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Achtergrond: Jay Huang (cc)
Foto: Rhett Butler (Mongabay)

Top 10 goed milieunieuws uit 2013

Op Sargasso besteden we regelmatig aandacht aan klimaatverandering en falende overheden om dat tegen te gaan. Maar als het om klimaat/milieu gaat, is het niet alleen maar kommer en kwel. Zusterblog Mongabay maakte een top 10 van vrolijk milieunieuws van het afgelopen jaar.

1. China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions

As China’s environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world’s largest consumer of coal, China’s growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation’s emissions could peak within the decade. If China’s emissions begin to fall, so too could the world’s. 

2. Zero deforestation pacts

Two major commodity producers in Asia announced zero deforestation pacts, while several buyers also established safeguards for commodity sourcing. Both Asia Pulp & Paper, a paper products giant widely condemned by environmentalists for its destructive forest practices, and Wilmar, a Singapore-based agribusiness giant that accounts for 45 percent of global palm oil production, committed to progressive forest policies that exclude conversion of forests with more than 35 tons of above ground biomass, peatlands, and habitats with high conservation value. The moves are part of a broader shift among major commodity producers toward adopting social and environmental safeguards. The transition has been hastened by targeted activist campaigns.

Foto: Kevin Buehler (cc)

Gold mining in Amazon rainforest surges 400%

NIEUWS - The extent of gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon has surged 400 percent since 1999 due to rocketing gold prices, wreaking havoc on forests and devastating local rivers, finds a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The assessment, led by Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science, is based on a combination of satellite imagery, on-the-ground field surveys, and an advanced airplane-based sensor that can accurately measure the rainforest canopy and sub-canopy vegetation at a resolution of 1.1 meters (42 inches). The approach enabled the researchers to detect changes in forest cover in areas as small as 10 square meters, roughly 100 square feet, allowing them to map thousands of small, clandestine mines that had never before been detected at scale.

The results are sobering: the extent of gold mines in the Madre de Dios region of Peru increased from less than 10,000 hectares in 1999 to more than 50,000 hectares as of September 2012. The rate of expansion jumped from 5,350 acres (2,166 ha) per year before 2008 to 15,180 acres (6,145 ha) per year thereafter. Surging gold prices, combined with increased access to the region granted by new roads, are thought to be driving the spike in mining activity.

Foto: Michael Coghlan (cc)

What if companies had to pay?

ACHTERGROND - A recent report shows the cost of various industries on our natural capital.

The environment is a public good. We all share and depend on clean water, a stable atmosphere, and abundant biodiversity for survival, not to mention health and societal well-being. But under our current global economy, industries can often destroy and pollute the environment—degrading public health and communities—without paying adequate compensation to the public good. Economists call this process “externalizing costs,” i.e. the cost of environmental degradation in many cases is borne by society, instead of the companies that cause it.

A new report from TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), conducted by Trucost, highlights the scale of the problem: unpriced natural capital (i.e. that which is not taken into account by the global market) was worth $7.3 trillion in 2009, equal to 13 percent of that year’s global economic output. In other words, under our current economic system companies are forcing global society, their governments, and future generations to pick up a $7.3 trillion tab, and that was just in 2009. Just as importantly, the study found that none of the “high impact” industries would be profitable if they accounted for their natural capital.

Foto: Eric Heupel (cc)

Charts: comparing the largest carbon emitters

Carbon emissions from the world's largest emittersComparison of carbon emissions from six leading countries. Click image to enlarge.

Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration announced an 8 percent drop in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions during the first quarter of 2012. Emissions between January and March 2012 were the lowest since 1992.

The drop in emissions was mostly attributed to a mild winter and utilities’ continuing shift away from coal-burning due to low natural gas prices, but the quarterly results are consistent with an ongoing trend in the United States: falling carbon dioxide emissions. Since peaking at 1,642 tons of carbon (6,022 tons of carbon dioxide) emissions in 2007, have fallen 9 percent.

