was enjoying a day at the beach with her daughter, had not really heard about the Vibrio bacterium. She was stunned to hear someone could become sick by simply entering the water. "The last thing you want to think about is going to the beach and leaving with something you least expect," said Brown. Florida Department of Health experts said anyone with a compromised immune system or anyone with an open cut should not go into the water. Those who do jump into the ocean should wash off before heading home . "It's definitely something to take serious, but there are a number of other bacteria, that you could run into," said Tim O'Connor, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health.

I shower once a week. Here’s why you should too - When I was a kid, bathtime was a once-a-week affair. We weren’t an unhygienic family – this is just how most of us lived in the 1960s, and I do not remember any horrific body odors resulting from it. By the time I was an adult, I was showering every day. With hindsight, I should have stuck to the old ways. The average 10-minute shower uses 60 litres of water. A power shower uses three times that and a bath about 80 litres. So a family of four each having a daily 10-minute power shower (I know that is a very conservative estimate for some teenagers) will consume a staggering 0.25m litres of water every year. The annual average cost for electricity for four 10-minute showers per day would be up to about £400, or £1,200 if a power shower is involved. Even worse, the power-shower family would be emitting a staggering 3.5 tonnes of CO2. As we can afford only one tonne of carbon emissions per person – for everything from food to transport – if we are to keep global temperatures below the critical 2C threshold, this would consume nearly all of the family’s carbon budget. The daily bath or shower, then, is terrible for the environment and our bank balances. That’s one reason I have reverted to a weekly shower, with a daily sink-wash that includes my underarms and privates. But there are health consequences too. I first became aware of these when I was a touring ballet dancer and met a friend whose skin had been severely damaged by excessive use of soap products. He was condemned to treat himself with medical creams for the rest of his life. According to dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, parents should stop bathing babies and toddlers daily because early exposure to dirt and bacteria may help make skin less sensitive, even preventing conditions like eczema in the long run. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends three times a week or less as toddlers’ skin is more sensitive; and as the elderly have drier skin, they should not be frequently washing all of their bodies with soap.

Teen Girls See Big Drop in Chemical Exposure With Switch in Cosmetics --A new study led by researchers at UC Berkeley and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas demonstrates how even a short break from certain kinds of makeup, shampoos and lotions can lead to a significant drop in levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in the body. The results, published yesterday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, came from a study of 100 Latina teenagers participating in the Health and Environmental Research on Makeup of Salinas Adolescents (HERMOSA) study.  Researchers provided teen study participants with personal care products labeled free of chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, triclosan and oxybenzone. Such chemicals are widely used in personal care products, including cosmetics, fragrance, hair products, soaps and sunscreens and have been shown in animal studies to interfere with the body’s endocrine system. “Because women are the primary consumers of many personal care products, they may be disproportionately exposed to these chemicals,” . “Teen girls may be at particular risk since it’s a time of rapid reproductive development and research has suggested that they use more personal care products per day than the average adult woman.”

Meet the ‘rented white coats’ who defend toxic chemicals | Center for Public Integrity: The National Institutes of Health’s budget for research grants has fallen 14 percent since its peak in 2004, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. With scarce resources, there’s little money for academics to study chemicals that most already deem to be toxic. Yet regulatory officials and attorneys say companies have a strong financial interest in continuing to publish research favorable to industry. Gradient belongs to a breed of scientific consulting firms that defends the products of its corporate clients beyond credulity, even exhaustively studied substances whose dangers are not in doubt, such as asbestos, lead and arsenic. Gradient’s scientists rarely acknowledge that a chemical poses a serious public health risk. The Center for Public Integrity analyzed 149 scientific articles and letters published by the firm’s most prolific principal scientists. Ninety-eight percent of the time, they found that the substance in question was harmless at levels to which people are typically exposed. “They truly are the epitome of rented white coats,” said Bruce Lanphear, a Simon Fraser University professor whose own research showing that even tiny amounts of lead could harm children has been called into question by Gradient scientists. A panel of experts convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded in 2012 that there is no reliable evidence for a safe level of lead.

'Don't Drink The Water' In Newark Public Schools, Officials Say: Elevated levels of lead and discoloration caused officials to shut off the water taps at 30 schools in Newark, New Jersey, on Wednesday. The state Department of Environmental Protection and the city's school district are currently using alternate water sources, according to a joint release from both parties. City officials have emphasized that this is a problem with lead piping in the various schools and that overall Newark's water is unaffected. "The problem is localized in the finite number of schools, and those are the schools that are the oldest and still have lead piping," Frank Baraff, the city's communications director, told The Huffington Post Wednesday. The city's water supply is "perfectly safe," he said. Baraff, who said the school district and state officials are committed to total transparency as they work to alleviate the issue, also stressed that the situation is not as severe as the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Still, there was no mistaking the seriousness of the issue. The affected buildings range from high schools to elementary schools citywide. Baraff said he's been communicating with local hospitals in the area, and that families have already started bringing in their children for blood tests. "At this point, the main recommendation is... don't drink the water in any of the schools,"

Newark School Officials Knew of Lead Risks, 2014 Memo Shows - In August 2014, as 35,000 students prepared to return to Newark’s public schools, Keith Barton, the managing director of operations for the district, sent a memo with an urgent message to all principals, custodians and building managers: Before anyone drank from the water fountains, they should run the water for at least 30 seconds.Mr. Barton directed custodians to run and flush every water fountain for two minutes before school started each day, and to tell cafeteria workers to run and flush cold water faucets in kitchens for two minutes before preparing food.The memo, he wrote, was part of an effort “to reduce the risk of possible lead contamination.”That effort failed. On Wednesday, water at 30 of Newark’s 67 schools was shut off after being found to contain high levels of lead. The move left state and school officials trying to reassure nervous parents that they had the situation under control, even as questions swirled about how the problem had been handled in the first place. The potential danger of lead exposure was something school officials in Newark had been aware of for years, and the district had installed lead-reduction filters on water fountains and kitchen prep sinks, particularly in schools built before 2006, according to Mr. Barton’s memo. But it took a crisis in Flint, Mich., to focus attention on the issue of lead contamination in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city.

Flint’s Water Crisis: A Chronicle of Disenfranchisement, Denial, and Buck-Passing  - Yves Smith - The ACLU of Michigan just released a must-see short documentary on the Flint water crisis. It’s important that this not be forgotten even as the scandal has died down and eyes are moving off Michigan now that the Democratic debate and state primary have passed.  This piece is powerful because it’s told by the local citizens who were abused (and this is not an overstatement) by emergency managers who were instructed to prioritize making bond payments. Even though readers may know many of the elements of this story from the extensive media coverage, it has a completely different impact not simply seeing it put together in one place, chronologically as it unfolded, but witnessing the appalling record of official efforts to deny that there was a problem (including deliberately constructing completely unrepresentative tests) and repeatedly telling flat out lies. It’s also not hard to discern that the emergency managers, their allies, and the state government held the Flint citizens in utter contempt. The class/race bias and condescension are palpable.   The documentary is also a testament to the persistence of the efforts of Flint citizens in mustering allies (such as the ACLU as well as the environmental engineers at Virginia Tech) to develop rock-solid evidence of the contamination of the water and publicize the developing public health crisis. The fact that the city’s overlords and state officials thought they could get away with what amounts to poisoning of a population this large is another symptom of elite insularity.  Again, this is a relatively short video given the ground that it covers. I hope you’ll view it and circulate widely.

Senator Mike Lee defends delay of Flint aid bill, says Michigan has ‘large rainy-day fund’ — Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee issued his first statement Friday explaining why he has a “hold” on a $250 million bill to provide federal funds to Flint, Michigan, and other communities facing problems with their drinking water. Lee, a tea party favorite, says the problems in Flint are “man-made” and the state has “a large rainy-day fund totaling hundreds of millions of dollars” that should be used before federal resources are utilized. “The people and policymakers of Michigan right now have all the government resources they need to fix the problem,” Lee said. “The only thing Congress is contributing to the Flint recovery is political grandstanding.” The bill, agreed to by bipartisan negotiators two weeks ago, would finance water projects in affected communities around the country like Flint where the drinking water supply was poisoned by lead pipes causing serious health hazards for its residents. The bill also has provisions to deal with the health problems caused by the lead.

$1.2 million for Gov. Rick Snyder's attorneys a 'kick in the teeth to taxpayers' — Gov. Rick Snyder plans to pay attorneys $1.2 million for Flint water work, while Attorney General Bill Schuette requested $1.5 million to pay a law firm investigating the crisis. Gov. Rick Snyder expanded contracts for attorneys in connection with the Flint water crisis, according to a March 8 agenda of the State Administrative Board. "It's beyond outrageous that Snyder wants to take $1.2 million from Michigan taxpayers to pay for defense attorneys over his involvement in the poisoning of Flint's water," Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon said in a March 8 statement. The agenda states Snyder "authorized an agreement with Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, for the provision of legal services related to civil litigation about municipal drinking water in the City of Flint, Michigan, in an amount not to exceed $400,000." Snyder "authorized an agreement with Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, for the provision of legal services related to records management issues and investigations regarding municipal drinking water in the City of Flint, Michigan, in an amount not to exceed $800,000."

Exclusive: Navy Secretly Conducting Electromagnetic Warfare Training on Washington Roads: Without public notification of any kind, the US Navy has secretly been conducting electromagnetic warfare testing and training on public roads in western Washington State for more than five years. An email thread between the Navy and the US Forest Service between 2010 and 2012, recently obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Oregon-based author and activist Carol Van Strum in November 2014, revealed that the Navy has likely been driving mobile electromagnetic warfare emitters and conducting electromagnetic warfare training in the Olympic National Forest and on public roads on Washington's Olympic Peninsula since 2010. In one of the 2012 emails, Navy contractor Gerald Sodano explained that the Navy "utilized EW [electronic warfare] ranges outside the local vicinity." But he went on to say that the aim of establishing an electromagnetic warfare range on the Olympic Peninsula would be to conduct all training locally on the Olympic Peninsula, rather than further afield. This means that rather than using expansive training areas the Navy already has access to in Yakima in eastern Washington State, the Navy aims to use the Olympic National Forest and areas adjacent to Olympic National Park instead.

