09 Oct 2015:
‘Land Grabbing’ Is Accelerating
As Pressure on Agriculture Resources Grows
An area about the size of Japan — roughly 140,000 square miles — has been purchased or
A land-grabbing operation in Uganda
leased by foreign entities for agricultural use during the last 15 years, according to a report
by the Worldwatch Institute. An additional 58,000 square miles are under negotiation, the report found. “Land grabbing,” a term for the purchase or lease of agricultural land by foreign interests, has emerged as a threat to food security in several nations. Globally, over half of this land is in Africa, especially in water-rich countries like the Congo. The largest area acquired in a single country is in Papua New Guinea, with nearly 15,500 square miles (over 8 percent of the nation’s total land cover) sold or leased to foreign entities. Foreign purchase of land in developing countries has surged since 2005 in response to rising food prices and growing biofuel demand in the U.S. and the European Union, as well as droughts in the U.S., Argentina, and Australia. “Essentially no additional suitable [agricultural] land remains in a belt around much of the middle of the planet,” writes Gary Gardner, a contributing author to the report.
01 Oct 2015:
International Space Station
Gives Glimpse of China's Aquaculture Sector
A slew of grid-patterned fish farms line the coast of Liaoning Province in northeast China, as shown in this photograph
Aquaculture in China's Liaoning Province
an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. The aquaculture operations have been built out from the highly agricultural coast to a distance of roughly 4 miles. Liaoning Province ranks sixth in China in terms of aquaculture production, and this group of fish farms, which face the Yellow Sea, is the largest set constructed along the province's coastline. The fish farm basins are built on shallow seabeds, mudflats, and bays. Outer barriers protect the basins from winter storms and large waves generated by passing ships. Most aquaculture products are purchased live in China, with less than 5 percent being killed and processed for selling in local or foreign markets, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), says. Shellfish, a traditional marine food source, still dominates China's marine production, according to the FAO's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, accounting for 77 percent of the market.
17 Sep 2015:
Chaotic Illegal Timber Trade
Threatens Crucial Forests in Southeast Asia
A murky, illegal timber trade enabled by systemic corruption exists between China and Myanmar and is worth hundreds of millions of
Illegal log trucks in Kachin wait to cross into China.
dollars annually, making it one of the world's largest illegal timber schemes, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Investigation Agency
(EIA). At stake are some of the most ecologically important remaining forests in Southeast Asia, EIA says. The report documents how Chinese businesses pay in gold bars for the rights to log entire mountains and smuggle timber out of Myanmar's conflict-torn state of Kachin. The stolen timber, primarily high-value species of rosewood and teak, is increasingly being sourced from deeper within Myanmar to feed factories in south and east China. The trade appeared to have peaked in 2005, when 1.3 million cubic yards of logs crossed the border. A brief hiatus then occurred when Chinese authorities intervened, but the scale is once again nearing peak levels, the EIA says.
14 Sep 2015:
Global Solar Panel Production
Rate Slowed in Recent Years, Analysis Finds
Solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing has been growing at a slower rate in recent years, increasing by only 4 percent
Solar panel manufacturing facility
annually from 2011 to 2013, compared to an average annual growth of 78 percent from 2006 to 2011, says a U.S. Energy Information Administration
analysis. Globally, solar PV production facilities are producing far fewer solar panels than their maximum capacity allows, the report says. The peak for that metric occurred in 2011, at 70 percent, when 36.6 gigawatts of solar PV modules were produced globally, while the maximum capacity was 52 gigawatts. The slowdown may be explained by complaints of unfair trade practices originating in China, the EIA says. An investigation found that Chinese solar PV modules were being dumped below cost on the U.S. market, and the U.S. Department of Commerce recently enacted anti-dumping measures on Chinese PV modules. The market is reacting to the slow growth by downsizing workforces and consolidating solar PV manufacturing companies, the analysis says.
