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Ozone Layer Thinning Over Non-Polar Regions, Scientists Warn

Though the hole over Antarctica has been closing, protective ozone isn't recovering over populated areas

The ozone layer that protects people from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation is not recovering over most highly populated regions, scientists warned on Tuesday.

photo of Earth’s AtmospherePhoto by NASA’s Earth ObservatoryThe Earth’s atmosphere, as observed from the international Space Station in 2011. New research indicates that the ozone layer, which wraps around the entire Earth, is thinning over non-polar areas.

The greatest losses in ozone occurred over Antarctica but the hole there has been closing since the chemicals causing the problem were banned by the Montreal protocol. But the ozone layer wraps the entire Earth and new research has revealed it is thinning in the lower stratosphere over the non-polar areas.

Reduced protection from cancer-causing UV rays is especially concerning towards the equator, where sunlight is stronger and billions of people live. The reason for the falling ozone at lower latitudes is not known, though scientists suspect a chemical used in paint stripper and a change in atmospheric circulation caused by climate change.

“The study is in lower to mid latitudes, where the sunshine is more intense, so that is not a good signal for skin cancer,” said Prof Joanna Haigh at Imperial College London, a member of the international research team. “It is a worry. Although the Montreal protocol has done what we wanted it to do in the upper stratosphere, there are other things going on that we don’t understand.”

Anna Jones, an atmospheric chemist at the British Antarctic Survey and not involved in the new study, said: “To identify what action might be needed to prevent further decreases, it is extremely important to understand what is causing the observed downward trend.” Scientists say budget threats to US satellite monitoring programmes must be reversed.

The new research, published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, carefully combined measurements of atmospheric ozone from 11 different datasets to produce a record of the last 30 years. It looked at ozone levels between the 60th parallels, an area that ranges from Scandinavia, Russia, and Alaska in the north to the tip of South America. (London is 51 deg N, Sydney is 34 deg S and New York city is at 41 deg N.)

The stratosphere stretches from 10km above the Earth to 50km and ozone is slowly rising in the upper stratosphere, back towards the levels …more

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First Nations Face Off against Open-Pen Salmon Farms in British Columbia

Protesters have been occupying offshore aquaculture facilities in their waters for five months fighting license renewals

For thousands of years, wild salmon has been central to the livelihood and traditional culture of First Nations communities along the British Columbia coastline. They have eaten fish from the same waters for generations; young people they have learned and danced the same Salmon Dance as their elders. Wild salmon are also key to a healthy and stunning ecosystem that includes orcas, grizzly bears, and bald eagles, and that draws millions of tourists to the region every year providing billions of dollars in local revenue. 

photo of swanson occupationPhoto courtesy of Swanson Occupation, Facebook First Nation activists occupy a Marine Harvest fish farm facility near Swanson Island in British Columbia.

But according to activists from British Columbia First Nations, a robust aquaculture industry is putting this all at risk. In particular, activists believe open-pen fish farming — raising fish enclosed in nets that are submerged and open to surrounding waters — has exposed wild fish to sea lice and disease such as the piscine reovirus that puts wild salmon stocks at risk. In addition, there is the potential for farmed fish to escape, which also threatens wild Pacific populations with contamination. 

Although there has been fish farming in the region for 30 years, the First Nations did not consent to these farms in their traditional territory. And they are committed to putting an end to the practice.

Since last August, protesters have occupied facilities associated with two open-pen fish farming sites, both of which are up for relicensing in June. The facilities, operated by Norwegian company Marine Harvest, are located on Swanson Island and Midsummer Island in the Broughton Archipelago in northern British Columbia, an important wild salmon migratory route. Occupiers are sending a clear message to government they want their rights as Indigenous people upheld and the licenses cancelled.

On Midsummer Island, protesters erected wooden structures directly on top of the walkways that run between the fish pens, with assistance provided by the Tiny House Warriors team gearing up to battle the Kinder Morgan pipeline in the coming months. On Swanson, abandoned Marine Harvest cabins were occupied in an area overlooking but not directly interfering with farming operations.

Shortly after the occupation got underway, Marine Harvest went to court and won an injunction — those occupying the Midsummer fish farm were given 81 days to get off Marine Harvest property, prompting a relocation to nearby Cedar Island. The fight continues on Cedar and on Swanson, and could soon be …more

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By Logging Wetland Forests for Corporate Profit, the American South Is Losing Its Backyard

A wetland forest left standing is worth 15 times more than a forest cut for timber

The Forest Service estimates that the US once held over a billion acres of old-growth forest in the lower 48. Now, less than 10 percent of old-growth forest remains in the continental US, and most of it is concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, where the terrain is simply too difficult to traverse with logging equipment. Wetland forests — the swamps, bayous, pocosins, and coastal forests of the South — have not fared much better. Some estimate that over 80 percent of wetland forests have disappeared since colonial times: dammed, ditched, and drained for agriculture, timber harvest, commercial and residential development, and pine plantations.  

photo of wetland forestPhoto courtesy of Dogwood Alliance A wetland forest clearcut in North Carolina linked to the biomass industry. By some estimates, 80 percent of wetland forests have disappeared since colonial times.

