A new hotel is sparking controversy with its central conceit: a polar bear enclosure visible from all of its 21 rooms.
"Polar bears belong in the Arctic, not in zoos or glass boxes in aquariums – and certainly not in hotels," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia senior vice president Jason Baker told Reuters. "Polar bears are active for up to 18 hours a day in nature, roaming home ranges that can span thousands of miles, where they enjoy a real life."
A video shared by the South China Morning Post shows two bears in a small enclosure with harsh lighting, artificial ice and small pools of water.
The hotel is part of the Harbin Polarland theme park, according to Reuters. Harbin is the capital city of the northeasternmost Chinese province of Heilongjiang. It hosts a famous ice-carving festival, and the new hotel is shaped like an igloo, according to an AFP story published by The Guardian.
Harbin Polarland spokeswoman Yang Liu told Reuters that the indoor enclosure is only part of the bears' habitat, and that they also have an outdoor area they are allowed to access when the temperature and air quality are appropriate. However, the hotel advertises 24-hour viewing access to the bears.
"Whether you're eating, playing or sleeping, polar bears will keep you company," Harbin Polarland wrote on WeChat Thursday, as Reuters reported.
For this opportunity, guests pay $290.10 to $351.56 a night, and Liu said interest in the hotel was "very high."
However, activists are calling on guests to avoid a hotel that makes money "from animals' misery," AFP reported.
China has faced global criticism for animal rights' abuses, including the use of endangered species in traditional medicines and the treatment of animals in zoos and circuses.
"Gaps in China's wildlife protection law allows businesses to exploit animals without any concern for their welfare," an anonymous spokesman for China Animal Protection Network told AFP.
However, there are signs that things are shifting. Authorities banned the use of wildlife for food following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Further, in January of 2020, a video showing a pig being forced to bungee jump at a Chinese amusement park earned widespread social media backlash within the country, as EcoWatch reported at the time.
"The Chinese public's angry response should be a wake-up call to China's policy-makers to implement animal protection laws immediately," Baker told BBC News in response.
The new hotel has also earned criticism from Chinese social media users.
"Looking at a polar bear slowly having a mental breakdown up close? Such a small place, with so much lighting and so many windows. You should first try putting humans in," one commenter wrote, as South China Morning Post reported.
- Climate Change, Oil Development Threaten Alaska's Polar Bears ... ›
- Polar Bears Are Increasingly Resorting to Cannibalism - EcoWatch ›
Beijing skies turned yellow Monday as air pollution reached hazardous levels after the worst sandstorm in a decade coincided with an industrial boom following last year's COVID lockdown.
The sandstorm clouded northern China from Xinjiang in the far west to the Bohai Sea in the east, canceling flights and closing some schools, The New York Times reported. In Beijing, the Air Quality Index (AQI) reached a hazardous 999 at one point, according to The Guardian.
"Beijing is what an ecological crisis looks like," Li Shuo of Greenpeace Asia wrote on Twitter. "After two weeks of smog and static air, strong wind carries a sand storm in, sending AQI off the chart. It's hard to claim we are moving forward when you can't see what's in front."
Beijing is what an ecological crisis looks like. After two weeks of smog and static air, strong wind carries a sand… https://t.co/SkIiTHJvJG— Li Shuo_Greenpeace (@Li Shuo_Greenpeace)1615770468.0
Beijing's air quality had already been poor due to a resurgence of industrial activity as China emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. Li told The New York Times that industrial pollutants around the Chinese capital had surpassed the average for the last four years. Authorities in Tangshan, a steel-making city often responsible for pollution in Beijing and Hebei, said Saturday that they would punish companies for not carrying out anti-pollution measures, The Guardian reported.
Then came the sandstorm. It began as a snow storm in Mongolia over the weekend, where it cut power and led to at least nine deaths, according to The New York Times. At least 341 people in Mongolia were also reported missing, The Guardian reported.
The storm then sent the dust south, according to CNN. The concentration of larger PM 10 particles in Beijing passed 8,100 micrograms per cubic meter. The especially dangerous PM2.5 air pollutants, small particles that can infiltrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream and other organs, reached a high of 655 micrograms per cubic meter Monday. The World Health Organization has set the safe level at 25.
"In some places, there are strong sandstorms with visibility of less than 500 meters (1,640 feet)," the China Meteorological Administration said in a statement reported by CNN. "This is also the strongest dust and sand weather affecting China in almost 10 years."
This combination of smog and sandstorm returned Beijing to the type of "airpocalypse" common a few years ago, before the government stepped up anti-pollution efforts, The New York Times reported.
"I couldn't see the building across the street," Wang Wei, a 23-year-old college graduate, told The New York Times. "I didn't think the sky could be this yellow."
Normal vs. today #Beijing https://t.co/koo2f7NjSF— 霍炳宗 (@霍炳宗)1615766702.0
The sandstorm is also a blast from China's pre-regulation past, as they were common in the latter half of the 20th century, CNN reported. The storms used to occur twice in May, largely due to drought, a growing population and desertification in the country's north and northwest.
