New research presented Tuesday at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille sounded the alarm that wild relatives of some of the world's most important crops, including potatoes, avocados and vanilla, are at risk of extinction, said The Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN). The study was published in the journal Plants, People, Planet.
It emphasized that relatives of the 224 wild crops native to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have become staples in diets and clothing production across the globe, and that more than one-third of the wild species analyzed were at risk of extinction, mostly due to agriculture and pesticide use, The Guardian reported.
The Global Crop Diversity Trust collects crop wild relatives in Guatemala and Costa Rica. Global Crop Diversity Trust
Vanilla has the highest risk of extinction, the study found. All eight wild species of vanilla found in Mexico and Central America are listed as endangered or critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) red list of threatened plants and animals. Wild cotton is a close second, with 92 percent of species in the region at risk of extinction. More than half of avocado species and almost one-quarter of wild potato species are also at risk of disappearing.
These wild plants are ancestors of some of the oldest cultivated crops in the world, which were first domesticated by the Aztecs, Mayans and other civilizations between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, according to The Guardian.
The wild relatives are "veritable treasure troves of genetic information," said Jane Smart, director of the IUCN Biodiversity Group, according to FERN. Plant breeders use wild plants to develop varieties of popular crops that are more resilient to heat, drought and pests, which are all accelerated by climate change, said FERN. They're also used to produce higher-yielding crops, which will be crucial as the world's human population inches towards 10 billion.
At least 16 of the wild species studied are currently used to develop cultivated crops that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change, said The Guardian. Madagascar is a stark example of what could happen if not enough action on climate change is taken. The country is facing its worst drought in four decades and is on the verge of the world's first climate-fueled famine.
"The salinity of the soil is changing, and these plants don't have the capacity to adapt. Temperatures are rising. Because of climate change, pests and diseases will also alter and this can have a massive impact on cultivated plants. We could have shortages of these foods," Dr. Bárbara Goettsch, lead author of the research, told The Guardian.
Wild relatives of banana, apple, prunes and ginger are listed as threatened on IUCN's red list, said The Guardian.
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Smoke from wildfires burning in Siberia's dense boreal forest has reached the North Pole for the first known time in history, NASA satellite images revealed last week.
Smoke from the fires reaching the North Pole "is continental scale by definition," University of Maryland atmospheric scientist Santiago Gassó told Reuters.
According to the European Union's Copernicus satellite monitoring service, wildfires burning in the Siberian republic of Sakha, also known as Yakutia, have already emitted 505 megatons of carbon dioxide. Although the northern part of the region experiences some of the coldest temperatures on Earth, this winter brought record high temperatures.
The summer fires are being fueled by abnormally hot weather and a record 150-year drought, The Moscow Times reported. The United Nations report published Monday highlighted the past six years as the hottest on record worldwide.
Smoke fills the sky for roughly 2,000 miles from east to west and 2,500 miles north to south, stretching from the North Pole to Mongolia, and could also be seen over Nunavut, Canada and western Greenland, the NASA report revealed.
A satellite image shows fire hot spots and smoke stretching from Russia to the North Pole on Aug. 2, 2021. NASA Worldview
"The Republic of Sakha, Russia's largest territory, used to be known as the Kingdom of Permafrost, (now) is turning into the Capital of Wildfires," an Aug. 2 piece on the local impact of wildfire smoke published in the Siberian Times said. At the time, an estimated two million hectares of the Republic had burned this year.
This year's wildfires have burned more than 14 million hectares across Russia so far, making 2021 the second-worst fire season in the past two decades, The Guardian reported.
A lethal combination of extreme drought and heat has made this a record-breaking wildfire year across the planet, especially in Europe and North America, said The Guardian. California's Dixie Fire is the largest single fire in the state's history, USA TODAY reported, and nearly 5,800 sq km of forest in British Columbia has burned since the spring, with months still left in the fire season, The Guardian said.
Continental-scale transport of smoke from N American & Russian #wildfires around the N Hemisphere and across the Ar… https://t.co/FapoppqCca— Mark Parrington (@Mark Parrington)1628074754.0
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Solar panels allow you to harness the sun's clean, renewable energy, potentially cutting your electric bills as well as your environmental footprint. But do solar panels work on cloudy days, or during seasons of less-than-optimal sun exposure? For homeowners who live outside of the Sun Belt, this is a critical question to consider before moving ahead with solar panel installation.
In this article, we'll go over how solar panels work on cloudy days, whether solar panels work at night, and how to ensure you always have accessible power — even when your panels aren't producing solar energy.
How Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can use both direct and indirect sunlight to generate electrical power. This means they can still be productive even when there is cloud coverage. With that said, solar panels are most efficient and productive when they are soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days.
While solar panels still work even when the light is reflected or partially obstructed by clouds, their energy production capacity will be diminished. On average, solar panels will generate 10 to 25% of their normal power output on days with heavy cloud coverage.
With clouds usually comes rain, and here's a fact that might surprise you: Rain actually helps solar panels work more effectively. That's because rain washes away any dirt or dust that has gathered on your panels so that they can more efficiently absorb sunlight.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current. Without light, the photovoltaic effect cannot be triggered, and no electric power can be generated.
One way to tell if your panels are still producing energy is to look at public lights. As a general rule of thumb, if street lamps or other lights are turned off — whether on cloudy days or in the evening — your solar panels will be producing energy. If they're illuminated, it's likely too dark out for your solar panel system to work.
Storing Solar Energy to Use on Cloudy Days and at Night
During hours of peak sunlight, your solar panels may actually generate more power than you need. This surplus power can be used to provide extra electricity on cloudy days or at night.
But how do you store this energy for future use? There are a couple of options to consider:
You can store surplus energy in a solar battery.
When you add a solar battery to your residential solar installation, any excess electricity can be collected and used during hours of suboptimal sun exposure, including nighttime hours and during exceptionally cloudy weather.
Batteries may allow you to run your solar PV system all day long, though there are some drawbacks of battery storage to be aware of:
- It's one more thing you need to install.
- It adds to the total cost of your solar system.
- Batteries will take up a bit of space.
- You will likely need multiple batteries if you want electricity for more than a handful of hours. For example, Tesla solar installations require two Powerwall batteries if your system is over 13 kilowatts.
You can use a net metering program.
Net metering programs enable you to transmit any excess power your system produces into your municipal electric grid, receiving credits from your utility company. Those credits can be cashed in to offset any electrical costs you incur on overcast days or at night when you cannot power your home with solar energy alone.
Net metering can ultimately be a cost-effective option and can significantly lower your electricity bills, but there are a few drawbacks to consider, including:
- You may not always break even.
- In some cases, you may still owe some money to your utility provider.
- Net metering programs are not offered in all areas and by all utility companies.
Is Residential Solar Right for You?
Now that you know solar panels can work even when the sun isn't directly shining and that there are ways to store your energy for times your panels aren't producing electricity, you may be more interested in installing your own system.
You can get started with a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
FAQ: Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
How efficient are solar panels on cloudy days?
It depends on the panels, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect your solar panels to work at 10 to 25% efficiency on cloudy days.
How do solar panels work when there is no sun?
If there is literally no sunlight (e.g., at night), then solar panels do not work. This is because the photovoltaic effect, which is the process through which panels convert sunlight into energy, requires there to be some light available to convert.
However, you can potentially use surplus solar power that you've stored in a battery. Also note that solar panels can work with indirect light, meaning they can function even when the sun is obscured by cloud coverage.
Do solar panels work on snowy days?
If there is cloud coverage and diminished sunlight, then solar panels will not work at their maximum efficiency level on snowy days. With that said, the snow itself is usually not a problem, particularly because a dusting of snow is easily whisked away by the wind.
Snow will only impede your solar panels if the snowfall is so extreme that the panels become completely buried, or if the weight of the snow compromises the integrity of your solar panel structures.
Will my solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy or snowy days?
Cloudy days may limit your solar panel's efficiency, but you'll still be able to generate some electricity. Rainy days can actually help clean your panels, making them even more effective. And snowy days are only a problem if the snow is so extreme that the panels are totally submerged, without any part of them exposed to the sun.
Ron Goodman and his boss were training a new volunteer ranger at the North Etiwanda Preserve, a lush and rocky landscape in the foothills of the Cucamonga Wilderness, roughly 50 miles east of Los Angeles. They were looking out over an area of burn scar when Goodman spotted three men with duffle bags among the sand-colored boulders. He knew exactly what they were doing and took off running in their direction.
It was the first time the ranger had intercepted illegally harvested white sage, but it wouldn't be a unique experience.
"I cannot explain how difficult it is to march this stuff out. The bags can weigh 70 to 100 pounds. It's rocky terrain and there's no shade, we have rattlesnakes. And yet they still do it," said Goodman, a retired San Bernardino County ranger.
