French ski resort moves snow with helicopter in order to stay open

French ski resort moves snow with helicopter in order to stay open

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: February 16, 2020

SNIP: A French ski resort has angered ecologists by using a helicopter to move snow from higher up the mountains after exceptionally mild weather left its slopes bare.

Officials at Luchon-Superbagnères in the Pyrenees authorised the “exceptional” emergency operation overnight on Friday.

The helicopter spent two hours transporting 50 tonnes of snow to drop on the lower slopes used by beginners and ski schools.

Hervé Pounau, the director of the local department council, said the cost of the operation would be recouped many times over by the business that would have been lost to a lack of snow.

“It will cost us between €5,000 and €6,000, in the knowledge that over the long term we will get at least 10 times’ return on that investment,” Pounau said in a statement.

Keeping the station open safeguarded 50 to 80 jobs, including lift operators, ski school teachers, childminders, ski equipment rental shop staff and restaurant owners, he added.

“We’re not going to cover the entire ski station in snow, but without it we would have had to close a huge part of the ski domain, and it’s during the holidays that we have the most activity for beginners and the ski schools,” Pounau said.

He admitted it was not “very ecological”, but added: “It’s really exceptional and we won’t be doing it again. This time we didn’t have a choice.”

The operation has angered French ecologists. Bastien Ho, the secretary of Europe Écologie Les Verts party, said the snow transfer operation was evidence of an “upside-down world”.

“Instead of adapting to global warming we’re going to end up with a double problem: something that costs a lot of energy, that contributes heavily to global warming and that in addition is only for an elite group of people who can afford it. It is the world upside down,” he told French television.

Oregon landfill accepted 2 million pounds of radioactive fracking waste from North Dakota

Oregon landfill accepted 2 million pounds of radioactive fracking waste from North Dakota

SOURCE: Oregon Live

DATE: February 14, 2020

SNIP: A chemical waste landfill near the Columbia Gorge has been accepting hundreds of tons of radioactive fracking waste from North Dakota in violation of Oregon regulations.

Oregon Department of Energy officials issued a “notice of violation” to Chemical Waste Management’s landfill near the small town of Arlington on Thursday for accepting a total of 2 million pounds of Bakken oil field waste that was delivered by rail in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

With landfill officials’ permission, Oilfield Waste Logistics of Culbertson, Mont., dumped the waste, some of which registered radium at 300 times the state’s limits. On average, the waste registered radium at 140 picocuries per gram, according to Jeff Burright, a state nuclear waste remediation specialist. The state’s maximum level for waste stored at Arlington is 5 picocuries, he said.

Energy Department regulators said the landfill won’t be fined for accepting the radioactive waste because they believe landfill operators misunderstood state guidelines and weren’t aware of the violations, said Ken Niles, assistant director for nuclear safety.

He said the agency can only fine companies – ranging from $60 to $500 a day – under certain circumstances. Fines can be levied if a violator had previously been notified of a violation and repeated it or did something similar. The department also fines companies for willful violations or violations that result in “significant adverse impacts” to humans or the environment. Niles said none of those issues applied in the case of Chemical Waste Management.

Regulators said they determined the biggest risks would be if the waste were ingested or inhaled, if people faced direct exposure or if it emitted radon. Currently, Burright said, the state does not believe those issues are a risk because of how the waste is stored on the 1,300-acre landfill, including being covered by at least 10 feet of other material.

Burright said that employees at the landfill avoided direct exposure because they work in pressurized cabins and when they’re outside, rely on oxygen masks.

Regulators said landfill officials didn’t properly check state guidelines. Instead, Niles said, the landfill operators relied on their customer’s assurances that the level of radioactivity met state standards. After receiving a tip from a caller in North Dakota, Oregon regulators discovered the violation after checking data provided by the landfill as well as from the state of North Dakota.

Oregon regulators said it has become increasingly difficult to find places to dump fracking waste that comes from North Dakota, New Mexico and elsewhere. The Arlington landfill, which accepts about 20 million pounds of hazardous chemical waste a month, is among only a dozen sites nationwide that can accept certain types of such waste, they said.

Oregon doesn’t have any other locations that would accept it, regulators said, and several other states are seeking to enact limits on the waste similar to Oregon’s.

It’s unclear which route the waste took to come to Oregon. The energy department officials said they weren’t sure how it arrived in Arlington and added that the radioactivity levels did not require special warnings on train cars.

