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Fracking: the good, the bad and the ugly
(11/18/2013) The last few years have ushered in a new national and global awareness of fracking, the 150-year-old technology for extracting natural gas and oil from rock. Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, uses ultra-high-pressure slurries to create hairline fractures throughout solid rock. Oil, and more frequently gas, comes rushing out while sand from the mixture holds the fractures open in this nearly alchemical process. As many readers are aware, there are two very divisive schools of thought on fracking. One side touts it as the future of energy. The other derides fracking as inherently toxic and demands its immediate and permanent cessation. Like so many aspects of life, the truth lies somewhere in between.
60,000 protest in Australia to keep carbon price
(11/18/2013) Around 60,000 Australians marched yesterday across the country calling on their government not to go backwards on climate action, according to organizers. Australia has taken a sudden U-turn on climate policy with the election of Prime Minister Tony Abbott in September, including legislation to end its carbon pricing, cutting funding to renewable energies, and obstructing progress at the ongoing UN Climate Summit in Warsaw.
Nearly half a million seabirds die in gillnets every year, but solutions exist
(11/18/2013) A recent study from the Biological Conservation journal brings shocking news: every year across the globe, an estimated 400,000 seabirds are killed by gillnets. Gillnets, a common term for any net used to entangle and catch fish, are used all over the world, and at any depth. These nets, whether used in subsistence or commercial fishing, trap anything that swims through them. When unintended marine wildlife, or "bycatch," is caught in these nets, the results can be significant.
Japan pledges to raise carbon emissions, instead of cutting them
(11/18/2013) In 2009, Japan pledged to cut its carbon emissions by 25 percent based on 1990 levels within 11 years. Four years later—including a nuclear meltdown at Fukushima—and Japan has reset its goal with a new target to cut emissions by 3.8 percent based on 2005 levels at the UN Climate Summit in Warsaw, Poland. But, the new target, which received widespread condemnation when announced on Friday, actually results in a 3.1 percent rise in emissions when viewed from the widely-accepted 1990 baseline.
World's most vulnerable nation to climate change turns to coal power
(11/18/2013) In October, a global risks analysis company, Maplecroft, named Bangladesh the world's most vulnerable nation to climate change by 2050. The designation came as little surprise, since Bangladesh's government and experts have been warning for years of climatic impacts, including rising sea levels, extreme weather, and millions of refugees. However, despite these very public warnings, in recent years the same government has made a sudden turn toward coal power—the most carbon intensive fuel source—with a master plan of installing 15,000 megawatts (MW) of coal energy by 2030, which could potentially increase the country's current carbon dioxide emissions by 160 percent.
Why is Amazon deforestation climbing?
(11/17/2013) The 28 percent increase in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon over last year that was reported this week is bad news, but it is not surprising. It is bad news because the decline in deforestation since 2005 has given us the single largest contribution to climate change mitigation on the planet, far surpassing the reductions in emissions achieved by any Annex 1 country under the Kyoto Protocol. Brazil’s achievement is particularly noteworthy because it did not come at the expense of agricultural production; beef and soybean production continued to grow.
Prize exploring the next big idea in rainforest conservation announced
(11/16/2013) Mongabay.org, a non-profit that aims to raise awareness about social and environmental issues relating to tropical forests and other ecosystems, has announced the first winner of its environmental reporting prize its Special Reporting Initiative (SRI) program. The prize sought proposals to explore the question of what's the next big idea in tropical biodiversity conservation. After a two-month application window and a month of deliberations, this week an independent panel of journalists and tropical forest specialists selected environmental journalist Wendee Nicole as the first recipient of the Mongabay Prize for Environmental Reporting.
Malaysia has the world's highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest map
(11/15/2013) Malaysia had the world's highest rate of forest loss between 2000 and 2012, according to a new global forest map developed in partnership with Google. Malaysia's total forest loss during the period amounted to 14.4 percent of its year 2000 forest cover. The loss translates to 47,278 square kilometers (18,244 square miles), an area larger than the country of Denmark.
Coal's future carbon costs may make it more expensive than wind energy
(11/15/2013) At first glance, a recent report from the U.S. White House on the social cost of carbon reads like a daunting economics exam. A small chart poses the first question about the price tag policymakers attach to future greenhouse gas emissions: Does each metric ton of carbon that billows into the air cost $11, $33 or $52? The answer is all of the above.