Beginning in 2000, the government made an effort to implement reforestation projects and improve warning systems. These efforts paid off, and the amount of sandstorm days in Beijing fell from 26 a year in the 1950s to three after 2010.
This round of storms is expected to last through Tuesday.
- Could Fracking Spark a Modern-Day Dust Bowl? - EcoWatch ›
- Modern-Day Dust Bowls Devastate Regions Throughout the World ... ›
- A Massive Dust Cloud Is Moving From the Sahara to the U.S. This ... ›
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Concerns about the environment and pandemics like the coronavirus have made a growing number of people hungry for meat alternatives, The Guardian reported Tuesday. At the same time, the plant-based meat market in the country is growing to satisfy this need, and analysts say China could even become a global player in the industry.
"[W]ith a local abundance of non-GMO soybeans and huge capacity to process plant-based raw materials including soy and pea, China has the potential to play a major role in accelerating the plant-based meat trend around the world by increasing production and bringing down costs," Global Food Institute Asia-Pacific (GFI-APAC) managing director Elaine Siu said in a 2019 GFI report.
Meat consumption in China has risen significantly since the 1960s, when the average person consumed five kilograms (approximately 11 pounds) of meat per year, The Guardian pointed out. By 2015, that number had risen to 48 kilograms (approximately 106 pounds). In the U.S., for comparison, per capita meat consumption was 218.6 pounds in 2018, according to Dr. Derrell Peel at Oklahoma State University.
China still eats 28 percent of the world's meat and half of its pork, according to The Guardian. Its meat market is worth $86 billion. However, in 2016 the Chinese government announced a plan to reduce meat consumption by 50 percent in the country and urged its citizens to limit their meat intake to 40 to 75 grams a day. While the government has not done much to forward this goal since the initial ad campaign, it is notable because few countries have incorporated the issue of meat consumption into their plans to address the climate crisis.
At the same time, there are signs that the food culture in the country is shifting. The vegan market in China was expected to grow 17.2 percent from 2015 to 2020, the fastest growth rate in the world, Inside Retail Asia reported in 2016. In Shanghai, the number of vegan restaurants rose from 49 in 2012 to more than 100 in 2017, Business World reported.
Even among those who don't identify as vegan or vegetarian, the new interest in plant-based meat is catching on, GFI reported. While more than 90 percent of Chinese people surveyed by the institute did not identify as meat-abstainers, 86.7 percent of them had tried plant-based meat. In 2018, the country's domestic plant-based meat industry was $910 million and experiencing a yearly growth-rate of 14.2 percent.
This is evident in restaurants across the country, The Guardian noted. KFC in China sells vegan chicken nuggets, while Burger King offers an Impossible Whopper and Starbucks offers Beyond Meat products. Domestic plant-based companies are also getting in on the action. Hong-Kong based OmniFoods has placed plant-based pork in McDonalds in Hong Kong and Aldi, White Castle and Starbucks in mainland China. It also is launching in 13 other countries this year.
This represents a real growth opportunity for China and the world, according to GFI. The country is already a major exporter of plant proteins and has great capacity to continue being so. As of 2016, it had the capacity to process up to 79 percent of global soy protein isolate, 50 percent of global textured soy protein and 23 percent of global soy protein concentrate.
Within China, OmniFoods is opening a factory next year, and hopes to decrease the cost of plant-based foods, which are currently more expensive than meat alternatives. However, the CEO of plant-based mince-maker Z-Rou thinks he can persuade middle class consumers to adopt the new foods despite the higher price.
"They would even be willing to pay more as they know they're getting a healthier product that's helping ensure the future of the planet their children are inheriting," CEO Franklin Yao told The Guardian. "That's priceless."
- Bill Gates Says Wealtheir Countries Should Switch to Plant-Based ... ›
- Why People Become Vegans: The History, Sex and Science of a ... ›
- Most Meat Will Be Plant-Based or Lab-Grown in 20 Years, Analysts ... ›
On Friday, China set out an economic blueprint for the next five years, which was expected to substantiate the goal set out last fall by President Xi Jinping for the country to reach net-zero emissions before 2060 and hit peak emissions by 2030.
While the plan calls for a "major push" on clean energy development, a few aspects have left climate experts with questions about how exactly the world's largest emitter will hit its stated climate goals. For example, the plan did not include a ban on new coal projects, nor did it set a "carbon cap" to define what peak emissions will be, instead setting a carbon intensity target that is the same as in the previous five-ear plan.
However, some are hopeful that the government will announce more detailed regulations on carbon-intensive construction and manufacturing industries later this year, and that more details will be laid out in an upcoming separate five-year plan for the energy sector. Fan Dai, director of the California-China Climate Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, told Quartz that the plan is "simply aggregating existing targets from last year."
Dai added that "[t]here's a lot of room for further development and ambition, especially around those targets that were missing that we hoped would be included."
