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Dramatic Decline in Borneo’s Orangutan Population as 150,000 lost in 16 years

Fresh efforts needed to protect critically endangered animals from hunters and habitat loss as population more than halves

Hunting and killing have driven a dramatic decline in the orangutan population on Borneo where nearly 150,000 animals have been lost from the island’s forests in 16 years, conservationists warn.

photo of plastic balesPhoto by Gemma i Jere, Flickr Female orangutans are sometimes killed for their young, which are sold on as pets. Others are killed for food or for venturing onto plantations or into gardens.

While the steepest percentage losses occurred in regions where the forest has been cut down to make way for palm oil and acacia plantations, more animals were killed by hunters who ventured into the forest, or by farm workers when the apes encroached on agricultural land, a study found.

Researchers estimate that the number of orangutans left on Borneo now stands at between 70,000 and 100,000, meaning the population more than halved over the study period which ran from 1999 to 2015. Without fresh efforts to protect the animals, the numbers could fall at least another 45,000 in the next 35 years, the conservationists predict. The real decline could be worse, because the prediction is based only on habitat loss, and does not include killings.

The bleak assessment of the state of the Bornean apes comes from an international team of conservationists who compiled one of the most comprehensive reports yet on the animals, which in 2016 were declared “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“I expected to see a fairly steep decline, but I did not anticipate it would be this large,” said Serge Wich, a co-author on the report at Liverpool John Moores University. “When we did the analyses, we ran them again and again to figure out if we had made a mistake somewhere. You think the numbers can’t be that high, but unfortunately they are.”

The researchers studied 16 years of ground and helicopter surveys that recorded the numbers and locations of nests that orangutans built in the trees from branches and leaves. The nests have long been used to infer the sizes of orangutan populations because the animals themselves are so elusive.

Writing in the journal Current Biology, the team describe how the decline in nests from 1999 to 2015 points to the staggering loss of 148,500 orangutans in Borneo. The conservationists identified 64 separate groups of orangutans on the island, but only 38 are thought to comprise more than 100 …more

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China’s Ban on Plastic Waste Imports Is a Wake-Up Call

Recycling is not enough: We need bold solutions to deal with our plastic overproduction problem

Remember that plastic milk jug you emptied out last month? And that yogurt container you threw in your recycling bin last week? Chances are, they are now sitting in one of the growing mounds of plastic piling up in collection centers across the country with nowhere to go.

photo of plastic balesPhoto by recycleharmony, Flickr China effectively banned plastic waste imports on January 1, leaving the US recycling industry in the lurch.

As of January 1, China effectively banned imports of plastic recyclables from other countries. The change represents a major policy shift: In 2016, China took 51 percent of the 15 million tons of plastic recyclables in trade globally, including a whopping 40 percent of US citizens’ plastic recycling. So when China announced that it was shutting its doors to our plastic, it was a wake up call for the US recycling industry. 

"Corporate recycling is in for a reality check as China raises its standards,” says Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center, a leading zero waste non-profit and recycling center in Berkeley, CA. “Everyone is desperately looking for the cheapest possible new destinations for low quality mixed materials, and there is currently a lot of incentive for companies to dump, burn, or bury recyclables that customers think are getting recycled.”

Due to trade imbalances amongst other factors, it’s been much cheaper for many states to ship plastic abroad than deal with it stateside. Giant barges arrive at ports around the country with products manufactured in China, and we have been reloading those barges with plastic waste generated from cheap, single-use products and packaging, and sending it right back to China and other parts of Asia.

The “recyclable” plastic the US sends abroad are often low-quality and low-value. Some contain a cocktail of toxic additives that threaten recycling workers’ health. (Recyclables that are higher value, namely HDPE and PET [#1 and #2], are more often recycled domestically.) The bales of plastic recyclables we were sending to China were also often contaminated with non-recyclable materials, which recycling operations were then forced to dispose of, either through landfilling or burning. (Indeed, the effective ban was in fact a drastic tightening of “impurity standards” for recyclables imports, one that US facilities cannot meet. China has also announced that it plans to completely ban plastic waste imports in 2019)

In some importing countries, collection and processing of low-grade plastics for recycling is carried out largely by …more

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New Online Calculator Reveals the Full Impact of Your Meat Intake

One person's meat-eating can take a big toll on animals, climate, and health over time

One of my resolutions this year is to eat less meat. As a lifelong carnivore, this task has already proven to be easier said than done. The major challenge comes down to changing my habits. After years of enjoying bacon with my eggs for breakfast, I now associate its comforting greasy taste with the feeling of fullness. So how do I — and others like me — overcome this obstacle? One big challenge is finding a way to stay motivated.

Enter the Meat Blitz-Calculator.

photo of hotdogsPhoto by Derek K. Miller The Meat-Blitz Calculator displays the consequences of our meat-eating for your health, the climate, and animals.