Mystery cancers are cropping up in children in aftermath of Fukushima - Months after the disaster, Fukushima Prefecture set about examining the thyroids of hundreds of thousands of children and teens for signs of radiation-related cancers. The screening effort was unprecedented, and no one knew what to expect. So when the first round of exams started turning up thyroid abnormalities in nearly half of the kids, of whom more than 100 were later diagnosed with thyroid cancer, a firestorm erupted. One result, says Kenji Shibuya, a public health specialist at University of Tokyo, was “overdiagnosis and overtreatment,” leading dozens of children to have their thyroids removed, perhaps unnecessarily. Activists trumpeted the findings as evidence of the dangers of nuclear power. The large number of abnormalities appearing so soon after the accident “would indicate that these children almost certainly received a very high dose of thyroid radiation from inhaled and ingested radioactive iodine,” antinuclear crusader Helen Caldicott wrote in a post on her homepage.  Scientists emphatically disagree. “The evidence suggests that the great majority and perhaps all of the cases so far discovered are not due to radiation,” says Dillwyn Williams, a thyroid cancer specialist at University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. In journal papers and in a series of letters published last month in Epidemiology, scientists have attacked the alarmist interpretations. Many acknowledge that baseline data from noncontaminated areas were needed from the outset and that the public should have been better educated to understand results and, perhaps, to accept watchful waiting as an alternative to immediate surgery. But most also say the findings hint at a medical puzzle: Why are thyroid abnormalities so common in children? The “surprising” results of the screening, Williams says, show that “many more thyroid carcinomas than were previously realized must originate in early life.”

California Widow Sues Monsanto Alleging Roundup Caused Her Husband’s Cancer - A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against Monsanto Co. by the widow of a prominent Cambria, California farmer alleging that Monsanto had known for years that exposure to glyphosate—the main ingredient in the agribusiness giant’s flagship weedkiller Roundup—could cause cancer and other serious illnesses or injuries.  The lawsuit, which seeks wrongful death and punitive damages, was filedtoday in Los Angeles federal court by attorneys Michael Baum, Cynthia Garber and Brent Wisner of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., of Kennedy & Madonna on behalf of Teri McCall. Teri McCall claims Roundup caused her husband of 43-years, Anthony Jackson “Jack” McCall, to develop terminal cancer after he used the herbicide on his 20-acre fruit and vegetable farm for nearly 30 years. According to a press release from the law firms, Jack McCall was admitted to a hospital in September 2015 to treat swollen lymph nodes in his neck. He found out that same day that the swelling was caused by anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a rare and aggressive version of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Glyphosate, which is the most widely applied pesticide worldwide, was declared as “probably carcinogenic to humans” last March by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The organization also observed that non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other haematopoietic cancers are the cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure.

Why Is Glyphosate Sprayed on Crops Right Before Harvest? -- Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, is recognized as the world’s most widely used weed killer. What is not so well known is that farmers also use glyphosate on crops such as wheat, oats, edible beans and other crops right before harvest, raising concerns that the herbicide could get into food products. Glyphosate has come under increased scrutiny in the past year. Last year the World Health Organization’s cancer group, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified it as a probably carcinogen. The state of California has also moved to classify the herbicide as a probable carcinogen. A growing body of research is documenting health concerns of glyphosate as an endocrine disruptor and that it kills beneficial gut bacteria, damages the DNA in human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells and is linked to birth defects and reproductive problems in laboratory animals. A recently published paper describes the escalating use of glyphosate: 18.9 billion pounds have been used globally since its introduction in 1974, making it the most widely and heavily applied weed-killer in the history of chemical agriculture. Significantly, 74 percent of all glyphosate sprayed on crops since the mid-1970s was applied in just the last 10 years, as cultivation of GMO corn and soybeans expanded in the U.S. and globally.  Farmers often had trouble getting wheat and barley to dry evenly so they can start harvesting. So they came up with the idea to kill the crop (with glyphosate) one to two weeks before harvest to accelerate the drying down of the grain.  The pre-harvest use of glyphosate allows farmers to harvest crops as much as two weeks earlier than they normally would, an advantage in northern, colder regions.

Farmers union head skeptical of Trans-Pacific Partnership | Crop Protection News: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to gain support on Capitol Hill for its Trans-Pacific Partnership by telling partners on about the benefits it anticipates, including job growth and rural prosperity. However, the National Farmers Union (NFU), which represents over 200,000 family farms and ranches, believes the USDA’s promises are the same kind made with previous trade pacts that did not come to fruition. “While access to global markets is important for American agriculture, a trade agreement that does little to fix currency manipulation, rein in foreign predatory trade practices, or improve the $531 billion trade imbalance is not the solution,” NFU President Roger Johnson said. The NFU believes the TPP will hurt rural communities more than help them by opening American jobs up to cheaper, foreign labor. “In its current form, the TPP stands to hurt our rural economies by pitting American jobs against foreign labor that is paid mere pennies per hour,” Johnson said. “Beyond the farm gate, any consumer that cares about where their food comes from should be concerned with the TPP. This is an issue that affects all Americans alike. I continue to urge Congress to give thoughtful consideration to opposing the TPP.”

Food Fraud Infographic | Big Picture Agriculture: Sadly, the amount of food fraud in the world is horrendous. What a poor testament of human nature, greed, and self-honor. The only thing that can combat this is growing your own, knowing your supplier or local grower, more testing, and more public awareness.

We Might Be Severely Underestimating Climate Change’s Impact On Agriculture -- For all intents and purposes, climate change is not going to be good news for agriculture. Studies have shown that it will likely reduce crop yields, create a malnutrition crisis, and make large portions of the globe inhospitable to staple crops like maize or bananas. But researchers from Brown and Tufts universities have a dire message for the world: studies linking climate change to a decrease in crop production might be underestimating the true impact of climate change on agriculture. “The real missing pieces have been about peoples’ decision making,”   “This is not just about suitability. It’s not just about the climate. It’s farmers making decisions in real time.” The study, published Monday in Nature Climate Change, looked at how climate change might affect crop production in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, a rapidly developing agricultural region of the country that produced 10 percent of the world’s soybeans in 2013.  But the study didn’t just look at crop yields, or the productivity of a certain crop per given unit of land. The study took a much broader approach, looking at how farmers might react to climate shocks — how much land farmers will put into rotation if the climate changes, and how many different crops a farmer might grow. It’s not just about the climate. It’s farmers making decisions in real time. “They need to get their crops in the ground as soon as they can, they are planting short cycle soy varieties that they need to harvest at the peak of the rainy season, and then they need to plant that corn at the peak of the rainy season, and then hope that the rainy season lasts long enough so the corn gets enough water.”

Why the Oregon Refuge Occupiers Had a Legitimate Grievance…..Just Not the One They Went After  - The history of the refuge and grazing, the diversion of water, the low grazing prices charged ranchers, and the over grazing of land in the early years is mostly correct. To take over a refuge and federal land, it is hard to understand why someone would risk life and limb to challenge the local authorities, the government, and the military. In any case, it is a sure recipe to lose, go to prison, or die when you challenge the authorities, are armed, and considered dangerous. One man did pay with his life and the rest are under restraint by the authorities. This short commentary is not so much an argument of whether their stance was right or wrong as much as whether it was worth it or the right one to make. By taking over the Refuge, I believe the protesting ranchers left the public with the wrong impression.  The domination of the beef production by the meat packers and retailers plus the failure of Government to react to it has increased the costs faced by smaller ranchers and contributed to the controversy of grazing rights. With the consolidation of meat packers and the rise of giant retailers such as WalMart, prices for bringing cattle to feed lots decreased forcing cattlemen to reduce cost. Two ways to reduce cost are increase the size of your herds which requires more land or increase the numbers of meat packers so no one meat packer can influence the market. Smaller ranches have higher costs in production over larger ranches result from the numbers of cattle brought to market. Fewer cattle to feed lots or markets result in higher costs per head. In my opinion, the argument should be made with the government about the consolidation of meat packer market. Grazing rights and the ownership of land by the Federal Government is not necessarily the right argument to make. Whether the Government can own or control land was decided by SCOTUS (Light vs. U. S. and U.S vs. Grimaud) years previous and after the Sagebrush wars when the Federal Government started to charge fees for access after land was designated as national parks.

GOP congressman furious after Obama thwarts plan to sell sacred Apache land to foreign mining firm: Two Arizona congressional representatives are angry that President Barack Obama has intervened to prevent sacred Apache land from being sold off to foreign business interests, according to Tucson Weekly. Republican Congressman Paul Gosar had joined forces with Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in an effort to sell off the ancestral Native American land, known as Oak Flat or Chi’chil Bildagoteel to the Apache community, to mining firm Resolution Copper, owned by an Australian-British corporation. According to the New York Times, it would have been the first time in history Native American lands would have been handed over to a foreign company by Congress. The land was set to be handed over due to last-minute language added to a must-pass military spending bill. But according to the Weekly, the Obama administration prevented that from happening. The site has long been used for Apache coming-of-age ceremonies, particularly for girls. “This fraudulent action is the latest in a long list of egregious bureaucratic abuses of power by the Obama Administration. I will continue to fight this overreach,” Gosar wrote in a statement. “Shame on the Park Service and Forest Service for ramming a bogus historic place listing down the throats of Arizonans,” Gosar continued. “Clearly, the Obama Administration cares more about pandering to extremist environmental groups and a D.C. lobbyist from the Clinton Administration than following the law and listening to the American public.”

‘Sitting on the edge of a knife’: Deforestation ramps up in Queensland -- The northeastern Australian state of Queensland is home to lush tropical forests, unique wildlife, and rivers that feed into the largest reef system in the world. But researchers write that Queensland’s wilderness is under increasing strain, with data showing a big ramp-up in deforestation over the last two years. In total, satellite data compiled and analyzed by the Queensland Government indicate more than 296,000 hectares of woody vegetation (ranging from very sparse woodland to dense forest) was lost in the state between 2013 and 2014. This number is up nearly 400 percent from 2009-2010, which saw around 77,500 hectares lost, according to the data.  Scientists from the University of Queensland and other Australian institutions responded to the findings in an article published last week in The Conversation, an academic and research online news source. They write that much of this clearing is the result of pasture expansion, and is occurring despite ambitious restoration goals in greater Australia.  “There’s a strong rural lobby in Queensland that’s simply grown accustomed to clearing lots of land,” Bill Laurance, a research professor at James Cook University and co-author of the article, told Mongabay. “They feel entitled to do this, as though it’s their traditional right.  According to them, nobody—especially the government—is going to tell them what to do.