As reported by The Guardian:
China will reduce its "emissions intensity" – the amount of CO2 produced per unit of GDP – by 18% over the period 2021 to 2025, but this target is in line with previous trends, and could lead to emissions continuing to increase by 1% a year or more. Non-fossil fuel energy is targeted to make up 20% of China's energy mix, leaving plenty of room for further expansion of the country's coal industry.
Swithin Lui, of the Climate Action Tracker and NewClimate Institute, said: "[This is] underwhelming and shows little sign of a concerted switch away from a future coal lock-in. There is little sign of the change needed [to meet net zero]."
Zhang Shuwei, chief economist at Draworld Environment Research Centre, said: "As the first five-year plan after China committed to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, the 14th five-year plan was expected to demonstrate strong climate ambition. However, the draft plan presented does not seem to meet the expectations. The international community expected China's climate policy to 'jump,' but in reality it is still crawling."
For a deeper dive:
Ecuador authorities are keeping tabs on a fleet of roughly 260 fishing boats near the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ecuadorian boats are patrolling to try to stop the fishing boats from entering the area, according to Reuters.
The ships are just outside the perimeter of the 188-mile-wide economic zone. "This fleet's size and aggressiveness against marine species is a big threat to the balance of species in the Galápagos," Yolanda Kakabadse, former environment minister told The Guardian.
Chinese vessels travel to the region each year in search of marine species, including endangered hammerhead sharks.
"Unchecked Chinese fishing just on the edge of the protected zone is ruining Ecuador's efforts to protect marine life in the Galápagos," Roque Sevilla told The Guardian.
Sevilla, former mayor of Ecuador's capital, Quito, was tasked with designing a "protection strategy" for the islands, which lie 563 miles west of the South American mainland. He said the first step would be diplomatic efforts requesting the withdrawal of the Chinese fishing fleet.
Past Chinese fleets have violated international boundaries to capture marine life. In 2017, a Chinese vessel was caught in the marine reserve with 300 metric tons of wildlife, mostly consisting of sharks, according to the BBC.
"We are on alert, [conducting] surveillance, patrolling to avoid an incident such as what happened in 2017," Ecuadorean Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin told reporters, the BBC reported.
So far, the Chinese fishing boats have stayed in international waters, Reuters reported.
In a series of tweets, Ecuador's president, Lenin Moreno, used #SOSGalapagos to draw attention to the boats surrounding the protected islands. He described the islands as "one of the richest fishing areas and a hotbed of life for the entire planet," SkyNews reported.
BBC reported that Moreno plans to hold consultations with Colombia, Peru, Chile, Panama and Costa Rica in order to confront the threat.
Kakabadse told The Guardian that Ecuador will also try extending the economic zone to a 350-mile circumference around the islands in order to connect with the mainland's economic zone, effectively closing off the international water corridor where the Chinese fleet is currently located.
- Half of World Heritage Sites at Risk From Fossil Fuel Development ... ›
- Protecting the Galapagos Islands - EcoWatch ›
- Boat Carrying 600 Gallons of Oil Sinks off the Galápagos - EcoWatch ›
Agriculture officials also told anyone who received one of the packages to alert authorities. They are worried the seeds could harm the environment by introducing invasive species, insect pests or diseases.
"Invasive species wreak havoc on the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects and severely damage crops," the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said in a news release Friday, as CNN reported.
"Taking steps to prevent their introduction is the most effective method of reducing both the risk of invasive species infestations and the cost to control and mitigate those infestations."
VDACS urges #Virginia residents who have received unsolicited seed packets from #China not to plant the seeds & con… https://t.co/K58ogfefc1— VDACS (@VDACS)1595858211.0
The seed packages have been mailed to people in several states. Photos shared online by agricultural departments show they come in white or yellow packaging and have Chinese characters and the words "China Post" on the outside, according to The New York Times. Several packages falsely claimed to contain jewelry. Some reported in Louisiana claimed to contain ear buds or toys, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry said.
It is not yet clear why the seeds were sent.
"At this point in time, we don't have enough information to know if this is a hoax, a prank, an internet scam or an act of agricultural bio-terrorism," Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said, as CBS News reported. "Unsolicited seeds could be invasive and introduce unknown diseases to local plants, harm livestock or threaten our environment."
The police department in Whitehouse, Ohio said the seeds appeared to be linked to an internet scam called "brushing," in which online vendors send cheap, unsolicited items and then write positive reviews on the part of the receiver in order to boost their business.
"Although not directly dangerous, we would still prefer that people contact us to properly dispose of the seeds," the police wrote on Facebook.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investigating the situation and also said there was no evidence the seeds were sent for any purpose besides a brushing scam.
"USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment," the department said in a statement.
#APHIS is working closely with @CBP and State Depts of Ag re: unrequested seeds. If received, pls contact State Dep… https://t.co/xjivlSAR1P— USDA APHIS (@USDA APHIS)1595879809.0
In addition to Virginia, Louisiana, Kentucky and Ohio, agricultural departments have issued warnings about the packages in Washington State, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Florida, Kansas and Alabama, according to The New York Times. People also received the seeds in Utah and Arizona, according to local news reports. Officials in Arkansas, Michigan, New Jersey and Oregon also put out warnings about the packages but did not say if any of their residents had received them.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the country's postal service had asked for the packages to be sent back to China for further investigation, but that their records appeared to have been falsified, Reuters reported. Wenbin said the Chinese postal service worked to follow the rules for sending seeds.
