Overconsumption and growth economy key drivers of environmental crises

Scientists’ warning on affluence

UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES

A group of researchers, led by a UNSW sustainability scientist, have reviewed existing academic discussions on the link between wealth, economy and associated impacts, reaching a clear conclusion: technology will only get us so far when working towards sustainability – we need far-reaching lifestyle changes and different economic paradigms.

In their review, published today in Nature Communications [ OPEN ACCESS pdf ] <<https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-16941-y.pdf>> and entitled Scientists’ Warning on Affluence, the researchers have summarised the available evidence, identifying possible solution approaches.

“Recent scientists’ warnings have done a great job at describing the many perils our natural world is facing through crises in climate, biodiversity and food systems, to name but a few,” says lead author Professor Tommy Wiedmann from UNSW Engineering.

“However, none of these warnings has explicitly considered the role of growth-oriented economies and the pursuit of affluence. In our scientists’ warning, we identify the underlying forces of overconsumption and spell out the measures that are needed to tackle the overwhelming ‘power’ of consumption and the economic growth paradigm – that’s the gap we fill.

“The key conclusion from our review is that we cannot rely on technology alone to solve existential environmental problems – like climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution – but that we also have to change our affluent lifestyles and reduce overconsumption, in combination with structural change.”

During the past 40 years, worldwide wealth growth has continuously outpaced any efficiency gains.

“Technology can help us to consume more efficiently, i.e. to save energy and resources, but these technological improvements cannot keep pace with our ever-increasing levels of consumption,” Prof Wiedmann says.

Reducing overconsumption in the world’s richest

Co-author Julia Steinberger, Professor of Ecological Economics at the University of Leeds, says affluence is often portrayed as something to aspire to.

“But our paper has shown that it’s actually dangerous and leads to planetary-scale destruction. To protect ourselves from the worsening climate crisis, we must reduce inequality and challenge the notion that riches, and those who possess them, are inherently good.”

In fact, the researchers say the world’s affluent citizens are responsible for most environmental impacts and are central to any future prospect of retreating to safer conditions.

“Consumption of affluent households worldwide is by far the strongest determinant – and the strongest accelerator – of increased global environmental and social impacts,” co-author Lorenz Keysser from ETH Zurich says.

“Current discussions on how to address the ecological crises within science, policy making and social movements need to recognize the responsibility of the most affluent for these crises.”

The researchers say overconsumption and affluence need to be addressed through lifestyle changes.

“It’s hardly ever acknowledged, but any transition towards sustainability can only be effective if technological advancements are complemented by far-reaching lifestyle changes,” says co-author Manfred Lenzen, Professor of Sustainability Research at the University of Sydney.

“I am often asked to explain this issue at social gatherings. Usually I say that what we see or associate with our current environmental issues (cars, power, planes) is just the tip of our personal iceberg. It’s all the stuff we consume and the environmental destruction embodied in that stuff that forms the iceberg’s submerged part. Unfortunately, once we understand this, the implications for our lifestyle are often so confronting that denial kicks in.”

No level of growth is sustainable

However, the scientists say responsibility for change doesn’t just sit with individuals – broader structural changes are needed.

“Individuals’ attempts at such lifestyle transitions may be doomed to fail, because existing societies, economies and cultures incentivise consumption expansion,” Prof Wiedmann says.

A change in economic paradigms is therefore sorely needed.

“The structural imperative for growth in competitive market economies leads to decision makers being locked into bolstering economic growth, and inhibiting necessary societal changes,” Prof Wiedmann says.

“So, we have to get away from our obsession with economic growth – we really need to start managing our economies in a way that protects our climate and natural resources, even if this means less, no or even negative growth.

“In Australia, this discussion isn’t happening at all – economic growth is the one and only mantra preached by both main political parties. It’s very different in New Zealand – their Wellbeing Budget 2019 is one example of how government investment can be directed in a more sustainable direction, by transforming the economy rather than growing it.”

The researchers say that “green growth” or “sustainable growth” is a myth.

“As long as there is growth – both economically and in population – technology cannot keep up with reducing impacts, the overall environmental impacts with only increase,” Prof Wiedmann says.

One way to enforce these lifestyle changes could be to reduce overconsumption by the super-rich, e.g. through taxation policies.

“‘Degrowth’ proponents go a step further and suggest a more radical social change that leads away from capitalism to other forms of economic and social governance,” Prof Wiedmann says.

“Policies may include, for example, eco-taxes, green investments, wealth redistribution through taxation and a maximum income, a guaranteed basic income and reduced working hours.”

Modelling an alternative future

Prof Wiedmann’s team now wants to model scenarios for sustainable transformations – that means exploring different pathways of development with a computer model to see what we need to do to achieve the best possible outcome.

“We have already started doing this with a recent piece of research that showed a fairer, greener and more prosperous Australia is possible – so long as political leaders don’t focus just on economic growth.

“We hope that this review shows a different perspective on what matters, and supports us in overcoming deeply entrenched views on how humans have to dominate nature, and on how our economies have to grow ever more. We can’t keep behaving as if we had a spare planet available.”

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“An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well
and does not want to be told otherwise.”
Aldo Leopold
A Sand County Almanac

Russia declares state of emergency over Arctic Circle oil spill caused by melting permafrost

The spill of diesel has caused rivers to run red

Updated 4:44 p.m. PDT June 5, 2020

Melting permafrost caused a fuel tank holding 21,000 tons of diesel oil to collapse in Russia’s Arctic Circle, leading to a 135-square mile oil spill.

According to Rosprirodnadzor, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, 6,000 tons spilled onto the ground, another 15,000 tons into the water. Oil products got into the Ambarnaya and Daldykan rivers and in almost all their tributaries.

The spill occurred in the city of Norilsk, Russia, at a power plant operated by Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Co., a subsidiary of Nornickel. The town is located above the Arctic Circle in Russia’s far North.

An emergency situation has been declared, the company said on its website. Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to introduce a federal-level emergency regime because of the spill after the Minister of Emergency Situations Yevgeny Zinichev suggested it.

Greenpeace has already called the spill the first accident of such a large scale in the Arctic. The organization believes that damage to water bodies alone from a diesel spill in Norilsk could amount to more than $85 million.

A diesel fuel storage tank failed when the permafrost it was built on began to soften. As a result of damage to the tank, fuel spilled onto the roadway and a passing car caught fire.

“The accident was caused by a sudden sinking of supporting posts in the basement of the storage tank,” the company said in a statement.

The leaking diesel oil had extended as far as 7 miles from the accident site and turned long stretches of the Ambarnaya bright red.

In Russia, diesel is dyed red if it’s used for heating of buildings and structures. Red diesel is usually pumped into special storage tanks and subsequently consumed as an energy source.

Zinichev told Putin that the Norilsk plant had spent two days trying to contain the spill before alerting his ministry. The region’s governor, Alexander Uss, had told Putin that he became aware of the oil spill on Sunday only after “alarming information appeared in social media”.

According to Russian media, the liquidation team has already cleaned about 53,000 cubic feet of soil at the site of the diesel fuel spill in Norilsk and pumped out 201 tons of fuel. More than 130 tons were removed from the Ambarnaya river.

Nornickel is the world’s leading producer of nickel and palladium producer. Palladium is a rare metal used to make catalytic converters.

One of the company’s key co-owners is Vladimir Potanin who was listed as the richest man in Russia with the fortune of $25 billion. The billionaire has lost $1.5 billion due to the consequences of the accident, according to Forbes’ Real-Time Billionaires ranking.

The Investigative Committee of Russia has opened a criminal case of negligence due to untimely reporting of an accident near Norilsk, according to the agency’s website. Who or what, exactly, the criminal case has been opened on was not specified. Russian authorities have already arrested the head of one of the units of a thermal power plant.

As global warming has raised temperatures, especially in Arctic latitudes, melting permafrost has become a major problem. In many colder areas buildings and structures are built on permafrost which can be as hard – and had been as permanent – as concrete.

