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Earth Has Lost Half of Its Wildlife in the Past 40 Years, Says WWF

Species across land, rivers and seas decimated as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and destroy habitats

Rubbish dumped on the tundra outside llulissat in Greenland with icebergs behind from the Sermeq Kujullaq or llulissat Ice fjord. The Ilulissat ice fjord is a Unesco world heritage sitePhotograph: Global Warming Images/WWF-CanonRubbish dumped on the tundra outside llulissat in Greenland stand in stark contrast to icebergs
behind from the Sermeq Kujullaq or llulissat Ice fjord – a Unesco world heritage site.

The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London found.

“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” said Professor Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. “But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.” He said nature, which provides food and clean water and air, was essential for human wellbeing.

“We have lost one half of the animal population and knowing this is driven by human consumption, this is clearly a call to arms and we must act now,” said Mike Barratt, director of science and policy at WWF. He said more of the Earth must be protected from development and deforestation, while food and energy had to be produced sustainably.

The steep decline of animal, fish and bird numbers was calculated by analysing 10,000 different populations, covering 3,000 species in total. This data was then, for the first time, used to create a representative “Living Planet Index” (LPI), reflecting the state of all 45,000 known vertebrates.

“We have all heard of the FTSE 100 index, but we have missed the ultimate indicator, the falling trend of species and ecosystems in the world,” said Professor Jonathan Baillie, ZSL’s director of conservation. “If we get [our response] right, we will have a safe and sustainable way of life for the future,” he said.

If not, he added, the overuse of resources would ultimately lead to conflicts. He said the LPI was an extremely robust indicator and had been adopted by UN’s internationally-agreed Convention on Biological Diversity as key insight into biodiversity.

A …more

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It’s Official! California Is Now the First US State to Ban Plastic Bags

Environmentalists celebrate, but say tackling widespread plastic pollution needs national and global-level action

After an insistent year-long campaign by environmentalists and citizen activists, today Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 270, a bill that prohibits the use of single-use plastic bags in grocery and retail stores throughout California, making it the first state in the nation to institute such a ban.  

plastic waste in the LA RiverPhoto byBill McDonald,Algalita Foundation / Heal The BayPlastic waste at the mouth of the Los Angeles River in Long Beach, CA.

The bill, introduced by state senator Alex Padilla from Los Angeles, goes beyond a simple “bag ban.” Recognizing that removing plastic bags is only one strategy in the battle against wasteful consumption of both renewable and nonrenewable resources, the bill also requires that a surcharge of at least 10 cents be levied on paper bags, compostable bags, and even reusable plastic bags. 

Response from environmental organizations is celebratory – but not jubilant. “It’s clear that there is a growing grassroots movement not just in California but across the country to stop plastic pollution,” says Dianna Cohen, CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC), an Earth Island Institute project.  “Our coalition consists of over 380 NGOs, businesses, and prominent individuals from around the world, all dedicated in their own ways to bringing about a measurable reduction of single-use and disposable plastics — plastic shopping bags, plastic bottles, and straws being the most pervasive.” Cohen is one of many environmental leaders quick to add, however, that the passing of this legislation is “just the tip of the plastic pollution iceberg.”

“This is a global environmental crisis – there is no place on earth remote enough not be touched by plastic pollution,” she says. “Which is why the movement is global — it has to be. This global network is growing, thanks to dozens of organizations, locally, nationally and world-wide.”

Leslie Tamminen, director of the Clean Seas Coalition and part of Seventh Generation Advisors, agrees that stopping the epidemic of plastic waste takes more than bans and laws. It takes “wide and sustainable changes in consumer behavior. Data from the over 121 local plastic bag bans has proven that bans are effective at reducing litter and changing consumer attitudes, and have refuted industry’s claims of apocalyptic impacts on jobs and poor communities. A state plastic bag ban saves taxpayers the huge amount of money spent on litter cleanup, …more

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System of Rice Intensification Brings Hope to Global Rice Production

SRI methods generate higher rice yields using less water

Nearly one-third of the world's population depends heavily on rice and rice products for food, with rice providing up to 70 percent of daily calories in some regions.  Over the last thirty years, milled rice consumption has increased by 40 percent, and by 2030, the global demand for rice is expected to increase up to another 40 percent. To meet this demand, rice paddies cover more than 300 million acres around the world.

Traditional rice fields are flooded and planted, and the high water levels are maintained until the rice is ready to be harvested. This requires a lot of water: Up to one-third of the planet's annual freshwater use goes towards irrigating and growing rice.