Seeds imported into the U.S. for the first time usually follow a strict procedure overseen by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Penn State University plant pathology expert professor Carolee Bull told The New York Times.
"Say that when I import seed into the country that has not been here before — wheat seed, for example — I know they'll bring it in and they'll actually grow it out at the A.P.H.I.S. facility to check it for disease," she said.
But, in the case of the mysterious seeds, that hasn't happened.
"The reason that people are concerned is — especially if the seed is the seed of a similar crop that is grown for income and food, or food for animals — that there may be plant pathogens or insects that are harbored in the seed," Bull said.
- Planting Non-Native Trees Accelerates Carbon Release Back Into ... ›
- How to Turn Your Yard Into an Ecological Oasis - EcoWatch ›
- Invasive Species Have Led to a Third of Animal Extinctions Since 1500 ›
- Are Species That Relocate Because of Climate Change Invasive? ›
- Invasive Species Cost Billions of Dollars in Damages Annually, Researchers Find ›
By Harry Kretchmer
Since its launch in 2016, over half a billion people have used Ant Forest to convert lower-carbon activities such as using public transport into real trees.
The Ant Forest Model
"Ant Forest taps into the best of human ingenuity and innovation to create a better world," said Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme – which in 2019 gave the project the UN's top environmental award.
So how does it work?
To start with, Ant Forest has plenty of potential players, being part of China's Alipay mobile payments app, which is used by more than a billion people.
Each time a user performs a lower-carbon activity, such as paying a utility bill online or cycling to work, they are rewarded with "green energy points."
However, rather than immediately spending those points on a real tree, Ant Forest turns its users into game players. The green energy points "grow" into a virtual tree on the user's app. And users can share green energy with friends and see how their virtual forests compare with others.
For every virtual tree grown, Ant Forest donates – and plants – a real one. And this gamification has had real-world impacts.
The world is getting greener, with China and India leading the way. NASA / Nature Sustainability
A Greening China
According to a study in Nature Sustainability, NASA satellites have revealed a 5% increase in global green leaf cover since the early 2000s – with China leading that growth.
While a third of Chinese greening is due to the expansion of agriculture, 42% comes from projects to plant forests. According to the UN, Ant Forest has become the country's largest private sector tree-planting scheme – so the game is a big part of China's greening.
And the locations for planting are ambitious: arid areas of Northern China like parts of Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Shanxi. Many of the 122 million Ant Forest trees have been planted in areas that have become deserts.
There has been some criticism. In 2019, the journal Nature reported concerns that holding back deserts with trees could put pressure on water supplies. Scientists in China responded that local conditions are taken into account. Drought-resistant varieties, such as the "saxaul" shrub, are used by Ant Forest.
The project is certainly ambitious. In 2019, Alipay's parent company, Ant Financial Group, said the trees covered some 112,000 hectares. And there are sizable spillover benefits, too.
Environment and People
The young trees maintain and repair eroded soils, as well as reduce global CO2 levels.
Another major gain from the project has been employment. Ant Financial Group said 400,000 job opportunities have been created through Ant Forest, many for local farmers.
But if the trees are donated by Ant Financial, why not simply plant the trees and cut out the virtual ones?
The reason, as the UN puts it, is "significant behavioural change." Gamification has encouraged millions of people to adopt lower-carbon lifestyles.
The success of the project has now led to a similar initiative in the Philippines, launched by the mobile payments provider GCash.
The project is an encouraging step, according to the UN's Andersen.
"Although the environmental challenges we face are daunting," she said, "we have the technology and the knowledge to overcome them and fundamentally redesign how we interact with the planet."
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
- The Pros and Cons of Planting Trees to Address Global Warming ... ›
- How to Turn Cities Into Urban Forests - EcoWatch ›
- Planting Billions of Trees Is the 'Best Climate Change Solution ... ›
- China's First Fridays for Future Sees Teen Planting Trees - EcoWatch ›
The Trump administration began the formal process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization (WHO), a White House official said Tuesday, even as coronavirus cases continue to surge in the country.
President Donald Trump first began attacking the WHO's handling of the new coronavirus in April, when he made the decision to halt funding. But public health experts and Congresspeople from both sides of the aisle say leaving the organization will make Americans, and people around the world, less safe in the midst of a pandemic that has sickened more than 11 million people and killed more than 544,000, according to Wednesday morning figures from Johns Hopkins University.
Lawrence Gostin, who directs the WHO's Collaborating Center on National & Global Health Law, said the withdrawal was "among the most ruinous presidential decisions in recent history," according to a statement reported by The New York Times.
"It will make Americans less safe during an unprecedented global health crisis," Gostin, who cosigned a letter to Congress from 750 health and legal experts opposing withdrawal, said. "And it will significantly weaken U.S. influence on W.H.O. reform and international health diplomacy."
