More than 900 environmental advocates slain in a decade – Only 10 killers convicted – ‘The convicted tend to have lowest levels of responsibility, such as the getaway car driver. The level of impunity is glaring.’0 comments Posted by Jim at Tuesday, April 15, 2014
By DENIS D. GRAY
14 April 2014
BANGKOK (AP) – As head of his village, Prajob Naowa-opas battled to save his community in central Thailand from the illegal dumping of toxic waste by filing petitions and leading villagers to block trucks carrying the stuff — until a gunman in broad daylight fired four shots into him.
A year later, his three alleged killers, including a senior government official, are on trial for murder. The dumping has been halted and villagers are erecting a statue to their slain hero.
But the prosecution of Prajob’s murder is a rare exception. A survey released Tuesday — the first comprehensive one of its kind – says that only 10 killers of 908 environmental activists slain around the world over the past decade have been convicted.
The report by the London-based Global Witness, a group that seeks to shed light on the links between environmental exploitation and human rights abuses, says murders of those protecting land rights and the environment have soared dramatically. It noted that its toll of victims in 35 countries is probably far higher since field investigations in a number of African and Asian nations are difficult or impossible.
“Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposing land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation,” the report said. Others have been killed over hydro-electric dams, pollution, and wildlife conservation.
The rising deaths, along with non-lethal violence, are attributed to intensifying competition for shrinking resources in a global economy and abetted by authorities and security forces in some countries connected to powerful individuals, companies and others behind the killings.
Three times as many people died in 2012 than the 10 years previously, with the death rate rising in the past four years to an average of two activists a week, according to the non-governmental group. Deaths in 2013 are likely to be higher than the 95 documented to date. […]
Brazil, the report says, is the world’s most dangerous place for activists with 448 deaths between 2002 and 2013, followed by 109 in Honduras and Peru with 58. In Asia, the Philippines is the deadliest with 67, followed by Thailand at 16.
“We believe this is the most comprehensive global database on killings of environment and land defenders in existence,” said Oliver Courtney, senior campaigner at Global Witness. “It paints a deeply alarming picture, but it’s very likely this is just the tip of the iceberg, because information is very hard to find and verify. Far too little attention is being paid to this problem at the global level.” […]
Prosecution of Prajob’s suspected killers, Sunai said, was a “welcome rarity” in a country where investigations have been characterized by “half-hearted, inconsistent, and inefficient police work, and an unwillingness to tackle questions of collusion between political influences and interests and these killings of activists.”
“The convicted tend to have lowest levels of responsibility, such as the getaway car driver. The level of impunity is glaring,” he said. [more]
Marine food web at risk from rising CO2 levels in water – ‘Fish become bolder, and they venture further away from safe shelter, making them more vulnerable to predators’0 comments Posted by Jim at Tuesday, April 15, 2014
By Oliver Milman
13 April 2014
(theguardian.com) – A study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, James Cook University and the Georgia Institute of Technology found the behavior of fish would be “seriously affected” by greater exposure to CO2.
Researchers studied the behavior of coral reef fish at naturally occurring CO2 vents in Milne Bay, in eastern Papua New Guinea.
They found that fish living near the vents, where bubbles of CO2 seeped into the water, “were attracted to predator odour, did not distinguish between odours of different habitats, and exhibited bolder behaviour than fish from control reefs”.
The gung-ho nature of CO2-affected fish means that more of them are picked off by predators than is normally the case, raising potentially worrying possibilities in a scenario of rising carbon emissions.
More than 90% of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere is soaked up by the oceans. When CO2 is dissolved in water, it causes ocean acidification, which slightly lowers the pH of the water and changes its chemistry. Crustaceans can find it hard to form shells in highly acidic water, while corals risk episodes of bleaching.
The AIMS study found the diversity of fish at the CO2 vents was not influenced by the extra carbon, but that fish’s nerve stimulation mechanisms were altered, meaning the smell of predators became alluring.
“What we have now also found in our study of fish behaviour in this environment is that the fish become bolder and they venture further away from safe shelter, making them more vulnerable to predators,” said Alistair Cheal, co-author of the research. [more]
By Maureen Nandini Mitra(Earth Island Journal) – But add in a star cast of Hollywood heroes — Harrison Ford, Jessica Alba, Don Cheadle, and Matt Damon. Mix in some hotshot journalists — The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, CBS’ Lesley Stahl, and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. Have them travel around the country and different parts of the world to report on the causes of global warming, and talk with regular folks who are bearing the brunt of our rapidly changing biosphere— and well, you just might have the right recipe for a crowd-puller.
