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Portuguese Kids to Sue 47 EU Governments Over Climate Change

Children from region hit by country's worst forest fires seek crowdfunding for lawsuit

For the last couple of years in the US, 21 children and young adults, known as the “climate kids,” have been involved in a landmark legal suit against the US Government for failing to act on climate change.

The legal action, which was started against the Obama Administration, is now proceeding against Trump and his climate denying Administration. The later has unsuccessfully tried to stop the case from proceeding.

photo of emissions at German power plantPhoto by mjaysplanet, FlickrA group of Portuguese children are suing EU countires alleging that the governments' collective failure to tackle climate change threatens their right to life.

The kids claim the government’s promotion of fossil fuel production and its indifference to rising greenhouse temperatures have resulted in “a dangerous destabilizing climate system” that threatens the survival of future generations.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is the granddaughter of NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen. “In my opinion, this lawsuit is made necessary by the at-best schizophrenic, if not suicidal nature of US climate and energy policy,” Hansen told the court when he testified on the kids’ behalf.

The stakes are high. Mary Wood, a University of Oregon environmental law professor has said the lawsuit is “the biggest case on the planet.” Michael Burger, a Columbia University law professor and specialist in climate law adds “Whatever happens next, this is a case to watch. It’s out there, ahead of the curve.... It may be the opening salvo in what will be an increasing number of lawsuits that take a rights-based approach to climate change in the United States.”

The case is scheduled for trial later this year.

Similar lawsuits have been brought in amongst others, Holland, Belgium, New Zealand, Pakistan, Austria, and South Africa.

And now Portgual joins the list. Schoolchildren aged from five to fourteen from the Leiria region in the country hit by the country’s worst forest fires this summer are seeking crowdfunding to sue 47 European countries, alleging that their collective failure to tackle climate change threatens their right to life. The countries they are targeting are responsible for 15 per cent of global greenhouse emissions.

They are being supported by the NGO Global Legal Action Network, which launched a crowdfunding appeal yesterday on CrowdJustice. According to the funding appeal:

“In June of this year these children watched their district burn as a result of the worst forest fires in their country’s history. The fires, which have …more

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The Snake Lover

A Virginia herpetologist fosters respect for reptiles

“It’s a rainbow!” shouts J.D. Kleopfer.

As I come running from where I am also searching for snakes, I see a beaming Kleopfer, Virginia’s state herpetologist, holding a slender, three-foot long snake with prominent red and gold stripes.

image of J.D. Kleopfer Photo by Betsy Howell J.D. Kleopfer, a Virginia state herpetologist, with a rainbow snake. Kleopfer is involved with everything to do with amphibians and reptiles in Virginia, including surveying for the presence of different species throughout the state .

“I was just about to leave,” he says, “but then I saw her in these rocks and I thought, “Please don’t be dead! The only rainbow I’ve ever seen here was dead, and when I saw flies above her, my heart sank. But then she moved!” As the snake twines through his fingers attempting escape, he adds, “She’s not as bright as rainbows usually are because she’s about to shed. See, her eyes are milky.”

I ask to hold the snake and she feels wonderfully smooth and dry. She continues to move, along my forearm and over to my other hand, and I must work to keep hold of her. Up close, the colors jump out more. Light purple, brown, and a row of diamond-shaped scales that are half red and half yellow. I’ve never seen a rainbow snake before, dead or alive, but that’s not surprising since I live on the other side of the country, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. As a Forest Service wildlife biologist from the temperate rainforest, I work mostly with small carnivores, but in the last few years I’ve become more interested in amphibians and reptiles and the biologists who love them. I first got to know Kleopfer through our mutual participation in Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC). This organization is dedicated to maintaining healthy populations and habitats of herpetofauna, the collective term for amphibians and reptiles, whose Greek root, “herpein” means “to creep.”

Now I’m in Virginia, accompanying Kleopfer into the field. Being a state herpetologist means that Kleopfer is involved in everything to do with amphibians and reptiles in Virginia, including surveying for the presence of different species throughout the state. Field inventories, which may include simple visual surveys or setting live traps, provide important information that can then be used to inform land management and restoration activities and/or land acquisition. Our first day together is cool, with breezes blowing in off the Atlantic Ocean at False Cape State Park. We …more

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Long-Lost Congo Notebooks May Shed Light on How Trees React to Climate Change

Records found in abandoned research station contain a treasure trove of tree growth data dating back to 1930s

A cache of decaying notebooks found in a crumbling Congo research station has provided unexpected evidence with which to help solve a crucial puzzle — predicting how vegetation will respond to climate change.

The treasure trove of tree growth data dating from the 1930s was found by the biologist Koen Hufkens in a tumbledown building at the Yangambi Biological Station, which was once Africa’s leading forest and agriculture research institution. Combined with other records, the recovered data allows Hufkens to make improved predictions about the health of the forest.

photo of tree in CongoPhoto by CIFORNotebooks discovered at an old research station in the Congo Basin contain weekly observations of some 2,000 trees between the 1930s and 1950s.