Poaching white sage for commercial sale, mostly bundled in smudge sticks or distilled into essential oils, has threatened the plant's survival in recent years. Police estimate the plant sells for around $30 per pound wholesale — and the industry is booming. But wild white sage has been disappearing in California for decades. Climate change, invasive species, unprecedented fires and sprawling development has chipped away at coastal sage scrub in Southern California, as well as the delicate web of species of flora that grow alongside it, many of them rare, threatened or endangered. Salvia apiana itself is unlisted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which keeps a database of threatened and endangered species.
The average processing time for the threatened and endangered species is 12 years, and plants usually take longer than animals. Despite official data regarding how much remains in the wild, the Indigenous people who have used white sage for centuries and ecologists and rangers who work in the area understand that it's disappearing.
"It doesn't even grow around Los Angeles anymore," said Goodman. "The plants are really suffering from the drought this year and because poaching has been going on for years, the plants haven't been allowed to reach their full size. That's in addition to what we've lost to development."
Human Development and Climate Change
The natural territory of coastal sage scrub spans from Santa Barbara to El Rosario in northwestern Baja California, occasionally popping up in patches along the central California coast. In Southern California, the shrubland exists almost entirely in the wildland-urban interface, where housing developments carve into swaths of wild vegetation. Development has transformed the complex network of grasslands, thickets of dwarf evergreen shrubs and riparian corridors that once ruled the landscape. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that due to human land conversion, only about 15 percent of the California Coastal Sage and Chaparral ecoregion remains intact.
Nothing in an ecosystem exists in a vacuum. White sage is mycorrhizal, meaning its roots form vital relationships with the beneficial fungi in the soil. So when the plant disappears from its native community, the absence throws the ecosystem out of balance. This paves the way for invasive grasses like Bromus rubens and Avena barbata. "These grasses create a flash fuel problem that allows fires to very easily spread through the area," said Arlee Montalvo, a retired senior plant restoration ecologist for the Riverside-Corona Resource Conservation District.
Nine of the 10 largest wildfires in California history have happened in the past nine years. All plants, including those in coastal sage scrub habitats, have adapted to regular bouts of fire. Some seeds even need the smoke to germinate. But flora today are faced with wildfires that burn at a temperature and with a frequency that they haven't evolved to withstand.
"In 2003, the human-caused Grand Prix burned with such intensity that the sage never came back," said Goodman.
A Trend That's Fueling Poaching
Like dietary supplements and medicinal herbs, the white sage market is almost completely unregulated. Consumers have no way of knowing what labels that dub products sustainably or ethically wildcrafted actually means — and some argue that harvesting sage for commercial use isn't ethical at all.
Under California State law, no one is allowed to harvest white sage growing on public land for commercial sale. Harvesting on private land is legal with written permission from the land owner, though Goodman said that is a rare occurrence.
"A lot of vendors say their product is sustainably sourced from the hills of California. Unless they can say exactly where it's grown, we can be pretty sure it's stolen," said Rose Ramirez, an ethnobotanist who lives in San Diego County and who is of Chumash and Yaqui descent.
In 2018, the Rancho Cucamonga Police Department made their largest bust to date. Four people had stuffed 400 pounds of poached white sage into backpacks that they'd plan to hike out of a valley in the North Etiwanda Preserve.
The following year, the department arrested 24 people for poaching white sage, according to police records. According to Goodman, deputies have used helicopters, infrared cameras and a bloodhound to surveil the area in the past, but a dwindling budget means just a few rangers are charged with patrolling the 1,200-acre area.
Susan Leopold, director of United Plant Savers, a non-profit dedicated to protecting native medicinal plants of the United States and Canada, calls the North Etiwanda Preserve the "mecca of the white sage mafia."
"The North Etiwanda Preserve is very unique, ecologically speaking, and white sage grows in big, lush clusters that don't appear anywhere else in California. It's easy to pick a lot quickly in the preserve," said Leopold. (Under state law, white sage in this specific area is protected under the California Endangered Species Act.)
Goodman is putting his second retirement to good use, too. He and a group of 12 core volunteers at the Cucamonga Foothills Preservation Alliance patrol the foothills, educating their neighbors on what to look out for and reporting suspected poachers to local law enforcement. The alliance has aided in the confiscation of 200 pounds of sage seeds and thousands of pounds of the harvested plant.
"When we encounter the poachers, they act on it. Three years ago, they weren't," said Goodman. "But law enforcement is now behind getting white more protection. They now understand the cultural and ecological significance."