10 Sep 2015:
Developing Nations Take Lead In
Cutting Forestry and Agriculture Emissions
Countries with the most potential to slash emissions from agriculture and forestry are skimping on climate commitments, while some developing countries are making the boldest and most detailed pledges for cutting land-use-related emissions. That is the conclusion of a new analysis
of climate pledges from China, Canada, Ethiopia, and Morocco by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Major opportunities to cut forestry and farming emissions exist for Canada and, especially, China, the report says. For example, UCS recently found that China could cut CO2 emissions by 1.2 gigatons per year by 2020, but its climate pledge fails to indicate how the country would do that. Canada’s climate pledge is also vague and unambitious, the report says. In contrast, Ethiopia and Morocco have released detailed and ambitious pledges, especially regarding agricultural emissions. An earlier UCS analysis also found that Mexico’s land-use-related climate pledges exceed those from the European Union and the United States.
03 Sep 2015:
Tropical Tree Cover Loss
Accelerated in 2014, Satellite Analysis Finds
More than 45 million acres of trees were cut down last year — an area twice the size of Portugal — according to an analysis
by the University of Maryland and Google. Tropical nations lost more than half of that total — nearly 25 million acres of tree cover, an area roughly the size of South Korea. Brazil and Indonesia, the two countries most often associated with deforestation, had been making gains toward stemming the problem, but 2014 saw an uptick in tree cover loss in both countries. The situation is especially concerning in Cambodia, where deforestation is accelerating faster than anywhere else in the world due to the development of rubber plantations. Last year Cambodia lost three times more tree cover than in 2001, the analysis found.
20 Jul 2015:
Nuclear Rush Will Make China
Third-Largest Nuclear Generator by 2020
With dozens of nuclear power plants planned or under construction, China will soon surpass South Korea, Russia, and Japan in
Nuclear generating capacities
nuclear generating capacity, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports
. Nuclear power currently makes up slightly more than 2 percent of the country's total power generation, but the Chinese government has a goal of generating at least 15 percent of the nation's energy using non-fossil fuel sources by 2020. To help achieve this target, China plans to increase nuclear capacity to 58 gigawatts — more than doubling its current 23-gigawatt capacity — and to have an additional 30 gigawatts under construction by 2020. By the end of 2015, China is expected to surpass South Korea and Russia in nuclear generating capacity, and by 2020, it will generate more nuclear power than all nations except the U.S. and France. All of China's nuclear plants are located along the east coast and in southern parts of the country, near the country's most populous areas, but China has increasingly considered constructing reactors farther inland following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Interview: How an Indian Politician
Became an Environmental Hawk
Jairam Ramesh was a self-described “economic hawk” when he became India’s environment minister in 2009, figuring that the
country’s ecological problems could wait as India lifted its people out of poverty. But by the time he left his post in 2011, he had become an environmental hawk after witnessing how India’s rapidly expanding economy and soaring population had caused widespread pollution and destruction of the environment. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Ramesh — an economist, parliament member, and author of a new book — talks about why a “grow-now, pay-later” philosophy is unsuitable for India and discusses his own brand of GDP, which he calls Green Domestic Product. “In the mad rush to economic growth ... we are destroying foundations of ecological security,” he says.
Read the interview.
29 Jun 2015:
Rain Harvesting Could Provide
Major Economic Benefit in India, Study Finds
Collecting precipitation in rain barrels could result in significant savings for many people in India, according to
an analysis of
precipitation data collected by a NASA satellite. Estimates showed that harvested rain could provide at least 20 percent of average indoor water demand, or entirely irrigate a household vegetable garden. The savings associated with a vegetable garden could be between 2,500 and 4,500 rupees per year (39 to 71 U.S. dollars) — an amount equivalent to half a year’s rent in an average 1-bedroom apartment in an Indian city. In a country where the distribution of potable water is a challenge, rainwater is an untapped resource that could provide significant benefits, the researchers write in the Urban Water Journal
24 Jun 2015:
Global Fine Particle Pollution
On the Rise Despite Regional Improvements
Air pollution from fine particulate matter has decreased significantly in North America and western Europe over the
Fine particulate air pollution levels, 2010-2012
past two decades, but increases in East and South Asia have more than made up for those improvements, as these maps based on NASA satellite data
show. The U.S. and Europe have many PM 2.5 ground-based monitoring stations, but large swaths of Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America are unmonitored. To fill these gaps, researchers have been developing techniques that use satellite data to better estimate PM 2.5 levels around the globe. They've found that, as a whole, the worsening PM 2.5 pollution in Asia outweighed improvements in North America and Europe, and global PM 2.5 concentrations have increased by 2.1 percent per year since 1998.
