This 21 June 2013 file photo shows a steamroller and a backhoe used to crush seized elephant tusks during a destruction ceremony at the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. Political and military elites are seizing protected areas in one of Africa’s last bastions for elephants, putting broad swaths of Zimbabwe at risk of becoming fronts for ivory poaching, according to a nonprofit research group’s report that examines government collusion in wildlife trafficking. Photo: Bullit Marquez / AP

By Richard Lardner
20 April 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) – Political and military elites are seizing protected areas in one of Africa's last bastions for elephants, putting broad swaths of Zimbabwe at risk of becoming fronts for ivory poaching, according to a non-profit research group's report that examines government collusion in wildlife trafficking.

Zimbabwe has maintained robust elephant populations compared with other countries on the continent. But economic penalties imposed by the United States and Europe have led Zimbabweans with ties to President Robert Mugabe's ruling party to find new methods of making money. The report, set for release Monday, says they may be turning to elephants' highly valued ivory tusks.

Zimbabwe's embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Born Free USA, an animal advocacy group, commissioned the report from Washington-based C4ADS to better understand the role organized crime and corrupt government officials play in ivory trafficking across Africa, said Adam Roberts, Born Free USA's chief executive officer.

Wildlife trafficking long has been viewed as a conservation issue, but it has exploded into an illicit global economy monopolized by mafia-like syndicates and enabled by high-level bureaucrats and powerful business interests.

The report describes a toxic combination of conflict, crime, and failures of governance throughout Africa that threatens to wipe out the continent's dwindling elephant herds.

China, the world's largest market for ivory, is compounding the threat, the report said.

Chinese companies have won lucrative contracts in Zimbabwe for mining and construction projects near remote elephant habitats, bringing waves of workers and new roads that can be exploited by East Asian crime organizations, the report said.

TRAFFIC, a global wildlife trade monitoring network, says there are between 47,000 and 93,000 elephants in Zimbabwe. The gap is due to the fact that full-fledged surveys of the animals have not been carried out since 2007, said Richard Thomas, the organization's spokesman.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this month signalled its worries about the future of Zimbabwe's herds in a decision blocking the importation of African elephant trophies taken in Zimbabwe during 2014.

Noting the cyanide poisoning of 300 elephants last year in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, the agency said it has "significant concerns about the long-term survival of elephants in Zimbabwe."

Land grabs threaten last elephant bastions

An avocado grove has seen better days as California's record drought takes its toll. Photo: America's Markets

By Adam Shell   
16 April 2014

(America’s Markets) – The price of  fruits and veggies is going up, causing possible sticker shock at the grocery store checkout. Blame one of California’s worst droughts ever for the rising prices.

Crop shortages, ranging from 10% to 20% depending on the type of crop, will lead to the higher prices, says professor Timothy Richards of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, citing recently completed research on which crops will likely be most affected.

“You’re probably going to see the biggest produce price increases on avocados, berries, broccoli, grapes, lettuce, melons, peppers, tomatoes and packaged salads,” says Richards. “We can expect to see the biggest percentage jumps in prices for avocados and lettuce – 28% and 34%, respectively.”

Richards estimates the following possible price increases due to the drought:

  • Avocados likely to go up 17  to 35 cents to as much as $1.60 each.
  • Berries likely to rise 21 to 43 cents to as much as $3.46 per clamshell container.
  • Broccoli likely to go up 20 to 40 cents to a possible $2.18 per pound.
  • Grapes likely to rise 26 to 50 cents to a possible $2.93 per pound.
  • Lettuce likely to rise 31 to 62 cents to as much as $2.44 per head.
  • Packaged salad likely to go up 17 to 34 cents to a possible $3.03 per bag.
  • Peppers likely to go up 18 to 35 cents to a possible $2.48 per pound.
  • Tomatoes likely to rise 22 to 45 cents to a possible $2.84 per pound.

