Posts

World’s Forests Going Up in Smoke

A forest of Nothofagus antarctica trees burned in a fire that covered 40,000 acres in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile in 2012. (Photo by Dave McWethy) Posted for media use

A forest of Nothofagus antarctica trees burned in a fire that covered 40,000 acres in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile in 2012. (Photo by Dave McWethy) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

CONCEPCION, Chile, August 23, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Chile has replaced many of its native forests with plantation forests to supply pulp and timber mills that produce paper and wood products. As a result, highly flammable non-native pine and eucalypt forests now cover the region.

Eucalypt trees, which are native to Australia, and pine trees native to the United States contain oils and resins in their leaves that, when dry, can easily ignite.

Researchers have discovered some reasons why massive fires continue to burn through south-central Chile. Their results were published August 22, in “PLOS ONE,” an online scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science.

Lead author Dave McWethy, an assistant professor in Montana State University’s Department of Earth Sciences, received a Fulbright grant that sent him to Chile from 2015-2016 to research the wildfires and teach at the University of Concepcion.

“Chile replaced more heterogenous, less flammable native forests with structurally homogenous, flammable exotic forest plantations at a time when the climate is becoming warmer and drier,” said McWethy. “This situation will likely facilitate future fires to spread more easily and promote more large fires into the future.”

Besides low humidity, high winds and extreme temperatures – some of the same factors contributing to fires raging elsewhere in the world – central Chile is experiencing a mega-drought and large portions of its diverse native forests have been converted to more flammable tree plantations, the researchers said.

Co-author Anibal Pauchard, professor at the University of Concepcion and researcher at the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity in Chile, said wildfires have been a part of the Chilean landscape for centuries, but they have grown larger and more intense in recent decades, despite costly government efforts to control them.

“Unfortunately, fires in central Chile are promoted by increasing human ignitions, drier and hotter climate, and the availability of abundant flammable fuels associated with pine plantations and degraded shrublands dominated by invasive species,” Pauchard said.

In 2016-2017 alone, fires burned nearly 1.5 million acres of Chilean forests, almost twice the area of the U.S. state of Rhode Island. It was the largest area burned during a single fire season since detailed recordkeeping began in the early 1960s.

The devastation prompted the Chilean government to ask what land-use policies and environmental factors were behind these fires, McWethy said. That led to a national debate about preventing and reducing the consequences of future fires.

McWethy said wildfires in south-central Chile and the western U.S. are affected by many of the same conditions, but the main difference is that native forests in the western U.S. are well-adapted to fire. In Chile, most native forests in the central and southern regions are not.

To better understand the Chilean fires, the researchers compared satellite information with records from the Chilean Forest Service for 2001 through 2017. They studied eight types of vegetation, climate conditions, elevation, slope and population density across a wide range of latitudes in Chile.

“Now we have compelling evidence that after climate, landscape composition is crucial in determining fire regimes. In particular, exotic forest plantations need to be managed to purposely reduce fire hazard,” Pauchard said. “Which forestry species we plant and how we manage them matters in terms of fire frequency and intensity.”

The researchers recommend that Chile move away from exotic plantations toward more diverse, less flammable native forests.

“Protecting and restoring native forests would likely buffer the negative impacts of fires that are projected to continue to increase into the future,” McWethy said, but that will be difficult to do. “So much of the landscape has changed in south-central Chile,” he said, “that it’s going to be difficult to restore,”

Firefighter overlooks the Donnell Fire, which started from unknown causes on August 1, 2018 near Donnell Reservoir, burning into the Stanislaus National Forest. August 18, 2018 (Photo by Josiah Dewey) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Firefighter overlooks the Donnell Fire, which started from unknown causes on August 1, 2018 near Donnell Reservoir, burning into the Stanislaus National Forest. August 18, 2018 (Photo by Josiah Dewey) Creative Commons license via Flickr

North American Forests Drying and Frying

Rising average temperatures have led to forests in Western North America drying out, increasing the risk of fires.

There are 129 million dead trees in California alone. Across California, the total number of fires is trending downward, but the size of fires is going up.

The West Coast of the United States is shrouded in smoke. Currently, more than two million acres have burned in 111 large fires in 13 states. Over 1.9 million acres (768,900 hectares) are or have been ablaze.

Six new large fires were reported in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon over the weekend and eight large fires have been contained, including the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park in California.

The weather concerns in the area include warmer than average temperatures that will continue in the west with daily winds and overnight humidity recoveries that are just marginal.

The Province of British Columbia on Canada’s West Coast has declared a state of emergency as thousands of firefighters battle more than 560 wildfires.

Fifty-eight large wildfires are destroying forests across the province, filling the skies with smoke. Overall, 565 fires are threatening more than 20,000 people who are on evacuation alert or under evacuation order.

“We’re going to throw everything we’ve got at these fires, but in a lot of cases, Mother Nature is going to be in the driver’s seat,” Kevin Skrepnek, the province’s chief fire information officer, told reporters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with first responders and British Columbians displaced by the wildfires on Thursday.

Trudeau met with B.C. Premier John Horgan in the British Columbia town of Nanaimo late Tuesday afternoon, ahead of a retreat with his newly-shuffled cabinet.

“Our thoughts are with the first responders, the firefighters and the residents who are struggling through the wildfires that are raging across the province,” Trudeau said.

In eastern Canada, firefighters from across the continent, from Wisconsin and Mexico are assisting Ontario forest firefighters in their battles with one of the worst fire seasons on record.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry reports 1,108 fires across Ontario this year, compared to 618 in 2017. The 10-year average is 643 fires in the province.

