Ecuador gives US military permission to use Galapagos island as airfield

Ecuador gives US military permission to use Galapagos island as airfield

SOURCE: Independent

DATE: June 14, 2019

SNIP: Ecuador has given the US military permission to use a Galapagos island as an airfield, angering critics in the South American country who say the agreement is unconstitutional.

Under a deal with Ecuador’s right-wing government, the Pentagon will use the tiny airport on San Cristobal island to “fight drug trafficking”, defence minister Oswaldo Jarrin said.

A US air force Boeing 707 plane carrying radar surveillance and a Lockheed P-3 Orion plane will patrol the Pacific Ocean, using the Galapagos as a launching off point, Latin American TV network Telesur reported.

But according to Ecuador’s 2008 constitution, “the establishment of foreign military bases or foreign installations for military purposes will not be allowed”.

It adds: “It is prohibited to cede national military bases to foreign armed or security forces.”

Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s former democratic socialist president, hit back, tweeting the Galapagos was “NOT an ‘aircraft carrier’ for gringo use”.

“It is an Ecuadorian province, patrimony of the humanity, patriotic ground,” he said. “That his vassal soul can reach these extremes, describes very well the Government he represents.”

Carlos Viteri, an opposition congressman, said: “What is being proposed by the government through the Ministry of Defense is unacceptable and the fact that it intends to cede an inch of Ecuadorian territory should be prohibited.”

The Galapagos Islands, a Unesco world heritage site, have long been popular with travellers seeking out their unique ecosystems and unusual wildlife – factors which also inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution more than 150 years ago.

Temperatures leap 40 degrees above normal as the Arctic Ocean and Greenland ice sheet see record June melting

Temperatures leap 40 degrees above normal as the Arctic Ocean and Greenland ice sheet see record June melting

SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: June 14, 2019

SNIP: Ice is melting in unprecedented ways as summer approaches in the Arctic. In recent days, observations have revealed a record-challenging melt event over the Greenland ice sheet, while the extent of ice over the Arctic Ocean has never been this low in mid-June during the age of weather satellites.

Greenland saw temperatures soar up to 40 degrees above normal Wednesday, while open water exists in places north of Alaska where it seldom, if ever, has in recent times.

It’s “another series of extreme events consistent with the long-term trend of a warming, changing Arctic,” said Zachary Labe, a climate researcher at the University of California at Irvine.

And the abnormal warmth and melting of ice in the Arctic may be messing with our weather.

Weather satellites have monitored sea ice in the Arctic since 1979, and the current ice coverage is the lowest on record for mid-June.

The ice extent has been especially depleted in the part of the Arctic Ocean adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. “It’s pretty remarkable how much open water is in that area,” Labe said.

Labe explained high pressure over the Arctic has helped to pull sea ice way from the northern Alaska coast.

Sea ice loss over the Chukchi and Beaufort seas along Alaska’s northern coast has been “unprecedented” according to Rick Thoman, a climatologist based in Fairbanks.

Labe said there’s sufficient open water that you could sail all the way from the Bering Strait into a narrow opening just north of Utqiagvik, Alaska’s northernmost city, clear into the Beaufort Sea. “It’s very unusual for open water this early in this location,” he said.

The extreme conditions in the Arctic, which have resulted in these record-challenging melt events, have far-reaching implications. There is a saying often repeated by Arctic researchers: “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”

The bulging zones of high pressure in the Arctic, which have facilitated the unusual warmth and intensified melting, are displacing the cold air normally contained in that region into the mid-latitudes — like a refrigerator door left open. Much of the central and eastern United States have seen lower-than-normal temperatures in the past week.

“The jet stream this week was one of the craziest I’ve ever seen!” Jennifer Francis, one of the leading researchers who has published studies connecting Arctic change and mid-latitude weather.