Pushing for Transparency
A man bundles white sage, which is burned as an incense in blessings and sacred ceremonies, at the annual traditional agave roast at the Malki Museum on the Morongo Indian Reservation near Banning, California, April 11, 2015. DAVID MCNEW / AFP / Getty Images
Burning white sage is cultural appropriation for anyone who is not part of a culture that traditionally uses the sacred plant in ceremony. American Indian/Alaska Native people were subject for nearly a century to Eurocentric laws that jailed or even killed them for practicing their religions, including white sage. For these reasons, Native communities have been calling on non-Native people who burn sage to stop. While some argue that cultural appropriation should be reason enough to stop masses of non-AIAN people from using white sage, others see the commercial sale of white sage as something that is here to stay.
Ramirez is part of a group that's trying to get white sage recognized as a culturally significant plant at the state level, which could pave the way for it to eventually be recognized as threatened or endangered. This could save some white sage habitat from development. She's also among those who see working to make the industry more sustainable as the most realistic option to protect wild white sage, which can legally be harvested by local tribes for personal use.
"We are way beyond this idea of not selling white sage. It's being sold all over the world, by places like Wal-Mart and Alibaba," Ramirez told EcoWatch, noting that some wholesale listings are specifically marketed towards yoga studios.
While Ramirez and fellow ethnobotanist Deborah Small don't encourage non-Native people to use white sage, they recognize that it's now deeply rooted in pop culture, largely thanks to social media. In that case, they want people to grow white sage if they can, especially if they live in places like Orange County and Riverside, California, where the wild population has been decimated by construction. "We want people to concentrate on rehabilitating white sage in areas where it used to grow," said Ramirez.
The second option, they say, is to only purchase products made from farmed plants, rather than those that claim to be wildcrafted or foraged. The team is currently working on creating a white sage verification system that would force the industry to be transparent about where they source their product.
"Foragers or wildcrafters think it's their right and they make it seem so innocent. It wouldn't be such a bad thing if we didn't also have the climate change, the over development; if we had massive amounts of this plant left," said Ramirez.
Kaitlin Sullivan covers the environment, science and health beats. Her work has appeared in NBC News, Popular Science, NPR, VICE and Inverse, among others. Before becoming a journalist, she worked on a farm in Western Colorado, at a hostel in Brazil and as an editor for the American Alpine Club.
Follow her on Twitter: @kaitsulliva
Because they have no natural predators, wild horse and burro populations in the U.S. can double every four years, quickly outgrowing the landscape and food systems that support them, according to the Bureau of Land Management. Capturing the horses, sterilizing them, and then returning them to public lands has long been the way land managers keep wild horse populations in check.
Officials have already rounded up 1,200 wild horses this year, with an original goal of 12,000 for the year. But a recent push to increase that number by 50 percent means about 6,000 additional animals primarily in Nevada, Oregon and Colorado, making for around 18,000 across 10 states from California to Montana this year. The roundups are slated to continue through September, Newsweek reported.
Emergency roundups will begin Sunday in Oregon and Monday in Nevada and will focus on places where "chronic overpopulation already has stretched the available food and water to its limits," the Bureau of Land Management said in a statement.
Reducing overpopulation will "achieve healthy, sustainable herd sizes that are more capable of withstanding severe conditions, including prolonged drought, which are becoming more frequent due to climate change," Nada Wolff Culver, the BLM's deputy director for policy and programs, said Monday, according to The Associated Press.
However, horse advocates say the emergency captures are being driven by pressure from ranchers who graze livestock on public lands. They say the ranchers don't want the wild herds competing with their livestock for limited food and water, said The Associated Press.
Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of resources at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said some ranchers have already made voluntary changes to reduce grazing on fields. She called this year's drought "more pervasive and dramatic than we have seen in years," The Associated Press reported.
"These removals are critical for the horses as well as the health of the rangelands," she said in an email to The Associated Press. "Even in times where resources are plentiful, these overpopulated herds cause serious damage to the landscape."
The kiwikiu, or Maui parrotbill, is recognized as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and is endemic to the island. According to the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project, the small, olive-green-and-yellow bird once inhabited all of Maui and the neighboring island of Moloka'i. But humans, feral pigs, wildcats and mosquito-induced disease have dwindled the birds' numbers to around 150.
Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources researcher Zach Pezzillo recognized the kiwikiu's distinct song last Wednesday before spotting the welcomed sight on a reserve that covers the Haleakalā volcano, said Newsweek.
