Lakota lead the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline

Jason Coppola reports: As the start of 2016 shatters last year’s record as the hottest year on record, the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation) once again find themselves on the front lines of the battle against the fossil fuel industry.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have established a Spirit Camp at the mouth of the Cannonball River in North Dakota as a means of bringing attention and awareness to a proposed pipeline and act as an enduring symbol of resistance against its construction.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is set to cut through several US states, delivering hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil from the Bakken and Three Forks oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.

The Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners pipeline will cross the Ogallala Aquifer — a million-year-old shallow water table spanning eight US states, which provides fresh water for drinking and agriculture — while twice crossing the Missouri River and running alongside the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

A spill could contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the worlds largest, which is already in crisis and under threat of running dry in the coming decades. [Continue reading…]

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Why it’s impossible to actually be a vegetarian

By Andrew Smith, Drexel University

In case you’ve forgotten the section on the food web from high school biology, here’s a quick refresher.

Plants make up the base of every food chain of the food web (also called the food cycle). Plants use available sunlight to convert water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air into glucose, which gives them the energy they need to live. Unlike plants, animals can’t synthesize their own food. They survive by eating plants or other animals.

Clearly, animals eat plants. What’s not so clear from this picture is that plants also eat animals. They thrive on them, in fact (just Google “fish emulsion”). In my new book, “A Critique of the Moral Defense of Vegetarianism,” I call it the transitivity of eating. And I argue that this means one can’t be a vegetarian.

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The creatures that remember Chernobyl

Ron Broglio writes: Radioactive, wild boar are invading towns in southern Germany. They travel in packs scavenging for food. They break through fences and roam the roads shutting down highway traffic. They take down a man in a wheelchair. Police scramble to restore order in urban centers. The boar are armed with a post-apocalyptic payload: Radioactive fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which marks its thirtieth anniversary today. By foraging on radioactive plants, the animals embody the return of a disaster many seek to repress.

After the collapse and meltdown of a reactor at Chernobyl, over a hundred thousand people were evacuated from a 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone around the nuclear power plant. Residents exposed to the ensuing radiation suffered from leukemia, thyroid cancer, and other maladies. Some 4,000 people could die from illnesses related to the accident.

In the three decades since, a range of animals have taken up residence in the Exclusion Zone. They thrive in this occasionally mutant, non-human world where radiation remains 10 to 100 times higher than is safe for human occupancy. Rare species not seen in the region for hundreds of years have returned, including the Przewalski’s horse, the European bison, the lynx, and the Eurasian brown bear. Without fear of being hunted, the animals roam the forest and the ruins of cities in what has become an eerily post-human wildlife sanctuary. [Continue reading…]

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Being (almost) eaten alive can make you a diehard environmentalist

Becca Cudmore writes: In his Oscar acceptance speech, Leonardo DiCaprio said, “Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world.” Perhaps the film’s most gripping illustration of this was when a grizzly bear nearly mauls DiCaprio’s character, an American fur trapper, to death. To be eaten by a predator, after all, may be the most apt display of man’s vulnerable state in nature. Onstage, DiCaprio evoked that vulnerable state, and made a forceful plea for global climate change action.

It turns out this isn’t the first time a near-fatal mauling has emboldened an environmentalist’s perspective. In 1985, the late philosopher Val Plumwood was nearly eaten by a saltwater crocodile. The harrowing experience inspired her to begin writing The Eye of the Crocodile, a series of essays posthumously published in 2012. In its first and most riveting piece, “Being Prey,” she explains how her critique of anthropocentrism — the idea that humans stand apart from nature — became palpable.

Plumwood was paddling through Australia’s Kakadu National Park in a 14-foot canoe in search of an Aboriginal rock art site. The hours passed, rain mounted, and she had found herself deep in a channel surrounded by steep mud banks and snags. When a sandy bar caused her to stop completely, she stepped out of the canoe and recalled how park owners had warned her of crocodiles hunting at the water’s edge. She paddled back into the main current and, rounding a bend, “saw in midstream what looked like a floating stick.” As the current moved Plumwood farther forward, “the stick developed eyes.” As the animal struck the canoe, she instinctively leapt onto the bank, into the lower branches of a paperbark tree. “But before my foot even tripped the first branch, I had a blurred, incredulous vision of great toothed jaws bursting from the water,” she writes. [Continue reading…]

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30 years after Chernobyl disaster, containment nears completion but authorities turn a blind eye to logging

The Washington Post reports: An international effort to seal the destroyed remains of the nuclear reactor that exploded in Ukraine 30 years ago is finally close to completion, and remarkably, considering the political revolution and armed conflict that have rocked the country since 2014, it’s close to being on schedule.

