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Kerala Hit with Worst Flooding in a Century

Intense monsoon rains have led to 350 deaths and displaced 800,000 people in Indian state

Over the last few days, an estimated 350 people have been killed and 800,000 displaced in the worst flooding to hit the Indian state of Kerala for over a century.

photo of floodingphoto courtesy of India Water PortalExperts warn that increasingly intense monsoon rains in India are another impact of climate change.

Thousands remain marooned by unusually intense monsoon rains. Between June 1 and August 17, the southern state has already received 2,305 mm of rainfall, which is more than 40 percent higher than normal.

The country’s Airforce and Navy are still searching for people stranded on rooftops. In the town of Chengannur an estimated 5,000 could be trapped.

Hopefully the waters are set to recede over the next few days, although the authorities are concerned that there could be an outbreak of water-borne and other diseases. So far the floods are reported to have cost over $2 billion in damage, although this is widely expected to increase.

Local and international experts are warning that the intensity of the Monsoon rains is another impact of our changing climate: A study in Nature last year concluded that there has been a threefold increase in widespread extreme rain events over central India during 1950–2015.

During that period, there have been 268 reported flooding events in the country affecting about 825 million people, leaving 17 million homeless and killing about 69,000 people.

The increasing flooding “appears to be linked to the rapid surface warming in the northern Arabian Sea and the adjacent northwest India and Pakistan, which emerge as the largest ocean and land surface trends in the South Asian domain,” according to Nature.

One of the authors of that study, Dr. Roxy Matthew Koll from Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune says: “When there is more rain than the soil can absorb, water will quickly run-off overwhelming streams, drains and rivers, and causing flash floods.”

Another local expert, Dr. Pai, head of the Climate Prediction Group at the India Meteorological Department, argues: “Heavy rainfall used to occur in Kerala, but not with such continuity. This time, there has been widespread rain continually for a long time which has not been seen in recent years. However, we have observed that the intensity of daily rainfall is indeed increasing, especially along the western coast and in the north-eastern states.”

Malti Goel, former advisor, department of science and technology and founder, Climate Change Research Institute, Delhi told livemint.com that: …more

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Fall Armyworm’s Arrival in India Sparks Fear of its Spread Through Asia

Finding confirms theory that the invasive pest, that’s been decimating crops in Africa, might soon go global

Two-and-a-half years after the fall armyworm, an invasive crop pest native to the Americas, was first reported in Africa, it has now been officially confirmed for the first time on the Asian continent, first in the southern state of Karnataka in India and more recently in the adjacent states of Telangana and Tamil Nadu as well.

Farmer weeding maize field in Indiaphoto courtesy of M. DeFreese/CIMMYTA farmer at work weeding in a maize field in the Indian state of Bihar. The fall armyworm has already been detected in three Indian states — Karnataka, Telegana, Tamil Nadu.

The pest, which is a voracious eater of maize along with at least 80 other plant species, was found on a maize plant in Karnataka and according to a pest alert from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has already been shown to have a 70 percent infestation rate there.

As I wrote in March of the Armyworm in Earth Island Journal’s summer issue, most experts believed that since the pest reached Africa, it was only a matter of time before it spread further throughout the eastern hemisphere. The fall armyworm is a strong flyer and can reach distances of hundreds of miles in one night with the right winds. It is already confirmed or reported in every country in sub-Saharan Africa and given the continent’s proximity to the Middle East and the rest of Asia, its further spread was inevitable. Although it is unknown where the pest will go next, a recent paper by Regan Early from Exeter University says, “current trade and transportation routes reveal Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand face high threat of fall armyworm invasions originating from Africa”.

The Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), one of the organizations leading the fight against the fall armyworm, was already preparing for this eventuality. “We had been planning a regional meeting in Pakistan on emerging invasive threats including fall armyworm before it arrived in India,” says Roger Day, program executive for CABI’s Action on Invasives program. “We’ll be going ahead with that in September. We’re in discussion with various partners about what other meetings might be useful in Asia.”

Muni Muniappan of the USAID-funded Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management was also looking ahead. In July of 2017, he invited a Nepalese researcher to a fall armyworm meeting in Ethiopia, with the knowledge that the pest would likely reach Asia …more

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Lion Shaped Mountain: Muddy Travelers

In Sierra Leone, humans and chimpanzees are being pushed closer and closer together

At the western edge of the African continent, the blackness of the night sky gives way to an early morning purple. Where once there was only the sound of the Atlantic Ocean slapping against the rocks and sand of the coastline, there is now the hazy image of the shore. Opposite the sea, the features of the continent begin to take shape. Appearing out of the darkness is the imposing silhouette of the lion shaped mountain.

photo of chimpanzeephoto by Andrew HalloranThe Mabureh chimpanzee community occupies a small riverine forest area hardly able to contain community's 22 chimpanzees.