New bat species discovered in Brazil leaves another at risk
(11/15/2013) A team of researchers has discovered a new species of bat in Brazil, which has put a previously known species, Bokermann's nectar bat (Lonchophylla bokermanni), at risk of extinction. Long thought to comprise one species, the bat populations of the Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado – the tropical savannah of Brazil's interior - are in fact distinct from one another, according to a new study in Zootaxa. Scientists now say the Atlantic Forest's population represents a newly described species, which they have dubbed Peracchi's nectar bat (Lonchophylla peracchii).
Tiny algae signal big changes for warming Arctic lakes
(11/15/2013) The mighty polar bear has long been the poster child for the effects of global warming in the Arctic, but the microscopic diatom tells an equally powerful story. Diatoms are a type of algae that form the base of the food chain in watery habitats the world over. Disturbances among lake diatoms have exposed the impacts of rapid warming in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of eastern Canada, researchers reported Oct. 9 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon jumps 28% in 2013
(11/14/2013) Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon jumped 28% in 2013 sparking concerns that recent progress in reducing forest loss in the world's largest rainforest may be in danger of reversing. The preliminary data, released Thursday by the Brazilian government, shows that 5,843 square kilometers (2,256 sq miles) of rainforest was cleared across the 'Legal Amazon' between August 1, 2012 and July 31, 2013.
Deforestation accelerates in Indonesia, finds Google forest map
(11/14/2013) Forest loss in Indonesia has sharply risen over the past 12 years, reports a new study published in the journal Science. The study, led by Matt Hansen of University of Maryland, finds that Indonesia lost 15.8 million hectares between 2000 and 2012, ranking it fifth behind Russia, Brazil, the United States, and Canada in terms of forest loss. Some 7 million hectares of forest regrew during the period.
Zero net deforestation is the wrong target, warn experts
(11/14/2013) Environmental initiatives that target zero net deforestation may miss their mark when it comes to slowing climate change and protecting biodiversity, warns a commentary published in this week's issue of the journal Science. While zero net deforestation may seem like a worthy target in efforts to curb forest loss, Sandra Brown and Daniel Zarin argue that the goal is at best, ambiguous, and at worst, may lead to perverse outcomes for the world's forests.
Is Australia becoming the new Canada in terms of climate inaction?
(11/14/2013) For many concerned about climate change, Australia has suddenly become the new Canada. With the election of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister in September, the land down under has taken a sudden U-turn on climate policy, including pushing to end its fledgling carbon emissions program which was only implemented in 2012 and cutting funding for renewable energy. These move come at a time when Australia has just undergone its warmest 12 months on record and suffered from record bushfires.
Powered by Google, high resolution forest map reveals massive deforestation worldwide
(11/14/2013) Researchers today released a long-awaited tool that reveals the extent of forest cover loss and gain on a global scale. Powered by Google's massive computing cloud, the interactive forest map establishes a new baseline for measuring deforestation and forest recovery across all of the world's countries, biomes, and forest types. The map has far-reaching implications for efforts to slow deforestation, which accounts for roughly ten percent of greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities, according to the authors of the paper that describes the tool and details its first findings.
Scientists identify 137 protected areas most important for preserving biodiversity
(11/14/2013) Want to save the world's biodiversity from mass extinction? Then make certain to safeguard the 74 sites identified today in a new study in Science. Evaluating 173,000 terrestrial protected areas, scientists pulled out the most important ones for global biodiversity based on the number of threatened mammals, birds, and amphibians found in the parks. In all they identified 137 protected areas (spread over 74 sites as many protected areas were in the same region) in 34 countries as 'irreplaceable.'
Coelacanths might be monogamous, to the surprise of researchers
(11/14/2013) They evaded humans for millions of years and live very private lives. The hulking, fleshy-finned fish known as the coelacanth has beguiled scientists for generations. But the coelacanth mystique that enchants researchers also makes it difficult to study. Researchers recently revealed in Nature Communications one startling aspect of the coelacanth lifestyle: they might be monogamous.
Longline fisheries in Costa Rica hook tens of thousands of sea turtles every year
(11/14/2013) Hundreds of kilometers of commercial fishing lines slither along coastal waters in Costa Rica, hooking thousands of mahi-mahi and many other marketable fish. But when scientists scrutinized fishermen’s catch, they were shocked by the staggering number of sea turtles accidentally snagged on the lines.