Trudeau government backpedals on election promise to phase out B.C. open net salmon farms by 2025

Trudeau government backpedals on election promise to phase out B.C. open net salmon farms by 2025

SOURCE: The Narwhal

DATE: February 13, 2020

SNIP: Following an outcry from the salmon farming industry, the Trudeau government has backed away from its election campaign commitment to phase out open net pen salmon farming on B.C.’s West Coast by 2025.

Jane Deeks, press secretary for Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, confirmed in an email to The Narwhal that a transition plan will be developed by 2025 but open net pen salmon farms will not be removed by that date.

“Our government is working on a responsible plan to transition the industry away from open net-pen salmon farming in B.C., and we have committed to developing this plan by 2025,” Deeks said in an email in response to questions from The Narwhal.

Stan Proboszcz, science and campaign advisor for the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, called the recasting of the Liberal government’s election promise “borderline deceitful.”

“I think it’s quite slippery to now hear from the minister, after the election, after they’re in power, that there’s a new re-interpretation of the promise … that now they’re just going to come up with a plan to remove farms by 2025,” Proboszcz said in an interview.

The Liberal Party’s campaign platform said a re-elected Trudeau government “will work with the province to develop a responsible plan to transition from open net pen salmon farming in coastal waters to closed containment systems by 2025.”

But when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued mandate letters for his ministers in mid-December, Jordan was instructed to work with the B.C. government and Indigenous communities “to create a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025.”

All mention of closed containment systems had vanished, leaving the phrasing open to interpretation.

Mowi, formerly Marine Harvest ASA, garnered media attention days before Christmas when up to 20,000 of its Atlantic salmon, a species not native to Pacific waters, escaped from a pen in Queen Charlotte Strait following an electrical fire.

Federal NDP fisheries critic Gord Johns (Courtenay-Alberni) said the Liberal government has done nothing to respond to the escape “except that they’re going to come up with a plan.”

“When people raised concerns they answered that these fish are docile, that they wouldn’t make it up our streams and that the sea lions would eat them,” Johns said in an interview.

“That’s the kind of response that people just don’t find acceptable for foreign exotic species being released into our natural environment, in areas where there’s migrating Pacific salmon.”

The escape heightened fears that farmed salmon — which can be infected with sea lice and diseases such as piscine orthoreovirus, a highly contagious virus linked to a host of fish health problems — will affect rapidly declining wild salmon stocks.

Antarctic temperature rises above 20C for first time on record

Antarctic temperature rises above 20C for first time on record

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: February 13, 2020

SNIP: The Antarctic has registered a temperature of more than 20C (68F) for the first time on record, prompting fears of climate instability in the world’s greatest repository of ice.

The 20.75C logged by Brazilian scientists at Seymour Island on 9 February was almost a full degree higher than the previous record of 19.8C, taken on Signy Island in January 1982.

It follows another recent temperature record: on 6 February an Argentinian research station at Esperanza measured 18.3C, which was the highest reading on the continental Antarctic peninsula.

These records will need to be confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization, but they are consistent with a broader trend on the peninsula and nearby islands, which have warmed by almost 3C since the pre-industrial era – one of the fastest rates on the planet.

Scientists, who collect the data from remote monitoring stations every three days, described the new record as “incredible and abnormal”.

Schaefer said the temperature of the peninsula, the South Shetland Islands and the James Ross archipelago, which Seymour is part of, has been erratic over the past 20 years. After cooling in the first decade of this century, it has warmed rapidly.

While temperatures in eastern and central Antarctica are relatively stable, there are growing concerns about west Antarctica, where warming oceans are undermining the huge Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers. Until now, this has led to a relatively low amount of sea-level rise, but this could change rapidly if there is a sustained jump in temperature.

On a recent trip with Greenpeace, the Guardian saw glaciers that have retreated by more than 100 metres in Discovery Bay and large swathes of land on King George Island where the snow melted in little more than a week, leaving dark exposed rock. While some degree of melt occurs every summer, scientists said it had been more evident in recent years, with temperatures rising more quickly in winter. This is believed to be behind an alarming decline of more than 50% in chinstrap penguin colonies, which are dependent on sea ice.

Endemic rabbit threatened by weekend hordes of volcano gawkers

Endemic rabbit threatened by weekend hordes of volcano gawkers

SOURCE: Mexico News Daily

DATE: February 13, 2020

SNIP: The critically endangered Volcano Rabbit lives only on 3 or 4 volcano mountain peaks in Mexico, inhabiting high elevation grassland and open forested habitats that are under myriad threats. Now social media-promoted treks to view a once year phenomenon involving three peaks appearing to be one as the sun rises is wreaking havoc with its habitat.

