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News articles on disasters
Mongabay.com news articles on disasters in blog format. Updated regularly.
U.S. Central Plains and Southwest will likely face apocalyptic drought
(02/12/2015) In the recent film Interstellar, a mysterious phenomenon known as "the blight" is wiping out agriculture around the world until only corn—for some reason—survives. Humanity is on the brink of starvation. While the blight may be science fiction, global warming is not, and a new study finds that future warming could decimate the western U.S. over the next century.
Pollution from fossil fuels decreased rainfall in Central America
(02/10/2015) Fossil fuel pollution may have caused a southern shift in a vital rainfall belt across Central America, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience, potentially leading to drier conditions and droughts in some northern tropical countries. Using data from a single stalagmite in a Belizean cave, the researchers were able to create an accurate record of both rainfall and temperature for the last 450 years.
Sundarbans still reeling from effects of December oil spill
(01/21/2015) Last month, an estimated 350,000 liters of fuel oil spilled into the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal. An oil tanker that had collided with a cargo vessel on December 9th sank into the Shela River, spilling its oil into a protected sanctuary for the rare and endangered Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) and the Ganges river dolphins (Platanista gangetica).
High deforestation rates in Malaysian states hit by flooding
(01/19/2015) Five states hard hit by flooding last month in Malaysia had high rates of forest loss in recent years, bolstering assertions that environmental degradation may have worsened the disaster. According to satellite data from researchers led by the University of Maryland's Matt Hansen and displayed on Global Forest Watch, the states of Johor, Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, and Terengganu each lost more than 10 percent of their forest cover between 2001 and 2012. Loss was greatest in areas with dense tree cover.
Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2014
(12/23/2014) In 2014, the unimaginable happened: companies representing the majority of palm oil production and trade agreed to stop cutting down rainforests and draining peatlands for new oil palm plantations. After years of intense campaigning by environmentalists and dire warnings from scientists, nearly two dozen major producers, traders, and buyers established zero deforestation policies.
Children 'clean' oil spill with kitchen utensils in the Sundarbans
(12/15/2014) On December 9th, a tanker slammed into another vessel along the Shela River in the world's largest mangrove forest: the Sundarbans in Bangladesh. The tanker sank, spilling an estimated 75,000 gallons (350,000 liters) of fuel oil into waterways that are a part of a reserve for threatened Ganges river dolphins and Irrawaddy dolphins.
Don't eat or touch bat bushmeat amid worsening Ebola outbreak, UN warns
(07/29/2014) The world's worst Ebola outbreak was likely begun by a hunter shooting a fruit bat for their dinner or the market, according to the UN. The outbreak has killed over 660 people in six months to date, and recently spread via plane to Nigeria. The disease is particularly deadly with a mortality rate of around 90 percent.
Climate change's ominous secret
(05/21/2014) Climate change is happening and humans are causing it, primarily from the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by burning fossil fuels. This much we know. The 'secret' comes from changes happening in the fast-warming Arctic: we may be surprisingly close to an Earth that supports far fewer humans than it does today.
Apocalypse now? Climate change already damaging agriculture, acidifying seas, and worsening extreme weather
(03/31/2014) It's not just melting glaciers and bizarrely-early Springs anymore; climate change is impacting every facet of human civilization from our ability to grow enough crops to our ability to get along with each other, according to a new 2,300-page report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The massive report states definitively that climate change is already affecting human societies on every continent.
Predator appreciation: how saving lions, tigers, and polar bears could rescue ourselves
(01/29/2014) In the new book, In Predatory Light: Lions and Tigers and Polar Bears, authors Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Sy Montgomery, and John Houston, and photographers Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson share with us an impassioned and detailed appeal to appreciate three of the world's biggest predators: lions, tigers, and polar bears. Through lengthy discussions, combining themes from scientific conservation to local community folklore, In Predatory Light takes us step by step deeper into the wild world of these awe-inspiring carnivores and their varied plight as they facedown extinction.
A series of oil spills sully Caribbean paradise, coating mangroves and wildlife (photos)
(01/29/2014) On December 17th, officials first discovered a massive oil spill in the Caribbean-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Since then, a series of oil spills have been discovered, coating beaches, sullying mangrove forests, and very likely decimating wildlife in Trinidad's Gulf of Paria. The oil spills have been linked to the state-owned oil company, Petrotrin, which has claimed that sabotage is behind at least two of the spills. However Trinidad and Tobago's Environmental Management Authority has recently slapped the company with a $3.1 million fine by for the damage, while some politicians have called for an independent investigation into the slew of spills.
Court orders logging company to clean up pollution disaster in Chile wetlands
(01/17/2014) Chile is probably best known for its volcanoes, earthquakes and the formidable peaks of the Andes, but as a country that spans 4,300 km (2,670 miles) from top to bottom, it also boasts a huge variety of bird life. And, until recently, it was home to what was thought to be the largest population of black-necked swans (Cygnus melancoryphus) in South America. Not long ago, these swans, as well as 100 other species of rare or vulnerable bird species, could be seen nesting in the Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary in Valdivia, a Ramsar site that covers 12,000 acres in the south of Chile. But in 2004 the swans began to die.
