Monarch butterfly resting on fennel, at the Pismo Butterfly Grove, California. Photo: docentjoyce / Wikimedia Commons

Contact:  Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 522-3681
Abigail Seiler, Center for Food Safety, (443) 854-4368
Lincoln Brower, Sweet Briar College, (434) 277-5065
Sarina Jepsen, Xerces Society, (971) 244-3727
26 August 2014

WASHINGTON (CBD) – The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety as co-lead petitioners joined by the Xerces Society and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower filed a legal petition today to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for monarch butterflies, which have declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years. During the same period it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.

“Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range,” said Lincoln Brower, preeminent monarch researcher and conservationist, who has been studying the species since 1954.

“We’re at risk of losing a symbolic backyard beauty that has been part of the childhood of every generation of Americans,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The 90 percent drop in the monarch’s population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio.”

The butterfly’s dramatic decline is being driven by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a uniquely potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in midwestern corn and soybean fields.

“The widespread decline of monarchs is driven by the massive spraying of herbicides on genetically engineered crops, which has virtually eliminated monarch habitat in cropland that dominates the Midwest landscape,” said Bill Freese, a Center for Food Safety science policy analyst. “Doing what is needed to protect monarchs will also benefit pollinators and other valuable insects, and thus safeguard our food supply.”

Monarch butterflies are known for their spectacular multigenerational migration each year from Mexico to Canada and back. Found throughout the United States during summer months, in winter most monarchs from east of the Rockies converge in the mountains of central Mexico, where they form tight clusters on just a few acres of trees. Most monarchs west of the Rockies migrate to trees along the California coast to overwinter.

The population has declined from a recorded high of approximately 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 35 million butterflies last winter, the lowest number ever recorded. The overall population shows a steep and statistically significant decline of 90 percent over 20 years. In addition to herbicide use with genetically engineered crops, monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl, and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds. Scientists have predicted that the monarch’s entire winter range in Mexico and large parts of its summer range in the states could become unsuitable due to changing temperatures and increased risk of drought, heat waves, and severe storms.

Monarchs need a very large population size to be resilient to threats from severe weather events and predation. Nearly half of the overwintering population in Mexico can be eaten by bird and mammal predators in any single winter; a single winter storm in 2002 killed an estimated 500 million monarchs — 14 times the size of the entire current population.

“We need to take immediate action to protect the monarch so that it doesn’t become another tragic example of a widespread species being erased because we falsely assumed it was too common to become extinct,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species director at the Xerces Society. “2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, which was once so numerous no one would ever have believed it was at risk of extinction. History demonstrates that we cannot afford to be complacent about saving the monarch.”

“The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to protect species like the monarch, and protect them, now, before it’s too late,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety. “We’ve provided FWS a legal and scientific blueprint of the urgently needed action here.”

“The monarch is the canary in the cornfield, a harbinger of environmental change that we’ve brought about on such a broad scale that many species of pollinators are now at risk if we don’t take action to protect them,” said Brower, who has published hundreds of scientific studies on monarchs.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must now issue a “90-day finding” on whether the petition warrants further review.

After 90 Percent Decline, Federal Protection Sought for Monarch Butterfly

The Green Bridge over full water levels in Lake Oroville in July 2011 compared with the almost dry basin in 2014. 2011 Photo: Paul Hames / California Department of Water Resources

By Justin Sullivan
20 August 2014

(theguardian.com) – As the severe drought continues for a third year, water levels in the state’s lakes and reservoirs are reaching historic lows. [more]

Drought in California – in pictures

A natural methane seep on the ocean floor off the U.S. coast. Researchers have discovered 570 plumes of methane percolating up from the sea floor off the eastern coast of the United States, a surprisingly high number of seeps in a relatively quiescent part of the ocean. Photo: 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition / NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

By Eric Hand
24 August 2014

(Science) – And up through the ground came a bubbling greenhouse gas. Researchers have discovered 570 plumes of methane percolating up from the sea floor off the eastern coast of the United States, a surprisingly high number of seeps in a relatively quiescent part of the ocean. The seeps suggest that methane’s contribution to climate change has been underestimated in some models. And because most of the seeps lie at depths where small changes in temperature could be releasing the methane, it is possible that climate change itself could be playing a role in turning some of them on.

