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Updated: 23 hours 5 min ago

U.S. wildfires grow while budget to fight them is depleted

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 18:22
Wildfires have been blazing on all summer, and the latest of them is occurring in Oregon, near the Columbia River Gorge. Owners of 140 homes have already evacuated, and despite the efforts of 400 firefighters, the flames have continued to spread over five square miles. Meanwhile in northern Idaho, another brushfire has burned across 64 square miles and destroyed five structures. But efforts to combat the blazes may be fruitless, because the money to fight them is running out.

Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said Aug. 5 that the U.S. Forest Service's annual budget for fighting wildfires is rapidly dwindling; in fact, it may run out by the end of the month. The fires, on the other hand, will keep burning. He suggested they were in the midst of a catch-22, as when the Forest Service's funding runs dry, it will need to dip into other projects designed to help prevent future wildfires, in order to put out the ones currently blazing. Specifically, about $400-500 million will be taken away from such projects, putting the future in jeopardy in terms of further disasters.

Vilsack, who is lobbying for an extra $615 million for the Forest Service to fight wildfires this year and next, remarked, "When we begin to run out of money, we have to dip into the very programs that will reduce the risk of these wildfires over [a longer period of] time." And those accounts aren't the only ones that suffer; in the past, they have also had to draw from other programs not related to wildfires. Such a transfer occurred in 2012, when the funding for road repairs in Arkansas' Ouachita National Forest was instead used to contend with fires throughout the U.S.

The fire in Idaho, called the Big Cougar Fire, is only 15 percent contained, and 200 more structures in its path risk becoming damaged or destroyed unless firefighters can contain it further. Resources are being used while there's still funding for them, and include four helicopters, four fire engines, and three dozers. Isolated thunderstorms are expected, but those are unpredictable; rain could help quell the flames, but lightning could spark an entirely new blaze.

One of the reasons the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture are so hot and bothered over the depletion of yearly wildfire money is due to the likelihood that there will be many more fires. In the past, a depletion of funding by the end of August might have been manageable, but global warming has changed that. Wildfires are now likely to occur much later in the year than August.

"The really amazing thing is that we don't just see an increase in one or two regions," said Philip Dennison, a geographer at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. "We're seeing it almost everywhere - in the mountain regions, in the Southwest... That tells us that something bigger is going on, and that thing appears to be climate change."

This increases the risk for firefighters as well - even more reason why sufficient funding is necessary. Robert Bonnie, undersecretary for natural resources with the Department of Agriculture, explained, "Fire behavior is more extreme now. We're seeing larger fires. We're seeing fires where we have more houses and people. That makes them more dangerous and more difficult to fight."

The money isn't there because the Republican controlled Congress isn't doing anything to put it there, according to a report by U.S. News. A bill to overhaul the way wildfire fighting is funded was introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho - and then promptly abandoned by him. Simpson gave no explanation why.

Vicki Minor, executive director of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, a nonprofit group that helps families of firefighters killed in the line of duty, said, "Because of these fires, we lose our watersheds, we lose our hunting ranges, we lose our homes. These fire seasons are not going away, and for them to not fund wildfires... I'm just disgusted with them."
Categories: Ecological News

Four years later: Gulf still reeling from effects of BP oil spill

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 18:07
On August 4, scientists from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium released their annual measurement from the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone - in part, the product of the infamous 2010 BP oil spill. The results were troubling. The area of oxygen deprivation in the sensitive ecosystem has been estimated at 5,008 square miles this year.

Though the current exacerbation of the issue is due to nitrogen and phosphorous pollution - the product of fertilizer runoff and wastewater discharges from treatment plants - the dead zone's creation is largely owed to the spill that poisoned the Gulf four years ago, flooding it with 170 million gallons of oil.

In particular, the Gulf's coral community is suffering, according to a new study by scientists at Penn State University in State College, Pa. Using 3D seismic data from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and identifying 488 habitats within a 25-mile radius of the original spill site, they found that coral life there shows extensive lingering damage from the spill, suggesting that the disaster's footprint is much more severe than initially thought.

"This study very clearly shows that multiple coral communities, up to 13.7 miles from the spill site and at depths over 5,905 feet, were impacted by the spill," said Charles Fisher, co-author of the study and professor of biology at Penn State. "One of the keys to coral's usefulness as an indicator species is that the coral skeleton retains evidence of damage long after the oil that originally caused the damage is gone."

Jane Lubchenco, an Oregon State University marine biologist and director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, remarked, "The BP oil spill could have been much worse, but the caution is that we still don't fully know the true extent of the damage. But there were likely acute impacts before the oil disappeared, and in fact, some of the oil that did come ashore continues to be suspended in the environment."

Lead researcher of the Penn State study, Helen White, said most experts had previously linked coral damage to the oil spill, but added, "Now we can say it was definitely connected to the spill." The paper the scientists published elaborated, reading, "Coral colonies are vital oases for marine life in the chilly ocean depths. The injured and dying coral today has bare skeleton, loose tissue, and is covered in heavy mucus and brown fluffy material."

And experts have spotted yet another piece of the spill's aftermath, which is its effect on insects, many of which play a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem. Louisiana State University entomologist Linda Hooper-Bui said the real damage to bugs was likely done when Hurricane Isaac hit in 2012 and stirred up oil that had lain dormant on the ocean floor. This, said Hooper-Bui, affects the insects and spiders living in the marsh grasses nearby, some of which form the base of the area's food chain.

Michael Blum, director of the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research, said, "During the spill, we were asking how long it would take to recover, and the prevailing notion was that we were looking at relatively short recovery times when focusing on coastal marsh and coastal ecosystems." Essentially, that it would "rebound in one to three years and in five years there'd be no indications of the spill. But four years on, there's still a pretty distinct signature of a response to the oil."

