By Nadia Prupis
More than 90 percent of people on the planet live in places where air pollution levels are dangerously high, and millions of people are dying as a result of the exposure, according to new research from the World Health Organization (WHO) released Tuesday.
A polluted Christmas Day at Anyang Normal University, China.V.T. Polywoda / Flickr
Using an air quality model based on satellite data and other ground and air monitors in 3,000 locations, the WHO found that fully 92 percent of people worldwide live in regions where the pollution exceeds the organization's safety limits.
"To date, air pollution—both ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor)—is the biggest environmental risk to health, carrying responsibility for about one in every nine deaths annually," the report states. "Air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, and affects economies and people's quality of life; it is a public health emergency."
The organization created an interactive map showing where in the world, both in rural and urban areas, the air is contaminated by toxins that can seep into the lungs and cause cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer, among other illnesses.
Screenshot of WHO's interactive map of global ambient air pollution.World Health Organization
The majority of those locations are in developing counties, largely in the regions of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, with "vulnerable populations" at a particularly high risk, the report states. More than 6 million people die every year due to exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution, according to an International Energy Agency study released in June.
"Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations—women, children and the older adults," said WHO assistant director general Dr. Flavia Bustreo. "For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last."
Much of the pollution is human-caused, created through household waste and fuel burning, inefficient transportation, industrial activities and coal-fired power plants, the report states. Particulate matter that emanate from those activities like black carbon, sulphates, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, and mineral dust and water can penetrate and coat the lungs and cause health issues with even short-term exposure. (Other air pollution can have natural causes, such as dust in the air in regions near deserts.)
Dr. Maria Neira, WHO director of the Department of Public Health, Environment, and Social Determinants of Health, said the new data confirms there is no time to waste to address toxins in the atmosphere.
"Fast action to tackle air pollution can't come soon enough," Neira said. "Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions."
The new data follows recent studies linking air pollution to everything from Alzheimer's to economic slowdowns. In the U.S., air pollution is especially high in minority and low-income communities, which a study published in Social Science Research last year referred to as "sacrifice zones."
Increasing and improving studies of dangerous air pollution, particularly in low-income areas, is "crucial" to curtailing its toxic impacts, the WHO said. And strengthening the capacity of developing cities to "monitor their air quality with standardized methods, reliable and good quality instrumentation, is key," the report concludes.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams....
By Deirdre Fulton
Lawmakers have come up with a compromise to avoid a potential government shutdown and provide long-awaited aid for Flint, Michigan—though the band-aid measure will still keep that community, which has been grappling with a lead-contamination crisis for more than two years, waiting for funds at least until November.
According to news outlets, U.S. House leaders on Tuesday night struck a deal to allow a vote on an amendment adding $170 million in infrastructure funding under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), to help Flint and other cities with water emergencies.
The agreement followed days of tense talks, and came after Senate Democrats earlier on Tuesday blocked a vote to advance a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running after Friday, citing the GOP's refusal to include funding for Flint. The legislation does include emergency flood assistance for Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the breakthrough on Flint "will help unlock" the short-term spending bill. Indeed, the Washington Post reported that while "Senate Democrats have not yet examined the House amendment ... a senior aide said leaders are 'optimistic' that the deal could offer a path to avert a shutdown."
And Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who has been outspoken in his call for Flint funding (and about the cause of the crisis in the first place), said the deal "is a step forward to ensuring that Flint families get the resources they need to recover from this crisis."
"The people of my hometown have waited over two years for their government to help them in their time of need," Kildee said. "We will continue to fight until Flint aid reaches the president's desk."
That may not be until December, the Post reported, as the House and Senate versions of the WRDA must still be resolved, and Congress is about to depart on recess until after the Nov. 8 election.
And as Michigan Public Radio notes:
If [the WRDA] passes, it's unclear how long it will take for the money to reach the city of Flint.
