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US Activist’s Efforts to Rescue Dogs from Asia’s Meat Trade Draw Both Praise and Censure

Marc Ching is best known for saving dogs from slaughterhouses

When a family in Korea discovered their beloved dog, Cheom Hwa, had been stolen, they were inconsolable. The German Shepherd had been with them since she was a puppy. “She is like my family,” the daughter says to Marc Ching, founder of Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation. "I am the only child so she was like my sister.”

It's a nightmare no dog owner wants to have to go through. In Korea, where Cheom Hwa’s family lives, millions of dogs are stolen every year for their meat, and many are suspected to be stolen pets.

Marc Ching with a rescued dogPhoto courtesy of Animal Hope and Wellness FoundationChing is aware that there are many who disagree with what he’s doing, but he believes his foundation can make a difference in the lives of thousands of dogs.

“The dog meat trade is big business,” Ching tells Earth Island Journal. “China exports meat to Korea. Cambodia exports to Vietnam.”

Ching, an American animal nutritionist who runs an organic pet food company in California, first heard about the Yulin dog meat festival that’s held every year in southern China only two years ago. The stories sounded so horrific that he had a hard time believing they were true. When he flew to China to see for himself what was going on, the atrocities turned out to be even worse. "What they’re doing is beyond inhumane,” Ching says. “It's pure evil. They’ll boil dogs alive, hang and skin them alive.”

Today, Ching is most known for going undercover into slaughterhouses. By posing as a meat buyer, Ching often manages to get access to the kill floor where cages of whimpering animals are stacked on top of one another. The owner, hoping to make a sale, proudly talks up the facility, explaining their slaughtering process and how many dogs they go through on any given day. All the while, an iPhone in Ching's pocket remains on video mode, surreptitiously recording everything.

If he’s caught, best-case scenario: He loses his phone. A previous trip to Vietnam ended with him beaten and nearly killed.

For Ching, the risk is worth it, even if too many of the dogs end up dying on the way to the veterinary hospital. Most are already close to death by the time he gets to them. In an interview with LA Weekly, he talks about coming across a dog with all four of her legs cut off. She died in his arms.

"You will never see, in my opinion, anything more brutal than the dog meat trade,” Ching says.

In the years since his first trip to China, he’s witnessed more than his share of unimaginable cruelty. The horror …more

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A Compelling Chronicle of Our Fraught Relationship with the Polar Bear

In Review: Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon

Instead of a “natural history” of the iconic polar bear, anthropologist, wilderness guide and author Michael Engelhard has written a cultural history, showing the evolution of the polar bear as an icon through the ages, meaning something different to different generations and cultures. This is a book about human perceptions, dreams and experiences of the polar bear more than about the Ursus maritimus itself.

three polar bears sitting on icePhoto by Cheryl StrahlIce Bear shows how the lure of the unknown, the exotic, is a recurrent theme in human experiences of the polar bear.

With meticulous details and stories pulled from a wide range of sources, and more than 160 illustrations, the book traces the fraught and intertwined history of humans and this elusive animal.

“Deeply held preconceptions keep us from seeing the true nature of some animals. The polar bear is a prime example,” Englehard writes. “Over the past eight thousand years, we have regarded it as food, toy, pet, trophy, status symbol, commodity, man-eating monster, spirit familiar, circus act, zoo superstar, and political cause célèbre. We have feared, venerated, locked up, coveted, butchered, sold, pitied, and emulated this large carnivore. It has left few emotions unstirred.”

Ice Bear shows how the lure of the unknown, the exotic, is a recurrent theme in human experiences of the polar bear. It tells us how, in Medieval times, the bear was a both a subsistence resource and commodity — its white fur was sought after and wondered at by royalty and those of wealthy standing. Even more famed (and rare) were live bear cubs that explorers managed to bring back (having shot the mother) for animal menageries, where polar bears survived, if not thrived.  Bear baiting was also a popular sport, with the bears (both brown bears and, more rarely, polar bears) tied to a rope and set upon by dogs, with betting on who would win the bloody confrontation. Not for the faint of heart!

photonameThe book includes stories and details pulled from a wide range
of sources, and more than 160 illustrations.

The people of the Arctic were, of course, well acquainted with the polar bear, which they perceived as both magical and dangerous. A man who killed a polar bear had very high status indeed. Englehard describes how myths and legends of Native peoples also prominently featured the wild predator that they equally feared and revered, and considered a …more

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Private Investor Divests $34.8m from Firms Tied to Dakota Access Pipeline

Norwegian sustainable investment manager Storebrand hopes action will encourage other investors to divest from project

Norway’s largest private investor is divesting from three companies tied to the Dakota Access pipeline, a small victory for the Standing Rock movement one week after the eviction of the main protest encampment.

Protestors at Standing RockPhoto by Leslie PetersonIn addition to the protest encampments, opponents of Dakota Access have waged divestment campaigns against the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, using the slogan Defund DAPL.