23 Million Salmon Dead Due to Toxic Algal Bloom in Chile  - Chile’s salmon industry is once again in a tailspin as the ongoing and toxic algal bloom in the country’s coastal waters has led to the death of nearly 23 million fish—or 15 percent of Chile’s salmon production—putting the total economic blow from lost production around $800 million, Reuters reported.   Jose Miguel Burgos, the head of the government’s Sernapesca fisheries body, told Reuters that the amount of dead fish in Chile could fill 14 Olympic-size swimming pools. The 100,000 tonnes in lost production—including Atlantic salmon, Coho and trout—is equivalent to some $800 million in exports, Burgos added. Chile exported $4.5 billion of farmed salmon, on 800,000 tonnes of shipments last year. Algal blooms are becoming an increasingly frequent phenomenon in fresh and saltwater bodies around the world that can contaminate or kill aquatic life and make people sick. Warming waters from climate change, inorganic fertilizers, and manure runoff from industrial agriculture and wastewater treatment plants have been pegged as conditions that can cause algal blooms.

Scientists may have found a new bug capable of transmitting Zika — and it could be bad news for how far the virus can spread -- Another, far more common mosquito could transmit the Zika virus, Brazilian researchers suggest. Currently, Zika is mainly transmitted from person to person via one species of mosquito, the Aedes aegypti. But scientists are exploring the idea that the virus could spread via a far more common species called the Culex quinquefasciatus, Reuters reports. Culex quinquefasciatus is 20 times more common than Aedes aegypti in Brazil. Once infected with Zika, only a small proportion of people ever show symptoms, which most commonly include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. There is no vaccine or treatment available for the virus. Zika poses a big concern because of its connections with birth defects in babies whose mothers have had Zika symptoms and with a neurological condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome.  To find out if this other, more common mosquito species could carry Zika, researchers injected 200 of them with the virus. They then watched to see if it made its way into the bug's salivary glands, which is where it would need to be to infect a person. It did, which means it's possible that could happen outside the lab as well. The bug is a subtropical species, with a range as far north as Virginia and covering most of Central and South America. They're active in the night, as opposed to Aedes aegypti, which is a daytime biter. It's been known to carry other viruses, including West Nile virus. 

WHO: Zika Sexual Transmission Is Unexpectedly Common: — The sexual transmission of the Zika virus is more common than previously thought, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, citing reports from several countries.After a meeting of its emergency committee on Tuesday, the U.N. health agency also said there is increasing evidence that a spike in disturbing birth defects is caused by Zika, which is mostly spread by mosquito bites.WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said “reports and investigations in several countries strongly suggest that sexual transmission of the virus is more common than previously assumed.”She said nine countries have now reported increasing cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare condition that can cause temporary paralysis and death, in people beyond women of child-bearing age, including children, teenagers and older adults. “All of this news is alarming,” Chan said. Despite the lack of definitive evidence proving that Zika causes birth defects and neurological problems, Chan said officials shouldn’t wait for definitive scientific proof before making recommendations.“Women who are pregnant in affected countries or travel to these countries are understandably deeply worried,” Chan said.

Will Climate Change Boost Mosquito-Borne Disease? -The immense amount of coverage of the Zika virus outbreak has focused attention on the health care situation in Brazil, particularly with the Rio Olympics almost upon us. Most recently, U.S. women’s soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo has said that, because of the virus, she is unsure about whether she will participate in the games. A recent PBS Frontline report showed how Zika strained the country’s health care system — the largest in the world — which was already overwhelmed by a huge increase in two other mosquito-borne illnesses: dengue fever and chikungunya. Pouring gasoline on the fire is an economic crisis resulting in fewer doctors and nurses to a combat greater numbers of cases. And of course, it isn’t just Brazil. The spread of Zika across the Americas has prompted the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency. One of the questions raised about the outbreak is whether climate change is involved. After all, it has to varying degrees also been implicated in the spread of other mosquito-borne diseases. There have been big increases in cases of West Nile Virus and dengue in the United States, while chikungunya has recently been reported in western Europe. And if climate change is responsible, it’s easy to understand why. As temperatures around the country rise, the areas that are conducive to such mosquitoes could expand, and the insects could start to emerge earlier in the year, meaning more opportunities for bites that could spread disease. It’s notable that the 2012 West Nile Virus outbreak in the United States followed an unseasonably warm late, spring, summer and early fall. But within that overall trend, there some nuance.

El Niño rain and snow storms headed for California.-- The drought break that Californians have been waiting for all winter is about to arrive: a series of storms bringing loads of rain and snow from the El Niño–fueled Pacific Ocean. Over the next 10 days, beginning Friday, a series of Pacific storm systems will batter the California coastline, bringing intense tendrils of moisture northeastward from the deep tropical Pacific Ocean where El Niño has juiced the atmosphere’s energy. So far this winter, these storms have been largely directed on the Pacific Northwest, where on Tuesday, Seattle clinched its rainiest winter in history. That energy will now be directed squarely at California.  These storms are sometimes referred to as atmospheric rivers, or, more colloquially, as the “Pineapple Express” for their origins near Hawaii. The amount of moisture one of these storms contain is comparable to the flow of the Amazon River—and it now looks like California will get at least two big ones by midmonth, one this weekend and one next weekend. The event is such a big deal that for the first time ever, Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft will be dispatched into the atmospheric rivers, laden with scientific equipment to better understand what makes them tick.

California awash in water for first time in a long while - (AP) – The first West Coast waves of a week of powerful storms arrived to provide strong evidence March will not be as parched as the month that preceded it. Steady rain fell in Northern California on Saturday and was expected to go statewide Sunday. Fresh and growing snow blanketed the slopes of the Sierra Nevada, ending a dry spell and raising hopes the drought-stricken state can get much needed precipitation. Droves of snowboarders, skiers and sledders packed Sierra slopes while tourists braved wet weather and visited San Francisco landmarks before an even more blustery storm arrived later in the day. "It doesn't matter if it rains, we want to see as much as possible because we only have four days," said Olle Klefbom, a tourist from Sweden wearing rain jackets and holding umbrellas with his family, who waited for a cable car on Saturday afternoon. "We want to go to Alcatraz this afternoon. But if it rains too hard, we'll go shopping instead." Dozens of arriving flights into San Francisco International Airport were delayed by more than two hours, and dozens more short flights were cancelled, officials said. California is not the only place expecting severe weather. Conditions are especially ripe for tornadoes in the Southeast and Great Plains. Specifically, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, southern Illinois, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina and parts of Virginia.

L.A. officials seeded clouds during El Nino storm in hopes of more rain - Clouds over Los Angeles County were seeded with silver iodide to increase the amount of rainfall during Monday's storm, marking the first cloud seeding done by the Department of Public Works since 2002. Los Angeles County has used cloud seeding to boost water supplies since the 1950s, backing off in times of heavy rain or when wildfire devastation creates an outsized risk of flooding or debris flows. A 2009 cloud seeding contract for services was terminated after the Station Fire, which burned roughly 250 square miles of the Angeles National Forest. Then, last October, the state's severe drought led the county Board of Supervisors to approve a new one-year contract with Utah-based North American Weather Consultants for as much as $550,000 a year. This week's storm offered a good opportunity for "the first go-round for cloud seeding" this season, Department of Public Works spokesman Steve Frasher said.  North American Weather Consultants has set up land-based generators in 10 locations between Sylmar and Pacoima, Fraser said. Only some of those generators were used Sunday night, as weather conditions were not ideal in all areas. The generators shoot silver iodide into the clouds, creating ice particles. Water vapor freezes onto those particles, which fall as rain.

Drought-hit California county still relying on water tanks, despite rainfallReveal reported in early January about the water tank program in Tulare County, California. What began as an emergency response measure to the drought was becoming the norm for hundreds of families who no longer had running water.  At the crisis’ peak, Tulare County reported about 1,400 private well failures. To combat the problem, the county began installing 3,000-gallon tanks and delivering water to residents for free. Homeowners were the only ones who qualified for the program initially.  Socorro Ambriz’s well ran dry in July. She didn’t qualify for the tank program because she rented her home. So Ambriz and her family cobbled together a system to get water into her house. After our story ran, Ambriz paused her routine. Heavy rains brought water back to her well, at least for now. But more than 800 domestic wells still are dry, according to Tulare County officials. And where the water has returned, the supply remains unpredictable.  Ambriz knows that, and so do county officials, who have advised residents to continue using their tanks because the well water could contain unsafe levels of arsenic or nitrates. Tim Lutz of the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency said residents should test their water before using it and, until they know it’s safe, continue to use bottled water for drinking and cooking.   But no one knows how long the water will last. [more]

Vietnam hit by worst drought in 90 years - Vietnam is suffering its worst drought in nearly a century with salinization hitting farmers especially hard in the crucial southern Mekong delta, experts said Monday. “The water level of the Mekong River has gone down to its lowest level since 1926, leading to the worst drought and salinization there,” Nguyen Van Tinh, deputy head of the hydraulics department under the Ministry of Agriculture, told AFP. The low-lying and heavily cultivated Mekong region is home to more than 20 million people and is the country’s rice basket. Intensive cultivation and rising sea levels already make it one of the world’s most ecologically sensitive regions. Scientists blame the ongoing 2015-2016 El Nino weather phenomenon, one of the most powerful on record, for the current drought. Water shortages have also hampered agriculture in nearby Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. Le Anh Tuan, a professor of climate change at the University of Can Tho in the heart of the Mekong region, said as much as 40-50 percent of the 2.2 million hectares (5.4 million acres) of arable land in the delta had been hit by salinization. “We do not have any specific measures to mitigate the situation,” Tuan told AFP, adding that residents had been urged to save water for domestic rather than agricultural use.

Drought in eastern Mediterranean worst of past 900 years A new NASA study finds that the recent drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean Levant region, which comprises Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey, is likely the worst drought of the past nine centuries. Scientists reconstructed the Mediterranean’s drought history by studying tree rings as part of an effort to understand the region’s climate and what shifts water to or from the area. Thin rings indicate dry years while thick rings show years when water was plentiful. In addition to identifying the driest years, the science team discovered patterns in the geographic distribution of droughts that provides a "fingerprint" for identifying the underlying causes. Together, these data show the range of natural variation in Mediterranean drought occurrence, which will allow scientists to differentiate droughts made worse by human-induced global warming. The research is part of NASA's ongoing work to improve the computer models that simulate climate now and in the future. "The magnitude and significance of human climate change requires us to really understand the full range of natural climate variability," said Ben Cook, lead author and climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City. "If we look at recent events and we start to see anomalies that are outside this range of natural variability, then we can say with some confidence that it looks like this particular event or this series of events had some kind of human caused climate change contribution,"

Why This City of 21 Million People Is Sinking 3 Feet Every Year -- Mexico City is sinking. Home to 21 million people, who consume nearly 287 billion gallons of water each year, the city has sunk more than 32 feet in the last 60 years because 70 percent of the water people rely on is extracted from the aquifer below the city. Many of Mexico City’s buildings are seriously leaning because of the land subsidence.  “There’s no fixing it,” journalist Andrea Noel told producer Alan Sanchez in the video below from Fusion. “Once land is subsided, it’s subsided.”  The water table is sinking at a rate of 1 meter (3.2 feet) per year. As the city population grows and water demand increases, the problem will only get worse.  “It needs to be stopped because it’s too late to be remedied,” Noel said. “The city needs to find a way to figure out their water problem. They really need to look into alternatives like collecting rainwater, which makes so much sense in a city like this, which gets so much rainfall every year.” It’s not just Mexico City either. A recent NASA analysis found that 4 billion people—nearly two-thirds of the world population—are at risk as water tables drop all over the world.