As of Tuesday, the city had replaced 155 lead service lines. It's estimated there could be 10,000 pipes connecting Flint homes to city water mains that continue to leech lead into the city's drinking water.
"The people of Flint deserved assistance more than a year ago, and they require assistance now, without further delay," a coalition of 86 civil rights, public health, and environmental groups wrote in an open letter to Congress this week. "Therefore, it is critical that aid comes now so that other children and families will not suffer."
The full House is set to vote on the Flint amendment on Wednesday.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams....
The rusty patched bumble bee, which can be identified by a rust-colored patch on its abdomen, was once a commonly seen pollinator from the midwest to the east coast. Unfortunately, scientists believe that it has disappeared from 87 percent of its historic range since the 1990s and that its population has declined by a startling 95 percent.
Rusty patched bumble bee.Dan Mullen
The rusty patched bumble bee is now listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act in Canada and as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but little is being done in the U.S. to ensure that these bumble bees and their habitat are protected.
But now, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed endangered species protection for the rare bumble bee. If the proposal goes through, it would be the first bee species in history to receive federal protection in the U.S.
The rusty patched bumble bee faces a host of threats ranging from habitat loss and degradation to climate change, disease, the spread of pathogens from bees who are raised and sold commercially and the widespread use of herbicides and pesticides.
Their advocates have been raising concerns for years that their extinction is imminent if we do nothing to stop it.
In 2013, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to get the rusty patched bumble bee listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but the agency didn't respond. A year later, the Xerces Society, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), sued the Department of the Interior and the FWS in an effort to get this bee protected.
Last year the agency finally announced that protection may be warranted, and has followed up with more good news this month that it is now formally proposing protectionfor them under the ESA.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service has relied upon the best available science and we welcome the proposal to list the rusty patched bumble bee as an endangered species," said Rich Hatfield, senior conservation biologist at the Xerces Society.
"Addressing the many threats that the rusty patched bumble bee faces―from neonicotinoid pesticides to disease―will help not only this species, but countless other native pollinators that are so critical to the functioning of natural ecosystems and agriculture."
The Xerces Society points out, they don't just play an incredibly valuable role in pollinating crops we rely on, providing a service that's estimated to be worth billions of dollars, they also pollinate native plants that provide food for other species. Losing this bumble bee would be huge loss for a world that relies heavily on pollinators for survival.
"This decision comes not a moment too soon," said Rebecca Riley, senior attorney with the NRDC.
"Bee populations―including thousands of species of wild bees―are in crisis across the country, and the rusty patched bumble bee is one of the most troubling examples. Today's decision is a critical step forward. If finalized, the endangered species protections will improve the health of our ecosystem as well as the security of our national food supply."
The agency will be accepting public comments until Nov. 21, 2016. If you would like to make one in support of listing the rusty patched bumble bee as a protected species, you can submit one at Regulations.gov....
Three wildlife groups sued the federal government Tuesday, asking for the Yellowstone bison to be listed as a threatened or endangered species in order to protect the iconic animals from hunting and prescribed culling. Currently, park officials manage the population to about 4,000 animals using these methods. The population now numbers about 4,500.
Bison in Yellowstone National Park face a harsh winter environment.Dan Zukowski
Some 60 million bison, also known as buffalo, once roamed the prairies and grasslands of North America. They provided food, clothing and sustenance to Native Americans. In the 1800s, European settlers began hunting the animals and the U.S. Army undertook a deliberate program of extermination as a way to starve the Native peoples who depended on them. They nearly drove the bison to extinction.
By the time Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, there were only about two dozen bison in the area. The Army was then told to protect this herd. They also brought 21 bison from two private herds to Yellowstone in 1902 to create a larger breeding population. Today's herds in Yellowstone—the only place where wild bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times—descended from these few animals.
The majestic 2,000-pound bison is an iconic symbol of the American West. On May 9, it became our official national mammal when President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law. It is a creature beloved by visitors to Yellowstone National Park—sometimes too much—but outside park boundaries, ranchers aren't fans.
