On the first day of 2017 in Beijing pollution climbed as high as 24 times the level recommended by the World Health Organization
Millions in China rang in the New Year shrouded in a thick blanket of toxic smog, causing road closures and flight cancellations as 24 cities issued alerts that will last through much of the week.
On the first day of 2017 in Beijing, concentrations of tiny particles that penetrate deep into the lungs climbed as high as 24 times levels recommended by the World Health Organization. More than 100 flights were cancelled and all intercity buses were halted at the capital’s airport.
Photo by LWYang, Flickr
In the neighboring port city of Tianjin, more than 300 flights were cancelled while the weather forecast warned thick smog will persist until January 5. All of the city’s highways were also shut as low visibility made driving hazardous, effectively trapping residents.
Across northern China 24 cities issued red alerts on Friday and Saturday, while orange alerts persisted in 21 cities through the New Year holiday. A red alert is the highest level of a four-tier warning system introduced as part of China’s high-profile war on pollution.
Decades of economic development have made acrid air a common occurrence in nearly all major Chinese cities, with government-owned coal burning power stations and heating plants and steel manufacturing concentrated in northern provinces the main source of pollution.
Smog worsens in the winter as coal burning spikes to provide heat for millions of people. China declared a “war on pollution” in 2014, but has struggled to deliver the sweeping change many had hoped to see and government inspections routinely find pollutions flouting the law.
“Why didn’t those polluting industries take a rest for the holiday,” one commenter mused on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo.
“New Year’s morning in Beijing, I thought I was blind,” said another, attaching a photo of a window completely darkened with grey haze.
Similar posts appeared on Twitter.
China’s middle class is increasingly less tolerant of the deadly air, and in December tens of thousands of “smog refugees” decamped to clearer skies. Top destinations included Australia, Indonesia, Japan, and the Maldives.
That bout of smog saw 460 million people, a population greater than North America, breathing toxic air, according to Greenpeace.
As pollution covered swaths of the country on New Year’s Eve, China more
In Review: Hubbard Brook: The Story of a Forest Ecosystem
Richard T. Holmes and Gene E. Likens
Yale University Press, 2016, 288 pages
In 1951, University of Wisconsin ecologist Arthur Hasler, while working at the Notre Dame Environmental Research Center that straddles Michigan and Wisconsin, built up an earthen dike and divided a single lake into two, transforming the one water body into Peter and Paul Lakes. Hasler was studying fresh water acidity and the food chain. He deposited lime, which is known to reduce acidity in Peter Lake and observed its effects on transparency, the food chain, and on the ecological conditions of the water body relative to Paul Lake. Hasler found the food chain changes he anticipated, but the investigation’s fame rests largely with its status as the first whole-lake experiment, setting the example for ecosystem-manipulation research to which scientists today are turning to understand climate change impacts.
While Hasler’s Peter and Paul Lakes experiment and other large scale ecological explorations, such as Great Britain’s 170-year-old running Rothamsted Research center in southern England – famous for its soil and plant health agricultural investigations on small plots and in the news recently with biotechnology testing – have shed much light on nature and socio-ecological systems (e.g. agriculture and forestry), no American ecosystem study is as famed or as impactful as the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Hubbard Brook recently celebrated its 60th anniversary as a designated experimental forest and fifty years as a focused ecological study, making it a landmark ecology research hub: Scientists have monitored the 3160-hectare, nine-watershed site for six decades, conducting Hasler-type alterations and yielding findings, that have transformed the field of ecology and environmental policy, including the discovery of acid rain.
Today, science at Hubbard Brook is active and robust, and on the occasion of its 60th anniversary, long-time Hubbard Brook scientists Richard Holmes and Gene Likens, who is a co-founder of the Hubbard Brook study, have put together a coffee-table book, Hubbard Brook: The Story of a Forest Ecosystem, published in 2016 by Yale University Press. The book has beautiful photos and many informative graphs, and Holmes and Likens have written lively chapters for a public readership on the science, policy impacts, and dynamic ecology of Hubbard Brook.
Holmes and Likens begin the book with a sense-rich “Prologue” that describes the four seasons in the Hubbard Brook forest, which is representative of a northeast hardwood forest: the summer …more
Protecting Bears Ears in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada mark Obama's final push to safeguard environmentally fragile lands
President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect two large areas in the western U.S. The new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah preserves 1.35 million acres containing 100,000 significant Native American sites, while the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada sets aside 300,000 acres, also home to Indigenous archeological sites.
