In this 20 October 2014, photo, Steve Damm, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, holds a salmon that died from four hours of exposure to unfiltered highway runoff water at the Grovers Creek Hatchery in Poulsbo, Wash. In the experiment, researchers placed live salmon in three tanks of water - unfiltered highway runoff, filtered highway runoff, and clear well water - fish exposed to the filtered runoff were still alive after 24 hours. Photo: TED S. WARREN / AP Photo

16 November 2014

POULSBO, Washington (Associated Press) – Just hours into the experiment, the prognosis was grim for salmon that had been submerged in rain runoff collected from one of Seattle's busiest highways. One by one, the fish were removed from a tank filled with coffee-colored water and inspected: They were rigid. Their typically red gills were gray.

"He's way dead," David Baldwin, a research zoologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, declared at the four-hour mark.

This was the fate of coho salmon exposed to the everyday toxic brew of dirt, metals, oil, and other gunk that washes off highway pavement after rains and directly into Puget Sound.

When that runoff was filtered through a simple mixture of gravel, sand and compost, however, the outlook was much brighter. Salmon exposed to treated water were healthy and responsive, even after 24 hours.

The research being conducted by scientists with NOAA, Washington State University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers a promising solution to stormwater pollution, a major problem for Puget Sound and other streams and lakes in the nation.

With pollution from industrial pipes closely regulated, cities and states are more often tackling stormwater runoff that results from everyday activities: oils from leaky cars, pesticides from lawns and other pollutants that wash off roads and sidewalks and into streams and lakes.

Across the country, there's been an aggressive push for rain gardens and other green techniques that rely on vegetation, soil or natural elements to slow and filter stormwater.

"The results are pretty stark," said Jenifer McIntyre, a researcher with WSU who is part of salmon experiment. "So far, what we're seeing is that, absolutely, things like rain gardens are going to be part of the solution."

Washington state now requires municipalities to adopt such green techniques to get a stormwater permit under the Clean Water Act after a conservation group sued. A campaign is trying to get 12,000 rain gardens in Puget Sound to help reduce water pollution. Portland, Oregon; Kansas City, Missouri; and Philadelphia and other cities have embraced similar green technologies.

"It's really promising, showing that rain gardens and bio-filtration are removing the pollutants that are killing the salmon," said Chris Wilke with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. [more]

Death by dirty water: Storm runoff a risk for fish

Predicted chance of above-median temperature for Australia, November 2014 to January 2015. Graphic: Australia Bureau of Meterology

By Reissa Su
21 November 2014

(IBT) – Australia will be facing drought as soon as the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts a 70 percent chance of El Niño in the Pacific Ocean. By summer's end, Australians will see less rainfall as temperatures rise due to warmer weather.

The weather bureau has revised its El Niño forecast from a 50 percent probability to the current 70 percent. According to the bureau's latest report, above average sea temperatures continue to rise in the Pacific Ocean in the last two weeks. Surface temperatures have increased higher than El Niño thresholds in the past three months. The bureau's El Niño southern oscillation tracker status was changed from "watch" to "alert" level.

The eastern part of Australia may be facing dry conditions in the next three months as summer. Dr Andrew Watkins, the manager of climate prediction services said the bureau has been observing the further warming of the Pacific Ocean near the equator. He explained that the impact of El Niño is already felt in large parts of the country even if an El Niño event has not been officially declared.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has released a new report indicating that the world is nowhere close to stopping global warming. Despite the pledges of some countries to reduce carbon emissions, the UN found that emissions will continue to rise until 2050. [more]

Australia's Chance Of El Niño Rises To 70%; Heatwaves And Drought To Persist

A Kalahari bushman: 700 tribes­people have been exiled to settlements on the edge of the park, forbidden to hunt. Photo: Michele Westmorland / Getty Images

By John Vidal
15 November 2014

(The Observer) – When Botswana’s president, Ian Khama, opened a giant $4.9bn diamond mine in the heart of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in September, there were some notable absentees among the invited guests: the 700 bushmen whose hunter-gatherer families had been the traditional inhabitants of the desert, but who have been exiled to impoverished settlements on the edge of the park and are forbidden to hunt the wildlife.