11 April 2014
At least that’s what the producers of Years of Living Dangerously, a nine-part series on climate change that kicks off this Sunday at 10 p.m., are hoping. As are most environmentalists (yours truly, included), who constantly struggle to find ways to communicate the grim fallouts of spewing invisible gases to our atmosphere to a public that’s exposed to a daily dose of climate denialism.
Conceptualized by former 60 Minutes journalists, Joel Bach and David Gelber, the executive producers of the series include Hollywood director James Cameron (of Avatar, Titanic fame), former California Gubernator Arnold Schwarzenegger, producer Jerry Weintraub (Ocean’s Eleven), and clean tech guru Dan Abbasi. The reporting is informed by a crack team of climate scientists, including James Hansen, Michael Mann, Joe Romm, and Dr Heidi Cullen, who described the series as “60 Minutes-meets-Ocean’s Eleven.”
The series consist of multiple stories on climate change that play out over the course of nine episodes. Each individual “correspondent” explores a specific impact of our warming world — from Superstorm Sandy to political instability in the Middle East, to melting Arctic ice. The stories also focus on how climate change is affecting the life of everyday Americans and offers some ideas about how they can be part of the solution.
The first episode begins with three stories playing out in different parts of the world. There’s Don Cheadle exploring the vexed issue of climate and religion when he visits a small Texas town where the main source of employment, a meat-packing factory, has closed down because the long drought. There’s an increasingly angry Harrison Ford visiting the peat forests of Indonesia to see how they are being clear cut and set on fire to make way for palm oil plantations. And there’s Tom Friedman trying to get into Syria to find out if climate change has anything to do with the ongoing civil war there. (You can watch the episode free online here.)
Future episodes have Schwarzenegger learning about how forest fires are getting more intense and frequent, Mark Bittman focusing on Superstorm Sandy and the politics of climate change, and Jessica Alba following Climate Corps fellows to see what ideas they are coming up with to make the corporate sector more environmentally friendly. [more]
13 April 2014 (Miami Herald) – In case there was still any doubt, and there shouldn’t be at this point, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group of scientists, has made it official: Climate change is not coming, it’s already here. And it’s going to get worse unless the whole world — especially the industrial world — greatly reduces greenhouse emissions causing global warming.
The U.N. panel periodically weighs in on the state of the Earth’s climate. Its latest report cites melting ice caps, collapsing sea ice in the Arctic, heat waves and heavy deluges that are increasing in intensity and threatening crops, bringing on concerns about sustainable food supplies. Coral reefs are dying. Oceans are rising, while the oceans’ waters are becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles and power plants.
“Climate change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and new poverty traps” in urban areas and emerging “hot spots” of hunger, the report says. Some of the people most at risk have little to do with causing global warming. Low-lying countries like Bangladesh and island nations in the Pacific Ocean could be the worst hit over the next few decades.
But equally at risk are people who live in luxurious condos and play at resorts along Florida’s coasts.
Attention, people up North: If you are hoping to retire to enjoy Florida’s coastal lifestyle in the future, plan to spend plenty of money on flood and windstorm insurance.
Florida's native seafood is going to cost more, too, as coral reefs that nurture fish dwindle and acidic ocean water becomes inhospitable for snapper and grouper.
Wherever you live, expect to pay more for food in general.
The long drought in the Western United States is forcing ranchers to reduce their livestock inventory as grazing land dries up.
Parched prairie farms need more water to irrigate their crops even as underground aquifers fed by less rain and melting snow begin to shrink.
Fewer food animals and lower crop yield are consequences of a warming climate the world over. The U.N. panel’s latest report card dwells more on threats to the world’s food supply than any others it has issued. Scarce food supplies can cause conflicts between sides warring over arable land, for instance.
All dire stuff. But there are a few bright spots. The report noted that more governments and businesses worldwide are acknowledging climate change, the first step to doing something about it.
The Obama administration has taken some steps to curb auto and power-plant emissions and plans more. Advocates of curbing greenhouse emissions, still pretty much a tepid battle overall, have a new partner — those trying to adapt to warming’s impacts.
Both tactics are alive in South Florida. Communities have formed alliances to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions even as they seek ways to mitigate rising sea levels to protect water supplies and sewage systems, for instance. Small steps, but we have to start somewhere. If only the rest of Florida would wake up.
