17 Aug 2012:
Triage System for Plant Species
Devised Based on Geographic Range
With an increasing number of plant species worldwide facing growing threats, from climate change to invasive species, a team of U.S. scientists has developed a process to more rapidly evaluate those plants facing the greatest risks of extinction
. Writing in the journal
Biodiversity and Conservation
, the scientists from the New York Botanical Garden describe a triage method to identify at-risk species based on data from plant research collections and geographic information systems (GIS) technology. According to the scientists, the standard conservation assessment process, developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — which uses a rigorous process to classify species as “extinct,” “least concern,” “endangered,” and “critically endangered” — is limited because it requires large amounts of data that simply do not exist for most species. While there are 300,000 known plant species, they say, only 15,000 species have been evaluated under the IUCN process. As an alternative, they propose a simpler process that classifies species as either “at risk” or “not at risk” based on the key criterion of the size of its geographical range.
16 Aug 2012:
Ocean Health Index Evaluates
State of Waters Around the Globe
An international team of researchers has released a new tool that evaluates the state of the world’s oceans
, a so-called Ocean Health Index that its creators say provides the first comprehensive assessment of the relationship
between the planet’s marine regions and human communities. While previous assessments of ocean health were based on the level of “pristineness,” this index is framed in terms of the benefits humans derive from the oceans and the extent to which communities maintain a sustainable marine environment. Using a wide range of criteria — including water quality, marine biodiversity, and the condition of coastal areas — the researchers ranked ocean areas worldwide on a scale from 0 to 100. According to their analysis, published in the journal Nature
, the global ocean received an overall score of 60, while scores for individual areas ranged from 36 to 86. The waters around Jarvis Island, near Hawaii, ranked highest
; the waters off the West African nation of Sierra Leone ranked lowest.
09 Aug 2012:
Overuse of Groundwater
Threatens Global Supplies, Study Says
A new study finds that nearly one-quarter of the world’s population lives in regions where water is being used faster than it can be replenished
. Using computer models of global groundwater resources and water use data, scientists from Canada and the Netherlands calculated that the planet’s “groundwater footprint” — the area above ground that relies on water from underground sources — is about 3.5 times larger than the aquifers themselves
. The study found that in most of the world’s major agricultural regions — including the Central Valley in California, the Nile delta region of Egypt, and the Upper Ganges in India and Pakistan— demand exceeds these reservoirs’ capacity for renewal. For example, the groundwater footprint for the Upper Ganges aquifer is more than 50 times the size of aquifer. “This overuse can lead to decreased groundwater availability for both drinking water and growing food,” said Tom Gleeson, a hydrologist at McGill University in Montreal and lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature
. According to the scientists, about 1.7 billion people, mostly in Asia, live in areas where water needs for humans and ecosystem services outstrip the ability of aquifers to replenish themselves.
06 Aug 2012:
California Meets 20 Percent
of Electricity Demand With Clean Energy
California power utilities are now achieving more than 20 percent of the state’s electricity needs with renewable energy sources, state regulators say. In its latest quarterly report
, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said that the state met 20.6 percent of its
electricity demand with renewable sources — including wind, solar, and geothermal — during 2011, up from 17 percent in 2010. In 2012, the report says, the state is on pace to far surpass that level. According to the CPUC report, 2,871 megawatts of energy capacity from clean sources has been added statewide since ambitious clean energy standards were enacted in 2003, and another 3,000 megawatts are expected to be added during 2012. A dozen utility-scale solar photovoltaic plants, with a combined capacity of 2,200 megawatts, are currently being built in California
, while another 62 plants totaling 11,600 megawatts of capacity are being developed. The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires that 20 percent of electricity sold to customers be generated from renewable sources from 2011 to 2013; the target increases to 33 percent by 2020.