Samantha Joye, a University of Georgia marine biologist, added that it could be a long time before scientists really have a handle on the ripple effect of the spill; the coral degradation, decline in insect population, and continuing growth of the dead zone are merely several aspects of the issue that have recently come to light. She said, "The long-term ecosystem impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are only beginning to be realized. Some areas have recovered well, but others remain significantly impacted. And the problem with this is that the [effects] are so heterogenerously distributed that long-term, system-scale monitoring is required to truly quantify the impacts."
Categories: Ecological News

"The Sixth Extinction" or how humanity, perching on tree limb, saws it off

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 17:41
Since humans evolved from apes and climbed down from the trees we have altered nature through our activity. This is especially so since the rise of capitalism and its ruthless, destructive global exploitation of nature.

In her book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert clearly and passionately describes how human destruction of ecological systems is today causing the sixth great mass extinction of biological species, including possibly the human species itself. In the words of scientist Paul Ehrlich, "In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches."

Over its 4.5 billion years of existence, the Earth has evolved through many geologic periods. We are now in a new one - what is called the Anthropocene, or human caused, era. Dutch chemist Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winning scientist who helped discover ozone depleting compounds, developed the term.

Crutzen observed human activity has so altered Earth that it constitutes a new geologic age. Humans have transformed land surfaces, soil, rivers, oceans, and most importantly, have altered the atmosphere through a combination of greenhouse gas emission and deforestation.

"Because of these (human caused) emissions," Crutzen said, global climate is likely to "depart significantly from natural behavior for many millennia to come."

In popular language, Kolbert recounts how scientists came to understand extinction and discovered five previous mass extinction events. These include the end-Ordovician extinction caused by an ice age; the end-Permian extinction or Great Dying, which emptied the Earth of 96 percent of species; and the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction about 65 million years ago that did in the dinosaurs.

A sixth extinction is occurring before our eyes. Species are dying at a rate 1,000 times faster than pre-human habitation. "It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all freshwater mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion," writes Kolbert.

Kolbert documents pioneering scientific research of the current disappearance of species. She trudges through jungles in Panama with scientists studying the mass disappearance of amphibians, in particular the Panamanian golden frog. What's crashing frog populations is fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which spread worldwide. Scientists speculate the fungus migrated through international shipping.

Kolbert accompanies scientists to caves in upstate New York and Vermont in search of what are killing millions of bats. Up to 90 percent of brown bats have succumbed to a cold loving fungus accidentally imported from Europe. The fungus is spreading and causing mass die offs of other varieties of bats.

The author then introduces us to scientists researching the effect of climate change on flora and how slight changes in global temperature can make life inhospitable to plant species.

To illustrate global warming's "equally evil twin," or ocean acidification, we visit Castello Aragonese, a tiny island the product of volcanic activity in the Tyrrhenian Sea near Naples. Underwater vents around the island emit 100 percent carbon dioxide gas, which dissolves in the water.

Scientists clearly see the effects of C02. Approaching the vents, life disappears. This mimics macro changes in the world's oceans. Atmospheric greenhouse gases exchange with ocean water that cover 70 percent of the Earth's surface. Historically, about one third of all greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, have been dissolved into the vast oceans raising the acidification level.

Atmospheric C02 concentration levels are higher than at anytime in the last 800,000 years. By the end of the century the oceans are projected to be 150 percent more acidic than at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Acidification levels are reaching a "tipping point" where conditions will become inhospitable to most forms of life. Already coral reefs are disappearing.

Kolbert discusses what's called the "New Pangaea." Pangaea is the original global land expanse, when all the present day continents were connected and a single fauna and flora evolved. Plate tectonics caused the landmasses to separate into the present day continents. Fauna and flora evolved separately into unique species.

"Invasive species" are nothing new. Beginning with modern human migration out of Africa, the continents have been exchanging fauna and flora. Many scientists speculate modern humans drove to extinction other archaic human species that existed simultaneously including the Neanderthals, which apparently we Homo sapiens also mated with. With modern trade and transport, species are being exchanged worldwide at an accelerating rate leading to the "New Pangaea."

Kolbert helps us understand that unless we act now, the human species can also be a victim of the sixth extinction. At the very least humanity will deal with the effects of climate change far into the future and many biological species will disappear. Large parts of the human family, mainly the poorest and those living in the most ecologically fragile and vulnerable regions are facing an existential threat by drought and rising sea levels.

Reading the book, one is struck by the ability of humans to grasp their situation and act to change it. Climate awareness is growing and with it action to halt the discharge of greenhouse gas emissions. Also growing is awareness that the capitalist exploitative system and its drive for profits is incompatible with sustainability.

Humanity faces its biggest collective challenge - its very existence. We must not only deal with the impact of the climate crisis on nature and society today, we must be about winning a sustainable society for the future. We must face it with the "fierce urgency of tomorrow."

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. Henry Holt and Company, 2014, 336 pp (hardcover).
Categories: Ecological News

Europe will face deadly costs for climate inaction

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 21:12
The warning, issued in a new report by the EU Commission’s Joint Research Center, provides the most compelling evidence for climate action in the European Union. The study (pdf) offers a comprehensive view of the impacts of unrestrained climate change on agriculture, rivers, coasts, tourism, energy, forests, transport infrastructure and human health in Europe.

The authors of the study say their estimates are conservative – as in, they underestimate the negative effects from climate change. The study is based on current population and economic growth levels which is used to make predictions 60 years into the future. But things change, and Europe will look completely different in terms of population levels and economic growth and development just 60 years from now. This means that the consequences of inaction could be much higher. Some impacts such as damages to biodiversity or ecosystem losses cannot be monetised and have therefore been left out from the study's calculations of welfare loss. Abrupt climate change or the consequences of passing climate tipping points (such as the Arctic sea-ice melting) are also not integrated in the analysis.