The completion of the New Safe Confinement, often called the “arch,” could contain the radiation from mankind’s worst nuclear catastrophe for a century, says the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which has led the project. But it will also mark a handover to Ukraine’s fractious and underfunded authorities, who are expected to tackle future waste management at their own expense.

That may not reassure Nadiya Makyrevych.

For three decades, she has been living with the consequences of Chernobyl explosion. She can recall that morning in late April 1986, and the small signs that something was wrong in the workers’ town where she lived: the tinny, metallic taste in her mouth. The way her 6-month-old daughter slept so deeply after breast-feeding. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: The road through the forest, abandoned, is at times barely discernible, covered with the debris of fallen tree limbs, vines, leaves and moss pushing up through cracks in the crumbling asphalt.

The moss is best avoided, says our guide, Artur N. Kalmykov, a young Ukrainian who has made a hobby of coming here to the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, set aside in perpetuity after the catastrophe in 1986. It can be radioactive, having carried buried radiation to the surface as it grew.

Above all, he says, watch out for windblown dust, which could well be laced with deadly plutonium.

Despite the dangers — which are actually minimal these days, except when the wind is howling — and the risk of arrest, Mr. Kalmykov is at home here. “In Kiev my head is full,” he said. “Here I can relax. I could hang out in Kiev. But this is more interesting.”

What Mr. Kalmykov and fellow unofficial explorers of the Chernobyl zone, members of a peculiar subculture who are in their 20s and call themselves “the stalkers,” have found is more interesting still: vast tracts of clear-cutting in the ostensibly protected forest. [Continue reading…]

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In much of Europe, walking wherever you want is perfectly legal. Not in America

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Ken Ilgunas writes: A couple of years ago, I trespassed across America. I’d set out to hike the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline, which had been planned to stretch over a thousand miles over the Great Plains, from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. To walk the pipe’s route, roads wouldn’t do. I’d have to cross fields, hop barbed-wire fences and camp in cow pastures — much of it on private property.

I’d figured that walking across the heartland would probably be unlawful, unprecedented and a little bit crazy. We Americans, after all, are forbidden from entering most of our private lands. But in some European countries, walking almost wherever you want is not only ordinary but perfectly acceptable.

In Sweden, they call it “allemansrätt.” In Finland, it’s “jokamiehenoikeus.” In Scotland, it’s “the right to roam.” Germany allows walking through privately owned forests, unused meadows and fallow fields. In 2000, England and Wales passed the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, which gave people access to “mountain, moor, heath or down.” [Continue reading…]

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World heading for catastrophe over natural disasters, risk expert warns

The Guardian reports: The world’s failure to prepare for natural disasters will have “inconceivably bad” consequences as climate change fuels a huge increase in catastrophic droughts and floods and the humanitarian crises that follow, the UN’s head of disaster planning has warned.

Last year, earthquakes, floods, heatwaves and landslides left 22,773 people dead, affected 98.6 million others and caused $66.5bn (£47bn) of economic damage (pdf). Yet the international community spends less than half of one per cent of the global aid budget on mitigating the risks posed by such hazards.

Robert Glasser, the special representative of the secretary general for disaster risk reduction, said that with the world already “falling short” in its response to humanitarian emergencies, things would only get worse as climate change adds to the pressure. [Continue reading…]

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Fate of world’s coastlines rests on melting Antarctic ice

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John Upton writes: Councilmembers of an island town in Georgia met in a police station near sandy beaches last week to mull a plan for coping with worsening floods. The meeting followed unprecedented king tide floods in the fall that inundated the island and nearby Savannah, and shut down the highway that connects them.