The massive influx of tourists to a México state national park each February to observe a phenomenon that involves a trio of volcanic peaks represents a threat to the habitat of the highly endangered volcano rabbit, says the Natural Protected Areas Commission (Conanp).

More than 3,500 people climbed Mount Tláloc in the Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl National Park last weekend to view the phenomenon known as montaña fantasma (phantom mountain) in which for a period of just 15 minutes at sunrise, the Malinche volcano in Tlaxcala, the Pico de Orizaba volcano in Veracruz and the Sierra Negra volcano in Puebla appear to merge on the horizon to form one continuous mountain range.

Visitor numbers to watch the montaña fantasma phenomenon from the peak of Mount Tláloc began to grow in 2012 and exploded in 2017 due to growing awareness generated by social media, the newspaper Milenio reported.

After last weekend’s influx, Conanp said that the large number of visitors damaged alpine grasslands inhabited by the volcano rabbit, a species endemic to Mexico known also as the teporingo or zacatuche.

The teporingo, the world’s second smallest rabbit after the pygmy, was declared extinct last year in the vicinity of the Nevado de Toluca, a volcano in México state.

Conanp also said that shrubs such as the long-living juniper, known as enebro azul, were trampled on and even used by visitors to make bonfires.

The mattress landfill crisis: how the race to bring us better beds led to a recycling nightmare

The mattress landfill crisis: how the race to bring us better beds led to a recycling nightmare

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: February 12, 2020

SNIP: Mike Scollick and Richard Allsopp are talking about the worst things they ever found in a mattress. “We had one where I think a dog had been lying on it, and the whole thing was just jumping with fleas,” Allsopp says, shuddering. No one would touch it, so they had to use a cherry picker to move it. But that’s not the worst of it, Scollick says: “I stripped the cover off one once and it looked like somebody …” “Died,” interjects Allsopp.

It’s fair to say you need a strong stomach to be in the mattress recycling game. Which Scollick and Allsopp have, along with several million pounds’ worth of equipment in their Coventry warehouse. I have come to see Circom, their mattress recycling firm, at work. It’s a dirty but noble enterprise: Circom is one of only a handful of recyclers tackling the UK’s ever-growing mattress problem.

The UK threw away more than 7m mattresses in 2017, the vast majority of which went straight to landfill. Zero Waste Scotland has estimated that if the 600,000 mattresses Scotland throws away every year were stacked on top of each other, the pile would be more than 100 times taller than Ben Nevis. Flytipping is another huge area of concern: English councils spend £58m a year on clear-up, with mattresses among the most commonly illegally dumped items. According to the National Bed Fedderation (NBF), only about 19% of mattresses are recycled. The reason? They are a nightmare to recycle – it’s the springs. “They’re a machine killer,” says Scollick.

And it’s not just a British problem. Mattresses are a global environmental nightmare. The US throws away 18.2m mattresses a year, but there are only 56 facilities available to recycle them.

Changing consumer behaviour is behind this ever-growing mattress mountain. Time was, you would change your mattress every eight to 10 years. But with online retailers offering more choice than ever, we have learned to expect better mattresses, and to replace them more frequently.

The development of roll-down technology – which allows mattresses to be packed into small, easily shippable boxes – has led to a plethora of start-ups targeting a $30bn international market. There are now at least 175 companies that will ship roll-down mattresses to your front door; one of the first movers in this space, the US firm Casper, was valued at $1.1bn in 2019.

Some online providers have arrangements with care homes or hospitals to collect lightly used mattresses, re-cover them, and put them back into use. Others send them for recycling. But many will, inevitably, end up in landfill. “We’ve introduced a disposable mattress business model at a time when we probably should be moving in the exact opposite direction,” says Alexander.

It is difficult to recycle the materials in a mattress because they aren’t worth much on the secondary market. “A lot of people would feel that there’s value in the materials in a mattress,” says David Fitzsimons, of the circular-economy experts Oakdene Hollins. “But, generally, that’s not true.” You may be able to get a few pounds for the metal springs in a mattress, but it’s hard to find takers for the foam and fibre.