31 Jul 2012:
U.S. Meat Producers Call for
Pause in Ethanol Quotas in Wake of Drought
U.S. meat, poultry, and dairy producers are urging the Obama administration to suspend a quota for corn-based ethanol production, warning that the renewable fuels standard could trigger a food crisis as a prolonged
drought pushes corn and soybean prices to record levels. In a letter sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a coalition that includes the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council asked for a one-year waiver on federal ethanol quotas
, saying that the ongoing drought in the U.S. Midwest has slashed the amount of corn available to feed livestock and poultry. The current renewable fuels standard would require that 13.2 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol be produced in 2012 and 13.8 billion gallons in 2013. In 2012, the meat producers say, those quotas would consume nearly 40 percent of all U.S.-produced corn. “The extraordinary and disastrous circumstances created for livestock and poultry producers by the ongoing drought in the heart of our grain growing regions requires that all relevant measures of relief be explored
,” the letter said.
30 Jul 2012:
Scheme Opens Papua New Guinea Forests to Foreign Loggers, Report Says
More than 5 million hectares (12.3 million acres) of community-held land in Papua New Guinea have been signed over to foreign and domestic corporations through a government leasing scheme, accelerating
©Paul Hilton/ Greenpeace
deforestation in the resource-rich nation, a new Greenpeace study says
. Using data and mapping analysis and government information, the group found that about 75 percent of the leased forest land — or about 3.9 million hectares — is controlled by foreign corporations for up to 99 years through a so-called Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABL) scheme. The report claims that many companies paid government officials to approve long-term leases and that in one case logging companies paid police to intimidate and assault landowners who opposed the leases. “People are losing their land and their livelihoods for up to three generations and their forests forever,” said Paul Winn, leader of the Greenpeace Forests Team. Greenpeace says Papua New Guinea’s logging exports increased 20 percent last year, due largely to the SABL scheme. The total amount of land leased through SABLs makes up 11 percent of the country’s land area
and 16 percent of accessible commercial forest.
19 Jul 2012:
`Great Green Fleet’ Trial
Launched by U.S. Navy in the Pacific
The U.S. Navy this week held military exercises in the Pacific Ocean that used an expensive blend of biofuels and conventional fuels to power 71 aircraft and three warships,
part of an ongoing effort by the Navy to develop alternative fuels for its global operations. The so-called “Great Green Fleet” initiative is a top priority of Navy Secretary Ray Maybus, who contends that the U.S. military must eventually free itself from dependence on fossil fuels “because unpredictable and increasingly volatile oil prices could have a direct impact on readiness.” But numerous critics, including U.S. Senator John McCain, criticize Maybus’ initiative as unnecessary and costly, noting that the 50-50 biofuel/conventional fuel blend costs $26 a gallon — more than six times the cost of conventional fuels. A Defense Department study said that the military will spend $2 billion more annually if it continues to pursue its biofuels experiments. About 90 percent of the biofuels was rendered from cooking oil waste and the remaining 10 percent was refined from algae. Maybus, speaking aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, contended that the rising costs of oil and breakthroughs in biofuel production will eventually narrow the price gap between conventional and alternative fuels.
09 Jul 2012:
Aquaculture Output To Rise
33 Percent Over Next Decade, UN Says
The global aquaculture sector could produce 33 percent more fish for human consumption over the next decade
, an increase in production that will help feed a growing world population even as fisheries are overexploited, a new UN report predicts. More than 79 million tons of farmed fish, crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic plants are expected to be produced from 2012 to 2012, a 33 percent growth compared with just a 3 percent growth from capture fisheries, according to the report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization
. By 2018, the amount of fish raised in aquaculture will exceed the amount caught in the wild for the first time and will account for 52 percent of the total by 2021, the report states. This increased reliance on farm-raised fish comes as an increasing number of fisheries worldwide are exploited, with about 30 percent of fish stock now overexploited and another 57 percent fully exploited or very close to maximum sustainable production.