Despite this, the study paints a grim enough picture.

Over 8,000 square kilometres of forest could burn down if Europe fails to take adequately action against climate change. There will also be extensive damage from floods, which could exceed costs of €10bn every year by 2080. At the same time, coastal damage from rising sea levels will treble and amount to losses of €42 billion. Drought affected areas is expected to increase by sevenfold, and as a result the losses in the agriculture sector is expected to reach around €18 billion. Premature death from heat stress or other climate-related impacts will soar to 200 000 people annually.

All in all, the European Union will lose €190 billion annually in economic losses from unrestrained climate change, which is estimated at a net loss of 1.8% of Europe's total GDP. Southern and south central Europe would be the worst-hit regions and bear 70% of the burden.

If Europe adheres to the current international target of 2 degrees Celsius there will still be consequences, the study notes. But they won’t be as severe. The total bill would be reduced by at least €60 billion, save 23 000 lives from premature deaths, and improve the overall quality of life for Europeans by reducing air pollution.

“No action is clearly the most expensive solution of all,” said Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action, in response to the new study. “Why pay for the damages when we can invest in reducing our climate impacts and becoming a competitive low-carbon economy?”

“Taking action and taking a decision on the 2030 climate and energy framework in October, will bring us just there and make Europe ready for the fight against climate change,” Hedegaard said.

Unfortunately there are EU member states, such as Poland and other eastern states, which are willing to oppose new and tougher climate goals for Europe. So despite this study, and other economic and climate analysis, Europe remains divided on which approach to choose – climate action or business-as-usual.
Categories: Ecological News

Will Germany really ban fracking?

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 00:34
The German government says it will soon move to ban fracking in the country until 2021, which would make it the latest nation (after France and Bulgaria) to eliminate the destructive natural gas drilling process. In a press briefing, Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Environmental Minister Barbara Hendricks noted that legislation will be drawn up and approved in the final half of the year.

"There won't be fracking of shale gas or coal gas for economic reasons in the foreseeable future," confirmed Hendricks. However, one can read in between the lines and see that there is still room for exploitation by natural gas corporations. Case in point: there are a number of "special circumstances" which would allow fracking to circumvent the legislation. An example is that the law's language states that "unconventional" fracking cannot take place more than 3,000 meters below the surface - but "conventional" fracking can. While this will still effectively prevent fracking from, in most cases, contaminating groundwater, it will not prevent it from triggering small earthquakes.

Political parties including the Green Party have reacted with strong criticism; the chairman of the Greens' parliamentary group, Oliver Krischer, went as far as to call it a "fracking-enabling law," recognizing the distinction between this potentially deceptive proposal and an actual fracking ban - "a regulation that does not allow fracking in Germany and without loopholes that are as big as a barn door."

Hubertus Zdebel of the Left party agreed, noting, "Fracking must be banned in Germany without any exceptions. To say that there is a fracking ban in the paper is window dressing. They want to enforce a regulation which mostly allows fracking under the guise of an alleged ban." Citing estimates obtained from the Federal Institute of Geosciences and Natural Resources, he added, "The planned restrictions will still allow the exploitation of half of all unconventional natural gas deposits in Germany." He also said there are other potential risks associated with allowing deep fracking, including uncontrolled methane gas emissions.

Francisco Szekely, writer for EnergyBiz, remarked that the legislation is likely a play to quell environmentalists' fears while also reducing Germany's dependency upon Russia for gas imports. He said, however, "This decision is not a sustainable solution. The temporary relief of geopolitics should not be achieved at the long-term cost of environmental degradation. To put our economy and our world on a path to sustainability, governments and companies need to focus on doing real good for society and not just doing less harm, as seems to be the case" with this fracking issue.

"With evidence of climate change becoming clearer than ever," he added, Germany should be "thinking carefully before allowing fracking in their territory. Moreover, whatever short-term promise fracking offers is also taking our sense of urgency away from transitioning to more renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power."

So in short, one might conclude, Germany's "fracking ban" may be little more than a smoke-and-mirror tactic. Said Szekely: "To quote Albert Einstein, 'We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.'"
Categories: Ecological News

Bee-killing pesticides and toxic chemicals also kills birds, new study shows

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 17:43
For some time, the bee population has been steadily declining worldwide, and this is most directly attributed to the negative impact of pesticides. Now, there's a lot of buzz around a recent study by Dutch researchers, which has found that the toxic chemicals we use are having a ripple effect farther up the food chain, causing insectivorous birds to rapidly decline in number.

The study was the collaborative effort of researchers with the Radboud University Institute of Water and Wetland Research, the Dutch Center for Field Ornithology, and Birdlife Netherlands. In a joint statement, the researchers declared, "Neonicotinoid insecticides have adverse effects on non-target invertebrate species. Invertebrates constitute a substantial part of the diet of many bird species during the breeding season and are indispensible for raising offspring. In the Netherlands," for example, "local bird population trends were significantly more negative in areas with higher surface-water concentrations of imidacloprid," a type of pesticide.

"At imidacloprid concentrations of more than 20 nanograms per liter, bird populations tended to decline by 3.5 percent on average, annually," they continued. The overall results of the study, they said, shows "that the impact of neonicotinoids on the natural environment is even more substantial than has recently been reported and is reminiscent of the effects of persistent pesticides in the past. Future legislation should take into account the potential cascading effects [of insecticides] on ecosystems."