Industry estimates range from a half-million to 1 million acres of agricultural land likely to be affected by the current California drought. Richards believes 10% to 20% of the supply of certain crops could be lost. California is the biggest national supplier of several of those crops. For avocados, the state is the only major domestic source. […]

“We predict the increased prices will change consumer purchasing behavior,” says Sherry Frey, vice president of Nielsen Perishables Group. [more]

California drought to cause fruit and veggie sticker shock

Parched: A farmer walks through a dry paddy field in Kototangah subdistrict, Padang, West Sumatra on 18 February 2014. Hundreds of hectares of farmland in Kototangah and Kuranji sub-districts are facing crop failure due to drought. Photo: Iggoy el Fitra / Antara

There is a great difference between being still and doing nothing. ~Chinese proverb~

By Carolyn Baker
16 April, 2014

( – When I speak about catastrophic climate change and the likelihood of near-term human extinction, I am often accused to “giving up” or choosing to “do nothing” about climate change. Even more charged for some is the notion of “living in hospice” which I argue is now the unequivocal predicament of our species. The typical rebuttal goes something like, “Instead of contemplating our navels or rolling over and preparing for death, we have to do something about climate change!”

Thus, I feel compelled to genuinely ask: What does it mean to actually “do something”?

First, I want to clarify that when I speak of preparing for near-term extinction by surrendering to the severity of our predicament or adopting a hospice attitude, I do not mean that we put on our favorite pair of pajamas, ingest a large dose of Ambien, draw the shades, lie down and set the electric blanket on “womb,” and then proceed to play dead and become comatose as we approach our demise. In fact, there is far too much we can do, both externally and internally to succumb to such meaningless sloth.

Each of us, whether we contemplate near-term extinction or not can consciously reduce our personal carbon footprint. We can drastically curtail our consumption and waste; we can grow our own food and eat local, organic food. Some individuals choose not to have cars or travel by air. Some people choose not to have children; some choose to unplug from empire as much as humanly possible. And yes, we can become climate activists—we can march in protests against the Keystone XL pipeline, we can join the Great March For Climate Action, we can write letters, and as a last resort, move to an area of the planet, such as the Southern Hemisphere, where it appears that the impacts of global climate change may not be as severe as in other regions–maybe. We owe these actions to ourselves, to other humans, and to the plethora of other species that are going and will go extinct. As my friend and colleague, Francis Weller, notes, this is a time to develop really good manners toward other species and make their demise as easy for them as possible. In summary, there is much within our power as individuals that we can do to lessen greenhouse gas emissions and lower the impact of catastrophic climate change.

However, the tragic reality of our personal efforts, as noble or as fervent as they may be, is that they are not enough to prevent near-term human extinction. Why?

In the first place, the impacts of catastrophic climate change are routinely minimized by the scientific community as Guy McPherson points out:

Mainstream scientists minimize the message at every turn. As we’ve known for years, scientists almost invariably underplay climate impacts. And in some cases, scientists are aggressively muzzled by their governments. I’m not implying conspiracy among scientists. Science selects for conservatism. Academia selects for extreme conservatism. These folks are loathe to risk drawing undue attention to themselves by pointing out there might be a threat to civilization. Never mind the near-term threat to our entire species (they couldn’t care less about other species). If the truth is dire, they can find another, not-so-dire version. The concept is supported by an article in the February 2013 issue of Global Environmental Change pointing out that climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama.” Almost everybody reading these words has a vested interest in not wanting to think about climate change, which helps explain why the climate-change deniers have won.

What is more, despite the efforts of some nations to “do something” about climate change, the harsh, cold (no pun intended) reality is that it is too little too late. Halldor Thorgeirsson, Senior Director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change remarked in September, 2013, stated, “We are failing as an international community. We are not on track.” Now realizing the dire state of warming due to inaction on climate change, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) asserts that “Global warming is irreversible without massive geoengineering of the atmosphere’s chemistry.” Of course, we already know that there is probably nothing that geo-engineering cannot make worse—for example the radical altering of rainfall patterns and the assertion by Live Science that “Current schemes to minimize the havoc caused by global warming by purposefully manipulating Earth’s climate are likely to either be relatively useless or actually make things worse, researchers say in a new study.” And earlier this month, Skeptical Science published an article entitled, “Alarming New Study Makes Today’s Climate Change More Comparable To Earth’s Worst Mass Extinction.” Moreover, according to the National Academy of Sciences “A Four-Degree Rise Will End Vegetation ‘Carbon Sink’ Research Suggests.”

