Proximity to trees and other plants decreases mortality rates from cancer, respiratory disease, study suggests
Many of us plant trees, shrubs, and other plants around our homes to beautify our surroundings. A study published earlier this month in Environmental Health Perspectives reveals that this attractive greenery has another significant benefit as well — people living in greener neighborhoods may live longer.
Photo by Jeffrey Zeldman
Scientists from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts assessed the greenness surrounding the homes of 108,630 women. They then tracked changes in both the vegetation and participants’ deaths from 2000 to 2008. The scientists discovered that women with the most vegetation around their homes experienced a 12 percent lower death rate than those living in the least green areas.
The biggest differences were observed in death rates from kidney disease, respiratory disease, and cancer. Women residing in the top 20 percent of green areas were 41 percent less likely to die from kidney disease than those living in the lowest 20 percent. They had a 34 percent lower death rate for respiratory disease and 13 percent lower death rate for cancer. No significant relationship appeared to exist between greenness and risk of death from coronary heart disease, diabetes, or infections.
The study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), is the first on greenness and mortality to draw its subjects from across the entire United States. The participating women were all enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), a long-term study that has examined the risk factors for chronic disease among women, collecting questionnaires from more than 100,000 women every other year since 1976.
The Harvard researchers culled data from the women in the NHS study who were alive in 2000 and had at least one residential address that could be mapped to obtain latitude and longitude for satellite imaging purposes — in 2000, there were at least 10 nurses participating in the study in each of the contiguous US states.
By looking at the questionnaires returned between 2000 and 2008, the scientists were able to identify specific characteristics of each participant. This distinguished the study from previous research on greenness and mortality, …more
Proposed dams threaten Iceland’s isolated, ecologically sensitive interior
As massive protests erupted in Iceland earlier this month over the prime minister’s secretive offshore investments, another storm is brewing in the country’s central highlands. Energy companies are pushing the center-right government to build a slew of dams through the country’s interior, an isolated and ecologically sensitive region home to vast glacial rivers, remote lakes, and the world’s largest nesting ground of pink-footed geese.
Photo by Steinar Kaldal
If built, the dams would pave the way for IceLink, a proposed undersea cable that would funnel electricity from Iceland to the UK. While Britain trumpets IceLink as a vehicle for green energy, the damage done to the highlands, which have already been impacted by dams, would be irreparable.
Though Iceland Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson resigned on April 5 following the Panama Papers scandal, his center-right coalition is still in power and continues to support the project.
“The government that’s now in power is very extreme,” pop icon Björk said last November at music festival Iceland Airwaves. The singer, who is herself Icelandic, has taken a strong stance against the proposed dams: She notes that the government immediately put up plans to harness the highlands for electricity when it took office in 2013.
In recent months, Björk had become Gunnlaugsson’s bane, hammering the head of state over his plans to dam the highlands, and drawing public attention to the issue. The government elite, she says, “think they are superior to nature and that they should have control over it.”
Iceland’s government, meanwhile, still styles itself a land of “pristine nature” in a bid for tourism. Environmental groups are quick to point out the hypocrisy: heavy industry already consumes 77 percent of Iceland’s electricity, as the country has drowned massive swathes of land in order to power a handful of aluminum smelters. Developing the highlands into an industrial zone, many fear, would be a death knell for Icelandic wilderness.
The highlands’ ecological uniqueness stems in part from the fact that they were never settled by humans. When Vikings landed in Iceland in the ninth century, they settled along coasts and rivers where fish were plentiful, never venturing more than a …more
But this unique 600-mile long reef is already threatened by oil drilling
Could coral reefs have anything to do with the Amazon River? Apparently so. In case you missed this new finding among the sea of reports about the impending demise of coral reefs (especially the Great Barrier Reef) across the world, here’s the lowdown: A team of scientists from Brazil and the United States have discovered a 600-mile long sponge and coral reel at the mouth of the Amazon River, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
Photo by Lance Willis
The reef stretches across more than 3,600 square miles in ocean floor off of the South American continental shelf, between the French Guiana-Brazil border and the Maranhão State in Brazil, according to the researchers whose findings were published in the journal Science Advances on Friday.
