SOURCE: Weather Channel
DATE: June 5, 2019
SNIP: In India, “Day Zero” has already arrived for over 100 million people, thanks to excessive groundwater pumping, an inefficient and wasteful water supply system and years of deficient rains. “Day Zero” is expected to arrive for millions more in India by 2020, when groundwater supplies are predicted to run out for 100 million people in the northern half of India.
Over 12% of India’s population – 163 million people of 1.3 billion – live under “Day Zero” conditions, with no access to clean water near their home, according to a 2018 WaterAid report. That is the most of any country in the world. With the taps dry, people are forced to dig ever-deeper wells or buy water.
The number of people in India experiencing “Day Zero” is set to grow significantly by 2020, according to a startling report released in 2018 by Niti Ayog, India’s federal think tank. “Supply gaps are causing city dwellers to depend on privately extracted groundwater, bringing down local water tables,” the report says.
“In fact, by 2020, 21 major cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru (formerly called Bangalore) and Hyderabad, are expected to reach zero groundwater levels, affecting access for 100 million people.”
Loss of groundwater supplies will force people in the affected cities to rely on rainwater harvesting and water piped from rivers – sources that are inadequate to meet the demand. Groundwater supplies 40% of India’s water needs, including more than 60% of irrigated agriculture and 85% of domestic water use. India accounts fo 12% of global groundwater use.
One of the most seriously affected cities is expected to be Bengaluru (population 12 million), India’s third largest city. A 2018 assessment by the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, a public interest research and advocacy organisation, rated the city as one of the ten global cities most likely to hit Day Zero in the near future.
DATE: June 5, 2019
SNIP: The average person eats at least 50,000 particles of microplastic a year and breathes in a similar quantity, according to the first study to estimate human ingestion of plastic pollution.
The true number is likely to be many times higher, as only a small number of foods and drinks have been analysed for plastic contamination. The scientists reported that drinking a lot of bottled water drastically increased the particles consumed.
Some of the best available data is on water, with bottled water containing 22 times more microplastic than tap water on average. A person who only drank bottled water would consume 130,000 particles per year from that source alone, the researchers said, compared with 4,000 from tap water.
The health impacts of ingesting microplastic are unknown, but they could release toxic substances. Some pieces are small enough to penetrate human tissues, where they could trigger immune reactions.
Microplastic pollution is mostly created by the disintegration of plastic litter and appears to be ubiquitous across the planet. Researchers find microplastics everywhere they look; in the air, soil, rivers and the deepest oceans around the world.
They have been detected in tap and bottled water, seafood and beer. They were also found in human stool samples for the first time in October, confirming that people ingest the particles.
The new research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, took the data from 26 previous studies that measure the amounts of microplastic particles in fish, shellfish, sugar, salt, beer and water, as well as in the air in cities.
Most food and drink types have not been tested, however, meaning the study only assessed 15% of calorie intake. “We don’t know a huge amount. There are some major data gaps that need to get filled,” said Kieran Cox, at the University of Victoria in Canada, who led the research.
Other foods, such as bread, processed products, meat, dairy and vegetables, may well contain just as much plastic, he said. “It is really highly likely there is going to be large amounts of plastic particles in these. You could be heading into the hundreds of thousands.”
Image: microplastic in salt.
DATE: May 31, 2019
SNIP: The practice of downsizing, degrading, or eliminating protected lands and waters has been accelerating worldwide, and especially in the United States, a study published Thursday in Science has found.
Just how accelerated? Ninety percent of all proposals the U.S. has ever made to reduce or eliminate protected areas have taken place since 2000. And 99 percent of those proposed rollbacks were associated with industrial-scale development projects, including oil and gas extraction.
And it’s not just America. Globally, 78 percent of downsizing protected areas has happened since 2000, and industrial development was responsible for 62 percent of all rollbacks, according to the study.
The report is one of the most comprehensive efforts yet to track the erosion of protected wilderness areas and national parks around the world. A team of 21 international scientists analyzed 200 years of protected areas data, conducted their own research, and worked with local scientists in each country they analyzed to discover trends in why, and how frequently, public lands are changed or downsized.