Living Building Challenge Aims to
Revolutionize Green Architecture
In the world of green architecture, no project has more stringent design criteria than the Living Building Challenge
, a rigorous certification system that requires that structures follow 20 design “imperatives” across seven categories, from water and energy use to social
Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab
equity and beauty. While the better-known LEED standards pre-certify buildings based on conformance of design specifications with best practices, the Living Building Challenge also judges buildings on actual performance, requiring a documented 12-month occupancy phase. Projects must also prove that they exclude 14 banned materials
, including halogenated flame retardants and PVC plastics, through supplier audits for every product used in construction. Since its inception in 2006,the challenge has fully certified only three buildings
and partially certified two others, raising questions of whether it will have real-world impact. But program director Amanda Sturgeon says the project’s standards are already pushing architecture and design to be more progressive, sustainable, and accountable. “When teams start to ask their suppliers for every ingredient of every product, the message moves up the chain,” she says.
28 Jun 2012:
Cities in U.S. Northwest
Adopt Aggressive Recycling Programs
Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, Ore., have all adopted stringent recycling programs that have generally been embraced by citizens in these progressive cities and have significantly reduced the amount of garbage going to landfills
. The New York Times
reports that Portland has cut the amount of garbage going to landfills by 44 percent by recycling a wide range of materials, including food scraps, and collecting garbage only twice a month. San Francisco, which has adopted even more aggressive recycling initiatives, now reuses 78 percent of what enters its waste stream, compared with the national average of 34 percent. This summer, Seattle is opening a mammoth new waste transfer station that will enable it to sort through and recycle a large portion of its garbage, the Times
reports. With citizens in these relatively small cities — all with populations under 800,000 — pushing for a zero-waste policy, Seattle says that by 2018 it will even provide some neighborhoods with containers to recycle dog and cat waste, turning the excrement into power using anaerobic digests.
27 Jun 2012:
Foreign ‘Land Grabs’
Scooping up Key Agricultural Lands
From 2000 to 2010, foreign investors bought or leased roughly 270,000 square miles of prime agricultural land
, most of it in the developing world, according to a report by the Worldwatch Institute. Half of the land was
in Africa, acquired by investors from China, the Middle East, and other countries and regions, Worldwatch said. Although the pace of what Worldwatch called “land grabs” has slowed somewhat in the last several years, private investors and state-owned companies are still buying and leasing land in the developing world to ensure ample food supplies for citizens of land-poor countries.
Worldwatch said the land deals generally took two forms: “South-South regionalism,” in which emerging economies invest in nearby countries, and North-South deals in which wealthy countries with little arable land buy up land in low-income nations. The report said the land deals usually resulted in the displacement of small-scale agriculture for industrial agriculture operations that have more serious environmental impacts.
22 Jun 2012:
Rio+20 Summit Ends, With
Little Faith Seen in Government Solutions
Twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro promised an era of aggressive action on biodiversity loss and global warming, the United Nations Rio+20 sustainability summit ended Friday with recriminations and a growing sense that international institutions will play an increasingly diminished role in solving environmental problems.
World leaders — with the notable absence of the heads of the U.S., U.K, Germany, and Russia — approved an agreement that lacked specifics, commitments, and measurable targets on how to promote sustainable economic development. Numerous conservationists and officials said that cities, local governments, the private sector, and environmental groups will now have to play the key role in fostering sustainable economic growth, slowing climate change, and preserving biodiversity. “The greening of our economies will have to happen without the blessing of world leaders,” said Lasse Gustavson, executive director of the World Wildlife Fund.
21 Jun 2012:
A Tepid Agreement
Takes Shape at Rio+20 Summit
World leaders attending the UN’s Rio+20 sustainability summit appear prepared to rubber-stamp an agreement that has been widely criticized
by environmental groups and some government officials as ineffectual. As Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other leaders arrived in Rio, participants at the conference seemed resigned to approving an agreement that fails to set concrete goals, timetables, or methods of financing for ensuring environmentally sustainable economic growth, particularly in the developing world. “Let me be frank — our efforts have not lived up to the measure of the challenge,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in opening remarks
. “Nature does not wait. Nature does not negotiate with human beings.” Government officials and diplomats said that the host country, Brazil, was determined to avoid the chaos that surrounded the failed climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. As a result, delegates from 193 countries drafted a non-committal agreement that heads of state are expected to sign with few changes on Friday.
