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Illegal wildlife trade finds a new marketplace—social media

Illegal wildlife trade finds a new marketplace—social media

SOURCE: The Kathmandu Post
DATE: January 9, 2021
SNIP: People buying groceries, electronic gadgets, dresses and books online has become common these days with the availability of the internet and social media.

But the internet has also become a place for trade in illegal items, including wild animals, their body parts and meat. Several pages and groups on Facebook have been found to be actively involved in such a trade.

According to wildlife conservationists, traders are using social media sites to sell various mammals, reptiles, and birds. This is a worrying trend, they say.

“Traders are using several pages and groups on social media to sell wild animals’ meat,” said Raju Acharya, a wildlife conservationist. “That such trade is going on shows that protected species are being hunted and captured illegally.”

According to Acharya, the most commonly traded species killed for their meat are wild boars, kalij pheasants, barking deer, red junglefowl, and monkeys.

“Most of the animals are traded online for their meat,” said Acharya, also the executive director of Friends of Nature Nepal, a youth-led non-governmental organisation working in the field of environment and wildlife conservation. “If this is happening in broad daylight on social media, we can infer that efforts by concerned authorities to control poaching of wild animals have not been adequate.”

Even a cursory search on Facebook, reveals several posts and pages that provide details on how one can buy wild animals for consumption or to keep as pets.

Chiranjeevi Khanal, another wildlife conservationist, who closely follows such trade on social media, said birds like parrots are the most common ones to be sold on social media.

“We can also see many posts on wild boar meat. However, no one knows for sure whether the meat on offer is of a wild boar,” said Khanal. “Species like tortoise are also being sold in such groups.”

According to Khanal, generally, youths are found to be involved in such activities.

I have even found a pangolin on sale. And, I have also captured a photo of an elongated tortoise, an endangered species being sold through social media.”

The trade in wildlife parts may be taking place easily and in the open, but such practices are against the law, officials say.

Nepal’s wildlife conservation law does not allow the killing or injuring, selling, or buying and selling of wild animals and their parts, except under official permission.

Haribhadra Acharya, spokesperson for the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation, said that as per the National Park Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973, no one can kill or injure, or even sell a wild animal.

“The department keeps getting complaints that people are taking to social media to sell wild animals and their parts. Even last fiscal year, we issued a notice after there were reports that wild animals were being sold on social media for their meat,” said Acharya. “Most of the time, such incidents are happening because the members of the public are unaware of the consequences of their actions.”

However, according to conservationists, such practices are going on unabated in different parts of the country, even in Kathmandu.

The fifth amendment to the National Park and Wildlife Conservation Rules introduced a provision to grant permission to a person or entity for commercial farming and reproduction of various wild mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. But the law hasn’t been implemented.

Trump to Birds: Drop Dead

Trump to Birds: Drop Dead

SOURCE: Audubon
DATE: January 5, 2021
SNIP: With two weeks left in office, on National Bird Day, the Trump administration—defying opposition from the general public, scientists, tribal governments, international treaty partners, and a federal judge who last summer all but laughed its legal arguments out of court—today announced it has finalized a rule allowing companies and individuals to kill migratory birds as long as they didn’t mean to.

Conservation groups blasted the decision as a desperate attempt by the administration to give industry a free pass to kill birds on its way out the door. “Secretary Bernhardt’s former oil industry clients have explicitly asked for this policy change, and now he is delivering, just days before returning to the private sector,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, in a statement referring to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the energy industry. “By finalizing this proposal, the Trump administration is signing the death warrants of millions of birds across the country.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the branch of the Interior Department that oversees bird management, stood by the rule and the steps taken to finalize it. “The Trump administration is committed to using science and the law as the foundation of our decisions at the Service,” said Aurelia Skipwith, the agency’s director, in a press release. “Employing an open and transparent public process to finalize today’s action emphasizes our dedication to conservation of migratory birds and to providing regulatory certainty.”