Neonicotinoids are interesting in that their origins lie with two corporations already strongly linked with outright for-profit environmental destruction: Royal Dutch Shell and Bayer. These insecticides, which are chemically similar to nicotine, were first developed and used in the 1980s by the Shell, and in the 1990s by the German chemical and pharmaceutical company. In 2009, on the specific neonicotinoid called imidacloprid that the Dutch researchers referenced, Bayer made a profit of over one billion alone, according to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

There is, however, a loss occurring, albeit an ecological one, not a financial one. Such was the conclusion of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, which conducted another recent report on the matter. They explained, "Neonicotinoids persist for months and in some cases years, and environmental concentrations can build up. This effectively increases their toxicity by increasing the duration of exposure of non-target species. The effects of exposure [in wildlife] range from instant and lethal to chronic." Effects could include "altered feeding behavior and reduced food intake [in birds], reduced foraging in bees, and altered tunneling behavior in earthworms."

Dr. David Gibbons, head of the Center for Conservation Science at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, remarked, "This elegant and important study provides worrying evidence of negative impacts of neonicotinoid insecticides on birds. Usage of these pesticides has been particularly high in some parts of the Netherlands. Monitoring of pollution in soils and waterways is urgently required, as is further research into the effects of these insecticides on wildlife."
Categories: Ecological News

UK government admits: air pollution limits won't be met until after 2030

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 17:16
Air pollution has serious health impacts, a recent WHO study concluded that about 7 million people around the world died in 2012 as a result from exposure to air pollution. And it’s expected that 29 000 people die too early as a result of air pollution in the UK alone. Now the UK government has admitted that they don’t expect to meet EU’s legal limits for nitrogen dioxide air pollution in at least three major cities until after 2030 – over 20 years too late and five years later than previously admitted.

The UK was supposed to meet EU’s legal air pollution limits back in 2010 but the progress to reduce the emissions has been slow. The failure to meet the deadline has resulted in legal procedures against the UK which could result in fines of £300m a year. EU Commission lawyers has described the case as “a matter of life and death” and said this would be “perhaps the longest running infringement of EU law in history”.

Judges at the Court of Justice of EU, where the legal case is currently being handled, was told earlier last week by representatives from ClientEarth, a non-profit environmental law organisation, and European Commission lawyers that the UK Government won’t meet nitrogen dioxide limits in London, Birmingham and Leeds until after 2030.

Representatives from the UK Government tried to suppress this information using rules on legal privilege, but later during the proceedings they admitted to it as it became clear that the DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK) had published information in support of this claim the day before on its website.

“It’s bad enough that the government has no intention of complying with these limits in the foreseeable future. It’s even worse that they’re trying to hide behind legal procedural rules to keep this quiet,” Alan Andrews, ClientEarth lawyer, said in a statement. “Another five years of delay means thousands more people will die or be made seriously ill. The UK needs to act now to get deadly diesel vehicles out of our towns and cities.”

Until now, the UK government has maintained it would meet nitrogen dioxide limits by 2025 in London and by 2020 in 15 other zones. But the new admissions means that London is expected to meet the targets five years later than previously acknowledged, and 10 years later for Birmingham and Leeds. The air pollution reduction target has also been delayed and pushed back in many other cities around the UK.

“These air quality rules should already have been met. Government, councils and the London Mayor must make this issue an urgent priority, and end this national scandal,” Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates said. “Rapid steps to ban the dirtiest vehicles and cut traffic levels must be taken, and road-building plans that will simply add to the problem should be abandoned.”
Categories: Ecological News

Solar energy powered the 2014 World Cup final

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 20:06
For the first time, the FIFA World Cup final in Brazil yesterday was powered by the sun. Solar panels have been installed on both the Arena Pernambuco and the famous Estádio do Maracanã by Yingli Solar, the world’s largest solar panel manufacturer and a FIFA World Cup Sponsor. The solar panels are expected to generate more than 1MW per year of clean electricity.

FIFA say these solar projects represents their commitment to sustainability as well as a way to reduce the environmental impact of its own operations. “Sustainability is one of the key tenants in our vision for the 2014 FIFA World Cup,” said Federico Addiechi, FIFA’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility. “We hope this landmark project will be the catalyst to increase the production and use of renewable energy in the country.”

FIFA and Yingli has installed 1500 solar panels on the Estádio do Maracanã, one of football’s most iconic venues and South America’s largest stadium. The solar panels will generate over 550MWh of clean electricity which can power an estimated 240 homes annually. The solar panels will prevent the release of about 350 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, similar to the impact of planting 14,000 trees.

The Arena Pernambuco, home to five matches of the FIFA World Cup, was powered by a much bigger solar installation. The plant - located in São Lourenço de Mata, a suburb of Recife, the regional capital of the Brazilian state of Pernambuco - uses more than 3650 high-efficiency panels to generate about 1,500MWh of clean electricity each year. The solar power generated could power 600 average homes and is expected to offset about 800 tons of carbon dioxide each year, similar to the impact of planting 35,000 trees. It’s also the first solar power plant in Pernambuco.
Categories: Ecological News

BBC to stop give equal airtime to climate deniers

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 02:35
Climate change deniers, as well as people who are skeptical against other forms of established science, will from now on be given much less coverage from the BBC. The move comes after the release of an independent progress report (pdf) from the BBC Trust, the governing body of the public service broadcasting network. The report criticised the BBC for giving too much airtime to unqualified people with "marginal views" on non-controversial scientific facts, such as climate change, in a misguided effort to provide impartiality and editorial balance.

"The Trust wishes to emphasize the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences," the BBC Trust writes in the report. "Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given. […] Impartiality in science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views," the report concludes.

The report builds upon a similar review issued back in 2011 which took a closer look on the networks' accuracy and impartiality when reporting on various scientific issues. The 2011-review came to the conclusion that the BBC had an "over-rigid" approach to impartiality that often resulted in "undue attention to marginal opinion" - such as climate denialism. As a result of that review, around 200 journalists and staff members at the BBC attended various seminars and workshops intended to improve their science coverage.