Storebrand, a sustainable investment manager with $68bn in assets, sold off $34.8m worth of shares in Phillips 66, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, and Enbridge, the company announced Wednesday. The three companies are partial owners of the pipeline.

“We hope that our actions and the actions of other likeminded investors in either divesting or calling for an alternative [pipeline] route will make some sort of an impact,” said Matthew Smith, the head of Storebrand’s sustainability team.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s attempt to halt or reroute the Dakota Access pipeline away from their water source became an international rallying cry for indigenous and environmental activists last year.

Thousands of people traveled to encampments established near the site of the proposed river crossing in North Dakota. The camps saw frequent clashes between activists, law enforcement, and private security guards as the “water protecters” engaged in civil disobedience to attempt to halt construction.

In addition to the protest encampments, opponents of the pipeline have waged divestment campaigns against the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners. Using the slogan Defund DAPL, activists have also urged individuals and institutions to move money out of banks that are financing pipeline construction, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

Victories thus far include the decisions by a Norwegian bank, DNB, and the Norwegian mutual fund Odin Fund Management to sell their shares in companies connected to the pipeline last November.

The Seattle City Council voted this month not to renew the city’s contract with Wells Fargo over the bank’s involvement with the pipeline project, removing $3bn from the bank’s coffers. Other cities are considering similar moves.

On Tuesday, the indigenous activist Jackie Fielder helped lead a protest at the San Francisco board of supervisors, which she is hoping to persuade to divest from DAPL-connected banks.

“The thing about the No DAPL movement is that it’s everywhere,” Fielder said. “We have the economic power to show companies that when they finance an environmentally racist project and hire private security and collude with law enforcement, their bottom line will suffer.”

Smith …more

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The Fight for Funding in America’s State Parks

Budget cuts in Wisconsin highlight the challenges faced by public land managers across the US

In  2016, I was able to visit Kettle Moraine State Park, one of many beautiful parks in southeastern Wisconsin. Watching the fog peel over the surface of Pike Lake from an observation tower, it seemed pristine, but a closer look told a different tale. From the soda can floating on the surface of the lake to the branches the most recent storm had left on the trail, small signs of decline had begun to surface. Luckily for park visitors, someone would be by to fix these problems shortly. A year earlier, that person would probably have been a state employee. But by the time of my visit, due to budget cuts to the state park system, it was likely to be a volunteer.

photo of Wisconsin state parkPhoto courtesy of Good Free Photos The shore of Lake Michigan at Kohler-Andrae State Park in Wisconsin. State parks in Wisconsin, and across the nation, have faced budget cuts in recent years.

In a story that has received little attention outside the state of Wisconsin, in May of 2015, the State Legislature of Wisconsin agreed to Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to cut all tax-generated funding to state parks, which in 2015 amounted to more than 4 million dollars. This funding stream decreased gradually in 2015 and 2016, and ended completely at the start of 2017, effectively eliminating almost 28 percent of the system’s previous operational budget.

“Wisconsin parks are an essential part of our state not just because of the recreational value of a preserved area of land that can be used by all, but also because of their economic impact on the state,” says State Senator Jon Erpenbach, who fought the budget cut back in 2015. “State park visitations have increased by 12 percent since 2002, while the state’s share of funding has continued to decrease. Why do people visit Wisconsin? Because this state is beautiful and our parks are the centerpiece of that beauty. Shortchanging parks shortchanges our economic potential.”

Over the past few years there have been budget cutbacks for state parks across the US, which have resulted in a reduction in management staff, lack of new equipment, and shorter visitor center hours. In 2016, general funding for Wyoming’s Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources was cut by 7.18 percent. As a result, park employees have struggled with loss of staff. Last year, funding to Connecticut’s state parks was reduced by 10 percent, and …more

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Shell Warned of Climate Change Danger in 1991

Public information film unseen for years shows oil giant had clear grasp of global warming 26 years ago but hasn't acted accordingly, say critics

The oil giant Shell issued a stark warning of the catastrophic risks of climate change more than a quarter of a century ago in a prescient 1991 film that has been rediscovered.

However, since then the company has invested heavily in highly polluting oil reserves and helped lobby against climate action, leading to accusations that Shell knew the grave risks of global warming but did not act accordingly.

photo of ShellPhoto by Lee Jordan A rediscovered film from 1991 shows that Shell knew the grave risks of global warming more than a quarter-century ago.

Shell’s 28-minute film, called Climate of Concern, was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities. It warned of extreme weather, floods, famines and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warmed the world. The serious warning was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990,” the film noted.

“If the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.”

A separate 1986 report, marked “confidential” and also seen by The Guardian, notes the large uncertainties in climate science at the time but nonetheless states: “The changes may be the greatest in recorded history.”

The predictions in the 1991 film for temperature and sea level rises and their impacts were remarkably accurate, according to scientists, and Shell was one of the first major oil companies to accept the reality and dangers of climate change.