"It then sang about ten times across a gulch in some koa trees. It dropped down into some kolea trees where it spent the next twenty minutes calling and actively foraging through the berries, bark, and leaves. I walked down into the gulch to get a closer look," Pezzillo said in a statement published by Newsweek.
In a Facebook post published Friday, the department said the re-discovery of this individual bird is "remarkable" and "provides a glimmer of hope for saving a species."
According to the San Francisco Gate, seven kiwikiu were taken to Maui's Nakula Natural Area Reserve in October 2019, five of which were killed by avian malaria that was transmitted to the birds by non-native mosquitoes. The remaining two were thought to be dead — until the discovery last Wednesday. He was identified as wild #1 from the 2019 translocation by a band on his leg.
"This bird has been exposed to disease, as the others were, and has somehow persevered," Dr. Hanna Moucne of the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project told the SF Gate. "This is an amazing sign of hope for the species as we still may have time to save them. This is a hopeful sign that a population of kiwikiu and other native forest birds could survive in restored landscapes in the future, especially without mosquitoes and disease."
"The fire is so large and generating so much energy and extreme heat that it's changing the weather. Normally the weather predicts what the fire will do. In this case, the fire is predicting what the weather will do," Marcus Kauffman, a spokesman for the state forestry department, told The New York Times.
The massive inferno has created a pyrocumulous cloud, also known as a "fire cloud," that extends from the top of the blaze to 30,000 feet into the atmosphere. The cloud is currently producing lightning, and has the capacity to create dangerous thunderstorms that will make the fire harder to contain on the ground, the Salem Reporter noted. When that built-up mass comes back down towards Earth, it will force surface air outward, "creating strong winds in all directions that can spread the fire," said The New York Times.
"A pyrocumulus cloud is similar to a normal cumulus cloud, but it is formed through large amounts of smoke from nearby wildfires. As a wildfire quickly heats the air near the ground, the thick, smoky air rapidly surges into the sky. This becomes a vicious cycle. As the wildfire burns, it creates a thunderstorm, which eventually leads to windy conditions at the surface, which allows the wildfire to grow even larger over time," meteorologist Joe Curtis told AccuWeather.
It's the same phenomenon documented in January 2020 during the Australian bushfires that burned for nearly 80 days. Ultimately, the clouds created fire tornadoes — vortexes of heat, ash, smoke and high wind — that killed one firefighter, according to CNBC. A video taken in 2018 shows a fire tornado ripping through California's Carr Fire.
The Bootleg fire started on July 6, and is the largest of more than 80 major fires searing across 13 states. Heat waves and drought caused by climate change, as well as high winds are aiding the spread of the fires and making it more difficult to tamp out, said the BBC.
On Thursday night, the northern edge of the Bootleg fire jumped a barrier treated with a chemical retardant meant to contain its edges, forcing firefighters to back off. It was the latest example of the massive blaze barreling through a firebreak, The New York Times reported.
"We've had a lot of fuel that was ready to burn," John Bailey, a professor of forestry at Oregon State University, told The New York Times, noting that a widespread bout of rain would help the situation, but doesn't appear likely.
The federal government is expected to declare a first-ever water shortage in the Colorado River basin by next year at the latest –some believe the call could come this summer. The declaration would implement mandatory water cuts in Lower Basin states, three of the seven in the Colorado River Compact, Newsweek and NPR reported.
The 1,450-mile-long river serves 40 million people in the American West. After a 21-year decline, its two reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, hit record lows last month.
The shortages continue to hit farmers particularly hard, but also Indigenous tribes who have long struggled to secure their share of water, even in good years, according to Newsweek.
The river isn't just responsible for water. Its currents power hundreds of hydroelectric dams, including the Hoover Dam, which produces roughly 4 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power for Nevada, Arizona and California each year, enough to serve 1.3 million people, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.
June runoff conditions into the reservoirs show the reservoirs are, "fast deteriorating toward 'dead pool' status, where stored water is so low it can't spin the massive hydroelectric power generators buried in the dams, and large swaths of Arizona farmland going fallow," The Colorado Sun said.
A monthly Bureau report published in June predicted a nearly 80 percent chance Lake Powell will fall below minimum target water height by next year. By 2024, there is a nearly 20 percent chance there won't be enough water in Lake Powell to produce any energy.
The outlook for Lake Mead is slightly better but also grim, with the Bureau predicting a nearly 60 percent chance the reservoir will drop below minimum water levels by 2025, and a more than 20 percent chance the reservoir will not produce power by that same year, reported The Colorado Sun.