Fires Sweep Europe

England’s peatland moors, Ireland, Sweden, Scandinavia and even areas north of the Arctic Circle experienced major fires over the past two months.

At least 15 EU countries have experienced more wildfires than usual for this time of year, according to figures from the European Forest Fire Information System.

The number of wildfires ravaging Europe this year is 43 percent higher than the average for the last 10 years.

Several European countries are in the grip of unprecedented wildfires. While the deadly fires in Greece now are under control, dozens of fires are blazing across Turkey, Italy and Cyprus.

With Europe in the grip of a heatwave and with little rain to ease the drought, fires have now broken out as far north as the Arctic Circle, in Sweden.

An estimated 50 fires are now burning in Sweden. Through July there were three times as many fires during this period as last year.

Jonas Olsson from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute said, “It’s very, very dry in most of Sweden. The flows in the rivers and lakes are exceptionally low, except in the very northern part of the country. We have water shortages.”

“Rainfall has only been around a seventh of the normal amount, the lowest since record-keeping began in the late 19th century,” Olsson said.

European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said, “The devastating forest fires in Sweden have highlighted once again the impact of climate change and that we are facing a new reality.”

The number of forest fires in the European Union more than doubled from 2016 to 2017, figures obtained by Euronews show. Experts blame climate change for the increase, saying it has lengthened the traditional wildfire season and raised the frequency of fires.

There were 1,671 blazes in 2017, a huge increase over the 639 the EU saw annually on average during the previous eight years.

Russian Fires Not Extinguished

This year, fires have already affected an estimated area of more than 90,000 hectares in Siberia and the Russian Far East.

Lakes in Yakutia were still frozen at the end of May, but that ice has been replaced by fire after persistent heat over Siberia.

For example, on July 29, a total of 66 wildfires covering an area of 14,888 hectares were put out over 24 hours across Russia, the press service of the Federal Aerial Forest Fire Service (FAFFS) reported.

The hardest hit by wildfires were the Krasnoyarsk Region and Yakutia, where 39,600 and 21,000 hectares of woodland respectively were engulfed in flames. About 3,200 hectares were hit by wildfires in the Magadan region, and more than 2,300 in the Irkutsk region.

These fires were not put out as the firefighting expenses exceed the forecasted damage, FAFFS stated.

The northern part of the world is warming faster than the planet as a whole, says the World Meteorological Organization. That heat is drying out forests and making them more susceptible to burning. A recent study found Earth’s boreal forests are now burning at a rate unseen in at least 10,000 years.

Featured Image:  Polish firefighters in action combating the wildfires Sweden. July 24, 2018 (Photo by Pavel Koubek / European Union) Creative Commons license via Flickr


MAXIMPACT_TRAINING

Seven Brave Activists Win Goldman Environmental Prize

2018 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners: top row, from left, AFRICA: Makoma Lekalakala and Liziwe McDaid, South Africa; ASIA: Khanh Nguy Thi, Vietnam; EUROPE: Claire Nouvian, France; bottom row, from left, ISLANDS: Manny Calonzo, The Philippines; NORTH AMERICA: LeeAnne Walters, United States; SOUTH AMERICA: Francia Márquez, Colombia. (Photo courtesy Goldman Environmental Foundation) Posted for media use

2018 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners: top row, from left, AFRICA: Makoma Lekalakala and Liziwe McDaid, South Africa; ASIA: Khanh Nguy Thi, Vietnam; EUROPE: Claire Nouvian, France; bottom row, from left, ISLANDS: Manny Calonzo, The Philippines; NORTH AMERICA: LeeAnne Walters, United States; SOUTH AMERICA: Francia Márquez, Colombia. (Photo courtesy Goldman Environmental Foundation) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 24, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – The Goldman Environmental Foundation Monday announced seven recipients of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest award for grassroots environmental activists. The honor comes with a no-strings-attached award of US$175,000 per recipient.

Awarded annually to environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continental regions, the Goldman Environmental Prize recognizes grassroots activists for important achievements to protect the environment.

The Goldman Environmental Prize provides international recognition that enhances the credibility of the winners and worldwide visibility for the issues they champion.

Established to express their longtime commitment to both philanthropic endeavors and environmental concerns, the founders, insurance company owner Richard Goldman and his wife, Rhoda Goldman, an heiress to the Levi Strauss fortune, envisioned the Goldman Environmental Prize as a way to demonstrate the international nature of environmental problems.

They aimed to draw public attention to global issues of critical importance, reward ordinary individuals for outstanding grassroots environmental achievements, and inspire others to emulate the examples set by the prize recipients.

The first Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony, timed to coincide with Earth Day, took place on April 16, 1990, Richard Goldman’s 70th birthday. Both Richard and Rhoda Goldman have passed away, but their work lives on in the Goldman Environmental Prize winners.

The 2018 winners were awarded the prize at an invitation-only ceremony Monday evening at the San Francisco Opera House. A ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC, will follow on Wednesday, April 25, at 7:30 pm EDT.

The 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners are:

AFRICA: Makoma Lekalakala and Liziwe McDaid, South Africa

As grassroots activists, Makoma Lekalakala and Liziwe McDaid built a broad coalition to stop the South African government’s secret nuclear deal with Russia.

In April 2017, the High Court ruled that the $76 billion nuclear power project was unconstitutional – a legal victory that protected South Africa from an unprecedented expansion of the nuclear industry and production of radioactive waste.

The nuclear industry promotes nuclear energy as green energy, but the negative environmental impacts of the nuclear industry are substantial. For every pound of enriched uranium that goes into a nuclear reactor, more than 25,000 pounds of radioactive waste are produced in the mining and processing of uranium.

