By EWContributorClimate
Building Dams in Patagonia Will Not Mitigate Climate Change

By Patrick J. Lynch

In the Patagonia region, climate change presents a direct threat to human health and the environment. More than 90 percent of Patagonia's glaciers are receding, endangered marine species are shifting migration ranges as the ocean warms and in some rural communities the water table has dropped so far below historical levels that water is now being trucked to people's doorsteps. These dwindling resources like glaciers and rivers need legislation to protect them and regulate uses that could accelerate their loss.

But perhaps the biggest threat to Patagonia's rivers comes under the cloak of climate change policy. This policy is designed to favor construction of large dams in the region under the guise of cutting carbon emissions. New studies question whether Chile has to accept dams as a solution to climate change, given that a study from Stanford University shows the country could achieve 100 percent renewables without building a single additional dam. But current policy is based on models developed before other renewables like wind or solar were competitive and under a legal regime that dates back to the 1980s, long before mitigating climate change was universally recognized as a priority. The consequence is that some of Patagonia's biggest rivers are still at risk, despite the dual role they play as effective tools in mitigating climate change and as economic drivers for the region.

From Paris to Patagonia

In late 2015, the world's leaders met in France and reached a global climate agreement known as the Paris agreement. As part of the agreement, 189 out of 196 governments made specific, measurable commitments to reduce carbon emissions. These voluntary commitments, labeled INDCs- Intended Nationally Determined Contributions- differ for each country; some are more ambitious than others. Chile's INDC is modeled on a carbon intensity target, which aims to reduce emissions per GDP unit 30 percent below 2007 levels by 2030 and shift energy production to renewable energies. The plan is rated "inadequate" by the researchers at Climate Action Tracker.

The problem for Patagonia is not that these emission cuts aren't ambitious enough, but rather that corresponding energy policy looks at large dams as if they are the right answer to climate change. In 2015, the Ministry of Energy concluded Chile could achieve 70 percent renewables by 2050, which will help meet the goal of 30 percent emissions reductions. While the ministry studied different scenarios, all of the models assumed large dams would be part of the mix. Most of these large dams would be located in the south, where powerful rivers rule supreme and could run turbines year-round—albeit less and less each year. One of the many consequences of climate change in Patagonia is a pronounced drop in precipitation, which must be factored into any discussions about proper water use and management.

The Futaleufu River.Jakub Sedivy

For many, more troubling than a policy that prioritizes large dams is a policy that is designed to give companies a roadmap for which watersheds should be dammed first. In 2014 the Ministry of Energy commissioned a watershed mapping study, currently in Phase II. The study assesses watersheds from the Maipo basin near the capital of Santiago to the Yelcho basin in Patagonia, home to the world-renowned Futaleufú River, which in the past has been targeted for hydro generation. This effort has triggered alarm in these communities, where local leaders are joining together to denounce both the study and the confusion generated by having a regional government that supports conservation and tourism and a national government that appears to prioritize dams.

This policy of mapping watersheds for energy generation predates what is referred to as the HydroAysen case. In 2014, this controversial dam project in the Aysen region of Chilean Patagonia had its permit invalidated. The invalidation came after years of campaigning, including research procured by the Council for the Defense of Patagonia, a coalition of Chilean organizations including international partners such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, debunking a myth that Chileans need to accept dams to keep the lights on. It also triggered a response from the private sector to seek government assurances for future dam projects, which resulted in the launch of the watershed mapping study that same year.

Prior to the HydroAysen case, it was logical for policymakers to assume as a foregone conclusion that large hydro would play a major role in Chile's future. For many years the question being asked in Chile wasn't whether its rivers would be dammed, but rather which ones would be first. In 2010, Chile's first minister of the then-new Ministry of Energy announced that hydroelectricity was the country's "main richness in terms of energy resources". Now that the conversation has changed and other renewable technologies are both cost-effective and competitive in the energy market, policymakers can be more ambitious in calling for the protection of Patagonia's rivers while also being pro-development.