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.
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.'
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.
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.
Climate change to hurt children most
(09/25/2013) Children will bear the brunt of the impact of climate change because of their increased risk of health problems, malnutrition and migration, according to a new study published on Monday. And food prices are likely to soar as a result of warming, undoing the progress made in combating world hunger.
Worst drought in 30 years threatens millions in southern Africa with food insecurity
(08/19/2013) Around 2 million people face food insecurity in northern Namibia and southern Angola as the worst regional drought in decades takes its toll, according to the UN. Two years of failed rains have pushed families into desperate conditions in a region already known for its desert-like conditions. In Namibia alone, experts estimate that over 100,000 children under five are at risk for acute malnutrition.
Drastic cuts to greenhouse gases could save hundreds of U.S. cities from watery grave
(08/01/2013) More than 1,700 American cities and towns – including Boston, New York, and Miami – are at greater risk from rising sea levels than previously feared, a new study has found. By 2100, the future of at least part of these 1,700 locations will be "locked in" by greenhouse gas emissions built up in the atmosphere, the analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday found.
Arctic melt to cost trillions
(07/30/2013) Rapid thawing of the Arctic could trigger a catastrophic "economic timebomb" which would cost trillions of dollars and undermine the global financial system, say a group of economists and polar scientists. Governments and industry have expected the widespread warming of the Arctic region in the past 20 years to be an economic boon, allowing the exploitation of new gas and oilfields and enabling shipping to travel faster between Europe and Asia.
U.S. bombs Great Barrier Reef, promises 'rapid recovery' of armaments
(07/23/2013) Four unarmed bombs dropped by the US military into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park pose a low risk to wildlife and a joint mission will aim for their "rapid recovery", according to the government agency in charge of the reef. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said two of the bombs are inert, containing concrete, while the other two were not armed, making the chance of detonation "extremely low".
Typhoon Bopha decimated coral reefs
(01/24/2013) When Typhoon Bopha, also known as Pablo, ran ashore on Mindanao, it was the largest tropical storm it ever hit the Philippine island. In its wake the massive superstorm left over 1,000 people were dead and 6.2 million affected with officials saying illegal logging and mining worsened the scale of the disaster. However, the Category 5 typhoon also left a trail of destruction that has been less reported: coral reefs.
2012 was America's warmest year on record
(01/08/2013) 2012 was the warmest year on record for the contiguous U.S. according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Lessons From Sandy: extreme weather will be the new normal
(12/21/2012) In a recent forum held at the Harvard School of Public Health four expert panelists discussed the most important lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy.
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.
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.
World Bank: 4 degrees Celsius warming would be miserable
(11/20/2012) A new report by the World Bank paints a bleak picture of life on Earth in 80 years: global temperatures have risen by 4 degrees Celsius spurring rapidly rising sea levels and devastating droughts. Global agriculture is under constant threat; economies have been hampered; coastal cities are repeatedly flooded; coral reefs are dissolving from ocean acidification; and species worldwide are vanishing. This, according to the World Bank, is where we are headed even if all of the world's nations meet their pledges on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. However, the report also notes that with swift, aggressive action it's still possible to ensure that global temperatures don't rise above 4 degrees Celsius.
BP fined $4.5 billion for Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but company may spend more buying its own stocks
(11/19/2012) Last week the U.S. federal government fined BP $4.5 billion for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, which killed 11 workers and leaked nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil giant also plead guilt to 12 felonies and two misdemeanors. However, even this fine—the largest in U.S. history—failed to dampen shareholder support of BP: stocks actually rose one percent following the announcement. Meanwhile, according to the Sunday Times, BP plans to spend $5.9 billion (over a billion more than the fine) buying back its own shares in order to boost stock prices.
Asian cities face high disaster risk with 650,000 killed in 2000s
(11/16/2012) Asia's cities are increasing vulnerable to natural disasters due to climate change, urban expansion, and poor planning, warns a report published this week by the Asian Development Bank. Disasters risk undermining recent economic gains in the region.
Remembering the Dust Bowl: it could happen again
(11/15/2012) The Dust Bowl, a film by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, and The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History, a book authored by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history. Told in first-person narrative by survivors of the Dust Bowl and brought to color through vivid storytelling and over 300 rare archival photos, these two combined efforts must be watched and read by those concerned with our human impact on Earth.
Hurricane Sandy pushes Haiti toward full-blown food crisis
(11/12/2012) Although Haiti avoided a direct hit by Hurricane Sandy, the tropical storm caused severe flooding across the southern part of the country decimating agricultural fields. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs now warns that 1.5 million Haitians are at risk of severe food insecurity, while 450,000 people face severe acute malnutrition, which can kill.