Used reactor fuel remains hot for hundreds of years and radioactive for thousands of years.

South Africa currently has one nuclear power station, Koeberg, operated by the state-owned electric utility, Eskom. Koeberg’s spent reactor fuel, high-level radioactive waste, is retained in storage ponds on site, and Eskom has not found a long-term solution for its disposal.

Since the 1980s, nuclear waste from the reactor has been buried in the Namaqualand desert, home to the indigenous Nama people, who were not consulted about the location of the nuclear waste site.

In 2014, South Africa’s government made a secret deal with Russia to develop 9.6 gigawatts of nuclear energy by building eight to 10 nuclear power stations throughout South Africa. The US$76 billion deal was unprecedented in scope and cost, and assigned all liability for nuclear accidents to South Africa.

The proposed site of the first new nuclear station was on the coast of Port Elizabeth, where warm water discharged by the nuclear station’s cooling system would have raised the temperature of the ocean, harming marine life and jeopardizing the livelihoods of small-scale fishermen in the area.

The reactor’s proposed location also put it at risk from seismic activity, with the potential to spark an accident like the nuclear meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011.

Lekalakala, 53, was raised in the Johannesburg neighborhood of Soweto and is the director for Earthlife Africa<earthlife.org.za>, a volunteer-driven organization that mobilizes South Africans around environmental issues. Lekalakala got her start as a youth activist through her church, moving to trade unions, then women’s rights, social and economic justice, and now environmental justice.

Says Lekalakala, “The nuclear deal was, and potentially still is, a major threat to the livelihood of South African citizens and our quality of life. There are other ways of generating energy, ways that are clean and affordable, and put the power in the hands of the people. It is important, for our sustainability, that we start thinking differently about how we satisfy our energy needs. It is not sensible to think that what used to work in the past, can still apply now, particularly since the evidence is overwhelming against nuclear technology and fossil fuels.”

McDaid, 55, grew up in Cape Town and is the climate change coordinator for Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute, an interfaith environmental organization dedicated to confronting environmental injustice. She has campaigned against nuclear energy for decades, thwarting previous attempts by South Africa to develop a nuclear industry.

McDaid said, “The risks with nuclear are just too high. I believe that if people have the facts, they will choose differently. This is what we are doing through our campaigning. For example, there is so much we don’t know about the future impacts of nuclear waste, which continues to grow every year. Koeberg alone generates approximately 30 tons of high level waste per year, all stored at the plant. Furthermore, the Chernobyl disaster, which happened 39 years ago this week, and Fukushima still continue to provide evidence of the enormous risks of nuclear.”

Lekalakala and McDaid met with communities around the country and explained the financial risks and environmental and human health impacts of the Russian nuclear project. McDaid organized weekly anti-nuclear vigils in front of the Parliament in Cape Town. Lekalakala and McDaid organized marches and public rallies against the nuclear project, protesting across South Africa.

On April 26, 2017, the Western Cape High Court ruled that the nuclear deal was unconstitutional, invalidating the agreement and stopping the nuclear power project.

ASIA: Khanh Nguy Thi, Vietnam

Khanh Nguy Thi used scientific research and engaged Vietnamese state agencies to advocate for sustainable long-term energy projections in Vietnam.

Highlighting the cost and environmental impacts of coal power, she partnered with state officials to reduce coal dependency and move toward a greener energy future.

As its economy booms, Vietnam’s electricity needs have been growing at roughly 12 percent per year for the past decade. Vietnam is one of four Asian nations that lead the world in new coal plant construction. As the dirtiest form of electricity generation, coal is responsible for 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is a major source of air and water pollution.

In 2011, the Vietnamese government published its 2011-2020 Power Development Plan, which forecast the country’s future energy needs and called for 75,000 megawatts of coal-fired power by 2030. A 2015 Harvard University study concluded that about 20,000 citizens per year would die prematurely as a result of air pollution if all proposed coal plants were built in Vietnam.

Khanh Nguy Thi, 41, was born into a rural family in Bac Am, a village in northern Vietnam. Growing up near a coal plant, she experienced firsthand the pollution and dust from coal operations and witnessed many people in her community develop cancer. After graduating from college, she began working on water conservation issues and community development for a small Vietnamese nonprofit organization.

In 2011, Nguy Thi founded the Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID) to promote sustainable energy development in Vietnam, as well as good water and air governance and green development.

She also established the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance, a network of 11 Vietnamese and international environmental and social organizations that collaborate on regional energy issues. She is deeply focused on engaging with experts and decision makers on renewable energy and energy efficiency in order to reduce dependence on fossil fuel and coal power.

Her activities stimulated extensive media coverage and widespread public debate about coal, which allowed Nguy Thi and GreenID to collaborate with the Vietnamese government on a revised energy development plan.

In January 2016, the government announced that it intended to review development plans for all new coal plants and affirmed Vietnam’s commitment to responsibly implement international commitments for reducing greenhouse gases.

EUROPE: Claire Nouvian, France

A defender of the oceans and marine life, Claire Nouvian led a focused, data-driven advocacy campaign against the destructive fishing practice of deep-sea bottom trawling, successfully pressuring French supermarket giant and fleet owner Intermarché to change its fishing practices.

Her coalition of advocates ultimately secured French support for a ban on deep-sea bottom trawling that led to an European Union-wide ban.

In the 1980s, traditionally strong stocks of Atlantic cod and other white fish along the northeast Atlantic continental shelf began to collapse from overfishing. Fishermen ventured farther out to sea and into deeper waters in search of unexploited fishing grounds.

Most deep-sea fish grow slowly and reproduce late, making them vulnerable to overfishing. By the early 2000s, deep sea fish populations were severely depleted.