But reductions in the United States have been more than offset by carbon emissions growth in developing countries, especially China, where emissions from fossil fuels have grown from 929 metric tons of carbon in 2000 to 2,248 in 2010. Other countries are outpacing even China, however. Vietnam, Oman, and Nigeria all experienced faster growth in greenhouse gas emissions since 1995. Since 2000, only Angola and Vietnam have surpassed China in emissions growth among countries with more than 10 million metric tons in annual emissions.

Extreme hittegolven 50 tot 100 maal waarschijnlijker door klimaatverandering

De kersverse klimaatstudie waarin NASA-wetenschapper James Hansen en anderen aantonen dat extreme hittegolven en zomertemperaturen het gevolg zijn van de opwarming van de aarde genereerde afgelopen weekend aardig wat krantenkoppen. Jeremy Hance van Mongabay legt uit hoe het team van Hansen tot haar conclusies komt.

Een recente stijging in dodelijke, verlammende en dure hittegolven is veroorzaakt door klimaatverandering, betoogt een nieuwe statistische analyse, gepubliceerd in de Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Klimatologen ontdekten dat extreme hittegolven de laatste dertig jaar met minstens vijftigvoud zijn toegenomen. De onderzoekers, waaronder James Hansen van NASA, concluderen dat klimaatverandering de enige verklaring is voor zo’n statistische sprong.

Dit is geen klimaatmodel of een voorspelling, maar zijn daadwerkelijke waarnemingen van weergebeurtenissen en temperaturen die zich hebben voorgedaan, schreef Hansen, een vooraanstaand wetenschapper en uitgesproken klimaatveranderingsactivist, in een opinieartikel in de Washington Post.

“Onze analyse toont aan dat het niet langer volstaat om te zeggen dat de opwarming van de aarde de waarschijnlijkheid van extreem weer zal vergroten, en het voorbehoud te herhalen dat geen enkel individueel weerverschijnsel direct in verbinding kan worden gebracht met klimaatverandering. Juist integendeel: onze analyse toont aan dat, wat het extreem hete weer uit het recente verleden betreft, er nagenoeg geen andere verklaring is dan klimaatverandering.”

High-tech hell

Shirtless boys rapidly pull the computer apart, discarding bits and pieces, until they expose the wires, yank them out, and toss them into a fire. Acrid, toxic smoke blooms as the boys prod the wires and the fire strips the plastic around the wires, leaving the sought-after copper. Welcome, to Agbogbloshie, where your technology goes to die.

A new film e-wasteland captures the horrors of the world’s largest e-waste slum through surreal and staggering images. Shot over three weeks by one-man guerrilla filmmaker, David Fedele, e-wasteland is an entirely visual experience without dialogue or voice-over.

“I wanted to visually present a particular environment, attempt to show it as truthfully as possible, and give people the responsibility to think about the issues themselves,” Fedele told mongabay.com in an interview. “I believe that images can be far more powerful than words, and can have a much bigger impact and remain in your memory longer.”

A slum of Ghana’s capital city, Accra, Agbogbloshie is home to some 40,000 people, mostly migrants from rural areas, and many eke out a living by breaking down and burning e-waste for raw materials that can be re-sold. The slum is a byproduct of what Fedele calls the western world’s “obscene obsession […] with consuming, discarding, then consuming again.”

Bigfoot voorbij: de kunst van cryptozoölogie

De zoektocht naar onbekende dieren is een ware wetenschap. Een vraaggesprek met Karl Shuker, die er onlangs een boek over schreef. Het interview is afgenomen door Mongabay.

Anyone who doubts cryptozoology, which in Greek means the “study of hidden animals,” should remember the many lessons of the past 110 years: the mountain gorilla (discovered in 1902), the colossal squid (discovered in 1925, but a full specimen not caught until 1981), and the saola (discovered in 1992) to name a few. Every year, almost 20,000 new species are described by the world’s scientists, and a new book by Dr. Karl Shuker, The Encycloapedia of New and Rediscovered Animals, highlights some of the most incredible and notable new animals uncovered during the past century.

In an interview with mongabay.com, Shuker says the top three zoological discoveries since 1900 would have to be the okapi, the coelacanth, and the saola, also known as the Vu Quang ox. His book highlights these three discoveries along with hundreds of others, including species discovered as recently as last year. Shuker, a zoologist by training, has made a name for himself in cryptozoology by pursuing “hidden animals” with scientific rigor. While cryptozoologists sometimes struggle for serious acceptance of their evidence, Shuker says that may just be the nature of pursuing animals rumored to exist.