Despite adequate snowpack this year, climate change is fueling drought and soaring temperatures that claim the West's most iconic waterway.
The river basin's latest snowpack was 100 percent of normal, but only produced half of normal runoff into the Colorado River and its reservoirs. That's because water is either evaporating or soaking into dry ground before it can reach the river, said The Colorado Sun.
"It's startling how with each new projection, you had thought it can't possibly get worse," John Berggren, water policy analyst for the nonprofit Western Resource Advocates, told The Colorado Sun. "Even just a year or two ago, most people would have thought these projections are pretty far away from ever happening."
Kaitlin Sullivan covers the environment, science and health beats. Her work has appeared in NBC News, Popular Science, NPR, VICE and Inverse, among others. Before becoming a journalist, she worked on a farm in Western Colorado, at a hostel in Brazil and as an editor for the American Alpine Club.
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Roberto David Castillo Mejía, a former top executive of a Honduran construction firm Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA), was the eighth person charged with the 2016 murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres, Reuters reported.
Castillo Mejía awaits sentencing on Aug. 2, which is expected to be between 24 and 30 years, said The Daily Beast.
Co-founder of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, Cáceres was a well-known grassroots activist and part of the Lenca Indigenous people of Honduras. She was shot dead in her home two days before her 45th birthday after spearheading a campaign that blocked DESA from building the 22-megawatt Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on Indigenous land. The project, which is still slated for the sacred Gualcarque River, did not comply with national and international environmental regulations nor community requirements, but was sanctioned anyway. Castillo Mejía was overseeing the project, which is still frozen, The Guardian reported.
A 2019 study published in Science Advances found that hydroelectric dams "demonstrably affected the stability and productivity of [tropical] estuaries." The study also highlighted how dams shrink fishery habitat and cause a loss of biodiversity. In undammed rivers, sediment also flows downstream until it's deposited along the coast, stabilizing the shoreline.
The high court in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, ruled that Cáceres was murdered for leading a campaign that fought the dam, a move that delayed the project and created financial losses for the construction company, according to The Guardian. The year before she was assassinated, Cáceres was awarded the Goldman prize for environmental defenders for her work, according to the BBC.
In December 2019, seven men were charged for their roles in Cáceres' murder, but Castillo Mejía allegedly "paid the hitmen, gave logistical support and provided resources to those already convicted according to prosecutors," NPR reported. The court presented documents that showed Castillo Mejía had communicated with Douglas Bustillo, former security chief at DESA, both before and after Cáceres' murder in March 2016 as well as surrounding a failed assassination attempt the previous month, according to The Guardian.
Castillo Mejía was originally charged with masterminding the killing, but was found guilty of being a co-conspirator. He denies involvement and his lawyers plan to appeal, said Reuters.
Members of the Military Police of Public Order escort David Castillo, president of Desarrollos Energeticos S.A (DESA) upon his arrival at a court to listen to his sentence, in Tegucigalpa on July 5, 2021. ORLANDO SIERRA / AFP via Getty Images
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After six months of deliberation, an international panel of 12 legal experts has drafted an official definition of ecocide.
The draft defines ecocide as, "unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts." If adopted by the ICC, those accused of ecocide would be tried in the same court as war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression, said The Guardian.
The proposal and definition came less than a month after a groundbreaking case in which a Dutch court held Royal Dutch Shell liable for its contributions to climate change, and a growing number of world leaders have pushed for ecocide to be recognized as a crime. The Pope has even proposed making it a sin for Catholics, Inside Climate News reports.
According to CNBC, ecocide, "is an umbrella term for all forms of the mass damage of ecosystems, from industrial pollution to the release of micro plastics into the oceans," and the exact definition has been debated since the early 1970s. Now that a definition is in place, activists hope the next step is holding people, companies and governments accountable for environmental destruction that ultimately harms humans.
"There have been working definitions in the past, but this is the first time that something has been convened globally and in response to political demand," Jojo Mehta, co-founder of the Stop Ecocide campaign, the organization behind the law, told CNBC. "What that shows is that the space is opening up in the political world to actually look at a solution like this. This conversation is no longer falling on deaf ears and, indeed, it is actually gathering momentum at quite a pace."
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Nicknamed the "Green Nobel Prize," the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize recognizes grassroots activists from six continents who have moved the needle on environmental issues their communities face. This year's recipients led the charge on environmental justice, wildlife and rainforest conservation, plastic pollution, dams and coal projects.
