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Around the World

Local News from All Over



Global warming and malaria
The number of South Africans at risk for malaria will quadruple by the year 2020 as global warming brings infected mosquitoes south. Mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite, now restricted to the tropical north, could spread southward toward Pretoria, Cape Town, and Johannesburg. Malaria kills more than a million people a year worldwide, with children at particular risk. Martinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, said that South Africa would continue to press internationally for reductions in greenhouse gases as well as aiming to reduce its own energy demand 12 percent by 2015.
—Reuters, 6/5

Green power
Hoping to reduce the environmental damage caused by coal-fired power plants currently in use, the South African government is encouraging production from renewable sources to meet the surging demand for power. The first company trading renewable electricity over the national grid, a sugar mill using dried sugar cane waste in its generator, was launched in June. South Africa’s target is to produce more than 10,000 gigawatt hours of sustainable electricity by 2013. An energy official said the government may require companies to use energy from renewable sources in the future, but it is not being considered now.
— Reuters, 4/20



Greenland’s “big four” threatened
A report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has called on Greenland to do more to protect polar bears, walruses, narwhal, and beluga whales, referred to collectively as the country’s “big four” species. Narwhals and belugas are threatened because Greenland’s recent catch quotas were far higher than scientists recommended. WWF said that “polar bears and walrus are being hunted in an almost unregulated way.” The group said that melting sea ice might be forcing polar bears to the coasts, where people tend to hunt. The number of polar bears killed rose from 159 in 2000 to 278 in 2003.
—Reuters, 4/29



Indian tigers close to extinction
India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has set up a task force to try to save the nation’s declining stock of tigers. The tigers are believed to be on the verge of extinction in India due to poaching for their body parts. Trade in dead tigers is illegal, but a single tiger can fetch up to $50,000 on the international black market. Organs and body parts are popular in Chinese medicine.The task force was set up after reports that tigers may have been eliminated entirely from the Sariska sanctuary, where the Project Tiger conservation program originated in 1973. Just one year ago there were an estimated 16–18 tigers in the sanctuary. Tiger populations in India are believed to have dropped to between 2,000 and 3,700 from about 40,000 a century ago.
—Reuters, 5/2

Another fake island for Persian Gulf
Following in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, Bahrain has decided that it wants to build yet another artificial island to hold multi-billion dollar real estate. Bahrain, an island itself, says it’s ready to spend $3 billion to develop artificial islands off its northeast coast. Like the projects in Dubai (UAE) and Qatar, the islands would host mansions, hotels, shops, clubs, and promenades. A local marine environmentalist said such large-scale reclamation projects could cause massive disturbances to the undersea environment and harm marine life that thrives there, including mackerel, grouper, shrimp, pearl oysters, dolphins, and sea horses. About a third of the country’s coral reefs have already been destroyed over the past two decades by reclamation and waterfront development. Ironically, the islands are to be built in the shape of one of the animals they may be annihilating – the sea horse. Dredging for reclamation is expected to start this year after the Bahraini government – which studied the plans for construction and the environmental impact – recently gave the go-ahead to build.
—Associated Press, 5/11


Australian for “save the whales”
Ian Campbell, Environment and Heritage Minister of Australia, is pressuring Japan to stop killing whales in the name of science. Japan has been killing whales under the guise of scientific research as allowed by an article in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) convention. The Minister’s move was prompted by Japan’s plan to increase its annual take of minke whales from 440 to 850, and to increase by 50 each its kill of humpback and fin whales. The whales swim along the Australian coasts on their annual migration and are often killed in Antarctic waters declared an Australian Whale Sanctuary. Campbell was lobbying New Zealand, Great Britain, and the US to help remove the offending article allowing the whale kill at the June meeting of the IWC. The four nations drew up a petition to present at the meeting, but the removal may prove difficult, as Japan is reported to use financial assistance to persuade developing nations to back whaling at the IWC. The Humane Society International based in Australia wants the government to move beyond diplomacy and sue Japan in the International Court of Justice. While the Japanese government recognizes that whale meat is sold in the market, it maintains that practice is not in violation of the IWC. They are allowed to sell the by-product to recoup “research costs.” Japanese officials have also complained that whales eat too many fish.
—Daily Telegraph (Australia) 5/18; ENS, 5/18

Culled oyster blues
Officials in Australia say the country’s Sydney rock oysters are dying off at an alarming rate due to a hitherto-unknown disease, referred to as the QX parasite. The disease threatens to destroy a $23.1-million-a-year industry.The QX parasite is known to be fast-spreading, with a mortality rate close to 100 percent. Experts say the parasite kills an oyster by attacking its gut, causing the oyster to starve.

