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Five Big Cats Rescued from Thailand’s Tiger Temple

Fate of remaining 142 big cats still uncertain

Thai officials seized five of the 147 captive tigers at the controversial Tiger Temple on Friday and relocated them to wildlife refuges run by the country’s national parks department, according to a report in the Bangkok Post.

entrance to Tiger Temple meditation centerPhoto by Steve WinterThe Tiger Temple's new 'meditation center' is part of a massive new expansion initiative that will include a new temple building and a larger tiger enterprise - housing up to 500 tigers in the project's initial phase.

While the rescue of the first five tigers is welcome news, the fate of the remaining 142 was still unclear as of posting this update. The Bangkok Post reports that it’s possible that the temple authorities and Thai officials “had reached an agreement that 70 tigers could be removed while the remaining 77 should be kept at the temple for tourism purposes so the foundation can earn revenue to operate.”

Friday’s big cat rescue by Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation comes a week after the National Geographic magazine revealed that the temple, officially known as Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, has been involved in the illegal trade and speed-breeding of tigers since at least 2004. The temple — that’s located in Kanchanaburi, about a three-hour drive from Bangkok — attracts thousands of tourists every year, who pay $200 or more each for hands-on contact with the tigers. The temple makes a whopping $3 million a year from this business.

photoname Photo by Sharon GuynupThe Tiger Temple makes about $3 million a year from thousands tourists who show up to
pet and play with the tigers.

The NatGeo investigation was based, in part, on information provided in a report by the Australian animal welfare group, Cee4Life. The report includes videotaped evidence from a whistleblower codenamed “Charlie” that three micro-chipped male tigers were trafficked from the temple in December 2014 with the full knowledge of the temple’s founder and leader, Abbot Phra Acham Phoosit (Chan) Kanthitharo. (Read EIJ’s article on this issue, which includes an interview with Cee4Life founder Sybelle Foxcroft, here.)

Though Cee4Life made it’s report public last Friday (January 22), it had turned its findings over to Thai authorities (and to NatGeo) back in December.

The Thai …more

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Copenhagen’s Mayor Announces Plans to Divest City from Fossil Fuels

Denmark's capital will withdraw investment fund out of all holdings in coal, oil, and gas if proposal is approved

Copenhagen’s mayor has announced plans to divest the city’s 6.9 billion kroner (£700 million) investment fund of all holdings in coal, oil and gas.

If his proposal is approved at a finance committee meeting next Tuesday, as expected, the Danish capital will become the country’s first investment fund to sell its stocks and bonds in fossil fuels.

Photo of Tony WebsterPhoto by Alan HoppsIf the mayor’s plan is approved, the Danish capital will become the country’s first investment fund to sell its stocks and bonds in fossil fuels.

“Copenhagen is at the forefront of world cities in the green transition, and we are working hard to become the world’s first CO2 neutral capital in 2025. Therefore it seems totally wrong for the municipality to still be investing in oil, coal and gas. We must change that,” the city’s mayor, Frank Jensen, told the Danish newspaper, Information, which first reported the story.

“I think this move sits well with Copenhagen’s desire for a green profile for their city,” he added.

It is unclear exactly how much of the city’s money pot is currently tied up in equities and bonds in the dirty energy sector. 

A council spokesperson told the Guardian that no decision had yet been taken as to where exactly the withdrawn monies would be reinvested.

The divestment initiative began with a small leftwing party on the Copenhagen council, before being taken up by Jensen, a social democrat.

Last year, Oslo became the first capital city to divest from fossil fuels, when it ditched $7 million of coal investments, to join a growing movement of cities that have pledged to combat climate change. The world’s largest coal port, Newcastle in Australia, has also made a divestment commitment.

In a possible sign of Scandinavian rivalry, Jensen suggested that Copenhagen’s move might be more significant. “I am not aware of any other capitals, which have made decisions as clear as the one, we are making,” he said. “But I believe more will follow in the wake of the climate agreement in Paris. The development will be fast.”

Around 80 percent of the world’s known coal, 50 percent of its oil and 30 percent of its gas reserves will have to stay in the ground …more

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Delta 5 Defendants Acquitted of Major Charges

Washington judge first in the US to hear “necessity defense” for climate-related civil disobedience, later instructed jury not to consider it

In a highly-anticipated decision announced January 15th, a Washington state jury has acquitted five climate activists of their major charge of obstructing a train. The defendants, known as the Delta 5, were prosecuted for demonstrating against oil trains in Seattle’s Delta rail yard, which is owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF).

Photo of Delta Five ProtestPhoto by Dan LongThe Delta 5 were prosecuted for demonstrating against oil trains in Seattle’s Delta rail yard.