It's not just Sandy: U.S. hit by record droughts, fires, and heatwaves in 2012
(11/05/2012) As the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy—killing over 100 people and producing upwards of $50 billion in damage along the U.S. East Coast—has reignited a long-dormant conversation on climate change in the media, it's important to note that this is not the only weird and wild weather the U.S. has seen this year. In fact, 2012 has been a year of record-breaking weather across the U.S.: the worst drought in decades, unprecedented heatwaves, and monster forest fires. While climatologists have long stated that it is not yet possible to blame a single extreme weather event on climate change, research is showing that rising temperatures are very likely increasing the chances of extreme weather events and worsening them when they occur.
Photos of flooded New York Aquarium released
(11/02/2012) The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) today released pictures showing damage caused earlier this week at the New York Aquarium by Hurricane Sandy. The photos show extensive flooding in parts of the aquarium, which is located on the Coney Island boardwalk and is run by WCS.
Facing 'critical' situation, New York Aquarium closed indefinitely
(10/31/2012) The New York Aquarium on Coney Island suffered 'serious flood damage' during Hurricane Sandy and will be closed 'indefinitely', according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which runs the aquarium and other zoos in New York City.
New York Aquarium entirely 'underwater'
(10/30/2012) Hurricane Sandy, which brought storm surges that reached 14 feet to New York City, has put the Wildlife Conservation Society's New York Aquarium "under water," according to a statement from the organization. The aquarium is located on the Coney Island boardwalk, in the heart of an area where rescue operations are currently under way to save people stranded in their homes. There are reports that flooding has reached some people's roofs.
Hours before Hurricane Sandy hit, activists protested climate inaction in Times Square
(10/30/2012) On Sunday, as Hurricane Sandy roared towards the coast of the Eastern U.S., activists took to the streets in New York City to highlight the issue of climate change. Activists organized by 350.org unfurled a huge parachute in Times Square with the words, "End Climate Silence," a message meant to call attention to the fact that there has been almost zero mention of climate change during the presidential campaign, including not a single reference to the issue in the four presidential debates.
How climate change may be worsening Hurricane Sandy
(10/29/2012) While scientists are still debating some fundamental questions regarding hurricanes and climate change (such as: will climate change cause more or less hurricanes?), there's no debating that a monster hurricane is now imperiling the U.S. East Coast. A few connections between a warmer world and Hurricane Sandy can certainly be made, however: rising sea levels are likely to worsen storm surges; warmer waters bring more rain to increase flooding; and hotter temperatures may allow the hurricane to push both seasonal and geographic boundaries.
Extreme heatwaves 50 to 100 times more likely due to climate change
(08/05/2012) A recent rise in deadly, debilitating, and expensive heatwaves was caused by climate change, argues a new statistical analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Climatologists found that extreme heatwaves have increased by at least 50 times during the last 30 years. The researchers, including James Hansen of NASA, conclude that climate change is the only explanation for such a statistical jump.
Featured video: climate change bringing on the extremes
(07/24/2012) Focusing on extreme weather events in the U.S. this summer, a new compilation video highlights the connection between climate change and increasing and worsening extremes, such as heatwaves, droughts, and floods.
Deepwater Horizon oil spill may have played role in dolphin deaths
(07/22/2012) In the first four months of 2011, 186 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) were found dead in the Gulf of Mexico, nearly half of them dolphin calves many of whom were perinatal, or near birth. Researchers now believe a number of factors may have killed the animals. Writing in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, scientists theorize that the dolphins died a sudden influx of freshwater from snowmelt after being stressed and weakened by an abnormally cold winter and the impacts of the BP oil spill.
The Human Quest: Prospering Within Planetary Boundaries – Book Review
(07/22/2012) Icarus, according to ancient Greek myth, attempted to escape Crete by flying using wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. Icarus willfully flew too close to the sun causing his wings to melt resulting in him falling into the sea and drowning.
Deja vu: U.S. undergoes hottest 12 months on record...again and again
(07/12/2012) According to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s National Climatic Data Center, the last twelve months have been the warmest on record for the contiguous United States. This record, set between July 2011 through June 2012, beat the last consecutive twelve month record set only a month earlier between June 2011 and May 2012, which in turn beat the previous record holder, you guessed it: May 2011 through April 2012.
As U.S. sees record heat, extreme weather pummels 4 continents
(07/10/2012) It's not only the U.S. that has experienced record-breaking extreme weather events recently, in the last couple months extreme weather has struck around the world with startling ferocity. In addition to the much-covered heatwaves, wildfires, and droughts in the U.S., killer floods struck India, the worst drought yet recorded plagued South Korea, and massive forest fires swept through Siberia to name just a few.
Scientist: 'no doubt' that climate change is playing a role in U.S. fires
(07/02/2012) A noted climate scientist says there is 'no doubt' that climate change is 'playing a role' in this year's series of record fires in the western U.S. A massive wildfire in Colorado has forced the evacuation of 36,000 people, destroyed over 300 homes, and killed two people. The devastation wrought by the Waldo Canyon Fire even prompted a visit form U.S. President Barack Obama. But this is not the only epic fire in the U.S. this year: less than a month before the Colorado disaster, New Mexico experienced its largest fire on record in Gila Nation Forest; the conflagration burned up 247,000 acres (100,000 hectares). Other major wildfires have occurred in Utah and Wyoming, as well as other parts of New Mexico and Colorado.