19 Jun 2012:
Major World Cities
Cite Progress in CO2-Reduction Effort
Speaking at the Rio+20 sustainability summit, the mayors of New York City and Rio de Janeiro will announce that 48 of the world’s largest cities are taking steps to cut 248 tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020
, the equivalent of removing 44 million cars from the road for a year. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes said that four-dozen cities in the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group
are reducing emissions by launching energy efficiency programs, capturing methane in landfills, installing more efficient street lighting, and other initiatives. They cite the CO2 reductions as proof that cities can make significant progress on slashing greenhouse gases even in the absence of a global agreement on cutting carbon emissions. “We’re not arguing with each other about emissions targets,” Bloomberg told reporters in a teleconference. “What we’re doing is going out and making progress.” Bloomberg and Paes said that 59 cities have committed to cut their carbon emissions by a total of 1 billion tons by 2030, equivalent to the combined greenhouse gas emissions of Canada and Mexico.
18 Jun 2012:
Japan Feed-in Tariffs Approved
As Government Restarts 2 Nuclear Plants
Japan’s struggle over its energy future was on display over the last two days as the government okayed restarting operations at two nuclear power plants
while also approving an ambitious renewable energy feed-in tariff
in which utilities will pay a premium for electricity generated by solar, wind, and geothermal power. After shutting down the country’s 50 nuclear power plants following the Fukushima nuclear power meltdown, the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Saturday gave the green light to bring two nuclear reactors in western Japan back online. Despite public unease and a large street protest in Tokyo, the government said that post-Fukushima reforms had rendered the plants safe. Meanwhile, the government approved generous green energy feed-in tariffs as part of a drive to significantly expand renewable power generation.
Under the feed-in tariffs, utilities will pay 42 yen (53 U.S. cents) per kilowatt hour for solar-generated electricity and 23 yen per kilowatt hour for wind-generated electricity.
15 Jun 2012:
Sharp Divisions Emerge
As Rio+20 Negotiators Seek Consensus
With the United Nations Rio+20 summit on sustainable development set to open next Wednesday, negotiators from developing nations walked out of a key working group
over disagreements with wealthier nations about funding environmentally responsible development and the transfer of green technology. As negotiators attempted to forge an agreement, the G77 bloc of developing nations, led by China, proposed that wealthy countries finance a global fund for sustainable development with an initial annual budget of $30 billion. But European Union nations said they were unable to afford that because most EU states faced an economic crisis. Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, rejected that argument, saying, “We cannot be held hostage to the retraction resulting from financial crises in rich countries.” As 130 world leaders (with the notable absence of the leaders of the U.S., Britain, and Germany) prepared to arrive, a top Brazilian diplomat lamented the summit’s disparate blocs
, saying the traditional north-south divide was only one of many divisions.
07 Jun 2012:
Environmental Tipping Point
Is Nearing, International Study Says
The rapid warming of the planet, a soaring human population, the steady loss of biodiversity, over-exploitation of energy resources, and the degradation of the world’s oceans are driving the world toward an ecological tipping point,
according to a new study in Nature
. Twenty-two scientists from five nations compared the major changes taking place today with previous ecological shifts — such as the end of the last Ice Age 14,000 to 18,000 years ago — that triggered mass extinctions of some species, expansions of others, and the creation of new global ecosystems. The paper said that while there is still considerable uncertainty as to whether the world is now approaching such a “state shift,” many signs point to a future of ecological upheaval. “Given all the pressures we are putting on the world, if we do nothing different, I believe we are looking at a time scale of a century or even a few decades for a tipping point to arrive,” lead author Anthony Barnosky
, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, said in an interview.