China’s Expansion Spells Nicaragua’s Destruction - With 42 percent of people below the poverty line, Nicaragua has the weakest social indicators in Latin America. The country’s economic situation is mainly a result of the U.S. embargo following the 1980s Sandinista Revolution. Nicaragua also lacks diversification in its economy and infrastructure, and it has an unskilled workforce. In July 2013, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega made an agreement with Chinese businessman Wang Jing, president of the startup investment firm Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND), to create a transoceanic channel. Competing with the smaller Panama Canal, this Gran Canal initiative includes many sub-projects such as a port on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, an international airport, free trade areas, and an oil pipeline. It would also represent a firm push toward progress, economic growth, and social welfare.Even though the economic and social boost that Nicaraguans could see from with this transoceanic channel, many related issues appear to be underestimated if not concealed, despite warnings from local experts. The transoceanic channel will extend to 173 miles, and its area of influence will affect many protected areas such as natural reserves, wetlands, archipelagos, islands, and Lake Cocibolca, in particular. Due to its low depth, the lake will be drained to reach a minimal depth of 33 yards throughout the 65 miles of the canal route to allow safe passage for containers up to 547-yards-long. The drenching operation will result in over 1 billion tons of waste—the destination of which remains unknown.

Science is warning us that a food crisis is coming to Southern Africa. Will we stop it? -- In April, harvest season begins in Southern Africa. An ongoing drought means the season will yield a historically poor crop. Countries including Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe will have major shortfalls of grain. By one count, more than 20 million people in the region already have limited access to food—notwithstanding the drought. Without intervention, the next year will put those people and millions more at risk of malnutrition or even starvation. But knowing all this makes intervention more possible than ever. Famines are a powerful illustration of how suddenly nature can undercut a poor or poorly prepared society. We have paid dearly for our failure to respond to them efficiently. Economist Stephen Devereux has estimated 70 million people (pdf) were killed by famine in the 20th century alone. Today, analysts employing new sources of information, better technology, and networks of human monitors have made it possible to foresee agricultural disaster far enough ahead so that resources can be mobilized to prevent starvation.  The impending food crisis in Southern Africa has yet to capture the international media’s attention, but it is the subject of ongoing analysis by a network of agriculturists, climatologists and economists. Global monitoring centers, such as the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS), issue regular updates. If the crisis does devolve into a famine, the world will have known it was coming for at least six months.

Regional Climate Change and National Responsibilities by James Hansen & Makiko Sato - Global warming of about 1°F (0.6°C) over the past several decades now “loads the climate dice.” Fig. 1 updates the “bell curve” analysis of our 2012 paper[1] for Northern Hemisphere land, which showed that extreme hot summers now occur noticeably more often than they did 50 years ago.  Our new paper[2] shows that there are strong regional variations in this bell curve shift, and that the largest effects occur in nations least responsible for causing climate change. In the United States the bell curve shift is just over one standard deviation[b] in summer and less than half a standard deviation in winter (Fig. 2).  Measured in units of °F (or °C) the warming is similar in summer and winter in the U.S., but the practical implication of Fig. 2 is that the public in the U.S. should notice that summers are becoming hotter but is less likely to notice the change in winter.  Summers cooler than the average 1951-1980 summer still occur, but only ~19% of the time.  Extreme summer heat, defined as 3 standard deviations or more warmer than 1951-1980 average, which almost never occurred 50 years ago, now occur with frequency about 7%. Warming in Europe (see paper) is modestly larger than in the U.S. In China (Fig. 2) warming is now almost 1½ standard deviations in summer and one standard deviation in winter, a climate change that should be noticeable to people old enough to remember the climate of 50 years ago.  Bell curve shifts in India (see paper) are slightly larger than in China. In the Mediterranean and Middle East the bell curve shift in summer is almost 2½ standard deviations (Fig. 2). Every summer is now warmer than average 1951-1980 climate, and the period with “summer” climate is now considerably longer.  Given that summers were already very hot in this region, the change affects livability and productivity as noted below.  Bell curve shifts in the tropics, including central Africa (see paper) and Southeast Asia (Fig. 2), which also was already quite hot, are about two standard deviations and occur all year round.

It’s Official: This Winter Was America’s Warmest on Record  - This winter was the warmest on the record for the continental U.S., new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows, as average temperatures climbed nearly 5 F above normal. Every state in the lower 48 saw temperatures at least 1.7 F above average. New England lead the pack, with all six states experiencing the warmest winter ever. Alaska was a “freakish” 10.6 F above average. The last six months were the warmest such period on record for the contiguous U.S. Global weather data will be released later this month, but scientists are already expecting February to once again smash global heat records as the warmest month on record.  For a deeper dive: news: AP, The Hill, USA Today, Climate Central, Washington Post; commentary: Slate, Eric Holthaus column For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

March 2016's shocking global warming temperature record. -- Our planet’s preliminary February temperature data are in, and it’s now abundantly clear: Global warming is going into overdrive. There are dozens of global temperature datasets, and usually I (and my climate journalist colleagues) wait until the official ones are released about the middle of the following month to announce a record-warm month at the global level. But this month’s data is so extraordinary that there’s no need to wait: February obliterated the all-time global temperature record set just last month. Using unofficial data and adjusting for different base-line temperatures, it appears that February 2016 was likely somewhere between 1.15 and 1.4 degrees warmer than the long-term average, and about 0.2 degrees above last month—good enough for the most above-average month ever measured. (Since the globe had already warmed by about +0.45 degrees above pre-industrial levels during the 1981-2010 base-line meteorologists commonly use, that amount has been added to the data released today.) Update, March 3, 2016: Since this post was originally published, the heat wave has continued. As of Thursday morning, it appears that average temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere have breached the 2 degrees Celsius above “normal” mark for the first time in recorded history, and likely the first time since human civilization began thousands of years ago.* That mark has long been held (somewhat arbitrarily) as the point above which climate change may begin to become "dangerous" to humanity. It's now arrived—though very briefly—much more quickly than anticipated. This is a milestone moment for our species. Climate change deserves our greatest possible attention.

The mercury doesn’t lie: We’ve hit a troubling climate change milestone -- Bill McKibben - Thursday, while the nation debated the relative size of Republican genitalia, something truly awful happened. Across the northern hemisphere, the temperature, if only for a few hours, apparently crossed a line: it was more than two degrees Celsius above “normal” for the first time in recorded history and likely for the first time in the course of human civilization. That’s important because the governments of the world have set two degrees Celsius as the must-not-cross red line that, theoretically, we’re doing all we can to avoid. And it’s important because most of the hemisphere has not really had a winter. They’ve been trucking snow into Anchorage for the start of the Iditarod; Arctic sea ice is at record low levels for the date; in New England doctors are already talking about the start of “allergy season.” Advertisement This bizarre glimpse of the future is only temporary. It will be years, one hopes, before we’re past the two degrees mark on a regular basis. But the future is clearly coming much faster than science had expected. February, taken as a whole, crushed all the old monthly temperature records, which had been set in … January. January crushed all the old monthly temperature records, which had been set in … December. In part this reflects the ongoing El Nino phenomenon — these sporadic events always push up the planet’s temperature. But since that El Nino heat is layered on top of the ever-increasing global warming, the spikes keep getting higher. This time around the overturning waters of the Pacific are releasing huge quantities of heat stored there during the last couple of decades of global warming.

Why is 2016 smashing heat records? - Yet another global heat record has been beaten. It appears January 2016 - the most abnormally hot month in history, according to Nasa - will be comprehensively trounced once official figures come in for February.  Initial satellite measurements, compiled by Eric Holthaus at Slate, put February’s anomaly from the pre-industrial average between 1.15C and 1.4C.  The UN Paris climate agreement struck in December seeks to limit warming to 1.5C if possible. “Even the lower part of that range is extraordinary,” said Will Steffen, an emeritus professor of climate science at Australian National University and a councillor at Australia’s Climate Council. It appears that on Wednesday, the northern hemisphere even slipped above the milestone 2C average for the first time in recorded history. This is the arbitrary limit above which scientists believe global temperature rise will be “dangerous”. The Arctic in particular experienced terrific warmth throughout the winter. Temperatures at the north pole approached 0C in late December – 30C to 35C above average. Mark Serreze, the director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, described the conditions as “absurd”. “The heat has been unrelenting over the entire season,” he said. “I’ve been studying Arctic climate for 35 years and have never seen anything like this before”. All this weirdness follows the record-smashing year of 2015, which was 0.9C above the 20th century average. This beat the previous record warmth of 2014 by 0.16C.

El Niño, La Niña and Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide -- What effect does El Niño have on the rate at which the concentration of carbon dioxide changes in the Earth's atmosphere changes? And for that matter, what is the effect of El Niño's cooler counterpart, La Niña, have on airborne CO2 as well?  We're asking the question today because we've ruled out China's attempts to stimulate its economy in 2015 as a significant contributor to the increase in atmospheric CO2 levels that have been observed since July 2015. In China's place, we're considering the impact that widespread and intense wildfires in Indonesia as the most likely culprit that contributed to the increase measured at the remote and high altitude Mauna Loa Observatory in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Reports on Indonesia's wildfires have pointed to the effect of El Niño on weather patterns as an influence that explains its severity, where the warming of surface waters in the Pacific Ocean contributed to drier than normal conditions on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo, which in turn, promoted the rapid spread of wildfires on these islands once they had started. That observation agrees with what the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has reported on the topic back in 2004.

Hotter planet spells harder rains to come – study - Severe rainfall has increased throughout the world’s wettest and driest regions and is set to intensify this century, new research suggests. Since 1950, daily extremes have risen 1-2% a decade, a study published in journal Nature said on Monday. That trend is expected to last until at least 2100, prompting emergency planners to take precautions against flash flooding. Dry regions such as Saharan Africa, the Arabian Peninsula or Australia, whose parched soil poorly absorbs excess water, would be most vulnerable. Global warming increases the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere, leading to heavier downpours. The study led by Markus Donat at the University of New South Wales in Australia couldn’t say exactly where extreme rainfall would occur, but underlined the heightened risks. Tropical regions were most uncertain. Floods made up almost half of all weather-related disasters in the last two decades, according to the UN office for disaster risk reduction. They affected 2.3 billion people, 95% of whom were in Asia.