Photo courtesy of US Bureau of Land Management
Protection for both of these sites has been supported by Native American tribes. Looting and desecration of artifacts has been common in these areas.
"The rock art, ancient dwellings and ceremonial sites concealed within these breathtaking landscapes help tell the story of people who have stewarded these lands for hundreds of generations," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. "Today's action builds on an extraordinary effort from tribes, local communities and members of Congress to ensure that these treasures are protected for generations to come, so that tribes may continue to use and care for these lands, and all may have an opportunity to enjoy their beauty and learn from their rich cultural history."
A coalition of the Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray and Zuni Tribe will serve on the Bears Ears Commission, making the tribes co-managers of the national monument along with the federal government.
"For the first time in history, a president has used the Antiquities Act to honor the request of Tribal Nations to protect our sacred sites. In doing so, he has given the opportunity for all Americans to come together and heal," said David Filfred, Navajo Nation council delegate.
"This is a historic moment," the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, an independent citizens organization that has worked to help establish Bears Ears, said in a statement. "The new national monument—the result of a proposal from an unprecedented coalition of Tribal Nations—will safeguard more than 100,000 cultural sites and protect an incredible natural landscape for generations to come."
Outdoors retailer Patagonia, which has been active in support of these national monument designations as well as others, also applauded the announcement.
"In protecting Bears Ears, the president recognizes the leadership and historic vision of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition representing five tribes, and the strong grassroots support from climbers and conservation groups," Patagonia CEO Rose …more
The past year brought a lot to agonize about, but also some news to cheer and draw inspiration from
It’s been quite a year. I wouldn’t put 2016 down as a particularly great trip around sol, but it has definitely been an eventful, historic year. As we began drawing our annual tally of the most important environmental stories of the year at the Journal, it was hard to look past the dark cloud cast on our movement by the recent election. But look past we did, and we found that it’s been a mixed bag — while the year offered us much grim news, there have also been and some positive, inspiring events and developments that remind us that all hope is never lost. Here’s our list of the most important stories of 2016. These stories aren’t necessarily headline-grabbers, but they are likely to have long-term impacts on the environment, on us, and on our fellow living beings.
The Upset Victory of Donald Trump
Photo by Tony Webster
The unexpected victory of climate change denying Donald Trump has definitely been a major setback for the environmental movement in the US. There’s a high chance that many of the environmental protections we have fought so hard for in the past might get rolled back. At immediate risk are Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate accord, and the powers of the EPA. Trump has also prioritized removing restrictions against coal, oil, and natural gas extraction and reviving “vital energy infrastructure projects” like the Keystone XL pipeline. Given the fossil fuel execs and climate deniers Trump has been tapping for key positions in his administration, the coming years are sure to bring increased federal leasing of lands for fossil fuel extraction, cuts to clean energy research programs, and fewer protections for critical lands and ecosystems.
Looks like, come January, we have to gear up for at least four years of vigorous battles to protect our lands and waters.
Standing Rock: United, We Win
Photo by Joe Brusky
If the next four years are going to be about resistance to authoritarian power, then we need no better example to follow than the non-violent resistance movement at Standing Rock. What …more
Time is running out for Obama to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the people who depend on it
I’d like to reframe what happened in early November as the opposite of tragedy. Instead of looking at the election results through a lens of doom and gloom, let us view this moment in history as a leverage point, one that has the ability to unite people across the country and the world.
If we are to capitalize on such a moment of opportunity, hope will be crucial. And although looking for it in the media can be like searching for a needle in a haystack, you can find real hope, active hope, where struggles transform into solutions.
On December 20, President Obama joined Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in protecting vibrant and vulnerable ocean ecosystems from future fossil fuel exploitation, and designated the vast majority of Arctic waters and millions of acres of the Atlantic as indefinitely off-limits to offshore oil and gas leasing.
Today, we can further engage in active hope by continuing this momentum and pressuring the administration to do as much good as possible before leaving office. To that end, permanently protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a pristine and fragile wilderness in Alaska’s North Slope, would be a monumental and fully possible action that could push hope into lived reality.
