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Venezuela’s Mining Crisis Gains Regional Attention

Latin American section of Society for Conservation Biology urges protection of environment and human rights in Mining Arc

In 2016, the Venezuelan government issued a decree turning close to 112,000-square-kilometers of Amazon rainforest into a special mining district, called the Mining Arc (or Arco Minero in Spanish). President Nicolás Maduro promised the Mining Arc would bring economic prosperity and ‘ecologic mining development.’ But instead, it seems to be Latin America’s biggest mining conflict in the making, and uncontrolled mining in the region is wreaking havoc on vulnerable communities, degrading ecosystems, and harming the regions incredible biodiversity, which includes everything from jaguars and armadillos to some 850 distinct bird species.

photo of gold in handphoto by Bram EbusSince oil prices began to plummet several years ago, informal mining operations in Venezuela's biodiverse Orinoco Belt have grown in size.

Venezuela’s pillaging of its own resources, and corresponding environmental devastation, do not receive the attention they should. But for the first time, in July the Mining Arc made it into discussions on a major regional platform: the Congress of the Latin American and Caribbean Section of the Society for Conservation Biology (LACA-SCB), which is world's largest community of conservation professionals.

Arc of Desperation

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

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..

>Read More…

During the event, held in Trinidad & Tobago, LACA-SCB agreed on a conference statement on the Mining Arc: The beginning of the statement reads:

"In the Venezuelan Guiana Shield and Amazon Basin, including all territories south of the Orinoco River and its delta, there occurs an area of critical regional importance to the conservation of biocultural diversity. Between 2000 and 2015, deforestation there has increased exponentially due in part to observable intensification of human activities in northern Bolivar state, a “hotspot” of precious metals and minerals including gold, diamonds, iron, and coltan, among others. Most of these activities are directly or indirectly related to an increase in informal gold mining practices, which affect protected areas and indigenous territories."

The full text can be consulted here.

So far, few attempts have been made to study current and future impacts of the Mining Arc, but the first indicators are alarming. Juan Carlos Amilibia, a biologist with the Central Venezuelan …more

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Of Earth, Wind, and Birds

With a changing climate come changing winds, and implications for feathered riders of the breeze

At the end of a third day of seemingly ceaseless high winds in the portion of western Colorado that I live in, I watched a tired and subdued Steller’s jay trying to take a little shelter from the seemingly unending spring tempest. A normally energetic species, this fellow had plainly had enough. The Steller’s jay is common to Colorado, but not at lower elevations nor in the sere adobe hills of my neighborhood. The mature, if non-native, trees here often provide an artificial bird oasis. My yard had plainly appealed to this fellow as a welcome respite. 

 photo of stellar's jay Photo by Eric EllingsonClimate change is responsible for many new and difficult conditions for both man and beast, but wind is one of the most overlooked of those elements.

As I watched his listless attempts to forage on the lawn, and slightly more animated attempts to avoid the irritated doves nesting in the willows nearby, I pondered his situation from the protected stillness of my living room. I recalled a light-hearted but compelling article from Forbes in the autumn of 2017 entitled “Where do birds go in a hurricane” by a writer identified only a “GrrlScientist.” I was captivated by the photo of a wounded hawk, named Harvey by the driver of the taxi in which he was seeking shelter during Hurricane Harvey. It was an interesting question, and one I felt had greater implications for bird populations in general. I hadn’t truly considered it further until the exhausted jay reminded me.

Climate change is responsible for many new and difficult conditions for both man and beast, but wind is one of the most overlooked of those elements. Farmers and outdoor buffs get it, but an increase in the force of spring winds is not yet the stuff of earnest discussion among the majority of folks in North America. Some folks wonder if it’s all in their imagination. It’s not. 

Take this recent excerpt from the Washington Post: “In March, 17 of 31 days featured gusts of at least 30 mph, and three days had gusts exceeding 40 mph. In April, so far, we’ve had gusts over 30 mph on 10 of 19 days, and also three days with gusts exceeding 40 mph. Winds have gusted over 30 mph on seven of the past eight days in Washington.” The phrase ‘in like a lion, out like a lamb’ — which refers to the March transition from winter to spring …more

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Mendocino Complex Wildfire Becomes Biggest in California History

Thousands of firefighters battle blaze as it destroys homes and forces evacuations

Plumes of smoke towered over flame-engulfed mountains in northern California on Monday evening as thousands of firefighters grappled with the largest wildfire in state history.

At a community hall in a small farming community 121 miles north-east of San Francisco, Renato Lira, an American Red Cross disaster services worker, looked through photos on his phone of the fire he had just driven through to set up an evacuation center. As he flicked, his screen turned red.

 photo of Mendocino complex firePhoto by Bob SchoenherrThe Mendocino Complex fire is currently burning across 443 square miles, engulfing homes filling the air with smoke.

“It’s not stopping,” Lira said of the blaze. “People thought this year was going to be a break.”

