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Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2012
(12/18/2012) Below is a quick review of some of the biggest environmental stories of 2012. The 'top stories' are listed in no particular order. Climate change, overpopulation, consumption, and ecological destruction is pushing planet Earth toward a tipping point according to a major study in Nature released over the summer. This could result in a new 'planetary state' that would be far harsher and bleaker than the current one (beginning around 12,000 years ago), which saw the rise and success of human society.
2 small companies recognized for tropical forest-friendly approaches
(12/18/2012) Two Latin American companies have won the WWF Switzerland Tropical Forest Challenge, a competition that aims to highlight and support for-profit entities that have a positive impact on conserving tropical forests.
Pictures: 126 new species discovered in Greater Mekong region last year
(12/18/2012) Some 126 new species were described in Asia'a Mekong region last year, notes a new report published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Indonesia's big REDD+ project announcement "premature", but moving forward
(12/18/2012) The Indonesian government's announcement at climate talks in Doha that it had approved the country's forest conservation project under its Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program was premature, argues a new report from an Indonesian environmental group.
Google puts $5M toward anti-poaching drone technology
(12/18/2012) Google.org, Google Corp's philanthropic arm, earlier this month pledged $5 million toward efforts combat wildlife poaching.
From catastrophic to the sustainable: the flight of the Amur Falcon
(12/17/2012) It is said that the price of 'freedom and justice' is constant vigilance. It seems the same can be said of conservation and sustainability in our ever changing world. In a story and allegory appropriate for many of the challenges that face our global environment, two Indian conservation champions, Shashank Dalvi and Ramki Sreenivasan (both protégés and associates of famed conservation leader, Dr Ullas Karanth of the WCS India), have stepped to work with a host of international and local interests to help save one species of beleaguered bird, the Amur Falcon of Eurasia.
Brazil sues to block unlicensed REDD deal between Irish company and indigenous group
(12/17/2012) Brazil's Attorney General Office has filed a lawsuit against an Irish company and an indigenous group for unlicensed sales of carbon credits generated from an reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+) project, reports Reuters Point Carbon.
Some Amazon trees more than 8 million years old
(12/14/2012) Some Amazon rainforest tree species are more than eight million years old found a genetic study published in the December 2012 edition of Ecology and Evolution.
Indonesian NGO voluntarily joins lawsuit as co-defendant in palm oil deforestation case
(12/14/2012) An Indonesian environmental group has taken the unusual step of asking to be named as a co-defendant in a case brought against the Aceh government by a palm oil company over the governor's decision to cancel a controversial concession in a peat forest on the island of Sumatra.
Cutting through the rhetoric on palm oil production
(12/14/2012) Palm oil is widely acknowledged as one of the most important drivers of deforestation and forest diminishment in Southeast Asia. Conversion of forests and peatlands for oil palm plantations is both a substantial source of greenhouse gas emissions and a major threat to biodiversity — one study called palm oil the 'single most immediate threat to the greatest number of species'.
Children's Christmas books published by HarperCollins linked to deforestation in Indonesia, says group
(12/14/2012) Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas and other children's books sold by publisher HarperCollins show traces of rainforest fiber and are therefore linked to deforestation in Indonesia, says the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), an environmental activist group.
New species of cute, but venomous, primate discovered in Borneo
(12/13/2012) Researchers have described a new species of slow loris, a type of primate that is imperiled by the pet trade.
Rainforests teem with insects, most of which are unknown, finds study
(12/13/2012) Researchers in Panama have published the results of the most comprehensive survey of arthropods in a small area of tropical rainforest. At a high level, the findings surprise no one: the Panamanian rainforest is full of insects, spiders, and crustaceans. Yet the results also show how little is known about this large group of organisms — 60-70 percent of the species are thought to be new to science.
Most Indonesians aware of climate change, but failing to take adaptive measures
(12/13/2012) Nearly 90 percent of Indonesians in East Kalimantan and Central Java are aware of climate change, reports a study published in Nature Climate Change.
99.999% chance 2012 will be hottest year on record for continental U.S
(12/13/2012) 2012 will almost certainly be the hottest year on record across the 48 contiguous United States, says a new analysis published by Climate Central.
African governments and China must respond as ivory trade reaches preposterous proportions
(12/13/2012) Royal Malaysian Customs have just announced the seizure of 24 tons of ivory in Port Klang. This is the largest-ever seizure of ivory in transit through the country. The 1,500 pieces of ivory came from over 750 elephants and were exported from Togo, a tiny west African country that has fewer than 200 elephants. The ivory was hidden in containers containing wooden crates that were built to look like stacks of sawn timber. The two crates were shipped from the port of Lomé in Togo, and were going to China via Algeria, Spain and Malaysia. Richard Leakey, the former Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), who set Kenya’s ivory stockpile alight in 1989, responded to the announcement.
