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Thirty Years Later: The Bombing of the Rainbow Warrior

New Zealand journalist David Robie returns with two books commemorating the sinking of Greenpeace’s iconic ship and the nuclear-free Pacific movement

Thirty years ago today French secret agents blew up Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior in nuclear free New Zealand. Paris’ covert action, code-named Opération Satanique (Operation Satanic), sank the 131-foot ship in Auckland Harbor, killing 35-year-old Portuguese photographer Fernando Pereira and leaving his eight-year-old daughter Marelle fatherless. The goal of the July 10, 1985 attack was to stop Greenpeace’s flagship vessel from sailing to Moruroa atoll and joining a peace flotilla of New Zealanders and Tahitians to protest at France’s South Pacific nuclear test site.

Photo of Rainbow WarriorPhoto by John MillerThe bombed Rainbow Warrior at Marsden Wharf in Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour.

Since the 1970s, Robie has arguably been to the nuclear-free and independent Pacific movement what John Reed, author of Ten Days That Shook the World, was to the Russian Revolution. Wherever Pacific Islanders have defended their rights and environment, the intrepid island-hopper has been there to report. Now that he is 70, the hard-hitting journalist is taking a reflective look back at a career spent on the frontlines of the anti-colonial, anti-nuclear, eco-struggles of Oceania’s indigenous peoples in two recently released books.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Rainbow Warrior’s demise, Auckland-based Little Island Press has published the fifth edition of Robie’s 1986 classic Eyes of Fire: The Last Voyage of the Rainbow Warrior. A book launching is scheduled for today, not far from where the Rainbow Warrior was bombed by state terrorists. The event will include Greenpeace’s “Courage Works,” a special Rainbow Warrior anniversary photography exhibition.

Robie was aboard the Rainbow Warrior during its fateful final mission, evacuating islanders from Rongelap atoll in the Marshall Islands, which had been irradiated on March 1, 1954 “when the Americans exploded the H-bomb Bravo on Bikini atoll,” as Robie wrote in Eyes of Fire. “The bomb was a 15-megaton giant, more than 1,000 times as powerful as the bomb which devastated Hiroshima.” Robie covered “Operation Exodus,” as the Greenpeace ship transported roughly 350 Marshallese atomic exiles from contaminated Rongelap to Mejato and Ebeye at Kwajalein atoll in May 1985. 

Because Robie had spent two-and-a-half months aboard the Rainbow Warrior reporting for top regional outlets — including Radio Australia, Radio New Zealand, New Zealand Herald, New Zealand Times, The Australian and Fiji-based Islands Business — he had the scoop. Robie won New Zealand’s Media Peace Prize …more

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Climate Change Is Shrinking Bumblebee Habitats, New Study Warns

Assisted migration may be necessary to prevent extinction of some bumblebee species in Europe and North America

Warming temperatures are killing off bumblebee populations across North America and Europe at an unprecedented rate, according to a new study published in Science. The study says global warming is putting a squeeze on these critical pollinators by shrinking their habitat ranges in both North America and Europe.

Red-tailed bumblebeePhoto by Jeremy T. Kerr As temperatures warm, bumblebee species are declining rapidly from warm areas but failing to colonize new areas in the north. Pictured here is a red-tailed bumblebee from Denmark.

As Earth’s temperature rises, many species have been expanding their territory further north while continuing to cling on to the southern (more rapidly warming) edges of their habitats. The new study has found that the northern populations of many bumblebee species are staying put while the southern range edge is retreating away from the equator.

“Picture a vise. Now picture the bumblebee habitat in the middle of the vise,” says Professor Jeremy Kerr of the University of Ottawa, a macroecology and conservation expert who led the study conducted by a team of 14 researchers from across North America and Europe. “As the climate warms, bumblebee species are being crushed as the 'climate vise' compresses their geographical ranges. The result is widespread, rapid declines of pollinators across continents, effects that are not due to pesticide use or habitat loss. It looks like it's just too hot."

For their study, the researchers examined more than 420,000 historical and current records of 31 bumblebee species in North America and 36 in Europe. The 110 years of records that the team examined show that bumblebees have lost about 185 miles from the southern edge of their range in Europe and North America. “We are not seeing bumblebees effectively fleeing to the north,” Kerr said during a press briefing on Wednesday. “We think we are simply losing the southern populations. The scale and pace of these losses are unprecedented.”

The shrinking range of these wild pollinators is bad news not just for agriculture (bumblebees are crucial for pollinating tomatoes, sweet peppers, strawberries, and blueberries, all of which have “stubborn flowers” that don’t give up their pollen easily),  but also for many other plants that birds and small mammals rely on for food and shelter. The researchers warn that if we don't act immediately to stop the …more

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Exxon Knew of Climate Change in 1981, Email Says, but It Funded Deniers for 27 More Years

Concern over high presence of carbon dioxide in enormous gas field in Southeast Asia factored into oil giant's decision not to tap it

By Suzanne Goldenberg

ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, knew as early as 1981 of climate change — seven years before it became a public issue, according to a newly discovered email from one of the firm’s own scientists. Despite this the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial.