Thread explains why US w/drawal from @WHO is unlawful & unethical, among most ruinous presidential decisions in his… https://t.co/BK4SsmPARP— Lawrence Gostin (@Lawrence Gostin)1594154039.0
Trump first announced he would pull the U.S. from the organization May 29, arguing that it had responded too slowly to the pandemic and was under the "total control" of China, NPR reported. But the organization issued its first warning about the new virus Jan. 4, just five days after the first announcement from local health authorities in Wuhan, China, The New York Times pointed out. It had completed a detailed report by the next day.
In order to withdraw from the WHO, the U.S. must pay any unpaid dues — which stood at $198 million as of June 30 — and give a year's notice, NPR explained. The UN confirmed to reporters that it had received that notice and was checking with the WHO if all the conditions for withdrawal had been met.
"On 6 July 2020, the United States of America notified the Secretary-General ... of its withdrawal from the World Health Organization, effective on 6 July 2021," UN Secretary-General António Guterres's spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric wrote in an email to reporters.
The yearlong delay means the withdrawal might not go into effect at all if Trump loses to Democratic rival and former Vice President Joe Biden in November's Presidential election.
"Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health," Biden tweeted in response to the news. "On my first day as President, I will rejoin the @WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage."
Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health. On my first day as President, I will re… https://t.co/qNgyOKHOlE— Joe Biden (@Joe Biden)1594154693.0
But it isn't only Democrats speaking out against Trump's withdrawal.
"I disagree with the president's decision," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement reported by NBC News. "Certainly there needs to be a good, hard look at mistakes the World Health Organization might have made in connection with coronavirus, but the time to do that is after the crisis has been dealt with, not in the middle of it. Withdrawing U.S. membership could, among other things, interfere with clinical trials that are essential to the development of vaccines, which citizens of the United States as well as others in the world need. And withdrawing could make it harder to work with other countries to stop viruses before they get to the United States."
Public health experts agreed with Alexander's assessment of the risk. In their letter to Congress, the 750 health and legal experts wrote that, by leaving the organization, the U.S. would lose access to the WHO's system for sharing data and vaccines. The U.S. also contributes more funds than anywhere else to the WHO's Health Emergencies Program, which means withdrawal will cost the whole world funds for contact tracing and vaccine development.
The U.S. historically has contributed around 15 percent of the WHO's overall budget, or $450 million a year. Beyond COVID-19, that money helps fund programs fighting health concerns like polio, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
"Pulling funding could reverse hard-won progress and erode the ability of the U.S. to shape and lead policy," the letter writers said.
- Trump Halts WHO Funding Amidst Criticism of His Own Coronavirus ... ›
- WHO Suspends Trial of Trump-Touted COVID-19 Treatment ... ›
A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.
The Bayannur city health commission confirmed the diagnosis and issued a third-level alert, the second from the bottom in a four-level system. Mongolian health authorities are also investigating a second suspected case involving a 15 year old who developed a fever after coming into contact with a marmot that had been hunted by a dog, China's Global Times tweeted.
#Mongolia discovered another suspected patient infected with the bubonic plague. The 15-year-old patient had a feve… https://t.co/AHQBW0KH1X— Global Times (@Global Times)1594018342.0
"At present, there is a risk of a human plague epidemic spreading in this city. The public should improve its self-protection awareness and ability, and report abnormal health conditions promptly," the local health authority said, according to China Daily.
The bubonic plague caused the Black Death that killed around 50 million people in Africa, Asia and Europe during the 14th century, according to BBC News. But public health experts say it is unlikely to give the new coronavirus a run for its money as a global pandemic.
"Unlike in the 14th Century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Stanford Health Care infectious disease physician Dr. Shanti Kappagoda told Heathline, according to BBC News. "We know how to prevent it. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics."
Bubonic plague is caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium which is spread from infected rodents to humans by fleas, according to The New York Times. In Inner Mongolia, the rodents in question are usually marmots, and the health alert put in place by Bayannur health officials warns against eating, hunting or transporting potentially infected animals and urges people to report diseased or dead rodents. The alert will remain in place till the end of the year, according to BBC News.
The plague can come in different forms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic. The latter is consistently fatal if left untreated and can be spread person to person via respiratory droplets, according to The New York Times. The bubonic plague is fatal 30 to 60 percent of the time if not treated. Antibiotics can cure it if administered early.
Symptoms of bubonic plague include swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills and coughing, according to CNN. Pneumonic plague infects the lungs.
The plague in both its forms is an example of how the exploitation of nature and the consumption of wild animals can put humans at risk from deadly pathogens. A 1911 pneumonic plague epidemic in northeast China, which killed around 63,000 people, is believed to have been spread by the trade in marmot fur. Last week, two brothers in Mongolia caught bubonic plague from marmot meat, and a couple in Mongolia died of the plague after eating marmot kidney last May.
Worldwide, the plague infects 1,000 to 2,000 people a year, according to World Health Organization data reported by CNN, though that is likely an underestimate.