The World’s Most Insane Energy Project Moves Ahead

The World’s Most Insane Energy Project Moves Ahead

SOURCE: Rolling Stone

DATE: June 14, 2019

SNIP: Thanks to President Trump and his transparent and perverse desire to enrich his golfing buddies in the fossil fuel industry and to accelerate the climate crisis, the U.S. is the most notorious climate criminal in the world right now. But the Aussie’s are giving us a run for our money.

Exhibit A: the decision this week by the Queensland State government to allow a big coal mine in northeastern Australia to move forward. The project, known as the Carmichael mine, is controlled by the Adani Group, an Indian corporate behemoth headed by billionaire Gautam Adani. If it ever opens, the Carmichael mine would not be the biggest coal mine in the world, or even the biggest coal mine in Australia. But it may be the most insane energy project on the planet, and one that shows just how far supposedly civilized nations (and people) are from grasping what’s at stake in the climate crisis.

The site for the Carmichael mine is in the Galilee Basin, an unspoiled region of Queensland that Adani has been itching to get his hands on for at least a decade. The battle over the mine has been the usual sordid tale of fossil fuel industry development, in which a rich, powerful, politically connected corporation gets its way with weak and corrupt politicians.

But of course there are a lot of stupid and destructive energy projects in the world right now. What makes Adani worse than the others?

Let’s start with the Great Barrier Reef. The Australian Marine Conservation Society called the approval of the mine “bad news” for the reef. That’s an almost criminal understatement.

The approval of the Adani project is an aggressive attack on the 1,600-mile-long reef in two deadly ways. First, by condoning the mining and burning of coal, which is heating up and acidifiying the oceans and killing coral reefs, Australian politicians are essentially saying they are willing to sacrifice one of the great wonders of the world for a few jobs for their pals and some extra cash in their pockets. In fact, a key part of the Adani project is a new coal terminal on the Queensland coast, which is right at the edge of the Barrier Reef. That means more industrialization in the area, more water pollution, more coal barges floating over the reef, more risk of disasters that would dump dirty black rocks on one of nature’s crown jewels.

The mine is insane on another level, too. The coal will be exported to India, a nation that is hugely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and is struggling to make the transition to clean energy. Last week, at the same moment that Queensland politicians were approving the Adani project, northern India was sweltering under a 120-degree F heat wave so brutal that people were advised not to venture outdoors after 11 a.m. and a 33-year-old man was beaten to death in a dispute over water.

Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

Scientists investigate after 60 dead seals wash up on coast of Alaska

Scientists investigate after 60 dead seals wash up on coast of Alaska


DATE: June 14, 2019

SNIP: Scientists are investigating the cause of death of at least 60 seals after the mammals washed up along the coast of Alaska, an animal welfare agency said on Wednesday.

The bearded, spotted and ringed seals were found dead on Monday at sites including the southern edge of the Bering Strait region and the Chukchi coastline above the Arctic Circel, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Fisheries department said.

The cause of the seals’ death is not known.

A number of the seals also washed up hairless, which has concerned researchers that the moulting could be due to a crisis in the population.

The ringed and bearded seals are currently on Alaska’s Endangered Species Act, listed as threatened. Along with the spotted seals, the three species are part of Alaska’s ice seal species, which rely on the sea ice as for food foraging, resting, and for raising their young.

But the ice in the Chukchi and Bering seas has been in shorter supply than usual, while the sea-surface temperatures have been far higher than average. Sea surface temperatures along the coastlines of the two seas were recorded as high as 4.5 degrees Celsius above average last month and have not yet returned to normal.

Ringed seals are the smallest and most numerous of Alaska’s ice seals and the main prey of another threatened species, polar bears.

Ringed seals thrive in completely ice-covered Arctic waters because they maintain breathing holes with thick claws.

After snow covers breathing holes, females excavate snow caves on sea ice. Inside those lairs, they give birth to pups that cannot survive in ice-cold water until weeks later when they have grown a blubber layer. Early breakup of sea ice, less snow and even rain threatens lairs, exposing pups to polar bears, Arctic foxes and freezing temperatures.

