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Global Deal Reached to Limit Hydrofluorocarbons, Potent Greenhouse Gases

Agreement on HFCs could bring ‘largest temperature reduction ever achieved by single agreement’

A global deal to limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the battle to combat climate change is a “monumental step forward”, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has said.

photo of air conditioning units in Hong KongPhoto by Niall Kennedy/a>Air conditioning units mounted on a Hong Kong building. HFC use has soared in the past decade as  rapidly growing countries have widely adopted air conditioning in their homes, offices, and cars.

The agreement, announced on Saturday morning after all-night negotiations in Kigali, Rwanda, caps and reduces the use of HFCs — a key contributor to greenhouse gases — in a gradual process beginning in 2019, with action by developed countries including the US, the world’s second worst polluter.

More than 100 developing countries, including China, the world’s top carbon dioxide emitter, will start taking action in 2024, sparking concern from some groups that the action would be implemented too slowly to make a difference. A small group of countries, including India, Pakistan and some Gulf states, also pushed for and secured a later start in 2028, saying their economies need more time to grow. That is three years earlier than India, the world’s third worst polluter, had first proposed.

Worldwide use of HFCs has soared in the past decade as rapidly growing countries like China and India have widely adopted air conditioning in homes, offices and cars. But HFC gases are thousands of times more destructive to the climate than carbon dioxide, and scientists say their growing use threatens to undermine the Paris accord by 195 countries, an agreement last year to reduce climate emissions.

President Barack Obama praised the deal on Saturday morning, calling the agreement “an ambitious and far reaching solution” to a “rapidly growing threat to the health of our planet.”

“In addition to today’s amendment, countries last week crossed the threshold for the Paris Agreement to enter into force and reached a deal to constrain international aviation emissions,” he said in a statement. “Together, these steps show that, while diplomacy is never easy, we can work together to leave our children a planet that is safer, more prosperous, more secure, and more free than the one that was left for us.”

Kerry said on Saturday: “It’s a monumental step forward that addresses the needs of individual nations but it will give us the opportunity to reduce the warming of the planet by an entire half a degree centigrade. Agreeing a …more

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No Justice for the Marshall Islands In Nuclear Weapons Contamination Case

World court rejects landmark case charging nuclear states of failing to work towards disarmament

The residents of the Marshall Islands are the ultimate modern age victims. If they don't die from cancer inflicted by nuclear testing they will drown from rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Like most victims, they sought justice. But the International Court of Justice at The Hague refused it on what was effectively a diplomatic-cum-legal technicality.

a spread out mushroom cloud in the ocean by a beach with some housesPhoto courtesy of Library of CongressA nuclear weapon is detonated at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands on July 25, 1946. Between 1946 and 1958 the US tested 66 nuclear weapons on or near Bikini and Enewetak atolls, in the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Islands — population 54,000 — are two parallel strings of islands covering 750,000 square miles of the South Pacific. Their best known piece of real estate is Bikini Atoll. In the aftermath of World War Two, the United States was given responsibility for administering and looking after the welfare of the islanders. It did this by exploding 67 nuclear devices on Bikini Atoll and other parts of the Marshall Islands. Over a 12-year period the US exploded the equivalent of 200 kilotons a day. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 15 kilotons.

Not surprisingly, Bikini Atoll is now uninhabitable. Also not surprisingly, the Marshall Islanders suffer one of the highest rates of cancer and radiation-related birth defects in the world. The US government provides the islands military protection but not a single oncologist.

The islanders contend that all nuclear weapons states are responsible for their bitter legacy. Why? Because Article IV of the 1968 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty commits signatories to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

Last year, the Marshall Islands brought cases against all nine nations that have declared or are believed to have  nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia, China, France, Israel, North Korea, India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom — for failing to uphold their “obligations” to negotiate for nuclear disarmament as required under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But only the cases against India, Pakistan and the UK proceeded because the rest of the nations do not recognize the International Court of Justice’s jurisdiction.

It was on these three cases that the ICJ, the principal  judicial organ of the United …more

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Chinese Company Seeks to Capture Orcas and Hundreds of Marine Mammals in Namibia

Proposal points to troubling explosion in captive animal entertainment in the country

When it comes to wildlife trade and trafficking, sadly, way too many roads lead to China. Usually, it’s the demand for animal parts to be used in traditional Chinese medicine that spurs this trade, but now there’s growing demand for live animals, especially marine mammals, for the country’s exploding theme park industry.

photo of orca in the oceanPhoto by Miles Ritter China currently has 39 marine parks of various sizes. Another 14 such facilities are under construction.

Late last month, it was revealed that the Namibian Fisheries Ministry was considering a proposal by a Chinese-owned company, Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research, requesting the capture and export of endangered dolphins, orcas, and other marine mammals animals to China for “breeding purposes.” (The company appears to be registered in Namibia but is owned by a Chinese businessman.)