An average of seven cases are reported every year in the U.S., according to the CDC.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that there are two forms of plague. There are actually different forms and three common ones, and the article has been updated to reflect this. The source of this information has also been modified.
- Plagues Follow Bad Leadership in Ancient Greek Tales - EcoWatch ›
- Black Death Is Back! Two Cases of Plague Confirmed in China ... ›
- Bubonic Plague Found in Colorado Squirrel - EcoWatch ›
Scientists in China have identified a strain of H1N1 that is rapidly spreading amongst workers in the country's pig farms. They warn that the fast spreading strain of swine flu has pandemic potential, if it is not contained quickly, according to The New York Times.
An outbreak of H1N1 caused widespread fear in 2009 when it killed 285,000 people around the world. The new strain is a derivative of H1N1, according to the scientists who published a paper on it on Monday in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The disease, which researchers called the G4 virus, now shows "all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus," said the study, as CNN reported.
The researchers say that the disease is not yet an immediate problem, but they noted that pig farm workers also showed elevated levels of the virus in their blood, and that "close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented," as Reuters reported.
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University's public health school, urged the public to remain calm and not "freak out," according to CNN.
"Our understanding of what is a potential pandemic influenza strain is limited," she posted on Twitter. "Sure, this virus meets a lot of the basic criteria but it's not for sure going to cause a hypothetical 2020 flu pandemic, or even be a dominant strain in humans."
Chinese researchers based at several institutions, including Shandong Agricultural University and the Chinese National Influenza Center, discovered the G4 virus during a pig surveillance program, according to CNN. Over a seven-year span, from 2011 to 2018, the researchers took more than 30,000 nasal swab samples from pigs in slaughterhouses and veterinary teaching hospitals across 10 Chinese provinces.
Those samples revealed 179 swine influenza viruses, but only a fraction of them posed any concern to the researchers, as several only showed up in a single year while others declined to non-threatening levels.
The strain in question though, G4 EA H1N1, has been common on China's pig farms since 2016 and replicates efficiently in human airways, according to the study. So far, it has infected some people without causing disease, but health experts worry that means the virus is lurking and mutating into something different and a sudden change can happen without warning, according to The New York Times.
Recent evidence "indicates that G4 EA H1N1 virus is a growing problem in pig farms, and the widespread circulation of G4 viruses in pigs inevitably increases their exposure to humans," the study said.
In the last three years of the study, researchers collected blood samples from workers on various pig farms and from people in nearby households. The study found that 10.4 percent of the workers and 4.4 percent of the others tested positive for G4 EA H1N1, and that 20.5 percent of workers between the ages of 18 and 35 tested positive for the virus, as The New York Times reported.
"It may be that with further change in the virus it could become more aggressive in people much as SARS-CoV-2 has done," said Ian H. Brown, the head of the virology department at Britain's Animal and Plant Health Agency and one of two scientists who reviewed the paper before it was published, in an email to The New York Times.
The good news is that there is no evidence yet that G4 could spread from person to person, the most promising sign so far, according to Carl Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington who spoke to CNN.
"This is not a *new* new virus; it's been very common in pigs since 2016," he wrote on Twitter. "There's no evidence that G4 is circulating in humans, despite five years of extensive exposure. That's the key context to keep in mind."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news conference on Tuesday that China was closely following developments. "We will take all necessary measures to prevent the spread and outbreak of any virus," he said, as Reuters reported.
Whether or not the virus does spread in humans remains to be seen, but it is a reminder that our animal farming practices increase our susceptibility to animal diseases.
"Pig farming is a massive industry in China and pigs can be important hosts from which novel influenza viruses may emerge," said James Wood, head of veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge, to CNN. He added that the study was a "salutary reminder that we are constantly at risk of new emergence of zoonotic pathogens and that farmed animals, with which humans have greater contact than with wildlife, may act as the source for important pandemic viruses."
- If Factory Farm Conditions Are Unhealthy for Animals, They're Bad ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
- Jane Goodall: COVID-19 Is Result of Our Unhealthy Relationship ... ›
By Chris Arsenault
A first ever study has provided detailed estimates of greenhouse gas emissions across the entire soy producing agribusiness sector in Brazil. The study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, found that countries and companies in the European Union and China importing soy from Brazil have driven deforestation there, causing a marked increase in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly when the soy came from certain regions.
While deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has garnered global attention, a new wave of precipitous native vegetation loss is being seen in the Cerrado, Brazil's savanna biome, and is a major cause of concern to climate change researchers. Brazil's Cerrado grasslands are being cleared of forest at an alarming rate to expand soy plantations — along with ranches — to meet global demand.
In fact, soy exported from newly cleared lands in some savanna municipalities caused the release of as much as 200 times more greenhouse gas emissions than soy coming from other parts of Brazil, according to the new study, which was conducted by researchers from Germany, together with partners from Spain, Belgium and Sweden.