Malaysia intercepts 24 tons of elephant ivory being smuggled to China
(12/12/2012) Malaysian authorities made their largest-ever ivory bust after uncovering 24 tons of 'white gold' hidden in crates designed to look like stacks of sawn wood.
Wildlife trafficking is $19 billion-per-year illicit business, but governments fail to treat it as such
(12/12/2012) Illegal wildlife trafficking is a $19 billion-a-year business, making it the fourth largest illicit market after drugs, counterfeiting, and human trafficking, yet efforts to control it are "failing", asserts a new report commissioned by WWF.
Replacing lemur meat with insect protein in Madagascar
(12/12/2012) Poaching is a major threat to endangered lemurs in some parts of Madagascar, but a group has come up with an innovative solution to the problem: replace lemur meat with silkworm pupae, a byproduct of silk production.
Rare jungle cat filmed for only the second time
(12/12/2012) A biologist on vacation in Malaysian Borneo caught one of the world's rarest cats on video for only the second time, reports the BBC.
Advanced technology reveals massive tree die-off in remote, unexplored parts of the Amazon
(12/12/2012) Severe drought conditions in 2010 appear to have substantially increased tree mortality in the Western Amazon, a region thought largely immune from the worst effects of changes occurring in other parts of the world's largest rainforest, reported research presented last week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). The findings suggest that the Amazon may face higher-the-expected vulnerability to climate change, potentially undercutting its ability to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide through faster growth.
Tribes to sue Peru over planned oil expansion
(12/12/2012) Indigenous groups plan to sue the government of Peru over the expansion of a oil concession they say intrudes on their native lands.
Why it's time to ban the ivory trade for good [Graphic images: viewer discretion advised]
(12/12/2012) This week the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) announced a 14% decline in elephants in the Samburu/Laikipia ecosystem over the last 4 years. The decline has occurred in a population whose natural growth rate was measured at 5.3% between 2002 and 2008 according to the previous survey, suggesting that over 300 elephants are dying annually in the Samburu and Laikipia’s landscape, denting the poster child image of one of Kenya’s most important wildlife landscapes. Poaching and drought are the main causes of mortality in this population. The impact of poaching on tourism cannot be ignored, heavily armed bandits threaten more than elephants, if we can’t protect elephants how can we protect international tourists? But it’s the long term consequence that are of greater concern.
Uncontacted tribes still exist, but extinction threat looms
(12/11/2012) The world is more interconnected than ever. Globally, there are six billion cell phone subscribers and 900 million Facebook users. Nearly 32 million people follow Lady Gaga on Twitter. Given this content it may seem hard to believe that there remain people who have never had contact with the outside world. Yet such people do exist today. Most of them live in the most remote parts of the world's wildest forests. One of this year's best paperback books takes a close look at one uncontacted group — the Arrow People of the Brazilian Amazon. Written by veteran journalist Scott Wallace, The Unconquered is a gripping first-person account of a journey to learn more about this little-known tribe.
China plans over 300 dam projects worldwide
(12/10/2012) A new report by the NGO, International Rivers, takes an in-depth look at the role China is playing in building mega-dams worldwide. According to the report, Chinese companies are involved in 308 hydroelectric projects across 70 nations. While dams are often billed as "green energy," they can have massive ecological impacts on rivers, raise local conflict, and even expel significant levels of greenhouse gases when built in the tropics.
Western scrub jay funerals...what's all the ruckus?
(12/10/2012) The western scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica) is a common denizen of suburban neighborhoods in the U.S., loitering at bird feeders and amusing bird watchers with their entertaining antics. Known to birders as 'WESJ,' this handsome bird is non-migratory and territorial during the breeding season, but what's curious about WESJ's is the way they respond to risks in their environment. When descended on by a predator or encountering a dead member of its kind, these birds hop from perch to perch and call loudly, ensuing in a 'cacophonous reaction,' a term coined by researchers at the University of California, Davis who are studying the behavior of these unique birds.
Poaching in Serengeti seems worth the risk
(12/10/2012) Illegal hunting in Tanzania's Greater Serengeti Ecosystem (GSE) remains a prevalent activity for local people, despite government regulation and grassroots movements to prevent it. A new paper from mongabay.com's open-access Tropical Conversation Science examines the factors that drive poachers to continue their activities, despite the high costs involved. By interviewing citizens involved with illegal hunting in the Western part of the Serengeti, they were able to identify key risks that are faced by the hunters as well as the perceived gains of a successful hunt.