"These phenomenal environmental champions remind us what can be accomplished when we fight back and refuse to accept powerlessness and environmental degradation. They have not been silenced — despite great risks and personal hardship — and we must also not be silent, either. It takes all of us," Susie Gelman, vice president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said in a press release.
Here are the six everyday environmental heroes and the impact they've made.
The 30-year-old Malawian woman has been taking on the nation's largest plastic manufacturers for the past five years. Her goal: to eliminate single-use plastics in the country, CNN reports.
According to Mongabay, 75,000 tons of plastic are produced in Malawi each year, most of it thin plastic that is difficult to recycle. Plastic also clogs drains, creating pools of standing water that become breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. One study found plastic in 40 percent of cows slaughtered in one community, Mongabay reports.
To take on the root of the issue, Majiga-Kamoto worked with two other activists and civil society groups to create a grassroots campaign that pressured authorities to instate a plastic ban in Malawi. "After a protracted legal battle with plastic manufacturers, the Malawi Supreme Court upheld a national ban on the production, importation, distribution, and use of thin plastics in July 2019," CNN writes.
Thai Van Nguyen
Thai Van Nguyen, 39, is the founder of Save Vietnam's Wildlife, an organization that, between 2014 and 2020, successfully removed more than 1,500 critically endangered pangolins from the illegal wildlife trade, according to an announcement from the Goldman Environmental Foundation. Nguyen also started his country's first anti-poaching unit. Since 2018, the unit "has destroyed 9,701 animal traps, dismantled 775 illegal camps, confiscated 78 guns, and arrested 558 people for poaching, leading to a significant decline in illegal activities in Pu Mat National Park," the announcement said.
Pangolins are used in traditional medicine throughout China and Vietnam and are the most trafficked animal in the world, CNN reports. The Goldman Environmental Foundation estimates that more than one million pangolins have been poached worldwide in the past decade. In 2004 alone, 60 tons of live pangolins were seized in Vietnam.
"The pangolin is the only scaly mammal in the world. Losing the pangolin means losing a part of the ecosystem, making it unbalanced," Nguyen told CNN.
Called the "Blue Heart of Europe," the Balkans support the last free-flowing rivers in Europe, and thanks to Maida Bilal, 39, one river has a chance at staying that way. In December, 2018, Bilal led a group of women from her village, Kruščica, a small mountain village west of Sarajevo, in a 503-day blockade of dam construction equipment that led to the cancellation of permits for two proposed dams on the Kruščica River. Rivers in the region are biodiversity hubs that house nearly 70 endemic fish species and 40 percent of all endangered freshwater mollusk species on Earth, a Goldman Environmental Foundation announcement said.
The Kruščica River, which flows through the Western Balkans, is the main water source for almost 150,000 people. "On Aug. 24, 2017, police attacked the protestors, including Bilal, who was struck on the head, and her 70-year-old father, who was arrested," Mongabay reports.
Kimiko Hirata's work focuses on her native Japan, the world's fifth-largest carbon emitter, Mongabay reports. Hirata, 50, is the director and founding member of the NGO Kiko Network, which works to stop climate change, a Goldman Environmental Foundation announcement said. In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Hirata took a booming coal industry head-on, pressuring coal-funders, namely commercial banks, to divest from the fossil fuel.
As a result of her work, more than one-third of Mizuho Financial shareholders voted to move away from coal and more than 10 major developers made commitments to stop funding coal projects. So far, 13 planned coal plants have been canceled, which represent almost 40 percent of planned coal projects in Japan. "A mammoth feat for an NGO in a country where NGOs are little respected by government and industry," Mongabay reports.
Sharon Lavigne, 68, is a retired special-education-teacher-turned-activist who lives in a strip of Louisiana deemed Cancer Alley — a hotbed for environmental injustice that concentrates toxic industries primarily in communities of color, The Guardian reports.
In her hometown of St James parish, Lavigne organized marches, circulated petitions, hosted town hall meetings and launched media campaigns after elected officials approved a $1.25 billion Chinese-owned plastics plant, according to The Guardian. It worked. In 2019, the company, called Wanhua, withdrew its application, Mongabay reports.
The plant would have generated a million pounds of liquid hazardous waste every year and parish council members granted permits to the company that altered zoning, allowing the plant to be built closer to homes than zoning permits, so the plant could be close to homes. The company was also exempt from paying property taxes for 10 years, said Mongabay.