In Europe, the main deep-sea fleet was French and belonged to supermarket chain Intermarché. The fleet, like many others in Europe, used a method known as bottom trawling, one of the most destructive forms of fishing in which boats tow a heavily-weighted net that is dragged back and forth over the seafloor.

The 10 French deep-sea bottom trawlers could destroy an area the size of Paris in two days.

Marine animals picked up as bycatch are thrown overboard and rarely survive. One observer likened the practice to “clear-cutting a forest to catch a few birds.”

Nouvian, 44, grew up in Algiers, Paris, and Hong Kong, the daughter of a recreational fisherman. In her 20s, Nouvian spent time in Argentina, where she experienced an environmental awakening that inspired her to work for the environment, initially as a wildlife filmmaker and journalist.

After filming a documentary at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, Nouvian became passionate about the deep sea.

In 2005, Nouvian founded the NGO BLOOM to preserve marine environments from unnecessary destruction, and soon began to build relationships with other organizations and experts to fight deep-sea trawling.

In 2008, as the EU was developing reforms of its deep-sea fisheries laws, Nouvian saw a window of opportunity to influence policy at both the French and EU levels. She began collaborating with other activists to lobby French politicians on the need for new fisheries legislation.

In June 2012, Nouvian won a legal battle against Intermarché for its ad campaign that falsely claimed that its fishing practices posed no harm to the marine environment.

The following year, she began a public consumer campaign that ranked French supermarkets according to their fishing practices, focusing on deep-water fish and each supermarket’s commitment to sustainable fishing. With the largest and most destructive fishing fleet, Intermarché came in last in the ranking.

Throughout 2013, Nouvian continued a media blitz, with giant public posters, newspapers ads, press statements, media interviews, and fact-based reports, all in opposition to destructive deep-sea fishing. In December 2013, public pressure on Intermarché prompted the supermarket chain to begin negotiations with Nouvian.

In January 2014, Intermarché announced that it would no longer fish below 2,600 feet (800 meters) and would phase out the sale of deep-sea species by 2025.

Still, France remained one of the only EU member countries opposed to any regulation of deep-sea bottom trawling, so Nouvian launched a new media campaign pressuring the French government to change its position. In November 2015, in response to overwhelming public pressure, France finally agreed to a ban on deep-sea bottom trawling below a depth of 800 meters. In 2016, all EU member states collectively adopted the ban.

Today, Nouvian and BLOOM are collaborating with Intermarché to deepen its sustainability practices. With BLOOM, Nouvian is now actively working to end fishing subsidies that encourage overfishing and destructive fishing practices around the world.

ISLANDS: Manny Calonzo, The Philippines

Manny Calonzo spearheaded an advocacy campaign that persuaded the Philippine government to enact a national ban on the production, use, and sale of lead paint. He then led the development of a third-party certification program to ensure that paint manufacturers meet this standard. As of 2017, 85 percent of the paint market in the Philippines has been certified as lead safe.

The hazards of lead paint have been well-documented and regulated in developed nations for more than 40 years. But lead paint remains a major environmental health issue in developing countries, including the Philippines. Studies conducted in the early 2000s revealed startlingly high levels of lead in decorative paint in more than 30 developing countries, showing lead levels routinely above 600 parts per million (ppm), and often higher than 10,000 ppm. The United States allows lead levels of no more than 90 ppm.

Lead is added to paint to help it dry smoother, faster, and be more opaque. High quality, cost-effective alternatives to lead ingredients exist and are used in developed countries.

Unlike many environmental health issues, the science on lead poisoning is indisputable. Studies have shown that the presence of lead paint on home interiors and exteriors is strongly linked to lead levels in children’s blood. Over time, paint on surfaces will chip and deteriorate, which releases lead into the dust and soil around homes, schools, and other locations. Children playing in these environments get the soil or dust on their hands and ingest it through normal hand-to-mouth contact.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin; even low levels of lead exposure can impair children’s cognitive function. Childhood lead poisoning can have lifelong health impacts, including learning disabilities, reduced IQ, anemia, and disorders in physical, visual, spatial, and language skills.

Calonzo, 54, grew up in the city of Makati in metro Manila and has worked on consumer and human rights issues for over 30 years. He is a past president of the EcoWaste Coalition, a Philippine network of more than 150 community, church, school, environmental, and health groups that work for sustainable solutions to waste, climate change, and the control of toxic chemicals.

After his term as president ended, he launched the EcoWaste campaign for lead-safe paint. In 2008, spurred by mounting international concerns about lead paint, Calonzo created a national, evidence-based campaign in the Philippines to eliminate lead paint.

In 2009, EcoWaste found that the majority of paint sold in the Philippines contained levels of lead above 90 ppm, and more than 40 percent of the paint contained lead levels over 10,000 ppm.

Under Calonzo’s leadership, EcoWaste conducted studies over the next four years, examining the lead content of paint and dust found in the environment surrounding Philippine homes, schools, and daycare centers.

Calonzo organized more than 100 public and media events to raise awareness and called for a mandatory standard for lead in paint.

Calonzo built alliances with members from the health sector and academia, organized news conferences on the hazards of lead exposure. He reached out to the paint industry to build partnerships and secured its support for eliminating lead in paint.

In December 2013, the Philippine government announced the Chemical Control Order, establishing a legal maximum of 90 ppm for lead in paint.

Calonzo worked with the paint industry and developed a plan for a voluntary, third-party program to certify that paints contain less than 90 ppm of lead so consumers could distinguish between lead-safe paints and those that contained unknown levels of lead.

