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ANOTHER PLANET?

Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore

In the USA Democrats have promised to try to thwart the appointment of Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, amid fears within the agency that he will trigger an “unprecedented disaster” for America’s environment and public health. Donald Trump has nominated Pruitt to lead an agency he has sued multiple times in his role as attorney general of Oklahoma. Pruitt has vowed to dismantle serried environmental rules and is currently involved in a legal effort by 27 states to overturn Barack Obama’s clean power plan, the president’s centerpiece policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Giraffes have seen a 38% decline in their numbers since 1985, falling from about 157,000 to 97,500 today. They sadly join the “red list” compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has also added more than 700 newly recognised bird species, but 13 of these are already extinct. But there is good news in the list as well with the rediscovery of a few species thought to have been lost, such a Madagascan freshwater fish which had not been seen since the 1960s, and the recovery of the Seychelles white-eye bird after conservation efforts.

Google’s data centres and the offices for its 60,000 staff will be powered entirely by renewable energy from next year, in what the company has called a “landmark moment”. The Guardian reports that the internet giant is already the world’s biggest corporate buyer of renewable electricity, last year buying 44% of its power from wind and solar farms. Now it will be 100%, and an executive said it would not rule out investing in nuclear power in the future, too.

Paris had a second day of free public transport due to a spike in air pollution – and some cars were barred from the roads. The city is suffering its worst and most prolonged winter pollution for at least 10 years, the Airparif agency which measures the levels said on Wednesday. In the week Authorities said only drivers with odd-numbered registration plates can drive in the capital region on Wednesday. Drivers of even-numbered cars were given the same opportunity on Tuesday, but could now be fined up to €35 if they are caught behind the wheel. More than 1,700 motorists were fined for violations on Tuesday. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said images of smog blanketing the capital were proof of the need to reduce vehicle use in the city centre.

London mayor Sadiq Khan will  more than double funding to clean up the capital’s dirty air. London is one of the most polluted of dozens of cities in the UK that breach EU standards on nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic gas caused by diesel vehicles. Air pollution has been linked to nearly 9,500 premature deaths in the city each year. Funding for air quality measures over the next five years will be more than doubled to £875m, under new plans, up from the £425m committed under the former mayor Boris Johnson. Khan will has also promised to spend £770m on cycling initiatives over the course of his term, saying he wants to make riding a bike the “safe and obvious” transport choice for all Londoners.

Two prestigious organisations have warned that England may have tipped into deforestation, with more trees being cut down than planted for the first time in possibly 40 years. “We are only planting 700 hectares (1,730 acres) a year, almost certainly less than we are felling,” said Austin Brady, the conservation director of the Woodland Trust charity which, with commercial forestry groups, wants government to pledge to meet its planting targets at a parliamentary debate. Stuart Goodall, chief executive of Confor, the trade association for the UK forestry industry, said planting was at its lowest level in England in more than 40 years. “Forests are being lost to development and infrastructure; we are cutting a lot and planting so few, so it may be that England is technically deforesting,” said Goodall. More here.

The level of household waste which is recycled in the UK has fallen for the first time, figures have shown. The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs statistics show that 44.3% of household rubbish was recycled in 2015, down from 44.9% in 2014. It is the first fall since 2010 when monitoring began, though is still the second-highest annual rate on record. Waste company Biffa Municipal warned that recyclables that are not clean (where they are contaminated) can cause “lorry-loads” to be rejected. There is a European Union target for the UK to recycle at least 50% of household waste by 2020.
People working in green buildings think better in the office and sleep better when they get home, a new study has revealed. The research indicates that better ventilation, lighting and heat control improves workers’ performance and could boost their productivity by thousands of dollars a year. It also suggests that more subjective aspects, such as beautiful design, may make workers happier and more productive. An increasing number of green buildings are being constructed by developers as the cost and health benefits become better known, but this the first study to show such buildings can make their occupants brainier. The research analysed workers in certified green buildings in five US cities and compared them with other workers in the same cities employed in different offices owned by the same companies.

The world’s most widely used insecticides harm the ability of bees to vibrate flowers and shake out the pollen to fertilise crops, according to preliminary results from a new study. Some flowers, such as those of crops like tomatoes and potatoes, must be shaken to release pollen and bumblebees are particularly good at creating the buzz needed to do this. But the research shows that bumblebees exposed to realistic levels of a neonicotinoid pesticide fail to learn how to create the greatest buzz and collect less pollen as a result. The research is consistent with previous work that has shown neonicotinoid pesticides reduce learning and memory in bees. A moratorium on the use of three neonicotinoids on flowering crops was put in place in Europe in 2013 and will be reviewed next year.