For those who “don’t like” Guy McPherson’s analysis, Dr. Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University earlier this month penned an article in Scientific American “Earth Will Cross The Climate Danger Threshold By 2036” in which he stated in protest of the voices who assert that global warming has ‘paused,’:

To my wonder, I found that for an ECS (equilibrium climate sensitivity) of three degrees C, our planet would cross the dangerous warming threshold of two degrees C in 2036, only 22 years from now. When I considered the lower ECS value of 2.5 degrees C, the world would cross the threshold in 2046, just 10 years later. So even if we accept a lower ECS value, it hardly signals the end of global warming or even a pause. Instead it simply buys us a little bit of time—potentially valuable time—to prevent our planet from crossing the threshold.

Yes, Michael Mann is hoping that we can still “do something” about catastrophic climate change, but his assertion more closely aligns with Guy McPherson’s projection that even if we “do something” about climate change there are likely to be few habitable places on the planet by 2030 at the earliest and 2050 at the latest.

Less widely discussed in the mainstream climate conversation is the ghastly rate of Arctic melting and the resulting release of methane into the atmosphere. In the video, Arctic Death Spiral And The Methane Time Bomb, David Wasdell, Director of the Apollo-Gaia Project explains the absolute runaway nature of Arctic melting. Self-reinforcing feedback loops, he asserts, have taken over, and it is now becoming increasingly obvious that the Arctic will be mostly ice-free by the end of 2015. Other presenters in this video further clarify that we are approximately fifty years ahead of the worst case scenario in terms of Arctic melting. Dr. Peter Wadhams of the University Of Cambridge states that the effect of an ice-free Arctic on the world is enormous because it goes far beyond the Arctic itself in terms of the methane that is released as the ice retreats. Due to self-reinforcing feedback loops, once the melting process generates more CO2 than humans do, it will not matter what humans do to reverse the melting. In Arctic Methane: Why Sea Ice Matters, Dr. Natalia Shakhova notes that Arctic permafrost is losing its ability to seal in the methane, and even more troubling is the increase in seismic activity in the Arctic which creates additional pathways for methane to be released.

“Doing something” implies that developing nations of the world and the fossil fuel industry will come together and: 1) Agree that climate change is actually happening; 2) Understand that the situation is so dire that humanity’s living arrangements must be radically altered; 3) Sacrifice their economic security and industrial profits to significantly reduce carbon emissions; 4) Agree to the reality of climate change and the altering of their living arrangements in time to prevent another 2 degree C rise in temperature.

I dare say that the same people who believe this is going to happen would vehemently protest a belief in Santa Claus, but nevertheless, they cling to this chimera.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tim Garrett, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah tells us that “rising carbon dioxide emissions – the major cause of global warming – cannot be stabilized unless the world’s economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day.” [more]

What Does It Mean To “Do Something” About Climate Change?

An avalanche swept the slopes of Mount Everest on 18 April 2014, killing at least 13 Nepalese guides and leaving others missing, officials said. Photo: Rafal Belzowski / Getty Images

By Marc Lallanilla
18 April 2014

(LiveScience) – The icy slopes of Mount Everest have seen hundreds of deaths in the years since 1922, when seven people perished during the British Mount Everest Expedition.

An avalanche today (18 April 2014) claimed at least 12 lives, in what may be the single deadliest climbing event in the history of the world's tallest mountain (29,029 feet, or 8,848 meters). The death toll may rise, because other climbers are still missing, according to the BBC.

All of the deceased were guides from the ethnic Sherpa community, who were securing ropes for the start of the spring climbing season. And many Sherpas insist that Mount Everest and other mountains in the area have become more dangerous because of climate change. [Ice World: Gallery of Awe-Inspiring Glaciers]

"In 1989 when I first climbed Everest there was a lot of snow and ice, but now most of it has just become bare rock. That, as a result, is causing more rock falls, which is a danger to the climbers," said Apa Sherpa, a Nepali climber, as quoted in Discovery News.

"Also, climbing is becoming more difficult, because when you are on a [snowy] mountain you can wear crampons, but it's very dangerous and very slippery to walk on bare rock with crampons," he added.

Avalanches have been around for centuries, of course, and researchers can't blame any single event on climate change. Some evidence exists, however, that a warming planet and changes in precipitation may increase the likelihood of certain types of avalanches at certain times of the year. 