26 May 2015:
Officials Uncover “Mass Graves”
Of Illegal Timber in Malaysia Forest Reserve
Malaysian authorities have uncovered timber “mass graves”
where illegal loggers attempted to conceal valuable timber
A "mass grave" containing illegally logged timber.
following a government crackdown on unlawful logging that started in February. The sites, located in the Belum-Temengor forest reserve, were revealed after the recent excavation of patches of land roughly the size of football fields, beneath which an estimated two stories of felled trees were stacked. “We believe that about 400 tons of logs worth more than RM1 million ($250,000 USD) were buried at the three locations and the culprits are waiting for the right time to dig them out and sell them,” says Anuar Mohd Noh, assistant commissioner for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which conducted a joint operation with the country’s forestry department to track down illicit logging activities.
22 May 2015:
Many Trees in Southeast U.S.
Closely Related to Tree Species in Asia
DNA studies show that more than half the trees and shrubs in southern Appalachia can trace their ancestry to eastern Asia.
A flowering dogwood tree
Based on molecular studies of more than 250 species of trees and shrubs from Georgia to Virginia, researchers at Duke University found close ties between East Asian species, such as dogwoods, and species in the southeastern U.S. Forests throughout the northern hemisphere were joined together by the supercontinent Laurasia as recently as 180 million years ago. Then, as the great northern land mass broke into continents, eras of glaciation wiped out various tree species. Forest remnants hung on in China, Japan, small parts of Europe, and Appalachia, which explains the similarity in tree species. The research was published in the American Journal of Botany.
19 May 2015:
Maps Depict China's Coasts
Under Scenario of Dramatic Sea Level Rise
Roughly 43 percent of China's population lives near the coast — a region that is expected to experience dramatically
Shandong province after dramatic sea level rise
rising sea levels if global warming continues along its current trajectory. What will China's coast look like far in the future if polar ice sheets and glaciers undergo extensive melting? Cartographer Jeffrey Linn has used projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to depict the impact of a 200-foot rise in global sea level
. In this map, he shows the potential inundation of a portion of Shandong province near the town of Qingdao, home to 3.5 million people and the brewery that makes the widely distributed beer Tsingtao. Earlier, Linn drew up similar maps showing the inundation western North America's coastline
under scenarios of extreme sea level rise.
15 May 2015:
Indonesia Extends Major Logging
Moratorium, Which Critics Decry as Weak
Indonesia has extended a major logging moratorium
aimed at preserving the archipelago's vast swathes
Deforestation for a palm oil plantation in Indonesia.
of tropical rainforest, but environmentalists say the logging ban does not go nearly far enough. The country, home to some of the world's most biodiverse rain forests and endangered species such as tigers and elephants, first enacted the moratorium in 2011, banning new logging permits for primary and virgin forests and peatlands. The moratorium was first extended until 2015, and now has been extended again, to 2017. Environmental groups have criticized the moratorium, however, saying that it still allows deforestation for ventures deemed in the national interest, such as infrastructure projects and agricultural plantations. Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and third-largest carbon emitter in the world. Huge swathes of its forests have been chopped down by palm oil, mining, and timber companies.
