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Legal Battle in Germany Leaves Diesel in the Dust

German court empowers cities to ban diesel vehicles due to dangerous health effects

In 2009, Volkswagen launched an aggressive advertising campaign in the US under the banner of "clean diesel," presenting its new range of diesel cars as an eco-conscious choice that offered "efficiency without compromise." This strategy for selling diesel vehicles was new to the US but had already succeeded in Europe. Ever since the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, European governments and car manufacturers have collaborated to promote diesel as a sustainable alternative to gasoline.

photo of VW in EuropePhoto by Dave Pinter The ruling may prove historic for the European environmental movement because despite public outcry over the Volkswagen "clean diesel" car scandal, European governments have been extremely reluctant to act against car manufacturers.

German manufacturers lobbied the EU to support the technology, arguing that diesel, which produces 15 percent less CO2 than petrol, provides an affordable and efficient means to lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Most EU governments readily agreed, implementing subsidies and tax breaks to keep diesel cheaper than petrol. As a result, the production of diesel vehicles has skyrocketed over the last 20 years. There are 15 million diesel cars in Germany today — representing more than 30 percent of all vehicles on the nation's roads — and similar figures can be cited for the other EU countries.

The evidence is now clear, however, that "clean diesel" is nothing but an oxymoron. Despite its promotion by the auto industry as an eco-friendly fuel, diesel has led to extreme levels of air pollution across most European cities. Diesel cars may produce less CO2 than those run on petrol, but they release more than four times as many nitrogen oxides (NOx) — dangerous gases that produce smog and aggravate or induce a variety of health conditions, ranging from asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis to stunting in children and strokes. In Germany alone, NOx pollution causes an estimated 6,000 to 13,000 premature deaths per year.

On February 27, a date that may prove historic in the European environmental movement, the highest administrative court in Germany ruled that cities have a right to ban the use of diesel vehicles. The court determined that citizens' rights to a healthy environment trump the rights of car manufacturers, upholding prior bans enacted by local courts.

The scale of the diesel crisis in Europe was obscured for many years. But in 2015, diesel-related health costs were dramatically exposed when a US investigation revealed that Volkswagen’s diesel cars had only been …more

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Bison Make a Surprising Comeback on the Dutch Coast

Endangered species can thrive in habitats other than forests, paving way for their return

Eighty years after they were hunted to extinction, the successful reintroduction of a herd of wild European bison on to the dunes of the Dutch coast is paving the way for their return across the continent.

bison on dunePhoto by Ruud Maaskant/Courtesy of Wisentproject European bison live freely in the Dutch dune area, the Kraansvlak, in the Netherlands.

The largest land-living animal in Europe was last seen in the Netherlands centuries ago, and was wiped out on the continent by 1927. Despite successful efforts to breed the species again in the wilds of Poland in the 1950s, and renewed efforts in the last decade in western Europe, the European bison remains as endangered as the black rhino.

The 7,000 bison, or bison bonasus, that exist in Europe today are often given supplementary feed by rangers to get through the winter months.

Yet a study of a herd of 22 bison living in Kraansvlak, 330 hectares of dunes and natural ponds making up part of the Zuid-Kennemerland national park in north Holland, is now offering a more optimistic assessment of the bison’s chances of survival.

A series of research papers from the Dutch study further questions the belief that European bison are forest-dwelling creatures, a development that opens up their reintroduction to a whole host of new European environments.

Nature organisations in Sweden, Switzerland and the UK are looking on with interest, and knowledge is being shared with established projects in Spain, France and Germany.

“People thought, ‘Bison on dunes? The crazy Dutch’,” said Yvonne Kemp, the bison project leader in the Zuid-Kennemerland park, and the co-author of the latest published research. “But it is working, you can see the herd, they are having calves and doing well.

“The general view for decades was that European bison were a forest animal. But we were not so sure. We believed that they are not so suited to forests because today, still in winter time, in lots of areas, they feed the bison. They come to the hay, which is not super natural.”