Rent-a-mob disrupts court proceedings against Indonesian palm oil company
(11/14/2013) A mob of 150 palm oil workers has disrupted court proceedings against Kalista Alam, an Indonesian palm oil company accused of illegally converting blocks of protected peat forests for an oil palm plantation in Aceh, Sumatra. The Kalista Alam case is widely seen as a test of Indonesia's commitment to forestry sector reform.
Wolves boost food for Yellowstone’s threatened grizzlies
(11/13/2013) Wolves and grizzlies aren’t best buddies. Burly bears can barge in on a feasting pack, making off with the wolves’ fresh kill. Wolves have been known to dig into bear dens and snag a cub. But after gray wolves returned to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, grizzly bears ate more berries in the summer for a pre-hibernation nutritional boost, researchers reported Sept. 4 in the Journal of Animal Ecology
REDD+ carbon market stabilizes, but risk of supply glut looms
(11/13/2013) The market for carbon credits generated under projects that reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) showed signs of stabilizing in 2012 after a sharp drop in 2011, finds Forest Trends' new assessment of the global forest carbon market. The report shows that offsets representing 8.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide were transacted in 2012, a 16 percent increase over 2011. But the average value of each credit dipped 8 percent from $8.50 to $7.80. Nonetheless the activity suggests the market of REDD+ credits may have stabilized after the volume fell 62 percent between 2010 and 2011.
Richest countries spent $74 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011, eclipsing climate finance by seven times
(11/13/2013) In 2011, the top 11 richest carbon emitters spent an estimated $74 billion on fossil fuel subsidies, or seven times the amount spent on fast-track climate financing to developing nations, according to a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute. Worldwide, nations spent over half a trillion dollars on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Flawed from inception? Ecuador’s Yasuní-ITT initiative threatened indigenous groups with simple mapping errors
(11/13/2013) The plan from Ecuador’s government was simple: Pay us and we won’t destroy the planet's most extraordinary ecosystem. Dubbed the Yasuni-ITT initiative, the plan called upon developed nations to pay for protecting Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park from oil companies. Now, a recent study claims the plan was fraught with flaws as basic as drawing lines on a map.
Locally extinct birds in the Amazon slowly flock back to forests when trees regrow
(11/13/2013) Some good news out of the Amazon rainforest: given enough time, deforested land can rebound enough to host bird species that had previously deserted the area, according to a recent study in The Auk. When people abandon deforested land, the rainforest slowly reclaims it. Eventually, birds begin to use the clumps of secondary forest as corridors between thickets of old growth.
Aiming to avoid deforestation, Unilever to trace all palm oil it sources
(11/12/2013) In a move that represents a significant development for efforts to reduce the environmental impact of palm oil, consumer products giant Unilever today announced it will be able to trace all of the palm oil it sources by the end of 2014. Implementing a traceability system means that by the end of next year, Unilever will able to pinpoint the origin of its palm oil back to the plantations that produce the fresh fruit bunches that are milled into the widely-used vegetable oil.
3.5 million ha of Indonesian and Malaysian forest converted for palm oil in 20 years
(11/12/2013) Some 3.5 million hectares (8.7 million acres) of forest in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea was converted for oil palm plantations between 1990 and 2010, finds a comprehensive set of assessments released by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The research, conducted by an international team of scientists from a range of institutions, is presented in a series of seven academic papers that estimate change in land use and greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm expansion in the three countries, review the social and environmental impacts of palm oil production, forecast potential growth in the sector across the region, and detail methods for measuring emissions and carbon stocks of plantations establishing on peatlands.
Asia's 'unicorn' photographed in Vietnam
(11/12/2013) In 1992, scientists made a spectacular discovery: a large, land mammal (200 pounds) that had somehow eluded science even as humans visited the moon and split the atom. Its discoverers, with WWF and Vietnam's Ministry of Forestry, dubbed the species the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis). Found in the Annamite Mountains in Laos and Vietnam, the saola is a two-horned beautiful bovine that resembles an African antelope and, given its rarity, has been called the Asian unicorn. Since its discovery, scientists have managed to take photos via camera trap of a wild saola (in 1999) and even briefly studied live specimens brought into villages in Laos before they died (in 1996 and again in 2010), however the constant fear of extinction loomed over efforts to save the species. But WWF has announced good news today: a camera trap has taken photos of a saola in an unnamed protected area in Vietnam, the first documentation of the animal in the country in 15 years.