Bearded seals get their name from short snouts covered with thick, long, white whiskers. Bearded seals give birth and rear pups on drifting pack ice.

Climate crisis: Alaska is melting and it’s likely to accelerate global heating

Climate crisis: Alaska is melting and it’s likely to accelerate global heating

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: June 14, 2019

SNIP: A city in western Alaska has lost a huge stretch of riverbank to erosion that may turn it into an island, amid renewed warnings from scientists over the havoc triggered by the accelerating melting of the state’s ice and permafrost.

Residents of the small city of Akiak were alarmed to find the Kuskokwim River suddenly much closer to housing after about 75-100ft of riverbank disappeared over the course of just a few hours.

The erosion, which occurred late last month, stripped away the riverbank for the entire length of Akiak, which has a population of around 340.

“The changes are really accelerating in Alaska,” said Susan Natali, a scientist and Arctic expert at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. “It’s pretty likely this riverbank in Akiak was lost because of thawing permafrost, given where it’s situated and the warm winter and spring they’ve had. It’s not a problem that’s going to go away.”

Alaska has just experienced its warmest spring on record, breaking a record only set in 2016. Since the 1970s, springtime in the state has heated up by around 2.2C (4F), double the global temperature rise of the past century.

Scientists recently found [thawing permafrost] could trigger a dangerous acceleration of global heating that would cause tens of trillions of dollars in climate-related damage. A separate study found that parts of the Canadian Arctic are experiencing a rate of permafrost thaw six times the long-term average.

As the world grapples with plastic, the U.S. makes more of it — a lot more

As the world grapples with plastic, the U.S. makes more of it — a lot more

SOURCE: Center for Public Integrity

DATE: June 13, 2019

SNIP: Jace Tunnell shuffled forward near the water’s edge, head bent. He was hunting for something that shouldn’t be on this beach near Corpus Christi, and he kept finding it. Hidden in the sand — white, tan, nearly translucent — were tiny plastic pellets. They’re about the size of a lentil, most of them, so insubstantial that several blew out of his hand as soon as he picked them up. Some were tan from baking in the sun. It wasn’t hard to see why a bird looking for seeds would snap these imposters up.

These are the products of plastics producers, intended to be turned into bottles, bags and countless other items. As much as anything one-tenth of an inch across could sum up the modern world, they do. A marvel of chemical engineering. A convenient material that will long outlast us. A global waste predicament of daunting scope.

Microscopic plastic particles are in our oceans, the fish we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink.

Plastic waste is piling up, increasing amounts of it going to landfills as U.S. recycling programs — dependent on Asian countries that no longer want our scrap — struggle to adjust. In March the United Nations, “alarmed” by the environmental and public health consequences of plastic items intended to be used once and thrown away, urged countries to “take comprehensive action.”

Against this backdrop, the United States is about to make a whole lot more of the stuff.

Production of the most common plastic, polyethylene, is on track to jump more than 40 percent by 2028 in the U.S., according to research firm S&P Global Platts. That’s 8 million metric tons per year more than in 2018 — roughly the amount, coincidentally, that scientists estimate is annually flowing into the oceans now.

In the last two years alone, companies such as ExxonMobil and Dow have built or started construction on at least 17 new U.S. polyethylene plants and lines, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of corporate plans. It’s a surge largely centered along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.

More plants are likely on the way as firms capitalize on the country’s deluge of cheap natural gas, a key feedstock for plastic. That’s a major ripple effect of the U.S. fossil fuel boom, which has also led to soaring exports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas at a perilous moment in the global fight to contain a climate crisis.

The International Energy Agency warned last fall that the world is on pace to double the amount of this waste in the oceans by 2030 and more than quadruple it by 2050.

Much of the plastic fouling the oceans comes from packaging or other items that weren’t recycled, landfilled or burned after people used them. But pellets — the plastic that never got turned into products — are an enduring part of the equation.