Their concern is a disease called brucellosis. It can be transmitted among bison, elk and cattle, and it can cause pregnant females to abort their calves. But it isn't the bison's fault: the non-native bacteria was introduced by cattle brought to the West by early pioneers. Brucellosis was first discovered in Yellowstone bison in 1917. It's thought they likely contracted the disease from domestic cattle, and today about half the bison herd tests positive for brucellosis.
Most visitors encounter bison standing, sitting, walking slowly or occasionally running. But they are migratory animals and move in and out of the park with ease. In winter, many move north and west into Montana. They have almost no predators, except humans, as wolves find elk easier prey. Bison are listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and may be hunted outside the park.
In 2000, the federal government and the state of Montana established the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP). Its goals are to maintain the wild bison population within the national park, manage bison that leave the park and protect domestic cattle from brucellosis. In practice, the park looks to limit the bison herd to about 4,000 animals, which it considers a sustainable number.
To bring those numbers down, the National Park Service uses two methods: legal hunts outside the park and capturing animals near the park boundary. Captured bison are transferred to a number of nearby Native American tribes for immediate slaughter. But wildlife activists aren't happy about these actions.
"America's national mammal, the wild bison, is threatened with extinction because of the actions of the agencies entrusted with protecting them," said Dan Brister, executive director of Buffalo Field Campaign. "The [U.S.] Department of Interior should base its decisions on the best available science, not political pressure from the livestock industry."
The National Park Service hails the IBMP as a success. In its Yellowstone Resources and Issues Handbook 2015, it states:
"To date, no documented transmission of brucellosis from Yellowstone bison to cattle has occurred, due in part to successful efforts by the agencies to maintain separation between them. Conversely, numerous transmissions from elk to cattle have occurred since 2000."
Nevertheless, the park service acknowledges that the issues are complex and that it's time for a new plan.
"New data about general biology and disease prevalence are available, and public opinion is shifting toward more tolerance for bison in Montana," the handbook states.
The organizations that have filed the lawsuit aren't waiting. They contend that restricting the bison's habitat to the boundaries of the national park reduces the herd's genetic diversity and places them at risk of extinction.
"There were millions and millions of acres that were available to the bison that are no longer available to them because of cattle and sheep ranching," said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals' Wildlife Law Program. "Their range has been curtailed by 90 percent, and that alone should be enough to warrant a listing."
Today, about 20,000 wild bison roam the U.S. and Canada, with the largest population—numbering 10,000—in Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta. Another 162,000 are on private farms and ranches. All of the bison meat sold in stores and restaurants come from these farmed animals.
Yellowstone National Park will see more than 4 million visitors this year, and those visitors all want to see bison in their natural habitat. The restoration of bison to Yellowstone has been one of America's great conservation success stories, and the groups that filed the lawsuit want to keep it that way....
By Nika Knight
Earth is the warmest it's been in 100,000 years, a new reconstruction of historical temperature data finds, and with today's level of fossil fuel emissions the planet is "locked into" eventually hitting its highest temperature mark in 2 million years.
2015 was the warmest year since modern record-keeping began in 1880, according to a new analysis by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The record-breaking year continues a long-term warming trend — 15 of the 16 warmest years on record have now occurred since 2001.Scientific Visualization Studio/Goddard Space Flight Center
The new research published Monday in Nature was done by Carolyn Snyder, now a climate policy official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as a part of her doctoral dissertation at Stanford University, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Snyder "created a continuous 2 million year temperature record, much longer than a previous 22,000 year record. [Snyder's reconstruction] doesn't estimate temperature for a single year, but averages 5,000-year time periods going back a couple million years," AP reported.
"We do find this close relationship between temperature and greenhouse gases that is remarkably stable, and what the study is developing is the coupling factor between the two," Snyder told National Geographic.