Not long after taking office the Trump administration began working to dismantle the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, passed in 1918, which makes it illegal to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect migratory birds or their eggs or nests—or attempt to do so—without a permit. For decades the FWS, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, interpreted the rule to prohibit “incidental take”—the unintentional but predictable killing of birds, often at industrial sites. The FWS typically enforced only egregious cases of incidental take, such as when it levied a $100 million fine against BP for the deaths of an estimated one million birds in its 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. But the threat of prosecution gave the government leverage to urge companies to adopt often simple and inexpensive practices to prevent avian deaths, such as covering oil pits and spacing power lines far enough apart to avoid electrocuting raptors.

But in 2017, Daniel Jorjani, the Interior Department’s top lawyer, issued a legal opinion stating that the MBTA prohibits only intentional killing of the nearly 1,100 bird species it covers, not incidental take. In response, 17 former interior secretaries sent Ryan Zinke, then in charge of the department, a letter urging him to abandon the interpretation. Conservation groups and states sued the department, arguing that its policy clearly violated the MBTA’s purpose. But as the administration has worked to cement its position with a formal rule—which will be harder than Jorjani’s opinion for the Biden administration to sweep away—the FWS has allowed incidental take to go unpunished.

Interior has pushed through substantial public opposition on the road to finalizing the new rule. More than 99 percent of the comments submitted in response to a draft version of the rule were opposed. Several tribes have spoken out against the rule. “Many species of migratory birds hold deep cultural and sacred meaning to the Tribe,” representatives of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe wrote in public comments in June. “It is incomprehensible that the industry responsible for killing birds will be able to avoid any criminal accountability merely because they did not purposely set out to kill migratory birds.” Three of the four Flyway Councils—administrative bodies that facilitate coordination among wildlife agencies—representing the majority of states and Canadian provinces submitted formal comments opposing the rollback.

Worry over the rule’s impacts extend beyond this country’s borders. A 1916 agreement between the United States and Canada preceded and is implemented through the MBTA, and that country has expressed serious concerns about the Trump administration’s shift away from protecting birds, including the lack of data-based evidence to inform its position. “Almost 80 percent of Canada’s migratory birds migrate through or reside in the United States during parts of their life cycle, which means ongoing collaboration between the two countries is critical to protect these important populations,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, in a statement last month. “Our countries share a long history of partnership, and we must continue to work together to protect migratory birds for future generations.”

Even Interior’s own analysis found that implementing the rule could push some bird species onto the endangered species list at a time when scientists say North America has lost more than 3 billion birds over the past half-century.

Warming already baked in will blow past climate goals

Warming already baked in will blow past climate goals

DATE: January 4, 2020
SNIP: The amount of baked-in global warming, from carbon pollution already in the air, is enough to blow past international agreed upon goals to limit climate change, a new study finds.

For decades, scientists have talked about so-called “committed warming” or the increase in future temperature based on past carbon dioxide emissions that stay in the atmosphere for well over a century. It’s like the distance a speeding car travels after the brakes are applied.

But Monday’s study in the journal Nature Climate Change calculates that a bit differently and now figures the carbon pollution already put in the air will push global temperatures to about 2.3 degrees Celsius (4.1 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming since pre-industrial times.

Previous estimates, including those accepted by international science panels, were about a degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) less than that amount of committed warming.

International climate agreements set goals of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, with the more ambitious goal of limiting it to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) added in Paris in 2015. The world has already warmed about 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit).

“You’ve got some … global warming inertia that’s going to cause the climate system to keep warming, and that’s essentially what we’re calculating,” said study co-author Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University. “Think about the climate system like the Titanic. It’s hard to turn the ship when you see the icebergs.”

Dessler and colleagues at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab and Nanjing University in China calculated committed warming to take into account that the world has warmed at different rates in different places and that places that haven’t warmed as fast are destined to catch up.

Rome street covered in dead birds after New Year fireworks

Rome street covered in dead birds after New Year fireworks

SOURCE: WantedInRome
DATE: January 1, 2020
SNIP: Hundreds of dead birds covered a central Rome street in the aftermath of last night’s fireworks for New Year.

The birds, believed to be starlings, were found at the Termini train station end of Via Cavour by a motorist who posted footage of the disturbing scene on YouTube.

The disorientated birds, startled by the explosions, are thought to have died after flying into windows and high voltage electricity cables just after midnight.

The incident occurred amid a New Year firework ban which was completely ignored, as in previous years, leading to numerous cases of dogs running away from their homes in fear.