When the purple sky begins to glow with a reddish hue, the mountain’s violent shape comes into focus. At first, it appears to be a series of random hills. However, once it is imagined, a lion becomes visible. The first hill creates the top of his mane. The next series of hills create the profile of his face. His eyes appear closed but his mouth is opened wide. The final hill creates his beard and lower mane.

When the hue of the sky becomes a fiery red, the silhouette becomes even crisper. It is as if a giant lion is emerging from the Earth. His open mouth screams at the heavens. One might imagine that he is screaming about some injustice. Perhaps he is surfacing to seek vengeance.

The mountain slopes down into an estuary. The water from the estuary flows into the ocean. Opposite the ocean, the estuary forks into three rivers. One goes behind the lion shaped mountain and leads towards the morning sun. This river meanders through forests and farmlands. It passes villages, mining zones, and factories. At one point it takes a sharp turn in the middle of a riverine forest patch. The forest’s canopy hangs over part of the river. It is thick and humid in the early morning mist.

Two nests are situated in trees near the banks of the river. The nests are intricately woven platforms of leaves and branches. They appear empty until, from out of the larger nest, the head of an infant chimpanzee my team and I have named Ferdinand pops up. After looking around to examine the new day, he gives a soft hoot. The sound is enough to wake up his older sister, Miranda, who rises up from the smaller nest. She dives over to Ferdinand, shaking the entire tree as she lands. Their mother, Prospera, who has been sleeping …more

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What’s Causing Florida’s Algae Crisis?

Five questions answered about the blooms that are killing fish and threatening public health

Editor's Note: Two major algae outbreaks in Flordia are killing wildlife and threatening public health. Along the state's southwest coast, a red tide outbreak has become one of the longest in the state's history. Though algae blooms are common in Florida, scientists think the prolonged outbreak is likely the result of a combination of factors, including pollution, ocean temperature and salinity, and heavy rain. Blue-green algae blooms are also occuring in downstream estuaries along both of the state's coasts, caused by polluted freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee and polluted urban runoff from the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee watersheds.

photo of Lake Okeechobee photo by NASA Earth ObservatoryIn early July 2018, blue-green algae blooms were detected across 90 percent of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.

What’s the difference between red tide and blue-green algae?

Both are photosynthetic microscopic organisms that live in water. Blue-green algae are properly called cyanobacteria. Some species of cyanobacteria occur in the ocean, but blooms — extremely high levels that create green surface scums of algae — happen mainly in lakes and rivers, where salinity is low.

Red tides are caused by a type of algae called a dinoflagellate, which also is ubiquitous in lakes, rivers, estuaries, and the oceans. But the particular species that causes red tide blooms, which can literally make water look blood red, occur only in saltwater.  

What causes these blooms?

Blooms occur where lakes, rivers, or near-shore waters have high concentrations of nutrients — in particular, nitrogen and phosphorus. Some lakes and rivers have naturally high nutrient concentrations. However, in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, man-made nutrient pollution from their watersheds is causing the blooms. Very high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are washing into the water from agricultural lands, leaky septic systems, and fertilizer runoff.

Red tides form offshore, and it is not clear whether or to what extent they have become more frequent. When ocean currents carry a red tide to the shore it can intensify, especially where there are abundant nutrients to fuel algae growth. This year, after heavy spring rains and because of discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee, river runoff in southwest Florida brought a large amount of nutrients into near-shore waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which fueled the large red tide. 

The red tide has killed thousands of fish and other aquatic life, and state agencies have issued public health advisories in connection with both …more

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Time to Step Up Pressure Against the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines

Work on both pipelines have been temporarily halted due to vacated federal permits and multiple environmental violations.

The news has been coming in thick and fast from the ongoing battles to stop two fracked gas pipelines that are being forced through Appalachia and beyond. Both the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines have been ordered to stop construction amidst vacated federal permits and multiple environmental violations.

atlantic coast pipelinephoto courtesy of Construction EquipmentThese pipelines have already wreaked havoc and destruction upon everything they have touched.

Resistance has been gaining pace, with epic tree sits and creative blockades, including one West Virginia grandmother locking herself down in the 1970s Ford Pinto that was her first car.

Resistance has also been strong in the courts. Attorneys with the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center won major victories in the past two weeks to overturn permits that were incorrectly issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Parks Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The court’s vacating of these permits means that the route of each project is now uncertain. This left the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) no choice but to order work to stop until the issues with the permits are settled. If they can be settled.

The fact is that these federal agencies broke or changed the rules in order to give these pipeline companies what they wanted, threatening endangered species and water quality in doing so. Now a question mark hangs over whether they can permit these projects and protect the natural resources that they’re supposed to be stewarding on behalf of the American people.