AP further reports:
Temperatures averaged out over the most recent 5,000 years—which includes the last 125 years or so of industrial emissions of heat-trapping gases—are generally warmer than they have been since about 120,000 years ago or so, Snyder found. And two interglacial time periods, the one 120,000 years ago and another just about 2 million years ago, were the warmest Snyder tracked. They were about 3.6 degrees (2 degrees Celsius) warmer than the current 5,000-year average.
With the link to carbon dioxide levels and taking into account other factors and past trends, Snyder calculated how much warming can be expected in the future.
"Snyder said if climate factors are the same as in the past—and that's a big if," AP noted, "Earth is already committed to another 7 degrees or so (about 4 degrees Celsius) of warming over the next few thousand years."
Nature described Snyder's findings in greater detail in an article accompanying her published study:
"Even if the amount of atmospheric CO2 were to stabilize at current levels, the study suggests that average temperatures may increase by roughly 5 degrees C over the next few millennia as a result of the effects of the greenhouse gas on glaciers, ecosystems and other factors. A doubling of the pre-industrial levels of atmospheric CO2 of roughly 280 parts per million, which could occur within decades unless people curb greenhouse-gas emissions, could eventually boost global average temperatures by around 9 degrees C."
Scripps Institute of Oceanography Mauna Loa Observatory / Climate Central
"This is not an exact prediction or a forecast," Snyder told Nature, advising caution regarding her study's temperature predictions. "The experiment we as humans are doing is very different than what we saw in the past."
There has been some controversy in the scientific community following publication of Snyder's research: several climate scientists told National Geographic that they felt Snyder's estimate of future temperature rise, far higher than many previous estimates, was an outlier, signaling that her methods were faulty.
Michael Mann, an influential climate researcher at Penn State University who was not involved in Snyder's research, told Mashable that "I regard the study as provocative and interesting, but the quantitative findings must be viewed rather skeptically until the analysis has been thoroughly vetted by the scientific community."
Other scientists said they were intrigued by Snyder's findings and hope her study leads to additional research. Jeremy Shakun, a climate researcher at Boston College, told AP that "Snyder's work is a great contribution and future work should build on it."
"It's a useful starting place," Snyder said to Nature about her research. "People can take this and improve upon it as more records become available in the future."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams....
A British conservationist took off last week in a motorized paraglider, embarking on a 4,500-mile journey across the Russian Arctic. Sacha Dench, 41, who works with the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust in the United Kingdom, is following along the migration route of Bewick's swans in hopes of learning why their numbers have declined by more than a third in the past 20 years.
Sacha Dench in training over Sweden.Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust / PA
The first part of her route took her across the desolate Russian tundra. From Russia, she will cross Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Germany and France, returning to England. Her flying machine is a 35 mph motorized paraglider, also known as a paramotor.
Actual route of Sacha Dench's flight to study Bewick's swans.Flight of the Swans / Wildfowl & Wetland Trust
Dench is accompanied by Alexander Bogdanov, a Russian with knowledge of the region, and Dan Burton from the U.K. They have been flying about six hours a day, stopping to talk to schoolchildren in local settlements along the way. On Sept. 23, the team reached Mezen and was later met by her ground crew. She is currently southwest of Mezen, still over Russian territory.
Powered paragliding can be dangerous. In a study of 384 incidents published in BMJ Open, an open access medical research journal, there were 23 fatalities reported. The engine caused 43 accidents and was responsible for most injuries to the upper limbs. Head trauma and drowning after a water landing are other risks.
Sacha Dench was well prepared for this flight. She is a British national free-diving champion, able to hold her breath under water for 6 minutes and 22 seconds. She is an experienced paramotorist and has taken tundra survival courses.
In the air, her body suit is connected to the engine, electrically heating gloves and socks to keep her warm. She can communicate with her crew as well as air traffic control, and she's equipped with a GPS tracker and a personal locator beacon. They're carrying spare spark plugs, tools and survival gear.