Interview: For Buddhist Leader,
Religion and Environment Are One
Ogyen Trinley Dorje, spiritual leader of a 900-year-old lineage of Buddhism, says his deep concern for environmental issues
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa
stems from his boyhood living close to the land on the Tibetan plateau. Now, as His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, he is promoting a program that seeks to instill good environmental practices in Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayan region. In an interview with Yale e360
, the Karmapa talks about how ecological awareness fits with the Buddhist concept of interdependence, why the impacts of climate change in the Himalaya are so significant, and what role religion can play in helping meet the world’s environmental challenges. “The environmental emergency that we face is not just a scientific issue, nor is it just a political issue,” he says. “It is also a moral issue.”
Read the interview.
15 Apr 2015:
Japan Emissions Hit Near-Record
High After Nuclear Power Plant Closings
Japan's carbon dioxide emissions reached their highest levels since 2007 last year, according to a government analysis of data
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Japan.
for the year ending in March 2014. Greenhouse gas emissions had been on a downward trend as the country replaced coal and natural gas power stations with nuclear plants. However, all 48 of Japan's nuclear power reactors have been offline since September 2013 — the result of rigorous safety checks enacted after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Reuters reports
. The country has increased natural gas and coal consumption to fill the void left by nuclear power, which had accounted for 26 percent of its electricity generation. Reports say the country is considering committing to a 20 percent decrease in CO2 emissions by 2030 as part of the upcoming Paris climate negotiations.
19 Mar 2015:
Electric Vehicles Keep Cities
Cooler than Gas-Powered Cars, Study Says
Electric vehicles emit 20 percent less heat than gas-powered cars, which helps mitigate the urban heat island effect and
An electric car recharges its battery.
could lead to lower air conditioner use in major cities, according to research published in the journal Scientific Reports
. Heat emanating from vehicles is an important contributor to the heat island effect — the difference between temperatures in heavily urbanized areas and cooler rural regions — and a shift toward electric vehicles could help, the researchers say. They used data from Beijing in the summer of 2012 to calculate that switching vehicles from gas to electricity could reduce the heat island effect by nearly 1 degree C. That would have saved Beijing 14.4 million kilowatt hours of electricity from air conditioning and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 11,779 tons per day, the study says.
27 Feb 2015:
Growing Risks to India's
Water Supply Mapped With New Online Tool
A new online tool
could help water users in India understand the risks to their water supply, which is dwindling and increasingly
polluted, recent analyses show. The tool, created by 13 organizations including the World Resources Institute
, allows users to see where the competition for surface water is most intense, where groundwater levels are dropping significantly, and where pollution levels exceed safety standards. Northwest India, for example, faces extremely high surface water stress as well as low groundwater levels, as this map shows. Overall, 54 percent of India is under high or extremely high water stress, an equal portion is seeing declining groundwater levels, and more 130 million people live where at least one pollutant exceeds national safety standards, according to the World Resources Institute.
17 Feb 2015:
Demand for Indonesian Timber
Far Outpaces Sustainable Supply, Study Says
More than 30 percent of wood used by Indonesia’s industrial forest sector stems from illegal sources rather than
Deforestation in Aceh, Indonesia, for palm oil.
well-managed logging concessions or legal tree plantations, according to a new report
based on data from industry and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry. If Indonesian forestry industries operated at capacity, 41 percent of the wood supply would be illegal, the analysis found, and if companies were to go forward with plans for new mills, the supply would be 59 percent illegal. The source of this illegal wood is unclear, but the report suggests it is likely harvested by clear-cutting natural forests for new oil palm and pulp plantations. Part of the problem, the report says, is that Indonesia's sanctioned forestry plantations — the country's primary source of legal wood — are not currently sustainable because they are producing wood at only half the predicted rate.
03 Feb 2015:
Nine of 10 Cities in China Failed
Air Quality Standards, Government Says
Roughly 90 percent of China's large cities did not meet national air quality standards last year, according to the country's
Smog over the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.
environment ministry. Only eight of the 74 cities monitored by the ministry met standards for pollution metrics such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and fine particle concentrations, according to a report published on the ministry's website. The poor results actually represent an improvement over 2013, when only three of the 74 cities met air quality standards, Reuters reports
. Last year, after residents grew increasingly alarmed about air quality in metropolitan areas, China promised to "declare war on pollution" by slashing coal use and closing heavily polluting factories. Still, the government does not expect the national average for fine particle pollution to reach official standards until 2030 or later.