The U.N. climate report is sobering for what it signifies for our children and their children. We can’t keep practicing magical thinking and believe the problem will go away in time to allow future generations to have a better quality of life on an increasingly inhospitable Earth.
We must act now, as individuals, as a state, as a nation of the world.
REDDING, CA, 11 April 2014 (The Onion) – Long considered among the nation’s premier zoos, northern California’s Redding Wildlife Park has continued to earn praise from visitors and industry observers alike for its progressive commitment to housing all of its animals in their natural destroyed habitats, sources reported this week.
The cutting-edge zoological park, which houses some 3,000 animals from more than 500 species within its grimy and litter-strewn enclosures, reportedly spends tens of millions of dollars each year to maintain a vast variety of polluted and decimated habitats that closely replicate living conditions in the outside world.
“Our zoo is dedicated to providing every one of our animals with surroundings that mimic their natural homes as closely as possible, which is why we’ve built dozens of modern habitats that contain the precise types of discarded plastic and styrofoam packaging, acidified water sources, and industrial byproducts they typically encounter in the wild,” zoo director Michael LaForge said of the facility’s trailblazing enclosures, which occupy more than 100 acres of largely drought-ravaged and eroded land abutting a chemical processing plant. “In the past year alone, we’ve spent over $20 million to systematically contaminate dozens of exhibits for our animals, from our freshwater pond tainted with hydraulic fracturing runoff to our temperate woodlands that we reduce in size every month through systematic deforestation.”
“The rainforest enclosure inhabited by our jaguars and howler monkeys, for example, is one of the most faithfully reproduced habitats in our park,” LaForge said while gesturing to an area of desiccated trees and scorched brown underbrush. “We are 100 percent committed to ensuring that these animals live exactly as they would if they were being constantly harassed and displaced by commercial farmers and loggers in the Amazon Basin.”
Employees said that since the first fetid, pesticide-laden exhibit was constructed in 2003, trustees have invested large sums of money in researching and developing the most realistic habitats, implementing solutions ranging from pumping smog into the air of the Indian elephant pen to introducing devastating invasive species such as cane toads and Burmese pythons into the park’s Caribbean and Everglades habitats. Sources confirmed that the zoo’s state-of-the-art polar bear exhibit features a million-gallon water tank with a single gradually receding platform in the middle, while its adjacent sea lion habitat includes a massive patch of floating refuse that includes the latest medical waste and old tires.
In each of the exhibits, staff said, the foul condition of the water and vegetation is closely monitored by dedicated teams of researchers who ensure that the animals remain constantly stressed and malnourished. [more]
Global rankings study shows America in rapid decline – U.S. #1 in incarcerated citizens per capita, adult onset diabetes, and belief in angels1 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, April 14, 2014
By CJ Werleman
9 April 2014
(AlterNet) – If America needed a reminder that it is fast becoming a second-rate nation, and that every economic policy of the Republican Party is wrongheaded, it got one this week with the release of the Social Progress Index (SPI).
Harvard business professor Michael E. Porter, who earlier developed the Global Competitiveness Report, designed the SPI. A new way to look at the success of countries, the SPI studies 132 nations and evaluates 54 social and environmental indicators for each country that matter to real people. Rather than measuring a country’s success by its per capita GDP, the index is based on an array of data reflecting suicide, ecosystem sustainability, property rights, access to healthcare and education, gender equality, attitudes toward immigrants and minorities, religious freedom, nutrition, infrastructure and more.
The index measures the livability of each country. People everywhere depend on and care about similar things. “We all need clean water. We all want to feel safe and live without fear. People everywhere want to get an education and improve their lives,” says Porter. But economic growth alone doesn’t guarantee these things.
While the U.S. enjoys the second highest per capita GDP of $45,336, it ranks in an underperforming 16th place overall. It gets worse. The U.S. ranks 70th in health, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, 39th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation and 31st in personal safety.
More surprising is the fact that despite being the home country of global tech heavyweights Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Oracle, and so on, the U.S. ranks a disappointing 23rd in access to the Internet. “It’s astonishing that for a country that has Silicon Valley, lack of access to information is a red flag,” notes Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, which oversees the index.
If this index is an affront to your jingoistic sensibilities, the U.S. remains in first place for the number of incarcerated citizens per capita, adult onset diabetes and for believing in angels.