Ultimately, getting to 100 percent renewables and no new dams would require major changes to Chile's regulatory framework, which still benefits large development projects like dams and coal plants. The latest debate surrounds revisions to the Electricity Law. When the law was passed in 1983, large-scale dams were seen as less controversial than they are today. With so many many gigantic, glacial-fed rivers, dams would have been the only form of renewable energy that was feasible for wide scale implementation. A new bill to revise the law is being criticized for promoting large infrastructure projects like dams in Patagonia, despite being hailed as a tool to promote nonconventional renewable energies (NCREs) like wind and geothermal.

Six watersheds being prioritized by Chile's energy ministry for hydroelectric development.

According to Juan Pablo Orrego, director of the Santiago-based environmental group Ecosistemas, the proposed bill would create development zones from Santiago to Aysen, which he and others are calling "sacrifice zones." According to Orrego, the bill would make it easier to build transmission lines for use in shipping energy generated from Patagonia to other parts of the country or even across the border to neighboring Argentina. "Oddly enough, the bill is supposedly designed to promote NCREs, but in reality it is just promoting more megadams."

These legislative moves, which are in keeping with a pro-dams energy policy, run counter to new research showing better alternatives.

New Research

From a global perspective, Chile is tremendously fortunate. New studies show the country doesn't have to choose between coal—which contributes to global warming and has other social and environmental costs—and large dams, which bring their own problems. This new research could form the basis for future policymaking to address climate change, both by preserving freshwater resources and taking an ambitious approach to greening the grid.

In 2015, the NewClimate Institute in Germany analyzed the missed benefits of Chile's INDC. Researchers concluded that Chile could save $5.3 billion USD per year and create approximately 15,000 new jobs by implementing energy policies that aimed to hit 100 percent renewable energies, with no new large hydro. The NewClimate study was submitted to Chile's Ministry of Environment in mid 2015 by the Mesa Ciudadana de Cambio Climático, a Chilean coalition of more than 20 groups working to inform policymaking on topics like energy policy and climate justice.

Going further is Stanford University's Solutions Project, a global initiative to catalogue each country's energy roadmap with the goal of determining how the world can shift entirely to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. According to Stanford's analysis, Chile can achieve 100 percent renewables with just 6.7 percent coming from all forms of hydropower (and a whopping 54 percent from solar). These figures are far different from the Ministry of Energy's analysis, which started with assumptions many critics disagree with.

Kayak on the middle section of the Fuy River.Jakub Sedivy

Together, studies like those by Stanford and the NewClimate Institute show policymakers could be discussing ways for Chile to become a global leader by making sure energy policy and water conservation are both optimized for addressing climate change. The Stanford project's director, Professor Mark Jacobson, highlights the need for informed policymaking. "I believe that getting information into the hands and minds of people is the most significant barrier that needs to be overcome to grow large scale implementation of renewables." Better planning is needed not only for conservation but also to seek more ambitious emissions reductions and help the world achieve the goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, as established by the Paris agreement.

Let Patagonia's Rivers Run

In Chile the protection of rivers has yet to become a national priority, but the tide is shifting. One solution is to establish new legislation that would protect rivers due to their wild or scenic value. This model has worked in other countries and could be an effective tool in Chile, where several rivers still flow to the sea or have sections that are still undeveloped. It could also be incorporated into the national plan for climate change mitigation, proposed by researchers at the University of Chile's Center for Climate Science and Resilience (CR2).

Juan Pablo Orrego of Ecosistemas argues the need to pass deep reforms that are not biased in favor of large hydro development. "Watersheds that empty into the sea are incredibly important for climate change. Their estuaries produce coastal habitats that are rich in phytoplankton, which act as tremendous carbon sinks. If you seek other sources of renewable energy, you are actually combating climate change just by keeping the rivers wild."

The concerns of watershed advocates like Orrego echo an international consensus, as indicated in the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. A scientific report presented during the Paris talks details how the goals include sustainable management of water resources. Specifically, target 6.6 focuses on "protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes" by 2020. But these ecosystems can't be saved if countries like Chile decide that large dams are still the answer to climate change. And in March 2016, the UN excluded large hydro-electric dams (defined as above 50MWs) from its global calculations of renewable energies. Though the reasons it gave were difficulties measuring large dams as they come online and political uncertainties, the move is seen as an attempt to narrow in the definition of renewable energies. The international debate concerning large hydro is important for countries when planning for carbon reductions.