The study authors decided to zero in on the United States and the Amazon region in South America because, they said, both regions are undergoing rapid environmental policy change, and are both particularly important to global conservation.
“The U.S is recognized as a global leader in conservation. And when the U.S take steps to scale back the protection of its lands and waters, other countries take notice,” said Michael Mascia, senior vice president of the Moore Center for Science at Conservation International and co-author of the study.
Lead author Rachel Kroner, a social scientist at Conservation International, said the study only adds to the urgent call to action that was the recent biodiversity report.
“Biodiversity and the web of life on Earth is in trouble. And it’s up to us to do something about it,” Kroner said. She pointed out that many scientists are calling for a scaling up protected areas to protect biodiversity rather than scaling them back.
SOURCE: Smithsonian Magazine
DATE: May 30, 2019
SNIP: Alaska in March is supposed to be cold. Along the north and west coasts, the ocean should be frozen farther than the eye can see. In the state’s interior, rivers should be locked in ice so thick that they double as roads for snowmobiles and trucks. And where I live, near Anchorage in south-central Alaska, the snowpack should be deep enough to support skiing for weeks to come. But this year, a record-breaking heatwave upended norms and had us basking in comfortable—but often unsettling—warmth.
Across Alaska, March temperatures averaged 11 degrees Celsius above normal. The deviation was most extreme in the Arctic where, on March 30, thermometers rose almost 22 degrees Celsius above normal—to 3 degrees. That still sounds cold, but it was comparatively hot.
The state’s wave of warmth was part of a weeks-long weather pattern that shattered temperature records across our immense state, contributing to losses of both property and life.
On April 15, three people, including an 11-year-old girl, died after their snowmobiles plunged through thin ice on the Noatak River in far northwestern Alaska. Earlier in the winter, 700 kilometers south, on the lower Kuskokwim River, at least five people perished in separate incidents when their snowmobiles or four-wheelers broke through thin ice. There were close calls too, including the rescue of three miners who spent hours hopping between disintegrating ice floes in the Bering Sea near Nome. Farther south, people skating on the popular Portage Lake near Anchorage also fell through thin ice. Varying factors contributed to these and other mishaps, but abnormally thin ice was a common denominator.
The steady decline of sea ice is old news, but 2019 brought exceptional conditions. In January, a series of warm storms began breaking apart the ice, which had formed late and was thinner than usual. By late March, the Bering Sea was largely open, at a time when the ice usually reaches its maximum for the year, which historically has been as much as 900,000 square kilometers (more than twice the size of the province of Alberta). In April, U.S. federal scientists reported coverage was even lower than the unprecedented low extent of 2018. By mid-May, ice that should have persisted into June was almost entirely gone.
Beyond the immediate impacts on people and infrastructure, less ice in the Bering and in the neighboring Chukchi Sea to the north have far-reaching atmospheric effects in Alaska. As Thoman explains, the massive area of newly open water creates warmer air temperatures and provides more moisture to storms. It can increase coastal erosion and winter rain or even produce heavier snow far inland. Researchers are also investigating whether disappearing sea ice is affecting continental weather patterns.
Otter Instagram craze in Japan and Indonesia drives surge in deadly poaching, threatening species’ survival
DATE: May 28, 2019
SNIP: An Instagram-fuelled craze in Japan for keeping otters in cafes and as pets is driving a deadly surge in poaching the animals from the wild – driving them to the brink of extinction, investigators say.
Social media influencers who regularly post photos of their pet otters that have become famous are blamed for speeding up demand for the semi-aquatic species in many parts of Asia.
The animals’ popularity has led to a rush to open otter cafes in Japan, where customers touch, play, feed and cuddle them, as well as people buying them to keep at home.
As a result, Facebook groups with hundreds of thousands of members have sprung up, dedicated to illegally trading in otters, the undercover investigation found.