However, this does not mean that skeptical voices will be silenced altogether. The BBC Trust still thinks it's important that the public service broadcasting network gives coverage to dissenting opinions and to reach an ideal balance of coverage. But the viewers should from now on be able to more easily distinguish between scientific facts and opinions. "Audiences should be able to understand from the context and clarity of the BBC’s output what weight to give to critical voices," reads the report.

Related: John Oliver and Bill Nye shows why climate debates are ridiculous
Categories: Ecological News

IKEA might soon sell electric bikes (and yes, you’ll have to build it yourself)

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 14:58
Besides their affordable and stylish furniture, IKEA might soon also start selling electric bikes to eco-friendly commuters in their 303 stores around the world. At least that’s what the Swedish company, most known for their flat-packed pieces of furniture, is hoping for. But for now, the electric bike is only sold in one IKEA store – the first one they opened – located in Älmhult in Sweden. The electric bike is being sold as a test product to see if it’s popular enough to become a viable product in all its other stores.

“Here we test new products. And this is a test product. We want to see what the interest is and be sure that we can take care of the product, even after the purchase,” said Daniela Rogosic from Ikea.

The electric bike is called Folkvänlig, which is Swedish for people (=folk) friendly (=vänlig), and will come in a “male” and “female” version. If you live near Älmhult in Sweden, the electric bike will cost you 5995 kronor, which is about €600 or $800. IKEA Family members will be able to buy it at a discounted price.



The bike weights 25kg and is designed with a front fork in steel and a frame made in aluminium that holds the green-painted rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The battery powers a 250-watt electric motor which gives you a pedal-assisted range of 60 to 70 km per charge. It takes about 5 to 6 hours to fully charge the battery and you can charge it from a standard electric-outlet in your home or at work. The bike is also built with a Shimano transmission with six different driving modes and comes with a two-year warranty (except for normal wear and tear parts such as tires, chains and brake pads, etc.).

The bike is heavy but looks much better than similar-priced electric bikes where the battery is often located in the back. And yes, the electric bike will be sold in a flat package and you’ll have to put it together yourself – in a classic IKEA-way.
Categories: Ecological News

The U.S. will create the world's largest marine sanctuary

Wed, 06/25/2014 - 15:25
President Obama used his executive authority on June 17 to create the world's largest marine sanctuary. This has huge implications for the environment, as it bans commercial fishing, mining, and oil exploration in a major portion of the Pacific Ocean. The move will bypass Republican lawmakers who have long acted as roadblocks to environmental struggles, and could protect up to 800,000 square miles of the south-central Pacific from commercial and corporate exploitation.

To this end, the Obama administration also announced the development of a new task force that will combat illegal fishing operations in the Pacific. The President will also consult with scientists and conservationists before determining the precise location and geographic scope of the sanctuary. It will, however, border and vastly expand the areas around the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which was established back in 2009 and placed 77,020 square miles under the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Obama also sought to add more national monuments. In a continuation of his use of executive power, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, he will designate 11 new national monuments on land across the U.S., allowing a plethora of new protections for millions of acres of precious wilderness.

"We can protect our oceans for future generations," said the President. "Growing up in Hawaii, I learned to appreciate the beauty and power of the ocean. And like Presidents Clinton and Bush before me, I'm going to use my authority as President to protect some of our most precious marine landscapes, just like we do for mountains and rivers and forests."

The move came directly on the heels of a bold and direct speech by Obama during a commencement address at the University of California-Irvine on June 14. During that address, the President openly criticized the obstinance of Republicans who denied the threat of climate change and the need to defend the environment. He encouraged young voters to speak out about environmentalism and reiterated the need to get legislation passed to change things for the better. With this plan for what will be the largest protected marine area in history, it would seem that Obama is showing he has lived up to his words.

The White House's new task force is part and parcel of Obama's new initiative. It will be called the Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud, and will report to the National Ocean Council, which itself was established via executive order in 2010.

Obama explained that illegal and unregulated fishing in the Pacific continues to "undermine the economic and environmental sustainability of fisheries and fish stocks. Global losses attributable to the black market from such fishing are estimated to be $10-23 billion annually, weakening profitability for legally caught seafood, fueling illegal trafficking operations, and undermining economic opportunity for legitimate fishermen in the U.S. and around the world."

Meanwhile, anti-environment Republicans and corporate oil executives are likely seething over the development of the marine sanctuary. Thousands of square miles of what oil companies see as potential territory for offshore drilling will now be closed off to them. And in addition to defending the waters from such tampering, the area's tuna and other fish stocks will be able to recover and increase their numbers.

Obama made the announcement at a State Department Our Ocean conference; amongst the attendees was actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who had been strongly pushing for such a move and had previously donated $3 million to the Oceana conservation group. He declared he would now donate an additional $7 million over the next two years to "meaningful ocean protection" and to bolster the President's move.

DiCaprio called the interference of oil corporations and illegal fishing markets "the Wild West on the high seas," and called for "an end to the incessant plundering of the ocean and its vital resources." He added that this is a worldwide problem, remarking, "Since my very first dive in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia 20 years ago, to the dive I got to do in the very same location just two years ago, I've witnessed environmental devastation firsthand. What once looked like an endless underwater utopia is now riddled with bleached coral reefs and massive dead zones."

Secretary of State John Kerry added, "Most people think the ocean is larger than life; an endless resource impossible to destroy. But people underestimate the enormous damage that we as humans are inflicting upon the ocean every day."
Categories: Ecological News

Obama attacked climate change deniers in speech to students

Sat, 06/21/2014 - 03:17
President Obama gave a de facto follow-up to his previous climate change speech on June 14, during his commencement address at the University of California-Irvine. In a bold and positive move, he called out climate change deniers, emphasized the urgency of the matter, and called on students to push the issue beyond the current partisan divide in Washington, D.C.