The case marked the first time that a U.S. judge allowed defendants to present evidence showing that they practiced civil disobedience to avert the threat of climate change, and did so out of necessity. Under the “necessity defense”, defendants can escape prosecution if they can prove a law was broken to prevent a greater harm. In 2008, six Greenpeace activists used this defense in England, and were acquitted of all charges after cutting the power to a coal-fired power plant and painting the name of Prime Minister Gordon Brown on its smokestack.

In their effort to demonstrate necessity, the Delta 5’s defense called on several expert witnesses, including Professor Richard Gammon of the University of Washington – a co-author of the first monumental report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued in 1990, as well as hazardous materials expert Fred Milar, who testified to the dangers of transporting crude oil by rail. Gammon testified to the damage climate change has already brought to Washington state, while Milar testified to the hazards of transporting crude by rail, and how rail companies shift those risks onto the public.

Despite allowing the testimony of these expert witnesses, Snohomish County Judge Anthony Howard decided on January 14th that the defendants did not meet the requirements for the jury to consider their necessity defense. As a result, the judge instructed the jury not to consider whether the defendants acted out of necessity. In explaining his decision, the judge argued the defendants had not demonstrated a basic case that there were no reasonable legal alternatives to their actions.

The next morning the jury found the five defendants guilty of trespassing on BNSF property, but not guilty of obstructing a train – a charge that would have carried a heavier sentence. As a result, the defendants – Michael LaPointe, Patrick Mazza, Jackie …more

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Bald Eagles Soar to New Heights

Reintroduction project in Channel Islands National Park has been a success for the iconic raptors

As I kayaked into the cove at Cluster Point on the southwest side of Santa Rosa Island, part of the Channel Islands National Park in California, I witnessed something few had seen for at least 50 years. Two bald eagles, one mature, the other a juvenile, were lurking on the periphery of a northern elephant seal rookery. A big bull elephant seal appeared to be dead, lying motionless in the wind-whipped sand. The mature eagle hopped in closer and went to peck at the colossal marine mammal. Besides catching fish, the majestic raptors are known to scavenge on marine mammal carcasses. Just as it went for a bite, the 3,000-pound seal lurched skyward, startling both bald eagles. Their wings opened up and the howling northwest winds carried the hungry raptors eastward beyond the next bluff, the dramatic scene best observed from the seat of my kayak.

closeup photo of a bald eagleall photos by Chuck GrahamClick or tap this photo to view a slideshow of bald eagles in California’s Channel Islands

Bald eagles had virtually vanished from the Channel Islands National Park by the early 1950s due to poisoning from the pesticide DDT. Montrose Chemical Corporation, which manufactured DDT beginning in the 1940s, dumped hundreds of tons of it into the Southern California Bight near Santa Catalina Island, placing the local food web in great jeopardy. Exposure to the pesticide caused birds like the peregrine falcon, the California brown pelican, and the bald eagle to lay thin-shelled eggs lacking in calcium. Before chicks were born, eggs would crack and the chicks would be crushed by their parents. Generations of birds never left the nest.

Ten years of litigation followed, and in 2000, Montrose was ordered to cough-up $140 million in restitution, with $40 million set aside for the recovery of wildlife like the bald eagle, as well as seabird habitat restoration.

Beginning in 2002, the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the Institute for Wildlife Studies embarked on an aggressive recovery plan, releasing 12 bald eagle chicks a year through 2006, all on Santa Cruz Island in the National Park. The chicks, hatched in captivity, were brought to the island at just 8-week-old. Eaglets are not capable of flying until around 12 weeks, so they were firstplaced in hack towers, large …more

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‘I Consider Myself to Be a Fossil Fuel Abolitionist’

A conversation with climate activist Tim DeChristopher

In 2008, climate activist Tim DeChristopher arrived at a BLM oil and gas lease auction in Utah with the intention of disrupting it. He was thinking along the lines of making an impassioned speech, but when he was offered the chance to register as a bidder in the auction, he saw an opportunity he couldn’t pass up, and made a choice he knew would likely land him in prison.

DeChristopher Photo by Stephen Melkisethian

As bidder number 70, DeChristopher won nearly $1.8 million in bids for some 22,000 acres of public land — bids that he had no intention of paying for — before he was pulled aside by a BLM agent.That’s when his long journey into the public spotlight, through the US justice system, and ultimately to prison, began.  

Following repeated delays in his prosecution, in March of 2011, DeChristopher was convicted of two federal felonies for his disruption of the auction. In July 2011, he was sentenced to two years in federal prison. (Read his July 2011 interview with the Journal, which took place just a week before his sentencing) When he was released from prison in April 2013, he emerged with an even deeper commitment to social justice. That fall he began a Masters program at the Divinity School at Harvard. Last week, DeChristopher sat down with me before his Climate One panel discussion at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and talked about how his time in prison and his faith have influenced his activism.