Ralco dam at Biobio River.Roberto Araya

It remains to be seen whether the people designing Chile's national energy policy can adjust. In January 2016, the same Committee of Ministers that invalidated the HydroAysén permit upheld the permit granted to build Energía Austral's 640MW hydro project on Patagonia's Río Cuervo. One month prior, they upheld the permit for the Mediterraneo project on the Puelo River (see Map.) Together these approvals suggest a political unwillingness to reverse plans that were already in place, even though the plans may no longer be relevant or needed to shift to a 100 percent renewable target.

Pangue dam at the Biobio River.Álvaro Maurín

In economic terms, Patagonia's rivers are important for inland communities that depend on sightseeing and adventure tourism. And they are critical for coastal communities that thrive on the same marine ecosystems that act as carbon sinks. These communities need nutrients carried to the sea by unobstructed rivers. Going forward, better information about the locations of these rivers can help inform both the public and policymakers about what is at stake if this energy policy isn't turned around.

Rather than letting Patagonia's rivers be dammed, diverted or destroyed, Chilean policymakers could incorporate river conservation into the country's response to climate change. Doing so would demonstrate leadership over climate issues. By revising energy policy to exclude large hydro as a priority and establishing a river protection law similar to the "wild & scenic rivers" designation found in other countries, Chile could become a global leader on climate and ensure its rivers flow unobstructed from the mountains to the sea.

Patrick Lynch is an environmental attorney in Chile and participates in the Citizens' Committee on Climate Change, which presents renewable energy studies to the Chilean government. Since 2013, he has served as International Director for Futaleufú Riverkeeper, a Patagonia-based NGO. This article was supported by an EcoPatagonia reporting grant from Patagon Journal in partnership with Earth Journalism Network. More info here.

This article was supported by an EcoPatagonia reporting grant from Patagon Journal in partnership with the Earth Journalism Network.

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By EWContributorClimate
Trump Doubles Down on Climate Science Denial Live on FOX

By Sierra Club Political Committee

Donald Trump doubled down on his fringe climate change conspiracy theories on FOX news (watch at minute 4:00) late last night, confirming that he still believes it is a "hoax" when pressed by Bill O'Reilly.

Trump's continued dismissal of science would keep him isolated on the world stage, where every single world leader acknowledges the dangers and science of climate change (you can find and read quotes from every world leader here).

It's clear why Clinton pummels Trump by 38 points on the issue of climate change, the widest spread between them on any single issue, according to Gallup.

"If Donald Trump thinks he can negotiate with the hard facts of climate science, he's going to fail just as badly as he did in Atlantic City," Khalid Pitts, Sierra Club national political director, said. "His unhinged conspiracy theories denying science would embarrass our country around the world and endanger families across the country who are already feeling the pain of extreme droughts and storms fueled by the climate crisis."

Here's the transcript of Trump on FOX News:

O'REILLY: Okay. But did you ever call climate change a hoax?

TRUMP: Well, I might have because when I look at some of the things that are going on, in fact, if you look at Europe where they had their big summit a couple of years ago, where people were sending out emails, scientists practically calling it a hoax and they were laughing at it. So, yes, I probably did. I see what's going on and you see what's going on.

O'REILLY: Do you believe that that man-made fossil fuels and gases have eroded the environment so that the sun is more intense on Earth? Because that's the basic thing? Do you believe that's happening?

TRUMP: Well, they are saying man made and I say it could have a minor impact but nothing, nothing to what they're talking about.

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PA Court Disregards Constitutional Obligation to Future Generations

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania dismissed the constitutional climate change lawsuit Tuesday brought by seven young plaintiffs. The court found that the plaintiffs had standing to bring their case because climate change was a substantial, direct and immediate threat to them. However, the court declined to follow Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent that determined that Pennsylvania's constitutional Environmental Rights Amendment imposes an affirmative duty on the Commonwealth to "conserve and maintain" Pennsylvania's public natural resources for both present and future generations.