The Economist Takes a Strange Turn on Science -- In recent issues of The Economist, a strange habit has popped up: a reliance on a controversial climate skeptic for scientific climate consensus. Said scientist, Bjorn Lomborgh, known to many for pushing climate skepticism and presenting climate change mitigation and the fight against HIV/Aids as an “either-or scenario”, has somehow become the go-to source for climate change analysis in The Economist, an otherwise reasonable magazine. In a recent climate special – coming on the heels of the successful climate conference held in Paris this past DecemberThe Economist took a closer look at geoengineering as a potential option for avoiding climate catastrophe; the basic idea being that instead of preventing global greenhouse gases, could we instead reverse the effects? While there are many open questions about this approach, including from an ethical point-of-view, the biggest problem with geoengineering is that it assumes we can foresee or accurately model the consequences of any global intervention; something we are really not good at doing. None of this comes across when reading The Economist’s take on it, as one is instead told that, “…[a] report published in 2012 for the Copenhagen Consensus Centre estimated that marine-cloud brightening would prevent global warming even more effectively than a carbon tax.

Greenland’s melting is ‘feeding on itself,’ scientists say --  A new scientific study released Thursday has delivered yet another burst of bad news about Greenland — the vast northern ice sheet that contains 20 feet of potential sea level rise. The ice sheet is “darkening,” or losing its ability to reflect both visible and invisible radiation, as it melts more and more, the research finds. That means it’s absorbing more of the sun’s energy — which then drives further melting.“I call it melting cannibalism. You have melting feeding on itself,” says Marco Tedesco, the lead author of the study and a researcher with Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. The research was published in The Cryosphere by Tedesco and five other authors from U.S. and Belgian universities. Scientists have long feared that when it comes to the Greenland ice sheet’s melt, there are a number of so-called “positive feedbacks,” or self-amplifying processes, that could make it worse. For instance, one of the best known of these involves simple elevation, a crucial feature for an ice sheet that is well over a mile high into the atmosphere in places.   In the new study, however, researchers examined a different so-called feedback — this one involving a property called the ice sheet’s “albedo,” or simply its overall reflectivity. Bright white snow, falling atop the ice sheet, reflects light away, preventing it from being absorbed and thus blocking its heat energy from melting ice. However, there are many different hues and properties of ice and snow (and water), not all of which are equally reflective of either visible or non-visible radiation. (The “darkening” in question here refers both to changes that we can all see with our eyes, and also important changes that we can’t see).

Flood Damage Costs Will Rise Faster Than Sea Levels, Study Says - Communities facing rising sea levels are likely to see the cost of flood damage increase faster than water levels, concludes a new study. Three scientists in Germany made this sobering conclusion while developing a new analysis tool to help coastal communities worldwide understand and calculate the estimated economic costs of rising sea levels driven by climate change. So far, the investigation of flood-related damages has lagged behind studies on sea level rise, said Jürgen Kropp, one of the study authors and a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Potsdam, Germany. This new study, published Monday in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, comes on the heels of two related climate papers. One found that the current rate of sea level rise is the fastest on record for at least the last 28 centuries. That study, by researchers from seven institutions including Potsdam, was published last week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The other, by scientists at Climate Central, concluded that the coastal flooding of American towns and cities will continue to intensify in the future due to manmade global warming. "For decision makers, it's important to know what the expected costs [of coastal flooding] will be for the future"—not just how much sea levels will increase, said Kropp. This new analysis underscores that urgency, showing "damages rise much faster than sea levels," he said. U.S. communities already feeling the impact of, and responding to, sea level rise have probably already figured this out or wouldn't find the results surprising, flood expert Chad Berginnis told InsideClimate News. But for rest of the country, "it could be a very surprising conclusion,"

The US Is Dumping an Insane Amount of Methane Into the Air - It's no secret that the United States has a methane problem. Methane accounts for about one half of one percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions—it's released mostly from natural gas production, landfills, and agriculture (cow farts and burps). But as a greenhouse gas, it's incredibly potent in the short term, capable of trapping up to 90 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-30 time period. And although the Obama administration has proposed some potential solutions, methane emissions are currently unregulated by the federal government. A couple new analyses came out this week painting a picture of just how severe methane emissions really are.  The first deals with the Aliso Canyon natural gas facility near Los Angeles, which was finally plugged on Feb. 12 after spewing gas from a major leak for four months. In a new study published Thursday in the journal Science, scientists reported that the leak single-handedly doubled Los Angeles' methane footprint. The study, one of the first peer-reviewed measurements of the leak and based on a series of scientific flights over the site, found 60 metric tons of methane leaking every hour.  Aliso Canyon is an extreme case, but methane leaks are frighteningly common, and they take a significant toll for the environment. This week the Environmental Protection Agency released an updated draft of its Greenhouse Gas Inventory, the official accounting of America's carbon footprint. In 2014, total greenhouse gas emissions in the US were 6.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (a metric used to make apples-to-apples comparisons between different gases).  The new figures for methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are about 27 times higher than previous estimates. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, that difference represents a 20-year climate impact equal to 200 coal-fired power plants. It also represents about $1.4 billion worth of lost natural gas.

Obama, Trudeau target methane emissions in new agreement (AP) — President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed on Thursday to curbing methane emissions by reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sectors by at least 40 percent over the next decade from 2012 levels. It’s a goal the Obama administration had cited previously, and it rolled out regulations in August that were focused on emissions from new and modified oil and natural gas wells. But U.S. officials said better data indicate more regulation is needed. And Canada has agreed with that assessment. “To get all the way to that goal, we’re going to have to tackle emissions from existing sources,” said Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The agreement also commits Canada to regulating methane emissions from new and existing oil and gas production. Environment and Climate Change Canada intends to publish its initial proposals by early next year. The oil and gas industry has objected to the Obama administration’s efforts targeting new and modified wells. The American Petroleum Institute said additional regulation could discourage the shale energy revolution that had lowered costs for consumers while also reducing emissions.

NOAA: Carbon Dioxide Levels ‘Exploded’ in 2015, Highest Seen Since End of Ice Age - The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose 3.05 parts per million in 2015, the largest year-to-year increase ever recorded, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report finds. It was the fourth year in a row that CO2 concentrations grew by more than 2 parts per million. “Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years,” a lead scientist at NOAA said. Some of the spike in CO2 levels can be attributed to last year’s monster El Niño event and the rest the scientists chalk up high levels of fossil fuel emissions. CO2 levels in the air, which contribute to climate change and extreme weather events, have increased more than 40 percent since the beginning of the industrial revolution.  For a deeper dive: Washington Post, Climate Home, Mashable, Independent, BBC News, Climate Central

CO2 levels make largest recorded annual leap, NOAA data shows - Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide last year rose by the biggest margin since records began, according to a US federal science agency. Fossil fuel burning and a strong El Niño weather pattern pushed CO2 levels 3.05 parts per million (ppm) on a year earlier to 402.6 ppm, as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) said on Wednesday. “Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years,” said Pieter Tans, lead scientist at Noaa’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network. “It’s explosive compared to natural processes.” The big jump in CO2 broke a record held since 1998, also a powerful El Niño year.Drought and erratic rainfall caused less carbon to be stored by parched forests and drylands, on top of the effect of fossil fuel emissions, Noaa said. CO2 levels in the air have increased over 40% since 1880, as industry ramped up emissions. The build-up of those gases traps heat, which warm the planet and stoke extreme weather. Last year was the hottest year on record, according to multiple weather agencies. The last time the Earth experienced such a sustained CO2 rise was between 11,000 and 17,000 years ago, in which period CO2 jumped by 80ppm. Today’s rate is 200 times faster, said Tans.

Dangerous global warming will happen sooner than thought – study - The world is on track to reach dangerous levels of global warming much sooner than expected, according to new Australian research that highlights the alarming implications of rising energy demand.University of Queensland and Griffith University researchers have developed a “global energy tracker” which predicts average world temperatures could climb 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by 2020. That forecast, based on new modelling using long-term average projections on economic growth, population growth and energy use per person, points to a 2C rise by 2030. The UN conference on climate change in Paris last year agreed to a 1.5C rise as the preferred limit to protect vulnerable island states, and a 2C rise as the absolute limit. The new modelling is the brainchild of Ben Hankamer from UQ’s institute for molecular bioscience and Liam Wagner from Griffith University’s department of accounting, finance and economics, whose work was published in the journal Plos One on Thursday. It is the first model to include energy use per person – which has more than doubled since 1950 – alongside economic and population growth as a way of predicting carbon emissions and corresponding temperature increases. The researchers said the earlier than expected advance of global warming revealed by their modelling added a newfound urgency to the switch from fossil fuels to renewables.

India vs US @ WTO on Solar Panels, Work Visas - You can have a national solar program...but the WTO says you should not discriminate against foreign solar panels.  A few years ago, the US complained that India was discriminating against foreign producers of solar panels by requiring that government-subsidized purchases meet a local content requirement under a national procurement program. [See case DS 456.] Late last year, the WTO dispute settlement mechanism ruled against India. Recently, an appeal by India on the matter was also rejected: A three-member dispute settlement panel of the WTO, which was set up in 2013 after the US complained that India unduly favours local solar manufacturers, had ruled against India in August and the February 24 ruling is a reiteration by the panel after India went in appeal. India's Solar Mission offers a subsidy of up to Rs 1 crore per MW to solar developers sourcing components from local manufacturers. It also stipulates that 10% of the solar capacity target of 100,000 MW by 2022 should be built with domestically manufactured solar modules, which has led to a small part of the solar auctions being reserved for developers employing only domestic content.  India had suggested a compromise by which the domestic content requirement would not be imposed on private solar developers or made part of the auctions and would be restricted to public services such as the railways and defence. But even this failed to cut much ice with the US or the WTO.  Unhappy about this state of affairs, India has hit back at the US timing-wise with a complaint that the US was failing to meet its commitments concerning the temporary movement of natural persons to the US. That is, Indian services firms needing engineers and others to complete work Stateside have found it increasingly difficult to do so given (a) higher visa expenses and (b) fewer available visas.