Most of the seeps are thought to be fed by methane stored in hydrates, crystal lattices of water ice that form under low temperatures and high pressures. Harvesting methane from hydrates in the sea floor has already aroused commercial interests; both Japan and the United States have embarked on pilot extraction projects. But the hydrates are also significant for climate scientists: This immense reservoir is thought to contain 10 times as much carbon as the atmosphere. The gas, if it reaches the atmosphere, is far more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat trapper. Even in the more likely event that aerobic microbes devour the methane while still in the ocean, it is converted to carbon dioxide, which leads to ocean acidification. Some scientists have implicated runaway methane hydrate releases in the catastrophic extinctions of marine life at the Permian-Triassic boundary, 252 million years ago.

The present study, published online today in Nature Geoscience, is based on data collected in a survey from 2011 to 2013 by the research vessel Okeanos Explorer. Equipped with a multibeam sonar along its hull, the vessel not only mapped the sea floor along a swath off the coast of North Carolina to Massachusetts, but also recorded reflections in the water column. Gas bubbles of methane stood out as a distinctive signature. Most of the seeps were found at depths of 180 to 600 meters along the upper slope of the continental margin. This is the area where the continental shelf rapidly falls to the 5000-meter-deep abyssal plain of the ocean.

“So far everybody has been looking at small spots. This is the first time anyone has systematically mapped an entire margin,” says Christian Berndt, a marine geophysicist at GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany, who was not involved in the study. It was also a surprise because seeps are typically found above known methane reservoirs, or above regions of active tectonic activity. The continental margin was thought to be virtually devoid of seeps—until scientists studied the sonar data. “They found that there was much more methane coming out than was suspected beforehand,” Berndt says. [more]

Numerous methane leaks found on Atlantic sea floor

Aerial view of cement quarry and limestone hill in Malaysia, owned by international company Lafarge, that is home to a number of species found nowhere else, including a new snail. Photo: Ong Poh Teck / Basteria

By Tanya Dimitrova
24 August 2014

(mongabay.com) – Scientists have discovered a new snail species on a limestone hill near a cement quarry in Malaysia, which as far as they know lives nowhere else in the world. The animal's shell is only one tenth of an inch in size.

"Narrow endemic species are a common occurrence on limestone hills," Jaap Vermeulen, lead author of the new study, told mongabay.com. "A good biologist can quite easily discover several species of endemic invertebrates on an isolated, unsurveyed hill."

Although just unearthed, the miniscule snail is already threatened with extinction. It lives on a limestone hill called Kanthan given as a concession to an international company Lafarge. The cement producer quarries the hill for raw materials. As a result, the snail will be included as Critically Endangered in the next update of the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.

The scientists who discovered the animal named it Charopa lafargei, after the cement company that will decide its fate.

Various views of the shell of the newly discovered snail species, Charopa lafargei, named after international company Lafarge, which will decide the fate of the species. Photo: Vermeulen, et al. / mongabay.com

"I'm not aware of a species threatened with extinction which has been given the name of the company which can determine whether it goes extinct or survives," said Tony Whitten from Fauna & Flora International.

The new snail is not the only endemic species found on the hill. Kanthan is also home to nine plant species that are on Malaysia's Red List of Endangered Plants, one Critically Endangered spider (Liphistius kanthan), one gecko (Cyrtodactylus guakanthanensis) and two snails (Opisthostoma trapezium and Sinoennea chrysalis) that are found nowhere else in the world.

Representatives from Lafarge have attended a number of talks with local environmentalists and discussed potential conservation efforts on the south side of the hill—the confirmed home of the Critically Endangered spider and gecko.

"We are committed to ensuring the preservation of rare biodiversity that may be found on land identified for quarry development," said Jim Ruxton, Senior Vice-President, Industrial Operations, Lafarge Malaysia. [more]

Scientists name new endangered species after the company that will decide its fate

A crater located in the permafrost about 18 miles from a huge gas field north of the regional capital of Salekhard, roughly 2,000 kilometers northeast of Moscow, on 16 June 2014. The crater probably was caused by methane released as permafrost thawed due to global warming, researchers in Russia say. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

By Katia Moskvitch
31 July 2014

(Nature) – A mystery crater spotted in the frozen Yamal peninsula in Siberia earlier this month was probably caused by methane released as permafrost thawed, researchers in Russia say.

Air near the bottom of the crater contained unusually high concentrations of methane — up to 9.6% — in tests conducted at the site on 16 July, says Andrei Plekhanov, an archaeologist at the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia. Plekhanov, who led an expedition to the crater, says that air normally contains just 0.000179% methane.

Since the hole was spotted in mid-July by a helicopter pilot, conjecture has abounded about how the 30-metre-wide crater was formed — a gas or missile explosion, a meteorite impact and alien involvement have all been suggested.