U.S. undergoes warmest spring on record
(06/12/2012) Spring in the U.S. was the warmest on record, beating the past record-year (1910), by a stunning two degrees Fahrenheit, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The data also shows that the past 12 months--from June 2011 through May 2012--was the warmest on record in the contiguous U.S. as well.
As Colorado and New Mexico burn, scientists say prepare for more
(06/12/2012) A massive wildlife in Colorado still burns after it has killed one person and damaged or destroyed over a hundred structures. The fire, the third largest in Colorado's history, has burned 39,500 acres (16,000 hectares) to date. Meanwhile in central New Mexico, another wildfire has damaged or destroyed 35 structures and burned 34,500 acres (14,000 hectares). This comes just weeks after New Mexico's largest wildfire ever—still going—burned up over 247,000 acres (100,000 hectares) of the Gila Forest. Weeks of heroic efforts by thousands of firefighters have contained this megafire by only 37 percent to date. Now, a new scientific study in Ecospshere has found that North America and Europe must prepare for even more fires as global temperatures continue to rise from climate change.
The vanishing Niger River imperils tourism and livelihoods in the desert
(06/04/2012) Severely affected by recent turmoil across its northern frontiers, Nigerien tourism pins hope on river valley attractions to play a major role in rebuilding its tourism industry in the upcoming years. Even though the river itself is threatened. Located in the heart of the Sahel Region, the vast desert lands of Niger have captivated European tourists seeking a taste of its immensely varied natural landscapes.
BP Deepwater Horizon deformities: eyeless shrimp, clawless crabs
(04/24/2012) Two years after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven and causing an oil spill that lasted three months, scientists say the impacts on the Gulf ecosystem are only beginning to come to light and the discoveries aren't pretty.
Researchers recreate bee collapse with pesticide-laced corn syrup
(04/05/2012) Scientists with the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have re-created the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder in several honeybee hives simply by giving them small doses of a popular pesticide, imidacloprid. Bee populations have been dying mysteriously throughout North America and Europe since 2006, but the cause behind the decline, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, has eluded scientists. However, coming on the heels of two studies published last week in Science that linked bee declines to neonicotinoid pesticides, of which imidacloprid is one, the new study adds more evidence that the major player behind Colony Collapse Disorder is not disease, or mites, but pesticides that began to be widely used in the 1990s.
Smoking gun for bee collapse? popular pesticides
(03/29/2012) Commonly used pesticides may be a primary driver of the collapsing bee populations, finds two new studies in Science. The studies, one focused on honeybees and the other on bumblebees, found that even small doses of these pesticides, which target insect's central nervous system, impact bee behavior and, ultimately, their survival. The studies may have far-reaching repercussions for the regulation of agricultural chemicals, known as neonicotinoid insecticides, that have been in use since the 1990s.
"Strong evidence" linking extreme heatwaves, floods, and droughts to climate change
(03/28/2012) As North America recovers from what noted meteorologist Jeff Masters has called "the most incredible spring heatwave in U.S. and Canadian recorded history," a new paper argues that climate change is playing an important role in a world that appears increasingly pummeled by extreme weather. Published in Nature Climate Change, the paper surveys recent studies of climate change and extreme weather and finds "strong evidence" of a link between a warming world and the frequency and intensity of droughts, floods, and heatwaves—such as the one that turned winter into summer in the U.S.
Appeal for help as death toll in Madagascar tops 110 from tropical storm
(03/11/2012) More than 110 are dead and 330,000 homeless after two tropical storms battered Madagascar over the past month, says the island nation's disaster management agency.
Tornado season likely to expand due to climate change
(03/06/2012) Last Friday, around a hundred tornadoes left a wake of destruction in the U.S., killing 39 people to date and destroying entire towns. The tragedy hit hardest in Kentucky and Indiana and experts predict the weather-disaster will cost over $1 billion. But isn't this early for tornado season? Yes, say experts, and climatologists add that while research on tornadoes and climate change is currently in its infancy, it's possible, probably even likely, that climate change is expanding tornado season in the U.S. due to the earlier arrival of spring.
Thai king: punish corrupt officials who allowed logging
(02/27/2012) Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej urged the Thai government to punish officials who allowed illegal logging which he blamed for worsening floods last year that left more than 1,000 people dead.
Black Swans and bottom-up environmental action
(02/08/2012) The defining events shaping the modern world - economic, social, environmental, progressive and disruptive - are frequently characterized as "Black Swans."The Black Swan term and theory were characterized by author and analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb who explains, "What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable." Taleb identifies the emergence of the internet, the attacks of September 11, 2001, the popularity of Facebook, stock market crashes, the success of Harry Potter, and World War I as among Black Swan events.