In July 2016, the two top paint companies operating in the Philippines were certified as lead-safe by the program that Calonzo helped create. By January 2017, 85 percent of the paint market had been certified as lead safe and Philippine schools now require use of certified paint, protecting millions of Filipino children under the age of six from lead exposure.

Calonzo is now spreading the Philippine model across Asia, partnering with local organizations to oversee studies of lead in paint in Mongolia, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and introducing the certification program to paint brands in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

NORTH AMERICA: LeeAnne Walters, United States

LeeAnne Walters led a citizens’ movement that tested the tap water in Flint, Michigan, and exposed the Flint water crisis. The results showed that one in six homes had lead levels in water that exceeded the EPA’s safety threshold. Walters’ persistence compelled the government to take action and ensure that residents of Flint have access to clean water.

The Flint River has served as a traditional dumping ground for local industry, starting with lumber mills in the 1830s, followed by paper mills, chemical processing plants, and automobile manufacturing. The city began drawing its drinking water from the Flint River in 1893.

By 1955, the river was so polluted that Flint was compelled to switch its drinking water supply to a nearby reservoir. In 1967, the city began purchasing cleaner water from Detroit, which sources its water from Lake Huron.

In 2011, with the city of Flint facing a $25 million deficit, the state of Michigan took over Flint’s finances. The state found that it could save money by building its own pipeline to Lake Huron. However, the project would take at least two years to complete, and the state sought an inexpensive, temporary alternative. In April 2014, state and local officials began using the Flint River as the city’s primary source of water again.

Almost immediately, Flint residents noticed an orange-brown tinge to their water. When city officials finally tested the water four months later, they found E. coli in the water supply.

Walters, 40, is a stay-at-home mother of four children and a native of New Jersey who has lived in Flint since 1993. Married to a Navy serviceman, Walters and her family now divide their time between Flint and Norfolk, Virginia, where her husband is currently stationed. She adores Flint and describes it as a tight-knit, friendly community where she knows most of her neighbors.

In July 2014, Walters noticed a rash on both of her three-year-old twins. Walters and her daughter began losing clumps of hair in the shower, and Walters’ eyelashes fell out. In December 2014, Walters’ 14-year-old son fell ill.

Walters first informed the city of the water problem in late 2014, but it was not until February 2015 that the city sent someone to check on her complaints. Tests revealed that lead levels in her drinking water were at 104 parts per billion (ppb), unprecedented levels for Flint, so high that a city is required to alert residents immediately, according to federal law.

Alarmed, Walters began researching. She learned that lead is a powerful neurotoxin that impacts young children. Lead exposure can result in a lower IQ, shortened attention span, increases in violence, and antisocial behavior. Each of Walters’ four children tested positive for lead exposure, and one of the twins was diagnosed with lead poisoning.

Still, state authorities assured Flint residents that the water was safe, and the city insisted that hers was an isolated case. Walters studied the city’s historical water quality data and noticed something that no one else had. Water from the Flint River was highly corrosive, and Walters surmised that the city had not been applying adequate corrosion controls to prevent the leaching of lead from pipes into the water supply.

In the absence of any official response, she launched an organizing and canvassing operation to inform residents of the risk.

In March 2015, Walters sought help from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Miguel del Toral, a regional manager who helped her document the crisis, even as the EPA officially refused to get involved.

Walters sought the help of Professor Marc Edwards, an environmental engineer at Virginia Tech, who helped her conduct extensive water quality testing in Flint.

Walters sampled each zip code in Flint and set up a system to ensure the integrity of the tests. Working 100 hours per week for three straight weeks and collected over 800 water samples – a 90 percent response rate. She found lead levels as high as 13,200 ppb – more than twice the level the EPA classifies as hazardous waste.

Walters and Edwards showed that one in six homes had lead water levels exceeding the EPA’s legal safety threshold. Public pressure mounted and, in October 2015, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced that the city of Flint would stop using the Flint River for drinking water.

SOUTH AMERICA: Francia Márquez, Colombia

A leader of the Afro-Colombian community, Francia Márquez organized the women of La Toma and stopped illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. She exerted pressure on the Colombian government and spearheaded a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women to the nation’s capital, resulting in the removal of all illegal miners and equipment from her community.

Illegal gold mining is a growing problem in Colombia, where 80 percent of gold is mined unlawfully, resulting in deforestation and contamination of water sources. Illegal gold miners are estimated to dump more than 30 tons of mercury into rivers and lakes in the Amazon region each year, poisoning fish and people as far as 250 miles downstream.

La Toma sits in the Cauca Mountains of southwest Colombia, at the epicenter of the country’s illegal gold mining epidemic. The region is home to a quarter million Afro-Colombians, originally brought as slaves from Africa. The Afro-Colombian community has practiced agriculture and artisanal mining for generations, panning for gold in the Ovejas River. The Ovejas is the lifeblood of the community, providing water to drink and fish to eat year-round.

In 2014, illegal miners began operating 14 backhoes on the banks of the Ovejas River near La Toma, wreaking havoc on the local environment. They cleared forests and dug deep open pits, destroying the natural flow of the river and killing fish. About 2,000 backhoes dotted the Cauca region.

Hordes of illegal miners, numbering in the thousands, descended on the open pits in a rush for gold. Illegal miners used mercury and cyanide to extract the gold, and these toxic chemicals flowed into the Ovejas River, contaminating the community’s only source of fresh water.

Mining camps became small cities, with populations of up to 5,000 people. These cities gave rise to prostitution, illegal drug use, and rampant violence as miners preyed upon and clashed with local residents.

Márquez, 36, is a single mother of two who was born in Yolombo, a village in the Cauca region. She first became an activist at 13, when construction of a dam threatened her community.