These pipelines have already wreaked havoc and destruction upon everything they have touched. Regulators and citizen groups have cited both projects with numerous violations across West Virginia and Virginia as heavy rains, fueled by climate change, have caused serious erosion of fragile mountain soils exposed by construction work. Creeks and rivers have filled with sediment, choking aquatic life and impacting the headwaters of the region’s river systems for years to come. As Virginia state senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) stated in a recent letter to Governor Northam, "It is not an overstatement to say that science dictates that [the Mountain Valley] pipeline cannot be safely built in this area."

I live in these mountains and I know some of the farmers who have had to give up some of their best pasture to make way for these projects, against their will and at the hands of unjust eminent domain laws that …more

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Is Your Perfume Sustainable?

Perfumery may seem benign, but ingredients derived from plants and animals can come with serious environmental and ethical toll

Perfumery might seem like a fairly benign business. It’s about personal scent more than anything else. But as one of the largest global luxury industries, perfume-making can have a significant impact on certain plants and animals valued for their rare scent profiles. Most perfume formulations are hidden behind one word on perfume labels, usually ‘Parfum’ or ‘Aroma,’ which makes it difficult for a consumer to know if a product is made using ethically sourced ingredients. Sustainability of raw materials used in perfumery has not always been a primary concern for consumers, but environmental consciousness regarding the issues seems to be growing.

 photo of roundup Photo by FotoMediamatic Certain raw materials used in perfumery are extracted from animals and rare plants.

Most perfumes are designed using synthetic ingredients these days, but there’s been a resurgence when it comes to use of more natural and organic materials, and some perfumes have so-called ‘mixed-media’ blends that use both synthetic and natural products. Though synthetic ingredients are typically cheaper, there are certain benefits to natural perfumes that are attracting attention from manufacturers and consumers alike, including the fact that they are less likely to trigger allergies, asthma, or headaches. Nevertheless, use of natural ingredients can be problematic. Some raw plant materials have been so overexploited by perfume makers and worshipped by perfume lovers that they are now threatened with extinction, and use of animal derived materials raises serious ethical concerns.

The perfume industry is one of the biggest consumers of precious oils extracted from plants. Although many plants are cultivated specifically to meet consumer demands, there are some wild plants that are targeted by the industry. Most of these are highly appreciated by perfumers because of their rarity, difficulty in harvesting, and because they have a unique scent profile and add outstanding nuances to perfume formulations.

Sandalwood, which is used both in perfumery and traditional medicine, is one example. It is harvested primarily in India, where it is now almost extinct in the wild. The Indian government enacted strict regulations on sandalwood harvesting in the 1960s, and as a result, production in the country has fallen significantly. But sandalwood is still listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Redlist. With sandalwood threatened in the wild, Australia has entered the sandalwood market and is producing the trees sustainably. Environmentally responsible perfume brands usually mention the origin of sandalwood if it is used in …more

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One Man’s Suffering Exposed Monsanto’s Secrets

Company’s own records revealed damning truth of glyphosate-based herbicides’ link to cancer

It was a verdict heard around the world. In a stunning blow to one of the world’s largest seed and chemical companies, jurors in San Francisco have told Monsanto it must pay $289 million in damages to a man dying of cancer that he claims was caused by exposure to its herbicides.

 photo of roundup Photo by Mike MozartOn Friday, jury's found not only that Monsanto's Roundup and related glyphosate-based brands presented a substantial danger to people using them, but that there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Monsanto’s officials acted with “malice or oppression” in failing to adequately warn of the risks.

Monsanto, which became a unit of Bayer AG in June, has spent decades convincing consumers, farmers, politicians, and regulators to ignore mounting evidence linking its glyphosate-based herbicides to cancer and other health problems. The company has employed a range of tactics — some drawn from the same playbook used by the tobacco industry in defending the safety of cigarettes — to suppress and manipulate scientific literature, harass journalists and scientists who did not parrot the company’s propaganda, and arm-twist and collude with regulators. Indeed, one of Monsanto’s lead defense attorneys in the San Francisco case was George Lombardi, whose resumé boasts of his work defending big tobacco.

Now, in this one case, through the suffering of one man, Monsanto’s secretive strategies have been laid bare for the world to see. Monsanto was undone by the words of its own scientists, the damning truth illuminated through the company’s emails, internal strategy reports, and other communications.

The jury’s verdict found not only that Monsanto’s Roundup and related glyphosate-based brands presented a substantial danger to people using them, but that there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Monsanto’s officials acted with “malice or oppression” in failing to adequately warn of the risks.

Testimony and evidence presented at trial showed that the warning signs seen in scientific research dated back to the early 1980s and have only increased over the decades. But with each new study showing harm, Monsanto worked not to warn users or redesign its products, but to create its own science to show they were safe. The company often pushed its version of science into the public realm through ghostwritten work that was designed to appear independent and thus more …more

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