Get a FREE Issue of Earth Island Journal
Sign up for our no-risk offer today.

Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Latest News

Latest News

Why the UN-Vatican Conference this Week Is Such a Big Deal

The globe’s 1.2 billion Catholics are poised to become a major force for environmental protection

A visit to the Vatican by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday demonstrated the growing relationship between the Catholic Church and the global environmental movement. The timing of the visit called attention to Pope Francis’s upcoming statement on ecology, while bolstering preparations for important international climate talks in Paris this December.

Photo of Pope FrancisPhoto by Aleteia Image Department The Vatican conference on climate change and sustainability promises to fundamentally reshape global environmental advocacy.

“We have a profound responsibility to the fragile web of life on this Earth, and to this generation and those that will follow,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the day-long Vatican conference on climate change and sustainability. “That is why it is so important that the world’s faith groups are clear on this issue – and in harmony with science. Science and religion are not at odds on climate change. Indeed, they are fully aligned.”

To be perfectly clear: This is a huge deal. Tuesday’s events in Rome promise to fundamentally reshape global environmental advocacy by giving new moral force to the efforts to protect the planet. At the same time, the Church’s heightened involvement with environmental issues will enlist hundreds of millions of new people into the movement for environmental protection.

The Catholic Church has been engaged in ecological issues for decades. In particular, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (a sort of Church-based think tank) works with the scientific community to help facilitate communication about the needs of the planet and its peoples. Last May that pontifical academy teamed up with its sister group, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, to hear from high-ranking natural and social scientists about how to live sustainably while caring for life on Earth. Things went so well that participants asked the Vatican for regular meetings to keep the conversation moving.

The academy fulfilled that wish with a follow-up gathering held at the Vatican on Tuesday. Joining in was the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, most especially its president, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana.

Cardinal Turkson is an important name in the Church’s efforts for caring for the poor, food security, and environmental protection. His comments at Tuesday’s meeting were some of the most blunt and urgent to date — even more so than a talk he gave in March in Ireland, which many …more

(0) Comments

One in Six Species at Risk of Extinction Due to Climate Change

Species must move, adapt, or become extinct, according to new study

A new study published today in the journal Science predicts that if business as usual emissions policies do not change and human caused climate change continues on its current trajectory, one in six species on Earth could face extinction. Scientists have estimated that over 8.7 million different species inhabit the Earth, which means almost 1.5 million species are at risk of extinction. 

photo of polar bearPhoto by Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, on Flickr A polar bear in Arctic Alaska.

The study, conducted by Dr. Mark Urban, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, is being released in the May 1, 2015 issue of Science. In the study, Urban challenges readers to think about climate change from the perspective of species extinction. Urban first became intrigued by the subject matter while working with small freshwater ecosystems and noticing the effects that warmer winters were having on those ecosystems.

“What I have seen is that even though we have many predictions about extinction risks … in response to climate change, no one has put together a global and truly comprehensive picture of those extinction risks,” Urban told Earth Island Journal in a telephone interview. “Instead, when discussing the topic, people draw upon one or a handful of studies.”

In his study, Urban utilized an approach often used in medical studies. Using meta-analysis tools, he examined 131 different studies on climate change that had been completed since 1992 and discovered that species are already being forced to make adjustments to their habitats due to changing temperatures and resulting changes in their ecosystems. The species are in essence being forced to move to a different habitat, adapt to the habitat they have, or perish from the inability to do either. So far, extinctions attributed to climate change remain uncommon, but the rate is increasing.

“Extinction risks from climate change are expected not only to increase but to accelerate for every degree rise in global temperatures,” Urban writes. Specifically, if global temperatures increase by only two degrees Celsius from pre-Industrial Revolution levels, 5.2 percent of species will face extinction. On the other hand, if climate change continues on its current trajectory and global temperatures increase by 4.3 degrees Celsius, 16 percent of species, or one in six, could face extinction.

“Very quickly we will start to …more

(0) Comments

Champagne in the Peel

The adventure to save one of the world’s last great wildernesses

After an all-night drive up from Whitehorse, Canada, our small group of activists, artists, and outdoor enthusiasts begins the process of loading gear onto the floatplane dock at Mayo, a village of 200 inhabitants along the Stewart River in the heart of Canada’s Yukon Territory. Bleary-eyed, we load our supplies into two aircraft, then lash four canoes atop the planes’ floats. Five minutes after we are airborne, we swing around to the northeast and watch houses and roads and other signs of human life disappear beneath us.

photo of a man using a tent in a meadow under mountains and a rainbowPhotos by Peter MatherMusician and composer Matthew Lien on a Canadian Park and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) expedition to the Wind River in 2013. Lien blended sounds from the watershed into his original pieces to create stunning songs that were played at Protect the Peel events.

For nearly two hours we climb over the wilderness, heading further north toward the high spine of the Mackenzie Mountains, which stretch nearly 500 miles from British Columbia to bisect the Yukon. We marvel at the green valleys and snow-dusted mountains below us. As clouds gather and then part, sunlight splinters into beams that bathe the sparkling, steaming summits with ethereal yellow light.