Attorney Kenneth Kristl with two of the seven youth plaintiffs, Kaia Elinich (left) and Ashley Funk (right). Our Children's Trust

The plaintiffs brought the lawsuit against Gov. Tom Wolf and six state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board. This case is one of several similar state, federal and global cases, all supported by the nonprofit Our Children's Trust and all seeking the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate.

In this case, the youth are seeking to protect their constitutional rights to clean air, pure water and other essential natural resources that their lives depend upon, but that are currently threatened by climate change. Their complaint states that government defendants are failing to fulfill their constitutional obligations by failing to adequately regulate CO2 emissions.

The suit was filed by the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic, at Widener University Delaware Law School, with Associate Professor of Law and Clinic Director Kenneth Kristl as lead counsel.

"We are disappointed with the court's decision," Kristl said. "We believe the Commonwealth Court failed to consider and apply correctly the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Robinson Township decision and the new contours for Article I, Section 27 that it carved out. We are optimistic that the Supreme Court's consideration of this matter on appeal will lead to a different result."

Ashley Funk, one of the seven plaintiffs, was recently featured on Heat of The Moment, WBEZ Chicago's long-term project about climate change. Listen to her share her story about growing up in coal country here.

"After arguing our position on June 6th, my fellow plaintiffs and I really believed that the court would rule in favor of our lawsuit—and our generation—by allowing our case to proceed," Funk said.

"With recent victories in Juliana, et al. v. United States of America, et al. and a similar lawsuit in the state of Washington, we had hope that Pennsylvania would follow suit. I am disappointed in the court's decision to uphold the preliminary objections. But I know that our case is grounded in our rights to a livable climate and so we will continue pushing this case until Pennsylvania takes adequate and measurable action to address climate change."

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By ZergNet
By Katie PohlmanAnimals
Take an Underwater Virtual Reality Tour of One of the World's Most Biodiverse Regions

Over a decade ago, Bird's Head Seascape was just another example of the damage overfishing and destructive fishing practices can cause on coral reefs. But, the community stepped in, and the region is now thriving.

Diver with Schooling Scads at Arborek Jetty.Photo credit: Jeff Yonover, Bird's Head Seascape

Valen's Reef, a virtual reality movie shot in 360-degrees, explores the Raja Ampat Islands in the Coral Triangle and the progress Bird's Head Seascape has made. Local-fisherman-turned-reef-scientist Ronald Mambrasar narrates the movie, recounting the history of the region and the Bird's Head Seascape initiative to his son, Valen:

"When the illegal fishermen came, we welcomed them at first. They brought us gifts. After they dropped bombs and poison, we would scoop up the fish for them. The fish and coral started to be lost. We knew it was not right."

Mambrasar was one of the locals who joined Conservation International and a group of international non-governmental organizations, local and national governments, universities, local organizations and coastal communities when the initiative started in 2004. The goal of the initiative was to balance the needs of the human population while protecting natural resources in the region. So far, the project has developed 12 multiple-use marine protected areas in the Bird's Head Seascape.

The red box marks the Bird's Head Seascape and the islands it incorporates.Photo credit: Bird's Head Seascape

Thanks to these efforts, the reef had rebounded: fish populations have recovered; sharks, whales and rays have returned; poaching has decreased by 90 percent; and coral is regrowing.

Mambrasar tells his son: "I want to be able to give you all of the nature that is here now."

The Bird's Head Seascape is home to the highest coral reef biodiversity in the world. Covering 22.5 million hectares, it is home to 1,711 species of fish, more than 600 species of coral, and 17 species of whales and dolphins. It also claims to have the most extensive mangrove forest and sea grass beds, and the world's largest pacific leatherback sea turtle nesting beaches.

Mobula feeding frenzy of the coast of southern Raja Ampat. The mobula, species of eagle ray, are swarming baitfish.Photo credit: Jeff Lemelin, Bird's Head Seascape

Almost 4 million hectares are protected by the 12 marine protected areas. The seascape also contains the coral triangle's first shark and ray sanctuary.

Take a tour of the seascape and listen to Mambrasar's story in the video below. Use the arrows in upper left corner to explore the views in 360-degrees:

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By Katie PohlmanBusiness
Morocco Bans Plastic Bags

A plastic bag ban went into effect this month in Morocco, the second-largest plastic bag consumer after the U.S. But, officials say, its going to take some time for shops and retailers to get used to the new law.