But, despite this early and clear-eyed view of the risks of global warming, Shell invested many billions of dollars in highly polluting tar sand operations and on exploration in the Arctic. It also cited fracking as a “future opportunity” in 2016, despite its own 1998 data showing exploitation of unconventional oil and gas was incompatible with climate goals.

The film was obtained by the Correspondent, a Dutch online journalism platform, and shared with The Guardian, and lauds commercial-scale solar and wind power that already existed in 1991. Shell has recently lobbied successfully to undermine European renewable energy targets and is estimated to have spent $22m in 2015 lobbying against …more

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New Zealand Fishing Industry Accused of Driving World’s Rarest Dolphin to Extinction

Study of industry that calls itself "world leader" finds that vessels Illegally discard a third of their catch

Biologists Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson crisscross southern New Zealand’s scenic Akaroa Bay looking for the world’s smallest dolphins until Slooten spots a stopped 30-foot motor catamaran. We approach gingerly and find a dozen tourists in the water wearing wetsuits. The grey and black dolphins, no bigger than an 8-year-old child, are checking them out, their characteristic round dorsal fins slicing up though the water as they come up to breathe every two minutes. The tourists watch in hushed silence. Dawson photographs the dolphins to identify them later.

Hectors chinout surfacesPhoto by Photo courtesy of Liz SlootenHector’s dolphins, unique to New Zealand’s shallow coastal waters, are friendly to humans, enjoy sex outside of reproduction and almost never fight. A subspecies called Maui’s dolphin has only 50 to 60 adults left thinly spread over 400 miles off the western coast of the North Island.

These Hector’s dolphins, unique to New Zealand’s shallow coastal waters, are friendly to humans, enjoy sex outside of reproduction and almost never fight, explains Slooten with a tender smile. Like Dawson, she is a professor at the University of Otago, in Dunedin, near the southern tip of New Zealand. The couple has been studying these dolphins for the past 32 years, during which they have seen their numbers plummet as thousands upon thousands drowned after getting caught in gill nets and towed trawl nets used by fishermen. Though their use is legal, these kinds of nets trap and kill, in addition to marine mammals and turtles, many more fish than the fishermen can sell.

“We’ve seen the species fragmenting into smaller and smaller isolated populations,” says Slooten.

One of these, a subspecies called Maui’s dolphin that’s been separated from the rest for 16,000 years, has only 50 to 60 adults thinly spread over 400 miles off the western coast of the North Island, down from 2,000 individuals in 1970. It has become the world’s rarest dolphin. “It’s heartbreaking because it’s so easily avoidable,” Slooten says. The rest of the population, a slightly larger sub-species known as Hector’s dolphins, has fallen from a probable 50,000 to an estimated 10,000.

Since 2012, the International Whaling Commission, along with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), dozens of nonprofits and the country’s opposition parties have been calling on the New Zealand government to ban all nets in the Maui’s habitat. The US has listed the Maui dolphin as critically endangered and the Hector …more

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The Road That Exposed Peru’s Amazon

A drive along the Interoceanic Highway shows how it has opened the rainforest to mining, agriculture, and deforestation

Driving out from Cusco, Peru, the Interoceanic Highway swirls a few hours over the Andes highlands before it plummets down into the jungle. The change in the surroundings is impressive: rocky hills with low-lying scrubs make way for lush vegetation and waterfalls along steep cliffs. In this green, pristine landscape, some farmers try to eke out a living on inclined farmlands, growing corn and cassava.

photo of Interoceanic HighwayPhoto by Connectas Americas The Interoceanic Highway, which connects the Atlantic coast of Brazil with the Pacific coast of Peru, has increased access to remote parts of Peru.

The next big landscape change comes the moment I have fully descended, some 10,000 feet from where we began, and arrive close to a little town called Mazuco. There I find myself in the midst of a swampy area, full of muddy water and plastic waste, where twisted formations of dead trees are a reminder of the forest this once was. This is gold mining territory, and mining, rife with detrimental impacts for the environment, has been made easier by the road I just travelled.

The Interoceanic Highway, which connects the Atlantic coast of Brazil to the Pacific coast of Peru, was finished in 2012. But access to this remote region increased during the years of construction, between 2003 and 2011, even before the road was completed. Environmentalists, who worried that easy access to the region would increase environmental destruction and impact indigenous communities, protested against the construction of the road. Migrants from the high Andes would suddenly have an easy paved way into a gold mining paradise, to the detriment of local people and wildlife. What used to take days would become a ten-hour bus ride from Cusco.

The environmental advocates were right. Since 2010, gold mining around Mazuco, which lies close to the Madre de Dios river, has increased substantially. More recently, it has also increased within the boundaries of the Tambopata National Reserve and two other nearby reserves, all within the Amazon rainforest. The result is the swamp I find myself in, which can be easily spotted with Google Maps: the satellite images show a yellowish-brown lunar like landscape in the middle of the jungle. And mining is just one of the environmental ramifications of the highway.

***

In January, before embarking on my trip into the Amazon, I had coffee in Lima with Peruvian journalist and researcher Gabriel Arriaran, who has been visiting the Madre de …more

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