Why is she risking this dangerous flight?
The number of Bewick's swans has dropped from 29,000 in 1995 to 18,000 in 2010. There are several known reasons, but none to account for such a large population decline. Also known as a tundra swan, the species is listed as of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Bewick's swans, which are sometimes considered a sub-species, cannot be hunted legally, but more than half are found with lead shot in their bodies. Other explanations for their decline include power line strikes and the loss of wetland habitat along the birds' migration route.
Filming the expedition.Flight of the Swans / Wildfowl & Wetland Trust
Her expedition, the Flight of the Swans, which is being filmed, has been backed by Dame Judi Dench, a distant relative, Sir David Attenborough and Sir Ralph Fiennes. She expects to arrive back in England in late October, around the time of the arrival of the Bewick's swans. To bird lovers in Britain, their arrival is a sign of the coming winter....
Though moderator Lester Holt did not ask a specific question on climate change during the first presidential debate last night, Rolling Stone said, "Trump's big debate lie on global warming" became the "most important exchange of the night."
After just 18 minutes of the debate, conversation between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump quickly transitioned to renewable energy jobs as they discussed the economy. During that exchange, Clinton slipped in the well-known fact that Trump believes climate change is "a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese." Though he has called climate change a hoax numerous times since 2012, he still interrupted Clinton to reject that claim.
Here are 11 times Donald Trump called climate change a hoax—compiled by the Sierra Club Political Committee—despite him telling 100 million people last night that he never said it:
1. Donald Trump on climate change policy on Fox News:
2. Donald Trump's interview on the O'Reilly Factor in July:
3. Tweet from December 2013:
4. Tweet from December 2013:
5. Tweet from December 2013:
6. Tweet from January 2014:
7. Tweet from January 2014:
8. Tweet from January 2014:
9. Tweet from January 2014:
10. Tweet from January 2014:
11. Tweet from February 2014:...
By Nadia Prupis
A people-powered energy revolution—an era in which people can produce their own electricity—is possible, and could happen soon, according to a new report released Monday by the environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE).
The report, The Potential of Energy Citizens in the European Union, finds that over half the residents of the EU could be generating their own renewable electricity by 2050. That's 264 million "energy citizens" meeting 45 percent of the region's energy demand through a democratized, citizen-owned system that allows people to be the operators of their own utilities—taking power away, in more ways than one, from a market monopolized by large corporations.
"[People] have the power to revolutionize Europe's energy system, reclaiming power from big energy companies, and putting the planet first. We need to enshrine the right for people to produce their own renewable energy in European and national legislation," Molly Walsh, FOEE community power campaigner, said.
The report also found that overall, 83 percent of European households, whether individually or as part of a utility collective, have the potential to help create, store or help provide renewable energy.
Electricity production by energy citizens, potential to 2050 per Member State.Friends of the Earth Europe
The researchers analyzed the potential for renewable energy generation, storage, and distribution for different categories of "energy citizens"—households generating energy individually; households producing energy collectively as part of a co-op or association; public entities such as schools, hospitals and government buildings; and small enterprises with less than 50 people on staff.
Number of energy citizens for the various technologies assessed, potential to 2050 for the EU28.Friends of the Earth Europe
The report found that:
"[About] 115 million EU households will have an electric vehicle in 2050, 70 million may have a smart electric boiler, 60 million may have solar PV on their roof and 42 million may have stationary batteries on their premises. Another 64 million households could participate in renewable energy production through an energy collective."
[...] About 161 million can potentially provide flexible demand services with an EV, (smart) electric boiler or stationary batteries. A large share of the households that could have demand flexibility could also be an energy producer."
"Citizens are already playing a role in renewable energy projects across Europe—benefiting the local economy, as well as creating public support for the energy transition. Their potential is huge, and this research shows these projects could, and should, be the norm," Dirk Vansintjan, president of the European Federation of Renewable Energy Cooperatives, said.