As a young woman, Márquez took on the struggle for environmental and ancestral land rights, beating back incursions into La Toma by multi-national mining companies. She educated farmers in her region on sustainable agricultural techniques and joined the national Afro-Colombian network to promote Afro-Colombian cultural and land rights. She is now studying law at Santiago de Cali University.

In 2014, the first backhoes arrived in La Toma. Márquez put her legal studies on hold and returned to La Toma. She directly confronted the backhoe operators, to no avail. Undeterred, she gathered community members to plan a strategy.

Márquez appealed to the UN High Commissioner for Colombia, then organized a 10-day, 350-kilometer march of 80 women who trekked from the Cauca Mountains to the capital city Bogota in November 2014. In Bogota, Márquez and the women protested on the streets for 22 days. The march and protest brought national attention to the environmental and social destruction that illegal mining was causing.

In December 2014, Márquez and the community of La Toma reached an agreement with the Colombian government to eradicate illegal mining there. All machinery and backhoes found to be operating illegally would be seized and destroyed. As a direct result of Márquez’s work, by the end of 2016, all illegal mining machinery operating in La Toma had been physically removed or destroyed by Colombian security forces.

In 2015, the government created a national task force on illegal mining, the first of its kind in Colombia.

Throughout the 2014-2016 campaign to combat illegal mining in La Toma, Márquez was harassed, disrespected, and threatened. She was forced to move to Cali for her safety. Still, Márquez continues to press the government to study the effects of illegal mining in the northern Cauca region, especially the contamination of the Ovejas and other rivers.

Independent reports show mercury levels of up to 500 parts per billion in those critical water sources, while Colombian standards permit up to one part per billion in drinking water. Mercury and cyanide contamination of water continues to cause serious health problems for the people of La Toma and the wider region.

Márquez is now seeking to represent the Afro-Colombian community, and its stewardship of its ancestral land, in the Colombian House of Representatives.

Featured Image:2018 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners from Africa, Liziwe McDaid, left, and Makoma Lekalakala. (Photo courtesy Goldman Environmental Foundation) Posted for media use


Precious Sites Awarded World Heritage Status

Part of the newly inscribed World Heritage natural site Qinghai Hoh Xil on the Tibetan Plateau (Photo by Mark Meng) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Part of the newly inscribed World Heritage natural site Qinghai Hoh Xil on the Tibetan Plateau (Photo by Mark Meng) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

KRAKOW, Poland, July 13, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – The world has three new sites of outstanding natural value designated for protection by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which just concluded a 10-day meeting in Krakow.

During the session, the Committee inscribed a total of 21 new sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List – the three natural sites as well as 18 cultural sites. The new inscriptions bring to 1,073 the total number of sites on the World Heritage List.

The new World Heritage natural sites are on the Tibetan Plateau; in an Argentinian national park; and landscapes shared by Mongolia and Russia.

The Committee also extended or modified the boundaries of two natural sites already on the World Heritage List. The Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe, spanning 12 countries, were expanded; and so was the W-Arly-Pendjari Complex in West Africa.

The W-Arly-Pendjari ecological complex is an expanse of intact Sudano-sahelian savanna, important for its wetlands and its bird habitat. The two core areas of the complex are the W Regional Park straddling the borders of Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger, and the Arly Total Faunal Reserve and Pendjari National Park in Benin and Burkina Faso.

During its 10-day session, the World Heritage Committee also approved the withdrawal two African sites from the List of World Heritage in Danger – the Simien National Park in Ethiopia, and Comoé National Park in Côte d’Ivoire.

One of the largest protected areas in West Africa, Comoé National Park, was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2003 due to farming, illegal gold mining, poaching and political instability.

Comoé National Park is the first World Heritage site to be removed from the Danger List in more than 10 years in West and Central Africa, a region where half the 20 natural World Heritage sites are considered to be in danger.

Now, species populations in Comoé National Park are on the rise for the first time in nearly 15 years, due to effective management of the park following stabilization of the political situation in 2012.

A field mission by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) earlier this year confirmed encouraging numbers of chimpanzees and elephants, which were thought to have disappeared from the park. Around 300 chimps and 120 elephants are believed to live in Comoé National Park today.

“Comoé National Park serves as an inspiration, and shows that the recovery of World Heritage sites impacted by civil unrest is possible,” said Badman.

Water buffalo in West Africa's newly expanded W-Arly-Pendjari Complex (Photo by Gray Tappan courtesy U.S. Geological Survey) Public domain

Water buffalo in West Africa’s newly expanded W-Arly-Pendjari Complex (Photo by Gray Tappan courtesy U.S. Geological Survey) Public domain

The three new natural World Heritage sites are:

Qinghai Hoh Xil on the Tibetan Plateau

In China, the committee inscribed Qinghai Hoh Xil, located in the far northeast of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, the largest and highest plateau in the world.

This extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems is situated more than 4,500 meters (14,763 feet) above sea level, where average temperatures never rise above zero.

More than one third of the plant species, and all the herbivorous mammals are endemic to the plateau, found nowhere else in on Earth.

The World Heritage designation secures the complete migratory route of the Tibetan antelope, one of the endangered large mammals endemic to the plateau.

Landscapes Of Dauria, Shared by Mongolia and Russia 

This site is an outstanding example of the Daurian Steppe eco-region, which extends from eastern Mongolia into Russian Siberia and north-eastern China.

Cyclical climate changes, with distinct dry and wet periods lead to a wide diversity of species and ecosystems of global significance.