According to a Survival International report, launched at the World Parks Congress in Sydney, the world’s biggest conservation meeting, the San of the Kalahari are just one among hundreds of tribal peoples who have been evicted or are under threat of expulsion from the world’s 6,000 national parks and 100,000 protected conservation areas, which together are thought to cover nearly 13% of the Earth’s land surface.

The Survival study states: “In an attempt to protect these areas of so-called ‘wilderness’, governments, companies and NGOs forming the conservation industry enforce the creation of inviolate zones free of human habitation. Tribespeople who live in them are expected to change their way of life and relocate. They are given little, if any, choice about what happens.”

Stephen Corry, director of Survival, said: “This [trend] is based on unscientific assumptions that tribal peoples are incapable of managing their lands, that they overhunt, overgraze and overuse the resources on their lands.

“But it is also based on an essentially racist desire by governments to integrate, modernise and control tribal peoples.”

The number of “conservation refugees” forced out of protected areas is growing, as deforestation threatens water sources and aid linked to climate change becomes more widespread. Academic studies suggest that nearly 20 million Africans were evicted from their traditional homes to make way for conservation in colonial times, but that nearly 50,000 people, including pygmy groups, may have been evicted more recently by central African governments and “eco-guards” working for conservation groups. Meanwhile, groups such as the nomadic Masai and the forest-dwelling Batwa have lost much of their traditional land to conservation projects in Kenya and central Africa.

In Thailand, nearly 500,000 people face being evicted in the name of forest and watershed protection, and in India an estimated 100,000 people have been moved out of tiger reserves and national parks. “Globally, many millions of people must live with the threat of eviction hanging over them,” say the report’s authors.

Forest peoples are being removed to protect water resources for burgeoning urban areas. Last month Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, appealed to the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, to resolve a Bank-backed Kenyan conservation project that has led to the eviction of thousands of Sengwer people living in the Embobut forest. That follows the forced removal of thousands of Ogiek families from the Mau forest.

In a new development, governments are using climate change as an excuse to move people out of reserves. Because forests act as carbon “sinks” and can qualify for lucrative carbon credits, governments are threatening to evict indigenous peoples who traditionally cut wood. “Climate change has raised the stakes, leading governments and corporations to anticipate that they can secure vast amounts of money for laying claim to forest,” says Tom Lomax, a human rights lawyer with the Forest Peoples Programme.

The policy of creating “inviolate” core zones for tiger conservation in Indian reserves has also led to many human rights violations, says the study. Last year hundreds of Munda families living inside the Similipal tiger reserve in Odisha “voluntarily” left the national park, but villagers claim they were barely compensated and that promises of land have not been honoured. Earlier this year thousands of tribal people living in the Kanha tiger reserve were also evicted. [more]

How the Kalahari bushmen and other tribespeople are being evicted to make way for ‘wilderness’

The Steeplegate Mall in Concord, New Hampshire has a rash of vacancies. One of the ways it dresses up empty spaces is to cover them with advertising and vending machines. Photog: Matt Townsend / Bloomberg

By Matt Townsend 
20 November 2014

(Bloomberg) – On a crisp Friday evening in late October, Shannon Rich, 33, is standing in a dying American mall. Three customers wander the aisles in a Sears the size of two football fields. The RadioShack is empty. A woman selling smartphone cases watches “Homeland” on a laptop.

“It’s the quietest mall I’ve ever been to,” says Rich, who works for an education consulting firm and has been coming to the Steeplegate Mall in Concord, New Hampshire, since she was a kid. “It bums me out.”