Newly discovered beetles construct private homes out of leaf holes and feces
(11/12/2013) Scientists have discovered two new species of leaf beetles in southern India that display a novel way of using leaf holes and their fecal pellets to build shelters – a nesting behavior previously not known among leaf beetles. Discovered in the forests of the Western Ghats in the states of Karnataka and Kerala, the scientists have named these pin-head sized leaf beetles Orthaltica syzygium and Orthaltica terminalia, after the plants they feed on: Syzygium species (e.g., the Java plum) and Terminalia species (e.g., the flowering murdah).
Murum dam blockaders may be suffering human rights violations warns NGOs
(11/12/2013) A coalition of nearly 30 organizations has sent a letter to top authorities in Sarawak and Malaysia warning them of possible human right violations against a group of indigenous Penan who are blocking roads to the construction site for Murum Dam. Over 100 indigenous people have been blocking a road for over a month as they demand more compensation and land after being forced to move from their traditional lands to make way for the 900 megawatt dam.
Philippines' delegate calls out climate change deniers after Haiyan
(11/12/2013) Yesterday, the Filipino delegate to the ongoing climate summit, Naderev 'Yeb' Saño, dared climate change deniers to take a hard look at what's happening not just in the Philippines, but the whole world. Over the weekend, the Philippines was hit by what may have been the largest typhoon to ever make landfall—Typhoon Haiyan. Reports are still coming in days later, but the death toll may rise to over 10,000 with whole cities simply swept away.
Amazon’s vast rainforest dominated by few tree species
(11/12/2013) The Amazon rainforest is so vast, and so diverse, that seemingly simple questions— such as which species of trees are most common— remain unanswered. Researchers are finally seeing the forest and the trees after an international collaboration of 120 scientists teamed up to compile the largest tree survey ever assembled from the Amazon.
Kids' stories and new stoves protect the golden snub-nosed monkey in China
(11/12/2013) Puppet shows, posters and children’s activities that draw from local traditions are helping to save an endangered monkey in China. The activities, which encourage villagers—children and adults alike—to protect their forests and adopt fuel-efficient cooking stoves, have worked, according to a report published in Conservation Evidence. Local Chinese researchers, supported by the U.S.-based conservation organization Rare, designed the campaign to protect the monkeys.
Exclusive: Stunning aerial photos reveal Ecuador building roads deeper into richest rainforest on Earth (Yasuní National Park)
(11/12/2013) In August 2012, professional photographers Ivan Kashinsky and Karla Gachet were on assignment for National Geographic in Yasuní National Park, home to arguably the most biodiverse rainforest in the world. While there, they happened to take an aerial shoot above an area known as Block 31 (see Map), a controversial oil concession located in the heart of the park, at the precise moment that the national oil company, Petroamazonas, was secretly building a new oil access road.
Lao ecotourism project wins responsible travel award for innovation
(11/11/2013) An ecotourism project in a remote part of Laos has won the prestigious World Responsible Tourism Award for Best for Responsible Wildlife Experience. The Nam Nern Night Safari, an ecotour in Lao PDR's Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area in Houaphan Province, was recognized by the World Travel Mart for its innovative approach to generating benefits for local communities.
HBSC financing deforestation for palm oil in Borneo
(11/11/2013) HSBC, the world's third largest bank, continues to lend to companies linked to deforestation despite a policy explicitly prohibiting such practices, alleges a new report from the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). The report, published last week, looks at two Indonesian palm oil companies that recently received finance from HSBC: Bumitama Agri and Triputra Agro Persada.
Characteristics of nutmeg family explored
(11/11/2013) A special issue of Mongabay's open-access academic journal, Tropical Conservation Science, explores the state of knowledge of the nutmeg (Myristicaceae) tree family.
Redeeming REDD: a conversation with Michael Brown
(11/11/2013) In Redeeming REDD: Policies, Incentives and Social Feasibility for Avoided Deforestation, anthropologist Michael Brown relays a constructive critique of the contemporary aims, standards and modalities for mitigating climate change by reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD). Brown advocates for REDD as a viable mechanism for the long-term pro-poor conservation and restoration of tropical forests as well—but only if local forest dwellers and Indigenous. Peoples can join the negotiating table and act as forest stewards. Local people must first be empowered to make 'socially feasible' decisions that are necessary for their livelihoods and well-being. In other words, there can be no environmentalism without credible local leadership, which requires investment in capacity building at the local level for sustainable institutions.
