Revealed: Monsanto predicted crop system would damage US farms

Revealed: Monsanto predicted crop system would damage US farms

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: March 30, 2020

SNIP: The US agriculture giant Monsanto and the German chemical giant BASF were aware for years that their plan to introduce a new agricultural seed and chemical system would probably lead to damage on many US farms, internal documents seen by the Guardian show.

Risks were downplayed even while they planned how to profit off farmers who would buy Monsanto’s new seeds just to avoid damage, according to documents unearthed during a recent successful $265m lawsuit brought against both firms by a Missouri farmer.

The documents, some of which date back more than a decade, also reveal how Monsanto opposed some third-party product testing in order to curtail the generation of data that might have worried regulators.

And in some of the internal BASF emails, employees appear to joke about sharing “voodoo science” and hoping to stay “out of jail”.

The new crop system developed by Monsanto and BASF was designed to address the fact that millions of acres of US farmland have become overrun with weeds resistant to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers, best known as Roundup. The collaboration between the two companies was built around a different herbicide called dicamba.

Dicamba has been in use since the 1960s but traditionally was used sparingly, and not on growing crops, because it has a track record of volatilizing – moving far from where it is sprayed – particularly in warm growing months. As it moves it can damage or kill the plants it drifts across.

The companies announced in 2011 that they were collaborating in the development of the dicamba-tolerant cropping systems, granting each other reciprocal licenses, with BASF agreeing to supply formulated dicamba herbicide products to Monsanto.

But in private meetings dating back to 2009, records show agricultural experts warned that the plan to develop a dicamba-tolerant system could have catastrophic consequences.

A 2015 document shows that Monsanto’s own projections estimated that dicamba damage claims from farmers would total more than 10,000 cases, including 1,305 in 2016, 2,765 in 2017 and 3,259 in 2018.

Several million acres of crops have now been reported damaged by dicamba, according to industry estimates.

The documents show that both companies were excited about the profit potential in the new system. BASF projected its new dicamba herbicide would be a “$400m brand in two years”, with sales by May 2017 exceeding $131m and a gross profit of 45%.

The companies saw part of the opportunity in selling to soybean and cotton farmers who didn’t need or want the special dicamba-tolerant crops but could be convinced to buy them as a means to protect their crops from dicamba drift, the documents show.

[NOTE: There is no discussion in this article about the very obvious damage that dicamba would also do to plants other than crops. As always the focus is on the economic impact rather than the impact to the natural world.]

2,000 renewable energy projects shown to have negative biodiversity impact

2,000 renewable energy projects shown to have negative biodiversity impact

SOURCE: Engineering & Technology

DATE: March 26, 2020

SNIP: Researchers have claimed that more than 2,000 renewable energy facilities are built in areas of environmental significance and could be negatively impacting local biodiversity.

The team from the University of Queensland in Australia have mapped the location of solar, wind and hydropower facilities in wilderness, protected areas and key biodiversity areas.

Lead author José Rehbein said he was alarmed by the findings: “Aside from the more than 2,200 renewable energy facilities already operating inside important biodiversity areas, another 900 are currently being built.

“Energy facilities and the infrastructure around them, such as roads and increased human activity, can be incredibly damaging to the natural environment. These developments are not compatible with biodiversity conservation efforts.”

The majority of renewable energy facilities in western Europe and developed nations are located in biodiverse areas. Rehbein said there is still time for developers to reconsider facilities under construction in Asia and Africa.

University of Amsterdam senior author Dr James Allan said effective conservation efforts and a rapid transition to renewable energy was essential to prevent species extinctions and avoid catastrophic climate change.

E.P.A., Citing Coronavirus, Drastically Relaxes Rules for Polluters

E.P.A., Citing Coronavirus, Drastically Relaxes Rules for Polluters

SOURCE: NY Times

DATE: March 26, 2020

SNIP: The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a sweeping relaxation of environmental rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.

The move comes amid an influx of requests from businesses for a relaxation of regulations as they face layoffs, personnel restrictions and other problems related to the coronavirus outbreak.

Issued by the E.P.A.’s top compliance official, Susan P. Bodine, the policy sets new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the outbreak and says that the agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements.

Companies are normally required to report when their factories discharge certain levels of pollution into the air or water.

“In general, the E.P.A. does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the E.P.A. agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the E.P.A. upon request,” the order states.

