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Pachyderm pact

Twelve countries in West Africa – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’ Ivoire, Guinea, Guniea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo – have agreed to protect their dwindling elephant populations. Ivory hunting and habitat destruction for roads, railroads, agriculture, and urban expansion contributed to African elephants’ decline. The number of surviving elephants is unknown, but thought to be at least 5,000.

African elephant. Photos.comPhotos.comGreater Protection?

Part of the international Convention on Migratory Species and Wild Animals (also known as the Bonn Convention), the pact is intended to improve conditions for not only elephants but for the region as a whole.

“This is not just a conservation agreement for elephants,” said Achim Steiner, director general of the World Conservation Union. “By improving their habitats and conserving the region’s ecosystems, this agreement can boost the fortunes and prospects for local people who rely on nature for their livelihoods.”

ENS, 11/22

No flaring in Nigeria

Nigeria’s Federal High Court ruled that gas flaring is a violation of Nigerians’ constitutional rights and must stop. Gas flaring is the burning off of gases released during oil drilling.

Flaring releases greenhouse gases, and subjects people living in the area to air, light, and noise pollution. Oil corporations drilling in Nigeria, many of them foreign-owned, have destroyed crops and sickened Nigerians over the past 40 years by burning off waste gases rather than safely disposing of them.

The case was brought against Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. The judge called flaring “a gross violation of [Nigerians’] fundamental right to life.”

Indigenous communities have strugglied for years to hold oil companies accountable for their actions in the Niger Delta. “For the first time, a court of competence has boldly declared that Shell, Chevron, and other oil corporations have been engaged in illegal activities,” said Reverend Nnimmo Bassey, executive director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

— ENS, 11/15

AIDS eco-training

Umzi Wethu, a new program in South Africa, helps children orphaned by HIV/AIDS to learn about the environment and, ultimately, work in the ecotourism or hospitality industries. The program is backed by the Wilderness Foundation of South Africa.

Children orphaned by HIV/AIDS face major obstacles in finding meaningful employment. Participants in the program are taught about conservation and life skills in the wilderness and on campus. After a one-year internship in a national park or game reserve, each will be placed in a permanent job.

“We realize that wilderness is a force for social change, and that this project can offer a safe and supportive environment to invest in young people in a way that is crucial to entire family systems,” said Andrew Muir, executive director of the Wilderness Foundation of South Africa.

— WILD Foundation, 10/6

Drought and climate change

Southern Africa’s food security is seriously threatened by global warming, said delegates to the UN conference on climate change in Montreal in November.

Farmers can no longer anticipate annual rains, greatly disrupting their planting practices. Drought is ravaging a land already plagued by HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

In affected parts of Zambia, an estimated 400,000 are starving. Nearly half the population of Malawi also faces starvation. Lack of irrigation capacity makes these countries especially susceptible to drought.

“I can assure you that everyone is experiencing these adverse effects first-hand; that indeed the patterns and trends in climate have changed in the last decades,” said Malawi’s land secretary, George Mkondiwa.

Countries in the region are working to develop a National Adaptation Programme of Action on Climate Change to help cope with these changes, but the crisis is already underway.

— ENS, 12/6


Iceberg ballads

iceberg at sea.Photos.comCool new singing sensation

German scientists in Antarctica have found an iceberg that sings as water moves through it.

Though too low to be heard by human ears, when sped up the music sounds like a swarm of bees or an orchestra warming up.

“The tune even goes up and down, just like a real song,” said scientist Vera Schlindwein.

— Reuters, 11/25

CO2 highest in 650,000 years

Examination of air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice revealed that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at its highest level in 650,000 years.

Carbon dioxide is widely believed to be a major engine of global warming. Current levels are 27 percent higher than at any point during that period.

“There is now no question this is due to human influence,” says Ed Brook, professor at Oregon State University.

At the other end of the planet, the Arctic ice shelf has shrunk to its smallest size in at least the last hundred years, according to scientists. If this trend continues, by 2100 there may be no ice left at the North Pole during the summer.

— Reuters 9/29; ENS, 11/25


Iraq clean-up

Years of war and neglect have left Iraq in need of environmental clean-up and reconstruction. Thousands of damaged industrial and military sites pose serious environmental and health risks. Chemical plants, mines, and military junkyards leak toxic chemicals into soil and drinking water. Children often play in the ruins, touching and even ingesting the substances.