Morocco's ban on the production and use of plastic bags went into effect July 1 after the plastic ban bill was passed by parliament in October 2015. As the July 1 deadline approached, shop owners scrambled to find and collect reusable bags. Green campaigners, AlJazeera reported, say consumers may need years to fully comply with the ban.

"It's a big cultural shift with that type of broader law," Jennie Romer, a New York-based lawyer," told AlJazeera. "As long as the government has the motivation to really enforce that. There is a lot of potential. The government entity that is implementing it has to be completely on board in order to make that really happen in practice."

Morocco uses about 3 billion plastic bags a year, according to the Moroccan Industry Ministry. The U.S. uses about 100 billion a year, according to the Earth Policy Institute, and 1 trillion are used globally per year.

The North African country has been working on banning plastic bags for years. A ban of the production and use of black plastic bags was put in place in 2009, but the bags were still being produced.

This time around, officials hope to prevent that situation by providing alternate solutions. Moulay Hafid Elalamy, industry minister and initiator of the bill, tweeted that bags made of paper and fabric will be made widely available.

Yassine Zegzouti, president of Mawarid, said changing consumer habits will be the toughest part.

"The formal sector will need four to five years to comply with the new law," Zegzouti said. "But the use of plastic bags is anchored in [consumer] habit. All actors need to change these habits to not have any damage in the future."

Morocco is ranked one of the world's greenest countries, along with Costa Rica, Bhutan and Ethiopia. The country's biggest achievements come in cracking down on carbon emissions and production of solar power. It is considered a green leader among developing nations.

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By 350.org GreenpeaceClimate
3 Reasons We Oppose a Congressional Move to Protect Exxon

By Annie Leonard and May Boeve

It's an unprecedented move to demand that 17 Attorneys General, as well as environmental and non-profit groups, including Greenpeace USA and 350.org, turn over internal documents and communications related to our work to expose Exxon's climate denial. But that's what Rep. Lamar Smith and other Republican members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology did a couple months back.

Greenpeace / Rex Curry

Every one of us has declined to comply, pointing out numerous troubling legal issues that the committee and Chairman Smith choose to ignore. Rep. Smith has continued to disregard these concerns, as well as our offer to engage in further dialogue, demanding our constitutionally protected communications. Communications that serve the public interest, unlike Chairman Smith's demands.

Not to be outdone, Rep. Smith is now trying a more aggressive approach, by issuing subpoenas to the Attorneys General of New York and Massachusetts and the same groups targeted in the first three rounds of over-reaching demands.

We have declined to comply with those subpoenas and here's why:

Constitutional Rights Violations

Chairman Smith and his Republican Committee colleagues bombastically claim that their crusade is to protect ExxonMobil's First Amendment rights, as well as those of so-called scientists and front groups that deny climate change. Actually, no one is restricting their freedom of speech. The Attorneys General investigations are aimed at determining whether or not Exxon committed fraud by sowing doubt about climate change after recent investigative reports confirmed that it has known for decades the serious dangers climate change posed.

At the same time, the Republican members of Congress behind this charade are in fact infringing on our freedom of speech. They are asking independent organizations dedicated to protecting the environment to disclose our constitutionally protected communications, in order to silence our voices about Exxon's role in climate denialism.

Ironic, isn't it?

Lack of Jurisdiction Over Ongoing Investigations

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology has no right to meddle with investigations being conducted by state law enforcement authorities. The mandate of the New York and Massachusetts Attorneys General is completely independent from the federal government. That's the basis of our democracy.

Investigations into Exxon must ensue; only then will the American people be closer to knowing the truth about what the company and the whole fossil fuel industry did to put their profits over people and the planet. We acknowledge and support the work these Attorneys General started based upon revelations from the media and non-profit organizations.

Vague, Overbroad and Unreasonably Burdensome Requests

Rep. Smith and other Committee Republicans are not asking for something specific—nor do they have a good reason for their demands. Rather, they have asked for all of our communications since 2012 relating to investigations into Exxon's colossal climate denial scheme. They're hoping it will take a very considerable amount of resources from our organizations to review and produce these documents.