Lake Washington sockeye hit record low, another signature Seattle fish at brink of extinction

Lake Washington sockeye hit record low, another signature Seattle fish at brink of extinction

SOURCE: The Seattle Times
DATE: January 1, 2021
SNIP: They are as Seattle as the Space Needle. But Lake Washington sockeye, once the largest run of sockeye in the Lower 48, are failing.

The smallest run on record returned to the Cedar River in 2020, a bottoming out after years of declines. There hasn’t been a fishery on Lake Washington sockeye since 2006 — and now extinction looms.

What’s worse is scientists are not even sure how to fix it, as a vortex of climate change, urbanization and predators endangers a beloved species.

Some 22,950 sockeye were counted at Ballard’s Hiram Chittenden Locks in 2020, but only about 3,000 made it to the mouth of the Cedar. Another 40 to 50% of those fish typically die on the spawning grounds before they can reproduce.

Not even a $31 million hatchery project by Seattle Public Utilities — built in 2011 to replace a failing interim hatchery — has delivered the rescue expected.

It’s not only Seattle’s storied summer sockeye run that is at risk. Lake Sammamish kokanee are on life support, circling in a tank in a captive brood on Orcas Island. Local steelhead are goners. The watershed’s chinook run is at 10% of historic levels. The sockeye are the standout example of a more worrisome decline in what once were abundant salmon runs in Seattle and beyond.

“The salmon can’t speak, and they need someone to speak for them, and protect them,” said Jason Elkins, chairman of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.

“It’s not just the sockeye, all of the salmon are significant to us, we don’t want them only for ourselves, we want them for everyone to enjoy. We are salmon people. It is our way of life.”

Paul Faulds, water planning and program management interim director at Seattle Public Utilities, has staked his career on Lake Washington sockeye, investing 20 years in the sockeye program at SPU.

The utility is in the middle of the Lake Washington sockeye rescue because of Seattle’s Landsburg Diversion Dam built in 1901 on the Cedar, to which the sockeye return. The Cedar provides drinking water to two-thirds of SPU’s 1.4 million customers in the greater Seattle area.

A portion of the returning sockeye run is collected from the Cedar and taken to a hatchery each year to artificially spawn a new generation — but the fish are not allowed above the dam.

Incredible as it seems now, the utility would never allow sockeye above its dam because managers were worried the fish would spawn in such high numbers, they could pollute the drinking water supply.

“I am continually blown away, thinking that was really a concern,” Faulds said.

Today the worry is that the fish can’t beat the combination of climate change that is warming the water in the lake and Lake Washington Ship Canal to lethal temperatures; urbanization of the lake; and surging predator populations gobbling juvenile salmon. The threats intertwine.

But what is happening to the adult sockeye, such that so many never even make it to the Cedar River — where even more then die?

Scientists don’t really know, but posit a combination of warm water, stress and disease is the cause.

Meanwhile, SPU has already run through most of its $31 million fund to operate the sockeye hatchery. The fund was supposed to keep it going until 2050 — but there is only about $4 million left, Faulds said.

Jim Scott, special assistant to the director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, grew up on the shores of Lake Washington, in Renton, playing around the lake as a kid, and fishing for sockeye from a rowboat. “It is part of me, I would say, and my family.”

A generation of this region voted to tax themselves to clean up Lake Washington, which used to be a murky mess. Raw sewage kept swimmers on the beach.

That commitment to making things better makes it all the harder to see the present turning point toward worse. “It is this change in the landscape that is making it more and more difficult for salmon to persist,” Scott said.

Shouldn’t we all wake up here? These fish are disappearing before our eyes, shouldn’t people be concerned about this?” said Larry Phillips, a champion of salmon when he was on the Metropolitan King County Council. In deepest blue Seattle, with one of the greenest city councils and county governments in the nation, he can’t believe it has come to this for the city’s signature fish.

‘A real bad precedent’: Australia criticised for Antarctica airport plan

‘A real bad precedent’: Australia criticised for Antarctica airport plan

SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: December 31, 2020
SNIP: Australia is planning to build Antarctica’s biggest infrastructure project: a new airport and runway that would increase the human footprint in the world’s greatest wilderness by an estimated 40%.