A full-throttle climb brings us over a final mountain pass with so little room to spare that it seems we could reach out and touch the spires on either side. We descend into Bonnet Plume Range, toward a pair of lakes near the headwaters of the Snake River. Once we land and unload and the sound of the departing planes fades into silence, we sit on pads of soft moss and take stock of our position. In the Lower 48, the most remote point – the southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park – is little more than 20 miles from a road. Here, just below the Arctic Circle, we are nearly 200 miles from the nearest highway.

With only 35,000 inhabitants, this California-size territory remains almost completely unsettled. Walled off by Canada’s highest peaks, the Yukon’s lake-dotted taiga, mountains, and river systems sweep down from the Beaufort Sea between Alaska to the west and the Northwest Territories to the east. Most of that land is drained by the Yukon River, which flows north and west nearly 2,000 miles across the Yukon and Alaska …more

(0) Comments

Getting Past Scientized Scrutiny

Too often, reporting on food and agriculture treats science as a singular source of truth

It’s been a rotten spring for glyphosate. On March 20, the World Health Organization announced that it was officially classifying the herbicide — the most widely used farm chemical in the United States — as a “probable” cause of cancer. Days later, the American Society of Microbiology linked glyphosate and two other herbicides to antibiotic resistance, the low-boiling public health disaster. And then a well-known skeptic scientist tried to downplay these findings, deepening the crisis: Appearing on the French cable channel Canal+, Dr. Patrick Moore told interviewers “you can drink a whole quart” of the herbicide “and it won’t hurt you” — but then refused to take a swig. “I’m not an idiot,” he said. 

 glyphosatePhoto by Chafer Machinery A crop-sprayer applies glyphosate to a field in North Yorkshire, England .

For many casual observers of these events — and certainly for folks in the ever-growing food movement — glyphosate had finally tipped the scales from ‘bad idea’ to unconscionable. If the collapsing of monarch populations, the evolution of spray-tolerant weeds, and the pollution of soil, water, and farmworker bodies was not enough to dethrone the king of agrochemicals, then maybe the specter of cancer and antibiotic resistance would.

It was all the more remarkable, then, to see just the opposite reaction spelled out in one of our country’s most reputable publications. In an April 10 New Yorker piece, well-known science writer Michael Specter went to bat for the chemical industry, declaring that the WHO report should change nothing about popular use of glyphosate. Why? Because while it could be dangerous, it is not proven to be. “Scores of studies,” he noted, have found “no connection” between glyphosate and cancer. What’s more, the handwringers would have us believe that all GMOs and their companion chemicals are to blame for troubles spanning cancer to autism. These critics just don’t understand science, he implied.

Not to pick on Specter per se, but his latest piece provides a valuable entrée into thinking more critically about scientized reporting, where and how the data gets drawn, and the human-made imperfections inherent to science.

Scientized reporting often fails to appreciate the nature of the regulatory science process. It’s not about proving with absolute certainty that there is, or isn’t harm. Rather, because there are gaps in scientific knowledge, assessors look at whether …more

(4) Comments

Fighting Fossils, Letting Go of Regulatory Law

Oregon county embraces a community rights approach to challenge local liquefied natural gas terminal

US fossil fuel exports are on the rise. The fall in global oil prices has bolstered already determined efforts to lift the 1975 ban on US crude oil exports. And as hydrofracking operations continue to expand, the industry is scrambling for regulatory approval to build a network of pipelines and terminals to transport natural gas around the country and worldwide.

Natural Gas ExportsPhoto by chesapeakeclimate, on Flickr Activists protest the Cove Point natural gas terminal. In Coos County, OR, some activists are embracing a community rights approach to block the proposed Jordan Cove terminal.

Fossil fuel proponents jump through regulatory hoop after hoop, papers are pushed, and studies are conducted. Throughout this process, concerned citizens are assured by government agencies that projects will follow the law. They are told that if any endangered species habitat is destroyed, it will be preserved or created elsewhere. That any harm done by ripping pipeline through communities and wilderness, or planting a terminal in a fragile estuary, will be properly mitigated. Then, if all I’s are dotted and T’s crossed, permitting approval often follows. Final decisions over authorization generally take place behind closed doors.

At Cove Point, Maryland, Jordan Cove, Oregon, and elsewhere, prospective exporters of domestic liquefied natural gas (LNG) have been wading through this process for years.

Activists opposing the terminals have jumped through the regulatory hoops, too. Writing public comments, projecting toxin levels, measuring harm — desperately appealing to language regulatory agencies can understand.

Despite tremendous public opposition and countless arguments to the contrary, last fall the Cove Point terminal expansion received Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval. In Oregon’s Jordan Cove, FERC has given a tentative green light that is conditioned on the completion of other pending permit applications.