At 443.4 square miles and growing, the blaze is already larger than New York and approaching the size of Los Angeles. The fire surpassed this size of the Thomas Fire, which broke out in 2017.

The 3,900 crews battling the Mendocino Complex on Monday were focusing on keeping flames from breaking through fire lines on a ridge above the foothill communities of Nice, Lucerne, Glen Haven, and Clearlake Oaks, said Tricia Austin, a spokesperson for Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency.

As of Monday afternoon, the Mendocino Complex fire had destroyed a total of 87 residences and 82 other structures, and forced thousands to evacuate. News agencies have reported seven deaths so far in blazes across California.

The images on Lira’s phone are a testament to the forbidding atmosphere in a region that has seen repeated blazes over the past four years, threatening the local economy and leading residents to question fire prevention strategies.

Blazes throughout the state have disrupted summer routines, with much of Yosemite national park closed due to fire activity. Air quality around the park is poor amid thick smoke and falling ash.

About 14,000 firefighters, including inmate volunteers, are battling 18 major blazes burning thousands of square miles. Firefighting costs have more than tripled from $242 million in the 2013 fiscal year to $773 million in the 2018 fiscal year that ended on June 30, according to Cal Fire.

The fire conditions have drawn unusual commentary from Donald Trump, who tweeted that the blazes had been caused by policies that require the state’s water managers to divert water from reservoirs into rivers and streams. Among other things, the policies are meant to protect struggling fish species and prevent salinity in waterways.

“Governor Jerry …more

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We #StandWithEllen: Pennsylvania Grandmother Sent to Prison For Protesting Plastics Pipeline

Ellen Sue Gerhart has been an outspoken opponent of the Mariner East 2 pipeline that is to run through her family’s land

On Friday afternoon, a Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas judge sentenced a 63-year old grandmother, Ellen Sue Gerhart, with a 2 to 6 month jail sentence and a $2,000 fine for allegedly violating a court-ordered injunction against her and monitoring construction work for a pipeline on her own land.

Ellen GerhartPhoto providedSince deciding to oppose the natural gas liquids pipeline, Gerhart and her family have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, surveillance, and violence, but continue to persist in their work.

The case against her is very likely in retaliation for her tireless work to protect her family's land and Pennsylvania's waterways from Energy Transfer Partners' Mariner East 2 pipeline. Ellen was arrested on Friday, July 27 and was held in solitary confinement while on hunger strike all week leading up to her court hearing. She has taken every opportunity possible, even while incarcerated, to draw attention back to the dangers of the Mariner East pipeline project.

Gerhart is a retired special ed teacher and longtime Huntingdon County resident who has lived on her family’s land for 35 years in peace. Over three years ago, her tranquil retirement was abruptly disturbed with a notice that pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) planned to build a polluting, volatile natural gas liquids pipeline straight through her land in order to supply raw materials for plastics manufacturers in Europe.

The Mariner East 2 pipeline crosses the state of Pennsylvania, connecting Marcellus Shale fracked natural gas liquids to the coast for export. Natural gas liquids are highly hazardous petrochemicals, and include the chemicals butane, pentane, propane and ethane. The Marcellus Shale is particularly rich in ethane, the largest natural gas liquid by volume; ethane is the chemical building block for the most common types of plastic, including polyethylene and polystyrene. As consumer, corporate and government action against plastic pollution is increasing, more attention is focused on the dramatic planned expansion of petrochemicals in the U.S. fed by the fracking boom. Mariner East 2 is an example of one of these petrochemical projects; over 264 more are proposed in the next five years.

Gerhart’s family never gave ETP permission to build a pipeline through their land, but ETP seized it anyway using eminent domain law. This application of eminent domain has been controversial, as the law is meant to be used for taking private property for public use, whereas Mariner East 2 is going to be a pipeline …more

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Defenders of Mexico’s Environment Chronicle Their Battles

Poet Homero Aridjis and Betty Ferber have spent a lifetime fighting to save endangered species and ecosystems in Latin America

In 1985, Mexico City was hit with some of the worst air pollution ever to choke a city. While the city receives plenty of sunlight, it is high in the mountains of central Mexico, surrounded by peaks that block the ability of winds to sweep away the air pollution. The ugly brown pall stayed for weeks.

monarch butterfly clusterphoto by Pablo LeautaudNews of the Earth chronicles Homero Aridjis and Grupo de los Cien's' many battles to save the enviornment and wildlife, including a decades-long campaign to protect the monarch forests in Mexico.

One of Mexico’s greatest living poets, Homero Aridjis, was horrified and decided to do something about the dangerous air quality. He and his translator and wife Betty Ferber organized a group of one hundred personalities — leaders in Mexico in the arts, literature, culture and science. The Group of 100 (Grupo de los Cien) released a strong statement to the media against air pollution, calling on the Mexican government to take action to protect human health and the environment. Aridjis was the key author of the manifesto, and a major environmental movement in Mexico was born. Grupo de los Cien’s efforts would eventually lead to daily monitoring of air quality in Mexico City.