The mega-scheme is likely to involve blasting petrel rookeries, disturbing penguin colonies and encasing a stretch of the wilderness in more than 115,000 tonnes of concrete.

The government in Canberra says the project on the Vestfold Hills of Princess Elizabeth Land is necessary to provide year-round access for scientists and emergency teams to Davis research station, Australia’s most southerly base in Antarctica. Strategic concerns are also a consideration; Australia is keen to counter China’s growing presence on the frozen southern continent.

Environmental scientists say the multi-billion-dollar plan is a waste of money, and could lead to a destructive construction race among territorial rivals.

“It’s unprecedented in the Antarctic in terms of the scale of investment and the impact on the environment. Although it is being done in the name of science, very few scientists are enthusiastic. This is more about flag-waving. It is about firming up Australia’s presence and our claim,” said Shaun Brooks, an environmental scientist at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies of the University at Tasmania.

He estimates the project would add 40% to the existing infrastructure on the continent, which would be damaging and unnecessary.

“I can’t help thinking this will become a white elephant. How can you justify a multi-billion-dollar runway for a base with only 19 people during the winter and which has been maintained without problems since 1957?” Brooks said.

Australia’s proposed new airstrip would be 2.7km long and 40 metres wide, and – unlike existing ice and gravel runways in Antarctica – it would be a permanent structure built on top of the landscape with cement and 11,500 concrete blocks, each weighing more than 10 tonnes.

Pollution, dust, noise and carbon emissions are further problems. Shipping the materials from Hobart is expected to take more than a decade and about 100 icebreaker voyages. The government says the land would be flattened by blasting, crushing and filling with a total 3m cubic metres of earthworks. The project will require the construction of a storage area for explosives, land reclamation from the sea for a new wharf, new tanks for aviation fuel and a 4km access road.

As well as the destruction of wildlife habitat during construction, the operation of the completed airport would bring regular disruption to breeding colonies of southern giant petrels, seals and Adélie penguins.

Multiple studies and case histories have shown the negative impact of aircraft on Antarctic wildlife. In the 1980s, a single mail drop by a low-flying plane led to a stampede at a king penguin colony that caused 7,000 deaths. The Vestfold Hills are home to colonies of nesting Adélie penguins, who must keep stationary on their eggs for long periods if chicks are to hatch successfully. If mothers are panicked by aircraft, eggs can be left exposed to freezing winds and predators.

Among those who have spoken out against the project is Geoff Dimmock, a retired logistics manager. As a former organiser of mail drops and supply missions in the region, he said there was no way for the project to avoid noise disruption and contamination. “I don’t want the hills flattened,” he said. “Environmentally, I think this is a real bad precedent to set. And it’s poor value for money.”

Politicians have asked whether the government will break its own guidelines, which say aircraft should not fly within 2.1km of a penguin colony and that no runway should be within 500 metres of breeding seals.

The Green party senator of Tasmania, Peter Whish-Wilson went further during a parliamentary session in October. How, he asked, could a project with the largest human footprint in Antarctic history align with the stated goal of Australia to promote “leadership and environmental stewardship” in the region?

The Australian Antarctic Division said the environmental evaluation would be scrutinised domestically, submitted to other Antarctic Treaty nations and released for public consultation in Australia and internationally.

Plans for a permanent airport at Davis were first floated decades ago, but past governments have balked at the cost. In recent years, the idea has been revived and it is now being pushed forward by the head of the Australian Antarctic Division, Kim Ellis, who is a former military officer and chief executive of Sydney Airport.

The Australian Antarctic Division says a major upgrade is overdue. Flights to Antarctica currently land on a blue-ice runway at Wilkins Aerodrome during the southern summer from October to March. This is increasingly inoperable due to global heating. High temperatures destabilise the runway surface. Closures for this reason used to last for six weeks. Last summer, this increased to 10 weeks.

Plans for a paved runway are now undergoing environmental assessment. Budget discussions are expected in 2022. If approvals are granted, construction would begin in 2023 and run until 2040 at the earliest.