Built 24 years ago by a former subsidiary of Sears Holdings Corp., Steeplegate is one of about 300 U.S. malls facing a choice between re-invention and oblivion. Most are middle-market shopping centers being squeezed between big-box chains catering to low-income Americans and luxury malls lavishing white-glove service on One Percenters.

It’s a time of reckoning for an industry that once expanded pell-mell across the landscape armed with the certainty that if you build it, they will come. Those days are over. Malls like Steeplegate either rethink themselves or disappear.

This summer Rouse Properties Inc., a real estate investment trust with a long track record of turning around troubled properties, decided Steeplegate wasn’t salvageable and walked away. The mall is now in receivership.

As management buys time by renting space to temporary shops selling Christmas stuff, employees fret that if the holiday shopping season goes badly, more stores will close. Should the mall lose one of its anchors -- Sears, J.C. Penney Co. and Bon-Ton Stores Inc. -- the odds of survival lengthen.

“Rouse is basically saying ‘We surrender,’” said Rich Moore, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets who has covered mall operators for more than 15 years. “If Rouse couldn’t make it work and that’s their specialty, then that’s a pretty tough sale to keep it as is.”

Rouse, based in New York, declined to comment beyond an e-mailed statement saying it had determined Steeplegate “would not meet our long-term return on investment criteria.”

The suburban mall once sat at the center of American life. It was a place where parents one-stop-shopped and their kids hung out. The Galleria in Sherman Oaks, California, featured prominently in the seminal film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” as well as Frank Zappa’s “Valley Girl.” Today malls represent a darker mood in the popular culture. Consider the shuttered shopping center colonized by the dispossessed in “Gone Girl.” [more]

The Impossible American Mall Business. 'We Surrender'

Growth in the world’s consumption of fossil fuels (oil [green], natural gas [red] and coal [dark grey] stacked versus the growth in renewables (solar [yellow] and wind [turquoise]), also stacked and all since 1990 to 2013. Graphic: Rune Likvern

By Rune Likvern
10 October 2014

(Fractional Flow) – […]

The Race between Fossil Fuels and Renewables

By putting the growth between fossil fuels and renewables into a perspective, it demonstrates how dependent our economies, our wealth and well beings are upon fossil fuels.

Looking at the growth in total fossil fuels versus renewables consumption since 1990 we should now ask ourselves if we truly are prepared to wean ourselves completely of fossil fuels and transition into a life within an energy budget made up from only renewables (refer also figure 1).

In 2013 an estimated 20% of the world’s total energy consumption came from biomass, hydroelectricity, solar, and wind.

From 2012 to 2013 global fossil fuels consumption grew more than what total global consumption of solar and wind was in 2013 (this according to data from BP Statistical Review 2014). [more]

The Powers of Fossil Fuels

The conservation group IUCN warns that overfishing of the Pacific bluefin tuna is driving it towards extinction. Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium / Randy Wilder

By Michael Casey
17 November 2014

(CBS News) – The never-ending demand for Pacific bluefin tuna among sushi lovers is driving the iconic fish towards extinction, a conservation group said.

The Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) upgraded the status of the tuna from "least concern" to "vulnerable," which means it is now threatened with extinction. Targeted by the fishing industry for the sushi and sashimi markets in Japan and other parts of Asia, an increasing number of the fish are caught as juveniles which has caused its population to drop as much as 33 percent in the past two decades.

"The Pacific Bluefin Tuna market value continues to rise," said Bruce Collette, Chair, IUCN Species Survival Commission Tuna and Billfish Specialist Group. "Unless fisheries implement the conservation and management measures developed for the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, including a reduction in the catches of juvenile fish, we cannot expect its status to improve in the short term."

The dire assessment for the Pacific bluefin comes as environmentalists warned that increased quotas approved Monday for another bluefin species, the Atlantic bluefin, could cause that population to crash.

Pacific bluefin was joined on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species by the Chinese Pufferfish, American Eel and the Chinese Cobra whose downfall were all blamed on the loss of habitat due increased fishing, logging, and mining.