Hufkens, of Ghent University in Belgium, began researching the Congo Basin about five years ago. He had planned to install a high tech monitoring station known as a carbon flux tower in Yangambi. The instruments are indispensable for observing the way plant life responds to climate change and have become standard gear for studying forests in North America and Europe, as well as a handful of locations in the Amazon

Jungles such as the Congo forest play a critical part in controlling the rate of global warming; vegetation sucks up about 25 percent of the carbon dioxide we spew out of our tailpipes and smokestacks. Scientists believe much of this CO2 ends up stored in the trunks of tropical trees, with the Congo forest absorbing about 250 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

But research shows the tropical carbon sink is faltering. This means CO2 will build up faster in the atmosphere and temperatures will rise more quickly.

Scientists are working to understand better how tropical forests respond to shifts in rainfall. The Congo forest, second only to the Amazon in size, is particularly hard to study. Poor infrastructure, unstable governments and civil war have hindered systematic research. But understanding the Congo is important — it appears to be drying out, and it is hard to say how it will behave in a drier climate.

Hufkens was hired by a research team to install the first tower in the Congo Basin, but the project soon ran out of funds. Undaunted, Hufkens looked for other ways to examine how the forest responds to changes in rainfall. A colleague mentioned the neglected …more

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EPA Adds Prison Locations to its Environmental Justice Mapping Tool

EJ activists celebrate move as an advance in the struggle to recognize the environmental rights of prisoners

graphic depicting a prison

As an environmental reporter, it’s not every day that I get to communicate good news — the state of our environment often feels pretty bleak. But today, at least, there is a victory to celebrate: Thanks to the persistence of a small group of prison ecology advocates, the support of their allies, and the assistance of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), prisoners rights and environmental justice advocates have a new tool to add to their activist arsenal.

This summer, the EPA added a “prisons layer” to its Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool. Known as EJSCREEN for short, the tool can be used by the public to assess possible exposure to pollutants that might be present in the environment (i.e., land, air, and water) where they live or work.

The new layer allows the public to overlay the locations of the country’s 6,000-plus prisons, jails, and detention centers with information about environmental hazards like superfund and hazardous waste sites, something the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center has been pushing for as part of its campaign for the EPA to consider prisoners within an environmental justice context. For the prison ecology movement, which addresses issues at the intersection of mass incarceration and environmental degradation, it could be a game changer.

photo of prisonPhoto by Rw2, English WikipediaStateville Correctional Center in Illinois. Prison ecology advocates are celebrating the launch of a new prisons layer to the EPA's environmental justice mapping tool, but still hope the EPA will expand inspection and enforcement activities related to prisons.

“It’s huge,” says Panagioti Tsolkas, cofounder of the Prison Ecology Project, a program of the Human Rights Defense Center. “It’s one of those things that I think if you just look at it quickly, it seems almost mundane to have added a layer to this existing map. And in the absence of a movement present to actually use it for something, it could be meaningless…. But in the presence of what we’ve been doing over the last three years, of building this national movement and organizing model of looking at prisons from an environmental justice perspective … this is pretty massive.”

The Prison Ecology Project was thinking of creating it’s own map in the absence of an EPA version. And during our own reporting on toxic prisons earlier this year, Earth Island Journal and Truthout attempted …more

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The Environmental Destruction Wrought by War

Transitioning from terracide to ecolibrium

Even before war breaks out, the Earth suffers. Minerals, chemicals, and fuels are violently wrested from Earth’s forests, plains, and mountains. Much of this bounty is transformed into aircraft, gunboats, bullets, and bombs that further crater, sear, and poison the land, air, and water of our living planet. War is, and has always been, nature’s nemesis.

photo of military training in USPhoto by Marines, FlickrMarines participate in a training exercise in southern California. US military activities exact a large toll on the environment.

In his 2001 book War and Nature, Edmund Russell observed: “Since at least the days of the Old Testament, we have seen war and interactions with nature as separate, even opposite, endeavors.... Military historians have pushed beyond studies of battles and armies to examine the impact of military institutions on civilian society — but rarely on nature. Environmental historians have emphasized the role of nature in many events of our past — but rarely in war.”

Environmental activists, however, have a surprisingly long history of confronting militarism. The environmental movement of the sixties emerged, in part, as a response to the horrors of the Vietnam War — Agent Orange, napalm, carpet-bombing — and the abiding threat of nuclear war.

In 1971, Greenpeace got its start challenging a planned US nuclear test on one of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. The founders explained that they intentionally chose “Greenpeace” because it was “the best name we can think of to join the two great issues of our times, the survival of our environment and the peace of the world.” Greenpeace’s 1976 Declaration of Interdependence began: “We have arrived at a place in history where decisive action must be taken to avoid a general environmental disaster. With nuclear reactors proliferating and over 900 species on the endangered list, there can be no further delay or our children will be denied their future.”