Conservationists say the evaluation process is flawed because it will be signed off by the environment minister Sussan Ley, who is a vocal advocate for the planned runway. She has described it as part of “a new era of Australian Antarctic endeavour”. The government is also conscious that China and Russia are upgrading their bases in the region.

Activists say there are viable alternatives, such as aircraft that use skis instead of wheels for take-off and landing. The US military demonstrated that was possible even in the dark depths of winter by flying into one of its bases with night vision to evacuate an injured explorer in 2008.

Brooks said Australia’s airport plan would set the wrong precedent.

“The scale of this is so out of step with our requirements. I think putting up this big flag will encourage others to do something similar,” he said. “It doesn’t align with Australia’s claim to be an environmental leader. Antarctica is special. Everywhere else in the world, you measure wilderness by what’s left. In Antarctica, it’s still the other way round.

Sea-level rise from climate change could exceed the high-end projections, scientists warn

Sea-level rise from climate change could exceed the high-end projections, scientists warn

SOURCE: CBS News, Cell Press, and Nature Communications
DATE: December 23, 2020
SNIP: Of the many threats from climate change, sea-level rise will most certainly be among the most impactful, making hundreds of thousands of square miles of coastline uninhabitable and potentially displacing over 100 million people worldwide by the end of the century. This threat is a top concern for national security experts because forced migration poses significant risks to international security and stability.

The magnitude of this threat depends heavily on how much the oceans rise in the coming decades. But because of the complex dynamics of massive ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, exact estimates remain elusive, ranging from just over a foot to several feet above current levels. That disparity is the difference between tens of millions of people forced from their homes or a much more unmanageable hundreds of millions displaced.

In the most recent report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5), the median sea-level rise projections by the end of the century range from 16 inches for a low-end warming scenario to 2 feet for a high-end scenario (compared to the average sea level from 1986-2005). The estimates also come with a large degree of uncertainty, which pushes the top bound of likely sea-level rise above 2 and a half feet.

The new paper, titled “Twenty-first century sea-level rise could exceed IPCC projections for strong-warming futures,” takes issue with that upper estimate, saying it is likely too low. The paper was published by a who’s who of the most well known glaciologists and sea-level rise experts, including Martin Siegert, Richard Alley, Eric Rignot, John Englander and Robert Corell.

John Englander is a co-author of the paper and author of the books “High Tide on Main Street” and the soon-to-be-released “Moving to Higher Ground: Rising Sea Level and the Path Forward.” He says this paper is a reaction to a “chorus of concern in the scientific community that the projections for rising sea level were understated.”

In a Zoom conversation with CBS News, Englander illustrated that sea-level rise contribution from Antarctica, by far Earth’s largest ice sheet, does not increase from a low-end warming scenario to a high-end warming scenario in the IPCC’s latest report — but in the real world it should. While the possibility of significantly higher sea-level rise due to Antarctica is mentioned in a footnote, it is by no means front and center. Englander explains that in a high-end warming scenario, obviously Antarctica’s ice melt should contribute more to sea-level rise than in a low-end warming scenario, but that is not reflected in the report.

Another paper published in Nature this week makes a similar case, focused on the evidence from Greenland. Employing the latest models used to inform the next IPCC report, the authors found that in a high-warming scenario Greenland may contribute an extra 3 inches to sea-level rise by the end of the century, when compared to the former version of models used by the IPCC. This extra sea-level rise is due to an additional 2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming projected by the new climate models in the Arctic.

A big concern of Englander’s for our future is the non-linear behavior of sea-level rise. In recent years the pace of sea-level rise has been accelerating. In the 1990s the oceans rose at about 2 millimeters per year. From 2000 to 2015 the average was 3.2 millimeters per year. But over the past few years the pace has quickened to 4.8 millimeters per year.

At the current pace, we can expect at least 15 more inches of sea-level rise by the year 2100. But, as has been the case for the past few decades, the pace of sea-level rise is expected to continue to increase for the foreseeable future. So, 15 inches is not only a lower bound, it is also extremely unlikely.

Adding confidence to the paper’s warning that IPCC projections for a strong warming scenario may be too low, is the evidence that sea-level rise has been running on the high end of IPCC projections for decades.