Photo of Exxon ValdezPhoto courtesy of NOAA According to a newly discovered email, Exxon was aware of climate change as early as 1981.

The email from Exxon’s in-house climate expert provides evidence the company was aware of the connection between fossil fuels and climate change, and the potential for carbon-cutting regulations that could hurt its bottom line, over a generation ago — factoring that knowledge into its decision about an enormous gas field in south-east Asia. The field, off the coast of Indonesia, would have been the single largest source of global warming pollution at the time.

“Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia,” Lenny Bernstein, a 30-year industry veteran and Exxon’s former in-house climate expert, wrote in the email. “This is an immense reserve of natural gas, but it is 70 percent CO2,” or carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change.

However, Exxon’s public position was marked by continued refusal to acknowledge the dangers of climate change, even in response to appeals from the Rockefellers, its founding family, and its continued financial support for climate denial. Over the years, Exxon spent more than $30 million on think tanks and researchers that promoted climate denial, according to Greenpeace.

Exxon said on Wednesday that it now acknowledges the risk of climate change and does not fund climate change denial groups.

Some climate campaigners have likened the industry to the conduct of the tobacco industry, which for decades resisted the evidence that smoking causes cancer.

In the email Bernstein, a chemical engineer and climate expert who spent 30 years at Exxon and Mobil and was a lead author on two of the United Nations’ blockbuster IPCC climate science reports, said climate change first emerged on the company’s radar in 1981, when the company was considering the development of Southeast Asia’s biggest gas field, off Indonesia.

That was seven years ahead of other oil companies and the public, according to …more

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Vulture Populations Are Crashing in Africa

Scavengers are under threat from farmers, poachers, and illegal trade in body parts

Vulture populations are facing steep declines across Africa due to poisoning and the illegal trade in vulture body parts fueled by traditional medicine. According to the first comprehensive analysis of African vultures, published in June in Conservation Letters, populations of seven African vulture species have declined by 80 percent or more over the last 30 years.

Photo of Vulture in AfricaPhoto by R∂lf Κλενγελ A vulture in Massai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. African vultures populations are facing steep declines.

The biggest threat to vulture populations is poison left out by farmers. Farmers often use poisons to kill jackals, rabbits, lions, and wild pigs that threaten crops. When vultures scavenge on farms and find animals killed by poison, they ingest the poison as well.

"Sometimes we use poison baits to kill farm jackals and other predators,” admits Gerrie Prinsloo, a potato farmer in the South Africa’s Cape province and chair of the Farm Conservationist and Animal Welfare Taskforce, a group working on vulture conservation issues. “Vultures walk into the deadly mix." 

"It's a dilemma,” he adds. “You want to deter pigs that trample over your crops. You end up killing ten vultures with one poison."

According to Ash Naude of the South Africa Griffon Vulture Information Centre, a project of the vulture conservation organization Vulpro, 86 bearded vultures, which are endangered, died on a farm in South Africa’s Cape province after feeding on the flesh of dead farm sheep in October 2014. The bearded vulture, whose range in southern Africa is restricted to the Maluti Drakensberg mountains in South Africa and Lesotho, is classified as an endangered and continues to decline in numbers, according to the South Africa National Parks agency website. 

Vultures also fall victim to intentional poisoning by poachers targeting rhinos, elephants, and tigers. Armies of vultures circling over an elephant carcass alert police and game rangers to poachers' activities. To avoid detection, poachers will often spray the body of their kill with lethal pesticides and other poisons to kill the scavengers. 

The impact can be far reaching. In one grisly example in July 2013, up to 600 vultures perished after eating the flesh of a dead elephant in Namibia's Bwabwata National Park. Electronic tags pinned on some of the dead vultures showed they had flown all the way from …more

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At Katmai National Park, Bears and Humans Too Close for Comfort

Sightseers disturb bear feeding habits, biologists warn, but Park Service shows little willingness to redirect human traffic

One of the most awe-inspiring wildlife spectacles in the world is the scene of brown bears catching salmon at Katmai National Park. During the summer sockeye salmon runs, brown bears congregate on the Brooks River to capture salmon jumping the Brooks River waterfall, and later to feed on carcasses of dead salmon washed downstream after spawning. The annual salmon feast sustains the dense bear population found in Katmai which is home to an estimated 2,200 bears – the largest protected bear population in the world.

Brown Bear fishing Salmon photo by Christoph Strässler, on FlickrBrown Bear fishing Salmon, Katmai National Park

I spent a month exploring Katmai in the late 1970s. Back then I sometimes was the only person watching bears at the falls. Since then, the popularity of this amazing wildlife spectacle has grown exponentially. During the height of the summer tourist season, hundreds of visitors may crowd the river daily hoping to see the bears and salmon. Between the coming and goings of tourists, the float plane landings and barge landings, the Brooks River bears are suffering from the growing human encroachment.