Last year the parasite was found in roughly 30 percent of oysters at Hawkesbury, just north of Sydney. Today, virtually all the oysters in the region are affected. Scientists are still unsure of the origins of the disease or how to stop it. New South Wales Fisheries, the state agency responsible for the industry, believes the disease is caused by the parasite Marteilia sydneyi.
—Reuters, 5/9


Euros sunset dirty beaches
A European Union assembly has set a 2011 deadline for its members to clean up their polluted beaches. This new date moves up the previous deadline from 2015, due to increased risks to beachgoers’ health. Officials for the EU say one in eight swimmers falls ill after a visit to the seaside. Common complaints include stomach flus and respiratory illnesses. EU lawmakers are also urging the implementation of emergency planning for major pollution accidents, and for a system to advise bathers of the level of water cleanliness. Some have suggested using smiley-face signs at beaches to indicate when the water is safe for bathers.
—Reuters, 5/11

Dadelions or Parkinsons disease? The choice may be yours to make.

Pesticides and Parkinson’s
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen report that British gardeners exposed to more pesticides run a greater risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Anthony Seaton, the principal investigator, recommends wearing protective clothing for pesticide users, including both amateur gardeners and farmers. The team studied people from five European countries that were regular users of pesticides: 767 people with Parkinson’s and 1,989 healthy people. Those who handled pesticides regularly were more likely to have Parkinson’s. Amateur gardeners who used pesticides infrequently had an increased risk of 9 percent; farmers with a higher exposure were 43 percent more likely to contract the disease. Having a family history of the disease increased the chances of developing Parkinson’s by 350 percent.

As this study relied on participants’ memories, scientists could not identify a particular pesticide as the culprit. Further studies that monitor a participant’s exposure to individual pesticides as and when they are used need to be performed.
—New Scientist, 5/26; Reuters, 5/26

From nukes to wind
Sweden ramped up its nuclear phase-out program with the closure of the 600-megawatt Barseback-2 reactor at the end of May. The first Barseback reactor was closed in 1999. To compensate for the lost power, Sweden is investing heavily in renewable energy sources. Vattenfall, the state-owned energy company that operates Barseback, said it would invest $1 billion to build what would become northern Europe’s biggest wind farm. The company said it hopes to produce at least half of Barseback’s output of four terawatt-hours of power by 2010 through the use of 100–150 newly constructed wind turbines. Vattenfall also plans to invest $218 million to build an offshore wind power park in southern Sweden.
—Reuters, 6/1


California may ban online hunting
California’s State Senate has passed a bill that would prohibit use of computer-assisted hunting sites and ban the import or export of any animal killed using computer-assisted hunting. The bill now goes to the Assembly for approval. The bill was written after the Fish and Game Commission ordered wildlife officials to prepare emergency regulations to ban the practice in response to plans for a Texas Web site where online users shoot live ammo at real game with computer-controlled guns. At least 14 other states and Congress are considering similar bills.
—MSNBC, 5/4

Another oil spill has been reported in Tamaulipas, Mexico, the latest in a long series of incidents from the nation’s aging pipeline network. The state oil monopoly, Pemex, has promised to cut such accidents, calling safety the company’s “number one priority,” but has had difficulties coming up with the estimated billions of dollars to repair 23,000 miles of aging pipelines.

A recent ammonia leak in Veracruz killed six people. Another incident, a combined oil and gas pipeline explosion in the state of Tabasco, polluted 15 acres of land. “It’s almost getting to be a daily thing,” said a spokeswoman for environmental watchdog Profepa. Under pressure to decrease the company’s incidents, Pemex has appointed a special working group to try and improve safety standards.
—Reuters, 5/6

Flushed with death
According to a study published in the Caribbean Journal of Science, raw sewage discharged into the waters around the US Virgin Islands is killing coral reefs at an alarming rate. Coral reefs exposed to the bacteria and nutrients found in raw sewage are far more likely to develop disease and die than reefs in unpolluted waters.