Delayed response to Somalia famine cost thousands of lives
(01/18/2012) A hesitant response by the international community likely led to thousands of unnecessary deaths in last year's famine in East Africa finds a new report released by Oxfam and Save the Children. The report, entitled A Dangerous Delay, says that early warning systems worked in informing the international community about the likelihood of a dire food crisis in East Africa, however a "culture of risk aversion" led to months-long delays. By the time aid arrived it was already too late for many. The British government has estimated somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people perished in the famine, half of whom were likely children under five.
Climate change media coverage drops 20 percent in 2011
(01/05/2012) Global media reporting on climate change issues was down again last year, according to a new analysis from The Daily Climate. The news organization counted around 19,000 stories on climate issues during the year written by 7,140 journalists, falling 20 percent from 2010 levels.
Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2011
(12/22/2011) Many of 2011's most dramatic stories on environmental issues came from people taking to the streets. With governments and corporations slow to tackle massive environmental problems, people have begun to assert themselves. Victories were seen on four continents: in Bolivia a draconian response to protestors embarrassed the government, causing them to drop plans to build a road through Tipnis, an indigenous Amazonian reserve; in Myanmar, a nation not known for bowing to public demands, large protests pushed the government to cancel a massive Chinese hydroelectric project; in Borneo a three-year struggle to stop the construction of a coal plant on the coast of the Coral Triangle ended in victory for activists; in Britain plans to privatize forests created such a public outcry that the government not only pulled back but also apologized; and in the U.S. civil disobedience and massive marches pressured the Obama Administration to delay a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands from Canada to a global market.
Earth systems disruption: Does 2011 indicate the "new normal" of climate chaos and conflict?
(12/21/2011) The year 2011 has presented the world with a shocking increase in irregular weather and disasters linked to climate change. Just as the 2007 "big melt" of summer arctic sea ice sent scientists and environmentalists scrambling to re-evaluate the severity of climate change, so have recent events forced major revisions and updates in climate science.
Philippines disaster may have been worsened by climate change, deforestation
(12/20/2011) As the Philippines begins to bury more than a 1,000 disaster victims in mass graves, Philippine President Benigno Aquino has ordered an investigation into last weekend's flash flood and landslide, including looking at the role of illegal logging. Officials have pointed to both climate change and vast deforestation as likely exacerbating the disaster.
Civilization shifting: a new leaderless era
(11/15/2011) For well over a decade global change scientists have ushered calls for urgent alteration in what they refer to as the “Business-as-Usual (BAU) paradigm” to cope with the interlinking social, economic, and environmental issues of the 21st Century. In 2001, one of the world’s largest Earth Science collaborative organizations, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP), published their "A Planet Under Pressure" summary report for policy makers.
IEA warns: five years to slash emissions or face dangerous climate change
(11/13/2011) Not known for alarmism and sometimes criticized for being too optimistic, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that without bold action in the next five years the world will lock itself into high-emissions energy sources that will push climate change beyond the 2 degrees Celsius considered relatively 'safe' by many scientists and officials.
Unanimous agreement among scientists: Earth to suffer major loss in species
(11/09/2011) The thylacine, the dodo, the great auk, the passenger pigeon, the golden toad: these species have become symbols of extinction. But they are only the tip of the recent extinction crisis, and according to a survey of 583 conservation scientists, they are only the beginning. In a new survey in Conservation Biology, 99.5 percent of conservation scientists said a serious loss in biodiversity was either 'likely', 'very likely', or 'virtually certain'. The prediction of a significant loss of species is not surprising—scientists have been warning for decades that if global society continues with business as usual the world will suffer from mass extinction—what is perhaps surprising is the practically unanimous expectation that a global biodiversity decline will occur.
Climate change already worsening weird, deadly, and expensive weather
(11/02/2011) Unprecedented flooding in Thailand, torrential rains pummeling El Salvador, long-term and beyond-extreme drought in Texas, killer snowstorm in the eastern US—and that's just the last month or so. Extreme weather worldwide appears to be both increasing in frequency and intensity, and a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) connects the dots between wilder weather patterns and global climate change.
11 challenges facing 7 billion super-consumers
(10/31/2011) Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Halloween this year is not the ghouls and goblins taking to the streets, but a baby born somewhere in the world. It's not the baby's or the parent's fault, of course, but this child will become a part of an artificial, but still important, milestone: according to the UN, the Earth's seventh billionth person will be born today. That's seven billion people who require, in the very least, freshwater, food, shelter, medicine, and education. In some parts of the world, they will also have a car, an iPod, a suburban house and yard, pets, computers, a lawn-mower, a microwave, and perhaps a swimming pool. Though rarely addressed directly in policy (and more often than not avoided in polite conversations), the issue of overpopulation is central to environmentally sustainability and human welfare.
Killer Russian heatwave product of climate change
(10/26/2011) Last year's Russian heatwave and drought resulted in vast wildfires and a morality rate that was 56,000 people higher than the same period in 2009. Now, researchers have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that finds the heatwave would very likely have never happened if not for climate change. The study flies in the face of previous research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that concluded the heatwave was simply due to natural variation and not a warming world.