According to a report in the daily The Namibian, the list of the company’s demands includes 10 orcas (killer whales); 500 to 1,000 Cape fur seals; 300-500 African penguins; 50 to 100 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins; 50 to 100 common bottlenose dolphins; and various sharks.

The company has offered 300 million Nigerian dollars (about US $95,000) for the deal, claiming the export is important for the protection and management of these marine resources, while admitting at the same time that the market in China for these marine mammals is “enormous.” It also says it will strictly abide by international and Namibian laws and regulations in managing the marine species.

However, several of these species, such as orcas, are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), making it illegal for any entity to capture and export them.

The request points to the deeply troubling explosion in the demand for captive animal entertainment in China, despite a growing understanding of the physical and psychological harm that captivity causes for all species. The country currently has 39 marine parks of various sizes, from massive 326-acre facilities like Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Guangdong province to tiny tanks in shopping malls that barely leave any space for the animals to move around. Another 14 such facilities are under construction.

China now represents the fastest-growing market for live cetaceans on the planet.

According to a report by the China Cetacean Alliance, a coalition of international animal protection and conservation organizations, these parks hold captive at least 491 cetaceans, representing 11 species, including seven species of dolphins, beluga whales, short- finned pilot whales, and narrow-ridged finless porpoises. …more

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Ancient Sand Dunes Under Threat from Development in California’s Bay Area

Advocacy group seeks to raise profile of Daly City dunes and its rare flowers

Fifty years ago, the Committee to Save San Bruno Mountain stopped a plan to lop off half of San Bruno Mountain to fill the San Francisco Bay and expand Foster City. Today, local environmental activists have a new challenge: getting the California Bay Area to notice — and protect — the rare, 100,000-year-old sand dunes on the western slope of the mountain.

photo of San Bruno DunesPhoto by Tom MolanphyMany of the Daly City sand dunes have been built over, but San Bruno Mountain Watch hopes that the remaining sand dune system will one day be incorporated into San Bruno Mountain County Park.

“Although people say San Bruno was ‘saved’ 40 years ago, the mountain is never completely safe,” Ariel Cherbowsky, stewardship coordinator of San Bruno Mountain Watch, explained one fine Saturday morning, during a one-mile interpretive walk in the dunes. The program, which also includes the option of ripping out invasive ice plants, began in May of this year.

These inland dunes were formed during an interglacial period in the Pleistocene era, some 80,000 to 125,000 years ago, when the northern San Francisco Peninsula was an island. Back then, water from melted glaciers made the sea level higher than today and over thousands of years, ocean waters deposited silt creating the sands of what’s called the Colma Formation. Deposits from shallow tidal lagoons and silt from valley slopes gave the sand here more soil-like properties and its characteristic iron-stained brownish coloring, unlike the whiter sands of the coastal dunes. The older dunes are more efficient at retaining water and nutrients and are home to several rare and endangered plants.

Many of the dunes, which have historically been on privately owned land, have been built over. The largest of the sand dunes is estimated at 10-12 acres. San Bruno Mountain Watch hopes that, one day, the entirety of the sand dune system be incorporated into San Bruno Mountain State and County Park.

In 2015, San Bruno Mountain Watch helped preserve part of the sand dunes, about 3.25 acres, after a local landowner donated it to San Mateo County. That land was annexed into the local state-county park. But the best way for the dunes to gain notoriety —  and further protection — may be through its tiny star, the rare San Francisco Lessingia flower. The flower is found in only two places in the entire world: the dunes our group of 12 walks over and the dunes of the Presidio …more

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Is Using Less Water the Secret to Cutting Our Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

California, which uses 20 percent of its electricity in supplying water, just passed a law to collect emissions data from water utilities

When most of us think of slowing global warming, we think of reducing car exhaust and power plant emissions — limiting activities that involve combusting fossil fuels. But we rarely draw the connection between the production of energy and another important resource: water.

photo of California IrrigationPhoto by TimhallA new California law establishes a greehouse gas emissions registry for water utilities, shifting the state's climate change focus from fossil fuels to water.

Yet in California, 20 percent of the state’s electricity and 30 percent of the natural gas that isn’t used by power plants goes to the water system — from pumping it for delivery to disposing of wastewater. Could saving water play a significant role in addressing climate change? And, if so, could we achieve these savings without incurring significant costs?

A bill just signed by governor Jerry Brown will pave the way to answer those key questions.The Water-Energy Nexus Registry bill, or SB 1425, establishes a voluntary registry of greenhouse gas emissions for water utilities to account for the emissions generated from their energy use. It’s a radical departure of how California has been addressing climate change. In effect, SB 1425 moves the focus from fossil fuels to water.

California has long been a leader in addressing global warming. In 2006, California enacted the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), which set out to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Since then, the state has implemented a flurry of programs to cut emissions, from subsidizing electric cars and solar panel purchases to mandating tailpipe emission reductions of cars and trucks. In September, the governor expanded the target by signing a bill requiring the state to cut the emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

These programs have been a great success: California is on target to meet its near-term 2020 goal. Reaching the 2030 goal will require new investments and innovation.