Liz Chicaje Churay
Liz Chicaje Churay, 38 is a member of the Bora indigenous community that lives near Peru's northeastern border with Colombia, and is responsible for protecting more than 2 million acres of the Amazon Rainforest, the BBC reports.
When her community decided that establishing a formal national park in the Peruvian Rainforest, which had been threatened by logging and mining for decades, was the best way to protect it, Chicaje Churay led the charge, Mongabay said.She and another indigenous community leader, Benjamin Rodriguez, worked with researchers, conservationists, and government officials to begin to establish the boundaries of what would become Yaguas National Park. Chicaje Churay worked with her community to map the region via satellite imagery. The park was made official in January 2018, covering a swath of peatlands and rainforest roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park. Benjamin Rodriguez was awarded posthumously, after dying in July 2020 from complications of the coronavirus, Mongabay reports.
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Scientists in Russia have revived a bdelloid rotifer — a type of multicellular microorganism that's accustomed to wet environments — after the invertebrate spent 24,000 years frozen 11 feet beneath the Siberian permafrost.
According to a new study published Monday in Current Biology, past research has suggested these tiny creatures can slow their metabolisms down to almost stagnant and survive frozen for up to 10 years. Now, scientists from the Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science found that rotifers can survive much longer than that.
The 24,000-year-old rotifer wasn't barely alive, either. After thawing, it was able to reproduce and feed, the study authors stated in a press release.
In the past, scientists have unearthed dead but well-preserved mammals, including woolly mammoths — which were still around when the study's bdelloid rotifer first froze — and extinct cave bears from permafrost, which is thawing in many parts of the Arctic due to climate change, CNN said.
They've also discovered and revived a 30,000-year-old nematode worm, Arctic moss and some plants. "Now, the team adds rotifers to the list of organisms with a remarkable ability to survive, seemingly indefinitely, in a state of suspended animation beneath the frozen landscape," the press release stated.
"The takeaway is that a multicellular organism can be frozen and stored as such for thousands of years and then return back to life — a dream of many fiction writers," Stas Malavin, of Russia's Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science, told the Press Association, according to the BBC.
Malavin and his team froze and attempted to revive modern day rotifers living in regions covered by permafrost. Not all survived the freezing, but the study revealed that rotifers appear to have some mechanism that protects their cells and organs from being damaged by very cold temperatures.
"Unlocking these micro-animals' super-resilient biological strategies could help us to someday preserve other animal cells, tissues and organs here on Earth, and beyond," The New York Times reported, adding that some scientists think rotifer would be good candidates for living in space.
Last month, EcoWatch reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels this year were expected to climb to beyond 2019 levels, despite falling during the pandemic. Now we know just how much.
Two separate reports published Monday detailed that CO2 levels have indeed spiked, and that the annual peak reached 419 parts per million (PPM) in May, the highest level in human history, Axios reported.
Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who published the new reports, have been tracking atmospheric CO2 for more than 60 years, according to The Hill. But using other data, researchers were able to estimate that CO2 levels haven't been this high on Earth in more than 4 million years, NPR reported
"We are adding roughly 40 billion metric tons of CO2 pollution to the atmosphere per year," Peter Tans, a senior scientist with NOAA's Global Monitoring Laboratory, said in a statement. "That is a mountain of carbon that we dig up out of the Earth, burn, and release into the atmosphere as CO2 – year after year. If we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, the highest priority must be to reduce CO2 pollution to zero at the earliest possible date."
Carbon-based fossil fuels used for electricity production and transportation, including oil, gas and coal, cement manufacturing, deforestation and agriculture are all main drivers of CO2 pollution, the statement noted.
May is the month with the highest mean atmospheric CO2 because plants in the northern hemisphere are just beginning to enter the growing season when they suck large amounts of CO2 from Earth's air, according to NOAA. Levels will likely drop from here, but the data is alarming.
While the year-to-year increase in the May 2021 CO2 peak was slightly smaller than previous years, "CO2 measurements at Mauna Loa [Observatory, in Hawaii] for the first five months of 2021 showed a 2.3 ppm increase over the same five months of 2020, close to the average annual increase from 2010 to 2019," the statement read. The brief dip in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 did not make a difference in bringing down current numbers, according to the report.
The daunting new milestone was announced as leaders from the Group of 7 nations — the U.S., the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada — are preparing to meet this week to discuss how the industrialized nations can better curb climate change.
"The data provides yet another warning that countries are still very far from getting their planet-warming greenhouse gases under control," The New York Times reported.
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