"Each update of the IUCN Red List makes us realize that our planet is constantly losing its incredible diversity of life, largely due to our destructive actions to satisfy our growing appetite for resources," said IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre. The list assesses 76,199 species; of those, 22,413 are threatened with extinction.

Nearly half of the newly assessed species occur within protected areas, raising concerns about how these areas are managed.

"We have scientific evidence that protected areas can play a central role in reversing this trend," Marton-Lefevre said. "Experts warn that threatened species poorly represented in protected areas are declining twice as fast as those which are well represented. Our responsibility is to increase the number of protected areas and ensure that they are effectively managed so that they can contribute to saving our planet's biodiversity."

Japan has long been the driver of the bluefin's demise, since it imports more than 80 percent of the raw tuna for traditional dishes such as sushi and sashimi. The bluefin variety -- called "hon-maguro" in Japanese -- is particularly prized, with a 200-kilogram (440-pound) Pacific bluefin tuna fetching a record $1.76 million in 2013. [more]

Sushi eaters pushing Pacific bluefin tuna to brink of extinction

John Boehner, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

By Lindsay Abrams
19 November 2014

(Salon) – Congressional climate wars were dominated Tuesday by the U.S. Senate, which spent the day debating, and ultimately failing to pass, a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. While all that was happening, and largely unnoticed, the House was busy doing what it does best: attacking science.

H.R. 1422, which passed 229-191, would shake up the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, placing restrictions on those pesky scientists and creating room for experts with overt financial ties to the industries affected by EPA regulations.

The bill is being framed as a play for transparency: Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, argued that the board’s current structure is problematic because it  “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” The inclusion of industry experts, he said, would right this injustice.

But the White House, which threatened to veto the bill, said it would “negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.”

In what might be the most ridiculous aspect of the whole thing, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest. “In other words,” wrote Union of Concerned Scientists director Andrew A. Rosenberg in an editorial for RollCall, “academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.” [more]

House Republicans just passed a bill forbidding scientists from advising the EPA on their own research

By Andrew A. Rosenberg
17 November 2014

(Roll Call) – House leaders have decided that one of the most important things they can do during the lame duck session is to vote on two bills that would cripple good, science-based policy.

The bills’ backers are pitching the legislation as an effort to create transparency at the Environmental Protection Agency. But the science the EPA and other agencies base their rules on is already an open book. These bills are about trying to stop the EPA from doing its job.

Ultimately, these two bills would set unreachable goals and create unnecessary bureaucratic hoops for the agency to jump through, leading to costly delays in agency rule making. Together, they would prevent the EPA from enforcing environmental laws and protecting America’s public health. If members care about the air we breathe, the water we drink, and scientifically-informed public policy, they should oppose these misguided bills.

Sponsored by Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., HR 4012 — the so-called “Secret Science” Reform Act — would create a Catch-22 for the EPA.

Today, anyone with an Internet connection, including members of Congress, can already look up which studies the agency relies on for crafting new rules. But in many cases it cannot legally publish raw data. This bill would require the agency to make all data public before creating new rules while blocking the agency from disclosing private medical data, trade secrets and industry data.

The result? The EPA would not be able to adopt any new rules to protect public health. [more]

Congress Must Block These Attacks on Independent Science

Aerial iew of the nearly dry Atibainha River, which supplies the city of Campinas, Brazil with some of its water supply, 18 November 2014. Photo: Dom Phillips / The Washington Post

By Dom Phillips
18 November 2014

ATIBAIA, Brazil (Washington Post) – Seen from a micro-light aircraft, flying low near this small town in Brazil’s interior, the scale of the water crisis blighting São Paulo, a megalopolis 40 miles away, was frighteningly clear. Four of the five reservoirs in an interlinked system that supplies 6.5 million people, more than a third of its metropolitan population, were vividly depleted. Caked red banks of exposed earth showed just how low the water levels had fallen.