But Plekhanov and his team believe that it is linked to the abnormally hot Yamal summers of 2012 and 2013, which were warmer than usual by an average of about 5°C. As temperatures rose, the researchers suggest, permafrost thawed and collapsed, releasing methane that had been trapped in the icy ground.

Other researchers argue that long-term global warming might be to blame — and that a slow and steady thaw in the region could have been enough to free a burst of methane and create such a big crater. Over the past 20 years, permafrost at a depth of 20 metres has warmed by about 2°C, driven by rising air temperatures1, notes Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten, a geochemist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany.

Hubberten speculates that a thick layer of ice on top of the soil at the Yamal crater site trapped methane released by thawing permafrost. “Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” he says. Hubberten says that he has never before seen a crater similar to the Yamal crater in the Arctic. [more]

Mysterious Siberian crater attributed to methane

Vertical displacement in the western United States, 2011-2014. The western U.S. has been experiencing severe drought since 2013. The solid earth response to the accompanying loss of surface and near-surface water mass should be a broad region of uplift. The median uplift is 4 mm, with values up to 15 mm in California’s mountains. The associated pattern of mass loss, which ranges up to 50 cm of water equivalent, is consistent with observed decreases in precipitation and streamflow. We estimate the total deficit to be about 240 Gt, equivalent to a 10 cm layer of water over the entire region. Graphic: Borsa, et al., 2014

By Rong-Gong Lin II
21 August 2014

(Los Angeles Times) – The ongoing drought in the western United States has caused so much loss of groundwater that the Earth, on average, has lifted up about 0.16 inches over the last 18 months, according to a new study.

The situation was even worse in the snow-starved mountains of California, where the Earth rose up to 0.6 inches.

Researchers from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the groundwater loss from the start of 2013 to be 63 trillion gallons — the equivalent of flooding four inches of water across the United States west of the Rocky Mountains.

The study, published online Thursday by the journal Science, offers a grim accounting of the drought’s toll.

“We found that it’s most severe in California, particularly in the Sierras,” said coauthor Duncan Agnew, professor of geophysics at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “It’s predominantly in the Coast Ranges and the Sierras showing the most uplift, and hence, that’s where we believe is the largest water loss.”

That’s also about how much ice is lost from the Greenland ice cap every year from global warming. [more]

63 trillion gallons of groundwater lost in drought, study finds


By Adrian Antal Borsa,  Duncan Carr Agnew, Daniel R. Cayan
8 August 2014

ABSTACT: The western United States has been experiencing severe drought since 2013. The solid earth response to the accompanying loss of surface and near-surface water mass should be a broad region of uplift. We use seasonally-adjusted time series from continuously operating GPS stations to measure this uplift, which we invert to estimate mass loss. The median uplift is 4 mm, with values up to 15 mm in California’s mountains. The associated pattern of mass loss, which ranges up to 50 cm of water equivalent, is consistent with observed decreases in precipitation and streamflow. We estimate the total deficit to be about 240 Gt, equivalent to a 10 cm layer of water over the entire region, or the annual mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Ongoing drought-induced uplift in the western United States

Ethan Elkind, an attorney who researches and writes on environmental law for the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) at the UC Berkeley School of Law. Photo: ethanelkind.comBy Ethan Elkind  
18 August 2014

(Legal Planet) – Dr. Michael Mann, one of the country’s leading climate scientists, has been harassed, threatened, and berated for his views that human actions are contributing to global climate change. But not just from anonymous commenters on websites — from leading publications like the National Review Online. After being compared to Jerry Sandusky and having the credibility of his work questioned, Mann finally has had enough. He is suing Rand Simberg of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) blog and Mark Steyn at National Review Online for defamation.

So what is defamation and how do you prove it? To be sure, this is not my area of legal expertise. But the basics are fairly straightforward. As an overview, defamation means a public attack, based on false facts, on a person’s professional character or standing on an issue of public interest. The attacks have to cause damage to the plaintiff.

You can defend yourself against charges that you defamed someone by proving that you spoke the “truth.” You can also defend yourself by saying it was just an “opinion” as opposed to fact, although some jurisdictions have eliminated that distinction.

In this case:

Mann alleged that four phrases in Simberg’s post were defamatory: “data manipulation,” “academic and scientific misconduct,” “posterboy of the corrupt and disgraced climate science echo chamber,” and accusing the Penn State professor of molesting his data and thus being the “Jerry Sandusky of climate science.” He also cited a subsequent CEI press release that called his research “intellectually bogus.”