He criticized the negative remarks made by Republicans in Congress, such as those of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who claimed that the effects of climate change, if any, were "unknowable;" and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who diverted questions on global warming and simply said he was not a scientist. "One doesn't need to be a scientist," Obama pointed out, "to act on scientific issues while in public office."

The President said that when Americans were set on a course for the moon, "nobody ignored the science. I don't remember anyone saying that the moon wasn't there or that it was made of cheese. Today's Congress, though, is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence about climate change. They will tell you it's a hoax, or a fad. There are some who also duck the question. They say, 'Hey, look, I'm not a scientist.' And I'll translate that for you: what that really means is, 'I know that climate change is happening, but if I admit it, I'll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate change is a liberal plot, so I'm not going to admit it.'"

Vox writer Ezra Klein said the speech was a diverse one in that it "was about more than just the Republican Party. It was an impassioned case for why climate action is necessary. And it was, politically, a speech that showed Obama is done trying to convince Republicans to work with him on climate change and has moved on to trying to convince the public - and in particular, the next generation of American voters."

Obama is indeed clearly trying to work with young environmentalists, as evident by his remarks: "People are [too busy] thinking about politics instead of thinking about what's good for the next generation. The reason I'm telling you this is because I want to light a fire under you. As the generation getting shortchanged by inaction on this issue, I want all of you to understand you cannot accept that this is the way it has to be. You're going to have to push those in power to do what this American moment demands. You've got to educate your classmates, colleagues, family members, and fellow citizens, and tell them what's at stake. You've got to push back against the misinformation and speak out for facts."

Ben Adler, Grist.org writer, pointed out that Obama's act of reaching out to the new generation is a smart move. He said, "Republicans will never embrace climate action just because most people passively support it, or because environmentalists ardently do, but young people could entice them. The millennial generation is growing in electoral strength, leaning heavily Democratic but showing signs of disappointment with the Democrats. If young voters really did show elected officials that support for climate change is a prerequisite for their votes, Republicans might eventually take notice."

"I'm not a scientist either," said the President. "But we've got some really good ones at NASA. I do know that the overwhelming majority of scientists who work on climate change, including some who once disputed the data, have since put that debate to rest." It's time, he concluded, "to invest in what helps and divest in what harms. We have to realize that climate change is no longer a distant threat. It has moved firmly into the present."

This article was originally published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
Categories: Ecological News

WWF calls for urgent action in Mozambique as hundreds of elephants are being poached every year

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 15:53
The elephants in northern Mozambique survived the country’s bloody civil war, but now they are being killed by the hundreds every year. An aerial-survey, commissioned by WWF-Mozambique, shows that between 480 to 900 elephants died in the area between 2011 and 2013, with the majority of the deaths being blamed on poaching.

“The elephant deaths are probably due to illegal hunting and the losses are likely to be devastating to the population,” said Anabela Rodriguez, Country Director of WWF-Mozambique.

Almost half of the elephants sighted during the aerial-survey of the landscape at the end of last year were carcasses of dead elephants. WWF is now calling for urgent action following these shocking research results.

“Mozambique has emerged as one of the main places of the slaughter of elephants and ivory transit in Africa and as a profitable warehouse for transit and export of rhino horn for the Asian markets,” said WWF International’s Policy Expert on Wildlife Trade, Colman O’Criodain. “We need to see urgent action and ongoing commitment to combat these illegal activities.”

But poaching seems to be increasing in not just Mozambique but also in neighboring South Africa. According to South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs, say that hundreds of rhinos have been killed. Figures released at the end of May showed that a total of 442 rhinos have already been poached in 2014 – with more than half killed inside the Kruger National Park.

WWF is organizing a meeting with conservation NGOs, wildlife experts and government officials this week to find ways to stop this renewed onslaught on the elephant and rhino populations of southern Africa. But weak enforcement, vulnerable borders and corruption in Mozambique makes it hard to co-ordinate an effective response to poaching.

“Well-organised and structured criminal networks facilitated by corruption are luring unemployed youths in the region to engage in criminal activities,” said Dr Jo Shaw, Manager of the Rhino Programme for WWF-South Africa. “In order to cope with this crisis, we need interventions that involve a variety of stakeholders from government, through to the private sector and civil society to change attitudes towards wildlife.”

WWF calls for strengthened law enforcement and increased awareness “across all sectors of society” about the illegal wildlife trade that fuels the poaching in Mozambique.
Categories: Ecological News

Experts: Economic models "grossly underestimate" costs of global warming

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 17:47
New research shows that our existing economic models “grossly underestimate” the costs of climate change. As a result, current carbon prices are 10 to 20 times lower than they need to be to stop catastrophic climate change.

The shocking (but somewhat not surprising) findings are presented in a new study by leading climate economist Nicholas Stern and co-author Simon Dietz, from the UK’s Grantham Research Institute. According to their research we need a globally coordinated carbon price of $32 to $103 per tonne of emissions, as early as next year. And within two decades the price need to almost triple and rise to $82-260 per tonne of carbon emissions.

Current carbon prices are much, much lower than this. In the European Union, a tonne of carbon emissions costs €5.7 or about $7.7. In California a tonne of carbon emissions - despite having one of the world’s highest carbon price - only costs around $12.

The report, which will be published in the Economic Journal, came to this conclusion after reviewing the DICE-model, a widely-used economic model developed by Yale Professor Bill Nordhaus in 1991. This model by Nordhaus has served as a basis for other major climate studies – such as the recent IPCC report. The problem though is that the DICE-model is based on data of the climate impacts we had knowledge about in the 90s. But nowadays, that data is old as we now know that the climate impacts are much worse than we previously expected. Unfortunately, the usage of this old model has led to a severe underestimation of the taxes and fees required.