System of Rice IntensificationPhoto by Oxfam GB AsiaSin Chhukrath harvests SRI rice in Cambodia. SRI farmers report higher yields and use less water and pesticides than farmers employing traditional methods.

In Asia, where more than 90 percent of the world’s rice is grown and eaten, approximately 84 percent of all freshwater use goes towards agriculture, primarily for irrigating rice. This can create serious water shortages.

In the context of global climate change and booming population growth, these water shortages bring up serious questions about global food security. “We need yields to grow to meet growing demand,” said Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer, one of the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2014 report, “but already climate change is slowing those yields."

But a new farming technique, called System of Rice Intensification (SRI), is generating hope, excitement and new possibilities for increased crop yields.

SRI was first developed in the 1980's. It was developed by Father Henri de Laulanié, a trained agronomist and Jesuit priest, along with colleagues and farmers in Madagascar. With the innovative SRI method, farmers use less water and less synthetic herbicides and pesticides. Contrary to traditional rice farming which calls for standing water in the rice paddies, farmers alternate between keeping their fields wet and dry. Young rice seedlings are transplanted in single rows with more space between them than in traditional rice paddies. Seedlings are kept moist while the soil and its beneficial organisms are exposed to air and sunlight. This allows for more photosynthesis. Farmers add organic compost to improve the health and productivity of their crops, and use a …more

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Stalked from the Skies

Do drones have a place in hunting?

As Dayglo-orange cloaked sportsmen head out into the woods for the fall hunting season, some may have a few new tools in their arsenal. In addition to calls, decoys, and scent eliminators, drones can now give hunters another edge over their prey.

No one knows when an unmanned drone first hovered above treetops, displaying a video feed of an unsuspecting mammal grazing to an off-site hunter. It is likely, however, that Louisiana Hog Control was among the early pioneers of this technology.

hunters pose with a drone and a dead hog in a truckPhoto courtesy Cy BrownCy Brown of Louisiana Hog Control and another hunter pose with the "dehogaflier" after an evening hunt. The pest control company of sorts helps landowners get rid of feral hogs on their property.

Faced with a hog overpopulation problem, the state of Louisiana deals with feral hogs like pests. According to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the disease-ridden, crop-damaging, rapidly proliferating hogs “are quickly becoming the most serious problem facing land managers and hunters in Louisiana.” As a result, the agency sets no limit to how many hogs a single sportsman can kill, and the animal may be hunted year round.

That’s where Louisiana Hog Control comes in. A pest control company of sorts, Louisiana Hog Control provides services to landowners with hogs on their properties, and operates under the motto, “We fly, pigs die.” The “fly” part, of course, refers to a drone — a very specialized drone, designed by Owner Cy Brown, dubbed the “dehogaflier.”

“Flying radio control aircraft was already a hobby of mine,” Brown says, “so it wasn’t a big leap to combine it with my hunting hobby.” He explains that due to Louisiana’s tall vegetation, it’s very difficult to spot hogs, forcing Brown and his team to squander hours wandering around in search of them.

Louisiana, like many states, prohibits hunting from, or with the aid of, aircraft (e.g. helicopters). so Brown obtained a special permit to operate the drone on private property. Brown’s dehogaflier received public attention when YouTube videos of its footage went viral in 2012 and 2013.

Shortly thereafter, on January 10, 2014, Colorado became the first state to explicitly ban the use of drones for hunting and fishing with strong support from the local sportsmen community. This new ban also prohibited the …more

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Five Ways Ban Ki-moon’s Summit Has Changed International Climate Politics Forever

The UN climate summit in New York decided nothing – but it has helped put climate change back on the agenda

By Michael Jacobs

So 120 government leaders each made 4 minute speeches about climate change at the United Nations. Did it make any difference?

Yes, but not in the ways you might think.

The UN climate summit did not conclude in a grand ‘agreement’. But that was not its purpose. This was not a negotiating meeting. Indeed it was barely a ‘meeting’ at all: the assembled leaders simply made speeches one after the other, with most of the real debate occurring in later sessions (on energy, forests, finance and so on) in which the main speakers were environment ministers and representatives from civil society and business.

People’s Climate MarchPhoto by Climate Action Network InternationalHundreds of thousands of protesters marched through Manhattan during the People's Climate March to demand action at the UN Climate Summit.

But the summit was nevertheless a vital event, and international climate politics will not be the same after it. Here are five reasons why.

First, most of these heads of government had never made a speech about climate change before. The last summit was five years ago in Copenhagen, when very few current leaders were in office. So now the summit has forced each of them to make a public commitment to stronger climate action.