01 Jun 2012:
Japan Forced to Reconsider
Climate Targets Without Nuclear Power
Japanese officials say they may have to scrap long-term targets for carbon emissions reductions as a consequence of moving away from nuclear power in the aftermath of last year’s Fukushima disaster. According to the Japan Times
, government officials this week conceded that goals to cut carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels were “to a fair degree” predicated on the use of nuclear power. “I have no doubt that an overall review will be necessary,” deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada said. Last month the nation shut down its last working nuclear plant more than a year after the Fukushima disaster made nuclear power unacceptable to many Japanese residents
. But considering that nuclear power provided nearly 30 percent of the nation’s electricity before the 2011 disaster, many predict the idled nuclear plants will trigger a rise in greenhouse gas emissions from an increased use of fossil fuels. A report released earlier this week said that the combined electricity produced from natural gas, oil, and coal-powered plants from January to April was up 40 percent
compared with the same period in 2011.
30 May 2012:
Water Depletion Threatens
Future U.S. Food Supplies, Study Says
The rapid depletion of groundwater resources in key U.S. agricultural regions could portend future vulnerabilities in growing the nation’s food
, according to a new study. In an assessment of water supplies in California’s Central Valley and the High Plains of the central U.S. — which runs from northwest Texas to southern Wyoming and South Dakota — University of Texas researchers found that in many places water is being used faster than it can be replenished, and that some regions may be unfit for agriculture within decades. According to their findings, farmers in California’s Central Valley, a region known as the nation’s “fruit and vegetable basket,” used enough water during a 2006-2009 drought to fill Lake Mead, the nation’s largest man-made reservoir. In the High Plains, a major grain-growing region, about one-third of groundwater depletion occurs in just 4 percent of the land area. At current rates of water depletion, some parts of the High Plains, including the Texas Panhandle and western Kansas, will be unable to support irrigated agriculture within a few decades, according to the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
25 May 2012:
Marine Reserves Replenish
Commercial Fisheries, DNA Tests Show
DNA testing has shown that the creation of marine reserves where no fishing is allowed helps to replenish fish stocks outside the reserve boundaries
. In a study conducted at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, researchers collected tissue samples from two species of commercially popular fish — including 466 samples of adult coral trout and 1,154 samples from stripey snapper — located within three reserve areas. After collecting juveniles of both species in protected and unprotected areas over the next 15 months, the researchers found that about half of the juveniles were offspring of fish found in the reserve areas, even though the reserves accounted for just 28 percent of the study area. In other words, fish found in the reserves “punch above their weight in replenishing fishery stocks
,” said Garry Russ, a researcher from James Cook University and one of the authors of the study, published online in the journal Current Biology
23 May 2012:
Papuans Paid a Pittance
For Palm Oil Land, Investigation Says
A major palm oil company has paid indigenous residents of Indonesian Papua $0.65 per hectare for forested land that will be worth $5,000 a hectare once cultivated
, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency
(EIA). The EIA said that Moi
Palm oil concession in Klawana, Sorong
indigenous landowners agreed to the land sale — at a price 7,000 times less than the land will eventually be worth — after pressure from company representatives and local officials and after being told they would receive new housing and free education for their children. But the Moi said these promises were never kept
, and that only a few children were offered the chance to study at a polytechnic school in Java for three years — and only under the condition that the students return and work for seven years for the palm oil company, PT Henrison Inti Persada (PT HIP). The Noble Group, a global commodities trading giant, has a majority stake in PT HIP. The Norwegian government, which has been funding programs to reduce deforestation, has invested nearly $50 million in Noble Group through Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, EIA says.