Jordan Cove activists are working tirelessly to stop the project. I spoke with one such activist, Jody McCaffree of Citizens Against LNG, an Oregon group opposing the Jordan Cove terminal through the regulatory process. She listed a slew of regulatory nightmares facing the terminal — its problematic proximity to an airport runway; the number of people who would receive second degree burns should a tanker explode; the terminal’s vulnerability to tsunamis; and the oyster farms that would be impacted, to name a few. Pointing to the egregious nature of the terminal, McCaffree expressed …more

(2) Comments

Star Wars, Hawaiian Style

Indigenous activists take on Northern Hemisphere’s biggest telescope

The Big Island of Hawaii is often in the news because of the active Kilauea volcano. However, an eruption of another sort at the dormant 13,796 foot-high Mauna Kea is thrusting Hawaii back into the headlines. This explosion of activism has been triggered not by TNT, but by “TMT,” the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope, the Northern Hemisphere’s largest, most advanced optical telescope, which is slated to be built on the summit of the Aloha State’s highest peak. This 184 foot-tall, 18 story-high, eight acre, $1.4 billion construction project has sparked a wave of occupations and protests by Native Hawaiians, environmentalists, and their allies, stretching from Hawaii to California.

Santa Rita MountainsPhoto provided by TMT Observatory Corp An artist's rendition of the proposed TMT project (located in the lower left-hand corner), as well as existing telescopes on Mauna Kea.

The Constellations’ Collision Course

Opponents have flocked to Mauna Kea to stop construction of the telescope and adjacent conservatory, staging acts of civil disobedience and causing a PR nightmare that has taken the TMT International Observatory LLC, a multinational conglomerate, by surprise. Last October, protesters disrupted the star-crossed project’s groundbreaking ceremony atop Mauna Kea. Across the Pacific, demonstrators gathered in Palo Alto, CA, outside the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which has pledged $200 million to fund the controversial project.

Later, protesters setup roadblocks to prevent equipment and machinery from reaching Mauna Kea’s summit to continue construction. On April 2, 31 protesters, known as the Mauna Kea 31, were reportedly arrested for trespassing, blocking work vehicles, and disobeying an officer. Those arrested included longtime campaigners Moanikeala Akaka, 70, a former trustee with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (a State agency overseeing indigenous matters), and James Albertini, 68.

So far, the protests have been successful. “[As of] April 21, we are in ‘stand down,’” Sandra Dawson, TMT Manager of Hawaii Community Affairs, said via a conference call to Hilo, Hawaii (with a Honolulu-based Becker Communications publicist on the line). “TMT has agreed to halt construction temporarily while stakeholders are talking about different ideas for moving forward…. Governor [David] Hige asked if we would halt construction for a period and we agreed. Then we met with him again and we said we’d continue the construction halt for a period of time while people pursued conversations.” According to Dawson, only one-and-a-half days …more

(2) Comments

Former Orca Trainer John Hargrove on the SeaWorld ‘Facade’

Blackfish star slams the marine entertainment giant for ‘disgusting’ treatment of whales

During his 12 years as an orca trainer at SeaWorld, John Hargrove became increasingly concerned about the impacts of captivity on the whales he cared for. After leaving his job at SeaWorld, Hargrove became a powerful force in the campaign against whale captivity with his appearing in the documentary Blackfish and the recent release of his book Beneath the Surface, which chronicles the dangers of captivity to orcas and trainers alike. Hargrove recently sat down with Mark Palmer, David Phillips, and Mary Jo Rice at Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project for an interview. Here is the transcript, which originally appeared on the Dolphin Project website.

SeaWorldPhoto by John ‘K’, on Flickr Orcas perform at the San Diego SeaWorld park.

Mark Palmer: We’re here with John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld trainer of orcas — he spent 12 years there and with various orcas from around the world. He’s also the author of the new book Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish. So welcome, John. You worked with SeaWorld for twelve years, plus an additional two years in France, training orcas. You became a senior trainer — tops for SeaWorld and one of the top people in the organization — so I would like to ask: What do you think of SeaWorld today?

John Hargrove: Well, I have a radically different opinion of SeaWorld today than I did in the beginning, which was when I started in ’93 at the age of 20. I guess the best way to phrase it is that at the end of the day, SeaWorld really is a facade.  What you believed it would be as a child, and even at the beginning of your career; it’s not about that. It’s not about what’s in the best interest of the animals, it’s what’s in the best interest of the company and making profit. And once you come to that full realization, combined with seeing the damaging effects of killer whales in captivity — something in you changes.

Mark: Why do you think captivity is wrong for orcas?

John Hargrove: I don’t like the idea, really, of captivity for any animals, especially for entertainment purposes, but especially when you’re dealing with an animal like an orca. Their intelligence, their social skills, their family units, and their size — I mean, there are so many factors involved that just make these horrifically sterile, small …more

(0) Comments

← Recent   Older →

View Posts by Date View Posts by Author


Four issues for just
$10 a year.

cover thumbnail EIJ

Join Now!