Major reasons for cutting down on meat have to do with the health, environmental, and animal welfare impact of this dietary choice. It may be easy to understand the negative consequences meat-eating has for your heart, the climate, or animals on factory farms, but it's another matter when it comes to relating these impacts directly to your own consumption habits. This is where the calculator comes in.

The first question the calculator asks is whether you eat meat. If you answer yes, the calculator displays three predetermined average values for the amount of poultry, pork, and beef in ounces you consume in a week. These figures — based on information taken from a USDA database — represent the national average for Americans and can be adjusted accordingly. The calculator then asks you to fill in what percentage of meat you would be willing to replace with vegetarian food in your diet.

This is where things get interesting. Based on further USDA statistics, the calculator displays the direct impact your dietary decision could have over the course of a decade. This information comes in two parts. The first set of figures shows how much water, CO2, and antibiotics would be spared by committing to your change in diet. The calculator also displays an infographic that represents the number of pigs, cows, and chickens you would save from the slaughtering block.

What difference can this make to your habits, you may wonder? It comes down to shifting perspectives. Using the averages of the calculator, I committed to a 60 percent reduction over the next decade. By crunching the numbers, the calculator revealed the full impact my dietary decision could have on both my own wellbeing as well as the environment and animals (the latter two …more

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Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Aims to Speed Up and Even Sweep Away Environmental Reviews

Proposal would threaten endangered species and fragile habitats

The Trump administration is attempting to speed up or even sweep away various environmental reviews in its plan to fix America’s crumbling infrastructure and construct a wall along the border with Mexico.

photo of roadworkPhoto by Oregon Department of Transportation The Trump Administration's plan seeks to speed up approval of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects.

The White House’s infrastructure plan targets what it calls “inefficiencies” in the approval of roads, bridges, airports, and other projects. It proposes a 21-month limit for environmental reviews of projects that potentially threaten endangered species or fragile habitats, along with curbs on federal agencies’ ability to raise objections to new construction.

In a meeting with state and local officials on Monday, Trump said, “we’re going to get your permits very quickly.” The president, who mentioned he was able to push through the building of an ice rink in New York’s Central Park within a few months, said he will “speed the permit approval process from 10 years to two years, and maybe even to one year.”

The campaign to fast-track development over concerns has been picked up by Trump’s lieutenants. Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has attempted to quicken the pace even further, telling the same group that the EPA will “process every permit, up or down, within six months” by the end of 2018.

The administration has sought to completely cast aside environmental considerations when it comes to its controversial border wall. It recently acquired a waiver for the third time in order to speed construction of 20 miles of the wall in New Mexico, and Trump has rescinded an Obama-era rule that demanded officials consider sea level rise and other climate change factors in federally-funded projects.

Environmentalists have warned that Trump’s agenda will place extra pressure on endangered species and risk exacerbating hazards, such as flooding, by failing to factor climate change.

A recent report by the Center for Biological Diversity found that the border wall risks the habitat of dozens of species, including the arroyo toad, the Peninsular bighorn sheep, and the jaguar, which was once driven out of the south-western US but has been spotted again in recent years due to the northward migration from a group located around 100 miles south of the border in Sonora, Mexico.

A coalition …more

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Grooming the Next Generation of Farmers

Urban ag groups are engaging youth to build sustainable community food systems in New York State

Many urban centers in Upstate and Western New York have a stronger reputation for blight and struggling post-industrial economies than for innovation and vibrant food production. However, two organizations  — VINES and the Massachusetts Avenue Project — are looking to change that, capitalizing on vacant urban spaces to build sustainable community food systems and train tomorrow’s young farmers and environmentalists.

photo of youth farmingPhoto by Kevin Brouillard High school studnets harvest the last peppers of the season at the Massachusetts Avenue Project's urban farm in New York state.

Urban farming has been increasingly gaining attention for its trendy aesthetic and as a means of improving access to healthy food in cities across the US. But the debate continues regarding whether this niche farming model can be implemented on larger scales as an economically viable practice while reducing food deserts and improving public health. With an aging population of farmers, increasing demand for local organic food, and growing urban population, a new generation of farmers and innovators is needed. And the youth faction driving the urban farming movement provides some hope.

Situated on the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers, Binghamton is home to VINES, which stands for Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments. Having just celebrated its tenth anniversary, VINES is well known throughout the Binghamton community for its impressive community garden initiative, which by 2020 will add eight more gardens to the area, for a total of twenty. Truly embodying the “V” in VINES, the 11th and 12th gardens were completed with massive volunteer support, according to Kaitlyn Sirna, VINES’ community garden and youth program manager. The 12th garden marks the first outside Binghamton, and is located in neighboring Johnson City. Once the notorious Binghamton winter passes, the nonprofit will be breaking ground on several more.