“It is extremely important to understand the severe limitations of standard economic models, such as those cited in the IPCC report, which have made assumptions that simply do not reflect current knowledge about climate change and its [...] impacts on the economy,” Stern said.

The revised economic model by Stern and Dietz takes into account new and updated climate data. It also calculates that the ability to generate new wealth would be affected by climate change – due to climate impacts such as extreme weather, destruction of coastal and water infrastructure, and so on.

“The new version of this standard economic model, for instance, suggests that the risks from climate change are bigger than portrayed by previous economic models and therefore strengthens the case for strong cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases,” Dietz said.
Categories: Ecological News

Finland promises to cut emissions with 80% by 2050

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 22:02
Earlier this month, the parliament in Finland passed a new climate change act that obliges the country to reduce its emissions with 80 percent by 2050. Ville Niinisto, the Minister of the Environment, said that the new climate change legislation "is an attempt to establish Finland as a leader in low-carbon society."

Besides the emission reduction targets the new climate change act also contains measures to improve climate policies and responsibilities for various state authorities, as well as a planning and monitoring system.

The new climate change act mainly targets the public sector and does not impose any new obligations on businesses or other operators in Finland. Instead, the new climate laws will act as a tool for the Finnish Government and Parliament to make sure that the public sector and state authorities in the country reach their emission reduction targets.

“Climate change and the efforts to mitigate it will change the world and human activities substantially in the coming decades,” Niinisto said. “The Climate Change Act will improve the operations of the public sector in terms of smart societal planning, so that Finland will still remain competitive while we work to reduce climate emissions.”

The climate change act includes both medium-term and long-term plans to make sure that Finland actually reaches their reduction targets by 2050. The long-term plan will contain various options for reaching the 80 percent reduction target and will have to be approved by the Parliament at least once every ten years. The medium-term plan concerns reduction measures against emissions outside the emissions trading scheme – such as traffic, housing and agriculture. These reduction measures will need to be approved once per election term.

In a recent poll, surveying the public’s opinions about the new climate laws, nearly 80 percent of the respondents said that they approved the new act. So public support for the new climate laws seems to be strong, but criticism from industry representatives remains. But Niinisto rejects fears that the new climate laws could hamper the Finnish industry and bring about additional costs for businesses.

“In fact, this is an opportunity for Finnish industries,” Niinisto argued. “It’s a breakthrough that so many sectors seek to address these issues. We will commit to the emissions cuts cost-effectively in order to ensure that the economy thrives and the well-being of citizens increases,” Niinisto assured. “We will avoid unreasonable costs.”
Categories: Ecological News

A majority of Americans would pay more to curb climate change

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 18:46
A new poll shows that Americans are willing to pay more to curb climate change. The very same poll also shows that people are more likely to support politicians that seeks to address the climate crisis.

According to the Bloomberg National Poll, nearly a two-to-one margin, 62 percent to 33 percent, say they are prepared to pay more for energy if it would result in a reduction of carbon emissions. “It is a rare poll where people responding will stand up and say ‘tax me,’” said J. Ann Selzer, who conducted the poll for Bloomberg.

The result differs depending on people’s political affiliations. Only 46 percent of Republicans are willing to accept higher energy bills, with 49 percent being against such climate policies. This result can be compared to the 82 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents who are in favor of higher energy bills to curb carbon emissions.

Government officials expect that, if approved, Obama’s historic plan to cut carbon emissions will result in a 10 percent increase in electric utility rates by 2030.

More than half of the respondents – mainly female, young and independent people – say they want to see climate policies from the U.S. government. They would also back candidates in the midterm elections that supports political measures to curb climate change. But again, the poll shows the deep divide between U.S. political lines. 70 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents say they are more likely to support pro-climate candidates. But only 28 percent of Republicans would do the same.

The Bloomberg poll also shows that a majority see climate change as a threat, with 46 percent of the respondents classifying it as a “major” threat and 27 percent as a “minor threat.” Disappointingly, it seems that 43 percent of the respondents believe that climate scientists “manipulate their findings for political reasons” – with only 48 percent saying that they “trust” the warnings from scientists.
Categories: Ecological News

Tesla Motors will allow competitors to use its electric car patents

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 15:07
In a rather surprising and unprecedented move, Tesla Motors, the U.S. electric car company, has announced that they will allow their competitors to use their patents. Tesla Motors is giving access to its patents in an effort to spur the global use of green electric cars to address the climate crisis. At least that’s what Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Motors, claimed in a post on the company’s blog.

“Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport,” Musk wrote. “If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

According to Musk, Tesla Motors originally created the patents for fears that the larger car companies would simply copy their electric car technology and sidestep Musk and his car company with their massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power.

“We couldn’t have been more wrong,” Musk said. “At best, the large automakers are producing electric cars with limited range in limited volume. Some produce no zero emission cars at all.”

Global vehicle production is nearing 100 million cars per year but not even one percent of these are electric cars, or vehicles that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons. Considering that the global car fleet is nearing two billion, Musk believes that Tesla Motors competition are not other car manufactories, instead it’s all the gasoline cars that rolls out of factories every single day.

“It is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis,” Musk said. “We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.”

But Musk and Tesla Motors is not only doing this to fight climate change, or because they represent some sort of new philanthropic, open-source corporate movement.

Tesla Motors are expected to build a huge factory, nicknamed the Gigafactory, in the U.S. that will produce the company’s unique batteries. These cylindrical batteries are the key feature that allow electric cars from Tesla Motors to double, or even triple, its driving range compared to other electric vehicles.