Dr. Barrie Gilbert, emeritus senior scientist at Utah State, and his graduate students have studied the human-bear interactions at Katmai National Park for decades. Their studies document that bears, particularly the most vulnerable bears – those with cubs – alter their behavior to avoid areas with heavy human presence.

The area surrounding Brooks Camp was once a primitive fishing lodge. Over the years the tourist infrastructure has incrementally expanded to include a campground, living quarters for park staff, a visitor center, and landing facilities for float planes – all within prime bear habitat. According to bear biologist Gilbert, there is no other comparable development in prime bear habitat anyplace in the world.

Brown Bear under Viewing Plattform, Brooks Camp, Katmai National Parkphoto by Barrie GilbertBrown Bears and people, Viewing Plattform, Brooks Camp, Katmai National Park

“Human access and close contact with Brooks bears is the most permissively managed of any agency or private viewing site in the world,” Gilbert says. “Over 32 years I have witnessed visitor numbers go from dozens of people per day to over …more

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Lawyer for Environmental Group ‘Interrogated Repeatedly’ at US Border

Environmental activists for Deep Green Resistance in seven states say they have been questioned and harassed by US federal agents at work and at home

This story was produced in partnership with the Guardian.

Deanna Meyer lives on a sprawling 280-acre goat farm south of Boulder, Colorado. She’s been an activist most of her adult life and has recently been involved in a campaign to relocate a prairie dog colony threatened by the development of a shopping mall in Castle Rock.

Photo of Larry HildesLarry Hildes at a protest in 2007.

In October of last year, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security showed up at her mother’s house and later called her, saying he was trying to “head off any injuries or killing of people that could happen by people you know.”

Meyer was one of more than a dozen environmental activists, many of them members of the environmental group Deep Green Resistance, contacted by the FBI, DHS, and state law enforcement investigators in late 2014. In one case they wanted to know if Deep Green Resistance was a front group for another organization involved in violent activity or sabotage.

Now, the activists’ lawyer, Larry Hildes, seems to have been swept up in the investigation himself. On several occasions, Hildes says, he has been detained at border crossings for lengthy interrogations and questioned about Meyer.

The story was first reported in January but, until now, members of Deep Green Resistance had not spoken publicly about the wave of visits, which began with a call to the parents of an activist in Clearwater, Florida, on October 1. Eight members of Deep Green Resistance and two other activists not affiliated with the group who were contacted around the same time have since come forward to the Guardian.

The activists recounted a mix of FBI visits from October to December as agents showed up at their workplaces, their homes, and in some cases contacted their families seeking information about Deep Green Resistance and, in one case, asking a member if she was interested in “forming a liaison.” They were also purportedly interested in activist work surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline.

The sweeping inquiry, which targeted activists in at least seven states, appears to have been an effort to cultivate informants or intimidate activists engaging in a variety of environmental causes.

The FBI declined to comment for this story in a written statement saying the agency …more

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Earth Island Journal Hits the Road with Neil Young and Promise of the Real

Hang out with us at one of ten upcoming concert dates this month

Like many writers I know, I find that having some tunes playing in the background often helps make the words and sentences come more easily. Usually I go for classical or jazz (I don’t want other people’s words distracting me), but sometimes I opt for rock or country and bluegrass or hip-hop. For some reason, this spring Neil Young’s modern classic After the Gold Rush was in heavy rotation on my turntable while I was writing on topics as diverse as the California drought, ivory smuggling, and wildness in the twenty-first century. The title track, you might remember, includes these indelible lines:

“Look at Mother Nature on the run/
in the nineteen seventies”

Listening to the lyrics again and again made me wonder: If Mother Nature was on the run 40 years ago, what would Neil Young think about the state of the environment today, as climate change impacts the entire biosphere and civilization slams the pedal toward the sixth mass extinction? Maybe, “Look at Mother Nature under the gun/ in the twenty-first century”?

Well, looks like I have something of an answer. Last week Neil Young released his latest album, The Monsanto Years, a double-barreled protest album that takes aim at “the thoughtless plundering” of Earth, genetically modified foods, and the power of giant corporations like, you guessed it, Monsanto (and Starbucks, too). Here’s what Rolling Stone had to say about The Monsanto Years:

He’s rarely driven his point home as vehemently as on The Monsanto Years, a jeremiad against the agrochemical behemoth of the title and what he sees as American farming’s Frankenstein future. “From the fields of Nebraska/To the banks of the Ohio/Farmers won’t be free to grow/What they want to grow,” Young sings at one point. If the imagery evokes Woody Guthrie, the righteous rock & roll fire is pure Neil.

This is garage-to-table grousing for a genetically engineered world, a landscape where you’re supposed to see some weeds. Young’s lyrics often sound like advocacy journalism or posts to a Daily Kos comments thread: “When the people of Vermont/Voted to label food with GMOs/So that they could find out what was in/What the farmer grows/Monsanto and Starbucks, through the Grocery/Manufacturers Alliance/They sued the state of Vermont/To overturn the people’s will,” he proclaims …more

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