21 Kids Take on the Feds and Big Oil in Historic Climate Lawsuit  [Editor’s note: Twenty-one youth plaintiffs, as well as climate scientist Dr. James Hansen as guardian for future generations, is suing the federal government to cease conduct that promotes fossil fuel extraction and consumption, and instead develop and implement an actual science-based climate recovery plan. The complaint argues the youth have a fundamental constitutional right to be free from the government’s destruction of their Earth’s atmosphere. Yesterday’s court appearance was scheduled for the judge to hear oral arguments from the U.S. government and the fossil fuel industry on their motions to dismiss the landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit.] At Wednesday morning’s historic hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin questioned Department of Justice attorney Sean C. Duffy on whether the federal government was allowing tradeoffs between present and future generations. To illustrate his question, the Judge used an example of a discount rate, and pondered whether the government’s actions were effectively trading future harm for present day benefits.  “Are you robbing Peter to pay Paul?” the judge asked a flustered Duffy. The hearing began with Duffy denying the federal government’s duty under the public trust doctrine to protect essential natural resources for the benefit of all present and future generations. The judge asked, “Both (water & air) are vital to life, right?” “Yes, your honor,” replied Duffy. The Judge also asked if the government could sell the Pacific Ocean to Exxon. Remarkably, Duffy had a constitutional argument handy to support even that proposition.

35 Students Occupy DEQ Lobby Demanding Investigation of Illegal Coal Ash Dumping [Update: 17 students have been arrested. For the latest update via Twitter, click here.]  Thiry-five students from the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition are refusing to leave the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) lobby until the director, David Paylor, complies with their demands regarding Dominion Resources’ dumping of coal ash wastewater into the James River and Quantico Creek. This action is taking place in light of the recent news that Dominion illegally dumped 33.7 million gallons of untreated wastewater into Quantico Creek last summer. The demands are as follows:
  • 1. The DEQ repeals the permits issued to Dominion to begin dumping coal ash wastewater from their Bremo and Possum Point power plants.
  • 2. The current permits are re-issued only after an investigation into the 2015 dumping of untreated wastewater into Quantico Creek.
  • 3. The permits for coal ash wastewater release are rewritten to comply with the best available technology standards, in accordance with the Clean Water Act and that a mechanism for independent third party monitoring is implemented.
Students from the University of Virginia, University of Mary Washington, College of William & Mary, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University entered the headquarters at 629 E Main St, Richmond, Virginia, at 10 a.m. and presented their intentions and demands, requesting to speak with Paylor immediately. A rally is also taking place outside of the building.

Dominion, James River Association settle on coal ash water (AP) — More stringent water treatment and fish testing will be required along the James River under a settlement reached by Dominion Virginia Power and the James River Association on the release of coal ash wastewater. The announcement Wednesday ends the association’s legal challenge of a state permit allowing the so-called dewatering of coal ash impoundments at Bremo Power Station in Fluvanna County. Water is drained from the ponds before the power company caps the potentially toxic remnants of coal-fired power generation. But a separate challenge will move forward of the dewatering plan for Dominion’s Possum Point power plant in northern Virginia. The Potomac Riverkeeper Network said the state permit for discharges into Quantico Creek and the Potomac River is inadequate to protect the waterways. Late Tuesday, Prince William County announced it had reached settlement with Dominion and would not challenge the Possum Point permit. The settlement governing the Bremo discharges followed weeks of debate, protests and arrests over the discharge of millions of gallons of coal ash wastewater into state waterways. Much of the anger has been directed at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which issued the permits. The DEQ said in a statement it was pleased Dominion will voluntarily “go beyond federal and state regulatory requirements to further enhance water quality protections at its Bremo and Possum Point power stations.” It defended the permits, saying they protect water quality and human and aquatic health.

Settlement Gives Utility The Go-Ahead To Dump Coal Ash Wastewater Into Virginia Rivers -- A utility company that will legally dispose of coal ash water in two Virginia waterways agreed Wednesday to treat waste going into the James River to a more stringent standard than the state requires, though legal appeals to controversial plan remain.  The settlement agreement between Dominion Virginia Power and the James River Association comes a day after the company reached a similar deal with Prince William County regarding Quantico Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River located within its borders. Quantico Creek and James River will start receiving discharges as early as April.  Two months ago, the Virginia Water Control Board issued permits allowing Dominion to drain coal ash water into Quantico Creek and the James River in southeastern Virginia, as Dominion was directed by the EPA to close its coal ash ponds at two power plants. That entails treating and draining the less-polluted top water from coal ash ponds at the Possum Point power plant by Quantico Creek, and the Bremo Bluff power plant by the James River.  But Dominion’s plan was questioned from the get-go. Just on Monday, 17 college students protesting the plan were arrested in Richmond. Critics have long said the permits were lax and didn’t take advantage of best available technology to keep the river safe enough from pollutants. For their part, Dominion and the DEQ said the permits were stringent and protective.  Still, environmentalists, Prince William County, and Maryland filed separate appeals to the permits last month. Yet now only two parties, Maryland and the Potomac Riverkeeper, have pending appeals. Both are related to Quantico Creek.

Dominion, James River Association settle on coal ash water (AP) — More stringent water treatment and fish testing will be required along the James River under a settlement reached by Dominion Virginia Power and the James River Association on the release of coal ash wastewater. The announcement Wednesday ends the association’s legal challenge of a state permit allowing the so-called dewatering of coal ash impoundments at Bremo Power Station in Fluvanna County. Water is drained from the ponds before the power company caps the potentially toxic remnants of coal-fired power generation. But a separate challenge will move forward of the dewatering plan for Dominion’s Possum Point power plant in northern Virginia. The Potomac Riverkeeper Network said the state permit for discharges into Quantico Creek and the Potomac River is inadequate to protect the waterways. Late Tuesday, Prince William County announced it had reached settlement with Dominion and would not challenge the Possum Point permit. The settlement governing the Bremo discharges followed weeks of debate, protests and arrests over the discharge of millions of gallons of coal ash wastewater into state waterways. Much of the anger has been directed at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which issued the permits. The DEQ said in a statement it was pleased Dominion will voluntarily “go beyond federal and state regulatory requirements to further enhance water quality protections at its Bremo and Possum Point power stations.” It defended the permits, saying they protect water quality and human and aquatic health.

State orders end to hauling radioactive waste - Kentucky officials have begun to take enforcement actions in their investigation of radioactive oil and gas drilling wastes they say was brought illegally into Kentucky and dumped at two landfills.  State health officials ordered the company they say hauled the fracking waste into Kentucky to stop or face $100,000 per incident fines and potential criminal charges.  And two landfills in Kentucky were sent violation notices Tuesday from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. The violation notices claim the landfill operators in Greenup and Estill counties failed to accurately characterize the waste for what it was, allowing what's considered an illegal release of a hazardous material into the environment. They were also cited for poor record keeping and other violations. The Energy Cabinet and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services have been investigating a potential pipeline of sorts of radioactive waste from out of state fracking operations into Kentucky. Health Cabinet assistant counsel Jennifer Wolsing wrote a March 4 letter made public Tuesday that claims BES LLC, doing business as Advanced TENORM Services, imported, collected, transported and/or deposited radioactive oil and gas drilling waste in several Kentucky counties since at least June 2015. Wolsing said the state would go to court to stop the  company if it did not comply. As of Tuesday, health cabinet officials had not heard from the company, said Beth Fischer, cabinet spokeswoman.

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster 5 Years On: Water, Water Everywhere (Part I) - Forbes: Now, on the fifth anniversary of what is known here as the Great East Japan Earthquake, how much progress has TEPCO and the government made in dealing with what was fundamentally a man-made disaster? The answer is they continue to face the same four huge challenges they grappled with in 2011: dealing with contaminated water that has grown into a million-ton headache; locating and somehow retrieving the molten fuel debris; removing spent fuel rods from the damaged reactor storage pools; and disposing of millions of cubic meters of radioactive waste. Most evident of these challenges is the contaminated water. Cooling water must be continuously circulated through the damaged reactors Units 1, 2 and 3, where nuclear fuel has melted through at least the inner containment vessels. Consequently, the cooling water injected into the reactor becomes contaminated and finds its way down into the turbine basements adjacent to each reactor; there, it mixes with incoming ground water to greatly compound the problem. Some of the pooled water is partly decontaminated, cooled and recirculated through the reactors again, the rest is treated and pumped out and stored in tanks to prevent it flowing into the Pacific Ocean. Naohiro Masuda, TEPCO’s Chief Decommissioning Office, told the foreign press in Japan March 2nd that there are over 1,000 such storage tanks located inside and outside the plant, each holding as much as 1,000 metric tons of treated water. And with groundwater streaming in at 150 metric tons a day, a new tank is being added weekly. The stored water, while filtered and largely decontaminated, still contains tritium—radioactive hydrogen, which can cause cancer if ingested.

Crippled Fukushima Reactors Are Still a Danger, 5 Years after the Accident - Scientific American: Japan in February started up a third reactor among those that had been shut down. But even as the government seeks to leave the disaster behind, Fukushima remains a wound that will not heal—for former residents, the local landscape and for the Japanese psyche. Two-thirds of the populace dreads another accident enough to oppose the restarts. More than 1,100 square kilometers of villages, mountains and forests remain uninhabitable, and future generations will still be cleaning up the plant site, according to Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Echoing citizens' groups, some scientists are complaining that important questions about the disaster's impact are not being addressed. Authorities, they suspect, are subtly discouraging certain kinds of scientific research, possibly because they fear findings that could further alarm the public. Exacerbating widespread suspicions of a cover-up, this February Tepco admitted it had waited for two months after the accident before announcing the meltdowns—which possibly delayed evacuations and endangered lives. The uranium fuel in three of the six reactors eventually melted, and explosions blew holes in the roofs of three reactor buildings, releasing radioactive iodine, cesium and other fission products over land and sea. Emergency managers on site, desperately trying to cool the molten cores, poured water into the damaged reactor buildings using fire-hoses. As a result, highly contaminated water flowed directly into the Pacific Ocean. Since then, Tepco has substantially cleaned up the site. It has capped shredded roofs, removed spent fuel from a damaged reactor and constructed ice walls to stanch the flow of groundwater that was washing contaminants from the site into the ocean. Because the molten fuel still generates heat by radioactive decay, however, Tepco has to keep pumping water through the reactor buildings and collecting as much as possible—some 400 cubic meters a day, stored in on-site tanks. Around 8,000 workers are now assisting in the cleanup.