In the St. Croix town of Frederiksted, where untreated sewage was regularly released, nearly 30 percent of coral was infected with two main coral diseases: black band and white plague, which can kill a foot of reef a week. Just three miles north in Butler Bay, where no sewage was dumped, only three to four percent of coral was infected.
—Associated Press, 5/27

CO2… achoo!
An agricultural researcher in Maryland found that increased levels of carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas, may cause some weeds to release more pollen. The Agricultural Research Service in Maryland planted ragweed, a common allergen, in and around Baltimore. They found the city locations, which had higher levels of carbon dioxide, produced more robust and faster-growing ragweed. Doubling the level of carbon dioxide meant 60 percent more pollen produced by other common weeds. Other research has shown trees produce more cones, another source of pollen, after exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide. Unfortunately for allergy sufferers, a sensitivity to allergens is closely related to asthma, which has been on the rise for decades. “We’re already seeing this impact on weeds and trees. We are now beginning to suspect it’s playing a role in the doubling and tripling of asthma rates in the US since the 1980s,” said Dr. Paul Epstein, associate director of the Center for Global Health and the Environment at Harvard University.
—Albany Times Union, 5/26

The old green mayors
The mayors of Zurich, Istanbul, Melbourne, Seattle, and many other cities from across the globe convened in San Francisco in June to sign the UN Urban Environmental Accords. The signing came at the end of the UN World Environment Day conference. San Francisco was the first US city to host the conference, which is in its third decade. The accords focused on seven general categories affecting the world’s cities today: energy, waste reduction, urban design, urban nature, transportation, environmental health, and water. Twenty-one specific actions were listed to improve urban environmental conditions. The actions include increasing the use of renewable energy to meet 10 percent of a city’s peak electric load within seven years; expanding affordable public transportation for city residents within a decade; creating accessible park or recreation space within a half-mile of every city resident by 2015; and achieving zero growth in the waste going to landfills or incinerators by 2040. “Cities now cover 2 percent of the world’s surface, but they accommodate 50 percent of the world’s population and consume 75 percent of its resources,” David Cadman, deputy mayor of Vancouver and North American regional chairman for the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’ve talked to the other mayors here, and the challenges we face are similar,” said Ajith Mannapperuma, the mayor of Gampaha, Sri Lanka. Focusing on the local rather than the global set this international conference apart from the past accords, said the mayors.

“Many times these United Nations accords have been signed, but implementation didn’t work because there was no local connection,” said Vlad Oprea, mayor of Sinaia, Romania. “I believe some of the conditions and articles mentioned in the accords are very difficult, but they are very important for my own town.”
—SF Chronicle, 6/6


Hoppy hour
Health officials in Lima, Peru uncovered some 5,000 endangered Telmatbius frogs during a routine inspection of commercial refrigerators. The frogs were said to have been brought from lakes in the high Andes to become ingredients in popular cocktails. Frog cocktails are sought-after in the Andes due to their assumed aphrodisiac qualities. Shops in central Lima selling the drinks often have tanks where customers can choose their own frogs.
—Reuters, 4/29

Soya battle
Brazil’s small contingent of Green Party legislators resigned in May in protest over the government’s failure to stem the high rate of destruction in the Amazon rainforest. Despite campaign promises by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003 to protect the Amazon, last year’s rate of deforestation was the second highest on record. In 2003 and 2004 deforestation claimed an area larger than the state of New Jersey. While much of the past deforestation can be traced to legal and illegal logging and clearance for cattle ranching, today soybean production for cattle feed has greatly increased the demand for arable land. Soybeans are Brazil’s principal export.

Blairo Maggi, known locally as the King of Soy, is state governor of Mato Grosso, where his farming business is located. In 2003, his first year as governor, the rate of deforestation more than doubled in Mato Grosso. Last year his company earned $600 million in sales. He has called for a tripling in the planting of soybeans over the next 10 years in Mato Grosso. His company intends to double the land it has in production. But sentiments have begun to swing the other way. On June 6, new logging permits were suspended in Mato Grosso and federal police made 90 arrests of government officials and businessmen connected to loggers. Mr. Maggi fired his environmental chief, who was arrested and accused of corruption according to the state government Web site.
—Reuters, 5/20; London Independent, 5/20; Associated Press, 6/6

Galapagos sea cucumber ban lifted
The Galapagos reserve management authority has lifted a ban on sea cucumber fishing to allow the capture of three million animals in 60 days starting June 12. The ban, in effect for 2005 and 2006, was lifted as local fishermen threatened to strike. Their livelihood depends on sea cucumbers and lobster fishing as a principal source of income.

The spiny creatures are widely sought after in Asia for their putative aphrodisiac effects. This species, threatened by a growing illegal market, has environmentalists calling for protection from overfishing. These sexy morsels of marine fauna are found in the Galapagos Islands, 625 miles off the west coast of Ecuador. It was a tour of these islands that inspired Charles Darwin to propose his theory of evolution.
—Reuters, 1/1

compiled by Carrie Black and Natale Servino


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