New Zealand is ranked in first place in social progress. Interestingly, it ranks only 25th on GDP per capita, which means the island of the long white cloud is doing a far better job than America when it comes to meeting the need of its people. In order, the top 10 is rounded out by Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Denmark, and Australia.
Unsurprisingly these nations all happen to rank highly in the 2013 U.N. World Happiness Report with Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden among the top five.
So, what of the U.S? In terms of happiness, we rank 17th, trailing neighboring Mexico.
We find ourselves languishing for the very fact we have allowed corporate America to hijack the entire Republican Party, and some parts of the Democratic Party. This influence has bought corporations and the rich a rigged tax code that has redistributed wealth from the middle class to the rich over the course of the past three decades. This lack of shared prosperity and opportunity has retarded our social progress.
America’s rapid descent into impoverished nation status is the inevitable result of unchecked corporate capitalism. By every measure, we look like a broken banana republic. Not a single U.S. city is included in the world’s top 10 most livable cities. Only one U.S. airport makes the list of the top 100 in the world. Our roads, schools, and bridges are falling apart, and our trains — none of them high-speed — are running off their tracks. [more]
(Climate Progress) – USDA choice-grade beef hit a record $5.28 in February, according to the LA Times, and drought is the culprit.
Years of sometimes record-setting dry spells have punished the western and southern United States recently, cutting down crops like hay and corn that serve as cattle feed. That’s driven up the costs of raising and maintaining cattle herds, so ranchers spent the last few years selling off and slaughtering more cows than usual in order to keep their finances stable.
That’s driven the nation’s cattle population down to 87.7 million — the lowest its been since 1951, when herds hit a trough of 82.1 million. By contrast, the peak was in 1975, when the cattle population reached 132 million heads. (Though the LA Times noted that was when cows were less meaty and required more feed.)
With no attendant drop in demand, prices started going up as early as June 2013, and have just kept rising. The LA Times said restaurants and slaughterhouses around the country are raising prices to compensate, putting some of them in a precarious economic position. In Texas, the situation even forced the closure of entire beef plants.
It takes almost three years, starting at birth, for a cow to finally become ready for slaughter. So it will take a while for the herds to rebound. And that’s before the uncertainty brought on by the droughts and changing rainfall is factored in. Until they see the weather stabilize, ranchers are likely to hold off on replenishing their herds to avoid being caught again with two much cattle and not enough rain.
Ranchers also use breeding over time to improve the genetics of their cattle, improving the quality and amount of beef. So in an additional blow, the liquidation of many herds means a lot of those improved genetic lines have been lost, the LA Times reported.
Underlying the drought, the rising crop prices and the rising cattle prices is the reality of climate change: higher temperatures generally mean faster evaporation and drier conditions. So rainfall shifts to longer dry spells broken by heavier deluges. As a result, there’s less time for precipitation, when it does come, to add to snowpack or soak into the ground. Changes in oceanic temperatures and currents may also be redirecting major weather streams in ways that bring less rain to American west especially. All of that means reduced water supplies for people, crops and cattle.
Death toll in Valparaiso wildfire rises to 16 – 10,000 residents evacuated, 500 homes consumed – ‘It’s been one of the worst fires in history’0 comments Posted by Jim at Sunday, April 13, 2014
By Nelson Quinones and Matt Smith; with additional reporting by Michael Roa and Ben Brumfield
13 April 2014
(CNN) – Chile poured firefighters and police into the battle against a wildfire that swept through hundreds of homes in the Pacific coastal city of Valparaiso, leaving at least 16 dead, according to Chile's National Emergency Office's website. The site is attributing that number to police.
The death toll was previously at 11 as officials warned that they expected it to increase. More than 1,200 firefighters worked to control the wind-whipped blaze in Valparaiso and the suburb of Vina del Mar, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said Sunday. About 500 homes had been destroyed by Sunday morning, and 10,000 people had been forced to flee, Bachelet said.
The wind hampered firefighters' ability to create firebreaks, and the blaze had spread to nearly 2,000 acres, according to Chile's National Emergency Office.
“It's been one of the worst fires in history,” said Fernando Reseio, the fire superintendent in Vina del Mar.
Bachelet said the firefighters were backed up by 17 aircraft and that additional police were being brought in to prevent looting in the areas abandoned by their residents. Many of the survivors suffered burns, and the most seriously burned patients were being transferred to hospitals in the capital, Santiago, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) away, the president said.