18 May 2012:
Apple’s Main Data Center
Will Use Only Green Power by 2013
Apple Inc. has received approval to build two solar power installations at its main data center
in North Carolina, allowing the technology giant to run the center entirely with renewable energy by next year. The two solar farms, which will cover 250 acres near its core data center in Maiden, N.C., will utilize high-efficiency solar cells and an advanced solar-tracking system provided by SunPower Corp and startup Bloom Energy. The solar arrays will generate 84 million kWh of electricity per year. Apple, which produces the popular iPhone and iPad, says that all three of its main data centers ultimately will be powered by coal-free electricity. “I’m not aware of any other company producing energy onsite at this scale,” Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer told Reuters
. The company
is also developing a 5-megawatt fuel cell facility on the Maiden site. A recent Greenpeace report cited Apple
, whose data centers require an ever-expanding amount of power, for lagging behind in efforts to use clean energy.
18 May 2012:
EU Fisheries Observers
Are Intimidated, Bribed by Crews
Observers placed on European Union fishing boats to reduce the amount of illegal and unreported catches are often subject to threats, intimidation, and bribes
when they try to do their jobs, according to a report in the Guardian
. After interviewing more than 20 former and current fisheries observers and examining EU records, the newspaper said that the threats and harassment are common on Spanish and Portuguese fishing boats, which are notorious for egregious overfishing. The observers told the Guardian
that crew members would steal their records of fishing violations, threaten them with an “accident” at sea, kick their cabin doors to keep them awake at night, and take elaborate steps — including making illegal hauls while observers were eating — to conceal the extent of overfishing. Independent observers are placed aboard every vessel operating in the Northwest Atlantic Fishery Organization. But because of fishing industry pressure, observers who spot violations are only allowed to summon an inspector on board, but cannot provide the inspector with any details or records of infractions.
16 May 2012:
Wildlife in Tropical Regions
Has Declined 60 Percent Since 1970
Wildlife populations in the world’s tropical regions have fallen by more than 60 percent during the last four decades
, according to the latest version of the Living Planet Index. The Index — which tracks populations of 2,688 vertebrate species in tropical and temperate regions worldwide — found that species abundance in the tropics declined by about 44 percent on land, 62 percent in the oceans, and 70 percent in freshwater ecosystems from 1970 to 2008. Cumulatively, species abundance declined by about 1.25 percent annually every year compared with a 1970 baseline, according to the report, which is published by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London. Wildlife populations declined by 38 percent in Africa during that period; about 50 percent in Central and South America; and 64 percent in Indo-Pacific regions. Overall, the global index dropped almost 30 percent during the same period. These steep population declines are the result of many factors related to human activities, including deforestation, habitat loss, pollution, overfishing, and climate change.
15 May 2012:
Record Number of Fish Stocks
‘Rebuilt’ in 2011, NOAA Study Says
U.S. officials say a record number of fish stocks recovered to healthy population numbers
in 2011 while a declining number of species were subject to overfishing. In a report
to Congress, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) declared that six species have been “rebuilt,” including the Bering Sea snow crab, the summer flounder found on the mid-Atlantic coast, the haddock in the Gulf of Maine, the Chinook salmon on the northern California coast, the Coho salmon on the Washington coast, and the Widow rockfish on the Pacific coast. Meanwhile, the number of stocks subject to overfishing decreased by four, and overfished stocks declined by three compared with the 2010 report. Samuel D. Rauch III, a NOAA deputy assistant administrator, said the findings underscore the fact that fisheries management — including sometimes unpopular catch limits — has been effective.
15 May 2012:
U.S. Companies Use Steel Linked
To Amazon Destruction, Greenpeace Finds
U.S. car makers such as General Motors, Ford, and Nissan are purchasing steel made from pig iron that is smelted using large amounts of illegally logged timber from the Amazon rainforest
, according to a two-year investigation by Greenpeace
. The environmental group also said that the pig iron smelting, fueled by charcoal produced from tropical forest trees, has resulted in virtual slave labor and illegal logging of indigenous lands in northeastern Brazil. The Greenpeace investigation said that Brazil’s Carajas region — where three-quarters of the forests have been cleared, mainly for charcoal production — is home to 43 blast furnaces used by 18 different companies. Two of the major companies, Viena and Sidepar, sell pig iron to a U.S. steel mill operated by Severstal, Greenpeace said. That mill sells steel to General Motors, Nissan, BMW, and Mercedes, according to Greenpeace. As illegal charcoal operations have decimated the forests in Carajas, loggers have entered conservation areas belonging to indigenous tribes, who have lost 30 percent of their lands to illegal loggers, Greenpeace said.