A 1972 study published in the journal Science said they were “abundant in the coastal waters of southern New England.” In 1990, the EPA told Congress “the high concentrations of the pellets found in the world’s oceans are a major concern.” Two years later, the agency said it found pellets in harbors across the country, including more than 700,000 in the Houston Ship Channel. More recent efforts to quantify the problem suggest it persists worldwide: Eunomia Research & Consulting, a U.K. firm focused on waste in marine environments, estimated in 2016 that 230,000 metric tons of plastic pellets slip into the oceans every year. (That’s so many of them, it’s in the trillions.)

Just one plastic manufacturing plant makes a trillion plastic pellets every day.

A new study by two researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, said greenhouse gas emissions over the plastic life cycle are on track to nearly quadruple in 2050 compared to 2015. Already that equates to the climate impact of 189 coal power plants, according to estimates from a separate report by advocacy organizations such as the Center for International Environmental Law, the Environmental Integrity Project and FracTracker Alliance.

The West’s worst fires aren’t burning in forests

The West’s worst fires aren’t burning in forests

SOURCE: High Country News

DATE: June 13, 2019

SNIP: Between the town of Elko, Nevada, and the Idaho border stretches some of the most remote land in the Lower 48, rolling hills and arid basins as far as the eye can see. Last July, this section of the Owyhee Desert was scorched by a fierce, fast-moving blaze with 40-foot flames, the largest wildfire in state history. In the end, the Martin Fire burned 435,000 acres, including some of the West’s finest sagebrush habitat. Now, the raw range wind whips up the bare earth into enormous black clouds that roil on the horizon.

Once rare, fires that large, hot and destructive are now common in the Great Basin, a 200,000-square-mile region of mountains and valleys that includes all of Nevada and much of Utah, as well as parts of California, Idaho and Oregon. But despite the rising fire risk, a general lack of attention is putting the rangeland in growing danger.

The fire problem “risks permanent loss” of the ecosystem, according to Jolie Pollet, a fire ecologist and the Bureau of Land Management’s division chief for fire planning and fuels management. This is a genuine crisis, she said, and it demands greater urgency and attention than it is currently getting.

“The general public, especially urban areas, doesn’t seem to have an appreciation for the impacts on these landscapes, since the areas are so sparsely populated,” she said.

The new ferocity of rangeland fires has an old culprit: cheatgrass, an annual originally from Eurasia that was brought to this country in cattle feed, packing material and ships’ ballast in the late 1800s. It has since proliferated through overgrazing and development. The grass burns easily and often, and it thrives on fire. In intense blazes, when native shrubs perish, cheatgrass simply drops its seeds and then expands into the burned areas. The areas of greatest fire risk in the Great Basin have a high correlation with the areas of highest cheatgrass incursion, and the increasingly dry and arid climate brought by climate change is encouraging its spread. The Great Basin now has the nation’s highest wildfire risk.

Historically, sagebrush habitat burned about once every century or less, but now it happens around every five to 10 years. Over the past two decades, more than 15 million acres of sagebrush have been permanently lost to fire, according to the BLM, 9 million of them since 2014. Overall, since 2000, more acres of shrubland or grasssland have burned than forest.

If sagebrush decline continues, the approximately 350 species that depend on it are in serious trouble. The Martin Fire burned some of the best sage grouse habitat in the country and destroyed more than 35 grouse mating grounds, or leks. The fires also harm watersheds, cause erosion and destroy wildlife corridors used by pronghorn antelope, mule deer and elk.

Indian villages lie empty as drought forces thousands to flee

Indian villages lie empty as drought forces thousands to flee

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: June 12, 2019

SNIP: Hundreds of Indian villages have been evacuated as a historic drought forces families to abandon their homes in search of water.

The country has seen extremely high temperatures in recent weeks. On Monday the capital, Delhi, saw its highest ever June temperature of 48C. In Rajasthan, the city of Churu recently experienced highs of 50.8C, making it the hottest place on the planet.