Photos: New Zealand oil disaster kills over 1200 birds to date
(10/16/2011) According to the New Zealand government an oil spill from a grounded container ship in the Bay of Plenty has killed 1,250 seabirds with hundreds of others in rescue centers. However, conservationists say the avian death-toll is far higher with most contaminated birds simply vanishing in the sea. "The number of birds being found washed up on the beaches will be a very small proportion of the birds being affected," explained Karen Baird, Seabird Conservation Advocate with NGO Forest & Bird.
Bird-killing oil spill New Zealand's 'worst environmental disaster'
(10/12/2011) An oil spill from a grounded container ship in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty is threatening to worsen as authorities fear the ship is breaking up. Already, 350 tons of oil from the ship, the MV Rena, has leaked out with some reaching nearby beaches including a popular holiday spot, Papamoa Beach. To date the spill has killed over 200 birds, including little blue penguins, shags, petrels, albatrosses and plovers. If the ship breaks up and sinks, authorities fear it could release its remaining 1,400 tons into the marine ecosystem.
World's newest nation faces prospect of famine
(10/06/2011) As East Africa reels from a devastating famine, which is hitting Somalia the hardest, there are new fears that another African nation could soon slip into a similar situation. On July 9th of this year, South Sudan became the world's newest nation; however a few months later drought, conflict, refugees, and rising food prices could push the eastern region of South Sudan into a famine, warned officials from the fledgling nation yesterday.
Deepwater oil spill likely to hurt fish populations over decades
(09/28/2011) Oil pollution doesn't have to kill fish to have a long-term impact, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Researchers found that Gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis) that had been exposed to very low to non-detectable levels of oil contamination from the Deepwater oil spill last year, still showed developmental problems that are likely to impact fish populations for decades to come.
World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse
(08/30/2011) World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse clearly describes in terms of national and social security how the looming current threat to our collective global future is not from catastrophic war as many describe in hindsight the 20th Century, rather from cataclysmic climate change, biodiversity loss, and water degradation.
Photos: World Food Program works to save lives in East Africa famine
(08/28/2011) Over 12 million people across East Africa are imperiled by a hunger crisis brought on by extreme drought. The worst of the crisis is in Somalia, where famine has been declared in 5 areas of Somalia to date—the first famine to be declared by the UN in three decades. Somalia is unique, because here the drought has been exacerbated by a long-failed government and militants. Refugee camps have been set up in Kenya and Ethiopia, but are strained. A number of aid groups are working on the ground to provide emergency food and medical attention to hunger victims, but funding is still below what is needed. The largest group is probably the UN's World Food Program (WFP). Mongabay.com spoke to Dena Gubaitis, Communications Officer for the WFP, for background on the famine and how relief efforts are going on the ground.
Climate change may fuel increase in warfare, finds study
(08/24/2011) Civil war is twice as likely in tropical countries during particularly hot and dry years, according to a new study in Nature. The researchers found that El Niño conditions, which generally cuts rainfall and raises temperatures in the tropics, may have played a factor in one-fifth of the world's total conflicts during the past 50 years. El Niño conditions occur every 3-7 years. While the study did not examine global climate change in conjunction with conflict, the study links a warmer world to a more conflict-prone one, as least in the tropics.
Reducing Disaster Risks: Progress and Challenges in the Caribbean Region
(08/23/2011) Disaster management is a global policy problem with a critical land-use change component related to settlement patterns, deforestation, and agriculture development. This is further exacerbated by climate change.
Lessons from the world's longest study of rainforest fragments
(08/15/2011) For over 30 years, hundreds of scientists have scoured eleven forest fragments in the Amazon seeking answers to big questions: how do forest fragments' species and microclimate differ from their intact relatives? Will rainforest fragments provide a safe haven for imperiled species or are they last stand for the living dead? Should conservation focus on saving forest fragments or is it more important to focus the fight on big tropical landscapes? Are forest fragments capable of regrowth and expansion? Can a forest—once cut-off—heal itself? Such questions are increasingly important as forest fragments—patches of forest that are separated from larger forest landscapes due to expanding agriculture, pasture, or fire—increase worldwide along with the human footprint.
Arctic open for exploitation: Obama administration grants Shell approval to drill
(08/08/2011) Less than a year and a half after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration has bucked warnings from environmentalists to grant preliminary approval to oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell, to drill off the Arctic coast. Exploratory drilling will occur just north of the western edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in the Beaufort Sea, home to bowhead and beluga whales, seals, walruses, polar bears, and a wide variety of migrating birds.
Oil horror in Nigeria: 30 years, one billion dollars to clean-up
(08/08/2011) Fifty years of oil spills in Nigeria's now infamous Ogoniland region will take up to three decades and over a billion dollars ($1 billion for just the first five years) to restore environments to healthy conditions, according to a new independent report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The most thorough study to date has found that widespread pollution has hit the Niger Delta even harder than assumed with devastating impacts on fishing grounds and community health. Last week Shell, one of the biggest operators in Nigeria, admitted to two massive oil spills in 2008 totaling 11 million gallons of crude.