Fukushima Five Years Later: "The Fuel Rods Melted Through Containment And Nobody Knows Where They Are Now" -- Today, Japan marks the fifth anniversary of the tragic and catastrophic meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant. On March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami hit the northeast coast of Japan, killing 20,000 people. Another 160,000 then fled the radiation in Fukushima. It was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, and according to some it would be far worse, if the Japanese government did not cover up the true severity of the devastation. At least 100,000 people from the region have not yet returned to their homes. A full cleanup of the site is expected to take at least 40 years. Representative of the families of the victims spoke during Friday’s memorial ceremony in Tokyo. This is what Kuniyuki Sakuma, a former resident of Fukushima Province said: For those who remain, we are seized with anxieties and uncertainties that are beyond words. We spend life away from our homes. Families are divided and scattered. As our experiences continue into another year, we wonder: 'When will we be able to return to our homes? Will a day come when our families are united again?' There are many problems in areas affected by the disaster, such as high radiation levels in parts of Fukushima Prefecture that need to be overcome. Even so, as a representative of the families that survived the disaster, I make a vow once more to the souls and spirits of the victims of the great disaster; I vow that we will make the utmost efforts to continue to promote the recovery and reconstruction of our hometowns. Sadly, the 2011 disaster will be repeated. After the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, Japan was flooded with massive anti-nuclear protests which led to a four-year nationwide moratorium on nuclear plants. The moratorium was lifted, despite sweeping opposition, last August and nuclear plants are being restarted. Meanwhile, while we await more tragedy out of the demographically-doomed nation, this is what Fukushima's ground zero looks like five years later. As Reuters sums it up best,  "no place for man, or robot."

5 Years After Fukushima, ‘No End in Sight’ to Ecological Fallout - The environmental impacts of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster are already becoming apparent, according to a new analysis from Greenpeace Japan, and for humans and other living things in the region, there is “no end in sight” to the ecological fallout. The report warns that these impacts—which include mutations in trees, DNA-damaged worms, and radiation-contaminated mountain watersheds—will last “decades to centuries.” The conclusion is culled from a large body of independent scientific research on impacted areas in the Fukushima region, as well as investigations by Greenpeace radiation specialists over the past five years. According to Radiation Reloaded: Ecological Impacts of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident 5 Years Later, studies have shown:
  • High radiation concentrations in new leaves, and at least in the case of cedar, in pollen;
  • apparent increases in growth mutations of fir trees with rising radiation levels;
  • heritable mutations in pale blue grass butterfly populations and DNA-damaged worms in highly contaminated areas, as well as apparent reduced fertility in barn swallows;
  • decreases in the abundance of 57 bird species with higher radiation levels over a four year study; and
  • high levels of caesium contamination in commercially important freshwater fish; and radiological contamination of one of the most important ecosystems—coastal estuaries.
The report comes amid a push by the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe to resettle contaminated areas and also restart nuclear reactors in Japan that were shut down in the aftermath of the crisis.

Radioactive Waste Still Leaking Five Years After Fukushima Nuclear Disaster -- naked capitalism Yves here. While the Fukushima nuclear disaster seems like it took place a long time ago, but the site is still leaking radioactive water and the cleanup and remediation will take decades, as this Real News Network story explains. (video and transcript)

Fukushima ‘decontamination troops’ often exploited, shunned (AP) — The ashes of half a dozen unidentified laborers ended up at a Buddhist temple in this town just north of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. Some of the dead men had no papers, others left no emergency contacts. Their names could not be confirmed and no family members had been tracked down to claim their remains. They were simply labeled “decontamination troops” — unknown soldiers in Japan’s massive cleanup campaign to make Fukushima livable again five years after radiation poisoned the fertile countryside. The men were among the 26,000 workers — many in their 50s and 60s from the margins of society with no special skills or close family ties — tasked with removing the contaminated topsoil and stuffing it into tens of thousands of black bags lining the fields and roads. They wipe off roofs, clean out gutters and chop down trees in a seemingly endless routine. Coming from across Japan to do a dirty, risky and undesirable job, the workers make up the very bottom of the nation’s murky, caste-like subcontractor system long criticized for labor violations. Vulnerable to exploitation and shunned by local residents, they typically work on three-to-six-month contracts with little or no benefits, living in makeshift company barracks. And the government is not even making sure that their radiation levels are individually tested.

Court orders Japan reactor to shut down, keeps 2nd offline (AP) — A court issued an unprecedented order Wednesday for a nuclear reactor near Kyoto to stop operating and ordered a second one to stay offline. The Otsu District Court, which issued the injunction, said the emergency response plans and equipment designs at the two reactors have not been sufficiently upgraded after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The order requires Kansai Electric Power Co. to shut down the No. 3 reactor and keep the No. 4 unit offline at the Takahama plant in Fukui prefecture in western Japan, home to about a dozen reactors. The two reactors restarted this year after a high court in December reversed an earlier injunction by another court. The No. 3 reactor, which uses a riskier plutonium-based MOX fuel, resumed operation in late January, while the No. 4 reactor had to be shut down late last month after operating for just three days because of a series of technical problems. Kansai Electric said it would abide by the decision and start the shutdown procedures for the No. 3 reactor Thursday morning. The utility, meanwhile, said that the decision was “disappointing” and that it planned to appeal.

Locals eating radioactive food 30 years after Chernobyl: Greenpeace tests | Reuters: Economic crises convulsing Russia, Ukraine and Belarus mean testing in areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster has been cut or restricted, Greenpeace said, and people continue to eat and drink foods with dangerously high radiation levels. According to scientific tests conducted on behalf of the environmental campaigning group, overall contamination from key isotopes such as caesium-137 and strontium-90 has fallen somewhat, but lingers, especially in places such as forests. People in affected areas are still coming into daily contact with dangerously high levels of radiation from the April, 1986 explosion at the nuclear plant that sent a plume of radioactive fallout across large swathes of Europe. "It is in what they eat and what they drink. It is in the wood they use for construction and burn to keep warm," the Greenpeace report, entitled "Nuclear Scars: The Lasting legacies of Chernobyl and Fukushima" says. The research report seen by Reuters ahead of publication on Wednesday said Ukraine "no longer has sufficient funds to finance the programmes needed to properly protect the public... this means the radiation exposure of people still living in the contaminated areas is likely increasing." Ukraine is suffering economic hardship, worsened by a pro-Russian insurgency in its eastern territories, while Russia and Belarus are also experiencing financial pressures. The report found that in some cases, such as in grain, radiation levels in the contaminated areas - where an estimated 5 million people live - had actually increased.

7 Top NRC Experts Break Ranks to Warn of Critical Danger at Aging Nuke Plants -- Seven top Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) experts have taken the brave rare step of publicly filing an independent finding warning that nearly every U.S. atomic reactor has a generic safety flaw that could spark a disaster.  The warning mocks the latest industry push to keep America’s remaining 99 nukes from being shut by popular demand, by their essential unprofitability, or, more seriously, by the kind of engineering collapse against which the NRC experts are now warning.  According to Reuters, the NRC engineers worry the flaw leaves U.S. reactors “vulnerable to so-called open-phase events in which an unbalanced voltage, such as an electrical short, could cause motors to burn out and reduce the ability of a reactor’s emergency cooling system to function. If the motors are burned out, backup electricity systems would be of little help.” A small but well-funded band of reactor proponents has been pushing nukes as a solution to climate change. That idea was buried at recent global climate talks in Paris, where a strong corporate pro-nuke push went nowhere.  So some key industry supporters have shifted their efforts to keeping the old reactors open, which is where it gets really dangerous.  Each of the 99 remaining U.S. reactors is in its own particular state of advanced decay. All are based on technology dating to the 1950s, and all but one are at least 30 years old.  Ohio’s Davis-Besse has a shield wall that is literally crumbling.

Leaking Beachfront Nuclear Reactor Near Miami Threatening Florida Everglades - According to a study released by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Monday, the waters of Biscayne Bay measured 215 times the level of radioactive tritium as is found in normal ocean water. Tritium is a radioactive isotope traceable to nuclear plant cooling tower operations. In this case,the leak appears to be emanating from the aging canals in the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station located nearby. “This is one of several things we were very worried about,” said South Miami Mayor and biological sciences professor, Philip Stoddard, as the Miami New Times reported. “You would have to work hard to find a worse place to put a nuclear plant, right between two national parks and subject to hurricanes and storm surge.” Biscayne Bay harbors one of the largest coral reefs on the planet and is situated near the Everglades. Hot, salty water from the canals appears to be flowing back into both national parks, which has caused concern among environmentalists and others from the time Turkey Point planned to expand its reactors in 2013. “They argued the canals were a closed system, but that’s not how water works in South Florida,” Stoddard remarked. “How much damage is that cooling canal system causing the bay is a question to be answered,” Everglades Law Center Attorney Julie Dick told the Miami Herald prior to reviewing the report. “There are a lot more unknowns than knowns and it just shows how much more attention we need to be paying to that cooling canal system.”

FPL nuclear plant canals leaking into Biscayne Bay, study confirms | Miami Herald: A radioactive isotope linked to water from power plant cooling canals has been found in high levels in Biscayne Bay, confirming suspicions that Turkey Point’s aging canals are leaking into the nearby national park.  According to a study released Monday by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, water sampling in December and January found tritium levels up to 215 times higher than normal in ocean water. The report doesn’t address risks to the public or marine life but tritium is typically monitored as a “tracer” of nuclear power plant leaks or spills. The study comes two weeks after a Tallahassee judge ordered the utility and the state to clean up the nuclear plant’s cooling canals after concluding that they had caused a massive underground saltwater plume to migrate west, threatening a wellfield that supplies drinking water to the Florida Keys. The judge also found the state failed to address the pollution by crafting a faulty management plan. This latest test, critics say, raise new questions about what they’ve long suspected: That canals that began running too hot and salty the summer after FPL overhauled two reactors to produce more power could also be polluting the bay.

FPL nuclear plant canals likely violating water quality laws - Florida Power & Light’s troubled cooling canals, blamed for contaminating groundwater and now found to be leaking into Biscayne Bay, are likely violating local water laws and federal operating permits, critics said on Tuesday. Following the release of a report that found a radioactive “tracer” at levels up to 215 times more than normal in Biscayne Bay, Miami-Dade County commissioners called for quicker action and closer scrutiny of the nuclear power plant’s canals. The county’s chief environmental regulator said he planned to issue another violation — the county cited the utility in October for polluting groundwater — to force FPL to take more steps to fix the chronic problems.Critics, including state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, environmentalists and neighboring rock miners, also demanded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency intervene. "Evidence of radio active material at high density in Biscayne Bay? How much more do we need to see." “This is the last straw,” Rodriguez said. “Evidence of radioactive material at high density in Biscayne Bay? How much more do we need to see?” Rodriguez and others said the state has repeatedly failed to address worsening conditions. In February, a Tallahassee judge ordered the state to redo an administrative order managing the canals, saying it lacked the most “fundamental element of an enforcement action: charges.”