The new registry for water-related emissions can play a key role in achieving that 2030 target. We haven’t been focusing on water primarily because our efforts have centered on reducing emissions from two of the biggest sources: burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and power vehicles. Then, the ongoing drought that first hit California five years ago put a spotlight on water consumption and its heavy reliance on the state’s electricity generation and distribution system.

The drought led to mandatory water use reductions, sparked public …more

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Can California Finally Ditch Single-Use Plastic Bags?

Proposition 67, facing fierce industry opposition, puts the issue before voters

Two years ago, the Golden State took a strong stance against plastic pollution when Jerry Brown signed SB 270, which made California the first state in the country to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. While environmental groups celebrated the victory, a group of American plastic bag manufacturers quickly organized, gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures to put the ban on hold and place the issue before voters on the 2016 ballot.

Next month, Californian voters will come face-to-face with that effort when they vote on Proposition 67, also known as the “California Plastic Bag Ban Veto Referendum.”

photo of plastic bagsPhoto by Victor AndronacheThe plastics industry has spent $6 million to defeat Proposition 67, which will be put before California voters on the November ballot.

Organized under the American Progressive Bag Alliance, out-of-state corporations have poured some $6 million into the pro-plastic bag campaign, including $3.2 million on a paid signature gathering effort to get Proposition 67 on the ballot in the first place. Their campaign mantra? Plastic bags are actually better for the environment than alternatives, or as the APBA puts it on its website, they are “the smartest, most environmentally-friendly choice at the checkout counter.” Specifically, the Alliance insists that plastic bags are recyclable, generate less waste paper alternatives, and result in fewer greenhouse emissions than paper bags.

Of course, Big Plastic has an agenda. According Californians Against Waste, an environmental nonprofit that supports the bag ban, as a result of the postponement of SB 270, roughly 192 million single-use plastic bags continue to be distributed in California every week. Industry profits in the state are estimated at $208 million a year.

Environmental groups have hit back, challenging the Alliance’s pro-environment rhetoric. Yes on 67, Protect the Plastic Bag Ban — a coalition of environmental, businesses, labor, and consumer groups — points to the impact plastic bags have on ocean pollution and marine wildlife, noting that plastic bags are often ingested by sea turtles, otters, seals, fish, and birds. More than 450 organizations, elected officials, and private companies have endorsed Proposition 67, including dozens of local, state, and national environmental groups.

“The plastic bag industry’s arguments don’t make a lot of sense,” says Sejal Choksi-Chugh, executive director of San Francisco Baykeeper, one of the many organizations that have come out strongly in favor of Proposition 67. “A single-use plastic bag that takes about 1,000 years to degrade into smaller pieces …more

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For Lesser Prairie Chicken, A New Era in Conservation or Raw Deal?

On the Great Plains, environmentalists divided over voluntary conservation program for bird habitat

In 1904, writer and shooting enthusiast Walter Colvin first reported from Kansas on the abundance of lesser prairie chickens he found there. The lesser prairie chicken, or LPC, is a grouse-like bird of the southern plains that thrives in its heat-tolerant grasses and small shrubs. It’s a lekking species, with males gathering on communal drumming grounds, or leks, to flash their bright orange, inflatable neck pouches and dance in order to attract mates.

Colvin wrote that nearly every farmer had hundreds of prairie chickens roosting in their winter grain fields, and in one cane field near the state line, his shooting party startled a flock that, when it rose from the field, made it seem “as though a hole had been rent in the earth.” In another field, he says that his brother saw 15,000 to 20,000 chickens.

a male lesser prairie chickenPhoto courtesy of USDA NRCSThe lesser prairie chicken, a grouse-like bird was once abundant in the southern plains. Today, the bird's population is down to about 29,000.

These numbers are especially startling when you realize that, just over a hundred years later, the total lesser prairie chicken population is only 29,000, and had, as recently as 2013, dropped as low as 17,616, largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation by roads and energy development,

This steep decline in 2013 is one reason the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) declared the species threatened in 2014. Conservation of these birds faces two major hurdles: private land development and climate change.

That USFWS listing was successfully challenged in court in 2015, leading the agency to withdraw the listing in July of this year (conservation groups submitted a petition to relist the bird in September). At issue was the Rangewide Plan for the lesser prairie chicken, a sweeping conservation agreement that has been hailed by its supporters as ushering in a new era in private land conservation and by its critics as representing a fast track to extinction.

The Rangewide Plan was unprecedented in the scale and scope of its multiagency collaboration. The brainchild of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, or WAFWA, it emerged in 2013 from similar, smaller-scale conservation agreements being tried in New Mexico and elsewhere. David Mehlman, the director of the Nature Conservancy’s Migratory Bird Program, describes it as well thought out and well-executed: “They put good resources to it, hired the best scientists, and were careful to reach out to …more

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