That has begun to change with warming temperatures, causing damage to buildings and changing

Source: USA TODAY Research;  Google Earth; Planet Labs Inc.; Associated Press/RU-RTR/Kremlin; https://twitter.com/leongard/status/1268059232856936448

DESTRUCTION OF HABITAT AND LOSS OF BIODIVERSITY ARE CREATING THE PERFECT CONDITIONS FOR DISEASES LIKE COVID-19 TO EMERGE

As habitat and biodiversity loss increase globally, the novel coronavirus outbreak may be just the beginning of mass pandemics
Intro imageIllicit Endangered Wildlife Trade in Möng La, Shan, Myanmar Photo courtesy of Dan Bennett from Wikimedia, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Mayibout 2 is not a healthy place. The 150 or so people who live in the village, which sits on the south bank of the Ivindo River, deep in the great Minkebe forest in northern Gabon, are used to occasional bouts of diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever and sleeping sickness. Mostly they shrug them off.

But in January 1996, Ebola, a deadly virus then barely known to humans, unexpectedly spilled out of the forest in a wave of small epidemics. The disease killed 21 of 37 villagers who were reported to have been infected, including a number who had carried, skinned, chopped or eaten a chimpanzee from the nearby forest.

I traveled to Mayibout 2 in 2004 to investigate why deadly diseases new to humans were emerging from biodiversity “hot spots” like tropical rainforests and bushmeat markets in African and Asian cities.

It took a day by canoe and then many hours down degraded forest logging roads passing Baka villages and a small gold mine to reach the village. There, I found traumatized people still fearful that the deadly virus, which kills up to 90% of the people it infects, would return.

Villagers told me how children had gone into the forest with dogs that had killed a chimp. They said that everyone who cooked or ate it got a terrible fever within a few hours. Some died immediately, while others were taken down the river to hospital. A few, like Nesto Bematsick, recovered. “We used to love the forest, now we fear it,” he told me. Many of Bematsick’s family members died.

Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harboring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans like Ebola, HIV and dengue.

travelers at airport wearing face masks to prevent disease transmission

Logging and other habitat disruption creates new opportunities for disease organisms to move from non-human animals to people. Photo courtesy of euflegtredd from Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases like COVID-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise — with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections among the well-being of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.

Is it possible, then, that it was human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today?

“We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants — and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses,” David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemicrecently wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

Increasing Threat

Research suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases like Ebola, SARS, bird flu and now COVID-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, are on the rise. Pathogens are crossing from animals to humans, and many are now able to spread quickly to new places. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of “new or emerging” diseases that infect humans originate in nonhuman animals.

Some, like rabies and plague, crossed from animals centuries ago. Others, like Marburg, which is thought to be transmitted by bats, are still rare. A few, like COVID-19, which emerged last year in Wuhan, China, and MERS, which is linked to camels in the Middle East, are new to humans and spreading globally.

Other diseases that have crossed into humans include Lassa fever, which was first identified in 1969 in Nigeria; Nipah from Malaysia; and SARS from China, which killed more than 700 people and traveled to 30 countries in 2002–03. Some, like Zika and West Nile virus, which emerged in Africa, have mutated and become established on other continents.

travelers at airport wearing face masks to prevent disease transmission

The emergence of COVID-19 as a global threat is drawing attention to the important connections between human and ecosystem well-being. Photo courtesy of Chad Davis from Flickr licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Kate Jones, chair of ecology and biodiversity at UCL, calls emerging animal-borne infectious diseases an “increasing and very significant threat to global health, security and economies.”

Amplification Effect

In 2008, Jones and a team of researchers identified 335 diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004, at least 60% of which came from non-human animals.

Increasingly, says Jones, these zoonotic diseases are linked to environmental change and human behavior. The disruption of pristine forests driven by logging, mining, road building through remote places, rapid urbanization and population growth is bringing people into closer contact with animal species they may never have been near before, she says.

The resulting transmission of disease from wildlife to humans, she says, is now “a hidden cost of human economic development. There are just so many more of us, in every environment. We are going into largely undisturbed places and being exposed more and more. We are creating habitats where viruses are transmitted more easily, and then we are surprised that we have new ones.”

Jones studies how land use change contributes to the risk. “We are researching how species in degraded habitats are likely to carry more viruses which can infect humans,” she says. “Simpler systems get an amplification effect. Destroy landscapes, and the species you are left with are the ones humans get the diseases from.”

UCL biodiversity expert Kate Jones calls the spread of disease from wildlife to humans “a hidden cost of human economic development.” Photo courtesy of Kate Jones

“There are countless pathogens out there continuing to evolve which at some point could pose a threat to humans,” says Eric Fevre, chair of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health. “The risk [of pathogens jumping from animals to humans] has always been there.”

The difference between now and a few decades ago, Fevre says, is that diseases are likely to spring up in both urban and natural environments. “We have created densely packed populations where alongside us are bats and rodents and birds, pets and other living things. That creates intense interaction and opportunities for things to move from species to species,” he says.

Tip of the Iceberg

“Pathogens do not respect species boundaries,” says disease ecologist Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor in Emory University’s Department of Environmental Sciences who studies how shrinking natural habitats and changing behavior add to the risks of diseases spilling over from animals to humans.

“I am not at all surprised about the coronavirus outbreak,” he says. “The majority of pathogens are still to be discovered. We are at the very tip of the iceberg.”

Humans, says Gillespie, are creating the conditions for the spread of diseases by reducing the natural barriers between virus host animals — in which the virus is naturally circulating — and themselves. “We fully expect the arrival of pandemic influenza; we can expect large-scale human mortalities; we can expect other pathogens with other impacts. A disease like Ebola is not easily spread. But something with a mortality rate of Ebola spread by something like measles would be catastrophic,” Gillespie says.

Wildlife everywhere is being put under more stress, he says. “Major landscape changes are causing animals to lose habitats, which means species become crowded together and also come into greater contact with humans. Species that survive change are now moving and mixing with different animals and with humans.”

Gillespie sees this in the U.S., where suburbs fragmenting forests raise the risk of humans contracting Lyme disease. “Altering the ecosystem affects the complex cycle of the Lyme pathogen. People living close by are more likely to get bitten by a tick carrying Lyme bacteria,” he says.

Yet human health research seldom considers the surrounding natural ecosystems, says Richard Ostfeld, distinguished senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. He and others are developing the emerging discipline of planetary health, which looks at the links between human and ecosystem health.

Disease ecologist Richard Ostfeld is one of a growing number of researchers looking at the human health impacts of ecosystem changes through a “planetary health” lens. Photo courtesy of Robin Moore © Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

“There’s misapprehension among scientists and the public that natural ecosystems are the source of threats to ourselves. It’s a mistake. Nature poses threats, it is true, but it’s human activities that do the real damage. The health risks in a natural environment can be made much worse when we interfere with it,” he says.

Ostfeld points to rats and bats, which are strongly linked with the direct and indirect spread of zoonotic diseases. “Rodents and some bats thrive when we disrupt natural habitats. They are the most likely to promote transmissions [of pathogens]. The more we disturb the forests and habitats the more danger we are in,” he says.

Felicia Keesing, professor of biology at Bard College, New York, studies how environmental changes influence the probability that humans will be exposed to infectious diseases. “When we erode biodiversity, we see a proliferation of the species most likely to transmit new diseases to us, but there’s also good evidence that those same species are the best hosts for existing diseases,” she wrote in an email to Ensia.

The Market Connection

Disease ecologists argue that viruses and other pathogens are also likely to move from animals to humans in the many informal markets that have sprung up to provide fresh meat to fast-growing urban populations around the world. Here animals are slaughtered, cut up and sold on the spot.

The “wet market” (one that sells fresh produce and meat) in Wuhan, thought by the Chinese government to be the starting point of the current COVID-19 pandemic, was known to sell numerous wild animals, including live wolf pups, salamanders, crocodiles, scorpions, rats, squirrels, foxes, civets and turtles.

Equally, urban markets in west and central Africa see monkeys, bats, rats and dozens of species of bird, mammal, insect and rodent slaughtered and sold close to open refuse dumps and with no drainage.

“Wet markets make a perfect storm for cross-species transmission of pathogens,” says Gillespie. “Whenever you have novel interactions with a range of species in one place, whether that is in a natural environment like a forest or a wet market, you can have a spillover event.”

dead animals hanging from a pole

Bushmeat is one channel through which viruses can travel from wild animals to humans. Photo courtesy of Karsing Megu & Victor Meyer-Rochow.