Famine spreads: 29,000 young children perish
(08/04/2011) As the UN announces that famine has spread in Somalia to three additional regions (making five in total now), the US has put the first number to the amount of children under 5 who have so far perished from starvation in the last 90 days: 29,000. Nearly half of the total population of Somalia is currently in need of emergency food assistance. Yet, the al Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab, which controls parts of Somalia, has made bringing assistance to many of the malnourished incredibly difficult, if not impossible. The famine in Somalia has been brought-on by lack of governance combined with crippling droughts throughout East Africa, which some experts have linked to climate change. High food prices worldwide and a lagging response by the international community and donors have made matters only worse.
Tens of thousands starving to death in East Africa
(07/20/2011) As the US media is focused like a laser on theatric debt talks and the UK media is agog at the heinous Rupert Murdoch scandal, millions of people are undergoing a starvation crisis in East Africa. The UN has upgraded the disaster—driven by high food prices, conflict, and prolonged drought linked by some to climate change—to famine in parts of Somalia today. Mark Bowden, UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, has said that tens of thousands Somalis have died from malnutrition recently, "the majority of whom were children."
Shareholders to Chevron: company showing 'poor judgment' in Ecuador oil spill case
(05/26/2011) After being found guilty in February of environmental harm and ordered to pay $8.6 billion in an Ecuador court of law, Chevron this week faced another trial: this time by shareholders in its Annual General Meeting in California. While Chevron has appealed the Ecuador case and a US court has put an injunction barring the enforcement of the ruling in the US, notable Chevron investors say the company has gone astray in its seemingly endless legal battle with indigenous groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Has the green energy revolution finally arrived?
(05/17/2011) When historians look back at the fight to combat climate change—not to mention the struggle to overcome our global addiction to fossil fuels—will 2011 be considered a watershed moment? Maybe. In the last couple months, three countries—each in the top ten in terms of GDP—have suddenly made major renewable energy promises. Germany, Japan, and, just today, Britain are giving speeches and producing plans that, if successful, could be the global tipping point needed to move beyond fossil fuels to, one day, a world run entirely on green.
Reforestation program in China preventing future disasters
(05/13/2011) China's response to large-scale erosion with reforestation is paying off according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). The 10-year program, known as Sloping Land Conversion Program (SLCP), is working to turn some 37 million acres back into forest or grasslands after farming on steep slopes in the Yangtze and Yellow River basins had made them perilously susceptible to erosion and flooding.
Burning up: warmer world means the rise of megafires
(05/12/2011) Megafires are likely both worsened by and contributing to global climate change, according to a new United Nations report. In the tropics, deforestation is playing a major role in creating giant, unprecedented fires.
Are US floods, fires linked to climate change?
(04/28/2011) The short answer to the question of whether or not on-going floods in the US Midwest and fires in Texas are linked to a warming Earth is: maybe. The long answer, however, is that while it is difficult—some argue impossible—for scientists to link a single extreme weather event to climate change, climate models have long shown that extreme weather events will both intensify and become more frequent as the world continues to heat up. In other words, the probability of such extreme events increases along with global average temperature.
The great penguin rescue: far-flung community cooperates, sacrifices to save 4,000 penguins from oil spill
(04/18/2011) One of the world remotest communities, the UK's Tristan da Cunha archipelago, has come together to save 4,000 endangered penguins following a devastating oil spill, reports the Guardian. Last month a freighter ran aground on Nightingale Island releasing 1,500 tons of oil, potentially devastating the local population of northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi), which are listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. However, fortunately for the penguins, the tiny community of 260 people living on the Tristan da Cunha archipelago were unwilling to give up on the oiled birds.
Japan disaster to put logging pressure on rainforests in Indonesia, Malaysia
(04/05/2011) The tragic earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last month is likely to boost wood imports into the recovering nation, adding increased pressure on the already imperiled rainforests of Southeast Asia. Even before the disaster, Japan was the world's number one importer of wood chips and plywood and the second largest importer of logs. Japan usually imports plywood from China, Malaysia, and Indonesia, however the forests of Southeast Asia are facing tremendous loss due to logging and clearing for industrial-scale agriculture, such as palm oil.
Vanishing mangroves are carbon sequestration powerhouses
(04/05/2011) Mangroves may be the world's most carbon rich forests, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience. Measuring the carbon stored in 25 mangrove forests in the Indo-Pacific region, researchers found that mangroves forests stored up to four times as much carbon as other tropical forests, including rainforests. "Mangroves have long been known as extremely productive ecosystems that cycle carbon quickly, but until now there had been no estimate of how much carbon resides in these systems. That's essential information because when land-use change occurs, much of that standing carbon stock can be released to the atmosphere," explains co-author Daniel Donato, a postdoctoral research ecologist at the Pacific Southwest Research Station in Hilo, Hawaii.