Interview: How Chinese Tiger Farms
Threaten Wild Tigers Worldwide
The number of tigers living in the wild has dropped to the shockingly low figure of 3,200, down from 100,000 a century ago.
But nearly as shocking is this statistic: An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 tigers are being legally farmed today in China, their bones steeped in alcohol to make tiger bone wine, their meat sold, and their skins turned into rugs for members of China’s wealthy elite. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, wildlife activist Judith Mills makes a passionate case against tiger farming, explaining how these magnificent creatures are bred like cattle for their body parts, how some conservation groups have chosen not to confront the Chinese government about the farms, and how tiger farming poses a direct threat to the world’s remaining wild tigers because increased availability of these bones and pelts fuels demand that strengthens the incentive to poach wild tigers.
Read the interview.
25 Nov 2014:
China’s Lake Ebinur Has Been
Shrinking Dramatically, NASA Image Shows
As this NASA satellite image shows
, Lake Ebinur, located in northwestern China near the border of
Kazakhstan, has shrunk by 50 percent since 1955 as a result of development, agriculture, and natural fluctuations in precipitation. The lake’s saline water is light blue, and the dried lake bed appears white due to salts and other minerals that have been left behind as the water evaporates. The lake’s size fluctuates from year to year due to natural variations in snowmelt and rainfall, and human activity also plays a key role, Chinese researchers say. The nearby city of Bole, with a population of 425,000, consumes significant amounts of water, and farmers irrigate their crops — especially cotton — with water that would otherwise flow into the lake, researchers say. Frequent saline dust storms contribute to desertification, damage soils, harm wetlands, and may be hastening the melting of snow and glaciers downwind, researchers say.
18 Nov 2014:
Social Media Can Help Track Severity of Air Pollution, Researchers Say
Social media posts can help researchers estimate air pollution levels with significant accuracy, according to a team of computer scientists from the University of Wisconsin
. The researchers analyzed posts on Weibo — a Twitter-like site that is China's most popular social media outlet — from 108 Chinese cities over 30 days, tracking how often people complained about the air and the words they used to describe air quality. The study showed that the process can provide accurate, real-time information on the air quality index, a widely used measure of common air pollutants. Large Chinese cities sometimes have physical monitoring stations to gauge pollution levels, but smaller cities generally do not because monitors are expensive to install and maintain. The researchers hope these findings will help residents of smaller towns and less affluent areas understand the severity of their local air pollution. Between 350,000 and 500,000 Chinese citizens die prematurely each year because of air pollution, a former Chinese health minister estimated in the journal The Lancet
17 Nov 2014:
Old-Growth Forest in China
Shrinking Despite Protections, Study Says
China’s anti-logging, conservation, and ecotourism policies are actually accelerating the loss of old-growth forests
Deforestation in China's Yunnan Province.
in one of the country's most ecologically diverse regions, according to a study published in the journal Biological Conservation
. Researchers used satellite imagery and statistical analysis to evaluate forest conservation strategies in northwestern Yunnan Province, in southern China. The results show that a logging ban increased total forest cover but accelerated old-growth logging in ancient protected areas known as sacred forests. For centuries, sacred forests have effectively protected old-growth trees from clear-cutting, despite major upheavals in the region’s history. Recent environmental protection policies, however, have shifted management of these areas away from native communities to government agencies — apparently to the forests' detriment, the study shows.
07 Nov 2014:
Organized Chinese Crime Behind Tanzania's Elephant Slaughter, Report Says
Chinese-led criminal organizations have been conspiring with corrupt Tanzanian officials to traffic huge amounts
Poached elephant skull in Selous Reserve
of ivory — a trade that has caused half of Tanzania’s elephants to be poached in the past five years — according to a report
by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency. In some cases, Chinese military officials appeared to be complicit in the illegal activities, the report says, and in other instances, prominent Tanzanian businessmen and politicians helped protect ivory traffickers. Tanzania is the largest source of poached ivory in the world, and China is the largest importer of smuggled tusks, according to EIA. Tanzania’s famed Selous Reserve saw its elephant population plunge by 67 percent in four years, from 50,000 animals to 13,000. Tanzania appears to have lost more elephants to poaching during this period than any other country, EIA said.