“We’ve had more frequent flooding in areas that haven’t flooded before,” said Jason Buelterman, mayor of the beach town on the eastern shore of Tybee Island, where the population of a few thousand residents swells each summer with vacationers. “In November, water was coming into people’s garages and stuff. It had never happened before.”

The meeting was held eight days before world leaders were due to converge in New York this Friday to ratify a United Nations treaty, aiming to avert the worst impacts of climate change. If the treaty succeeds, Tybee Island and other coastal communities may flood terribly in the coming decades, but will most likely remain mostly above sea level, recent Antarctic modeling suggests. Vast scientific uncertainties, however, mean even that cannot be assured.

Mayors from small towns, planners from the world’s largest cities and U.N. diplomats are being guided on the details of a looming coastal crisis by sea level projections compiled by a U.N. science panel. The panel’s work includes warnings about the amount of flooding that could be caused by melting in Antarctica, and those warnings have been growing bleaker.

The barren continent — the planet’s greatest reservoir of ice — remains shrouded in frigid mystery, and a lack of scientific knowledge about its ice sheet means scientists can’t yet predict how much flooding it could cause as temperatures continue to climb. A recent study, though, added to concerns that it could begin disintegrating, inundating coastal neighborhoods around the world, unless the heady goals of the new U.N. climate pact are achieved.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent findings, from three years ago, appear to have underestimated the potential seriousness of the Antarctic problem, with sweeping implications for the urgency of pollution cuts — and for the futures of coastal communities like Tybee Island’s.

Instead of the anticipated several feet of sea level rise this century if current pollution rates continue, the latest modeling-based science warns that melting could lead to twice that amount. That sobering estimate is a rough one. [Continue reading…]

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Aurora Borealis viewed from the International Space Station

Live Science reports: Auroras are produced when solar particles that are ejected from the sun and carried to Earth by solar winds collide with electrically charged particles in Earth’s magnetic field, triggering reactions in the upper atmosphere that release light.

They are most commonly glimpsed on Earth at high latitudes, in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. While auroras are typically green, they can also appear violet, red, blue, while or pink, according to NASA.

To produce the auroras video, NASA partnered with media infrastructure experts at Harmonic, with whom they also launched a new UHD channel featuring 4K content — the first noncommercial UHD channel in North America — the agency said in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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Oil industry knew of ‘serious’ climate concerns more than 45 years ago

The Guardian reports: The oil industry’s knowledge of dangerous climate change stretches back to the 1960s, with unearthed documents showing that it was warned of “serious worldwide environmental changes” more than 45 years ago.

The Stanford Research Institute presented a report to the American Petroleum Institute (API) in 1968 that warned the release of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels could carry an array of harmful consequences for the planet.

The emergence of this stark advice follows a series of revelations that the fossil fuel industry was aware of climate change for decades, only to publicly deny its scientific basis.

“Significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000 and these could bring about climatic change,” the 1968 Stanford report, found and republished by the Center for International Environmental Law, states. “If the Earth’s temperature increases significantly, a number of events might be expected to occur including the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, a rise in sea levels, warming of the oceans and an increase in photosynthesis.

“It is clear that we are unsure as to what our long-lived pollutants are doing to our environment; however, there seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe.” [Continue reading…]

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Climate-related death of coral around world alarms scientists

bleached-coral

The New York Times reports: Kim Cobb, a marine scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, expected the coral to be damaged when she plunged into the deep blue waters off Kiritimati Island, a remote atoll near the center of the Pacific Ocean. Still, she was stunned by what she saw as she descended some 30 feet to the rim of a coral outcropping.

“The entire reef is covered with a red-brown fuzz,” Dr. Cobb said when she returned to the surface after her recent dive. “It is otherworldly. It is algae that has grown over dead coral. It was devastating.”

The damage off Kiritimati is part of a mass bleaching of coral reefs around the world, only the third on record and possibly the worst ever. Scientists believe that heat stress from multiple weather events including the latest severe El Niño, compounded by climate change, has threatened more than a third of Earth’s coral reefs. Many may not recover.