Historically speaking, simple math reveals that for every degree Fahrenheit the Earth warms, sea-level eventually rises by an astonishing 24 feet. Considering that Earth has already warmed 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 1800s, we know that substantial sea-level rise is already baked in, regardless of whether we stop global warming. Scientists just don’t know exactly how long it will take to see the rise or how fast it will occur. But using proxy records, glaciologists can see that as we emerged from the last Ice Age, sea level rose at remarkable rates — as fast as 15 feet per century at times.

Government Proposes First Take Permit for Condor Deaths at a Wind Farm

Government Proposes First Take Permit for Condor Deaths at a Wind Farm

SOURCE: Audubon
DATE: December 23, 2020
SNIP: The California Condor is perhaps America’s most iconic endangered species and conservation success story. In the 1980s, the wild population dwindled to just 25 birds, which were brought into captivity as a last resort. By the end of 2019, 337 California Condors soared over the West Coast. It’s still an endangered species, but biologists’ hard work rearing condor chicks and releasing them to the wild has paid off. The population continues to recover and expand.

But the condors may soon be a victim of their own success. This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the federal agency charged with protecting condors and other endangered species, announced a draft plan five years in the making to allow an energy company to kill a small number of condors at a southern California wind farm. To get the permit, which would apply only to condors killed incidentally (as opposed to intentionally), the company would have to fund efforts, costing millions of dollars, to both prevent condor-turbine collisions and ensure more condors are released to the wild.

The plan is not final, and the agency is seeking public opinion on the proposal through February 5, 2021. While it is almost certainly going to spark a firestorm among conservation advocates, the plan is also an acknowledgement of an uncomfortable truth: that conservationists’ goals—expanding renewable energy to address climate change and recovering endangered species—are not always in alignment. Indeed, the condors and wind turbines appear to be on a collision course.

California Condors once ranged across North America. But a bevy of human impacts, including shooting, poisoning, egg collecting, and lead poisoning from ammo, largely driven by European colonizers, squeezed the birds into a narrower and narrower range. FWS listed the species as federally endangered in 1967 and launched a captive-breeding program in 1982. By 1987, after the last wild California Condors were brought into captivity, the birds were extinct in the wild.

Since then, the species has undergone a remarkable comeback. Biologists figured out how to get the massive raptors to breed in captivity, and by the late 1990s around 20 young condors were produced every year and released to the wild.

The potential condor-turbine collision site addressed in the new draft plan is in southern California’s Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County. Since 1992, FWS biologists have released captive-bred condors 75 miles to the west of here, at Sespe Condor Sanctuary within the Los Padres National Forest. As the population has grown—up to 99 individuals in 2019 from six in 1992—the condors’ range has expanded, too. In 2017, GPS transmitters showed that the wide-ranging scavengers soared across 17,500 square miles of southern California territory—a range expansion of 7,000 square miles in five years.

That expansion has pushed them into a dangerous area: the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains, where the spinning rotors of more than 4,000 wind turbines put the scavengers at risk of collision. The Tehachapi Wind Resource Area, a patchwork of wind farms owned by around a dozen private companies, produces more than half of California’s wind energy. The first turbines were built here in 1986, and more have been added through the years. Last year Amazon proposed a new addition to meet its climate change goals.

The permit would allow Manzana to incidentally “take” (legalese for kill, harass, or harm) two free-flying California Condors, and two associated eggs or chicks that could die in the nest as a result, over the next 30 years.

This draft permit also points to larger issues around endangered species planning and habitat designation. The condors had been released in the Los Padres National Forest on an ongoing basis for 20 years when Manzana Wind began its operations not far away. Yet the wind farm was built anyway, seemingly blind to the incoming collision if California Condors successfully reestablished the population.

“It doesn’t seem like a good place to have put one in the first place. Wind developers aren’t paying sufficient attention to these issues ahead of time,” says Mike Parr, president of the American Bird Conservancy. “The only way a species can recover is by occupying habitat they are not currently living in. If you’ve already filled that habitat with wind turbines, how are they going to recover?

Hydro-storage projects on Indigenous land stir debate

Hydro-storage projects on Indigenous land stir debate

SOURCE: Sierra Nevada Ally
DATE: December 22, 2020
SNIP: Throughout 2020, Pumped Hydro-Storage LLC has proposed three hydro-storage projects on Navajo Nation land near the Grand Canyon, the Salt Trail, Little Colorado River and Big Canyon.