Trevor Burris of Forbes penned a full-throated defense of National Review and the other defendants, arguing that their words amounted to nothing more than name-calling: […]

I disagree. First, the comments against Mann aren’t just name-calling — they are name-calling to further false challenges to Mann’s work. They misleadingly call into question the accuracy of Mann’s research and methodology. In reality, there’s no real scientific debate on the overall facts. Sure, you can debate the scale of the warming and the precise amount of impact that human activity is having, but an astounding 97% of scientists have reached consensus on the overall issue. The courts should rightly investigate how factually plausible the challenges to Mann’s work are.

But should climate advocates be afraid of riding the defamation tiger, in case it turns around and bites them, as Burris suggests? I think there’s nothing to fear from judicial scrutiny if advocates label the fossil fuel-funded campaigns against their work phony and misleading. After all, a court wouldn’t sanction someone for calling people crazy who deny that smoking causes lung cancer or HIV causes AIDS. These are areas of broad scientific consensus with overwhelming supportive evidence. The link between human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and global warming is as equally supported. [more]

Why Michael Mann’s Defamation Suit Against Climate Denialists Is the Right Move

Aerial view of a landslide in Oso, Washington, that occurred on 25 January 2006. A slice of hill about 900 feet across collapsed, sending several hundred thousand cubic yards of mud, clay and trees into the river. The slide pushed the channel 730 feet south, causing flooding that threatened homes in Steelhead Haven. Emergency work by county and federal workers saved the neighborhood, with just one homeowner losing an outhouse and tool shed. Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture / Seattle Times

Reporters: Ken Armstrong, Justin Mayo, Mike Baker and Jim Brunner
Interactive: Thomas Wilburn
Graphics: Mark Nowlin
Editor: Beth Kaiman
July 2014

(Seattle Times) – The decades preceding the deadly landslide near Oso reflect a shifting landscape with one human constant: Even as warnings mounted, people kept moving in. This interactive graphic tells that story, starting in 1887. Thirteen aerial photographs from the 1930s on capture the geographical changes; the hill is scarred by a succession of major slides while the river at its base gets pushed away, only to fight its way back. This graphic lets you go back in time and track the warnings from scientists; the failed attempts to stabilize the hill; the logging on or near the unstable slope; and the 37 homes that were built below the hill only to be destroyed. [more]

Building toward disaster

A crime map of Detroit over the week of 9 Aug 2024 - 15 Aug 2014, as tracked by the city's police department. The offenses the department tracks include larceny, vandalism, assault, robbery, vehicle break-ins, and sex crimes. Photo: City of Detroit police department

By Rose Hackman   
17 August 2014

(theguardian.com) – Detroit police chief James Craig – nicknamed “Hollywood” for his years spent in the LAPD and his seeming love of being in front of the camera – has repeatedly called on “good” and “law-abiding” Detroiters to arm themselves against criminals in the city.

His words have not fallen on deaf ears.

Patricia Champion, a 63-year-old lifelong Detroiter, a grandmother and retired educator, decided to get her concealed pistol license - a CPL - two years ago after her son said he was increasingly worried for her safety. Champion, a resident of northwest Detroit, mostly keeps her gun, a 9mm Glock 19 that set her back $600, in her house.

“That’s why I got it: because I’m going to be in the house. Now, if somebody chooses to come in and I didn’t invite you, between the Glock and the dog, you’re gone. If one doesn’t get you, the other one will.”

“The police are not going to protect you when something is being perpetrated on you. They may turn up after the fact and run after that person, but you have to protect yourself,” Champion says.

Champion’s fears of facing a threat in her home are not ill-founded. Besides having the worst homicide rate among large American cities, Detroit experienced 12,935 burglaries last year. With around 250,000 households, that means Detroiters have roughly a 1 in 20 chance of being burgled. To residents who have been victims of crime, being allowed to carry a weapon, whether openly or concealed, is not just reassuring, it’s part of the pragmatic reality of living in the Motor City. Wayne County, which encapsulates Detroit and its metro area, counted 83,950 active concealed-pistol permits as of 1 August 2014 – meaning one permit for every 21 households.

The city, strapped for cash, has only 2,300 police officers – unchanged from a year ago, before the bankruptcy, but still not enough. Many Detroiters feel they have to rely on themselves first for their own security and survival.

For Rick Ector, a Detroit-based NRA firearms instructor and former Chrysler systems analyst, it is quite simple: “You are your own first line of defense.” [more]

Police tell Detroiters to buy guns in city riven by race issues and crime

 

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