That’s crucial, because over the next six months every country in the world has to publish a new set of climate targets as part of the international negotiations towards an agreement in Paris next year. With leaders’ public statements now on the record, the chances of stronger policies are much better.

Second, some of the speeches were significant in themselves, with new policy commitments. The most important came from China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli. China, he said, would publish “as early as possible” a date at which it expected its greenhouse gas emissions to reach a peak.

Since China is now by far the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the mathematical fact is that averting dangerous climate change will only be possible if its emissions stop rising within the next ten years and then begin to fall. Before Monday, China had not committed to any timetable for this. We can now expect it to do so in the next few months.

In his own speech to the summit, president Obama called on China, as a fellow …more

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In Review: Mission Blue

Diving into the life of renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle

For many years, I was a vegetarian. It was a gradual process. Like many people, I eliminated red meat first, then poultry, and eventually, fish. And then, as the idealistic haze of my college years wore off, I gradually started eating meat again.

Wyland/Earle First Dive Together! Midway Atollphoto by USFWS – Pacific Region, on FlickrDr. Sylvia Earle diving at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Hawaii, accompanied by artist and conservationist Robert Wyland.

Now, after watching Mission Blue, a documentary about oceanographer Sylvia Earle and the rapid decimation of our oceans, I am re-inspired to put my money where my mouth is. The movie, available on Netflix and directed by Academy Award winner Fisher Stevens and Academy Award nominee Bob Nixon, paints a compelling picture of the havoc we humans have wreaked on the oceans, and the lightning-like speed with which we’ve done it. And it makes me feel pretty guilty about the sushi roll I had for lunch recently. 

Why the dietary turn-around? Why is the documentary so compelling? Well, to start, there’s oceanographer Sylvia Earle, the film’s inspiring real-life heroine.

Mission Blue takes us through Earle’s life, starting with her childhood in New Jersey, and her family’s move to Florida when she was 12. As she puts it, “Some kids play in the streets, some kids have a backyard. Well, my backyard was wet. It was the Gulf of Mexico. It was glorious.”

It is hard not to be charmed by Earle as she describes the pristine Florida of her youth, and her love affair with the Gulf. Her passion for the ocean seeps through the screen. So does her heartbreak as she describes how Florida transformed before her eyes, as tourists invaded, bays were dredged, and crystal clear waters became murky with soil. “That kind of experience – a witness. I saw the before, I saw the after influence of what we can do to the natural world.”

The film alternates between stories of Earle’s life and insights about the crisis facing our oceans. Given Earle’s connection to the Gulf of Mexico, it makes sense that the film delves early on into the BP oil spill. Images of the blast, and the resulting destruction, are underscored with descriptions of …more

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Effective Public Comment

How to make your voice heard in the environmental review process

Audience at the Mercer Island public meetingphoto by Washington State Dept of Transportation, on FlickrNearly 800 people attended a scoping meeting in Washington state regarding a proposal to implement a tolling system on I-90.

As a concerned citizen, it can be difficult to navigate the environmental review process. If you’ve ever submitted a comment on a project, you may have been left wondering what happened to the comment, or wishing you could have made your point more effectively. Here’s an overview of the public comment process, and a few tips on how to maximize your impact on government decision-making. 

The Public Comment Process

First, here’s a little background on the public comment process. As governmental transparency has become more and more of a hot button issue, opportunities for public comment on agency decision-making processes have become more prevalent and more accessible to the average person. Take the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), for example.

NEPA was signed into law back in 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency describes NEPA as the established national policy goals for the protection, maintenance, and enhancement of the environment, and provides a process for implementing these goals within federal agencies.

As large, federally-linked development projects, such as pipelines or wind farm projects, go through the permitting process, NEPA provides the public with the opportunity to review and comment on the project, as well as on the environmental impact statements (EISs) associated with the project. The public plays a vital role in the NEPA process, pointing to issues of particular concern on the front end of the process (called scoping), and also in reviewing the findings of draft EISs. The public is often given the opportunity to attend informational meetings about projects locally, and is provided with access to decision-making documents (often online).

Lead government agencies must take into consideration all comments received from the public, as well as from other parties (such as cooperating agencies), during a comment period. Agencies respond to comments received on draft EISs in the revised version of the document.

Your comments can have a real impact on project design and mitigation of environmental impacts. Here are some tips to keep in mind to help make your comments even more impactful.

Tips for Effective Comment
by Rachel Tamigniaux Gupta – September 25, 2014

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