But challenging the profit-driven and the power-hungry — whether they are corporate polluters or the Pentagon itself — comes with risks. In June 1975, a team of Greenpeace activists attempted to disrupt the “Whale Wars” raging off the California coast by placing their rubber boat between a pod of whales and the guns of a Russian whaler. The activists were nearly killed when the Russians fired a harpoon directly over their heads.

On July 10, 1985, while I was visiting the Greenpeace International office in Amsterdam, we received some shocking news: the Rainbow Warrior, the organization’s flagship, had …more

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Safeguarding Mexico’s Sierra Madre Cloud Forest against Logging

Recent trip to region uncovered survival of endemic salamander thought to be extinct

Due to its long evolutionary history, unique micro-climatic conditions, and the extreme luck of having survived millenia human pressure, the Mexican cloud forests represent the best of the American continent’s wild places. These small, oozing green islands lost in the mist of Mexico's Sierra Madre range have been destroyed for the establishment of corn fields and pastures, as well as by loggers. As a result, countless species of flora and fauna have been lost, ecosystem services have been diminished, and the region’s extraordinary scenic beauty has been compromised. And the threats continue: earlier this year, the Mexican government approved logging of a swath of forested land in the mountains, though the logging permit is now on hold.

image of big-footed salamanderPhoto by Roberto Pedraza Ruiz  The big-footed salamander, listed by the IUCN as "critically endangered (possibly extinct)," was spotted earlier this year in the Sierra Madre range.

In the state of Querétaro, located in Central Mexico, the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve forms part of the grand eastern Sierra Madre range. Home to the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG), the reserve houses some of the country’s last remaining cloud forests, which extend east into the neighboring state of San Luis Potosí. From towering oaks, to tree ferns, firs, sweetgums, cypresses, mexican basswoods covered thick moss, bromeliads, and orchids, these cloud forests represent authentic biological laboratories that are home to species of plants and animals only now being discovered.

The ecosystem services provided by Mexico’s cloud forests cannot be understated. The mantle of near-permanent mist that surrounds them is synonymous with groundwater recharge, ensuring rain permeates the limestone instead of running down the slope, and maintaining a water supply for the vast human population of the region. The forest also captures carbon dioxide while exhaling oxygen, assisting with climate regulation.

As the head of the GESG’s Conservation Land Program, I am charged with protecting ten private natural reserves. By purchasing land with high biological value, GESG has prioritized protection of the last cloud forests in the Sierra Gorda, home to jaguars, margays, and new species of magnolias. In these reserves, chainsaws, cattle ranching, and all other economic activities have been banned, and, as a result, wildlife has flourished. I have known these forests and mountains since I was a child, crossing them on foot and on horseback, uncovering many surprises. Visiting them is like a trip to the past, a peek at the wealth that once covered the entire eastern Sierra Madre …more

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Beyond Harvey and Irma

The militarization of homeland security and disaster relief in the climate change era

Deployed to the Houston area to assist in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, US military forces hadn’t even completed their assignments when they were hurriedly dispatched to Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands to face Irma, the fiercest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. Florida Governor Rick Scott, who had sent members of the state National Guard to devastated Houston, anxiously recalled them while putting in place emergency measures for his own state. A small flotilla of naval vessels, originally sent to waters off Texas, was similarly redirected to the Caribbean, while specialized combat units drawn from as far afield as Colorado, Illinois, and Rhode Island were rushed to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Meanwhile, members of the California National Guard were being mobilized to fight wildfires raging across that state (as across much of the West) during its hottest summer on record.

photo of military response to Hurricane harveyPhoto by Timothy PruittTexas Guardsmen prepare to help evacuate Texans during Hurricane Harvey. In the era of climate change, the US military may play a growing role planning for extreme weather events and responding to natural disasters.

Think of this as the new face of homeland security: containing the damage to America’s seacoasts, forests, and other vulnerable areas caused by extreme weather events made all the more frequent and destructive thanks to climate change. This is a “war” that won’t have a name — not yet, not in the Trump era, but it will be no less real for that. “The firepower of the federal government” was being trained on Harvey, as William Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), put it in a blunt expression of this warlike approach. But don’t expect any of the military officials involved in such efforts to identify climate change as the source of their new strategic orientation, not while Commander in Chief Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office refusing to acknowledge the reality of global warming or its role in heightening the intensity of major storms; not while he continues to stock his administration, top to bottom, with climate-change deniers.

Until Trump moved into the White House, however, senior military officers in the Pentagon were speaking openly of the threats posed to American security by climate change and how that phenomenon might alter the very nature of their work. Though mum’s the word today, since the early years …more

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