Many members are customers of the organised networks of farmers, hunters and traffickers who steal cubs from the wild, killing the parents to capture the babies, according to World Animal Protection (WAP), which carried out the investigation.
Tokyo now has more than half a dozen otters cafés, which vary in terms of the contact visitors are allowed, and the conditions the otters are kept in. At some of the cafés we visited, otters were confined to small rooms filled with people allowed to run riot. Others were locked in cages for the majority of the day. The otters’ welfare is severely compromised for the entertainment of visitors. As Cassandra Koenen, Global Head of Campaigns for World Animal Protection noted:
“The otters are heard whimpering, shrieking and making distress calls while customers are interacting with them. Some are kept in solitary conditions with no natural light, others are seen biting their claws and exhibiting traumatized behavior – some of the worst housing conditions included small cages with no access to water. One of the otters we saw had even bitten the end of its tail off.”
“What we found was a highly complex network with links to organized crime. As Koenen put it: “The trade in otters as pets is an interlinked trade network involving farmers, hunters, collectors, dealers, enforcement agencies, and transportation operatives. The explosion [of] famous otters on social media is driving the demand for otters, making it a lucrative business.”
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: May 28, 2019
SNIP: For the past year, the waste of the world has been gathering on the shores of south-east Asia. Crates of unwanted rubbish from the west have accumulated in the ports of the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam while vast toxic wastelands of plastics imported from Europe and the US have built up across Malaysia.
But not for much longer it seems. A pushback is beginning, as nations across south-east Asia vow to send the garbage back to where it came from.
Last week the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, threatened to sever diplomatic ties with Canada if the government did not agree to take back 69 containers containing 1,500 tonnes of waste that had been exported to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014.
On 23 April a Malaysian government investigation revealed that waste from the UK, Australia, United States and Germany was pouring into the country illegally, falsely declared as other imports.
Enough was enough, said Yeo Bee Yin, the environment minister. “Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world. We will send back [the waste] to the original countries.”
She has been as good as her word. Five containers of illegal rubbish from Spain discovered at a Malaysian port have just been sent back and on Tuesday Yeo announced that 3,000 tonnes of illegally imported plastic waste from the UK, the US, Australia, Japan, France and Canada would be returned imminently.
Many believe this is the only way that countries, mainly in the west, will finally be forced to confront their own waste problems, rather than burdening developing countries.
The problem began for south-east Asia in early 2018 after China stopped accepting plastic waste and recycling from the rest of the world due to environmental concerns. The outright ban was problematic: in 2016, China processed at least half of the world’s exports of plastic, paper and metals, including enough rubbish from the UK to fill 10,000 olympic swimming pools.
In the wake of China’s ban, private corporations handling waste for national governments began scrambling for other countries to bear the burden. With most of the rubbish channelled through Hong Kong, south-east Asia, which was nearby and had lax regulation, became an attractive alternative destination for the rubbish.
Malaysia has borne the brunt of the re-directed waste. According to Greenpeace, imports of plastic waste to Malaysia increased from 168,500 tonnes in 2016 to 456,000 tonnes in just the first six months of 2018, mainly coming from the UK, Germany, Spain, France Australia and the US. The environmental and social cost has been high. A report by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) detailed how across south-east Asia, the influx of toxic waste has caused contaminated water, crop death and respiratory illnesses.
DATE: May 27, 2019
SNIP: A non-governmental group that has monitored the Amazon rainforest for two decades said Monday that the pace of deforestation increased 20 per cent in the last nine months.
Imazon said satellite imagery showed the region lost 2,169 square kilometres of forest from August through April, up from 1,807 square kilometres lost over the same period the previous year.
The group’s monitoring year begins with August, to match Brazil’s dry season, when logging rates are usually at their highest.
Analysts blame uncontrolled logging and land invasion for much of the loss, some of which occurred in protected areas and Indigenous reserves.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his environment minister have questioned the reality of climate change and spoken in favour of expanding mining and industrial farming, including in the Amazon and protected areas. Both believe environmental laws and activist groups often work to hinder Brazil’s economic potential.
SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: May 27, 2019
SNIP: Hundreds of rivers around the world from the Thames to the Tigris are awash with dangerously high levels of antibiotics, the largest global study on the subject has found.
Antibiotic pollution is one of the key routes by which bacteria are able develop resistance to the life-saving medicines, rendering them ineffective for human use. “A lot of the resistance genes we see in human pathogens originated from environmental bacteria,” said Prof William Gaze, a microbial ecologist at the University of Exeter who studies antimicrobial resistance but was not involved in the study.
The rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a global health emergency that could kill 10 million people by 2050, the UN said last month.
The drugs find their way into rivers and soil via human and animal waste and leaks from wastewater treatment plants and drug manufacturing facilities. “It’s quite scary and depressing. We could have large parts of the environment that have got antibiotics at levels high enough to affect resistance,” said Alistair Boxall, an environmental scientist at the University of York, who co-led the study.
The research, presented on Monday at a conference in Helsinki, shows that some of the world’s best-known rivers, including the Thames, are contaminated with antibiotics classified as critically important for the treatment of serious infections. In many cases they were detected at unsafe levels, meaning resistance is much more likely to develop and spread.
The researchers tested 711 sites in 72 countries and found antibiotics in 65% of them. In 111 of the sites, the concentrations of antibiotics exceeded safe levels, with the worst cases more than 300 times over the safe limit.
The research team is now planning to assess the environmental impacts of antibiotic pollution on wildlife including fish, invertebrates and algae. They expect severe effects. The drug levels in some Kenyan rivers were so high that no fish could survive.
SOURCE: Anchorage Daily News
DATE: May 26, 2019
SNIP: Alaska’s wettest region is experiencing an extreme drought for the first time in recorded history, climate scientists say.
The southernmost portion of Southeast Alaska, including Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island, Wrangell and Metlakatla, has been in a drought for the last two years, said Rick Thoman, a climatologist at the Fairbanks-based Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.
Last week, though, the drought was updated to a D3, or “extreme” drought, the second-highest category the U.S. Drought Monitor measures. It’s the first time those conditions have ever been recorded in Alaska, according to the Drought Monitor.
Meanwhile, areas experiencing lesser “severe” and “moderate” droughts on the Panhandle have expanded, the Drought Monitor said.
Although this week represents the first time an “extreme” drought classification has ever been recorded in Alaska, it’s likely not the first the region has ever seen, climatologists caution. Similar deficits were measured in the early 1990s — before the U.S. Drought Monitor was established — and episodically throughout the 2000s.
The drier conditions have also caused ecological damage, including an increase in insect pests like the saw fly, damage to coastal foliage and warmer stream temperatures that may inhibit salmon spawning, climatologists said.
DATE: May 25, 2019
SNIP: Botswana reopens hunting. The government announced yesterday they are “lifting the hunting suspension in an orderly and ethical manner”. A decision that seemed inevitable, but nevertheless is an enormous blow for Botswana’s tourism and conservation reputation.
Since President Masisi’s announcement last year proposing lifting the hunting ban, this whole process has been a well-orchestrated election campaign, casting hunting as the solution to Human Elephant Conflict, rural poverty and elephant population control.
The main justification for lifting the hunting ban has been the supposedly increasing levels of Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) , particularly involving elephants. There is no doubt that HWC is a real problem to the people living with wildlife on a day to day basis and this indeed needs to be addressed.
However, there is no research-based evidence that suggests HWC is actually increasing. Furthermore, trophy hunting can never and should never have a such an impact on elephant or other wildlife densities that it would actually reduce HWC. Sensational media articles have only served to inflame a volatile situation.
The government is now not only talking about lifting the ban on elephant hunting, but also predators, as the government claims predator numbers are also increasing.
Again, there is no scientific evidence to back up any of these statements. Many areas in Botswana are still trying to recover from overhunting in the 1980-90s, particularly of the lion population. The mature elephant bulls that would be of interest to the trophy hunter are under siege from increased poaching with recent surveys indicating a material drop in numbers of bulls.