Three bison were first introduced into the Kraansvlak, in the municipality of Bloemendaal, in April 2007, and a further three in 2008, at the start of a 10-year attempt to fight back against encroaching grasses and shrubbery stamping out the area’s biodiversity.

Managed by the water company, PWN, which exploits the natural filtration system of the dunes to supply north Holland, there was a pressing need for grazers to …more

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Questioning Our Views on Nonhuman Animals

In Review: Inside Animal Hearts and Minds

In Inside Animal Hearts and Minds: Bears that Count, Goats That Surf, and Other True Stories of Animal Intelligence and Emotion, Belinda Recio serves up an engaging coffee table book demonstrating that animals share a broad range of attributes with humans. A visually attractive light read, the book enjoys a foreword by Jonathan Balcombe (biologist); and it has been reviewed by Irene Pepperberg (cognitive psychologist), Con Slobodchikoff (conservation biologist), Jennifer Vonk (cognitive psychologist), and James Wood (veterinarian) — all of whom having specific credentials as ethologists.

goatPhoto by Sylvain FriquetBelinda Recio serves up an engaging coffee table book on animal intelligence and emotions, but risks reinforcing anthropocentrism by promoting similarities between humans and other creatures as the basis for enhancing our compassion toward the latter.

Recio hopes that her effort will contribute to a greater realization of our commonalities with other creatures, which, in turn, will lead us to "more readily recognize them as kindred spirits and treat them — and the environments that sustain them — more compassionately." To that end, she stitches together relatively recent findings about particular aspects of multifarious creatures.

Intermittently illustrated through key photographs — including from experimental and field studies — and accompanying explanations, the majority of these findings are research-based. Some of them are accidental observations videotaped by nature watchers; still others are observations made by credible researchers even though the researchers could not record the requisite evidence.

Also reported in the book are anecdotes about some species — anecdotes that are either common knowledge or are well known to people that have happened to share a close proximity with those species. On such occasions, Recio brings a more immediate credibility to the anecdotes as a writer by bridging the gap between the creature world and the research world.

Recio's account is lightly sprinkled with references to YouTube and other Internet links that have attained conspicuous popularity for their depictions of nonhuman animals in impressively human-like actions. She has provided useful explanatory contexts to these otherwise scattered links. 

The overall comprehension and credibility of the text is assisted by its outstanding "Notes" section and a fine index.

As for the attributes whose presence in "animals" Recio has undertaken to highlight, they are as follows:  laughter, humor, and mischief; reciprocity and cooperation; rule-bound conduct; friendship; play and imagination; empathy and altruism; a sense of the sacred; awareness and identity; language; numerical cognition; tool use; spatial intelligence; creativity and aesthetics (dance, music, creative mimicry); …more

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Orca Tokitae’s Totem Pole Journey

The Lummi Nation campaigns to free a once-wild orca from Miami's Seaquarium

The orca, or killer whale, is a popular icon of wildness in the communities surrounding Puget Sound, a complex system of waterways forming the southern portion of the Salish Sea and extending 100 miles from Washington's Whidbey Island to the state capital of Olympia. Orcas adorn license plates, t-shirts, and murals throughout the Seattle metropolitan area, where human residents sometimes see small family groups (pods) of these striking marine mammals swim by the shorelines of the city's public parks. Killer whales also spark the imaginations of regional ferry riders, who keep their eyes peeled for towering dorsal fins or the dramatic black and white flash of an orca breaching in the distance.

Lolita at the SeaquariumPhoto byRoss CobbTokitae/Lolita, who was captured as juvenile from Puget Sound's Penn Cove in 1970, has been living in a small concrete pool for almost half a century. The Lummi Nation wants to bring her back home to the Sailesh Sea.