23 Oct 2014:
Drones Can Help Map Spread
Of Infectious Diseases, Researchers Say
Aerial drones can help track changes in the environment that may accelerate the spread of
Researchers in Malaysia program a drone
infectious diseases, an international team of researchers writes in the journal Trends in Parasitology
. Land use alterations, such as deforestation or agricultural changes, can affect the movement and distribution of people, animals, and insects that carry disease, the authors explain. One drone project, for example, tracked changes in mosquito and monkey habitats in Malaysia and the Philippines. By combining land-use information collected by drones with public health data, researchers there are hoping to better understand how changes in the environment affect the frequency of contact between people and disease vectors like mosquitoes and macaques, both of which can harbor the malaria parasite.
14 Oct 2014:
Researchers Explain Puzzling
Stability of Some Himalayan Glaciers
Unlike nearly all other high-altitude glaciers across the globe, glaciers in the Karakoram mountain chain, part
Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram range
of the Himalayas, are not melting and are even expanding in some areas. This so-called “Karakoram anomaly” has puzzled scientists for years, but now a team of researchers has offered an explanation
: While rain from warm summer monsoons tends to melt mountain glaciers in other parts of the Himalayas and the nearby Tibetan Plateau, the location and height of mountains in the Karakoram chain, which runs along the borders of China, India, and Pakistan, protect the area from this seasonal precipitation. Instead, the mountain chain receives most of its precipitation in the form of winter snowfall, according to findings published in Nature Geoscience
. The study suggests that the Karakoram glaciers are likely to persist until 2100, but not long after, if global warming continues at its current pace.
06 Oct 2014:
Number of Megacities Has
Nearly Tripled Since 1990, UN Report Says
The number of urban areas with more than 10 million inhabitants — sometimes called "megacities" — has
nearly tripled in the last 24 years, jumping from 10 in 1990 to 28 in 2014, according to the latest UN report on world urbanization
. The total number of people living in megacities has grown from 153 million to 453 million during that period, the report says, and such areas now account for 15 percent of global GDP. Although densely populated urban areas can be environmental blights, innovations in efficient transportation have arisen from some major cities in Asia and Lagos, Nigeria, because those cities have invested heavily in public transit infrastructure, researchers say
E360 Video: Indonesian Villagers
Use Drones to Protect Their Forest
The villagers of Setulang in Indonesian Borneo have enlisted a new ally in their fight against the illegal clearing of their forests for oil palm plantations: aerial drones. The indigenous Dayaks manage the surrounding forest conservation area, and they are hoping the drones can help them ward off illegal oil palm operations and protect their land. “Dayaks and Drones
,” a video produced by Handcrafted Films, chronicles how the villagers teamed up with an Indonesian nonprofit to learn how to program and operate drones. Equipped with GPS technology, the small drones photograph the forest and monitor the area for illegal activities.
Watch the video.
26 Sep 2014:
Aral Sea Basin Dry for First
Time in Modern History, Images Show
For the first time in modern history, the eastern basin of the South Aral Sea has gone completely dry, as this
NASA satellite image
captured in late August shows. The Aral Sea is an inland body of water lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in central Asia. It was once one of the four largest lakes in the world, but it has been shrinking markedly and dividing into smaller lobes since the 1960s, after the government of the former Soviet Union diverted the region's two major rivers to irrigate farmland. One Aral Sea researcher suggested that it has likely been at least 600 years since the eastern basin entirely disappeared. Decreasing precipitation and snowpack in its watershed led to the drying this year, and huge withdrawals for irrigation exacerbated the problem. Water levels are expected to continue to show major year-to-year variations depending on precipitation and snowpack levels, the researcher said.