The Wuhan market, along with others that sell live animals, has been shut by the Chinese authorities, and the government in February outlawed trading and eating wild animals except for fish and seafood. But bans on live animals being sold in urban areas or informal markets are not the answer, say some scientists.

“The wet market in Lagos is notorious. It’s like a nuclear bomb waiting to happen. But it’s not fair to demonize places which do not have fridges. These traditional markets provide much of the food for Africa and Asia,” says Jones.

“These markets are essential sources of food for hundreds of millions of poor people, and getting rid of them is impossible,” says Delia Grace, a senior epidemiologist and veterinarian with the International Livestock Research Institute, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya. She argues that bans force traders underground, where they may pay less attention to hygiene.

Fevre and Cecilia Tacoli, principal researcher in the human settlements research group at the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), argue in a blog post that “rather than pointing the finger at wet markets,” we should look at the burgeoning trade in wild animals.

“[I]t is wild animals rather than farmed animals that are the natural hosts of many viruses,” they write. “Wet markets are considered part of the informal food trade that is often blamed for contributing to spreading disease. But … evidence shows the link between informal markets and disease is not always so clear cut.”

Changing Behavior

So what, if anything, can we do about all of this?

Jones says that change must come from both rich and poor societies. Demand for wood, minerals and resources from the Global North leads to the degraded landscapes and ecological disruption that drives disease, she says. “We must think about global biosecurity, find the weak points and bolster the provision of health care in developing countries. Otherwise we can expect more of the same,” she says.

“The risks are greater now. They were always present and have been there for generations. It is our interactions with that risk which must be changed,” says Brian Bird, a research virologist at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine One Health Institute, where he leads Ebola-related surveillance activities in Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

“We are in an era now of chronic emergency,” Bird says. “Diseases are more likely to travel further and faster than before, which means we must be faster in our responses. It needs investments, change in human behavior, and it means we must listen to people at community levels.”

Getting the message about pathogens and disease to hunters, loggers, market traders and consumers is key, Bird says. “These spillovers start with one or two people. The solutions start with education and awareness. We must make people aware things are different now. I have learned from working in Sierra Leone with Ebola-affected people that local communities have the hunger and desire to have information,” he says. “They want to know what to do. They want to learn.”

Fevre and Tacoli advocate rethinking urban infrastructure, particularly within low-income and informal settlements. “Short-term efforts are focused on containing the spread of infection,” they write. “The longer term — given that new infectious diseases will likely continue to spread rapidly into and within cities — calls for an overhaul of current approaches to urban planning and development.”

The bottom line, Bird says, is to be prepared. “We can’t predict where the next pandemic will come from, so we need mitigation plans to take into account the worst possible scenarios,” he says. “The only certain thing is that the next one will certainly come.”

Himalayas Visible For First Time In 30 Years As India Lockdown Sparks Stunning Drop In Pollution

Authored by Elias Marat via TheMindUnleashed.com,

For many residents, the sight is something which they have never witnessed in their entire lives…

For the first time in 30 years, India’s snow-covered Dhauladhar mountain range has become visible to locals as a result of plunging pollution levels resulting from measures taken to check the spread of the novel coronavirus.

For many residents, the sight of the Dhauladhar Range—which translates to “White Range” and forms part of the Himalayas—is something which they have never witnessed in their entire lives, reports SBS.

Many have been eager to share their feelings about it on social media, including former Indian cricket player Harbhajan Singh, who wrote:

“Never seen Dhauladar range from my home rooftop in Jalandhar. Never could imagine that’s possible. A clear indication of the impact the pollution has done by us to mother earth.” 

Harbhajan Turbanator

@harbhajan_singh

Never seen Dhauladar range from my home rooftop in Jalandhar..never could imagine that’s possible..clear indication of the impact the pollution has done by us to Mother Earth 🌍.. this is the view

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While anti-pollution activist Sant Balbir Singh Seeechewal told SBS:

“We can see the snow-covered mountains clearly from our roofs. And not just that, stars are visible at night. I have never seen anything like this in recent times.” 

India, a country with upwards of 1.3 billion residents, has been placed under a strict nationwide lockdown from March 22 until at least April 14. The draconian move limits the movement of the entire population, and has been criticized by rights groups as well as figures from private industry who claim that the measure is arbitrary and damages the country and its economy.

On Tuesday, the Economic Times published an opinion piece by auto company executive Rajiv Bajaj arguing that “virtually no country has imposed such a sweeping lockdown as India has; I continue to believe this makes India weak rather than stronger in combating the epidemic.”

However, the lockdown—which shut down factories, marketplaces, small shops, places of worship, most public transportation and construction projects—has also provided a temporary respite from the suffocating pollution levels India is known for. No less than 21 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in the South Asian giant.

Arun Arora@Arun2981

From my home town in Punjab…. we had never seen mountains 😊😊

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Aditya@aapkaditya

This is from Jalandhar. Dhauladar Range approx 200-250km

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Seechewal explained:

“Not just normal traffic is off the roads, but most industry is also shut down. This has helped bring the pollution level to unbelievably low levels.”

According to CNN, government data has shown that India’s capital New Delhi has seen a 71 percent plunge of the harmful microscopic particulate matter known as PM 2.5. The particulate matter, which lodges deep into the lungs and passes into vital organs and the bloodstream, causes a number of serious risks to people’s health.

In the meantime, nitrogen dioxide spewed into the air by motor traffic and power plants has also fallen by 71 percent from 52 per cubic meter to 15 in the same period.

Similar drops in air pollutants have been registered in major cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, and Mumbai.

Shailen Pratap शैलेन्द्र 🇮🇳@shailen_pratap

Today’s best news should be that Dhauladar Range,Himachal Pradesh, Himalayas have started to be visible from Jalandhar ( approximately 300 Kms). This has never happened in our lifetime. Loving Views……

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Jyoti Pande Lavakare, the co-founder of Indian environmental organization Care for Air, told the network:

“I have not seen such blue skies in Delhi for the past 10 years …It is a silver lining in terms of this awful crisis that we can step outside and breathe.”

India is hardly alone in experiencing a vast improvement of air quality in association with government clampdowns meant to curb the spread of the pandemic.

From China to Europe and even the notoriously smoggy Los Angeles, business shutdowns and restrictions on movement have seen similar falls in nitrogen dioxide concentrations.

Seechewal is floored by the sharp drop in air pollution. He said:

“I had never imagined I would experience such a clean world around me. The unimaginable has happened. It shows nothing is impossible. We must work together to keep it like that.”

Discovery of Life Deep beneath Sea May Inspire Search on Mars

Bacteria live in tiny clay-filled cracks in solid rock millions of years old

Associate professor Yohey Suzuki at the University of Tokyo led the effort to develop a new way to prepare rock samples to search for life deep beneath the seafloor. This is an example of one of the thin slices of rock he prepared using special epoxy to ensure the rock held its shape while it was cut.
CAITLIN DEVOR, UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO, CC BY 4.0

Newly discovered single-celled creatures living deep beneath the seafloor have given researchers clues about how they might find life on Mars. These bacteria were discovered living in tiny cracks inside volcanic rocks after researchers persisted over a decade of trial and error to find a new way to examine the rocks.

Researchers estimate that the rock cracks are home to a community of bacteria as dense as that of the human gut, about 10 billion bacterial cells per cubic centimeter (0.06 cubic inch). In contrast, the average density of bacteria living in mud sediment on the seafloor is estimated to be 100 cells per cubic centimeter.

“I am now almost over-expecting that I can find life on Mars. If not, it must be that life relies on some other process that Mars does not have, like plate tectonics,” said associate professor Yohey Suzuki from the University of Tokyo, referring to the movement of land masses around Earth most notable for causing earthquakes. Suzuki is first author of the research paper announcing the discovery, published in Communications Biology.

Magic of clay minerals

“I thought it was a dream, seeing such rich microbial life in rocks,” said Suzuki, recalling the first time he saw bacteria inside the undersea rock samples.

Undersea volcanoes spew out lava at approximately 1,200 degrees Celsius (2,200 degrees Fahrenheit), which eventually cracks as it cools down and becomes rock. The cracks are narrow, often less than 1 millimeter (0.04 inch) across. Over millions of years, those cracks fill up with clay minerals, the same clay used to make pottery. Somehow, bacteria find their way into those cracks and multiply.