11 May 2012:
Study Calls Selective Logging
Most Realistic Conservation Strategy
A new study says that well-managed selective logging may be the only realistic solution to conserving tropical forests
in the face of a rapacious global demand for timber resources. In an analysis of more than 100 studies, researchers at the University of Florida found that while even selective logging has a significant impact on biodiversity in tropical forests and carbon storage capacity, those impacts are “survivable and reversible to a degree” if the forests are given time to recover. In fact, the researchers found that, on average, 85 to 100 percent of animal and plant species present before initial logging were still around after selective logging and that forests retained about 75 percent of their carbon after initial harvest. By contrast, the researchers say, forest loss for the planting of rubber or palm oil plantations is permanent. “We’re not advocates for logging,” said Jack Putz, a professor of biology and lead author of the study published in Conservation Letters
. “We’re just acknowledging that it is a reality — and that within that reality, there is a way forward.”
09 May 2012:
Groundwater Pumping Emerges
As a Factor in Sea Level Rise, Study Says
The vast amounts of water pumped out of the ground for irrigation, drinking water, and industrial uses will increasingly contribute to global sea level rise
in the coming decades, according to a new study. According to researchers at Utrecht University, humans pumped about 204 cubic kilometers (49 cubic miles) of groundwater in 2000, much of which evaporated into the atmosphere before ultimately entering rivers, canals and, eventually, the world’s oceans. While in earlier decades the rise in sea level caused by groundwater removal was canceled out by the construction of dams, that changed by the 1990s as humans pumped more groundwater and built fewer dams. By 2000, groundwater extraction resulted in a sea level rise of about 0.57 millimeters annually — compared with about 0.035 millimeters in 1990. According to the study, published in Geophysical Research Letters
, by 2050 the pumping of groundwater worldwide could cause sea levels to rise about 0.8 millimeters annually.
04 May 2012:
Japan Goes Nuclear-Free
For the First Time in Four Decades
Japan will shut down its last working nuclear power station this weekend
, culminating — at least for now — a national shift away from nuclear energy in the aftermath of last year’s Fukushima disaster. The shutdown of the No. 3 Tomari reactor in Hokkaido will leave the country without nuclear power for the first time since 1970. Given public concerns about nuclear safety, it may become difficult to switch the plants back on if the country makes it through the summer months without power shortages or blackouts. “Can it be the end of nuclear power [in Japan]? It could be,” Andrew DeWitt, a professor of energy and policy at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, told Reuters
. Before the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors provided nearly 30 percent of the nation’s electricity. While Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has suggested the country cannot afford to go without nuclear power for the long term, the government has no timetable to switch the plants back on and the country has yet to develop a long-term, nuclear-free energy policy.
27 Apr 2012:
Pacific Shark Survey Shows
90 Percent Decline Near Human Populatons
A comprehensive census of Pacific reef shark populations has found that shark abundance has plummeted by roughly 90 percent
in waters located near islands inhabited by humans. Using underwater surveys
Gray reef sharks at Hawaii’s Kure Atoll
conducted by divers across 46 U.S. Pacific islands and atolls, researchers found that shark numbers near human populations were consistently depressed, regardless of location or ocean conditions, compared with pristine reef areas located farther away from humans. In fact, the researchers estimated that shark populations are less than 10 percent of historically peak numbers in these areas, said Marc Nadon, a University of Hawaii scientist and lead author of the study, published in Conservation Biology
. “In short, people and sharks don’t mix,” he said. Researchers say the data helps quantify how human activities, including overfishing and the controversial practice of shark-finning, are decimating shark numbers.