Coral reefs are the crucial incubators of the ocean’s ecosystem, providing food and shelter to a quarter of all marine species, and they support fish stocks that feed more than one billion people. They are made up of millions of tiny animals, called polyps, that form symbiotic relationships with algae, which in turn capture sunlight and carbon dioxide to make sugars that feed the polyps.

An estimated 30 million small-scale fishermen and women depend on reefs for their livelihoods, more than one million in the Philippines alone. In Indonesia, fish supported by the reefs provide the primary source of protein.

“This is a huge, looming planetary crisis, and we are sticking our heads in the sand about it,” said Justin Marshall, the director of CoralWatch at Australia’s University of Queensland. [Continue reading…]

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How to count trees

Zach St. George writes: Gregor Hintler had what seemed like a simple question: How many trees are there? As part of Plant for the Planet, a youth initiative that aimed to plant one billion trees in every country by 2020, he needed a way to figure out how many trees the planet could fit. But when he tried to find out, he realized nobody knew the answer. One estimate suggested 400 billion trees. “That sounds like a lot,” he recalls thinking. “Could be right.” But Hintler, who was then a graduate student in environmental management at Yale University, started looking at data from plots in Germany, Norway, and the United States, where foresters had counted the number of trees. He discovered that the old figures weren’t even close — 400 billion was, in fact, far too low.

Forests cover about one third of the planet’s terrestrial area. They prevent desertification and erosion, store carbon, and provide habitat for millions of species. The recent Paris climate agreement highlights their importance, recommending that signing countries take steps to slow deforestation and enlist their forests in carbon credit markets. Knowing how many trees there are now, and how many there used to be, will help researchers assess human impact on the planet and any options going forward. [Continue reading…]

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Human influence on the planet is so profound – and terrifying – it will leave its legacy for millennia

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Robert Macfarlane writes: In 2003 the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term solastalgia to mean a “form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change”. Albrecht was studying the effects of long-term drought and large-scale mining activity on communities in New South Wales, when he realised that no word existed to describe the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed about them by forces beyond their control. He proposed his new term to describe this distinctive kind of homesickness.

Where the pain of nostalgia arises from moving away, the pain of solastalgia arises from staying put. Where the pain of nostalgia can be mitigated by return, the pain of solastalgia tends to be irreversible. Solastalgia is not a malady specific to the present – we might think of John Clare as a solastalgic poet, witnessing his native Northamptonshire countryside disrupted by enclosure in the 1810s – but it has flourished recently. “A worldwide increase in ecosystem distress syndromes,” wrote Albrecht, is “matched by a corresponding increase in human distress syndromes”. Solastalgia speaks of a modern uncanny, in which a familiar place is rendered unrecognisable by climate change or corporate action: the home become suddenly unhomely around its inhabitants.

Albrecht’s coinage is part of an emerging lexis for what we are increasingly calling the “Anthropocene”: the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record. And what a signature it will be. We have bored 50m kilometres of holes in our search for oil. We remove mountain tops to get at the coal they contain. The oceans dance with billions of tiny plastic beads. Weaponry tests have dispersed artificial radionuclides globally. The burning of rainforests for monoculture production sends out killing smog-palls that settle into the sediment across entire countries. We have become titanic geological agents, our legacy legible for millennia to come. [Continue reading…]

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Climate model predicts West Antarctic ice sheet could melt rapidly

Thwaites-ice-shelf

The New York Times reports: For half a century, climate scientists have seen the West Antarctic ice sheet, a remnant of the last ice age, as a sword of Damocles hanging over human civilization.

The great ice sheet, larger than Mexico, is thought to be potentially vulnerable to disintegration from a relatively small amount of global warming, and capable of raising the sea level by 12 feet or more should it break up. But researchers long assumed the worst effects would take hundreds — if not thousands — of years to occur.

Now, new research suggests the disaster scenario could play out much sooner.

Continued high emissions of heat-trapping gases could launch a disintegration of the ice sheet within decades, according to a study published Wednesday, heaving enough water into the ocean to raise the sea level as much as three feet by the end of this century.

With ice melting in other regions, too, the total rise of the sea could reach five or six feet by 2100, the researchers found. That is roughly twice the increase reported as a plausible worst-case scenario by a United Nations panel just three years ago, and so high it would likely provoke a profound crisis within the lifetimes of children being born today. [Continue reading…]

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Cantarow and Levy: Could nuclear disaster come to America?