World's highest court will hear case from tiny island country in the Pacific that's taking on 3 nuclear nations - A small chain of Pacific islands will face off against Britain, India and Pakistan in court next week to try and get an international ruling ordering them to start work on dismantling their nuclear arsenals. While nobody expects the Marshall Islands to force the three powers to disarm at Monday's hearing, the archipelago's dogged campaign at the International Court of Justice highlights the growing scope for political minnows to get a hearing through global tribunals. All three are expected to argue that the Marshall Islands' claims are beyond the Hague court's jurisdiction and should be thrown out. But many activists and academics believe getting them into court is a victory in itself. The island republic, a US protectorate until 1986 and home to just 50,000 people, was the site of 67 nuclear tests by 1958, the health impacts of which linger to this day. "The success will be in putting the issue back on the agenda ... This is as much as the Marshall Islands can hope for," said Dapo Akande, professor of international law at Oxford University. "When the Marshall Islands goes to the ICJ, it's equal with Britain and with India," Akande added. "Big countries get dragged into disputes to which they otherwise would not have needed to pay attention."

Interactive Map Details What You Need to Know About the World’s Nuclear Power Plants - From the latest crisis over plans for Hinkley Point in the UK, to today’s fifth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, nuclear power plants are currently much in the news. To help provide a global overview of the nuclear power sector both today and throughout its history, Carbon Brief has produced this interactive map. It shows the location, operating status and generating capacity of all 667 reactors that have been built or are under construction, around the world, ever since Russia’s tiny Obninsk plant became the first to supply power to the grid in 1954.

The Nuclear Industry Prices Itself Out Of Market For New Power Plants -  In the modern era, nuclear power plants have almost always become more and more expensive over time. They have a “negative learning curve” — along with massive delays and cost overruns in market economies. This is confirmed both by recent studies and by the ongoing cost escalations of nuclear plants around the world, as I’ll detail in this post.The cost escalation curse of nuclear power  “Ever since the completion of the first wave of nuclear reactors in 1970, and continuing with the ongoing construction of new reactors in Europe, nuclear power seems to be doomed with the curse of cost escalation,” read one 2015 journal article, “Revisiting the Cost Escalation Curse of Nuclear Power.” In the United States, the cost of Georgia Power’s newest twin Vogtle reactors may top initial estimates of $14 billion and reach $21 billion, according to recent Georgia Public Service Commission testimony. Of course, the first two Vogtle Units begun in 1971 took 18 years to build (a decade over schedule) at a final price of $9 billion — ten times the original price tag.  Even the French can’t build an affordable, on-schedule next generation nuclear plant in their own nuclear-friendly country. Their newest Normandy plant, which originally was projected to cost €3bn ($3.3 billion) and start producing power in 2012 “will not start until 2018 at a cost of €10.5bn [$11.3 billion],” the Financial Times reported last year. The high and rising price of new nuclear power plants does not mean new nukes will play no role in the fight to avoid catastrophic warming, as I discussed in January. It does means that, barring a huge unprecedented and ahistorical price drop in next-generation nuclear plants, the role nuclear power plays will be a limited one — a very limited one in market economies especially if the industry can’t reverse decades of cost escalation. Certainly an R&D breakthrough is worth pursuing, but adding even more policies to specifically accelerate deployment of new nukes makes little sense at this point.

Illinois AG mulling legal case over delayed coal mine rules (AP) — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office is considering legal action against the state’s natural resources agency for what prosecutors call a failure to follow the terms of a court-brokered plan to toughen oversight of coal mines. The tougher regulations were part of broader reforms touted with much fanfare two years by the administration of former Gov. Pat Quinn. They followed criticisms by environmentalists who alleged the state Department of Natural Resources was too cozy with mining companies and other businesses it regulates. The rules included a requirement that regulators provide earlier citizen notification of new mine applications and that mine permit applicants be available to answer questions at public hearings. But two years later, the new rules have not been enacted, and the resources agency now wants to package the new rules with other pending changes that some environmental groups say actually weaken public participation. “It is frustrating that the new rules are not yet in place,” said Ann Spillane, Madigan’s chief of staff. “It is past time for the department to stop delaying the implementation of new rules and to fully comply with the court order by allowing meaningful public participation.” The threat of renewed legal action comes as the coal industry is battling economic and political challenges that threaten many jobs in central and southern Illinois. The DNR is now overseen by the administration of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a former venture capitalist who defeated Quinn, a Democrat, in 2014 after the new regulations had been announced.

Oregon To Be First U.S. State To Ban Coal-Fired Power -- Citizens of Oregon will no longer derive their energy from coal, putting the environmentally-conscious state at the front of the line of U.S. jurisdictions that are turning their backs on the widely-derided fossil fuel. The Clean Energy and Coal Transition Act commits to eliminating the use of coal-fired power by 2035 and to double the amount of renewable energy by 2040. It will also require its two largest utilities to increase their share of clean energy such as solar and wind to 50 percent by 2040, the Guardian reported. Critics say the bill, which has been passed but still has to be signed into law by Governor Kate Brown, will drive up power costs.Coal provides about a third of Oregon's electricity, but most of it is imported from Utah, Montana and Wyoming. The state only has one operating coal-fired power plant, the 36-year-old Boardman facility supplying about 550 megawatts, but it is due to shut down by 2020. State Republicans criticized the bill as leading to higher electricity costs for households but Pacific Power, a large Oregon utility, answered that the move to renewables would only raise costs by less than 1 percent by 2030, the newspaper said. The other major utility in the state, Portland General Electric, also backed the deal. Noah Long of the US Natural Resources Defense Council said the law could limit emissions in other states if it reduces their coal use.

Natural gas-fired US power generation to surpass coal in 2016: EIA - The US Energy Information Administration expects lower natural gas prices will result in natural gas fueling 33.4% of US electricity generation in 2016 compared with 32% for coal, according to the agency's monthly Short Term Energy Outlook released Tuesday. It marks the first time the agency has projected natural gas generation to surpass coal on an annual basis. In the report's February edition, the agency forecast gas would fuel 32.3% of US generation in 2016 compared with 33.3% for coal. As a result of decreasing demand, US coal production is projected to total just 784 million st in 2016, which would be a 12.4% decline from 2015 production, according to the agency. The 2016 estimate, were it to hold, would be the lowest annual production total since 1983. Furthermore, the drop in production in 2016 would represent a larger year-over-year decline than the 10.2% decline between 2015 and 2014.

Obama's Not Really Waging a War on Coal — But China Is -- Roughly 1.3 million Chinese workers will climb out of mines in the coming years and file out of coal-fired power plants for the last time. Some 500,000 colleagues, laid off from the steel sector, will join them. Together this mass will face the uncertainty of China's shifting economy and effort to turn towards cleaner energy. But those forced out of work by their government's war on coal can also expect aid in transitioning to new jobs. Yin Weimin, the country's minister for human resources and social security, said on Monday that 100 billion Chinese Yuan ($15.27 billion) would be set aside to help dislocated workers. While this sounds like a lot of money, Elizabeth Economy, an expert on China with the Council on Foreign Relation, said that the challenge facing the world's largest producer of coal is similar to that facing the United States, the world's second. "In this regard, China is not very different from the United States, workers are being laid off and they have families to support," said Economy. "The question is what are [government leaders] going to do with the money. If it's a one-time payment, it's not going to last very long, and workers will be asking, 'What about our pensions?'"  The 1.8 million layoffs have been announced as China is trying to ease pollution and shift to a more consumer-driven economy by ceasing overproduction of manufactured goods. The plan is to cut 500 million tons of coal production capacity by 2020, but there is no set timeframe for the layoffs. Economy warned that there could be wide gaps between the economic messages Beijing sends abroad and what happens domestically. And, she added, the central government risks political fallout from the mass layoffs in the state-run coal sector.

Will Fossil Fuel Prices Fully Recover? --World market prices for coal have slumped and for months languished at around US$ 45/tonne, compared to US$95/tonne in February, 2014. Over the last 2 years, coal prices have more than halved and fallen almost every month.For weeks, crude oil prices have been around US$ 30-33/barrel, sometimes falling as low as $26/barrel. Some forecasters (Goldman Sachs) predict that oil prices could stay low and do so for longer than predicted. Some question if fossil fuel prices will ever recover given the emergence of disruptive technologies making electricity generation from renewable sources increasingly competitive with fossil fuels, even at their present depressed prices. Others point to agreement by OPEC to reduce production in order to stimulate price. However, that agreement has only been reached by 4 OPEC members (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia and Venezuela) and then only when confronted by Iranian production coming on to the world market, following the lifting of international sanctions. It is seen by some as an ineffectual move to restore oil prices, since the agreement is not to exceed record high January pumping levels. Far more certain is that the present price malaise is a taste of the state of things to come for those who have invested in the shares of fossil fuel producers. Without sustained price recovery, the value of shares in some fossil fuel companies will decline and could eventually wind-up as stranded assets of little or no value. Evidence of this is seen in closure of coal mines and the unsustainable position of oil and gas producers using older technology where cost of pumping oil and gas is close to or below its market value.

Why We Need to Keep 80 Percent of Fossil Fuels in the Ground: Physics can impose a bracing clarity on the normally murky world of politics. It can make things simple. Not easy, but simple. Most of the time, public policy is a series of trade-offs: higher taxes or fewer services, more regulation or more freedom of action. We attempt to balance our preferences: for having a beer after work, and for sober drivers. We meet somewhere in the middle, compromise, trade off. We tend to think we’re doing it right when everyone’s a little unhappy. But when it comes to climate change, the essential problem is not one group’s preferences against another’s. It’s not—at bottom—industry versus environmentalists or Republicans against Democrats. It’s people against physics, which means that compromise and trade-­off don’t work. Lobbying physics is useless; it just keeps on doing what it does. So here are the numbers: We have to keep 80 percent of the fossil-fuel reserves that we know about underground. If we don’t—if we dig up the coal and oil and gas and burn them—we will overwhelm the planet’s physical systems, heating the Earth far past the red lines drawn by scientists and governments. It’s not “we should do this,” or “we’d be wise to do this.” Instead it’s simpler: “We have to do this.” And we can do this. Time, however, is precisely what we don’t have. We pushed through the 400 parts per million level of CO2 in the atmosphere last spring; 2015 was the hottest year in recorded history, smashing the record set in … 2014. So we have to attack this problem from both ends, going after supply as well as demand. We have to leave fossil fuel in the ground. 

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