Parts of the Jaguari Reservoir, the highest in what is called the Cantareira System, were so dried out that plants had begun growing on the rocks around a blue pleasure boat, marooned near a wooden landing dock hundreds of yards from any water. A stagnant brown puddle did not trouble the sluice gates of a dam.

[Related: How a bird’s-eye view drives home the extent of Sao Paulo’s drought]

Boat jetties stretched forlornly across banks of red mud from the luxury houses that used to sit by the water’s edge in the adjoining Jacareí Reservoir. Although there was more water in two other lower-level reservoirs, there were also dried-up inlets and red, exposed banks, and the Atibaia River was in places just a muddy eddy.

The biggest city in South America has been stuck in a spiraling water crisis since the summer rains failed to fall last December and January — the driest summer in 84 years. An exceptionally dry winter since then has compounded the problem.

Now, as scientists debate whether Amazon deforestation is to blame, residents across São Paulo complain of regular shutoffs to their water supply while the state government and the water company deny that rationing is going on.

And despite rain in recent days, the water level keeps falling. Cantareira System reservoirs are at a tenth of their normal level. And a full summer’s rainfall — if it should occur in the season beginning next month — will not be enough to refill them.

“The situation is serious and demands the collaboration of all,” São Paulo water company ­SABESP said in an e-mail. “Recuperation of the level of the reservoirs depends on the intensity of the rains.”

But critics say the state government, which controls the water company, played down the crisis because of October’s elections, in which the state’s governor, Geraldo Alckmin, was reelected. Critics say SABESP has failed to keep the population properly informed and to introduce enough effective measures to reduce consumption.

“It is not just the lack of water, which is critical, it is also not knowing how to manage the crisis,” said Carlos de Oliveira of the Brazilian Consumer Defense Institute in São Paulo. The institute only recently received key maps outlining the worst-hit areas — but they did not feature streets, just gradients. “Instead of supplying information, SABESP blames the consumer,” he said.

The water company said there is no rationing or rotating of the water supply — just nightly reductions in pressure to cut losses. Nobody believes it.

“There is rationing,” said Paulo Santos, manager of the elegant Condomínio Louvre building in São Paulo’s center, which has 320 apartments and 45 shops. Water is cut off most nights, starting about 10 p.m., Santos said. He maintains supply by keeping a 12,000-gallon tank full and is installing tanks to capture rainfall on a roof. “The residents are worried. They keep asking about the water,” he said. [more]

Taps run dry in São Paulo drought, but water company barely shrugs

Chemical structure of tris(2-carboxyethyl)phosphine (TCEP). Graphic: Edgar181 / Wikipedia

By Robert Preidt
12 November 2014

(HealthDay News) – Scientists report that they found evidence of six kinds of toxic flame retardants in Americans.

The researchers tested urine samples from California residents and found detectable levels of a rarely studied group of flame retardants known as phosphates, and one -- tris-(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP) -- has never been seen in Americans before.

TCEP, a known carcinogen that can also damage people's nervous and reproductive systems, was detected in 75 percent of the people tested, the scientists said. This flame retardant is used in polyurethane foam, plastics, polyester resins and textiles.

Another cancer-causing flame retardant detected in nearly all of the study participants was TDCIPP (chlorinated tris), which is similar to TCEP. This came as a surprise because TDCIPP was phased out of children's pajamas in the 1970s, the researchers noted.

The findings were published online Nov. 12 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

"We found that several toxic flame retardants are in people's bodies. When you sit on your couch, you want to relax, not get exposed to chemicals that may cause cancer," study author Robin Dodson, a scientist with the Silent Spring Institute, said in a news release from the nonprofit research group.

"Some flame retardants have been targeted for phase out, but unfortunately there are others that have largely been under the radar," Dodson added. [more]

Scientists Find Signs of Toxic Flame Retardants in Americans


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