The different types of steppe represented, such as grassland and forest, as well as lakes and wetlands serve as habitats for rare species of fauna, such as the White-Naped crane and the Great bustard, as well as millions of vulnerable, endangered or threatened migratory birds.

It is also a critical site on the migration path for the Mongolian gazelle.

Argentina’s Los Alerces National Park

The Los Alerces National Park is located in the Andes of northern Patagonia; its western boundary is at the Chilean border.

Successive glaciations have moulded the landscape in the region creating spectacular features such as moraines, glacial cirques and clear water lakes.

The vegetation is dominated by dense temperate forests, which give way to alpine meadows higher up under the rocky Andean peaks.

This new World Heritage Site is vital for the protection of some of the last portions of continuous Patagonian Forest in an almost pristine state. It is the habitat for many endemic and threatened species of plants and animals.

Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Ukraine.

This transboundary extension of the World Heritage site of the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany stretches over 12 countries.

Since the end of the last Ice Age, European beech spread from a few isolated refuges in the Alps, Carpathians, Mediterranean and Pyrenees over a short period of a few thousand years in a process that is still ongoing.

This successful expansion of beech forest is related to the tree’s flexibility and tolerance of different climatic, geographical and physical conditions.

Yet another European forest is at great risk, the World Heritage Committee warned.

One of the few remaining primeval forests on the European continent, Bialowieza Forest was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979 as one of the first World Heritage sites. The site was extended twice, in 1992 and 2014 until today it covers 141,885 hectares across the Polish-Belarusian boarder.

During its 2017 session, the committee adopted a decision urging Poland to immediately halt all logging in the old-growth forests of Bialowieza. These forests are inhabited by the European bison, more than 250 bird species and over 12,000 invertebrate species.

The committee’s warning follows the advice of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, the official advisory body on nature to the World Heritage Committee.

“The old-growth forests of Bialowieza are one of the main reasons why it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” said Tim Badman, director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “It is critically important – and a global responsibility – that the Outstanding Universal Value of this ancient forest be preserved for future generations.”

Poland has been logging in Bialowieza Forest although the site is protected under the European Union’s Natura 2000 initiative. The forest was the subject of European Commission’s announcement of an infringement procedure against Poland, which declared that increased logging in Bialowieza is likely to cause irreparable biodiversity loss.

“IUCN remains concerned with the activity in Bialowieza and will work with Poland to find the right management solutions to preserve this unique European site,” said Luc Bas, director of IUCN’s European Regional Office.

IUCN plans to engage with Poland to carry out a monitoring mission to Bialowieza to assess the situation and identify and agree on adequate measures to conserve the site.

Should danger to the site’s Outstanding Universal Value be confirmed, the Bialowieza Forest will be considered for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2018.

UNESCO regards World Heritage sites as being important to the collective interests of humanity.

The sites are legally protected by an international treaty, the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on November 16, 1972, it came into force on December 17, 1975 and now includes nearly all countries in the world.

What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.

But the IUCN warns that illegal fishing, logging and poaching are affecting two-thirds of the 57 natural World Heritage sites monitored by the organization this year, putting some of the world’s most precious and unique ecosystems and species at risk.

“It is alarming that even our planet’s greatest natural treasures are under pressure from illegal activities,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “World Heritage sites are recognized as the planet’s most unique and valuable places, for nature and for people. If destroyed, they are lost forever.

“World Heritage status is designed to grant these places the highest level of protection, and we as the international community are responsible for the effectiveness of this protection,” said Andersen. “Only through strong international cooperation can we eliminate the illegal and unsustainable practices that are having such a devastating impact on these extraordinary places.”


CapacityBuilding

Featured Image: Lake Rivadavia is a lake of glacial origin located in Argentina’s Los Alerces National Park, a newly inscribed Worth Heritage site. Nov. 2016 (Photo by Linda De Volder) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Russia’s Bright Renewable Energy Future

RussiaSolarPanelsa

By Sunny Lewis

MOSCOW, Russia, January 7, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – A fully renewable energy system for Russia and Central Asia by 2030 is achievable and economically viable, finds newly published research by Finnish scientists.

Although fossil-fuel rich Russia is now the world’s largest exporter of oil and natural gas, a completely renewable energy system for the region would be half the cost of a system based on carbon capture and storage or even on the latest European nuclear technology, the Finns calculate.

Researchers from Lappeenranta University of Technology modeled a renewable energy system for Russia and Central Asia. Results show that renewable energy is the cheapest option for the continent and can make Russia an energy competitive region in the future.

“We think that this is the first ever 100 percent renewable energy system modeling for Russia and Central Asia,” said Professor Christian Breyer, co-author of the study.

“It demonstrates that Russia can become one of the most energy-competitive regions in the world,” Breyer said.

Moving to a renewable energy system is possible due to the abundance of various types of renewable energy resources in the study area. It would enable the building of a Super Grid, connecting the different energy resources – wind, hydropower, solar, biomass and some geothermal energy.

Wind power amounts to about 60 percent of Russia’s renewable energy production, while solar, geothermal, biomass and hydropower make up the remaining 40 percent.

The total installed capacity of renewable energy in the system today is about 550 gigawatts.

While hydropower is the most used form of renewable energy in Russia, geothermal is the second most used form of renewable energy, but it represents less than one percent of the country’s total energy production.

The first geothermal power plant in Russia was built at Pauzhetka, Kamchatka, in 1966, with a capacity of 5 MW. By 2005, the total geothermal installed capacity was 79 MW, with 50 MW coming from a plant at Verkhne-Mutnovsky.

Russia has developed a new 100 MW geothermal power plant at Mutnovsky and a 50 MW plant in Kaliningrad.

The Mutnovsky geothermal steam field has been under exploration for 20 years, and to date more than 90 wells have been drilled.