A 2001 study from the Annals of Glaciology found that increases in temperature and precipitation could slightly decrease the risk of avalanches in mid-winter in France, but could significantly increase the risk of spring avalanches.

Those findings were echoed in a 2013 report from the journal Applied Snow and Avalanche Research, which found that in Canada's Glacier National Park, an increase in rain (instead of snow) during the winter could result in greater instability in the snowpack, leading to more late-winter avalanches. […]

There's some concern in the mountaineering community that mountains like the iconic Everest may be unclimbable in the near future.

"What will happen in the future I cannot say but this much I can say from my own experiences — it has changed a lot," Apa Sherpa said. [more]

Mt. Everest Avalanche: Is Climate Change to Blame?

18 April 2014 (NBC News) – An avalanche swept down a slope of Mount Everest on Friday along a route used to ascend the world's highest peak, killing at least 13 people in the mountain's deadliest disaster.

NBC News confirmed that all of the dead were Sherpa guides.

The guides had gone early in the morning to fix the ropes for hundreds of climbers when the avalanche hit them just below Camp 2 around 6:30 a.m. local time, Nepal Tourism Ministry official Krishna Lamsal told The Associated Press.

Tilak Ram Pandey, an official at the ministry's mountaineering department, later told Reuters that some other people were thought to be missing.

Hundreds of climbers, their guides and support guides had gathered at the base camp, gearing up for their final attempt to scale the 29,035-foot peak early next month when weather conditions get favorable. They have been setting up their camps at higher altitudes and guides fixing routes and ropes on the slopes ahead of the final ascend to the summit in May.

As soon as the avalanche hit, rescuers and fellow climbers rushed to help. A helicopter was also sent.

Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association said that the area where the avalanche occurred is nicknamed the "popcorn field," which is just below Camp 2 at 21,000 feet. [more]

At Least 13 Sherpas Dead as Avalanche Sweeps Mount Everest

Aerial view of blood on the deck of the Nisshin Maru, after three whales were butchered. On 5 January 2014, Japanese poachers slaughtered 3 minke whales, and Sea Shepherd Australia captured their illegal activities on camera as witnessed by the bloodied deck of the Nisshin Maru, stained from the butchering of these magnificent sentient creatures. Photo: Tim Watters / Sea Shepherd Australia

Tokyo, 18 April 2014 (AFP) – Japan says it will redesign its controversial Antarctic whaling mission in a bid to make it more scientific, after a United Nations court ruled it was a commercial hunt masquerading as research.

The bullish response, which could see harpoon ships back in the Southern Ocean next year, sets Tokyo back on a collision course with environmentalists.

Campaigners had hailed the decision by the International Court of Justice, with hopes that it might herald the end of a practice they view as barbaric.

"We will carry out extensive studies in cooperation with ministries concerned to submit a new research program by this autumn to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), reflecting the criteria laid out in the verdict," said Yoshimasa Hayashi, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

Japan, a member of the IWC, has hunted whales under a loophole allowing for lethal research. It has always maintained that it was intending to prove the whale population was large enough to sustain commercial hunting.

But it never hid the fact that the by-product of whale meat made its way onto menus.

"The verdict confirmed that the (IWC moratorium) is partly aimed at sustainable use of whale resources.

"Following this, our country will firmly maintain its basic policy of conducting whaling for research, on the basis of international law and scientific foundations, to collect scientific data necessary for the regulation of whale resources, and aim for resumption of commercial whaling."

Hayashi, who had met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier on Friday, confirmed an earlier announcement that the 2014-15 hunt in the Southern Ocean would not go ahead.  […]

An element of the court's ruling was that the Japanese mission was catching far too many whales for it to be considered legitimate scientific research.

Some commentators had suggested that Tokyo might use the court decision as cover to retreat from an entrenched position in which it defended as vital cultural heritage a practice that costs a lot of taxpayers' money and does not enjoy much public support.

Friday's announcement will come as a blow to anti-whaling campaigners, who had urged Tokyo to follow the spirit of the court ruling and heed global public opinion, which they say is firmly against hunting whales.