“Even if other competitors copy Tesla’s design, Tesla still gets to sell them batteries, and that’s pretty awesome. Tesla’s decision isn’t entirely altruistic,” patent law expert Jacob Sherkow told the Los Angeles Times.
Categories: Ecological News

Earth is heading towards another mass extinction, humans to blame

Tue, 06/10/2014 - 18:16
A new study warns that we are on the brink of another mass extinction, with species of animals and plants becoming extinct up to 1000 times faster than they did before humans populated Earth. “We are on the verge of the sixth extinction,” said Stuart Pimm, the study’s lead author and biologist of Duke University to AP. “Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions.”

Great extinctions that have wiped out the majority of life has struck Earth at least five times before. The dinosaurs who walked the earth about 66 million years ago was wiped away in such a mass extinction. But while previous mass extinctions have been the result of asteroids or methane spewing microbes, this next great extinction will largely be the result of human activities.

The study notes how man-made climate change will cause a sudden rise in temperatures and acidification in our oceans making traditional habitats unlivable for countless of species - a phenomenon which can already be observed today.

The biggest cause for the mass extinction is habitat loss, the study says. Species are losing their home as more and more places are being built, developed and altered by humans. Other factors include overfishing and invasive species taking over new areas previously populated by native species.

That mass extinctions are occurring today is nothing new to scientists, but this study calculates not just the number of species being wiped away, it also shows the actual rate of extinction before and after humans. In 1995, scientists calculated that before humans populated the Earth, one out of 1 million species went extinct every year. Now, after new data and research, the rate is between 100 to 1000 species. But the trend can be reversed, Pimm notes. We need to find out where vulnerable species are located and preserve their habitats – before it’s too late.

Read the study: The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection
Categories: Ecological News

Gray wolf gets endangered species protection in California

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 17:04
The California Fish and Game Commission voted on June 4 to grant endangered species protections to gray wolves. This is the first time the state has stepped into the issue over the species, which is losing protection and being killed in several states, and which is expanding to territories it had not inhabited for decades in others.

One such territory might be the Golden State itself, where a gray wolf pup was spotted in the northern part of the state in 2011. Environment authorities believe that pup later found a mate and began denning in Oregon. California now joins Oregon and Washington in providing safe passage for these wolves that are repopulating their former range. This comes at a time when wolves in other states have not been so lucky; 80 percent of those in Wyoming can be shot on sight after the state marked them a "trophy game animal."

Environmental groups thus applauded California for making the correct choice on gray wolves. Amaroq Weiss, of the Center for Biological Diversity, remarked, "The Pacific states are the last, best place for wolves. We have the progressive attitudes and social values where people embrace wildlife, no matter if it's got teeth or claws."

Experts believe the wolves denning in Oregon will eventually establish a pack in northern California. Damon Nagami, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, declared, "While other states bicker and quarrel, California adds the latest chapter to one of the world's greatest biological success stories. The dispersal of wolves out of the northern Rockies will help to bring balance to other ecosystems in need of their stabilizing influence."

Gray wolves have taken much flak from oppositional groups, which include hunters and ranchers. They have been called everything from "killing machines that gut calves for fun" to "coyotes on steroids that will take livestock, attack ranchers, and ruin the industry." These claims, however, are greatly exaggerated, and do not match up with the fact that gray wolves' population in such areas continues to be sparse. In Oregon, there are only a little over two dozen wolves, and this is the result of a reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park that began as far back as 1995.

California Fish and Game Commission member Michael Sutton, a former Yellowstone ranger, said, "There is no more iconic animal in the American West than this one. We owe it to them to do everything we can to help them recolonize their historic range in our state."

The Sierra Club stated, "Wolves are among the most charismatic animals in America. The howl of the wolf is emblematic of our country's last wild areas, a reminder of strength and beauty in the natural world. Wolves are vitally important to maintaining the natural balance, culling out weak and sick animals to keep populations in check. The rippling benefits of wolf reintroduction can be seen throughout the region - from the reappearance of willow and aspen trees, to the return of beavers, and increased populations of red foxes. Nevertheless, habitat loss, unregulated hunting, and negative stereotypes continue to reduce their numbers."

This article was originally published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
Categories: Ecological News

Nations must do more to protect environmental defenders, UN expert says

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 17:16
John Knox, UN Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, called today on nations to do more to protect human rights activists and environmental defenders. Knox plea comes on World Environment Day and highlights a world that is increasingly becoming more hostile and deadly against activists. Knox also linked the effects of climate change, pollution and environmental degradation to human rights.

“Environmental degradation, including harm from climate change, desertification, air and water pollution, and exposure to toxic substances, impairs the enjoyment of a vast range of human rights, including the right to life, to health and to an adequate standard of living,” Knox said.

“As States implement their human rights obligations relating to the environment,” Knox continued, “they should pay particular attention to the threats against environmental human rights defenders – those who strive to protect the environment for the benefit of us all.”

A recent study by Global Witness shows that, on average, two environmental activists have been killed each week over the past four years. The report found that these eco-murders have tripled over the past decade. 147 activists were killed in 2012, compared to 51 activists only ten years earlier. Shockingly, almost none of the killers have faced charges from authorities.

“Environmental defenders are at the front line of efforts to protect us all from the severe impact of environmental degradation on the enjoyment of human rights,” Knox said. “States must do more to protect environmental human rights defenders from threats, and to promptly investigate threats and killings when they occur.”

The study shows that at least 908 people have been killed in what largely are disputes over industrial logging, mining and land rights between2002 and 2013. Violence against activists are particularly common in Latin America and Asia-Pacific. Global Witness notes that there is a “severe shortage” of monitoring surrounding the death of environmental activists – and that the number of killings is “likely” to be much higher than what their study shows. “This lack of attention is feeding endemic levels of impunity, with just over one per cent of the perpetrators known to have been convicted,” the organization writes.

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Categories: Ecological News