Potential energy storage by energy citizens, estimates for 2015, 2030 and 2050.Friends of the Earth Europe
The report was commissioned by the European Renewable Energies Federation, Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace EU Unit, and the European Federation of Renewable Energy Cooperatives. The organizations are calling for a framework to promote citizen-owned energy within the European Commission's Energy Union package, the commission's strategy for ushering in a low-carbon economy.
Such a call aligns with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's wish for "the EU to become the world number one in renewable energies," the groups said.
Because the data surrounding renewable energy is limited, there are some uncertainties surrounding the findings, the report cautions, but that in itself is evidence that more in-depth research need to be devoted to the industry and that policymakers should undertake measures to tap the potential of citizens' collective energy creation.
"The EU should be clearing a path for forward-thinking, nimble energy citizens, not supporting big, polluting utilities," Tara Connolly, energy policy adviser for Greenpeace EU, said. "The age of energy dinosaurs is over."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams....
In legal tiger farms across China, some 6,000 caged cats are kept in filthy conditions and will be killed for dubious medicinal uses and as home decor for the country's newly-rich elite. The sordid business is mostly legal, but hides behind carefully-worded agreements and pretensions of conservation. The issue is expected to be addressed at this week's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Johannesburg.
Tiger breeding cages at Guilin Tiger Farm in China.Belinda Wright / Wildlife Protection Society of India
It is estimated that 60 percent of China's 1.4 billion people use so-called traditional medicines made from tiger bones, rhinoceros horn, bear gall bladder and other exotic animal parts. As China has grown in recent decades, creating a larger middle class and many newly rich entrepreneurs, demand for tiger parts has grown.
China signed on to CITES, but maintains about 200 tiger farms, where tigers are bred to serve this growing market. Claiming that these tiger parts are for domestic consumption, and therefore not subject to the treaty on international trade, China also defends the tiger farms as a captive breeding program that actually helps the species.
However, in 1993, China banned trading in tiger bone, and a 1988 wildlife law that purports to protect endangered species sets forth a policy of "actively domesticating and breeding the species of wildlife."
"What we didn't understand until very recently is that ban in 1993 did not supersede China's wildlife protection law, which was crafted in the 1980s and actually mandates the farming and consumption of tigers and other endangered species," author and wildlife activist Judith Mills told Yale Environment 360 in an interview last year.
Small pens house tigers.Environmental Investigation Agency
Among the luxury products made from these farmed animals is tiger bone wine, which can sell for $257 per 500 ml (about 17 ounces). But almost every part of the tiger is alleged to have some medical use: the brain, whiskers, eyeballs, nose, penis, tail and feet. Tiger skins and whole stuffed tigers are a status symbol in wealthy Chinese homes.
Far from saving the species, tiger farms promote demand for these body parts that makes poaching wild tigers even more lucrative.
"The problem with tiger farming is that it stimulates demand for tiger products, which stimulates poaching of wild tigers because products from wild tigers are considered superior, more prestigious and they're exponentially more valuable," Mills said.
The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) counts the number of tigers in the wild at 3,890.
Historic and current range of tigers in Asia.World Wildlife Federation
A February 2013 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency concludes that "wild Asian cats are being poached to supply the market demand stimulated by China's legal domestic trade in skins of captive-bred tigers at a time when the international community has agreed that demand reduction is essential to save wild tigers."
The report also notes that tiger farming and trade has spread to other Southeast Asia countries including Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Recently, Laos announced its intention to phase out tiger farms.
In July, the Environmental Investigation Agency called on CITES to adopt concrete measures to end tiger farms. Even if adopted, it remains to be seen if China will abide by the regulations or find another loophole. The Guardian reports that a farm in northeast China is cross-breeding tigers with lions, thus creating a "liger" that the Chinese say is not covered by its own 1993 law.