Environmental activist group Sea Shepherd, whose sometimes aggressive confrontations with Japanese whaling boats on the high seas saw them labelled "pirates" by a US judge, said earlier this month they expected Tokyo to try to work around the court ruling. [more]

Japan will 'redesign' Antarctic whaling program to make it more scientific

By Captain Paul Watson
19 April 2014

Japan has made it official. They intend to ignore the verdict of the International Court of Justice and they intend to continue killing whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

I predicted that they would do just that and Sea Shepherd Global is prepared to return for an eleventh intervention against illegal Japanese whaling in the Sanctuary.

The whalers say they will incorporate new measures to counter Sea Shepherd activities. Sea Shepherd Global will incorporate new measures to counter the Japanese counter measures.

The Whale Wars Continue

Survivors of the 3 April 2014 floods in the Solomon Islands pick through the rubble, 5 April 2014. Photo: ONE News

By Liz Burlingame
19 April 2014

( – A major 7.5-magnitude earthquake was recorded off the coast of Papua New Guinea Saturday, and the tremors could lead to a tsunami, warned the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The earthquake occurred 42 miles southwest of Panguana at a depth of approximately 6 miles.

A tsunami warning was issued for both Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands at around 9:40 a.m. EST.

The new tremor marks the third major earthquake in this region in the past week. On April 13, two separate earthquakes hit the Solomon Islands with magnitudes 7.6 and 7.5. An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 was also recorded off Papua New Guinea's remote Bougainville Island on April 11, but there were no damage reports.

Earthquakes that measure between 6 and 6.9 magnitudes are classified as "strong," whereas the ones between 7 and 7.9 are called "major" quakes.

Major Earthquake Hits Off Papua New Guinea, Tsunami Warning Issued

Honiara, 14 April 2014 (AFP) – A series of powerful earthquakes off the Solomon Islands sparked panic in evacuation centres filled with victims of an earlier flood but apparently caused no serious damage, aid workers said Monday.

A 7.6-magnitude quake woke residents in the flood-hit capital Honiara early Sunday, followed soon after by a 5.9-magnitude aftershock, then a tremor close to midnight that measured 7.5, according to the US Geological Survey.

The quakes prompted two tsunami alerts that were swiftly cancelled and the Solomon Islands government did not report any damage.

However, authorities in Papua New Guinea reportedly said there was one death in a separate 7.1 quake that hit on Friday.

About 9,000 people remain homeless in Honiara after floods earlier this month that claimed at least 21 lives. Save the Children's emergencies manager Graham Kenna said the quakes sent many running for their lives.

"It's terrified the people who are in these displaced centres, they're very, very frightened," he told AFP.

"Most of them went for higher ground but then they rushed back because they wanted to ensure what few possessions they have were safe.

"It hasn't disrupted the work we're doing that much, but it's put the people more and more on edge."

Kenna said food and supplies were being distributed but aid agencies estimated that only 40 percent of the items needed to cope with the disaster had so far arrived in the Solomons.

With regional stockpiles still depleted after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered the Philippines in November, Hanna said additional supplies were being sent from the Middle East and South Asia but could be weeks away.

In the meantime, he said preventing an outbreak of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease already common in the Solomons before the floods, was a priority.

"All the extra water that's around is going to make the mosquitoes breed like crazy and I'd say that when it dries out, probably in the next three or four days, dengue's going to be a major issue," he said. [more]

Solomons flood victims 'terrified' after quakes

By Anna Cross
19 April 2014

(Newstalk ZB) – Prices for basic foods in the Solomon Islands have quadrupled following the floods there.

TEAR Fund chief Ian McInnes says while the focus of the aid effort has been on Honiara, hundreds of other communities are yet to receive any help.

A lot of market stalls are empty, but cabbages, tomatoes and root vegetables are selling for four times their normal price.
A result the government has pledged an extra 95-thousand dollars to boost food production in remote communities.

Food prices quadruple in Solomons after flood

15 April 2014 (Fuseworks) – Recent torrential rains, extreme flooding and several large magnitude earthquakes in the Solomon Islands, have affected 52,000 people, of which 26,000 are estimated to be children. In the immediate aftermath of this series of natural disasters, much still needs to be done to aid in the recovery effort and identify gaps that still need to be met.