Here’s why this is unexpected and amazing: First, coral reefs are usually found in clear, briny water, off the continental shelf in tropical areas — waters where sunlight can penetrate. Yet the water where the Amazon meets the Atlantic is anything but clear. In fact, the Amazon plume — the area where freshwater from the river mixes with the salty ocean — is full of sediment and pollutants and is among the muddiest plume areas in the world. Then there’s the fact that plume areas are places where there usually tend to be gaps in the reef distribution along the tropical shelves.
Yet the researchers who discovered this novel reef system say that while it is “impoverished in terms of biodiversity,” it is pretty extensive. The finding has marine scientists revising their idea of how and where reefs can exist. "We found a reef where the textbooks said there shouldn't be one," study co-author Fabiano Thompson of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro told National Geographic.
Scientists have been hunting for this deepwater reef system since the 1970s after some researchers caught reef fish at the mouth of the Amazon. But until now, no one knew for sure if it existed. The study’s lead author, Rodrigo Moura of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, uncovered the reef system in 2012 when he dredged some areas near …more
Around the world, Indigenous groups are working to safeguard and restore besieged sacred sites
Back in the 1990s, there was an intense debate among my Native American friends about whether public education about sacred places would be a good idea. One activist argued forcefully that: “Sacred places don’t need a PR campaign. They need ceremony and prayer.” But many places, from the San Francisco Peaks and Black Mesa in the Southwest to Bear Butte and Devils Tower in the Black Hills, were being desecrated. Ski resorts. Coal stripmines. New Agers. Rock climbers. Dams. While some battles revealed outright racism, other sacred sites were being destroyed out of ignorance. Though tradition long mandated that “sacred” meant “secret,” more people began to agree that limited information about sacred places should be shared in order to nurture understanding, build respect, and inspire allies.
All photos by Christopher McLeod
“We use the word ‘sacred.’ That’s not an Indian word. That comes from Europe,”Onondaga elder Oren Lyons explained to me during an interview for the Standing on Sacred Ground film series. “It comes from your churches. We have our own way to say things. The way we use it, it’s a place to be respected, a place to be careful.”
Around the planet, indigenous communities still guard their sacred places—mountains, springs, rivers, caves, forests, medicinal plant gardens, burials of beloved ancestors. Everywhere it seems these places are under siege. Each attack is met with a spirited defense because sacred places anchor cultures. They provide meaning. They give life, give information, heal, and offer visions and instructions about how to live, how to adapt, how to be resilient.
Around the planet, indigenous communities still guard their sacred places.
There have been many inspiring victories. At Kakadu in Australia, Aboriginal leaders stopped uranium mining and protected a World Heritage Site. At Devils Tower in Wyoming, the National Park Service consulted with Lakota elders and developed a plan to discourage climbing. Native Hawaiians stopped U.S. Navy bombardment of sacred Kahoʻolawe island and are now restoring it spiritually and ecologically as a cultural refuge. But battles rage on at Mauna Kea, on Oak Flat, in the Amazon.
On Earth Day, let us all celebrate the sacred lands and territories …more
Poachers target little-known mammal to satisfy growing demand in Asia
Pangolins are the most trafficked animals in Southern Africa. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) calls them “the most traded wild animal” in the world, yet many people have never seen or heard about them.
Photo by David Brossard
These scaly ant eaters, whose tongues can be long as their body, can be found throughout much of southern Africa, including in the mountain wilds of Swaziland. All eight of the world’s pangolin species — four of which live in Africa — are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, victims of poaching as demand for pangolin meat and scales has shot up in parts of Asia, particularly in China and Vietnam. Today in Swaziland, where an estimated 2,500 pangolins are poached every year, you are more likely to see a pangolin in the back of a smuggler´s truck on its way to a boat in the Indian Ocean than you are in the wild.
In a country where average public wages are low, some in Swaziland have turned to pangolin hunting to supplement their earnings. “I hate to say it, but increasing food [insecurity] forces rural communities to hunt and capture pangolins for profit,” says Richard Mlotshwa, head veterinary manager for the Endangered Animals Rehabilitation taskforce at the state run Swaziland Tourism Authority.