It said the agency’s focus during the outbreak would be “on situations that may create an acute risk or imminent threat to public health or the environment” and said it would exercise “discretion” in enforcing other environmental rules.

The memo said the compliance changes were retroactive to March 13.

Environmental groups and former Obama administration officials described the policy as an unprecedented relaxation of rules for petrochemical plants and other major polluters.

Gina McCarthy, who led the E.P.A. under the Obama administration and now serves as president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called it “an open license to pollute.” She said that while individual companies might need flexibility, “this brazen directive is nothing short of an abject abdication of the E.P.A. mission to protect our well being.’’

Cynthia Giles, who headed the E.P.A. enforcement division during the Obama administration, said: “This is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. It is so far beyond any reasonable response I am just stunned.

Great Barrier Reef suffers third mass coral bleaching event in five years

Great Barrier Reef suffers third mass coral bleaching event in five years

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: March 25, 2020

SNIP: The Great Barrier Reef has experienced a third mass coral bleaching event in five years, according to the scientist carrying out aerial surveys over hundreds of individual reefs.

With three days of a nine-day survey to go, Prof Terry Hughes told Guardian Australia: “We know this is a mass bleaching event and it’s a severe one.”

It follows the worst outbreaks of mass bleaching on record killing about half the shallow water corals on the world’s biggest reef system in 2016 and 2017.

Hughes said the first four days of aerial surveys last week covered almost 500 reefs from the Torres Strait to Cairns. They revealed a mixed picture, with some severe bleaching on reefs closer to shore, but outer “ribbon reefs” in the far north escaping damage.

He said surveys this week in the central parts of the reef had found extensive bleaching at levels “comparable to 2017”, when it is estimated about 22% of shallow water coral along the reef’s 2300km died.

Hughes said about 80 reefs between Tully and Townsville were badly bleached. Both inner and outer reefs were hit. “We could see that some of those corals were big enough that they must have survived the 2017 bleaching and now they re-bleached,” he said.

Coal mines emit more methane than oil-and-gas sector, study finds

Coal mines emit more methane than oil-and-gas sector, study finds

SOURCE: Carbon Brief

DATE: March 24, 2020

SNIP: Methane emissions from coal mines could be more than double previous estimates, according to a new study.

The fossil-fuel industry is understood to be one of the biggest sources of atmospheric methane, primarily due to leaks from the production of oil and gas.

However, a new paper published in the Journal of Cleaner Production suggests that coal mining may actually be a bigger contributor to levels of the greenhouse gas, with emissions set to grow considerably in the coming years.

This is even more pronounced when accounting for the impact of old coal mines that continue to seep methane long after they have been abandoned. To date, attempts to curb methane emissions from mines have been limited.

While there is considerable uncertainty around the contribution from fossil fuels, which makes up around a fifth of the total, previous work has suggested oil-and-gas production is the biggest contributor.

Meanwhile, coal, which releases 75% more CO2 than gas per unit of energy, has been relatively overlooked when it comes to methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas.

But coal can be a source of methane, too. The gas escapes from coal seams and is often siphoned off through ventilation systems to ensure a safe environment for miners.

The IEA coal mine emissions estimate also comes to around half the 79Mt it estimated for oil-and-gas operations in 2018.

However, the new study estimates that CMM in 2020 will be much higher than this, some 135bn cubic metres (bcm), equating to roughly 92Mt of methane.

The authors also note that, for the first time, they developed a methodology for estimating global methane emissions from old mining sites, suggesting a considerable role for abandoned mine methane (AMM), which in the past has been largely ignored. When factoring this in, coal methane emissions in 2020 rise to 114Mt.

Climate change: Earth’s deepest ice canyon vulnerable to melting

Climate change: Earth’s deepest ice canyon vulnerable to melting

SOURCE: BBC

DATE: March 23, 2020

SNIP: East Antarctic’s Denman Canyon is the deepest land gorge on Earth, reaching 3,500m below sea-level.

It’s also filled top to bottom with ice, which US space agency (Nasa) scientists reveal in a new report has a significant vulnerability to melting.

Retreating and thinning sections of the glacier suggest it is being eroded by encroaching warm ocean water.

Denman is one to watch for the future. If its ice were hollowed out, it would raise the global sea surface by 1.5m.

Most people recognise the shores around the Dead Sea in the Middle East to have the lowest visible land surface elevation on Earth, at some 430m below sea level. But the base of the gorge occupied by Denman Glacier on the edge of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) actually reaches eight times as deep.