“These cracks are a very friendly place for life. Clay minerals are like a magic material on Earth; if you can find clay minerals, you can almost always find microbes living in them,” explained Suzuki.

The microbes identified in the cracks are aerobic bacteria, meaning they use a process similar to how human cells make energy, relying on oxygen and organic nutrients.

“Honestly, it was a very unexpected discovery. I was very lucky, because I almost gave up,” said Suzuki.

Cruise for deep ocean samples

Yohey Suzuki from the University of Tokyo and collaborators from around Japan are the first to find life surviving in solid rocks deep beneath the seafloor.
CAITLIN DEVOR, UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO, CC BY 4.0

Suzuki and his colleagues discovered the bacteria in rock samples that he helped collect in late 2010 during the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). IODP Expedition 329 took a team of researchers from the tropical island of Tahiti in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to Auckland, New Zealand. The research ship anchored above three locations along the route across the South Pacific Gyre and used a metal tube 5.7 kilometers long to reach the ocean floor. Then, a drill cut down 125 meters below the seafloor and pulled out core samples, each about 6.2 centimeters across. The first 75 meters beneath the seafloor were mud sediment and then researchers collected another 40 meters of solid rock.

Depending on the location, the rock samples were estimated to be 13.5 million, 33.5 million and 104 million years old. The collection sites were not near any hydrothermal vents or sub-seafloor water channels, so researchers are confident the bacteria arrived in the cracks independently rather than being forced in by a current. The rock core samples were also sterilized to prevent surface contamination using an artificial seawater wash and a quick burn, a process Suzuki compares to making aburi (flame-seared) sushi.


Related Article: What Will a Lab on Mars Be Like?


At that time, the standard way to find bacteria in rock samples was to chip away the outer layer of the rock, then grind the center of the rock into a powder and count cells out of that crushed rock.

“I was making loud noises with my hammer and chisel, breaking open rocks while everyone else was working quietly with their mud,” he recalled.

How to slice a rock

Insert Image Here (remove this text once you’ve added an image)
Aerobic bacteria live densely packed into tunnels of clay minerals found in this sample of solid rock, collected from 122 meters beneath the seafloor. Image B is 1,000 times greater magnification than Image A. The left side photo in each image was taken using normal light and the right side photo was taken using fluorescent light. The solid basalt rock is gray, the clay minerals are orange, and the bacterial cells are green spheres.
SUZUKI ET AL. 2020, DOI: 10.1038/S42003-020-0860-1, CC BY 4.0

Over the years, continuing to hope that bacteria might be present but unable to find any, Suzuki decided he needed a new way to look specifically at the cracks running through the rocks. He found inspiration in the way pathologists prepare ultrathin slices of body tissue samples to diagnose disease. Suzuki decided to coat the rocks in a special epoxy to support their natural shape so that they wouldn’t crumble when he sliced off thin layers.

These thin sheets of solid rock were then washed with dye that stains DNA and placed under a microscope.

The bacteria appeared as glowing green spheres tightly packed into tunnels that glow orange, surrounded by black rock. That orange glow comes from clay mineral deposits, the “magic material” giving bacteria an attractive place to live.

Whole genome DNA analysis identified the different species of bacteria that lived in the cracks. Samples from different locations had similar, but not identical, species of bacteria. Rocks at different locations are different ages, which may affect what minerals have had time to accumulate and therefore what bacteria are most common in the cracks.

Suzuki and his colleagues speculate that the clay mineral-filled cracks concentrate the nutrients that the bacteria use as fuel. This might explain why the density of bacteria in the rock cracks is eight orders of magnitude greater than the density of bacteria living freely in mud sediment where seawater dilutes the nutrients.

From the ocean floor to Mars

The clay minerals filling cracks in deep ocean rocks are likely similar to the minerals that may be in rocks now on the surface of Mars.

“Minerals are like a fingerprint for what conditions were present when the clay formed. Neutral to slightly alkaline levels, low temperature, moderate salinity, iron-rich environment, basalt rock—all of these conditions are shared between the deep ocean and the surface of Mars,” said Suzuki.

Suzuki’s research team is beginning a collaboration with NASA’s Johnson Space Center to design a plan to examine rocks collected from the Martian surface by rovers. Ideas include keeping the samples locked in a titanium tube and using a CT (computed tomography) scanner, a type of 3D X-ray, to look for life inside clay mineral-filled cracks.

“This discovery of life where no one expected it in solid rock below the seafloor may be changing the game for the search for life in space,” said Suzuki.

– This press release was originally published on the University of Tokyo website

Cruise Ships Dumped Over 3 Million Pounds of Trash in Alaska Last Year

MARCH 28, 2020 AT 1:32 AM

Cruise Ships Dumped Over 3 Million Pounds of Trash in Alaska Last Year

 

Records show cruise ships left behind more than 3 million pounds of trash in Alaska’s capital city in 2019.

Local government officials have reached out to both the Juneau landfill and the cruise ship industry to stop the dumping, but they aren’t having much luck.

Because both industries are private, and because there aren’t any laws on the books for cruise lines, there’s not much the city can do about it.

“We don’t regulate waste, garbage and hauling of garbage. So anything that we’re able to do will be by negotiation with the cruise lines,” Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt told the local news station.

Waste Management Inc. – which operates Juneau’s landfill – says it accepted 1,534 tons, or 3.3 million pounds, of cruise ship garbage in 2019.

That’s almost double what it was in 2018, which was  830 tons or 1.8 million pounds.

Tourist trash makes up a full 5 percent of the total garbage dumped in Juneau’s landfill in 2018 and 2019.

With the landfill projected to be full in 20 years, any amount of reduction helps.

And, with the climate fluctuating, the normally frozen ground has thawed, causing waste to seep into the ground.

Along with groundwater pollution, trash finds its way into Alaskan rivers and back out into the ocean as well.

Cruise Lines International Association Alaska became aware of the dumping last year.

Mike Tibbles, of CLIAA, said most the trash created on cruise ships is dumped at the initial port the cruise ship starts off at.

So, to figure out which cruise line is dumping what amount and where is challenging, especially with the cruise season starting soon.

“Right now we’re researching the issue a little bit more amongst our member lines to see which vessels are offloading and how much,” Tibbles said. “We definitely have a goal of trying to reduce that amount as much as we can going forward.

 

Tears for the Magnificent and Shrinking Everglades, a ‘River of Grass’

Nina Burleigh
For years, whenever I found myself in Miami with an afternoon to spare, I sneaked off west to where a road abruptly separates the urban grid from the Everglades. Depending on time, I drove as deep into the saw grass void as I could, parked, got out and gazed up at tropical clouds racing unimpeded by tree or building.

a person in a boat on a body of water: Kayaking at sunset in the Florida Bay, the Everglades National Park. Florida Bay has not recovered from a great sea grass die-off in 2015.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times Kayaking at sunset in the Florida Bay, the Everglades National Park. Florida Bay has not recovered from a great sea grass die-off in 2015.Then, usually, I burst into tears.

Sky and grass. Nothing else. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that anything in Florida — with its postcard palms plastered against postcard sunsets, its coconut tanning oil and Lily Pulitzer pinks and greens, its schmaltz and buffoonery and hanging chads and “Florida Man,” with his love of Styrofoam, weapons and monster trucks — affects me this way. But it does.

“There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known,” Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote in her 1947 book, “The Everglades: River of Grass.” “The spears prick upward, tender green, glass green, bright green, darker green, to spread the blossoms and the fine seeds like brown lace,” she wrote. “The grass stays. The fresh river flows.”

Where it’s not diverted or blocked by human engineering, the water still trickles south at the rate of a quarter mile a day, as it has for millenniums. But it is profoundly imperiled by pollution, human schemes to drain and control it, animal and plant invasives and sea level rise. As salt water breaches the limestone bedrock around the Florida peninsula and enters the aquifer, this natural freshwater wonder is threatened like never before.