Delegate for the Philippines vows to stop eating at climate summit
(11/11/2013) Following the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan—which is arguably the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall—Filipino delegate, Naderev 'Yeb' Saño, has vowed to go on a fast at the UN Climate Summit that opened today in Warsaw, Poland. Saño made the vow during a powerful speech in which he said he would fast, 'until we stop this madness.'
Five new, cryptic bats discovered in Senegal
(11/11/2013) An international research team led by Daurina Koubinova has discovered five new species of vesper bats during a series of expeditions to Senegal's Niokolo-Koba National Park. The new species are considered cryptic, because their genetic makeup is different despite physical similarities. The new bats have yet to be named.
Ultraviolet nets significantly reduce sea turtle bycatch
(11/11/2013) Bycatch, a side-effect of commercial fishing in which non-target species are accidentally caught, is linked to severe population declines in several species. Sea turtles are particularly impacted by small-scale coastal gillnetting practices, in which large nets are deployed and indiscriminately snag anything of a certain size that attempts to swim through them. However, that may soon change.
Bangladesh plans massive coal plant in world's biggest mangrove forest
(11/11/2013) On October 22nd Bangladeshi and Indian officials were supposed to hold a ceremony laying the foundation stone for the Rampal power plant, a massive new coal-fired plant that will sit on the edge of the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest. However, the governments suddenly cancelled the ceremony, instead announcing that the project had already been inaugurated in early October by the countries' heads of state via a less-ornate Skype call. While the governments say the change was made because of busy schedules, activists contend the sudden scuttling of the ceremony was more likely due to rising pressure against the coal plant, including a five-day march in September that attracted thousands.
Bay Area pledges to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050
(11/11/2013) While many of the world's national governments move tepidly (if at all) to combat climate change, cities are showing increasing leadership. The San Francisco Bay Area's Air District Board signed off last week on a measure to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent within less than 40 years time as based on 1990 levels. The measure follows the same goal as an executive order made by California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in 2005.
Fishermen get crafty to circumvent shark fin ban
(11/10/2013) Authorities in Costa Rica have identified a new method used by fishermen to circumvent a ban on killing sharks for their fins. According to an INTERPOL alert, fishermen are now leaving a band of skin to keep the fin attached to the spine when they kill sharks. This approach takes advantage of an apparent loophole in regulations governing the shark fin trade.
Amazon deforestation could cause droughts in California
(11/08/2013) Complete deforestation of the Amazon rainforest could reduce rainfall in the Pacific Northwest by up to 20 percent and snowpack in the Sierra Nevada by up to 50 percent, suggests new research published in the Journal of Climate. The study is based on high resolution computer modeling that stripped the Amazon of its forest cover and assessed the potential impact on wind and precipitation patterns. While the scenario is implausible, it reveals the global nature of the ecological services afforded by the world's largest rainforest.
Will Haiyan's impact in the Philippines be worsened by deforestation?
(11/08/2013) While it's too early to assess the impact of Super Typhoon Haiyan — reportedly the strongest tropical storm ever recorded to make landfall — in the Philippines, the damage could be exacerbated by the large-scale loss of the country's forests.
Seahorses on your iPad: new app allows anyone to track and document seahorses
(11/08/2013) Annually, approximately 13 million seahorses—live and dead—are traded around the globe. At this scale, the seahorse trade is potentially very destructive to a group of animals comprised of 48 species, 11 of which are listed by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) as threatened with extinction.
Dolphins, bats and the evolution of echolocation
(11/08/2013) A dolphin swimming through the world’s oceans after fish, and a bat flying through the air with its membranous wings to catch insects or eat fruit: at first glance, it looks like no two creatures could be more different. But it turns out they share a superpower - they hunt prey by emitting high-pitched sounds and listening for a returning echo. A recent study published in the journal Nature Letters has shown that the regions of the genome responsible for this ability are strikingly similar between these very different mammals.
Critically Endangered Jamaican iguana imperiled by port development
(11/08/2013) The story of the Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collie) is one of adversity and resurgence. Once believed extinct, the species has made a remarkable comeback over the last two decades. However, according to concerned scientists, a new plan to build a massive port in the iguana's habitat could push the species back to the edge of extinction.
8 tribesmen arrested in Borneo dam protest
(11/07/2013) Malaysian authorities arrested eight indigenous protestors on Thursday in a crackdown on a long-running demonstration against a dam the tribesmen say will flood their homeland in Malaysian Borneo.
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