Our ever-growing used mattress problem is also being exported. In July 2019, 100 containers of British waste were found in the port of Colombo, Sri Lanka. They had been illegally sent there, under the guise of metal recycling. Allsopp pulls up a photograph of the containers on his computer. “If you look at what’s in there, those are baled mattresses,” he says, pointing to the screen. Many of the mattresses appear to be wrapped in distinctive green packaging. “Those are the green bags that national retailers use to take mattresses back under their return scheme,” Allsopp says. Which means that mattresses that were sent for recycling by major retailers have been illegally dumped in a foreign country.

The authorities are aware of the criminality in the industry, but don’t have the resources or political wherewithal to deal with it. “It’s the wild west at the moment,” says Alexander. “Yes, there are a number of good mattress-recycling facilities out there, but they’re limited.” The Local Government Association would like to see tougher criminal penalties on flytipping, as well as more manufacturers offering take-back services for old mattresses.

[Read the whole article for the full horrors of the mattress industry.]

Penguins’ plastic peril: Scientists warn of growing threat to endangered birds from toxic fibres polluting the ocean

Penguins’ plastic peril: Scientists warn of growing threat to endangered birds from toxic fibres polluting the ocean

SOURCE: Sunday Post

DATE: February 10, 2020

SNIP: A study in Antarctic has found that over three quarters of the penguins surveyed in South Georgia had microfibres in their stomachs.

Smaller than a baby’s fingernail, and often coated in toxic chemicals, they can lodge in a bird’s stomach, and as they break down into even smaller nanoparticles, wreak havoc throughout the body.

Until recently it was believed that the Antarctic, protected by the Circumpolar Current flowing eastward around the uninhabited continent, was a haven from the menace.

The island is home to one of the world’s largest colonies of King Penguins, with around 100,000 pairs, and was praised by Sir David Attenborough as one of the most extraordinary places on Earth.

Standing over three feet tall, the birds raise just one chick every two years, and have a striking patch of orange-gold feathers on their neck.

Lead researcher Camille Le Guen from St Andrews University, who spent over two months on the island, said: “The seas are suffering from climate change, and over-fishing. Plastic pollution is an added and growing threat.

“The Southern Ocean was supposed to be the cleanest ocean in the world – but maybe this is not such an isolated place after all.

“The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is like a semi-barrier for microfibres, but once they manage to get in, they are stuck because of that current and then they will accumulate.”

She added: “We found 77% of birds had microfibres in their diet, birds with chicks and even non-breeding birds.”

And almost 300m tonnes of plastic debris are estimated to be floating at sea surface globally, with more deposited on the sea floor.

Microfibres are concentrated in surface waters and sediments but can also be concentrated in fish. The highest level of contamination was found among birds incubating their eggs.

According to Friends of the Earth, one washing load of clothes could be shedding up to 17 million tiny plastic fibres. Up to 64% of most new fabrics are made of plastics such as polyester, nylon and acrylic.

“The real concern now is nanoplastics, resulting from the degradation of the microplastic fibres, and this is more of a problem.

“It has been shown in different species that nanoplastic can get into the organs, the brain, the different tissues and alter their functioning.”

In the journal Environment International, the team of researchers wrote: “The long ‘residence time’ of plastic in marine ecosystems could harm marine life for many decades even in a scenario involving the immediate cessation of production and discarding of plastics.”

Half-a-million insect species face extinction

Half-a-million insect species face extinction

SOURCE: Phys.org

DATE: February 10, 2020

SNIP: Half of the one million animal and plant species on Earth facing extinction are insects, and their disappearance could be catastrophic for humankind, scientists have said in a “warning to humanity”.

“The current insect extinction crisis is deeply worrying,” said Pedro Cardoso, a biologist at the Finnish Museum of Natural History and lead author of a review study published Monday.

“Yet, what we know is only the tip of the iceberg,” he told AFP.

The disappearance of bugs that fly, crawl, burrow, jump and walk on water is part of a gathering mass extinction event, only the sixth in the last half-billion years.

The last one was 66 million years ago, when an errant space rock wiped out land-based dinosaurs and most other life forms.

This time we are to blame. The main drivers are dwindling and degraded habitat, followed by pollutants—especially insecticides—and invasive species.

Over-exploitation—more than 2,000 species of insects are part of the human diet—and climate change are also taking a toll.

The decline of butterflies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, flies, crickets and dragonflies has consequences far beyond their own demise.

“With insect extinction, we lose much more than species,” Cardoso said.

“Many insect species are vital providers of services that are irreplaceable,” including pollination, nutrient cycling and pest control.