I’ve traveled far but never found a place where the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man are so palpable in one place. I am not alone. I know by the way eyes fill with tears when people get to talking about the glades. The Everglades were designated a national park in 1947, the same year that its most ardent fan, the environmentalist Douglas, published her book.

a flock of birds flying in the sky: In the imperiled Everglades, cormorants nest for the evening in Ten Thousand Islands, a maze of mangrove and shallow salt water off the coast of Everglades City.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times In the imperiled Everglades, cormorants nest for the evening in Ten Thousand Islands, a maze of mangrove and shallow salt water off the coast of Everglades City.By then, dredging and pumping and draining of the sloughs — the technical term for the shallow, slow-moving water under the grasses — and species decimation was well underway.

If doubt remains that Eden and the Fall coexist here, consider that the name of the author who extolled the wonders of this paradise is affixed to a school — the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — forever associated with the 2018 school massacre that left 17 people dead.

In a series of trips to South Florida in the last year, I explored the interior of the River of Grass, the only subtropical wilderness in North America, plunging into microclimates and diminishing habitats, traversing slices of the Everglades National Park and its adjacent neighbor, Big Cypress National Preserve, by car, kayak, foot and even looking down from a small plane. Yet after almost two weeks I still barely scratched around the edges of more than a million acres of wetlands with nearly 300 species of fish and about 360 bird species and more than 700 kinds of plants.

an animal swimming in the water: An American alligator on the shore of the Turner River in Big Cypress National Preserve. Alligators were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1960s but surged back after restrictions.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times An American alligator on the shore of the Turner River in Big Cypress National Preserve. Alligators were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1960s but surged back after restrictions.Over the last year, with different family members as companions, I made several visits deeper into the Everglades than I’d ever been. We took kayaks and a skiff out into a maze of mangrove and shallow salt water called the Ten Thousand Islands, on Florida’s southwest edge. sometimes pulling ourselves through dense mangrove tunnels with our hands. These islands are historical hide-outs for pirates, hermits and criminals. Pot-smuggling on local boats was so common here through the 1980s that locals nicknamed the illicit cargo “square grouper.” Today, sport fishermen ply the waters for boasting rights to the Grand Slam — hooking one each of a redfish, snook, tarpon, trout and spotted sea trout in a single day.

Before dawn we drove in darkness to the bird-festooned Marsh Trail in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Mysterious ploppings, splashings, groanings and crashings emanated from waters shrouded by the dense stands of palm and mangrove, and blue herons and great white egrets soared and settled again in the pink tinted vapor rising around us with the sun.

We hiked thigh-deep in cafe latte-colored water, slogging to explore the mysteries of the cypress domes. During the dry season, from December through April (when most tourists visit the glades because it is virtually bug-free), these stands of swamp cypress rise, leafless and bone white above the grass, visible for miles. They look to be on high ground but signal areas of deep water formed by dips in the limestone bedrock.

a close up of a reptile: An American Crocodile basks in the sun at Flamingo, the southernmost point in the Everglades National Park.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times An American Crocodile basks in the sun at Flamingo, the southernmost point in the Everglades National Park.Getting into and out of these domes can be a nerve-pricking enterprise, not for the faint of heart. Of course we saw alligators. Lots of them. From afar and in the water, these dinosaur relics resemble half-submerged junked tires. At night, only their eyes glitter in the beam of a flashlight.

We got up close to them as they dozed dry and oblivious in the sun, alongside roads or paths. Even a large mama-gator surrounded by about a dozen babies, sprawled lazily by the cycling path at the National Park’s Shark Valley, as groups of tourists five feet away recorded the family on their iPhones.

I am here to attest that it is possible for a non-Floridian to get acclimated to alligators. The man to see for that is the Everglades guide Garl Harrold. Garl — as he prefers to be known — grew up in Michigan, went south several decades ago, doffed his shoes, walked into the swamp, and never looked back — or put his shoes back on for work. He picks up clients barefoot — in a 12-person Ford van in the parking lot of a fruit stand outside Homestead city limits.

He has silly nicknames for the monsters he claims lurk near his walks. “Sneaky, she’s around here somewhere.” “I saw Croc-zilla out here last week.” He is encyclopedic on the flora, pointing out plants like the lemon bacopa that the Calusa and Tequesta tribes used as mosquito repellent, and the saltwort, a pale green crunchy plant great as a snack or in a salad.

a man sitting on a bench next to a tree: Kirby Storter Roadside Park in Big Cypress National Preserve.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times Kirby Storter Roadside Park in Big Cypress National Preserve.The cypress domes are worth the challenge. One, visible as a hump of trees from the main park road, is so cinematic on the inside that it is named “The Movie Dome.” It is a set-designer’s idea of a storybook tropical paradise: sunlight shafting in, white branches festooned with proliferations of flowering epiphytes or air flowers, including rare orchids like the ghost orchid, plumed birds beating their wings so close you can feel the air move, all of it mirrored and doubled in crystal water around our knees.

a group of pink flowers on a tree: Roseate Spoonbills in Big Cypress National Preserve.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times Roseate Spoonbills in Big Cypress National Preserve.The experience can be transformative. Martha Calloway of San Antonio was touring the Everglades for a day while her husband fished in Key Largo. She said the slog was the high point of the day. “The dome felt otherworldly, calm and peaceful. The bromeliads in the trees and the variety of plant life was fascinating. I also thought about the animal life that we weren’t going to see because of the invasive species problem, and that humans are the worst invasive species of all. We have got to be more careful with the earth.” Her cousin Carrie LoBasso agreed: “When I told all my friends I slogged through a swamp, traveled with a python, and went hunting for ‘alligator eyes’ in the dark night, most of them called me crazy. But, I told them — and I really mean it — that experience will really stick with me.”

a close up of a bird: An anhinga, a water bird, on the Anhinga Trail in the scenic Royal Palm area of the Everglades National Park.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times An anhinga, a water bird, on the Anhinga Trail in the scenic Royal Palm area of the Everglades National Park.Two centuries ago, the great naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt was the first to comprehend the interconnectedness of nature, and how human activity affected it. Humboldt never visited the Everglades, but it is surely one of the best places on earth to observe nature’s complex harmony up close.

Every few feet of elevation produces a discrete ecosystem with its own animals and plants that are not only adapted to but maintain the systems as well. It is the only place where both alligators and crocodiles coexist. The highest elevations in the Everglades are called pine rockland, and they are considered endangered habitat. Dry and high, prime real estate for mammals — of course man claimed it first. Most of the old pine woods are paved over with towns and apartment complexes and strip malls whose names — Pine Crest, Pine Heights, Pines — refer to what was there.

a group of clouds in the sky over a green field: Distant rain over the saw grass in the Everglades National Park.© Erik Freeland for The New York Times Distant rain over the saw grass in the Everglades National Park.Slightly lower are the hardwood hammocks, just a few feet elevation above the river of grass but still in it. Hammocks are visible for miles on the flat grasses.

The mysterious cypress domes also tower above the grass, but they thrive just a few feet closer to sea level, or even in holes in the limestone below sea level. Viewed from above, they are teardrop shaped, narrow at the top and bulging at the bottom, marking the shape of the water flowing in and around the holes.

The Everglades formed 5,000 years ago. It once covered most of the peninsula of Florida, from Lake Okeechobee (the 10th largest fresh water lake in the United States) down to Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Since 1845, when Florida became a state, man has been refashioning the glades, chiefly, to dry, build on, farm and make money off the land, some of the most fertile in the world. Two big sugar companies now control 500,000 acres; today, more than eight million people also depend upon the glades for their drinking water.

For 175 years, the drive to control the flow of water was planned, plotted and executed with devastating results for the native inhabitants — flora, fauna and human. Dredging, levee building, pumping water in and out, more than 2,100 miles of canals, 2,000 miles of levees and hundreds of floodgates, pump stations and other water-control structures, usually initiated with a blind zeal for progress and indifference to — or ignorance about — the fact that engineers were playing a game of Jenga on an interconnected fragile system.

All of New Jersey could have fit into the pre-drainage Everglades. But the ecosystem today is half the size it was before development. It is overrun by invasive plants and animals. As of 2015, in the Everglades, 60 plants were listed as endangered.

The state of mourning began at least as far back as the 1920s, when the botanist John Kunkel Small recorded his observations during an expedition, listing the Latin names of hundreds of plants and recording everywhere signs of their degradation and demise, from the “approaching extermination of native coral life” — which has come to pass around the Keys — to the ground itself “being drained and burned until it is unproductive.”