Meanwhile, 3,000 thousand miles and a world away, an orca named Lolita performs showy tricks twice a day at Miami's Seaquarium, where exuberant crowds have cheered her on for almost half a century. Lolita, known before her sale to the Seaquarium as Tokitae (a Coast Salish greeting meaning "nice day" or "pretty colors"), was taken as a juvenile from Puget Sound's Penn Cove in 1970 and has lived in Miami ever since. Her small concrete pool — at only 80 feet long and 35 feet widedamage to his head in 1980.

This spring, Washington's Lummi Nation is saying enough is enough for Tokitae, and that it's long past time to bring her home. In early May, several tribal members — with support from orca organizations, Sierra Club, and other activists — embarked on a 27-day, cross-country Tokitae Totem Pole Journeyto return Tokitae to Puget Sound. As part of the journey, Lummi leaders are transporting a totem pole carved in honor of the captive orca.

Jay Julius, chairman of the Lummi Nation, released the following statement before the journey's launch in Bellingham, Washington, on May 9: "Tokitae’s story is more than a story of a whale. Her story is the story of the Native peoples of this country who have been subjected to bad policies. Because of the failure of policymakers to protect our wildlife, she was stolen from her family 47 years ago and taken to the Miami Seaquarium. Because she is a relative of the Lummi people, it …more

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Only Radical Environmental Activism Can Bring About Whole-System Change

To come to terms with the many dimensions of our ecological crisis we need to co-create conscious, connected communities, and act together

A healthy future for humanity requires a healthy living planet. And our growth economy based on constant material expansion has become incompatible with the health of our finite planet. But transitioning beyond a growth-dependent industrial economy will require a multidimensional transformation, not just outward political and economic change, but radical cultural and psychological change as well. 

a heart shaped leafPhoto byemdot/FlickrTimes of catastrophe are moments when the system is breaking down and breaking open. Surprisingly, they can present remarkable opportunities to create larger systemic change. .

This means that to radically reengineer the system, we will have to simultaneously reengineer ourselves. This is whole system transformation — requiring a healthier, more creative, more compassionate and  engaged humanity than we have ever seen up to now. Both of these together — our Earth and its biosphere, and our own inner lives and life choices, individually and in community — constitute our life-support system. And on every level we are poised at a tipping point. 

The nature and unprecedented seriousness of our predicament presents us not only with great challenges, but with a basis for radical hope.

The more I learn, the more I find myself moving in two directions simultaneously. On the one hand, I have grieved ever more profoundly for the worsening state of the planetary biosphere. On the other, the more radically I submit to the chilling recognition of our actual situation, the more I find myself opening into radical acceptance of the adventure of doing what we can on behalf of our personal, interpersonal and global health and future, even amidst great uncertainty.

We must do our best to anticipate future conditions. But clearly, our ability to foresee the future has severe limits. This calls for forms of activism rooted in something much more profound than prediction and strategy. The nature of the problem demands a kind of thinking that we mostly don’t yet know how to do. As Einstein is quoted as saying, “We can’t solve our most pressing problems with the kind of thinking that created them.”

We are being called to make a transformative leap to a whole new paradigm not only of thinking, but of being human — a new consciousness and a whole new stage in the evolutionary trajectory of our species.

Radical Inquiry

No one can say with certainty how our civilizational crisis will play out. We don’t know how much suffering and destruction — human and nonhuman — might lie ahead, or where, or exactly how, or how soon. But we do know, with …more

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Landmark Lawsuit Claims Monsanto Hid Cancer Danger of Roundup for Decades

California groundskeeper makes history by taking company to trial on claims it suppressed information about the weedkiller’s toxicity

At the age of 46, DeWayne Johnson is not ready to die. But with cancer spread through most of his body, doctors say he probably has just months to live. Now Johnson, a husband and father of three in California, hopes to survive long enough to make Monsanto take the blame for his fate.

roundup bottlePhoto courtesy of Global Justice NowActivists have been relabelling bottles of Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller in garden centres and DIY shops across the United Kingdom. Roundup contains glyphosate, a chemical that the WHO has shown to be "probably carcinogenic".