This is a tactic from the corporate playbook to turn attention away from the actual investigations into Exxon and to make it too burdensome for non-profit organizations with limited resources, such as ours, to continue our cause.

As we have reiterated in our responses to Rep. Smith, we will always cooperate with any authorized and legitimate inquiry of Congress or anyone else. This is not one of those inquiries.

We demand accountability, not only from Exxon and its enablers on climate denial, but also of our elected representatives who seem to be protecting corporations over people's rights.

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By Lorraine ChowAnimals
This Popular Insecticide Is Lowering Sperm Count in Honey Bees by 40%

Neonicotinoids, a common and highly controversial class of insecticides linked to catastrophic bee deaths, could be significantly lowering the sperm count of male drone honey bees and cutting their life span by a third, Swiss researchers found.

Bees are dying in unsustainable numbers, and this latest study is further evidence that an extremely common pesticide might be behind it. Flickr

Researchers from the Institute of Bee Health at the University of Bern, Switzerland discovered that male drone honeybees that ate pollen treated with two popular "neonics"—thiamethoxam and clothianidin—produced nearly 40 percent less sperm than those that did not.

When sperm from both sets of drones were put under the microscope, the ones treated with neonics produced 1.2 million living sperm on average while the control group produced 1.98 million. The authors said that the insecticides "can serve as inadvertent insect contraceptives." A drone's main role is to mate with the queen bee.

"While no significant effects were observed for male teneral (newly emerged adult) body mass and sperm quantity, the data clearly showed reduced drone lifespan, as well as reduced sperm viability (percentage living versus dead) and living sperm quantity by 39 percent," the report states.

The results showed, for the first time, that neonicotinoids can negatively affect male insect reproductive capacity. The authors said their study might explain the declining population of wild insect pollinators as well as queen bee failure in managed fields.

"Because queen survival and productivity are intimately connected to successful mating, any influence on sperm quality may have profound consequences for the fitness of the queen, as well as the entire colony," the report said.

Geoffrey Williams, the study's co-author and University of Bernsenior bee researcher, told the Associated Press he does not know how exactly the insecticides might be damaging the sperm, but it seems to be happening after they are produced.

In another alarming discovery, the researchers found that 32 percent of the neonic-exposed drones died before reaching sexual maturity, compared to 17 percent of the unexposed controls. The average lifespan of insecticide drones was around 15 days, significantly lower than controls's lifespan of 22 days.

"This could have severe consequences for colony fitness, as well as reduce overall genetic variation within honeybee populations," the authors said.

The study was published today in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

As the Associated Press pointed out, the worrisome population decline of pollinators can come down to a combination of many culprits, such as mites, parasites, disease, pesticides and poor nutrition. However, U.S. Department of Agriculture bee scientist Jeff Pettis, who was not part of the neonicotinoid study, suggested that poor sperm health may account for about a third of the growing crisis.

Neonicotinoid-maker Bayer Crop Science spokesman Jeffrey Donald told the AP that the company will review the study, but in general "artificial exposure to pesticides under lab conditions is not reflective of real-world experience."

Peter Campbell from Syngenta, the maker of thiamethoxam, told the Guardian that the study was interesting but added, "given the multiple mating of honeybee queens it is unclear what the consequences of a reduction in sperm quality would actually have on queen fecundity."

This latest study adds to the mounting scientific evidence that neonicotinoids—which are used on many crops in the U.S.—are harmful to pollinators. As Friends of the Earth wrote, bees are crucial to food production but are dying at unsustainable rates, with an unprecedented average of 30 to 40 percent loss of all honeybee colonies each year.

An investigation by the environmental group, Buzz Kill: How the Pesticide Industry is Clipping the Wings of Bee Protection Efforts Across the U.S., has found that the pesticide industry is stifling urgently needed reforms that would help these essential pollinators survive and rebuild their numbers.

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By Lorraine ChowBusiness
7 Major Environmental Issues Already Spoiling the Rio Olympics

From doping scandals to security concerns, the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil has been embroiled by one crisis after another—and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

As athletes and hundreds of thousands of tourists around the world descend into Rio de Janeiro, here are seven health and environmental controversies that have already made headlines before the Aug. 5 Opening Ceremony.