On March 11, 2011, following a massive earthquake and a devastating tsunami, the cores of three of the reactors at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant melted down with horrific results.  Radioactive cesium, with a half-life of 30 years, contaminated almost 12,000 square miles of the country, an area about the size of the state of Connecticut. The government considered 12.5 square miles around the plant so poisoned that its population was evacuated and it was declared a permanent “exclusion” zone. (At Chernobyl in Ukraine, three decades after the other great nuclear disaster of our era, a 1,000 square mile exclusion zone is still in place.)  One hundred and twenty thousand evacuees, some from areas outside the exclusion zone, have still not gone home and some undoubtedly never will, despite a vast decontamination program run by the government.  (Sixteen to twenty-two million bags of contaminated soil and debris will someday be buried in a vast landfill near the plant, but it may take decades to get them there and that’s only the beginning of the problems to come.)  And let’s not forget that, according to a report from the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, the ocean waters around Fukushima received “the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed.”

To this day, five years later, eerie photos continue to emerge from now eternally deserted towns miles from the plant, thanks to what’s called “dark tourism.”  But bad as the Fukushima nuclear disaster was, it might have been so much worse.  Japan’s then-prime minister, Naoto Kan, has only recently admitted that he was so worried by the unraveling catastrophe and the swirl of misinformation around it that he almost ordered the evacuation of Tokyo, the capital, and all other areas within 160 miles of the plant.  The country, he said, “came within a ‘paper-thin margin’ of a nuclear disaster requiring the evacuation of 50 million people.”

Keep that in mind as you read today’s report from Alison Rose Levy and Ellen Cantarow, who has in recent years covered citizen resistance to the desires of Big Energy for TomDispatch.  Since the United States used nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, nuclear power has always had a fearsome aspect.  In the 1950s, the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower began promoting “the peaceful atom” in an attempt to take some of the sting out of atomic power’s bad rep.  (As part of that project, Eisenhower helped then-ally the Shah of Iran set up a “peaceful” nuclear program, the starting point for Washington’s more modern nuclear conflicts with that country.)  Unfortunately, as we’ve been reminded, from Three Mile Island to Chernobyl to Fukushima, there is ultimately a side to nuclear power that couldn’t be less “peaceful,” even in a peacetime setting.  As you think about the Indian Point nuclear power plant, the subject of today’s post, and its long history of problems and crises that only seem to be compounding, keep in mind how close Tokyo came to utter catastrophe and then think about the vast New York metropolitan area and what any of us would be able to do other than shelter in place if disaster were someday to strike up the Hudson River. Tom Engelhardt

A Fukushima on the Hudson?
The growing dangers of Indian Point
By Ellen Cantarow and Alison Rose Levy

It was a beautiful spring day and, in the control room of the nuclear reactor, the workers decided to deactivate the security system for a systems test. As they started to do so, however, the floor of the reactor began to tremble. Suddenly, its 1,200-ton cover blasted flames into the air. Tons of radioactive radium and graphite shot 1,000 meters into the sky and began drifting to the ground for miles around the nuclear plant. The first firemen to the rescue brought tons of water that would prove useless when it came to dousing the fires. The workers wore no protective clothing and eight of them would die that night — dozens more in the months to follow.

It was April 26, 1986, and this was just the start of the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the worst nuclear accident of its kind in history. Chernobyl is ranked as a “level 7 event,” the maximum danger classification on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.  It would spew out more radioactivity than 100 Hiroshima bombs. Of the 350,000 workers involved in cleanup operations, according to the World Health Organization, 240,000 would be exposed to the highest levels of radiation in a 30-mile zone around the plant. It is uncertain exactly how many cancer deaths have resulted since. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s estimate of the expected death toll from Chernobyl was 4,000. A 2006 Greenpeace report challenged that figure, suggesting that 16,000 people had already died due to the accident and predicting another 140,000 deaths in Ukraine and Belarus still to come. A significant increase in thyroid cancers in children, a very rare disease for them, has been charted in the region — nearly 7,000 cases by 2005 in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.

[Read more…]

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