The rogue practice of removing vital pollution filters from the exhausts of diesel vehicles has suffered a blow with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for the first time banning an advert for the service.

ANOTHER PLANET?

china air pollutionOutdoor air pollution has grown 8% globally in the past five years, with billions of people around the world now exposed to dangerous air, according to new data from more than 3,000 cities compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO). While all regions are affected, fast-growing cities in the Middle East, south-east Asia and the western Pacific are the most impacted with many showing pollution levels at five to 10 times above WHO recommended levels.  New mayor of London has called air pollution ‘our biggest environmental challenge’ and plans to bring the increased ultra low emission zone into force early, unveiling plans to substantially increase the size of London’s clean air charging zone to tackle the capital’s illegal air pollution levels

Two of the world’s most widely used insecticides, imidacloprid (made by Bayer) and thiamethoxam (Syngenta) cause significant harm to bumblebee colonies, a new study has found, but a third had no effect. The study shows the distinct effects of each type of neonicotinoid pesticide, from cuts in live bees and eggs to changed sex ratios and numbers of queens. Clothianidin (Bayer) had no effect other than increasing the number of queens produced. Previously, the different types of neonicotinoids have often been treated as interchangeable. Neonicotinoids and other pesticides have been implicated in the worldwide decline in pollinators, which are vital for many food crops, although disease and loss of habitat are also important factors. There is strong evidence that neonicotinoids harm individual bees . The EU imposed a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids on flowering crops in 2013. And a second report  has found that despite farmers pleas to use the bee killing chemicals – UK crop yields have actually INCREASED since the ban. Government figures show that oilseed rape harvest increased by 6.9% in 2015 – undermining the National Farmers Union arguments that farmers were struggling without the pesticides.

Zombie-Bee_2More than a quarter of American honeybee colonies were wiped out over the winter, with deadly infestations of mites and harmful land management practices heaping mounting pressure upon the crucial pollinators and the businesses that keep them. Preliminary figures commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that 28% of bee colonies in the United States were lost over the 2015-16 winter. More than half of surveyed beekeepers said they suffered unsustainable losses during the winter.

Solar Impulse has completed the Pacific Crossing! Bertrand Piccard pierced through the night sky, gently kissing the runway with a smooth landing at Moffett Airfield, California. The transition from the gentle wonders of the sky to the shared elation of landing was quick. He descended from the cockpit where he had been sitting for the past 62 hours and greeted his solar brother, André Borschberg. He had been waiting for Bertrand at Moffett Airfield since Friday afternoon, making final preparations on the ground before his arrival.

JB LOGOJulies Bicycle have an interesting article and opinion online about the ‘Brexit’ and how that will impact on the UK asking – what might it mean for the environment and how might that affect the arts and creative sector? And the answer?  Well you can read the article here, but here’s an extract:

We at Julie’s Bicycle are deeply concerned about the impact a ‘Leave’ vote could have from an environmental perspective.

Leaving the EU at this crucial climate change juncture could seriously destabilise the UK’s policy response and, with the prospect of at least several years of uncertainty, undermine the much-needed rapid investment in renewable energy and infrastructure that a successful low carbon transition requires. It would also jeopardise the UK’s leadership in global climate policy negotiations by isolating the country just when unprecedented international cooperation is needed.
Leaving the EU would risk the past 40 years of environmental protection legislation in the UK and the resulting benefits for habitats, wildlife, and human health and well-being. Some of these already compromised protections could be lost more or less overnight, whilst others could be weakened or rolled back entirely by UK parliament over the coming years – a risk we are particularly concerned about under the guise of ‘cutting red tape’. Some of this so-called ‘red tape’ has been instrumental at setting standards for air and water quality, stemming the loss of habitats and species, and ensuring we do not erode our vital natural heritage that is inseparable from our cultural heritage.

african-elephant2Tusks from more than 6,000 illegally killed elephants have been burned in Kenya, the biggest ever destruction of an ivory stockpile and the most striking symbol yet of the plight of one of nature’s last great beasts. The ceremonial burning in Nairobi national park at noon was attended by Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta and heads of state including Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, high-ranking United Nations and US officials, and charities. A wide network of conservation groups around the world have sent messages applauding the work.