Further south, less than 250 miles from the country’s commercial capital, Mumbai, village after village lies deserted. Estimates suggest up to 90% of the area’s population has fled, leaving the sick and elderly to fend for themselves in the face of a water crisis that shows no sign of abating.

Wells and handpumps have run dry in the 45C heatwave. The drought, which officials say is worse than the 1972 famine that affected 25 million people across the state, began early in December. By the end of May, Hatkarwadi had been deserted with only 10-15 families remaining out of a population of more than 2,000.

With 80% of districts in neighbouring Karnataka and 72% in Maharashtra hit by drought and crop failure, the 8 million farmers in these two states are struggling to survive. More than 6,000 tankers supply water to villages and hamlets in Maharashtra daily, as conflict brews between the two states over common water resources.

By the end of May, 43% of India was experiencing drought, with failed monsoon rains seen as the primary reason. The country has seen widespread drought every year since 2015, with the exception of 2017.

Groundwater, the source of 40% of India’s water needs, is depleting at an unsustainable rate, Niti Aayog, a governmental thinktank, said in a 2018 report. Twenty-one Indian cities – including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad – are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020, and 40% of India’s population will have no access to drinking water by 2030, the report said.

This year’s south-west monsoon, responsible for 80% of the country’s rainfall, is projected to be delayed and smaller than normal.

Trump administration proposes overhaul on environmental regulations managing federal forests

Trump administration proposes overhaul on environmental regulations managing federal forests

SOURCE: The Hill

DATE: June 12, 2019

SNIP: A new proposed rule from the U.S. Forest Service designed to make environmental reviews more efficient would shortcut important oversight of industry plans, environmentalists say.

The rule comes after months of complaints by President Trump that the agency is mismanaging forests and not doing enough to prevent fires in California and other states.

Federal law requires an environmental review for projects on federal land, but exceptions are granted if industry can show it would not severely impact the environment. The Forest Service proposal would expand the types of exceptions for skipping the review process.

Environmentalists say letting industry skip the environmental review process would eliminate the mechanism communities and citizens have to express concerns over nearby projects.

“The Trump administration is trying to stifle the public’s voice and hide environmental damage to public lands,” Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “These rules would let the Forest Service sidestep bedrock environmental laws. Logging companies could bulldoze hundreds of miles of new roads and chainsaw miles of national forests while ignoring the damage to wildlife and waterways. All of this would happen without involving nearby communities or forest visitors.”

UK accused of ‘silently eroding’ EU pesticide rules in Brexit laws

UK accused of ‘silently eroding’ EU pesticide rules in Brexit laws

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: June 12, 2019

SNIP: The UK has been accused of “silently eroding” key environmental and human health protections in the Brexit-inspired rush to convert thousands of pages of European Union pesticide policy into British law.

Despite government claims the process would be little more than a technical exercise, analysis by the University of Sussex’s UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) has uncovered significant departures from EU regulations, including the removal of a blanket ban on hormone-disrupting chemicals, which are known to cause adverse health effects such as cancer, birth defects and immune disorders.

The UK legislation removes the EU system of checks and balances to give a handful of ministers the power to create, amend and revoke pesticide legislation. It also appears to weaken the existing “precautionary principle” approach, which requires scientific evidence from an independent body that a pesticide is safe to use. Instead, UK ministers are given the option to obtain and consider such evidence at their own discretion.

The EU provides up to 80% of the UK’s environmental laws, which include regulations on pesticides, landfills, recycling and climate heating. Under the new regulations, however, power to make, amend and revoke pesticide legislation will be devolved to each of the national territories and consolidated to a secretary of state in England, relevant ministers in Scotland and Wales, and the competent authority in Northern Ireland.

Hormone-disrupting chemicals are permitted for use in Canada and the US, and both countries have criticised the EU ban. Whether the UK government’s decision to remove the ban was an invitation to open trade talks with North America was as yet unclear.