His panic is palpable in the exclamation points and capital letters he deployed in his report on the Lake Okeechobee area. “Here we were again very forcibly impressed with the terrible destruction which is returning Florida to its primitive geological condition, namely a barren desert. DRAINAGE and FIRE! The two processes are tending to eliminate all the native life from the state. … Thus the magnificent monument that took ages to construct has been wrecked within the fraction of a generation!”

What’s gone is gone, and what’s still there is threatened by invasives like the cattails and the ornamental plant Brazilian pepper that leapt from people’s manicured gardens and into the Everglades. The pepper is so endemic that the park service is mulching it and sequestering it in small mountains visible from above as bright green squares throughout the backcountry. Nonnative bamboo now chokes waterways and birding marshes throughout the park.

Along with the plants, the Burmese python is an unwelcome invader, probably introduced into the habitat first by pet owners when they got too big to keep in the condos. The snakes grow to tremendous length and weights — 15-foot 90 pounders have been found. They wiped out 99 percent of the marsh rabbit and the raccoons, decimated the otters and are now setting their sights on the birds. Researchers chip male pythons and track them to the nests of huge mother snakes, removing hundreds of eggs. In just two days, we saw two giants caught by the roadside in the area, and heard tell of a third. The state sponsors annual python-killing competitions. (The winner of the 2020 “Python Bowl” gets a truck.)

There are success stories. Alligators were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1960s but surged back after restrictions. So have the birds. The Victorian taste for big hats with plumage led to near extinction of the Everglades’ snowy egrets and other wading birds, with more than five million birds killed annually by 1900. Anti-plumage campaigns at the turn of the 20th century stopped that.

All over the Everglades, efforts to save something rare are underway. Panthers are collared and tracked near Big Cypress Preserve, but 21 were hit by cars last year, out of an estimated statewide population of only 150.

Sections of Tamiami Trail — the main east-west road connecting Miami and Naples — are being turned into bridges to allow water to flow back into the sloughs to the south, bringing back native vegetation for the first time in a century. At least one river, the Kissimee, straightened by the Army Corps of Engineers to benefit the northern farms, has been returned to its natural bed.

In 2000, the state and federal government agreed to a $4 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Twenty years on, a few of the major infrastructure projects have been built, but most are still on the drawing board, awaiting money. In a promising development, Congress just authorized $200 million to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Everglades restoration.

The Everglades Foundation is among many area nonprofits studying the effects of human activity on the fresh water flow, and advocating efforts to restore the ecosystem.

“We know what the consequences of inaction are, because we’ve already experienced it: polluted waterways, toxic algae, sea grass die-off, continued habitat loss, and even threats to imperiled species,” said Stephen Davis, a foundation scientist. “We simply cannot afford to wait any longer. Without Everglades restoration, Florida’s tourism-based economy is at risk.”

Paddling in Florida Bay one night at twilight, Garl trailed his hand in the warm salty water and pulled up some gray muck, let it drip back into the murk. “When I first came down, this water was clear, and I used to dip my hand in here and pull up a handful of sand and sea grass and find dozens of baby clams and tiny living shells,” he said. “It’s all gone. We’re in a dead zone now.” As he spoke, a full moon rose behind us and roseate spoonbills sailed in V-formation across pink cumulus clouds fading into periwinkle to the west.

I, as usual, choked back a sob.

Florida Bay has not recovered from a great sea grass die-off in 2015 because of unusual salinity caused by the man-made diversion of fresh water away from the bay. All Florida shores have also been plagued by a series of deadly red tides caused by fertilizer and other pollutants. Worse, as sea levels rise around Florida, increased salinity on the edges of the Everglades is killing the saw grass, setting off a cycle of damage to the sediment, allowing even more salty water farther inland.

Knowing all that, I wasn’t so bothered by the legendary Everglades mosquitoes that came out with the spectacular sunset (“You can set your watch to that,” locals say). As they pricked away at exposed skin and whined in my ears, I took it as proof that, for now anyway, the threatened glades biome lives on.

______

Nina Burleigh is a journalist and the author, most recently, of “Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women,” due out in paperback later this year.

Dominion fires oilfield worker after he saved 50 waterfowl

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One of the ducks Roich has saved over the years, warming in the cab of his pickup truck after being washed clean of contaminants from an oilfield wastewater pit. (Adam Roich)

Dominion Energy fired an oilfield worker in Rock Springs after the employee saved an estimated 50 waterfowl from wastewater ponds.

Adam Roich said he’s rescued about that many waterfowl in the last five years after they landed in tainted ponds at his worksite about 50 miles south of Rock Springs. He would take the oil-slicked birds to a company facility, wash them with Dawn household soap, warm them in his truck, then set them free on clean water, he told WyoFile in an interview.

“I got fired a couple days before Christmas for rescuing these guys throughout the years,” he posted recently on Facebook above many photographs of his avian patients. “I only did what I thought was right.”

<img class="i-amphtml-intrinsic-sizer" style="max-width: 100%; display: block !important;" role="presentation" src="data:;base64,” alt=”” aria-hidden=”true” />
Adam Roich. (Adam Roich)

Dominion terminated Roich on Dec. 19 for violating company policy, according to a letter obtained by WyoFile. His firing followed an internal investigation, the seven-sentence letter read.

Dominion wouldn’t say why it fired Roich, calling the issue “an internal matter.”

“[T]he company has fully complied with the applicable laws and company policies with respect to the individual,” Dominion’s Don Porter, media relations manager, wrote WyoFile. “[W]e abide by federal regulations which direct us to notify the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service only in the event of a bird fatality.”

Roich described a sad scene at the water’s edge: “They’d get oil on their feathers,” he said. “They’d just go to the bank and sit there. They’d freeze to death if I didn’t grab them.”

No bird rescues allowed

Four ponds, the largest about the size of a football field, dot the Canyon Creek energy field complex along the southern border of the state, Roich said. “It’s really toxic water,” he said. “Slicks of oil on them accumulate over time.”

A net covers one of them, Dominion’s Porter wrote. A BirdAvert system uses radar to deploy plastic falcons, strobes and falcon screeches to scare waterfowl away from the others.

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A trumpeter swan in one of the oilfield ponds. (Adam Roich)

“The system doesn’t work that well,” Roich said. Dominion called the bird-scaring system “not 100% effective,” and wrote that some birds alight in the ponds anyway, landing in produced water from natural gas wells — contaminated groundwater that contains gas and other substances.

Oilfield workers at the Canyon Creek field employed their own rescue system, Roich said. “We had a net out there,” he said. “I would just net the duck or grab it.

“I would take into our facility,” he said. “I would wash it. They rode around with me in my truck loving the heat while I worked my ass off.”

At the end of the day, Roich would release the rehabilitated ducks in a freshwater pond nearby, he said. Most would fly off.

Roich contacted state wildlife officials who told him what he was doing was probably OK, he said. But Dominion wrote that such rescues by employees are not allowed.

“When this happens, Dominion Energy follows federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act-related regulations, which forbid our employees from retrieving the fowl,” Dominion’s Porter wrote WyoFile.

Roich said other workers had been rescuing ducks during his five years with the company and beyond. “Before I was there they were doing the same thing,” he said. “Others did the same, but it all got pinned on me.”

Roich said he tried to work within the system. He believes Dominion could get a permit to handle the ducks and told supervisors as much.

Federal regulations allow licensed veterinarians to rescue migratory birds without a rehabilitation permit, but they must transfer the birds to an authorized rehabilitator within 24 hours after they are stabilized.

This fall a supervisor told Roich not to rescue any more waterfowl, Roich said. “He recently ordered me to let them die and not touch them,” he wrote on Facebook. After that, “I never touched another duck,” he told WyoFile.

Dominion put him on paid leave for almost two months, Roich said. “Like I’m some criminal,” he said. He called the episode a two-month ordeal that led up to his firing.

“Then I was terminated.” Ducks were at issue, Roich said. “An HR person told me that.”

Dominion’s Porter said the company is following federal regulations.

“We did not create these rules and regulations, but we are committed to adhering to them,” he wrote. “One of Dominion Energy’s core values is ‘ethics,’ which we take seriously — especially pertaining to government regulations concerning our business operations.”