The impacts of forest loss are felt most strongly in wetland forests. These forests — any forest that is submerged for part of the year — don’t look like much, but they do the dirty work for us. Scientific studies have shown that wetland forests provide twice the value of upland pine forests in many categories of ecosystem services, including wildlife habitat, pollution treatment, flood control, and water supply for downstream communities. They also provide a significant increase in carbon sequestration.

Perhaps most importantly, our recent research, released today on World Wetlands Day, shows that a wetland forest left standing is worth 15 times more than one cut for timber. How’s that for a return on investment? All they ask in return is that we let them stay right where they are. But wetland forests, much like other forests in the South, are being destroyed to serve the forest products market. With every tree lost, we lose out on valuable ecosystem services like clean water, carbon sequestration, and protection from natural disasters.

The ongoing degradation of wetland forests in the region fits into the larger pattern of commercializing our southern forests. The US South only has about 2 percent of the world’s forest cover, but regularly produces over a fifth of its forest products. All said and done, forests in the South are being logged at a rate four times that of South American rainforests.

photo of wetland forestImage courtesy of Dogwood Alliance

Much noise is made — and rightfully so — about the destruction of primary forest in Malaysia and Borneo to make way …more

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The Chilly Work of Saving Ontario’s Algonquin Wolf

Researchers don snowshoes and brave freezing temperatures to learn more about the threatened species

Photos and article by Andrew Budziak

Visibility is less than 100 feet. The snow is not only blinding, it’s making it nearly impossible to keep my car on the road. The car in front of me stops, and I realize I’ve driven over what we’re looking for.

photo of scientists working in a snowy landscapephoto by Andrew BudziakHannah Barron instructs volunteer Suzanne Charron on how to best collect a scat sample without contaminating it. In -20°C weather, this is easier said than done. The scat freezes quickly and often must be cut out of ice and snow. To see more photos, click or tap this one.

Hannah Barron, a wolf researcher and director of Wildlife Conservation Campaigns for Earthroots, steps out of her car. Barron, her research assistant Adrienne Chalaturnyk, and I are the only people for miles. We’re standing on the side of a road near Ontario’s Killarney Provincial Park and I’ve just run over a set of wolf tracks.

“Sorry,” I tell Barron. 

“That’s ok,” Barron says. “We probably shouldn’t be driving in this weather anyway.” 

The wolf tracks tell us we’re close to what we’re there to document: scat and urine. Ontario’s provincial government is creating a recovery strategy for the Algonquin wolf, known outside the province as the eastern wolf. In 2016, the province declared the Algonquin wolf a distinct canid. Its status was moved to “threatened” which means the province has two years to come up with a recovery strategy for the animal.

I’ve met with Barron and Chalaturnyk as they hunt for DNA samples of wolves in and around Killarney Provincial Park to help better understand their population distribution. Wolf scat and urine provide great DNA samples, and this method of DNA collection is relatively non-invasive when compared to darting or collaring animals.

Barron heads over to the snow bank at the side of the road and starts wiping away the freshly fallen snow.

“If there is urine or scat here, it’s likely just below this recent snow,” she tells me.

The tracks begin in the bush on one side of the road and continue into the woods on the other. There are “No Trespassing” signs on both sides, which means we can’t follow the tracks. Too bad — the wolves did not leave any scat or urine in the banks.

The weather worsens, so we head back to a cabin which Barron and Chalaturnyk have turned into a research station. The …more

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Eel River Diversions Sustain California Wine Country, but Are Killing Salmon

With two dams up for relicensing, fish advocates and farmers face off over water use

Few people outside Northern California have heard of the Eel River. But if you’re a wine lover, there’s a good chance you’ve enjoyed its water in the form of a golden chardonnay or a rich red merlot.

The Eel River was once home to one of the largest salmon populations on the West Coast. But for nearly a century, a large share of its flow has been diverted for hydroelectric power and irrigation, helping build Northern California into a world powerhouse of winemaking. Much of the wine produced in Mendocino and Sonoma counties would not exist without that diverted Eel River water.

photo of El Carrejon minePhoto courtesy of Potter Valley Irrigation District The 130ft-tall Scott Dam on the Eel River stores water for year-round power production and irrigation. It is up for reclicening as part of the Potter Valley Project.

So it should come as no surprise that the prospect of ending those water diversions is stirring concern across the region.

The water diversions are part of the Potter Valley Project, a 9.2-megawatt hydroelectric facility owned by utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E). It includes two dams on the Eel River and a hydroelectric powerhouse in the headwaters of the Russian River.

In a quirk of geography, the two rivers flow past each other only about a mile apart, separated by a ridge. A mile-long tunnel built through the ridge in 1908 diverts Eel River water into the Russian River, which then flows south into Mendocino and Sonoma counties. The Eel turns north and flows through Humboldt County.