The extreme regional disparities in emissions from different parts of the country came as a surprise to the researchers, and could offer a detailed map to policymakers as to where to focus carbon emission reduction efforts to achieve the greatest benefit.
"One of the big takeaways: there is no average supply chain for soy exports from Brazil. We need to take into account these [major] regional differences," in deforestation, transportation infrastructure, and resulting emissions, said Dr. Neus Escobar, the study's lead author and a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Bonn in Germany.
A soy plantation in the Brazilian Cerrado. Alicia Prager / Mongabay.
The new Brazil-wide soy dataset also offers insights into how countries and companies contribute to carbon emissions via deforestation occurring in Brazil. The information could help nations and the soy commodities industry reduce deforestation, and thereby emissions, by fine tuning their supply chains, purchasing decisions and climate change mitigation plans.
"This gives crucial information to stakeholders to improve environmental performance," Escobar added in an interview with Mongabay. Companies importing Cerrado soy now have been alerted that deforestation there is producing high greenhouse gas emissions, so they can work actively with soy producers to avoid clearing new land for Cerrado plantations, she said.
Total greenhouse gas emissions from Brazilian soy exports were estimated at 223 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. China was the largest importer of Brazilian soy during the study period which ran from 2010 to 2015, and responsible for 51% of associated carbon dioxide emissions, while the European Union was responsible for 30%.
But per unit of soy, Europe's carbon footprint from Brazilian imports is larger than China's, the study said. European Union imports were also more likely to cause new deforestation (causing more recent carbon releases), compared to imports from China.
"This [finding] is surprising because China is a much bigger [soy] importer," Javier Godar, a study co-author and senior researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute said in an interview with Mongabay. "In the end, Europe is importing a bit more carbon dioxide emissions associated [with] deforestation embedded in soy [production] than China."
That's because much of the soy consumed in EU countries like Spain and Germany comes from the northern Cerrado where current rates of deforestation are especially high now, Godar explained. China, on the other hand, imports most of its Brazilian soy from the southern Cerrado, which has already converted a lot of its native vegetation to croplands.
A tractor works to turn deforested land into a soy field in São Desidério, Bahia state, Brazil in 2017. Jim Wickens Ecostorm / Mighty Earth
Lucia von Reusner, campaign director at Mighty Earth, a U.S.-based environmental NGO, said the study is crucial for highlighting deforestation risks in Brazil's Cerrado. "It's one of the world's most biodiverse savannas and a huge concern for people who care about some of the world's most beautiful and threatened species." Also, "Deforestation is one of the biggest drivers of climate change."
The region has been dubbed an "underground forest" due to the complex root systems of shrubs and small trees, which retain soil and sequester tremendous sums of carbon, she added in an interview with Mongabay. "When the soy industry moves in, all of that is ripped up and burned. All the carbon stored in the roots, trees and soils is burned and released into the atmosphere."
The Cerrado, dubbed "Brazil's last agricultural frontier" has some of the highest deforestation rates in Latin America, von Reusner said, with only 50% of its native vegetation remaining. The greatest CO2 emissions occurring in the Cerrado during the 2010-15 study period arose in the so-called MATOPIBA region, comprising the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí, and Bahia. Though the study offered no current deforestation or carbon emission data, MATOPIBA continues to be an agribusiness powerhouse today, a center of soy production and deforestation.
This map shows total carbon dioxide emissions embedded in Brazilian soy imports for different regions between 2010 and 2015. The European Union imported 67.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions embodied in Brazilian soy, while China imported 118.1 million tons of emissions. Escobar, N. et al.
This graph shows total carbon dioxide emissions embodied by Brazil soy imports in major soy importing countries from 2010 to 2015. Escobar, N. et al.
Examining Total Emissions From Soy
The study is the first to provide an estimate of greenhouse gas emissions across the entire soy sector in Brazil with such a high level of detail. To come to their conclusions, researchers analyzed data from 90,000 different soy supply chains between 2010 and 2015.
Soy is the most internationally traded agricultural commodity on earth, so analyzing data and strategies to reduce its impact on climate change is crucial for policymakers who want to preserve forests while simultaneously reducing emissions.
"This study does a good job in noting where along the supply chain we can pinpoint to reduce emissions," said University of California, Santa Barbara, land systems scientist Robert Heilmayr. He researches deforestation in Brazil and was not involved in the recent study.
The depth of the paper's data helps underscore how the Cerrado is "a new frontier in deforestation," he added, and establishes the importance of including the savanna in any plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, as compared to other soy producing regions of Brazil.
In the Amazon rainforest, a moratorium on clearing new lands for soy was launched in 2006, which greatly reduced the conversion of rainforests to make way for new soy plantations. The moratorium continues to work, though Amazon deforestation is increasing due to intense cattle ranching and mining pressures. One study found that the slowing of soy growth in Amazonia, merely shifted and intensified soy production in the Cerrado.
Extending the Amazon Soy Moratorium into the Cerrado, via the so-called Cerrado Manifesto or other initiatives — something transnational commodities companies have strongly resisted — could help reduce deforestation related to soy there, Heilmayr and others contend.