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Dominion fired him for violating the company’s code of ethics, Roich said he was told. “I don’t think there’s anything about ducks in the code of ethics,” he said.

Roich has another job in a Rock Springs auto shop in Rock Springs, he said, but isn’t making as much as he used to in the oil patch. He believes he’s made the right decisions.

“I don’t regret it,” he said.

B.C. bans logging in sensitive Silverdaisy area in Skagit River Valley

Minister says no more timber licences will be awarded for the area, also known as the ‘doughnut hole’

The B.C. government has banned logging in an ecologically sensitive area along the U.S. border after Seattle’s mayor and environmental groups called for protection of the watershed.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson announced Wednesday that B.C. will no longer award timber licences in a 5,800-hectare plot called the Silverdaisy or “doughnut hole” in the Skagit River Valley.

He said the province’s previous Liberal government awarded a timber sale licence for the area in 2015 but that approval has now ended and no future licences will be granted.

“Individuals and groups on both sides of the border have expressed concerns that logging should stop in the Silverdaisy and we’re responding to those concerns,” the minister said on a conference call with reporters. “This is a significant step in addressing a lingering issue.”

B.C.’s forestry industry is in a slump due to timber shortages but Donaldson said his government is working to ensure access to new harvest areas that will replace the portion of the Silverdaisy that had been available for logging.

The doughnut hole is surrounded by the Skagit Valley and Manning provincial parks just east of Hope.

There was one timber sale planned in the area for 67,000 cubic metres, a relatively small volume, and Donaldson said he doesn’t anticipate any immediate impact on jobs.

Imperial Metals Corp., owner of the Mount Polley mine where a tailings dam collapse caused an ecological disaster in 2014, owns copper mineral claims in the Silverdaisy.

Tom Curley of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission said it’s working to acquire those rights to ensure preservation of the area.

The commission, which aims to protect wildlife and acquire mineral and timber rights consistent with conservation purposes in the Skagit Valley, was created through the High Ross Treaty, a 1984 agreement between Canada and the U.S.

Imperial Metals did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wrote to the B.C. government last year urging it to halt logging in the area. She also said the Silverdaisy provides more than 30 per cent of the fresh water flowing into Puget Sound.

Environment Minister George Heyman said when the treaty was signed three decades ago, the B.C. and Washington governments signalled clear intent that, once the issue of mineral tenures was resolved, the doughnut hole would be returned to park status.

“Somewhere along the line … there was a lapse in corporate memory,” he said. “We’re restoring that today.”

The B.C. Liberals did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Heyman said the area is a critical wildlife corridor and foraging habitat for grizzly bear, wolverine and other species, and 33 per cent of the area is currently protected to provide a home for spotted owls and other species at risk.

“But today’s action will conserve the entire package,” he said.

Laura Kane, The Canadian

https://www.surreynowleader.com/news/b-c-bans-logging-in-sensitive-silverdaisy-area-in-skagit-river-valley/

The Companies Behind the Burning of the Amazon

The burning of the Amazon and the darkening of skies from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, have captured the world’s conscience. Much of the blame for the fires has rightly fallen on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for directly encouraging the burning of forests and the seizure of Indigenous Peoples’ lands.

But the incentive for the destruction comes from large-scale international meat and soy animal feed companies like JBS and Cargill, and the global brands like Stop & Shop, Costco, McDonald’s, Walmart/Asda, and Sysco that buy from them and sell to the public. It is these companies that are creating the international demand that finances the fires and deforestation.

The transnational nature of their impact can be seen in the current crisis. Their destruction is not confined to Brazil. Just over the border, in the Bolivian Amazon, 2.5 million acres have burned, largely to clear land for new cattle and soy animal feed plantations, in just a few weeks. Paraguay is experiencing similar devastation.

Logs burn at sunset in Bolivia. Photo Credit: 2017, Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

New maps and analysis from Mighty Earth, based on data from NASA, CONAB, and Imazon and released here for the first time, show which companies are most closely linked to the burning:

Cattle

Both domestic and international demand for beef and leather has fueled the rapid expansion of the cattle industry into the Amazon. From 1993 to 2013, the cattle herd in the Amazon expanded by almost 200%  reaching 60 million head of cattle. While deforestation for cattle had been reduced thanks to both private sector and government action, the new wave of deforestation this year shows that the large international beef and leather companies and their customers and financiers continue to create markets for deforestation-based cattle.

The effects of this demand can be seen in the clustering of deforestation near slaughterhouses and roads that have access to slaughterhouses. The company most exposed to deforestation risk in the maps above is JBS,  both Brazil’s largest meatpacker, and the world’s largest meat company. JBS, like other major Brazilian meatpackers signed the 2009 Cattle Moratorium, pledging not to buy beef from cattle connected to deforestation. However,  investigations by government and NGOs have repeatedly found serious violations by JBS, including through laundering cattle.

These scandals reached their apotheosis with the Cold Meat (Carne Fria) scandal in 2017, in which the Brazilian government enforcement agencies produced extensive evidence showing that JBS was sourcing cattle from protected areas.  This and other investigations found that JBS violated both government and its own policies by buying laundered cattle that had been raised in areas linked to deforestation and then transported to “clean ranches” to evade the requirements. The two brothers who control the company were imprisoned for their role in corruption scandals in Brazil.

Aerial cattle field and forest edge. Photo credit: Jim Wickens/Ecosotrm

Soy

Soy supply chains work differently from cattle, and that is reflected in the maps above. Much of the current wave of deforestation has happened close to BR-163. Big soy farmers routinely transport their soy down Highway BR-163 to Cargill’s major port at Santarem, where it is put on ships and sent around the world to be fed to livestock in Europe, China, and elsewhere. There are similar dynamics around other highways on the map. Cargill, Bunge and other leading soy traders have participated in the Amazon Soy Moratorium in Brazil for the last dozen years, in which they committed to cease sourcing from suppliers who engaged in deforestation for soy. Overall, the Soy Moratorium has been a major success, virtually eliminating deforestation for soy.

However, the Soy Moratorium contained two major loopholes. First, the big soy traders can continue to purchase soy from farmers who engage in large-scale deforestation, as long as the deforestation is for crops other than soy. The location of the deforestation close to BR-163 suggests that farmers are exploiting this loophole to continue deforestation even as they sell soy to major traders like Cargill and Bunge. The location of the deforestation close to BR-163 suggests that farmers are exploiting this loophole to continue deforestation even as they sell soy to major traders like Cargill and Bunge.

Second, the Soy Moratorium only applies to the Brazilian Amazon. Major soy traders have continued to drive deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon Basin, the Brazilian Cerrado, and the Gran Chaco of Argentina and Paraguay, creating a major incentive for the rapid deforestation in Bolivia in the last several weeks. Mighty Earth’s reports The Ultimate Mystery Meat and Still At It showed Cargill’s extensive links to deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon basin, and its repeated refusal to take action against key suppliers even when confronted with repeated evidence. And as much attention as the Amazon is getting, Brazil’s half a billion acre, highly biodiverse forest-savannah mosaic known as the Cerrado has been even more deforested. While 80% of the Amazon is still intact, cattle, soy and agriculture interests have destroyed more than half of the Cerrado, putting this ecosystem at even greater risk. Mighty Earth found that in the Cerrado, where deforestation has continued, two companies were primarily responsible for driving deforestation, Cargill and Bunge.

Cargill is the largest trader of soy from Brazil and the world’s largest food and agriculture company. Mighty Earth’s July 2019 report The Worst Company in the World profiled Cargill’s extensive deforestation in South America and elsewhere around the world, building on previous investigations in Bolivia, Brazilian Cerrado, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Although Bunge is a bigger player in the Cerrado, across South America – in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, Mighty Earth’s previous analyses of deforestation linked to soy animal feed in South America found Cargill most closely associated with deforestation. The company has refused to discontinue suppliers Mighty Earth found engaged in deforestation after evidence was shared with them, and has bitterly resisted efforts to expand successful industry-wide platforms for monitoring and policing deforestation to South America outside the Brazilian Amazon.