Recovery of Atlantic Forest depends on land-use histories
(12/10/2012) The intensity of land-use influences the speed of regeneration in tropical rainforests, says new research. Tropical rainforests are a priority for biodiversity conservation; they are hotspots of endemism but also some of the most threatened global habitats. The Atlantic Forest stands out among tropical rainforests, hosting an estimated 8,000 species of endemic plants and more than 650 endemic vertebrates. However, only around 11 percent of these forests now remain.
New inroads made into bushmeat consumption in Tanzania
(12/10/2012) Bushmeat consumption, or "wildlife hunted for human consumption," poses a significant threat to wildlife conservation all across the globe. But in Eastern Africa—where savannah grasslands flourish and big game roam free within 'protected' reserves—one may be forgiven to think that poaching does not occur here: but it does.
REDD+ should pave way for more research into genetic studies of tropical species
(12/10/2012) Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), the UN program to conserve tropical forests by paying developing nations to keep them standing, should go hand-in-hand with increased genetic studies of imperiled tropical biodiversity, according to a new opinion article in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conversation Science.
Vanishing corridors: trying to keep big animals on the move across Tanzania
(12/10/2012) One of the biggest challenges for big African wildlife like lions, elephants, and buffalo is movement across native habitat that is increasingly being encroached on by humans. Animals find their movement restricted by roads, fences, and property boundaries which fragment the landscape. Without safe, smart, and well-maintained corridors between designated wildlife areas, animals can get cut off from resources needed for survival and from potential mates (putting genetic health at risk), even while conflicts with humans become more frequent.
Measuring nutrient pollution in pristine waters: Puerto Rico's Vieques Island
(12/10/2012) Life in the ocean require nutrient, but too much of a good thing can be hugely detrimental. Nutrient pollution from agricultural and industrial runoff causes serious ecological harm in the world's marine waters, at times producing massive "dead zones" where much of the dissolved oxygen has been stripped making it difficult for most marine animals to live there. A new study by scientists with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) attempts to establish a baseline of nutrient levels in the largely pristine waters around the island of Vieques off of Puerto Rico.
A new method to monitor stray dog abundance
(12/10/2012) Free-roaming dogs (Canis familiaris) can fill a variety of ecological roles including competitor, predator, prey, and transmitter of disease to both wildlife and people with particular concern for rabies. A range of methods has been used to control dog populations, but monitoring dogs is a critical part of assessing the effectiveness of these methods.
Reducing the risk that REDD+ will shift conservation funding away from biodiverse forests
(12/10/2012) One of the major concerns about the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degrdatation (REDD+) program is that it could prioritize conservation of high carbon ecosystems like peatlands over high biodiversity landscapes, effectively shifting conservation funding away key wildlife-rich areas. A new paper, published in Tropical Conservation Science, analyzes the issue and suggests approaches that could reduce the potential detrimental impacts of REDD+ on biodiversity.
Climate Summit in Doha characterized by lack of ambition
(12/09/2012) Ahead of the 18th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha, Qatar a variety of reports warned that the world was running out of time to avoid dangerous climate change, and that there was a widening gap between what nations have pledged to do and what the science demanded. A landmark report by the World Bank painted an almost apocalyptic picture of a world in which global temperatures have risen 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, including unprecedented heatwaves and droughts, rising sea levels, global agriculture crises, and a stunning loss of species. In addition, scientific studies released near the two week conference found that sea levels were rising 60 percent faster than predicted, forests around the world were imperiled by increasing drought, marine snails were dissolving in the Southern Ocean due to ocean acidification, and ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica was on the rise.
Dams are rapidly damning the Amazon
(12/08/2012) Dam-builders seeking to unlock the hydroelectric potential of the Amazon are putting the world's mightiest river and rainforest at risk, suggests a new assessment that charts the rapid expansion of dams in the region.
108 million ha of Amazon rainforest up for oil and gas exploration, development
(12/08/2012) Concessions for oil and gas exploration and extraction are proliferating across Amazon countries, reports a comprehensive new atlas of the region.
Amazon has nearly 100,000 km of roads
(12/08/2012) The Amazon Basin has 96,500 kilometers of roads, nearly two-thirds of which are unpaved, reports a comprehensive new atlas of the region, which contains the world's largest rainforest.