Data was gathered from 90,000 soy supply chains and shows how the amount of greenhouse gases released from soy production, processing and export varies between Brazilian municipalities, and from year to year. This map indicates carbon dioxide emissions from soy exports from around Brazil between 2010-15. Escobar, N. et al.
Complicated Supply Chains
Deforestation isn't the only cause of soy-related emissions, Escobar explained. Transportation of soy from remote rural production areas to the South American coast especially by truck is another significant driver of carbon emissions.
In some inland communities in Brazil's center-west region, where poor infrastructure means soy needs to be trucked over long distances, transportation accounts for about 60% of total carbon emissions, especially from export-oriented municipalities in Goiás and Mato Grosso states. This has in part justified vigorous efforts to construct less carbon intensive rail lines and industrial waterways connecting Brazil's interior with its coastal ports — though environmentalists worry about the deforestation such infrastructure might bring with it.
The global trade in agricultural food products more than doubled between 2000 and 2015, from US$600 billion to over US$1,300 billion, according to data from the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). But most of the soy exported from Brazil isn't actually eaten by people, explained Reusner; it's primarily used for animal feed or biodiesel.
To produce enough food for a growing global population, she said transnational companies should incentivize producers to not clear forests for new plantations, but plant soy on land that's already been degraded. Studies have shown that Brazil has plenty of degraded land to meet global commodity demands, without causing any new deforestation.
"There is enough degraded land across Latin America to meet the needs of global markets to avoid compromising some of our last remaining ecosystems," she said.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
- Amazon Deforestation Is Causing 20% of Forests to Release More ... ›
- To Stop Amazon Deforestation, Brazilian Groups Take Bolsonaro to ... ›
- Deforestation in Brazilian Amazon Increases for 13th Consecutive ... ›
- Deforestation in Amazon Skyrockets to 12-Year High Under Bolsonaro - EcoWatch ›
Beijing, China's capital city, has reintroduced strict lockdown measures after a fresh cluster of positive COVID-19 tests was traced back to a fresh food market, according to CNN.
Beijing had opened back up recently and had seen the gains it made in improving air quality quickly vanish as vehicular congestion clogged up the city's streets. Now it may see those gains return, after Beijing discovered 79 symptomatic new cases of the coronavirus since Thursday, according to NPR.
All the new cases were traced back to the sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food market on the city's south side. The robust market supplies the city and its surrounding areas with 1,500 tons of seafood, 18,000 tons of vegetables and 20,000 tons of fruit on a daily basis, according to the market's website, as NPR reported.
As The New York Times noted, more than 10,000 people work at the market, which supplies 90 percent of Beijing's fruits and vegetables, according to the state media. The virus was reportedly detected on cutting boards for imported salmon there.
China's state media described its latest effort to curb a potential outbreak in Beijing as a "wartime mechanism." Within that wartime mechanism, authorities swiftly shut down the Xinfadi market, partly or fully closed five others, and locked down 11 nearby residential communities and nine schools in the nearby area. It also started to restrict travel in and out of the city, barring tour groups from other provinces and suspending sporting events, according to official statements and local news, as The New York Times reported. Additionally, across the city, plans for first through third grade students to return to school on Monday were scrapped.
"The risk of the epidemic spreading is very high, so we should take resolute and decisive measures," Xu Hejian, a spokesman for the Beijing city government, said at a press briefing on Monday. On Sunday, he said Beijing had entered "an extraordinary period," as The Guardian reported.
Beijing authorities have a tall order ahead them to initiate contact tracing for people at the market several weeks ago. The first new positive COVID-19 case, which was confirmed on Thursday, came from a man who bought seafood and produce at the market on June 3. He said he did not have any recent travel history, so authorities do not know where he became infected. After he tested positive, two more cases were identified the following day, and the market was sealed off on Saturday morning, according to NPR.
Even though the market was closed, the number of cases continued to rise. In addition to the 79 positive cases, authorities have identified at least 48 asymptomatic cases. Those people are being kept in quarantine.
At the market, Beijing authorities tested nearly 6,000 people working there on Saturday, as well as over 2,300 surfaces. All tested negative. Authorities are also asking everyone who has been in or near the market since May 30 to take a nucleic acid exam, according to NPR.
On Sunday, Beijing ordered all companies to require any employees who have visited the Xinfadi market or had contact with those at the market to quarantine at home for 14 days.
Yang Peng, an epidemiologist with the Beijing city government, told state media the virus resembled the European strain rather than the Wuhan strain, but more investigation was needed, according to The Guardian.
"It is found that the virus came from Europe and the preliminary assessment is that the virus came from overseas. But it is not clear how the virus came into this market," Yang said, according to state media, adding that the virus could have been on contaminated meat or spread from the feces of people at the market, as The Guardian reported.
- Coronavirus Shutdown Leads to 'Dramatic' Decline in Chinese ... ›
- Addressing the Climate Crisis Strengthens Economies, New ... ›
- Bluer Skies, Less Greenhouse Gas. What Happens After the ... ›