World Gone Wrong: an Environmental Diary of 2019

World Gone Wrong: an Environmental Diary of 2019

SOURCE: CounterPunch DATE: January 3, 2020 The ultimate Faster Than Expected (or perhaps Worse Than You Can Possibly Imagine) list to sum up the awfulness of 2019. READ IT! A sampler: + There are fewer North Atlantic Right Whales left in the world than sitting members of Congress. They may well go extinct in our lifetimes. + The Arctic is now warming so quickly that 14,000 tons of melted ice is gushing into the oceans every second. + At least 305 wolves were killed in Montana in 2017-18, nearly 36% of the entire population. Now a pair of bills offering bounties to encourage people to kill even more wolves. + In 2018, USDA’s Wildlife “Services,” mercenaries for Big Ag, killed 22,000 beavers, 515,000 red-winged black birds, 19,000 mourning doves, 17,000 black tailed prairie dogs, 552 great blue herons, 357 wolves, scores of owls and much more. + At least 500,000 Texans live in communities with contaminated ground water. + 45 million gallons: the amount of water Nestle takes each from the San Bernardino National Forest. + $0: the amount of money Nestle pays for taking 45 million gallons of water each year from the San Bernardino National Forest. + By 2070, Joshua Tree National Park won’t have any Joshua trees and Glacier National Park won’t have any glaciers. But there’ll still be cannonballs and headstones at Gettysburg–if they don’t build condos over them + The loss of the reflective cover provided by Arctic Sea will accelerate the pace of global warming by at least 25 years: “Losing the remaining Arctic sea ice and its ability to reflect incoming solar...
Moscow adopts 15-year grand plan for Northern Sea Route

Moscow adopts 15-year grand plan for Northern Sea Route

SOURCE: Barents Observer DATE: December 31, 2019 SNIP: The development plan for the Northern Sea Route was signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev just few days before the start of the new decade. The document has been in the making for some time and it was considered of great importance that it was approved and signed before the end of 2019. Medvedev put his signature on the document on the 21st of December and it was published on the government website on the 30th. Behind its development stands Rosatom, the nuclear power company with top responsibilities for the Northern Sea Route. The document builds on President Putin’s decrees from May 2018 and the request to boost annual shipments on the Northern Sea Route to 80 million tons by year 2024. A massive development of natural resources is needed for Russian to meet its ambitions on the Arctic route and several of the country’s biggest companies are involved. Among them are oil and gas companies Novatek, Gazprom Neft, Rosneft and the Independent Oil Company. In addition comes minerals and ores developers like Nornickel, VostokCoal, Baimskaya, KAZ Minerals, Vostok Engineering and Severnaya Zvezda. A big number of new vessels are part of the plan. By year 2035, about 40 new vessels are to be built, several of them nuclear icebreakers. In addition to five LK60 icebreakers, the country will build three Lider-class vessels, the first one to be ready for operations in December 2027. The second and third ships are to be ready in late 2030 and 2032 respectively. The Lider will be able to break through the thickest Arctic ice...
The missing 99%: why can’t we find the vast majority of ocean plastic?

The missing 99%: why can’t we find the vast majority of ocean plastic?

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: December 31, 2019 SNIP: Every year, 8m tons of plastic enters the ocean. Images of common household waste swirling in vast garbage patches in the open sea, or tangled up with whales and seabirds, have turned plastic pollution into one of the most popular environmental issues in the world. But for at least a decade, the biggest question among scientists who study marine plastic hasn’t been why plastic in the ocean is so abundant, but why it isn’t. What scientists can see and measure, in the garbage patches and on beaches, accounts for only a tiny fraction of the total plastic entering the water. So where is the other 99% of ocean plastic? Unsettling answers have recently begun to emerge. What we commonly see accumulating at the sea surface is “less than the tip of the iceberg, maybe a half of 1% of the total,” says Erik Van Sebille, an oceanographer at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “I often joke that being an ocean plastic scientist should be an easy job, because you can always find a bit wherever you look,” says Van Sebille. But, he adds, the reality is that our maps of the ocean essentially end at the surface, and solid numbers on how much plastic is in any one location are lacking. It is becoming apparent that plastic ends up in huge quantities in the deepest parts of the ocean, buried in sediment on the seafloor, and caught like clouds of dust deep in the water column. Perhaps most frighteningly, says Helge Niemann, a biogeochemist at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea...
Water-guzzling demands of Trump’s border wall threaten fish species

Water-guzzling demands of Trump’s border wall threaten fish species

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: December 29, 2019 SNIP: The survival of eight endangered and threatened species, including four kinds of endemic fish, is in doubt in Arizona, as massive quantities of groundwater are extracted to construct Donald Trump’s border wall. The 30ft-high barrier is under construction on the edge of the San Bernardino national wildlife refuge in south-eastern Arizona, where rare desert springs and crystalline streams provide the only US habitat for the endangered freshwater Río Yaqui fish. The region’s water reserves are already depleted due to prolonged drought and record high temperatures linked to the climate crisis. The expansion of water-intensive crops such as alfalfa and pecan farms is also draining aquifers in the arid region. Now, experts fear that construction of this 20-mile stretch of Trump’s wall, which began in October, has reduced spring flow and groundwater levels in San Bernardino which provide scarce habitat for the Yaqui topminnow, chub, beautiful shiner and the most vulnerable, the Yaqui catfish. “There’s good reason to believe that the Yaqui fish’s only US habitat is drying up as a result of tens or hundreds of thousands of gallons of groundwater being pumped to build the border wall,” said Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity who recently visited the area. In September, the Trump administration pledged to erect 450 to 500 miles of the wall by the end of 2020, an ambitious undertaking to be partially funded by $6bn previously earmarked for defense and counter-drug programmes. Construction in Arizona and New Mexico is under way, despite multiple ongoing lawsuits challenging the constitutional basis of Trump’s executive...
A Trump Policy ‘Clarification’ All but Ends Punishment for Bird Deaths

A Trump Policy ‘Clarification’ All but Ends Punishment for Bird Deaths

SOURCE: New York Times DATE: December 24, 2019 SNIP: As the state of Virginia prepared for a major bridge and tunnel expansion in the tidewaters of the Chesapeake Bay last year, engineers understood that the nesting grounds of 25,000 gulls, black skimmers, royal terns and other seabirds were about to be plowed under. To compensate, they considered developing an artificial island as a safe haven. Then in June 2018, the Trump administration stepped in. While the federal government “appreciates” the state’s efforts, new rules in Washington had eliminated criminal penalties for “incidental” migratory bird deaths that came in the course of normal business, administration officials advised. Such conservation measures were now “purely voluntary.” The state ended its island planning. The island is one of dozens of bird-preservation efforts that have fallen away in the wake of the policy change in 2017 that was billed merely as a technical clarification to a century-old law protecting migratory birds. Across the country birds have been killed and nests destroyed by oil spills, construction crews and chemical contamination, all with no response from the federal government, according to emails, memos and other documents viewed by The New York Times. Not only has the administration stopped investigating most bird deaths, the documents show, it has discouraged local governments and businesses from taking precautionary measures to protect birds. In one instance, a Wyoming-based oil company wanted to clarify that it no longer had to report bird deaths to the Fish and Wildlife Service. “You are correct,” the agency replied. In another, a building property manager in Michigan emailed the Fish and Wildlife Service to note...