Dennis McKinlay, Executive Director at UNICEF NZ said, "An area of major concern for UNICEF is the continued large numbers of people taking refuge in evacuation centres. Plans are being put in place to consolidate the number of centres by closing smaller centres and shelters currently housed in schools so that they can reopen for classes. This strategy will only be beneficial if the remaining centres have access to sufficient supplies and facilities."

"Adequate health care supplies are needed to combat diarrhoea, malaria, dengue fever, respiratory, eye and skin infections. Other major concerns for UNICEF include the availability of counselling services, reports of moderately or acutely malnourished children under five and the general protection of vulnerable people including children and pregnant women."

To date, some electricity and water systems have been restored but large numbers of the population remain dependent on emergency water trucks or water purification tablets that need to be replenished. Destroyed or damaged bridges are continuing to limit mobility and access, but repairs have started and detailed assessments in rural Guadalcanal are being carried out to assess the needs outside Honiara.

"UNICEF is continuing to work alongside the Solomon Islands Government and partners to provide a coordinated and effective response. While some immediate threats have passed, now is the time when the people of the Solomon Islands will need the most help. Critical ongoing needs continue to be site management of evacuation centres, food, clean water and sanitation and hygiene supplies," Mr McKinlay said.

Additional needs identified include blankets, clothing, micro-nutrient powder sachets, zinc, fuel, cooking utensils and school restoration to minimise delays in the resumption of classes. Reinstating water and sanitation facilities in schools is also a priority.

Mr McKinlay added, "In Honiara alone, nearly 11,000 continue to take refuge in 33 evacuation centres. Around 4,000 evacuees are thought to be children. Conditions in the centres are still inadequate for the number of people there and access to clean and safe water and toilets in the centres and surrounding areas continues to be the greatest concern."

UNICEF has made available its contingency supplies in Honiara consisting of water containers, water purification tablets, soap and hygiene messages. Distribution of collapsible water containers has taken place in Guadalcanal, while WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) kits have been distributed to evacuation centres. UNICEF has also purchased 50,000 bars of soap and additional supplies will be shipped from Vanuatu and other UNICEF depots.

Mr McKinlay added, "As those that can begin to return to their homes, many others have been rendered homeless and will be in need of greater help and assistance in the form of government issued ‘return packages’. UNICEF will do all it can to support this process but realises that it will take time and a further coordinated effort."

Donations are urgently needed so UNICEF can provide essential supplies and support the emergency relief effort. To donate go to:  

Items such as food and clothing cannot currently be accepted due to the logistical difficulties and costs associated with transporting items to the Solomon Islands.

Solomon Islands flooding: Thousands of children need help

16 April 2014 (Radio Australia) – The Solomon Islands government is still grappling with its post flood relief efforts.

The main hospital has sent staff to deal with diarrhoea, dengue flu and malaria outbreaks with damp conditions at the care centres hindering relief efforts.

The evacuation centres are still home to about 9 to 10 thousand people where supplies for the families in the centres limited and bridge access to Honiara is slow.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Acting New Zealand High Commissioner to Solomon Islands, Sarah Wong

WONG: I mean in terms of I guess the state of Solomon Islands and where things are I think it's useful to note that this has been an enormous event for Solomon Islands, and in particular, Honiara and Guadalcanal Province. It is a natural disaster that I can't thing of anyone, any Solomon Islander that I've spoken to who have described some natural disaster that's been worse than this and so it has taken people by surprise and people the recovery period is going to be quite awhile, this is many months of recovery for Solomon Islands. And I think that the international community need to be on standby to help, but Solomon Islands obviously need that space to work through some of these very complex issues around repatriating families, working out where people can rebuild, and also just the enormous task of rebuilding the infrastructure and basic services so that Honiara City and Guadalcanal Province can return to normal.

COUTTS: New Zealand is working with UNICEF as are other nations to try and overcome the concern about what's happening in the Care Centres at the moment. They're crowded still, people aren't able to go home, the schools are in use as kids haven't been able to go back to school and now, on top of that, they're trying to avert another crisis of illness in these Care centres. Can you just give us a status report?

WONG: We are very much aware that, for example, in Honiara itself, along the Metanico River, there are about 70 homes at least that have been completely destroyed and will need to be replaced. So there is a bit of pressure on the evacuation centres and where to house people and so at the moment, the first wave of emergency response was to try and get food and non-food items into those centres so that people had some basic necessities to allow them to sort of stay in those centres and get immediate shelter. But the challenge for all of us now is how to repatriate people and what assistance each family gets, because obviously different families have different circumstances.

