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By Steve Horn and Itai Vardi
Believe it or not, there's a key connection to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, in the fight over North America's controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
One of President Donald Trump's first actions in office was to sign an executive order on Jan. 24 expediting the approval of the Keystone XL. Owned by TransCanada, this tar sands oil pipeline was halted by former President Barack Obama in November 2015. Trump signed another order on Jan. 24, calling for steel for U.S. pipelines to be made in the U.S. to the "maximum extent possible" and two days later TransCanada filed a new presidential permit application for Keystone XL with the U.S. Department of State.
Critics, such as John Kemp of Reuters, pounced on the caveat language in Trump's steel order and noted that it appears "designed to preserve lots of wiggle-room." In fact, a DeSmog investigation reveals that much of the steel for Keystone XL has already been manufactured and is sitting in a field in rural North Dakota.
DeSmog has uncovered that 40 percent of the steel created so far was manufactured in Canada by a subsidiary of Evraz, a company partly owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who is a close ally of Putin and a Trump family friend. Evraz has also actively lobbied against provisions which would mandate that Keystone XL's steel be made in the U.S.
Abramovich is described in the 2004 book Abramovich: The Billionaire from Nowhere by British journalists Dominic Midgley and Chris Hutchins as "one of the prime movers behind the establishment of the only political party that was prepared to offer its undiluted support to Putin when he fought his first presidential election in late 1999. When Putin needed a shadowy force to act against his enemies behind the scenes, it was Abramovich whom he could rely on to prove a willing co-conspirator."
Evraz describes itself as "among the top steel producers in the world based on crude steel production of 14.3 million tonnes in 2015."
DeSmog's findings comes as Trump is under scrutiny from Congress, U.S. intelligence agencies and others for his personal and presidential campaign team's ties to Russia. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded in January that Russian state-sponsored actors had hacked into the email databases of both the Democratic National Committee and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign in order to influence the election in favor of Trump.
Meet Roman Abramovich
After helping launch Putin's presidency in Russia, Abramovich also was instrumental in the vetting and picking of Putin's cabinet, according to Midgley and Hutchins in their book. They also reveal that Abramovich was instrumental in the creation of Putin's political party, Unity.
Abramovich bought a 41 percent stake in the steel producer Evraz in 2006. Prior to that, he owned a 72 percent stake in the Russian state-owned oil company Sibneft, which was eventually purchased for $13 billion by the state-owned company Gazprom and became known as Gazprom Neft.
Before this, however, Sibneft merged in 2003 with the company Yukos, then owned by Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in an attempt to create what was envisioned as a competitor to the likes of ExxonMobil. Had it materialized, the resulting company, called Yukos-Sibneft, would have been at that point the fourth largest oil producer in the world.
Under pressure from Putin, however, and with what was reported as the helping hand of Abramovich, the deal was called off and Khodorkovsky ended up arrested and then jailed for eight years for alleged tax evasion and fraud. Abramovich's personal wealth doubled as a result of the later Sibneft-Gazprom merger.
The Telegraph reported that Abramovich met with Putin before the Yukos-Sibneft deal was tossed to the curb.
"The revelation of the meeting will fuel suggestions that the Kremlin is closely involved with the fate of the two companies," The Telegraph wrote at the time. "Many industry commentators saw [the] decision to halt the merger as a government-backed effort to further weaken Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former chief executive of Yukos and its largest shareholder."
Abramovich's influence would continue in the years ahead. The 2010 book The Crisis of Russian Democracy: The Dual State, Factionalism and the Medvedev Succession, written by Richard Sakwa, further describes Abramovich as someone "whose wealth in the Putin years increased at least tenfold and he remained one of Putin's closest confidants" while Putin carried out his first term as president.
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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.
Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.
Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.
SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.
It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.
Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.
In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.
The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).
"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.
The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.
"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.
By Karin Kirk
Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.
During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market. Cirou Frederic / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market, according to new research from the advocacy organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), which bills itself as an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors trying to reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first three years of development.
By Kerstin Palme
Creepy-crawlies are among the oldest life forms on this planet. Before dinosaurs ever walked the earth, insects were certainly already there. Some estimates date their origins to 400 million years ago. They're also extremely successful. Of the 7 to 8 million species documented on Earth, around three quarters are likely bugs.
But several insect species could disappear for good in the next few decades and that would have serious consequences for humans.
Volvo introduced its first-ever all-electric vehicle this week, kicking off an ambitious plan to slash emissions and phase out solely gas-powered vehicles starting this year.
The report, released Wednesday, found that almost every European who lives in a city is exposed to unhealthy air, Reuters reported.