In images broadcast by CNN sister network CNN Chile, residents could be seen fleeing the flames overnight. The network reported that the sweeping fire is endangering thousands more homes.
In addition, plans were being drawn up to evacuate inmates at Valparaiso prison as a preventive measure, Mayor Jorge Castro said. The city is under a red alert, said emergency office spokesman Ricardo Toro.
Earlier, Bachelet had declared a state of emergency, which legally allows armed forces to get involved.
13 April 2014 (EFE) – At least 16 people have died in a huge fire that is still burning in the hillside neighborhoods surrounding the Chilean capital in Valparaiso, the Carabineros militarized police force said Sunday.
Some 10,000 residents have been evacuated and more than 500 homes have been destroyed in the blaze, the largest in the history of this port city, where 250,000 people live and where Chile's parliament and navy are headquartered.
Some 20 aircraft, including helicopters and cistern planes, are being used to combat the fire's many active foci, while on the ground more than 3,500 men belonging to the forestry brigades, firefighters, police, army and navy are working to control the blaze.
The streets of Valparaiso are being patrolled by soldiers, in accord with the state of emergency decreed Saturday by President Michelle Bachelet, who declared the city a disaster zone.
The president arrived at the Valparaiso City Hall early Sunday morning to head up an emergency committee after it had announced that aid would be provided to those who had suffered property damage from the fire, which started on Saturday.
Weather conditions are not helping authorities extinguish the fire - with heavy winds and unusually high temperatures in the zone for this time of year, the Southern Hemisphere's autumn - although officials say they are confident that they can bring it under control within the coming hours.
3 April 2014 (FAO) – The FAO Food Price Index is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities. It consists of the average of five commodity group price indices, weighted with the average export shares of each of the groups for 2002-2004.
» The FAO Food Price Index averaged 212.8 points in March 2014, up 4.8 points, or 2.3 percent, from February and the highest level since May 2013. Last month’s increase was largely driven by unfavourable weather conditions affecting some crops and geopolitical tensions in the Black Sea region. Overall, except for the FAO Dairy Price Index, which fell for the first time in four months, all the other commodity price indices registered gains, with sugar and cereals increasing the most.
» The FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 205.8 points in March, up as much as 10 points, or 5.2 percent, from February, marking the second month of significant increases. While in March the Index rose to its highest value since August 2013, it remained well below (34.6 points or 14.4 percent) its value in March 2013. Last month’s strength stemmed from a surge in wheat and maize prices reflecting a strong pace in grain imports, growing concerns over the effect of continued dryness in the south-central United States on winter wheat crops, and unfavourable weather in parts of Brazil. Geopolitical tensions in the Black Sea region, in particular uncertainties with regard to grain shipments from Ukraine, also provided a boost. Rice prices were generally stable.
» The FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index averaged 204.8 points in March, up another 7 points (or 4.5 percent) from February and the highest level in 18 months. The rise in the index mainly reflected a surge in palm oil, on continued concerns over the impact of protracted dry weather in Southeast Asia. Tight inventories in Malaysia and the prospect of rising domestic consumption in Indonesia, the top palm oil producer and exporter, contributed to the strengthening in palm oil values, as did reports about a possible El Niño weather event later this year. International prices for soy, sunflower and rape seed oil also firmed.
» The FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 268.5 points in March, a fall of 6.9 points, or 2.5 percent, over February. Demand for all dairy products has been affected by reduced purchases by China and uncertainty over trade with the Russian Federation. Additionally, an extended season in New Zealand and a good start to the dairy-year in the northern-hemisphere have meant that supplies for export have increased. The dairy commodity subject to the sharpest price drop was Whole Milk Powder, reflecting reduced buying interest from China, in particular.
» The FAO Meat Price Index averaged 185 points in March, 2.7 points, or 1.5 percent, above February. The main driver was higher bovine meat prices, which were associated with dry weather conditions affecting production in both Australia and the United States. Prices for pigmeat also rose, in part on concerns over the effect of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus on export supplies in the United States. Prices of poultry and ovine meat were only slightly stronger.
» The FAO Sugar Price Index averaged 253.9 points in March, up 18.5 points, or 7.9 percent, from February. Sugar prices kept strengthening amid concerns of declining export availabilities from Brazil and Thailand, due to drought and reduced sugarcane output, respectively. The likelihood of sugar crops being adversely affected by El Niño later this year also contributed to the price surge.