Bats worth billions
(04/03/2011) US agriculture stands to lose billions in free ecosystem services from the often-feared and rarely respected humble bat. According to a recent study in Science bats in North America provide the US agricultural industry at least $3.7 billion and up to a staggering $53 billion a year by eating mounds of potentially pesky insects. Yet these bats, and their economic services, are under threat by a perplexing disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) and to a lesser extent wind turbines.
Pictures: Google Earth updates post-tsunami imagery
(03/31/2011) Google Earth has updated satellite imagery for areas most affected by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The images reveal large-scale devastation of coastal areas in the Sendai region of Japan.
Last year's drought hit Amazon hard: nearly a million square miles impacted
(03/29/2011) A new study on its way to being published shows that the Amazon rainforest suffered greatly from last year's drought. Employing satellite data and supercomputing technology, researchers have found that the Amazon was likely hit harder by last year's drought than a recent severe drought from 2005. The droughts have supported predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) that climate change, among other impacts, could push portions of the Amazon to grasslands, devastating the world's greatest rainforest. "The greenness levels of Amazonian vegetation—a measure of its health—decreased dramatically over an area more than three and one-half times the size of Texas and did not recover to normal levels, even after the drought ended in late October 2010," explains the study's lead author Liang Xu of Boston University.
New land snail invading Singapore requires swift action
(03/28/2011) An African land snail Limicolaria flammea has been discovered by researchers in six locations in Singapore, perhaps heralding a new invasion of alien land snails in Southeast Asia. Although snails may seem largely innocuous creatures, past invasions have resulted in agricultural and economic damage. The global invasion of the giant African land snail (Achatina fulica) has been called one of the world's top 100 worst alien species. Writing in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, researchers examine the issue and provide suggestions as to how Singapore authorities can quickly rid the nation of Limicolaria flammea.
Photos: penguins devastated by oil spill
(03/22/2011) Disturbing photos show northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) hit hard by an oil spill from a wrecked cargo ship on Nightingale Island in the Southern Atlantic. Already listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the oil spill threatens nearly half of the northern rockhopper population according to BirdLife International. Already conservation workers say 'hundreds' of penguins have been oiled. Located the remote Southern Atlantic, Nightingale Island is a part of the UK's Tristan da Cunha archipelago. The island's are home to a variety of birdlife, including species that survive no-where else but on the archipelago.
US approves first deepwater drilling in Gulf since BP disaster as oil tar balls reappear on coast
(03/22/2011) Yesterday the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement awarded Royal Dutch Shell PLC the first deep-water exploration permit since the BP disaster last year, which sent some 4.9 million barrels of oil and up to 500,000 tons of methane into the Gulf of Mexico over three months.
Hundreds of endangered penguins covered in oil after remote spill
(03/21/2011) Conservation workers have found hundreds of oiled northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) after a cargo vessel wrecked on Nightingale Island, apart of the UK's Tristan da Cunha archipelago. Northern rockhopper penguins are listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. According to a press release by BirdLife International, the spill threatens nearly half of the world's northern rockhopper population.
Earthquake shifted peninsula in Japan 17 feet
(03/20/2011) The massive March 11 Tōhoku earthquake shifted Japan's Oshika Peninsula 5.3 meters (17 feet) in a east-southeasterly direction toward the epicenter, reports Kyodo.
Pictures of tsunami devastation, including a house floating in the open ocean
(03/17/2011) The U.S. Navy released shocking pictures showing widespread devastation in Japan following last week's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and accompanying tsunami. The photos include a house floating in the open ocean, scenes of destruction in Ofunato, and piles of vehicles and debris, among others.
Before-and-after tsunami satellite pictures
(03/15/2011) Google released satellite images revealing the devastation caused by the March 11 tsunami in Japan.
Is Japan's tsunami linked to climate change?
(03/11/2011) Could the earthquake that triggered Japan's devastating tsunami be linked to climate change? The short answer is probably not, but recent research suggests that changing climate has the potential to influence earthquakes in some parts of the world
Women are key to global conservation
(03/03/2011) In 1991, my nine-year-old daughter Rachel traveled with me to Guatemala where we were struck by the heartbreaking rural poverty and mudslides worsened by widespread deforestation. We vividly remember holding a three-year-old child who was so listless and malnourished he could scarcely lift his arms. The worry and fatigue on his mother's face and the child's condition affected us both profoundly, despite Rachel's relative youth.
Dead baby dolphins washing ashore in Gulf of Mexico
(02/28/2011) Every year a few baby dolphins in the Gulf don't make it and are found on the shores of the Gulf, but this year something is different. To date, 24 baby dolphins have been found dead in Alabama and Georgia, some are stillborn, others aborted fetuses. Researchers, who say death-toll is ten times the average, are currently studying the dead porpoises for clues to cause. These could include colder-than-average waters, algal blooms, disease, or the incident in the back of everyone's mind: the BP oil spill last year.
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