Aiyoba Namaqa, an independent economist who works closely with the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (which has been banned from operating in the country because the government says it incites workers to challenge the king’s authority) agrees, and thinks the situation could get even worse. “Hunger, worsened by El Niño… threatens to leave 20 percent of the country´s rural dwellers grappling for food in 2016,” she says. “No wonder some close to forests are hunt pangolins to [sell] and buy food.”
A kilogram of pangolin skin can fetch up to $500 on the black market in South Africa´s port cities, where the majority of the pangolins trafficked from Swaziland pass through on their way to Mozambique and finally Asia. “So it is tempting even for rogue Swaziland wildlife wardens to kill or capture these little …more
Coastal communities suffering from what some experts call a widespread human heath crisis
In April 2010, BP's Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform exploded, killing 11 workers before sinking 5,000 feet to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil gushed for 87 days unchecked, creating the single-largest marine oil disaster in US history.
photo by Florida Sea Grant, on Flickr
In response to the disaster, BP used 1.8 million gallons of highly toxic Corexit dispersants in what the oil giant claimed was an effort to keep the oil from reaching shore. Critics accuse BP of sinking the oil with the dispersants as a means of minimizing fines under the Clean Water Act.
"The dispersants contain chemicals that many scientists and toxicologists have warned are dangerous to humans, marine life and wildlife," IPS reported in 2010, adding:
A March 1987 report titled "Organic Solvent Neurotoxicity," by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), states: "The acute neurotoxic effects of organic solvent exposure in workers and laboratory animals are narcosis, anesthesia, central nervous system (CNS) depression, respiratory arrest, unconsciousness, and death.
"Several chemicals and chemical compounds listed in the NIOSH report, such as styrene, toluene and xylene, are now present in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of BP's dispersants mixing with BP's crude oil," IPS reported, a situation which other scientific reports show creates a toxicity 40 times worse than the oil alone.
Joe Yerkes is a Florida fisherman who joined the cleanup effort of the disaster after he was put out of work by the oil in his fishing waters.
Yerkes was exposed to both oil and dispersants while cleaning up oil.
"I have spent the years since the spill happened literally trying to survive," Yerkes told Truthout in 2014. "I've lost five friends now who were also exposed to BP's oil and dispersants, who were unable to seek proper treatment to extract the chemicals from their bodies before the exposure killed them."
"Not long after his exposure, Yerkes became violently ill, started bleeding from his nose and ears, and began vomiting blood. When he couldn't get well, he had his blood tested and found it contained high levels of chemicals, which his physician attributed to …more
This year’s Goldman Environmental Prize winners offer inspiration and hope for the future
The spirit of Berta Cáceres was strong at the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize celebrations in San Francisco last night. The evening’s ceremony opened with a spoken tribute to the indigenous Lenca activist who was assassinated in her home last month — less than a year after she walked up to the stage at the San Francisco Opera House to receive a Goldman for her sustained fight against big dams and other mega-development projects in Honduras.
Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize
“Giving our lives in various ways for the protection of the rivers is giving our lives for the wellbeing of humanity and this planet,” Cáceres had said during her acceptance speech that evening, as she urged us to wake up and take action to save our beleaguered world.
Had Cáceres been with us last evening, she would have been heartened to see that there are many courageous, inspiring grassroots activists across the world who are indeed awake and alert to the perils facing our planet, who continue to risk their lives to protect the land and communities they hold dear.
She would have met 39-year-old Leng Ouch of Cambodia, who’s spent two decades protecting rainforests in one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists. For years, Leng undertook dangerous undercover investigations to document illegal logging operations. (According to the United Nations, between 1990 and 2010, Cambodia’s forest cover dropped from 73 percent to 50 percent largely as a result of illegal logging.)
Leng exposed the deep ties between some of Cambodia’s biggest timber barons and the nation’s political class, and the rampant land grabs by Chinese and western companies that have robbed poor, rural communities of their land. His investigations have forced the Cambodian government to cancel large land concessions it had bestowed on logging and industrial farming companies, but at the same time have put him and his family at immense personal risk.
Environmental and human rights activists are routinely harassed and threatened in Cambodia. Leng’s colleague, Chut Wutty, an internationally known anti-logging activist, was murdered in 2012; weeks after his murder, the body of journalist Hang Sorei Oudom, who reported frequently on illegal logging activities, …more