Although Arctic Alaska is far removed from the day-to-day existence of most Americans, decisions made there reverberate across the country. The refuge encompasses more than 19 million acres, and is home to the Gwich’in Tribe, which shares the land with birds that migrate to and from all 50 US states, polar and grizzly bears, and the Porcupine Caribou herd. The northernmost region, known as Area 1002, is where the caribou come to birth their calves each year. This combination of biological and cultural diversity is one of the most brilliant in the world.
If not for the wealth of oil, the area known by many as “the last great wilderness” might be left alone. Instead, it has been in conflict for decades. It is one of the few regions of the Alaskan Arctic that has not been developed for petroleum extraction.
The oil industry has tried to drill in the Arctic Refuge since its inception, but, fight after …more
Extreme drought stresses one of country's most food insecure regions
Tashi Lama, a 52 year-old farmer, seemed unimpressed by my questions about the effect of jalvauparivartan — climate change in Nepali — in his village in the mountains of mid-west Nepal. “I don’t know about jalvauparivartan, but you should have come a few months earlier to see the worst effect of the drought,” he said, referring to what the national government has called the country’s worst drought in at least 30 years. “What’s the point now?” Lama, along with many residents of the Karnali region in western Nepal, has struggled to cope with longterm food insecurity, exacerbated recently by the lack of precipitation.
Photo by Possible, Flickr
The districts of Humla, Jumla, Mugu, Dolpo, and Kalikot in Nepal’s mid-West region, and Bajhang and Bajura in the far-West, regularly face drought and famine, and have been food insecure for more than three decades. The region also struggles with lack of education and child malnutrition. Humla’s Human Development rating was the worst in the country in the United Nations Development Programme’s 2014 Human Development Report. Other neighbouring districts are not far off.
Some advocates and locals think climate change may be making food insecurity worse, but climate data on the region is hard to come by. A 2016 study from the Karnali region, which looks at precipitation data from 27 monitoring stations between 1981 to 2012, is one of the only regional climate studies, and provides rare insight into the region’s changing climate, showing declining average rainfall and snowfall, along with rising temperatures. Specifically, the researchers found a 10 percent decline in average precipitation since the early ‘80s. Also in decline are the number of rainy days in the region: Karnali has lost, on average, one rainy day per year in the already dry mountain region, and three days per decade in the plains and hills. Rainfall intensity, however, is increasing, which increases risks of flooding.
The study also found that maximum, minimum, and average temperatures in the region have been rising. The maximum temperature has increased at a rate of 0.05°C per year, while the minimum temperature has increased at 0.01°C per year.
Some climate-scientists have suggested that precipitation patterns in much of South Asia, including western Nepal, …more
Indigenous people may also face threat from proposed change to land laws
An uncontacted Amazon tribe could be at risk as Brazil makes austerity-driven budget cuts and proposals for constitutional change affecting land rights move through parliament, campaigners have said.
The tribe was photographed from a helicopter by Ricardo Stuckert this month near the border with Peru.
“These are dark times if you’re an indigenous person in Brazil,” said Fiona Watson, a field director at the London-based human rights organization Survival International. “For the people in those photos the biggest threat is the loggers and drug traffickers on the Peru side. That’s the immediate, visceral threat. But the other threat is thousands of miles away in [Brazil’s] congress.”
The prospect of budget cuts to the governmental body tasked with protecting indigenous people, Funai, could be the “writing on the wall” for the tribe and the 102 other such uncontacted groups in Brazil, Watson said.
The UN special rapporteur for indigenous rights said this week that federal funding for the department had all but dried up, leaving staff overworked and dealing with a backlog of cases.
Indigenous rights groups are also concerned by PEC 215, a proposed constitutional amendment working its ways through congress that campaigners say could threaten the land rights of indigenous people.
But Watson, who has lived in the Amazon rainforest and has met members of previously uncontacted peoples, said she believed the tribe could still thrive. The people live in a very remote part of the rainforest and the Acre state government is relatively sympathetic to indigenous people’s rights.
Stuckert and José Carlos Meirelles, a tribes expert with the Acre government, who was also on the helicopter, reported that the estimated 300 members of the tribe appeared healthy.
While Watson admitted that little was known about the tribe, the photographs showed a substantial and well-made house, gardens, and crops.
The bows and arrows carried mean the tribe almost certainly hunts for meat. “I imagine hunting is pretty good in that area — tapir, capybaras, wild pigs, probably deer, monkey. They probably do some fishing as well, they probably eat shellfish and …more