The powerhouse was originally built to provide electricity for the town of Ukiah. For about 80 years, it’s been part of PG&E’s vast Northern California energy portfolio.

The Potter Valley Project is up for relicensing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a once-in-50-years process that is prompting a hard look at whether the dams still make sense.

A key issue is fish passage. Like so many hydroelectric facilities of its era, the Potter Valley Project was built with no regard for migratory fish. Scott Dam, the largest of the two dams, is a 130ft-high concrete monolith with no fish ladders to allow fish to get around the structure. It was built on the Eel River in 1922, forming Lake Pillsbury about 12 miles upstream from the diversion tunnel.

Scott Dam has cut off salmon and steelhead from more …more

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Living in the Shadow of Colombia’s Largest Coal Mine

Indigenous communities in one of country's poorest provinces say El Cerrejón is harming health and environment

The sun is rising in the Indigenous reserve Provincial, in the northern Colombian province of La Guajira. The morning silence is broken by a pounding sound, emanating from a nearby mining pit just a few hundred meters from the community.

photo of El Carrejon minePhoto Ynske Boersma El Cerrejón is among the world's largest coal mines. Communities in La Guajira, one of Colombia's poorest provinces, say mining activities are polluting their water and harming their health.

“That noise continues day and night,” says local Luz Angela Uriana while grinding corn for breakfast. The air is heavy with dust, and smells vaguely of sulphur and burning coal. Smoke plumes rise above the mine. “And when they do their daily coal blast, our houses vibrate like mobile phones.”

Bordering the protected communal lands of the Indigenous reserve lies El Cerrejón, one of the world´s biggest open-cast coal mines. The company operating the mine, also named Cerrejón, extracts about one hundred tons of coal a day, with an international coal market share of 3.9 percent in 2016. Since the mine began operating in 1986, Cerrejón has exploited about 13,000 hectares of the 69,000 the company holds in concession. About 100 communities are affected by the mining activities, most Indigenous Wayúu, a smaller portion of African-Colombian descent.

Arc of Desperation

Venezuela’s decision to open up the Orinoco Belt to mining threatens the Amazon rainforest.

By Bram Ebus

At 10 a.m., young men on motorbikes start to arrive in front of a cockfighting arena in Las Claritas, a small village in the state of Bolívar in southeastern Venezuela. They mill around smoking cigarettes and playing cards. Their relaxed manner distracts one from the fact that nearly all of them are carrying weapons, handguns mainly, hidden under their t-shirts or tucked away in their sports pants.

»Read More…

The company, co-owned by mining giants Glencore, Anglo-American, and Billiton-BHP, says it complies with Colombian law and points to its sustainable development programs, such as their reforestation project and the relocations of local communities living close to the mine. But locals say the mining operations have taken a drastic toll on their health and quality of life. And they are fighting back.

In 31 years of operation, the people of Provincial have seen the mine inch closer and closer to their territory, which lies within one of Colombia's most impoverished provinces. Too close, according to locals, who say …more

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Volkswagen Under Fire for Testing Diesel Fumes on Monkeys and Humans

Carmaker condemned for experiments that involved humans and monkeys breathing toxic car fumes for hours at a time

Volkswagen, the world’s biggest carmaker, is under fire globally from politicians and environmentalists following revelations it commissioned experiments in which monkeys and humans breathed in car fumes for hours at a time.

photo of Volkswagen beetlePhoto by Riley from Christchurch, New Zealand on WikimediaTesting deepens suspicions that the car industry is looking to increase acceptance of diesel as a clean source of energy, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said there was an urgent need for the company to reveal the true extent of the experiments. “These tests on monkeys or even on humans are not ethically justifiable in any shape or form,” her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said on Monday. “The indignation of many people is absolutely understandable.”

VW is already under heavy scrutiny over its role in the “dieselgate” scandal, in which the carmaker manipulated tests on about 11 million cars worldwide to make it appear they met air emissions tests, when in reality they exceeded them many times over when used on the road.

The company said on Monday a small internal group had mistakenly pushed for the tests to be carried out and that they did not reflect VW’s ethos. But industry observers said VW’s excuses held little water, as the experiments had been well-documented and the results presented to managers at BMW, Daimler, and VW, all of whom belong to the car lobby institute, the European Research Group of Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT).

VW’s supervisory board representative and chief controller, Hans Dieter Pötsch, said on Monday he was struggling to understand how the tests had been allowed to be carried out, calling them “in no way understandable.”

Daimler and BMW tried to distance themselves from the tests, stressing that none of their cars had been used in the experiments.

Initially reported in the New York Times, the tests, carried out in May 2015 by the New Mexico-based Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI), involved locking 10 Java monkeys in small airtight chambers for four hours at a time. The animals were left to watch cartoons as they breathed in diesel fumes from a VW Beetle. The ultimate aim of the tests was to prove that the pollutant load of nitrogen oxide car emissions from diesel motors had measurably decreased, thanks to modern cleaning technology.

In a second round of tests, the animals …more

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