The polluted Guanabara bay in Rio where rowing and sailing will be held.Flickr

1. Polluted Waterways

Rio's epic water pollution has been going on for two decades due to a lack of modern sanitation programs. Despite Olympic organizers's promise to clean the city's waterways at their 2009 bid, trash, raw sewage and even body parts have been a presence at water sport venues.

At Guanabara Bay—where rowing and sailing will be held—tons of noxious raw sewage gets pumped into the bay each day. Oceanographer David Zee told CBS News that the Brazilian government planned to install eight treatment plants on Rio's polluted rivers but only built one. Officials promised to treat 80 percent of the sewage flowing into the bay but have gotten to only half. USA Today Sports reported that organizers will use a short-term and (purely cosmetic) water treatment method so the waters will glisten blue for television broadcasts.

In fact, Rio's Olympics will bring none of the environmental improvements that were originally pitched. An official from Brazil's Federal Audit Court, which audits the federal government's spending, told Reuters: "As for now, we have nothing relevant to report about what was done in the environmental area."

2. Super Bacteria

In related news, last year, the Associated Press published its results from an eight-month study of Rio's water venues, concluding that none were safe for swimming or boating, with more than 1 billion viruses from human sewage in a single liter of water from the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake. Water samples were 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.

That leads us to this conundrum. As EcoWatch mentioned last month, antibiotic-resistant super bacteria has been found in waters that will host the swimming portion of the triathlon and in the lagoon where rowing and canoe athletes will be competing. Two studies have connected five beaches—Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Botafogo and Flamengo—and the Rodrigo de Freitas to the superbug bacteria. Scientists say the super bacteria can cause hard-to-treat urinary, gastrointestinal, pulmonary and bloodstream infections, which contribute to death in up to half of infected patients. Meningitis has also been linked to exposure to the superbug.

3. Zika

A number of high-profile athletes, especially golfers, have dropped out of the Summer Games due to Zika fears. The mosquito-borne virus, which has spread throughout the South American country, has been declared an international public health emergency by the World Health Organization. Some scientists have suggested that global warming is exacerbating the problem, which is linked to microcephaly in babies. Infectious diseases, such Zika and dengue, could spread as aedes aegypti mosquitoes expand their habitats in a warmer, wetter world, one study found. Experts, however, have said that there is little risk of Zika spread. The southern hemisphere is also currently in the middle of winter, making the threat of bites even lower. Still, the epidemic has only further impaired Brazil's struggling public health system, and will continue be a problem when the games conclude.

4. Golf Course Trampling on Nature

Golf's return to the Olympics should have been celebrated. However, not only are some of the sport's biggest stars skipping Rio due to Zika, instead of using the city's two existing golf courses, organizers decided to build a completely new one from scratch. Biologist and environmental activist Marcello Mello told the Guardian that the new course encroaches on the Marapendi reserve, home to rare butterflies, pines and other species not found anywhere else in the world, calling the construction an "environmental crime."

"They are destroying the Atlantic Forest, which is part of our national heritage," he added. Mello also alleges that the city is using the Olympics to help foster business for development companies. "Without a doubt, the Olympics are a giant real estate scam," he said. This is not to mention that thousands of people living in Rio's favelas have been notoriously pushed out of their homes for Olympic construction.

5. Jaguar Killing

Last month, a jaguar—the Brazilian Olympic team's mascot—was shot and killed at the Olympic torch passing ceremony. As EcoWatch reported, the female jaguar was shot after the female jaguar escaped from her handlers, sparking outcry from animal activists.

"Wild animals held captive and forced to do things that are frightening, sometimes painful and always unnatural are ticking time bombs—captivity puts animal and human lives at risk," the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote in a blog post.

Jaguars are a near-threatened species with an estimated 15,000 left in the wild, according to Defenders of Wildlife.

6. Public Transportation Mishaps

When Rio organizers made their bid for the summer games seven years ago, they suggested a number of improvements to ease the city's terrible traffic, which causes severe congestion, noise and air pollution from vehicle exhausts. However, the organizers probably did not anticipate that a crippling recession would affect their plans. The city's government declared a state of financial disaster last month, impacting Olympics-related infrastructure projects.