Foto: Eric Heupel (cc)

Bathtub-sized marine sponge rediscovered after a century of extinction

 Neptune's cup used as a bathtub for a child before overharvesting almost pushed the species to extinction. Neptune’s cup used as a bathtub for a child before overharvesting almost pushed the species to extinction. 

Not found alive for over a century the evocatively named Neptune’s cup sponge (Cliona patera) has been rediscovered off the shores of Singapore. Researchers with the environmental consulting DHI Group found the species during a routine dive. Although the specimen they found was small, the goblet-shaped sponge can reach nearly 5 feet (1.5 meters) high and the same in diameter.

“When we came across the sponge, we knew immediately that this was something very different,” marine biologist Karenne Tun from DHI said in a press release.

First described in 1822, full-grown Neptune cups were used as bathtubs for children. Overharvesting for the magnificent organism, however, led to its near extinction. The sponge was last sighted in 1908 in Indonesian waters and believed to be extinct since then. However, dead Neptune’s cups were found in dredge samples from northern Australia in the 1990s, providing hope that the species was still around.

“Basically, little is known about the Neptune’s Cup, as it was never found alive,” adds Tun. “Now we have the opportunity to study the biology and ecology of this impressive sponge and learn about its life cycle. […] We’ve already had the first surprise: The Neptune’s cup was thought to be a very slow growing species. However, between our last visits in April and August, respectively, it had grown several centimeters.”

Foto: Eric Heupel (cc)

Indonesië zet boomknuffelende imams in tegen ontbossing

De Indonesische overheid is van plan vijfduizend islamitische imams te werven en deze over de archipel uit te zenden om de vernietiging van bos en open verbranding te ontmoedigen. Dat schrijft de Jakarta Post.

Het plan werd afgelopen zondag aangekondigd door de minister van bosbouw Zulkifli Hasan. Hasan sprak op een vergadering van managers en directie van Muhammadiyah, de op één na grootse moslimorganisatie in Indonesië.

“Onze bossen gaan niet vanzelf in vlammen op. Ze worden moedwillig verbrand omdat er een traditie is om het land af te branden tussen oogst en nieuwe planting, en dat heeft nu ook de beboste gebieden aangetast”, zou Hasan tijdens die bijeenkomst hebben gezegd. De vele agrarische branden dragen bij aan de verstikkende damp die zich nu verspreidt over Singapore en Maleisië.

De minister riep islamitische predikers op om de overheidscampagne tegen het verbranden van bosgebieden en illegale houtkap te steunen. Islamitische geleerden zullen worden getraind en een maandelijks salaris krijgen van 2 miljoen roepies, wat neerkomt op ongeveer 235 dollar. Het programma begint later dit jaar en zal het hele jaar 2012 door blijven lopen.

Tot dusver hebben echter nog maar iets minder dan honderd predikers zich bereid verklaard deel te nemen, volgens tempointeraktif.com.

Foto: Eric Heupel (cc)

Het vermoorden van milieuactivisten in de Amazone gaat door

Dit is een (snelle) vertaling van een artikel op Sargasso gastblog: Mongabay.com.

Drie dagen nadat twee milieuactivisten werden vermoord werd afgelopen vrijdag in de Braziliaanse Amazone een gemeenschapsleider vermoord zo bericht Reuters.

Adelino “Dinho” Ramos, de voorzitter van Movimento Camponeses Corumbiara e da Associação dos Camponeses do Amazonas, een organisatie van kleine boeren, werd op vrijdagmorgen in Rondônia voor de ogen van zijn familie neergeschoten. Het Speciale Mensenrechten Secretariaat, een instituut dat onder de president valt, zei dat het onduidelijk was wie Ramos, die doodsbedreigingen van houtkappers kreeg, heeft gedood. Ramos overleefde in 1995 een bloedbad waarbij dertien mensen werden gedood.