Antarctica logs hottest temperature on record with a reading of 18.3C

Antarctica logs hottest temperature on record with a reading of 18.3C

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: February 7, 2020

SNIP: Antarctica has logged its hottest temperature on record, with an Argentinian research station thermometer reading 18.3C (65F), beating the previous record by 0.8C.

The reading, taken at Esperanza on the northern tip of the continent’s peninsula, beats Antarctica’s previous record of 17.5C, set in March 2015.

A tweet from Argentina’s meteorological agency on Friday revealed the record. The station’s data goes back to 1961.

Antarctica’s peninsula – the area that points towards South America – is one of the fastest warming places on earth, heating by almost 3C over the past 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Almost all the region’s glaciers are melting.

The Esperanza reading breaks the record for the Antarctic continent. The record for the Antarctic region – that is, everywhere south of 60 degrees latitude – is 19.8C, taken on Signy Island in January 1982.

Prof James Renwick, a climate scientist at Victoria University of Wellington, was a member of an ad-hoc World Meteorological Organization committee that has verified previous records in Antarctica.

“The reading is impressive as it’s only five years since the previous record was set and this is almost one degree centigrade higher. It’s a sign of the warming that has been happening there that’s much faster than the global average.

“To have a new record set that quickly is surprising but who knows how long that will last? Possibly not that long at all.”

He said the temperature record at Esperanza was one of the longest-running on the whole continent.

Previous research from 2012 found the current rate of warming in the region was almost unprecedented over the past 2000 years.

Trump is blowing up a national monument in Arizona to make way for the border wall

Trump is blowing up a national monument in Arizona to make way for the border wall

SOURCE: The Intercept

DATE: February 6, 2020

SNIP: Contractors working for the Trump administration are blowing apart a mountain on protected lands in southern Arizona to make way for the president’s border wall. The blasting is happening on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a tract of Sonoran Desert wilderness long celebrated as one of the nation’s great ecological treasures, that holds profound spiritual significance to multiple Native American groups.

In a statement to The Intercept, U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that the blasting began this week and will continue through the end of the month. “The construction contractor has begun controlled blasting, in preparation for new border wall system construction, within the Roosevelt Reservation at Monument Mountain in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector,” the statement said, referring to an area also known as Monument Hill. “The controlled blasting is targeted and will continue intermittently for the rest of the month.”

The agency added that it “will continue to have an environmental monitor present during these activities as well as on-going clearing activities.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, told The Intercept that he has zero faith that the Department of Homeland Security’s “environmental monitor will do anything to avoid, mitigate, or even point out some of the sacrilegious things that are occurring and will continue to occur, given the way they’re proceeding.”

Grijalva’s blunt assessment is based on a visit he made to Organ Pipe last month, alongside archaeologists and leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation, whose ancestral homelands and sacred burial sites are in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump’s border wall expansion. One of those burial sites lies just beyond the westward advance of the border wall, Grijalva explained. “It’s right in the path,” he said, meaning that “the one indignation of the blasting on the hill is shortly to follow with other indignations and disrespect.” According to Grijalava, “DHS had mentioned to the tribes that they would back off on developing the hill, but the work is still being done.”

The agency has consistently failed in its legal obligation to meaningfully consult with tribal stakeholders in southern Arizona, Grijalva said. The blasting that’s happening now, he added, “is just the crudest indication of what’s going on.”

Celebrated as “a pristine example of an intact Sonoran Desert ecosystem,” Organ Pipe was designated as a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1976. Even before the explosions began, the construction there was already one of Trump’s most controversial border wall projects, unfolding on the homelands of the Tohono O’odham and in areas that are ostensibly safeguarded by the strictest public-land designations on the books.

Neither factor has stopped contractors from drilling into the ground and draining water from a rare desert aquifer in order to mix concrete to support a towering, 30-foot barrier along the U.S.-Mexico divide. In working to fulfill the president’s chief campaign promise, construction crews on Organ Pipe have uprooted saguaro cacti, slicing the iconic plants into chunks and bulldozed a wide roadway to make room for trucks, cranes, and other construction vehicles.

With the wall in place, and its floodlights illuminating the area through the night, the migration of several rare desert animal species is expected to come to an end. The construction is particularly threatening to Quitobaquito Springs, the only naturally occurring source of fresh water for miles around. The desert oasis was once inhabited by the Hia Ced O’odham — a smaller band of the larger O’odham community — and remains a monumentally important spiritual site for the O’odham people to this day.

“A historically significant area is going to be changed irreparably,” Grijalva said. “You’re never going to be able to put it back together.”