On 18 June, Johnson will become the first person to take the global seed and chemical company to trial on allegations that it has spent decades hiding the cancer-causing dangers of its popular Roundup herbicide products – and his case has just received a major boost.

Last week Judge Curtis Karnow issued an order clearing the way for jurors to consider not just scientific evidence related to what caused Johnson’s cancer, but allegations that Monsanto suppressed evidence of the risks of its weed killing products. Karnow ruled that the trial will proceed and a jury would be allowed to consider possible punitive damages.

“The internal correspondence noted by Johnson could support a jury finding that Monsanto has long been aware of the risk that its glyphosate-based herbicides are carcinogenic … but has continuously sought to influence the scientific literature to prevent its internal concerns from reaching the public sphere and to bolster its defenses in products liability actions,” Karnow wrote. “Thus there are triable issues of material fact.”

Johnson’s case, filed in San Francisco county superior court in California, is at the forefront of a legal fight against Monsanto. Some 4,000 plaintiffs have sued Monsanto alleging exposure to Roundup caused them, or their loved ones, to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Another case is scheduled for trial in October, in Monsanto’s hometown of St Louis, Missouri.

The lawsuits challenge Monsanto’s position that its herbicides are proven safe and assert that the company has known about the dangers and hidden them from regulators and the public. The litigants cite an assortment of research studies indicating that the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicides, a chemical called glyphosate, can lead to NHL and other ailments. They also cite research showing glyphosate formulations in its commercial-end products are more toxic than glyphosate alone. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a more

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Controversial Kangaroo Cull Underway in Canberra

Animal rights and environmental groups question ethics, efficacy of annual event in Australia's capital

May is late autumn in the southern hemisphere, and as we creep closer to winter, Canberra, Australia’s capital city, is carrying out its annual, and controversial, kangaroo cull. With some pride, the city is known as the “bush capital” due to its wide corridors of native grasslands and gumtree and casurina tree woodlands, and an abundance of accompanying wildlife. As the city sprawls, it is displacing native habitats. At the same time, suburban lawns and sports ovals offer appealing alternative spaces for some animals, particularly our largest and most mobile grazing species, the eastern grey kangaroo. Due in part to the near disappearance of the kangaroo’s main natural predator, the dingo, or wild dog, and declines in traditional Indigenous hunting, kangaroo populations have exploded over recent decades.

kangaroosPhoto by Dieter BethkeThe annual killing by shooting of kangaroos is a slaughter of a creature intricately associated with Australia.

The annual killing by shooting of kangaroos is a slaughter of a creature intricately associated with Australia. The kangaroo is immortalized on our coat of arms, the logo of our world-renowned airline, Qantas, the star of the stilted but global hit ‘60s TV series “Skippy,” not to mention a major a tourist drawcard.

Yet the Canberra government says the adaptable eastern grey also poses hazards as its numbers grow. While the government has been grappling with appropriate, effective and socially-acceptable responses to the kangaroos since the 1990s, in 2014, they categorized the eastern grey kangaroo as a “controlled native species,” paving the way for culls to take place and becoming the first Australian government to publish a government policy on the marsupials and conservation. In May 2017, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government issued an updated management plan for the species. This plan identified three areas of concern regarding the proliferation of eastern grey kangaroos in the region: environmental, economic, and social. The plan was finalized following community consultations which occurred earlier in the year.

The environmental concerns relate to claims of the overgrazing of native grasses by kangaroos, leading to further degradation of the habitat, and harm to threatened species like grassy woodland bird species, lizards, and invertebrates. This includes birds that nest or rely on grassy ground cover for food and insects, such as the hooded robin and brown tree creeper, and reptilian grassland specialists such as the earless dragon, striped legless lizard, and pink tailed worm lizard. Threatened invertebrates include grassland specialists such as the golden sun moth and Perunga …more

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