Iraqi marshlands also need attention, and the UN and donor countries have pledged to work together to restore them.

As a punishment for supporters of a Shi’ite rebellion after the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein drained much of the marsh between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, an area believed by some to be the biblical Garden of Eden. Since 1970 the marsh has shrunk by 90 percent.

AP, 11/10, 11/11

Green Olympics

China’s Olympic Organizing Committee and the UN Environment Programme are working to make the 2008 Games an eco-friendly event.

Environment has been named as one of the three pillars of Olympism, along with sport and culture. The Organizing Committee intends to minimize air, water, and noise pollution, while increasing public awareness of the relationship of the event to the environment. Transportation, landscaping, building construction, and waste disposal will also be conducted in an ecologically responsible manner.

“Sport has the power to bridge the divide between communities and countries and in doing so help in our common quest for a more stable and peaceful world. Part of that stability rests on a healthy and durable environment,” said Eric Falt, director of the UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information.

— ENS, 11/18


Civilization threatened by kangaroos

Numbering just 20.4 million, Australia’s humans face significant opposition in land use issues from a diverse animal coalition led by kangaroos, whose population is conservatively estimated to be 57 million. Feral pigs, cats, camels, and horses are also involved in the coalition, which causes hundreds of millions of dollars a year in damage to farms and the environment.

Some humans have called for a concerted campaign to destroy the “pests.” Pig and dog bait may be dropped from airplanes, and commercial hunting for meat and fur may increase.

Psychological warfare may commence as well. A new study proposes scaring marauding gangs of kangaroos away from farms and other private property by playing recordings of their own thumping feet. Foot-thumping, in kangaroo parlance, means “danger,” so the sound will frighten them and keep them away.

— Reuters 11/29, 12/6

Hot Oz rocks

After years of preliminary tests, companies in Australia may be ready to use the heat miles below the Earth’s surface to generate electricity.

Harnessing geothermal energy to power generating turbines is not a new idea. But unlike prior methods that tap into existing stores of subterranean steam, this new approach uses hot rocks to produce steam from water pumped down to them, a more sustainable process. Called hot dry rock (HDR) geothermal energy, this may be a ticket to a clean energy future.

High fuel prices have led Australia to explore alternatives to coal and oil dependency. HDR has the potential to provide large supplies of power at lower prices than solar or wind energy, where the proper geological conditions exist.

“Mother Nature has been kind to us. Australia could be the world leader within the next couple of years given the geological anomalies present in South Australia,” says Peter Reid, chief executive of Petratherm Ltd., one of the companies involved in development of the technology.

— Reuters, 11/16


Swiss ban GMO crops

Swiss voters have enacted a five-year ban on the production of genetically modified plants and animals.

The ban, supported by farmers and environmental and consumer groups, does not apply to research or imported products, but only to domestic cultivation. Though largely symbolic, it is the most stringent GM regulation in the EU.

— Reuters, 11/27

Resurrecting Venice

Engineers may try to raise the sinking city of Venice by 12 inches by injecting sea water underneath it. If successful, the project would return Venice to the elevation it held 300 years ago.

Engineers hope the water will expand the sand the city rests on, raising the city.

Venice faces multiple water hazards – it is both sinking and threatened by the rising tides of the Adriatic Sea. Flooding is becoming more frequent, leading officials to erect raised walkways in parts of the city.

Some are skeptical of the $117 million plan,claiming that it will raise the city by only six inches, and that the city may rise unevenly and endanger historical buildings.

— AP, 11/22

Poison laws

The European Parliament passed a new law that will require companies to prove the chemicals in their products are safe for the public.

Thousands of chemicals made or sold in the EU must be registered and the most potentially dangerous tested and approved before use. Companies will be required to use safe chemicals whenever they can.

This regulation is estimated to cost the chemical industry $2.6 billion. The United States and some African nations claim the plan will disrupt trade.

In order for it to become law, member states must now approve it individually.

— Reuters, 11/18

EU imports deforestation

By importing illegal timber, the EU is furthering deforestation in other parts of the world, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

After studying trade between EU states and countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the report found Britain to be the worst culprit, followed by Germany and Italy.

Illegally logged trees are smuggled into other countries – often China – and sold on the global market.

Europe’s role in global deforestation extends beyond timber sales. WWF also found European companies are using insufficient amounts of recycled paper in their napkins, toilet paper, and paper towels.