None of the three projects have been approved to start construction, but the potential for hydro-storage on Navajo Nation land has started a debate between those who are against the hydro-storage projects for environmental and land preservation reasons, and those who see it as a source of renewable energy and jobs.

All three projects’ preliminary permits were submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) within a span of seven months. The first being for Salt Trail on May 8, 2019. The most recent and favored project, Big Canyon, was submitted on Mar. 12, 2020. The Navajo Nation has filed a motion to intervene on Big Canyon as recently as July 2020. If one of these projects does go through, it does not eliminate the possibility of the others being approved, although it does lessen the chances.

Pumped Hydro-Storage LLC specializes in building hydro-storage systems that use water as an alternative to batteries for energy storage. Hydro-storage involves storing water in elevated areas, then using gravity to push water down through turbines to produce energy.

At the front of the opposition has been the Center for Biological Diversity, filing motions to intervene in each proposal. Senior public lands campaigner Taylor McKinnon voiced concerns that the company hasn’t considered the impact of reducing water downstream, “the proposals aren’t well thought out, there’s a number of self contradictions. In our view, these were all incomplete proposals.”

Preserving the ecosystem of the Little Colorado River is extremely important, as it is one of the last remaining homes to the endangered humpback chub. The Center for Biological Diversity is concerned that the damming of the Little Colorado could forever change the flow of the river and hasten the chub’s extinction, as well as irreparably harming other endangered species in the area.

Another important aspect of this discussion is Native American land preservation. These projects proposed by Pumped Hydro-Storage LLC would be built on land that belongs to the Navajo Nation and is the aboriginal land of the Hopi people. The industrialization of these places threatens some of the oldest inhabited areas of North America.

Microplastics revealed in the placentas of unborn babies

Microplastics revealed in the placentas of unborn babies

SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: December 22, 2020

Babies are being born pre-polluted.

Microplastic particles have been revealed in the placentas of unborn babies for the first time, which the researchers said was “a matter of great concern”.

The health impact of microplastics in the body is as yet unknown. But the scientists said they could carry chemicals that could cause long-term damage or upset the foetus’s developing immune system. The particles are likely to have been consumed or breathed in by the mothers.

The particles were found in the placentas from four healthy women who had normal pregnancies and births. Microplastics were detected on both the foetal and maternal sides of the placenta and in the membrane within which the foetus develops.

A dozen plastic particles were found. Only about 4% of each placenta was analysed, however, suggesting the total number of microplastics was much higher. All the particles analysed were plastics that had been dyed blue, red, orange or pink and may have originally come from packaging, paints or cosmetics and personal care products.

The microplastics were mostly 10 microns in size (0.01mm), meaning they are small enough to be carried in the bloodstream. The particles may have entered the babies’ bodies, but the researchers were unable to assess this.

“It is like having a cyborg baby: no longer composed only of human cells, but a mixture of biological and inorganic entities,” said Antonio Ragusa, director of obstetrics and gynaecology at the San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome, and who led the study. “The mothers were shocked.”

In the study, published in the journal Environment International, the researchers concluded: “Due to the crucial role of placenta in supporting the foetus’s development and in acting as an interface with the external environment, the presence of potentially harmful plastic particles is a matter of great concern. Further studies need to be performed to assess if the presence of microplastics may trigger immune responses or may lead to the release of toxic contaminants, resulting in harm.”

Microplastics pollution has reached every part of the planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans. People are already known to consume the tiny particles via food and water, and to breathe them in.

Their effect in the body is unknown but scientists say there is an urgent need to assess the issue, particularly for infants. In October, scientists revealed that babies fed formula milk in plastic bottles are swallowing millions of particles a day. In 2019, researchers reported the discovery of air pollution particles on the foetal side of placentas, indicating that unborn babies are also exposed to the dirty air produced by motor traffic and fossil fuel burning.

A separate recent study showed that nanoparticles of plastic inhaled by pregnant laboratory rats were detected in the liver, lungs, heart, kidney, and brain of their foetuses.