Table top mountains in the Brazilian Cerrado reduced to soy cultivation. Photo credit; Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

Sign for a Cargill silo in Bolivia reads ‘We buy soy’. Cargill is the biggest privately-held company in the U.S., and while it might not be a household name, people consume its products every day. Photo credit: Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

Five years ago, companies including Cargill, Unilever, and Yum Brands stood on stage at the Climate Summit in New York and proclaimed their commitment to removing deforestation from their supply chains by 2020. So too has the Consumer Goods Forum, whose members include Walmart, Mars and Danone.

They have yet to deliver on this commitment.

Now, with one year until their deadline and the Amazon in flames, it is far past time to act.

These companies must take responsibility for the impacts of their products. They must eliminate the market incentives that promote this reckless environmental destruction.

The Consumer Goods Forum and companies like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Ahold Delhaize – which owns Stop & Shop as well as Hannaford, Food Lion, Pea Pod, and Giant supermarkets – cannot continue to look the other way while the Amazon burns. They should instead source only from suppliers and regions that show evidence of eliminating deforestation. Not in another ten years. Not in five years. Not in one year. Now. Today.

The chart below shows the largest customers of the slaughterhouses and soy animal feed traders most associated with cattle and soy deforestation, respectively.

Brands

Several brands stand out for their contracts and relationships with the suppliers most responsible for deforestation.

Ahold Delhaize: The Netherlands-based supermarket powerhouse owns the brands Stop & Shop, Giant, Food Lion, and Hannaford in the United States and Albert Heijn, Delhaize, Etos, Albert, Alfa-Beta, and others across Europe. While consistently touting its sustainability commitments, Ahold continues selling its customers products from some of the worst companies in the world. With knowledge of Cargill’s ongoing child labor issues and its role in deforestation across South America, Ahold has simultaneously pushed Cargill to do a better job even while launching a joint venture partnership with them to provide the store-branded meat to Stop & Shop stores. In addition, Ahold Delhaize conducted business worth a whopping $113 million with JBS in 2019 through food sales and other partnerships.

As egregious as Ahold Delhaize’s actions are, they are not alone:

McDonald’s: McDonald’s is probably Cargill’s largest and most important customer. McDonald’s restaurants are essentially storefronts for Cargill. Cargill not only provides chicken and beef to McDonald’s, they prepare and freeze the burgers and McNuggets, which McDonald’s simply reheats and serves.

Sysco: With $55 billion in annual revenue, Sysco is the world’s largest distributor of food products to restaurants, healthcare facilities, universities, hotels, and inns. Despite claiming that they will “protect the planet by advancing sustainable agriculture practices, reducing our carbon footprint and diverting waste from landfill, in order to protect and preserve the environment for future generations,” they have honored Cargill as their most valued supplier of pork and beef and did $525 million worth of business with JBS in 2019 through sales and other partnerships.

Costco: Both JBS and Cargill list Costco as one of their top customers. Popular with families and small business owners, it ranks as the world’s third largest retailer. Costco states that it “has a responsibility to source its products in a way that is respectful to the environment and to the people associated with that environment.” According to their website, “Our goal is to help provide a net positive impact for communities in commodity-producing landscapes, by doing our part to help reduce the loss of natural forests and other natural ecosystems, which include native and/or intact grasslands, peatlands, savannahs, and wetland.” Nevertheless, according to Bloomberg, Costco conducted $1.43 billion worth of business with JBS in 2019.

Burger King/Restaurant Brands International: Burger King’s practice of selling meat linked to Cargill and other forest destroyers has earned the fast food giant a ‘zero’ on the Union of Concerned Scientists deforestation scorecard. Burger King has asked Cargill to stop destroying forests in their supply chain…but the deadline isn’t until 2030. It is also a significant customer of JBS. Burger King is part of the Restaurant Brands International (RBI) chain that also includes Tim Horton’s and Popeye’s.

Nestle: Based in Switzerland, Nestle is the largest food and beverage company in the world. Nestle was among the first companies to make zero-deforestation commitments, but only started actually monitoring its supply chains nine years later in 2019 – and only for palm oil, not for soy or pulp/paper. Recently certifying 77 percent of its supply chain as deforestation-free, Nestle continues to buy from Cargill for its pet food subsidiary, Nestle Purina Petcare. Bloomberg data also shows Nestle as one of Marfrig’s top customers.

Carrefour: The French company Carrefour is one of the world’s largest supermarket chains, the majority owner of the largest supermarket chains in Brazil, and at risk for cattle-driven deforestation. It has significant supply chain links to Cargill and JBS. Carrefour has committed to eliminating deforestation from its products by 2020, but the policy does not apply to processed or frozen beef products—which means that only around half of Carrefour’s beef distribution in Brazil is covered by its zero-deforestation policy.  According to Chain Reaction Research, 35 percent of the beef and beef products it sampled came from slaughterhouses located within the Legal Amazon including a 2.3 percent from high-risk slaughterhouses.

Casino: Casino, which owns Pão de Açúcar, is a French supermarket giant that prizes its reputation for sustainability in its home country. But as the second-largest supermarket chain in Brazil, it continues to purchase from Cargill, Bunge, and Brazil’s major cattle suppliers.

Walmart: Arkansas-based corporation Walmart is the single-largest company in the world by revenue, and also the largest private employer. Walmart also has a major presence in the UK, through its wholly-owned subsidiary ASDA. Walmart’s stated policy is “as a member of the Consumer Goods Forum, we supported the resolution to achieve zero net deforestation in our supply chain by 2020,encourage our suppliers of [beef, soy, palm oil, pulp and paper] products to work to source products produced with zero net deforestation. We ask suppliers to avoid ancient and endangered forests, to encourage conservation solutions, and to increase recycled content.” Nevertheless, Walmart conducted business with JBS worth $1.68bn in 2018 and remains a leading customer of Cargill meats and other products.

E. Leclerc: E.Leclerc is a French retail chain, with more than 600 locations in France and more than 120 stores outside of the country. Of the supermarket chains in France, Leclerc has perhaps the least robust sustainability policies. A recent report by SherpaFrance Nature Environment and Mighty Earth shows Leclerc failing on soy sustainability measures across the board. The company refuses to join industry calls to protect the endangered Cerrado, has not fulfilled legal obligations to disclose its sources, and has neither develop an alert mechanism to identify risk or follow up on deforestation alerts provided by others.  E.Leclerc’s latest sustainability report makes no commitments on meat sourcing, or any other commodity but palm oil.

By night forest fires can be seen for miles, tearing through Brazil’s Cerrado ecosystems. Photo credit: 2017, Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

A Preventable Disaster

While the rate of burning has increased dramatically in the last several months in response to Bolsonaro’s policies, these companies have been driving deforestation for years across South America. In many cases, they have bitterly resisted efforts to create systems that would allow for agriculture to expand without deforestation.

Bolsonaro’s mobilization of the army to fight the fires may help in the short term, as will Bolivian president Evo Morales’ new willingness to accept international help to fight fires. But as long as these international companies are creating a market for beef, pork, and chicken that is indifferent to deforestation, this type of environmental disaster is likely to continue.

After years of remarkably successful conservation initiatives that cut Brazil’s deforestation rate by two-thirds, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has reopened the doors to rampant destruction as a favor to the agribusiness lobby that backs him. That industry is accountable for the atmosphere of lawlessness, deforestation, fires, and the murder of Indigenous peoples that followed. According to data released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon in July 2019 increased 278 percent over the previous July. Bolsonaro responded to this news by firing the head of the INPE.

The recent fires are the latest example of the cattle and soy industries trying to take advantage of a culture of impunity in both Brazil and Bolivia. Since January 2019, more than 74,000 fires have broken out across Brazil – an 85 percent increase from the same point in 2018. In Bolivia, 2.5 million acres have burned in two weeks.

These are not wildfires. Nearly all are the result of intentional land clearing attempts undertaken by ranchers and industrial soy farmers feeding global markets and international companies. In fact, on August 10, farmers in the Amazon held a “Day of Fire” to show their support for Bolsonaro’s policies.

According to the Smithsonian Institute, these fires, which are large enough to see their effects from space, pose a significant threat to the “lungs” of the planet, one of the world’s last best defenses against climate change.

The deforestation crisis in Brazil and Bolivia wouldn’t be happening without companies like Cargill, Bunge, and JBS and their customers – companies like Stop & Shop, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Sysco – who create the market demand that finances the destruction.