The last time you spoke with the Journal was about a week before your sentencing in 2008. A lot has happened since then. How did your time in prison impact your climate activism and your philosophy about civil disobedience?

I would say that my time in prison definitely further radicalized me. I think it made me more of a revolutionary, and it deepened a lot of my social justice commitments that I had understood intellectually beforehand. It kind of humanized a lot of the stuff that I knew intellectually. I think it gave me a more intersectional approach to the way that I do climate work that has been mutually reinforcing. Like, once I started intentionally working on prison abolition and became willing to consider myself a prison abolitionist, and understood what …more

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Thai Officials to Rescue 147 Tigers from Monastery After Investigations Reveal Trafficking

Death threats haunt founder of conservation group behind the revelation

Halfway through my Skype interview last night with Sybelle Foxcroft — the wildlife biologist who’s the key source behind last week’s horrific National Geographic investigative report about illegal cross-border tiger trafficking from the famed Tiger Temple in Thailand — she’s interrupted by a Thai official. Our connection is rather spotty so I can’t quite hear what the official, who’s off-screen, is telling her, but once he leaves, Foxcroft turns back to me, rather disturbed.

Suddenly, she isn’t feeling all that safe holed up in a remote national park and wildlife refuge in Thailand, without transport, miles from any town. She thinks she should relocate as soon as possible.

photo of tigers in a cage Sharon Guynup Thailand's 'Tiger Temple' got its first tiger in 1999, and currently houses about 147 tigers. This monastery doubles as a tourist attraction that brings in an estimated $3 million a year. Tigers are housed in concrete-floored cages; few get any exercise or time outdoors. Ten tigers lived in this enclosure.

“I received a threat yesterday. I was told by a very trusted source that they [those involved in the trafficking] want their hands on me… and I know there’s someone leaking information,” she tells me. “Now that [the report] is actually disturbing money and business from their contacts, the danger is heightened. I’ve moved around quite a bit but…”

Foxcroft is the founder of Cee4Life (Conservation and Environmental Education for Life), which publicly released its Tiger Temple Report on Friday. The report provides solid evidence that since at least 2004, tigers have been smuggled in and out of the monastery, formally known as Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, in Kanchanaburi (about a three-hour drive from Bangkok), and that the monks had for years been speed-breeding tigers for the international black market in wildlife trade. The report also alleges that this has been happening with the full knowledge of, and at the direction of, the temple’s founder and leader, Abbot Phra Acham Phoosit (Chan) Kanthitharo. 

photo provided Cee4Life founder Sybelle Foxcroft spent nine years investigating
the goings on at the temple.

Based on the information in the Cee4Life report, which includes evidence from a whistleblower codenamed “Charlie” that three micro-chipped male tigers were removed from the temple in …more

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What Is Your Nitrogen Footprint, and Who Is it Impacting?

For the first time, researchers calculate average reactive nitrogen emissions for people from 188 countries

You’ve heard of managing your carbon footprint. But how about your nitrogen footprint? Emissions of reactive nitrogen into the environment have increased more than 10-fold over the past 150 years, contribute to deaths from air pollution and water pollution, and have countless other impacts including acid rain and degradation of ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef.

Photo of FertilizerPhoto by AgriLife Today Limiting emissions from nitrogen fertilizers has proved difficult.

Now, for the first time, researchers have calculated the average nitrogen footprint of people from 188 countries, as well as where exactly they cause that pollution, helping pave the way to policy that could help the world reduce its emissions of reactive nitrogen.

Almost 80 percent of the atmosphere is made of nitrogen in the form of N2. But in that form it hardly interacts with other chemicals — so it is not useful for humans or plants, and it is not harmful either. And for most of Earth’s history, pretty much the only way N2 could be turned into a reactive form like ammonia or nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas) was either by bacteria, lightning and legumes.

“It takes a lot of energy to turn N2 into reactive nitrogen,” says Arunima Malik from the University in Sydney in Australia.

But since the industrial revolution, humans have been spewing reactive nitrogen into the atmosphere as byproducts from burning fossil fuels. And since the start of the 20th century it has been poured into the ground as fertilizer.

Regulations can be effective at reducing emissions from fossil fuel use, so long as they are not subverted the way they were by Volkswagen. But limiting emissions from nitrogen fertilizers has proved more difficult.

The manufacture of nitrogen-based fertilizer through the Haber process is responsible for feeding about 40 percent of the world’s people, according to Cameron Gourley, an agricultural scientist and secretary of the International Nitrogen Initiative Conference 2016, who was not involved in the study.

“We need to realize this is one of the world’s major breakthroughs,” he said. But we had been making too much, he said. Anything not captured by plants or animals ends up as pollution. “There is no doubt in …more

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