VINES’ youth program is equally noteworthy, employing roughly 20 high-school students each summer for a six-week immersive educational and professional experience. The student demand to partake in VINES’ summer youth program far exceeds capacity, but a handful of participants are selected to return each year in leadership positions. And one 2013 summer crew member even returned as an AmeriCorps volunteer.

The youth program is oriented around VINES’ downtown urban farm, but the scope of the training extends well beyond fieldwork. In addition to a comprehensive understanding of composting and crop rotations, youth participants develop skills in resume writing, financial literacy, and interviewing for jobs. Sirna stressed the importance of these real-world skills, …more

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Winter Olympics Are at Major Risk from Climate Change. Why is NBC Silent on the Subject?

Environmental groups launch Twitter storm pushing netork to end its 'climate whiteout'

Environmental and public health groups are launching a "Twitter storm" on Friday to compel NBC to end its "climate whiteout" and cover the impacts of global warming on the Winter Olympics. So far, the network, which calls itself "the proud home for all US coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang," has failed to address the fact that increased temperatures due to climate change are threatening the future of outdoor winter sports.

photo of bobsledPhoto from Pxhere Nine of the past Winter Olympic host cities will likely not be cold enough for outdoor sports like bobsled and snowboarding in the future.

"For weeks, NBC has been putting out stories as part of its 'Road to PyeongChang' coverage — featuring profiles on the athletes and stories about their journey to qualifying for Team USA," said Allison Fisher, outreach director for Public Citizen's Energy Program, in an email. "Not one has mentioned climate change."

In a statement, the groups — Public Citizen, Protect Our Winters, and Climate Nexus — said that they are "organizing a twitterstorm to push NBC to end its #ClimateWhiteout in its coverage of the #Pyeongchang2018 #WinterOlympics. Winter sports are taking a huge hit from our warming planet and the athletes who depend on cold weather and snow are witnessing and experiencing climate change first hand. We can no longer talk about the Winter Olympics without warming."

They're asking Twitter users to "urge NBC to cover climate change impacts on the athletes and the games," which open Friday in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and run till February 25.

"NBC has hired a record 89 commentators to cover the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and is expecting to fill over 2,400 hours of coverage across its channels," the campaigners said. "How many commentators will ask about the impact of climate change on training and preparing for Olympics competition? Will NBC acknowledge the climate elephant in the room?"

Could NBC's climate silence during the run-up to the Olympics be tied to a larger programming shift? In 2015, of all the major networks, NBC had the most climate change coverage on coverage on evening newscasts and Sunday shows, with 50 minutes, according to Media Matters. But in 2016, the station logged the biggest decrease in climate coverage, dropping to a mere 10 minutes.

And while the Olympics sponsors have dumped some $800 million into NBC's coffers for advertising spots, and some, …more

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The Old Man of Algonquin Park

As Ontario's famous fox recovers from car injury, he serves of a reminder of the perils of feeding wild animals

In early November 2017 a fox known as the Old Man leaves the cover of the coniferous pines of Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park’s dense forest, and totters towards a gravel back road.  The Old Man stops, and cranes his ears, listening. His tail — matted and worn with age — drags along the ground behind him as he heads towards to the road. His hips move uncomfortably, stiff with arthritis, but he’s hungry so he carries on. Somewhere nearby his mate is making the same journey along with their kit, following the unmistakeable sound of a slowing car.

photo of Old Man foxPhoto by Andrew Budziak In October 2017, a month before he was hit by a car, the Old Man enjoyed a meal left for him by park visitors. Feeding wild animals is strictly against the rules of Algonquin Provincial Park.

The Old Man knows the road well, but can’t predict where the car might stop. When he gets to the road, he mistimes, and pops out in the path of the moving vehicle. He realizes his mistake too late.  In his younger days, he may have been able to get away unharmed. But not now.  The Old Man’s legs no longer have that spring that allows for a quick getaway. The car clips his front left leg. The Old Man hobbles away into the cover of the pines.

As the Old Man hides among the forest cover, his injures weaken his body and his immune system begins to struggle. Mange begins to wreak havoc on his fur. To fight the itch, the Old Man gnaws at his tail. Within a few days, most of his tail is furless. His injured leg coupled with his bad hips makes walking painful and slow.

The Old Man’s partner and kit are also hit by cars either on the same day as the Old Man, or shortly after.

***

It’s difficult to know for sure what happened to the Old Man and family, but this scenario is probably pretty close to the truth. So why would a family of wild foxes be so eager to rush towards the sound of a car? Over the years, slowing cars and slamming doors have signified an easy meal for the Old Man. Park visitors have learned that by crouching down and holding out food, the friendly fox who would become known as the Old …more

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