Dr Brancato and colleagues used satellite radar data from 1996 to 2018 to show there’s been a marked retreat in the glacier’s grounding line. This is the point where the ice stream lifts up and floats as it flows off the land and enters the ocean.

The line has reversed 5-6km in 22 years.

What’s interesting about this reversal, however, is that it’s asymmetric; it’s occurring pretty much all on the western side of the glacier.

The reason, the scientists can now determine, is a buried ridge under the eastern flank which is pinning and protecting that side of the glacier. In contrast, the western flank features a narrow but sizeable trough that would allow warm ocean water to erode the grounding line and push it backwards.

This potentially is an Achilles heel. The further inland the glacier reaches, the deeper its bed – which is a geometry that has been demonstrated to favour more and more melting. If a lot of warm ocean water can find its way to the front of Denman, the opportunity is there to melt out its ice in a significant way.

Climate shocks in just one country could disrupt global food supply

Climate shocks in just one country could disrupt global food supply

SOURCE: Reuters

DATE: March 20, 2020

SNIP: Catastrophic crop failures caused by extreme weather in just one country could disrupt global food supplies and drive price spikes in an interconnected world, exposing how climate change threatens global stability, researchers said on Friday.

They examined how the global trade and supplies of wheat, a crop used for food staples like bread and pasta, would be affected by four years of severe drought in the United States, one of the world’s top exporters of the grain.

Based on two models of how countries could try to meet their needs, an international research team found the United States would deplete nearly all its wheat reserves after four years in both scenarios, while global stocks could drop by 31%.

The 174 countries to which America exports wheat would see their reserves decrease, even though they did not themselves suffer failed harvests, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.

“It affects almost every country in the world because the U.S. has so many trade links,” said lead author Alison Heslin, a researcher at Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Those links mean there is a cascading effect, either directly from the United States or via one of its trading partners, which could reduce the amount of wheat available and increase prices, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As reserves are depleted, changes in production would have a bigger impact on the price of food, Heslin added.

Reduced global reserves would also mean a smaller buffer against future shocks such as a drought in other wheat-producing nations like Russia or France, she said.

Scientists have warned hotter temperatures and more erratic rainfall could increase the frequency and intensity of droughts, with multi-year droughts already wreaking havoc in many nations.

Trump Administration Proposes Allowing GE Crops on Thousands of Acres of National Wildlife Refuges

Trump Administration Proposes Allowing GE Crops on Thousands of Acres of National Wildlife Refuges

SOURCE: Center for Biological Diversity

DATE: March 20, 2020

SNIP: The Trump administration has proposed to approve genetically engineered crops on national wildlife refuges throughout the southeastern United States, a step likely to increase use of glyphosate and other pesticides known to harm wildlife.

The Obama administration acted in 2014 to phase out GE crops on all national wildlife refuges following a successful decade-long campaign by the Center for Food Safety and others. The Trump administration reversed that decision in 2018, prompting a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety challenging the action in September 2019.

The proposal released this week opens the door to escalating uses of GE crops and harmful pesticides across the Southeastern Region of the refuge system, which includes 131 refuges in 10 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Only the Trump administration would aggressively promote the use of crops genetically engineered for pesticide tolerance on wildlife refuges,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a no-brainer that this kind of pesticide-intensive agriculture shouldn’t be allowed on public lands that are critical to wildlife conservation and preservation of the unique ecosystems of the southeastern U.S.”

National wildlife refuges are federal public lands specifically designated to protect fish and wildlife. The Southeastern Region is comprised of almost 4 million acres of refuge lands and waters that provide vital habitat for dozens of endangered species known to be imperiled by pesticide use — including bats, birds, freshwater mussels, and fish like the pallid sturgeon and Alabama cavefish.

Genetically engineered corn and soy are typically designed to survive what would normally be fatal spraying with herbicides like glyphosate, dicamba and 2-4,D. This allows farmers to use these pesticides prophylactically, especially in the summer months after the crops have emerged. Increased pesticide-use periods often correspond with key wildlife feeding and breeding times, when pesticides can be especially harmful to species.

Glyphosate use on GE crops may have significantly contributed to monarch butterflies’ 80% decline over the past two decades. This is because the pesticide is a uniquely potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. Recent estimates indicate that monarch populations have further plunged by over half in the past year alone.