“Every day about 270,000 trees are effectively flushed down the toilet or end up as garbage around the world; such a use of the forests is both wasteful and unnecessary,” said Duncan Pollard, head of WWF’s European Forest Programme. “Manufacturers must use more recycled fibers in their tissue products, as this means fewer trees will be cut down.”

— WWF International, 11/22, Reuters, 11/23


Rising tides

For what may be the first time, a village has been forced to move to higher ground because of global warming and rising sea levels, according to a UN report.

On Tegua Island in Vanuatu, 100 people packed up their homes and moved them inland. In recent years, surging tides have flooded the village four to five times annually.

Rising oceans, swollen by melting polar ice caps, threaten coastal areas around the world. In 1999, two uninhabited Kiribati islands disappeared. Near Papua New Guinea, about 2000 people are planning to move to a new island.

A panel of scientists that advise the UN warns that sea levels could rise three feet by 2100 as a result of continued climate change.

— Reuters, 12/6

North America

New York for the birds

new york at night. Photo.comPhotos.comSafer for birds

New York City skyscrapers will go dark above the 40th floor after midnight during spring and fall to help save migratory birds.

Since 1997, more than 4,000 birds have died or been injured after flying into buildings.

“New York City is this nexus of ancient migratory flyways, and the parks have become these havens for these birds, but… the buildings with their light draw birds to them, sort of like moths to a flame,” says NYC Audubon Director E.J. McAdams.

The program is modeled after similar ones in Chicago and Toronto.

— Reuters, 9/22

The sting

The US may be turning to insects to fill some of its most important government positions.

A species of wasp, researchers discovered, can be trained to sniff out bombs, drugs, and bodies in under five minutes and at next to no cost. Wasps have a highly sensitive sense of smell, which females use to find a place to deposit their eggs.

The discovery is part of an ongoing effort to find insects that can be used for similar ends. Bees are also being trained as land-mine detectors.

“It’s opened a whole new resource for invertebrates as biological sensors,” says entomologist Joe Lewis.

— AP, 12/5

Bush: get better advice

A lawsuit filed December 14 in US Federal District Court by public health and physician groups demands that corporate interests be balanced with public interest representation on US Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs). ITACs advise the US Trade Representative on trade policies affecting public health. Non-profit organizations are systematically denied posts on ITACs.

The suit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of a coalition of public health organizations. The coalition claims that the current makeup of advisory committees used by the Bush administration to establish trade policy favors corporate interests, illegally excluding public health advocates.

“We are calling on the US Trade Representative to obey the law and create more balanced advisory panels,” said Ellen Shaffer, director of the Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health. “Public health policy is an issue too important to be left to a private club of special interests.”

— Earthjustice, 12/15

South America

Deforestation declining

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization reports that worldwide deforestation is slowing, though still proceeding at an alarming rate.

Every year an amount of land the size of Greece is logged – some 32 million acres. But replanting and tree plantations have lowered the net loss to 18 million acres in 2000–2005. China’s massive tree-growing programs in particular have helped.

Deforestation both reduces biodiversity and increases the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

South America endures the largest losses, followed by Africa. Brazil, home to a rain forest the size of Western Europe, reported a dramatic 31 percent drop in the last year. The government attributes this to increased enforcement of regulations.

Though the net loss may be falling, the Rainforest Foundation’s Simon Counsell notes that, “Most of the world’s most valuable forests, especially in the tropics, are vanishing as fast as ever.”

— Reuters 11/15; AP, 12/6

Parks and cocaine

To escape aerial fumigation of their coca crops, growers and traffickers in Colombia are moving into nature parks where spraying is banned. In the process, they are destroying virgin forests and polluting the soil and water, leaving officials in a bind. “The national parks offer perfect havens for traffickers,” said police Colonel Henry Gamboa. “There is virtually nothing we can do about it.”

Colombia is home to a vast array of animals and 15 percent of the world’s plant species. Spraying the reserves with pesticides would greatly damage them, but coca growers have already ravaged thousands of acres – for every acre actually producing coca, two more are cleared. Makeshift processing stations pour toxic chemicals into the environment.

Since 2003, the number of national park acres cleared for coca has more than doubled. Campesinos grow the plants and sell a coca paste to both rebel groups and right-wing paramilitaries.

Indigenous groups and environmentalists have proposed alternative means of eradication in order to save the parks, but no viable solution has been found.

— AP, 9/28

Compiled by Hunter Jackson and Aadika Singh

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