The local authorities are trying to collate as much information as possible on what the current situation is for each family and then based on their advice, donors like New Zealand, will provide assistance to the authorities, through the authorities to assist these families.

COUTTS: But I'm just wondering now of the people who are in the evacuation centres, what is the state of their health, is there a large contingent now with diarrhoea, red eye, dengue, malaria and are we worried about cholera and typhoid, those sorts of things?

WONG: Oh, we definitely are. We know that there are an increasing number of flood-related diseases, particularly, for example, with children. We know that there's an increase in diarrhoea being presented. There are also, of course, the usual risk of malaria and dengue fever.

Because the local medical authorities here have noted an increase in cases being presented at the National Referral Hospital and in one of other local clinics. This is why New Zealand, along with Australia are providing the medical assistance personnel to come in and help manage the number of cases that are being presented.

COUTTS: And, so how likely is that the evacuation centres will be available, schools that are being used as evacuation centres will be available next week for the kids. I mean they were supposed to have gone back to school this week, but will they be accessible for the children to return to school next week?

WONG: Look again, this is an issue that we do know the Solomon Islands governments is thinking very hard about. Half of the 24 official evacuation centres are in schools and so the Solomon Islands government is working through a plan on how they can consolidate some of the evacuation centres. They are seriously looking at trying to repatriate families over the Easter period back to homes where they can, but, of course, they need to obviously. There are a number of issues around are the homes in a suitable state for them to live in, are they not in a flood plain. There are a number of things that they need to take into consideration, but we do know that the Solomon Islands government is thinking very hard about getting families, where they can, back into their houses of the Easter period and they have not given us a definite date on when the schools can be returned to schools, but we do know that they are thinking very hard about it and the international community are obviously in conversation with the government about how we can assist.

COUTTS: Some, we're told, will never be able to return home, because of the areas are prone to flooding and their houses have been devastated so they can't return. What's going to happen to them? So obviously there's a short term and a long term answer to that?

WONG: Yeah. So, look at the moment, what has happened is everyone has focused on the immediate emergency response, so making sure that people have basic shelter, basic food and other basic necessities to ensure that they are safe and protected.

Going forward, we are now starting to look at the medium term recovery and the issues of the fact that we know at least 80 homes or so have been destroyed and will need to be replaced and the questions of whether they should be rebuilding in the same locations or whether those who are in flood-prone areas should be looking at other areas to locate. They are issues that area being considered right now.

The Solomon Islands government haven't been able to obviously give us a definite answer on where to place people where they cannot rebuild on their existing land, but that is something that we are going to have to give the Solomon Islands government the time and space to work through. It's not an easy thing to do, but there are some people who are going to have to find new locations to live. [more]

Solomon Islands' next challenge to repatriate flood victims: NZ

Predicted probability of policy adoption (dark lines, left axes)  by policy disposition; the distribution of preferences (gray columns, right axes) for average U.S. citizens and elite groups. Date are compiled from roughly 1,800 different policy initiatives in the years between 1981 and 2002, these policy changes are compared with the expressed opinion of the United State public. Graphic: Gilens and Page, 2014

By Tom McKay 
16 April 2014

(PolicyMic) – A new scientific study from Princeton researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn't a democracy any more. And they've found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military.

For their study, Gilens and Page compiled data from roughly 1,800 different policy initiatives in the years between 1981 and 2002. They then compared those policy changes with the expressed opinion of the United State public. Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often.

It's beyond alarming. As Gilens and Page write, "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.

The Separate Policy Impact of Business-oriented and Mass-based Interest Groups

Interest group Influence coefficient
Average citizens’ preferences .05 (.08)
Economic elites’ preferences .78 (.08), p<.001
Mass-based interest groups .24 (.07), p<.001
Business interest groups .43 (.08), p<.001

N = 1,779
R2 = .07

All predictors are scaled to range from 0 to 1. The dependent variable is the policy outcome, coded 1 if the proposed policy change took place within four years of the survey date and 0 if it did not. Predictors are the logits of the imputed percent of respondents at the 50th (“average citizens”) or 90th (“economic elites”) income percentile that favor the proposed policy change, and the Net Interest Group Alignment Indices described in the text. Standard errors are asymptotically distribution-free, and all analyses reflect estimated measurement error in the predictors, as described in Appendix 2.