News of the Earth collects the many statements, letters, and newspaper columns written by Aridjis or about him and the Group of 100’s campaigns, chronicling the 35 years that he and Ferber have been in the forefront of environmental action in Mexico. The book highlights the many environmental battles and victories won for wild places and wildlife in that beautiful country, some of which had global implications, including campaigns to save monarch butterflies, gray whales,   dolphins, and sea turtles.

This timely book also includes coverage of crucial aspects of Mexico’s historical and political relationship with the United States and the rest of the world. One of Aridjis’s most recent actions was a detailed proposal for constructing a solar border on the Mexican side.

Aridjis has written 49 books of poetry and prose, has served as Mexico’s ambassador to Switzerland, The Netherlands and UNESCO, and has been president of the Group of 100 since its founding. Many pieces included in News of the Earth are powerful articles Aridjis wrote for Mexican newspapers, denouncing threats to wildlife, ecosystems and human life in Mexico and Latin America and urging strong action to protect them. 

As a boy, Aridjis would often walk up in the mountains near his home, marveling …more

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Make No Mistake, Orca Mom J-35 and Pod Mates Are Grieving

Sad story could be a catalyst for changing the way we think about other animals

Editor's Note: J-35 was still carrying her calf as of August 1, nine days after she died.

I've received numerous emails during the past six days about an orca mother, called J-35, a member of an endangered population of killer whales near San Juan Island, Washington, grieving the loss of her child. It's been a "hot" global media item, and numerous accounts of her and other pod member's behavior can be seen here. J-35 has been observed balancing the corpse on her head and on her nose, and other pod members are also taking turns in what's been called a funeral ritual. Jenny Atkinson, director of the Whale Museum on San Juan Island notes, ""Ceremonies can go on for days to honour and mourn the loss of a loved one ... I think that what you're seeing is the depth of importance of this calf and the grief of the mother and the family." Ken Balcomb, pioneering whale researcher, orca expert, and founder of the Center for Whale Research, calls it "a very tragic tour of grief." I agree with both of these people and others who know orcas well. If J-35 wasn't grieving along with other pod members, what are they doing? And, why is this such a media magnet? Is it because many people don't identify with orcas or other marine animals as they do with, for example, companion animals and other terrestrial beings?

 photo of stellar's jay Photo courtesy of Center for Whale ResearchJ-35 has carried her calf for nine straight days since she died on July 24.

Too many people are "land mammal-centric"

"It's not anthropomorphic to use this label for them. .. Grief and love are not human qualities. They're things we share with some other animals." — Dr. Barbara King, animal grief expert and author of How Animals Grieve

As emails came pouring into my inbox, I began to wonder why all the press on J-35's behavior. She's clearly grieving the loss of her child and other pod members are taking turns in the mourning ritual. In addition to what I quote above, King also notes, "We can't get into the animal's mind, we don't know if she has a concept of death ... …more

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Nobel Peace Laureates Call on Jerry Brown to Phase Out Fossil Fuel Production

California Governor has issued more than 20,000 permits for new oil wells since taking office in 2011

As wildfires devastate regions of California, the impacts of climate change couldn’t be hitting much closer to home for Governor Jerry Brown while he gears up to host the Global Climate Action Summit in September.

 photo of oil pump in CaliforniaPhoto by Sarah Craig/Faces of FrackingGovernor Brown has gotten behind innovative approaches to tackling climate change, but has side-stepped the major issue of fossil fuel production in California.

While the Governor has been a long-time champion of ambitious and innovative approaches to tackling the problem, he has sidelined one critical piece of the puzzle: He has not yet advanced any policies to confront and address California’s own fossil fuel production. In fact, since he took office in 2011, Governor Brown’s administration has issued more than 20,000 permits for oil companies like Chevron to drill new wells in California. Ignoring fossil fuel production is like trying to solve the climate crisis with one arm tied behind your back. We need to address both supply and demand if we are going to wind down fossil fuels in line with what it will take to meet the Paris goals.

The latest voices to call on California and Governor Brown to tackle fossil fuel production are six Nobel Peace Laureates (Spanish version here). These laureates add their voices to calls from local California elected officials, scientists and academics, a massive global civil society coalition, and grassroots and frontline communities in California.

The letter calls on the Governor and the state “to become the first major fossil fuel producer to begin a managed and just transition off oil and gas production, in turn protecting the climate, citizens on the frontlines of extraction, and setting a new direction for global climate action.”

Like many self-identified “climate leaders,” California is dangerously ignoring the reality that in order to meaningfully tackle climate change we have to address fossil fuel production. As the letter points out: "Climate leadership is being redefined, and we strongly believe you, Governor Brown, can be among those at the vanguard. We know the vast majority of fossil fuels must be kept in the ground. Climate leaders can no longer explore for and exploit new fossil fuels, and climate leaders must have a plan to phase out production by no later than mid-century."

Decades after beginning to understand and tackle climate change through policies that …more

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