Global banks ‘failing miserably’ on climate crisis by funneling trillions into fossil fuels

Global banks ‘failing miserably’ on climate crisis by funneling trillions into fossil fuels

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: March 18, 2020

SNIP: The world’s largest investment banks have funnelled more than £2.2tn ($2.66tn) into fossil fuels since the Paris agreement, new figures show, prompting warnings they are failing to respond to the climate crisis.

The US bank JP Morgan Chase, whose economists warned that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity last month, has been the largest financier of fossil fuels in the four years since the agreement, providing over £220bn of financial services to extract oil, gas and coal.

Analysis of the 35 leading global investment banks, by an alliance of US-based environmental groups, said that financing for the companies most aggressively expanding in new fossil fuel extraction since the Paris agreement has surged by nearly 40% in the last year.

Using Bloomberg financial data and other sources to analyse loans, equity issuances and debt underwriting services from 2016 to 2019, the analysis is published on Wednesday in the Banking on Climate Change 2020 report.

It has been compiled by Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Reclaim Finance and Sierra Club.

Although the last 12 months has seen many investment banks announce financing restrictions on coal, Arctic oil and gas, and tar sands extraction, the report warns that the business practices of financial institutions are not aligned with the Paris agreement.

Alongside JP Morgan Chase, the US banks Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America dominate financing for fossil fuels, accounting for nearly a third of the £2.2tn of financial services since the Paris agreement, according to the report.

The report said big banks overall have increased their funding in the four years since Paris to companies with significant Arctic oil and gas reserves.

Fracking has been the focus of intense business activity by investment banks since the Paris agreement, with JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America leading £241.53bn of financing, much of it linked to the Permian basin in Texas.

The Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto Dominion led financing for tar sands crude oil projects in Alberta, north-west Canada, which have caused widespread damage to ecosystems.

The big-four Chinese banks have dominated financing for coal mining and coal power since the Paris agreement and have no policies restricting business practices.

Conservationists Say Salmon Fishing Plan Imperils Whales

Conservationists Say Salmon Fishing Plan Imperils Whales

SOURCE: Courthouse News Service

DATE: March 18, 2020

SNIP: The government allowed salmon fishing in Alaska at rates its own reports said will push endangered Southern Resident killer whales closer to extinction, environmental groups claim in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Salmon born in the rivers and streams of Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia migrate to the Pacific Ocean and through the Gulf of Alaska, home to a major troll fishing fleet. In southeast Alaska, 97% of the Chinook salmon fishermen harvest were born elsewhere. The fish they take never make it back to their home waters, where they could have been dinner for the 72 remaining Southern Resident killer whales – a genetically distinct group of orca that are starving due to a lack of their main prey.

“It is reckless and irresponsible for NOAA to approve this harvest, these salmon don’t belong to Alaska, they belong to Southern Resident killer whales, indigenous peoples, and fishing communities down the coast,” Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy’s executive director, said Wednesday in a press release.

The whales live in three extended, matrilineal families called pods. Their numbers never fully rebounded since aquariums that later became SeaWorld captured a third of them in the late 1960s. After that, they climbed to a high of 98 in 1995 before plunging again. In 2018, a mother whale from J pod refused to let the body of her dead calf sink to the sea floor, instead carrying it on her nose for 17 days. Three more died last year, and a fourth disappeared this spring.

Their decline is due to three main factors: water pollution that harms their reproductive systems, ship noise that impairs their ability to communicate and find food using echolocation, and dramatically reduced numbers of their main food, Chinook salmon.

Scientists say that last problem, a lack of prey, is the main factor causing the whales’ decline. Meanwhile, nine species of Pacific Northwest Chinook are listed as either threatened or endangered.

Last year, the National Marine Fisheries Service studied whether commercial fishing of salmon in the ocean should be curtailed to make sure there was enough left for Southern Residents to survive. It concluded in a 2019 biological opinion that Chinook numbers would have to increase by 15% to help the whales recover. Yet the rates of harvest by commercial fishing allowed in southeast Alaska under the 2019 Pacific Salmon Treaty will instead reduce Chinook available to the whales swimming along the Pacific coast by as much as 12.9%, according to the biological opinion.

“The entire world is watching as Southern Resident killer whales literally starve to death,” Beardslee said in a press release. “NOAA has made it clear they are unwilling to stray from the same failed strategies that created this problem.”