The Guardian reports that  VW and Shell have been accused of trying to block Europe’s push for electric cars and more efficient cars, by saying biofuels should be at heart of efforts to green the industry instead. The EU is planning two new fuel efficiency targets for 2025 and 2030 to help meet promises made at the Paris climate summit last December. But executives from the two industrial giants launched a study on Wednesday night proposing greater use of biofuels, CO2 car labelling, and the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) instead. In reality, such a package would involve the end of meaningful new regulatory action on car emissions for more than a decade, EU sources say. But Shell insisted it is not trying to block an EU push for electric cars.

gbrThe hot water temperature that drove the devastating bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef this year was made 175 times more likely by human-caused climate change, and could be normal in just 18 years, according to preliminary findings by leading climate and coral reef scientists. Great Barrier Reef tourism operators refuse media and politicians access to bleached reefs . The scientists said they took the unusual step of releasing the work prior to peer-review, because the methods used to reach the findings are now accepted in the climate science community and the alarming results needed to be released as quickly as possible. “We are confident in the results because these kind of attribution studies are well established but what we found demands urgent action if we are to preserve the reef,” said Andrew King, a lead author of the study from the University of Melbourne. More here.

Plans to build more coal-fired power plants in Asia would be a “disaster for the planet” and overwhelm the deal forged at Paris to fight climate change, the president of the World Bank said on Thursday. In an unusually stark warning, the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, noted that countries in south and south-east Asia were on track to build hundreds more coal-fired power plants in the next 20 years – despite promises made at Paris to cut greenhouse gas emissions and pivot to a clean energy future. In the US, coal use is in sharp decline – and the country’s biggest companies are in bankruptcy. But there is still strong demand for coal in south Asia and east Asia, where tens of millions still have no access to electricity.

The leak of the text of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) might mark the beginning of the end for the hated EU-US trade deal, and a key moment in the Brexit debate. The (unelected) negotiators have kept the talks going until now by means of a fanatical level of secrecy, with threats of criminal prosecution for anyone divulging the treaty’s contents.  The texts include highly controversial subjects such as EU food safety standards, already known to be at risk from TTIP, as well as details of specific threats such as the US plan to end Europe’s ban on genetically modified foods. The documents show that US corporations will be granted unprecedented powers over any new public health or safety regulations to be introduced in future. If any European government does dare to bring in laws to raise social or environmental standards, TTIP will grant US investors the right to sue for loss of profits in their own corporate court system that is unavailable to domestic firms, governments or anyone else. More here on the Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/ttip-leaks-shocking-what-are-they-eu-us-deal-a7010121.html

Fracking has triggered earthquakes from Ohio to Oklahoma, and fouled rivers in Pennsylvania to North Dakota – and now the Obama administration is being sued by environmental groups to crack down on the industry. A coalition of environmental groups has now issued legal action against the USA’s  Environmental Protection Agency to demand a strong uniform standard for the transportation, storage and disposal of frack waste. Since 1998, when the modern era of fracking began in Texas, the industry has generated hundreds of billions of gallons of frack waste – packed with toxic chemicals such as benzene and naturally occurring substances underground such as radium and arsenic – and there are almost no rules governing the process, environmental groups said. “Updated rules for oil and gas wastes are almost 30 years overdue,” said Adam Kron, senior attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project.

Wind turbine near Kendal by Ben Challis

Wind turbine near Kendal by Ben Challis

The idea that renewable energy can power the UK is an “appalling delusion”, according to the final interview given by former chief scientific adviser, the late Professor Sir David MacKay. The sensible energy and climate change plan for the UK, MacKay said, was for the country to focus on nuclear power and carbon capture storage technology, which traps the carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning. In that scenario, the amount of wind and solar the UK needed would be almost zero, he said. However, solar could be a very important power source in other countries, he said, where sunny summers coincided with a big demand for electricity for air conditioning. Prof MacKay also said electric cars are going to be a “massive hit” but said he was “very disappointed” by the lack of progress on CCS, after the government cancelled a pioneering £1bn programme at the last minute.  The attractions of Britain for investors in renewable energy projects are at an all-time low, an authoritative new report has found. The UK routinely topped the annual league table for attractiveness to clean energy companies, run by consultancy Ernst & Young (EY), in the mid-2000s. For the first time, however, it has slid to 13th in the global rankings.

The world is hurtling towards an era when global concentrations of carbon dioxide never again dip below the 400 parts per million (ppm) milestone, as two important measuring stations sit on the point of no return. The news comes as one important atmospheric measuring station at Cape Grim in Australia is poised on the verge of 400ppm for the first time. Sitting in a region with stable CO2 concentrations, once that happens, it will never get a reading below 400ppm. More from the Guardian here.