Mining boom in the Amazon
(12/08/2012) The world's largest rainforest is in the midst of a mining boom fueled by high mineral prices, reveals a new assessment of the Amazon's resources.
Palm oil or lard?
(12/07/2012) Animal fats and margarine consumption in the United States have been largely replaced by palm oil, a plant-based oil that has similar cooking properties, but may not be as environmentally-friendly as commonly believed, argues a researcher in this week's issue of Nature.
California researchers discover 137 new species in 2012
(12/07/2012) Researchers at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco formally described 137 previously unknown species during 2012, including 83 arthropods, 41 fish, seven plants, four sea slugs, one reptile, and one amphibian.
Norway payments to Brazil for reducing deforestation reach $670 million
(12/06/2012) Norway will deposit another $180 million into Brazil's Amazon Fund after the Latin American giant reported a third straight annual drop in deforestation, reports Bloomberg. The payment comes despite a high-profile dispute over who verifies reductions in emissions from deforestation — Norway believes emissions reductions should be measured by an independent third party, but Brazil disagrees. The disagreement sidelined discussions over the REDD+ mechanism during climate talks in Doha, pushing negotiations over the program out another year.
Greenpeace says U.S. logging company has broken landmark boreal forest agreement
(12/06/2012) When a long-fought peace was reached between nine environmental groups and 20 logging companies in 2010 for the vast Canadian boreal forest, it was dubbed the "world's largest conservation agreement." However, now that agreement is being shaken. A dispute between Greenpeace and U.S. logging company, Resolute Forest Products, over alleged logging in critical caribou habitat has resulted in the activist group abandoning the agreement.
Global decline of big trees in old-growth forests worrying, argue scientists
(12/06/2012) The decline of large trees is putting biodiversity and forest health at risk globally, warn researchers writing in the journal Science.
Illegal logging, mining worsened impact of Philippines' killer typhoon
(12/06/2012) According to Filipino officials, rampant illegal logging and mining were likely a part of the cause for the high casualty count from Category 5 Typhoon Bopha (Pablo), especially in the Compostela Valley where government officials had warned people to stop the illegal activities. So far, 370 people have been found dead on the island of Mindanao with another 400 missing. Waters rose so high even emergency shelters were inundated.
Okapi Conservation Project wins mongabay's 2012 conservation award
(12/06/2012) A group that works to protect the rare okapi, a type of forest giraffe found only in the Congo Basin, has has won mongabay.com's 2012 conservation award. The Okapi Conservation Project has been working to protect the okapi and its habitat in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for 25 years. The group was instrumental in establishing the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a 13,700-square-kilometer tract of wilderness in the Ituri Forest of northeastern DRC. While the Okapi Conservation Project has had a long track record of success, earlier this year it was devastated by a brutal attack on the reserve's headquarters. Two wildlife rangers were among the six people killed during June 24 assault.
Deforestation rate falls across Amazon rainforest countries
(12/06/2012) The average annual rate of deforestation across Amazon rainforest countries dropped sharply in the second half of the 2000s, reports a comprehensive new assessment of the region's forest cover and drivers of deforestation. While the drop in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has been widely reported, several other Amazon countries saw their rates of forest loss drop as well, according to the report, which was published by a coalition of 11 Latin American civil society groups and research institutions that form the Amazonian Network of Georeferenced Socio-Environmental Information (RAISG).
Asia Pulp & Paper hires top U.S. lobbyist to help 'green' its image
(12/05/2012) Indonesian forestry giant Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has hired a top U.S. official to help it work through trade and environmental issues. In November, APP announced it had retained Stuart Eizenstat of Covington & Burling, a U.S.-based law firm, to help 'ensure APP’s trade and sustainability compliance in North America'. Eizentstat's hiring is notable because he led the U.S. delegation that negotiated the Kyoto Protocol and has served in a number of high-level government positions, including U.S. Ambassador to the European Union; Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade; Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs; and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration.
Indonesia approves first REDD+ project in Borneo
(12/05/2012) The Indonesian government has approved its first REDD+ project to reduce emissions from deforestation and peatlands degradation, reports President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's office.
Wealthy nations' fossil fuel subsidies dwarf climate financing
(12/05/2012) A new analysis finds that 21 wealthy countries spent five-times more on subsidizing fossil fuels in 2011 than they have on providing funds for poor nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The analysis, by Oil Change International, comes in the midst of the current UN Climate Summit held in Doha, Qatar; progress at the talks has been stymied due to the gulf between poor and rich nations, including on the issue of climate financing.
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