Zijn dood kwam slechts drie dagen nadat Joao Claudio Ribeiro da Silva en zijn vrouw Maria do Espirito Santo, werden vermoord in een hinderlaag nabij hun huis in de deelstaat Pará. De verdenking ging direct uit naar illegale houtkappers die gelinkt zijn aan de houtskoolhandel die levert aan ijzerssmelterijen in de regio. Da Silva was een vooraanstaand milieuactivist die naast internationale erkenning ook talloze doodsbedreigingen ontving.

De president van Brazilië: Dilma Rousseff heeft al een federaal onderzoek naar de moord ingesteld, die door velen werd afgekeurd.

Milieuactivisten zeggen dat hun dood de oppositie tegen de voorgestelde veranderingen in de boswetgeving (Forest Code) kan doen toenemen. Deze voorstellen zijn een verslechtering van de bosbescherming in het Amazone regenwoud. Zij stellen dat de moord op de rubbertapper Chico Mendes in 1988 wereldwijde bewustwording rondom de vernietiging van het Amazone woud heeft geholpen en dat de moord op de Amerikaanse non Dorothy Stang -die opstond tegen illegale houtkap en landroof- een reactie van de Braziliaanse overheid triggerde om deze problemen hard aan te pakken en nieuwe beschermde gebieden in te stellen.

Foto: Eric Heupel (cc)

McDonald’s launches new sourcing policy for palm oil, paper, beef to reduce global environmental impact

Dit artikel is afkomstig van Sargasso gastblog: Mongabay.com.

McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) announced a far-reaching sourcing policy that could significantly reduce the fast-food giant’s impact on the environment, including global forests.

This month McDonald’s unveiled its Sustainable Land Management Commitment (SLMC), a policy that requires its suppliers to use “agricultural raw materials for the company’s food and packaging that originate from sustainably-managed land”. The commitment will be monitored via an independent evaluation process, according to the company.

The policy will initially focus on five commodities: beef, poultry, coffee, palm oil, and packaging. McDonald’s target commodities are based on analysis conducted in partnership with environmental group WWF’s Market Transformation initiative led by Jason Clay.

McDonald’s has announced several environmental criteria for sourcing in recent years including seafood and soy commitments, but the new pledge brings in more commodities.

While palm oil can be produced sustainably, much of recent expansion has come at a high environmental cost. By some estimates, more than half of oil palm expansion since 1990 occurred at the expense of forests, spurring strong backlash from environmentalists concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and loss of habitat for endangered wildlife—including orangutans, pygmy elephants, Sumatran rhinos and tigers. Oil palm plantation development has also exacerbated social conflict in some areas. The RSPO is an effort to improve the social and environmental performance of the industry. Under SLMC, McDonald’s is working with the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef to improve the environmental performance of beef production and is sponsoring a three-year study to assess carbon emissions on 350 ranches in the U.K. and Ireland. The company said it plans to join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) this year and will source only RSPO-certified palm oil by 2015. McDonald’s has also joined the Sustainability Consortium, a group working to build tools to assess the environmental impacts of consumer products over their life-cycle.

Foto: Eric Heupel (cc)

How Genghis Kahn cooled the planet

Dit artikel is afkomstig van Sargasso gastblog: Mongabay.com.

In 1206 AD Genghis Kahn began the Mongol invasion: a horse-crazed bow-wielding military force that swept through much of modern-day Asia into the Middle East and Eastern Europe. But aside from creating the world’s largest empire, the Mongol invasion had another global impact that has remained hidden in history according to new research by Julia Pongratz of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology. Genghis Kahn and his empire, which lasted nearly two centuries, actually cooled the Earth.

“It’s a common misconception that the human impact on climate began with the large-scale burning of coal and oil in the industrial era,” says Pongratz, lead author of the study in a press release. “Actually, humans started to influence the environment thousands of years ago by changing the vegetation cover of the Earth‘s landscapes when we cleared forests for agriculture.”

The answer to how this happened can be told in one word: reforestation. When the Mongol hordes invaded Asia, the Middle East, and Europe they left behind a massive body count, depopulating many regions. With less people, large swathes of cultivated fields eventually returned to forests, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.