Most geothermal resources are used for heating settlements in the North Caucasus and Kamchatka. Half of the geothermal production is used to heat homes and industrial buildings, one-third is used to heat greenhouses and 13 percent is used for industrial processes.

In October 2010, Sergei Shmatko, then Russia’s energy minister, said that Russia and Iceland would work together to develop Kamchatka’s geothermal energy sources. Russia is also investigating foreign investment possibilities for developing geothermal energy in the Kuril Islands.

The geographical area of the Finnish research covers much of the northern hemisphere. In addition to Russia, the research area includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan as well as the Caucasus and Pamir regions including Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and Kirgizstan and Tajikistan.

Many of the countries in the area are currently reliant on the production and use of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

One of the key insights of the research is that energy sectors’ integration lowers the cost of electricity by 20 percent for Russia and Central Asia.

The more renewable capacity is built, the more it can be used for different sectors: heating, transportation and industry. This flexibility of the system decreases the need for storages and lowers the cost of energy.

The research was done as part of Neo-Carbon Energy research project, which has previously shown that a renewable energy system is also economically sensible in North-East Asia, South-East Asia, South America and Finland.

Russia’s renewable energy sector may be tiny today, but it’s growing.

On December 20, Russia’s largest wind power developer, Wind Energy Systems LLC, announced that it joined the Russian Association of Wind Power Industry (RAWI).

Established in 2009 as non-commercial partnership, today RAWI membership includes more than 40 Russian and foreign organizations as members, working toward development of the Russian wind power market.

RAWI aims to develop the wind power market in Russia as development of wind farms, and the localization of production of wind turbines in Russia.

RAWI members and partners include major international manufacturers of wind turbines, developers and expert companies, educational institutions and administrative and diplomatic organizations.

Solar power is attracting attention, and funding too.

On December 18, the trading system administrator OJSC ATS, a subsidiary of the NP Market Council, announced the results of selection of investment projects for the construction of generating facilities using renewable energy sources for the years 2016 – 2019.

Russia approved 280 megawatts (MW) of solar and 35 MW of wind power projects in its third renewable energy tender.

The government has authorized eight solar projects with a combined capacity of 95 MW by Avelar Solar Technologies, a unit of Hevel Solar.

Also, Solar Systems and T Plus won contracts for 50 MW and 135 MW, respectively.

At the same time, Fortum OAO was awarded a 35-MW wind project in Russia’s Ulyanovsk Oblast. In addition, the government approved two 24.9 MW hydropower projects.

According to a recent report by GlobalData, Russia’s cumulative installed non-hydro renewable power capacity is expected to grow to 2.87 GW by 2025, with the country realizing a tiny portion of its potential.

Last year, the country approved 557 MW of renewable energy projects, most of which were solar.

Viktor Vekselberg, Technopark-Skolkowo MOU 05

Viktor Vekselberg, one of Russia’s oil billionaires, has been developing solar power with his Hevel solar venture.

Hevel LLC, a joint venture of Vekselberg’s Renova Group and state-owned Rusnano founded in 2009, is the largest integrated solar power company in Russia. Hevel Solar is expected to construct 22.5 billion rubles ($450 million) worth of solar projects through the year 2018.

In 2015 Hevel launched Russia’s first full-cycle plant for the manufacture of solar cells. Located in Novocheboksarsk, Chuvash Republic, it has the capacity to manufacture 97.5 MW annually of thin-film solar modules.

The new plant will produce thin-film solar cells by deposition of nanolayers, reducing use of silicon – the main raw material in solar energy equipment – by up to 200 times.

These solar cells can generate electricity even in cloudy weather, which makes them well suited to the Russian climate.

The Hevel modules will be used for the construction of solar power plants for people living in remote areas of Russia. The company expects to build solar power plants with a total capacity greater than 500 megawatts by the end of 2020.

On October 29, 2015 Hevel and Rusnano launched the first stage of a 10 MW solar power plant in Buribay, Republic of Bashkortostan. The launch command was given via TV bridge by the Minister of Energy of Russia Aleksander Novak, High-Tech Assets Development Director of Renova Group Mikhail Lifshitz and Chairman of the Executive Board of Rusnano Anatoly Chubais from the Open Innovations Forum.

The Kosh-Agach solar power plant in Russia’s Altai Republic is already operational, and design and construction work is now underway on large solar power plants in the Orenburg and Saratov regions and also in other parts of the country.

To set up a solar power R&D center, Hevel is partnering with the Ioffe Science and Technology Center in St. Petersburg, the only scientific organization in Russia that conducts solar energy research and development.

One of the main drivers behind the push to renewables is the idea that diversifying power generation will benefit the country.

In fact, overall, Russia appears to be paying more attention to environmental issues.

On January 5, President Vladimir Putin signed an Executive Order resolving to hold the Year of the Environment in the Russian Federation in 2017. Putin said the Year of the Environment would help to attract public attention to Russia’s environmental issues, preserving biodiversity and ensuring environmental security.

RussiaSolarPanelsSunlight copy


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image: The sun shines on icy, snowy Russia as Avelar Solar executives cut the ribbon, opening a new solar power facility. (Photo courtesy Avelar Solar Technologies)
Head image: Russian snows are now dotted with solar arrays. (Photo courtesy Avelar Solar Technologies)
Image 01: Viktor Vekselberg, Russian oil billionaire and solar power mogul, 2010 (Photo by Jürg Vollmer) under creative commons license via Flickr
Image 02: The company Avelar Solar Technology, a division of Hevel LLC, was established in 2011 to promote projects in the field of solar energy in Russia and the CIS countries.