That might explain why mandatory background checks on gun sales supported by 83% to 91% of Americans aren't in place, or why Congress has taken no action on greenhouse gas emissions even when such legislation is supported by the vast majority of citizens.

This problem has been steadily escalating for four decades. While there are some limitations to their data set, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez constructed income statistics based on IRS data that go back to 1913. They found that the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of us is much bigger than you would think, as mapped by these graphs from the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities.

Piketty and Saez also calculated that as of September 2013 the top 1% of earners had captured 95% of all income gains since the Great Recession ended. The other 99% saw a net 12% drop to their income. So not only is oligarchy making the rich richer, it's driving policy that's made everyone else poorer. [more]

Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It's Not a Democracy

Rufescent tiger heron (Tigrisoma lineatum) in Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo: Jeremy Hance

By Jeremy Hance
16 April 2014

( – In what is a major victory for environmentalists, campaigners with United for Yasuní have collected 727,947 signatures triggering a national referendum on whether or not oil drilling should proceed in three blocs of Yasuní National Park in Ecuador. The effort started last year after Ecuador's President, Rafael Correa, announced he was killing the Yasuní-ITT initiative, which called on the international community to pay into a trust fund to keep the most remote portions of the park free from oil exploitation. Currently, Yasuní National Park is considered the likeliest candidate for the most biodiverse place on the planet and is home to several indigenous tribes who have chosen voluntary isolation.

"Not only did we mobilize to get the needed signatures for the popular referendum, but we mobilized civil society for a greater call for a new development model that keeps oil in the ground and addresses the needs of its people," said Esperanza Martinez, President of Acción Ecologica. "We proved that defending Yasuní is not just about monetary contributions, or political statements, but a mobilized civil society."

Activists needed to gather half a million signatures, but collected over 100,000 more to make sure the results wouldn't be invalidated. But several hurdles remain for activists: signatures need to be verified by Ecuador's National Electoral Council and then the referendum needs to be deemed constitutional by the Constitutional Court. If the referendum passes these two tests, the question of whether or not oil drilling should go ahead in the Yasuní's ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) blocs will go to the Ecuadorian public. Yet, victory isn't assured. Although opinion polls show a hefty support in Ecuador for keeping the ITT blocs unexploited, debate will likely be fierce given Correa's popularity and his pro-oil stance. [more]

Ecuador will have referendum on fate of Yasuni after activists collect over 700,000 signatures

The Rotunda at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, Virginia, October 2006. Photo: Aaron Josephson / Wikimedia

By Tom Jackman   
17 April 2014

(Washington Post) – Unpublished research by university scientists is exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday, rejecting an attempt by skeptics of global warming to view the work of a prominent climate researcher during his years at the University of Virginia.

The ruling is the latest turn in the FOIA request filed in 2011 by Del. Robert Marshall (R-Prince William) and the American Tradition Institute to obtain research and e-mails of former U-Va. professor Michael Mann.

Mann left the university in 2005 and now works at Penn State University, where he published his book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” about his theories on global warming and those who would deny it. Lawyers for U-Va. turned over about 1,000 documents to Marshall and ATI, led by former EPA attorney David Schnare, but withheld another 12,000 papers and e-mails, saying that work “of a propriety nature” was exempt under the state’s FOIA law.

In 2012, Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan sided with U-Va., saying that Mann’s work was exempt and that the FOIA exemption arose “from the concept of academic freedom and from the interest in protecting research.” Marshall and ATI appealed. […]

(Note: The Washington Post joined an amicus curiae brief in the case filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press supporting Marshall and the ATI.)

Mann said after the ruling, “This is a victory for science, public university faculty, and academic freedom. We are grateful for the vigorous defense waged by the University of Virginia in protecting their faculty and the integrity of research and scholarship. Hopefully the ruling can serve as a precedent in other states confronting this same assault on public universities and their faculty.” [more]

Va. Supreme Court rules for U-Va. in global warming FOIA case


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