Rio's new 10-mile rail line, which cost $1.2 billion more than its initial estimate, may not be completed in time before the opening ceremony. A bike lane collapsed in April, killing two people. And according to the Associated Press, the new light rail system suffered a major power outage on the second day of service and the month-old highway near Barra da Tijuca is already damaged with potholes and large cracks.

7. The Danger of Environmental Activism

Protesting any of the environmental or health issues above might be a danger in itself. Brazil happens to be the nation of the highest death toll of environmental activists. Global Witness revealed 50 confirmed murders of environmental activists last year.

"I know there is a risk to this work. It is dangerous to campaign for the environment in Brazil," Mello told the Guardian about his Occupy Golf Campaign. "But I love nature and somebody has to do this job. If I die for this cause, it will be worth it."

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By Common DreamsEnergy
TransCanada's Plan B 'Is Truly Keystone XL on Steroids'

By Deirdre Fulton

The pipeline giant TransCanada, stymied in its attempt to drive Keystone XL through America's heartland, is facing renewed opposition to its "new and equally misguided proposal" to build the Energy East pipeline across Canada and ship tar sands oil via tankers along the U.S. East Coast to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Over the course of a single year, the NRDC states, tankers could carry 328 million barrels of tar sands oil down the East Coast—enough oil to fill more than 20,000 Olympic pools.Andrew Priest / Flickr

In partnership with a number of Canadian and U.S. environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)—a major player in the fight to defeat Keystone XL—on Tuesday released a report outlining how Energy East would "effectively create a waterborne tar sands pipeline with hundreds of new oil tankers traversing the Atlantic coastline, making vast areas of the Eastern Seaboard vulnerable to a dangerous tar sands spill."

Indeed, the group notes that the Gulf of Maine, Acadia National Park and the Florida Keys are all in the pipeline's "crosshairs," as well as iconic marine species and billion dollar commercial fisheries on the East Coast, including New England and Atlantic Canada's lobster and sea scallops fisheries.

NRDC

And that's on top of the pipeline's climate impacts. According to the NRDC analysis, Energy East would bring a significant increase in carbon pollution—equivalent to the annual emissions of as many as 54 million passenger vehicles—and lock in high-carbon infrastructure expected to operate for at least 50 years.

"TransCanada's Energy East proposal is truly Keystone XL on steroids," said Joshua Axelrod, a co-author of the report and NRDC policy analyst. "It's all risk and no reward for millions of Canadians and Americans, iconic landscapes, valuable fisheries and our climate."

With the report, Tar Sands in the Atlantic Ocean: TransCanada's Proposed Energy East Pipeline , the NRDC joins a chorus of existing Energy East opponents.

The project is currently under consideration by the National Energy Board (NEB), with hearings expected to begin in Saint John, New Brunswick, on August 8.

In making its argument, the NRDC leans on a 2016 study by Canada's National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which found that large portions of diluted bitumen—which Energy East would transport—can be expected to sink if spilled in water. The same report found that current regulations and spill response techniques are incapable of managing the unique behavior and higher risks of tar sands diluted bitumen spill in water.

A press statement from Greenpeace Canada notes that the NEB refused to consider the same NAS study in its Kinder Morgan pipeline analysis.

"To be at all credible, the National Energy Board must give the NAS study a central role in its review of Energy East," said Matt Abbott of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

Meanwhile, the NRDC is calling for a tar sands oil tanker moratorium in U.S. and Canadian waters until appropriate spill response techniques are developed to address a diluted bitumen spill into water.

But beyond that, many say the pipeline simply should not be built. Pointing to the devastating pipeline leak that flooded the North Saskatchewan River with 200,000 liters of tar sands crude last week, the Council of Canadians on Monday warned that spills are "inevitable and permanent consequences of transporting oil."

"When thinking about the future we want, let us remember that the proposed Energy East pipeline crosses 90 watersheds, nearly 3,000 waterways and puts the drinking water of over 5 million people at risk along its route," wrote energy and climate justice campaigner Daniel Cayley-Daoust.

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