This Week (16-23.April.2017)

🌳💦🥑This Week in Environmental Justice ⚖⚒🌿

🌎🌱⚖The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a series of meetings on human rights violations against environmental defenders in Panama this week. In what has become a familiar affair in the developing world, international and government leaders reportedly stressed that the meetings address the topic(s) they approved, rather than the structural system of development or individual development projects (ie. the Barro Blanco dam) which they are already entangled with.

+ In Chile, activists have received death threats after producing a report that avocado production in the country is draining water resources at the expense of local residents.

+ Alan Blackman of Resources For the Future, argues that granting legal rights to indigenous communities for the land they historically control can be an invaluable tool in the management of environmental problems, including deforestation and biodiversity loss.

👋🍌The Lao government has ordered the shutdown of multiple environmentally destructive Chinese banana farms. The ban will close the operations when their contracts expire and forbid new contracts. Provincial authorities must now decide how to rehabilitate the heavily polluted land – preferably in ways that provide occupations for local villagers.

+ Indigenous communities on an island in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province have succeeded in revoking a Chinese company’s mining license through the Supreme Court. The mine covered nearly half the total area of the island and was met with opposition as soon as it obtained a license in 2014. The residents of the local fishing communities report that the mining company had already damaged their environment, including clearing forest areas and destroying coral reefs, before operations had even begun.

+ Following orders to shut down gold mining operations in Maramato, Colombia, Gran Colombia Gold has filed a US$700 million lawsuit under the Colombian-Canadian free trade agreement. The government to cease its plans of flattening a mountain to create an open pit mine after the company failed to consult with local residents, in accordance with Colombian law. The court’s decision will set a big precedent in a country betting a major chunk of its economic development on mining while only selectively enforcing any regulations at all. Ensuring peace and rule of law may require market diversification.

+ Gold mining has impacted water supplies across Colombia. The international Committee of the Red Cross put out a short release on the work they have recently started in north-eastern Antioquia. [For more on other impacts of gold mining on communities in Colombia, scroll down to the Human Rights Update.]

💦🥑Spotlight on Food & Water💉☀

☀🌍🍽 Kenya, in its second year of drought, is experiencing “very late onset” of the “long rains” typical of March to May. An estimated 2.6 million people are acutely food insecure and the government is warning that this figure may reach 4 million by mid-April.

A dimension to also monitor is Kenya general elections, which the country will conduct in August 2017. While the country has experienced violence with varying impact in previous elections, there is need to continue monitoring the situation as the upcoming elections have shown signs of intense competition that could result in violent conflicts. 

+ The late rains are also worsening an already traumatic situation in Somalia. The drought has already damaged crops and livestock, increasing the possibility of famine in 2017, even if the Gu rains hit normal levels later this season. Disease outbreaks are already being reported, including measles and cholera, and have the potential spiral out of control in these environments.

As of 7 April, WHO reported a total of 43,215 cases of acute watery diarrhea (AWD)/cholera in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. These numbers are set to rise with the onset of the rainy season. For Somalia, the cumulative Case Fatality Rate (CFR) for 2017 is far above the emergency threshold of 1.0 per cent, in Middle Juba (14.1 per cent) and Bakool (5.1 per cent) regions due to increasing malnutrition and overcrowding in camps and towns. Efforts are ongoing to control a scabies outbreak in SNNP and Oromia regions in Ethiopia. The increase in the number of suspected measles cases, close to 4,000 cases mostly in Somalia, is of serious concern.

Cholera has already spread across three counties in South Sudan’s Jonglei province. This is the longest running outbreak since South Sudan’s founding in 2011.

+ Deteriorating water supplies may begin to motivate attention from business users around Africa’s Great Lakes, as the remaining water has become too polluted for profit margins. Professor Eric Odada, from the University of Nairobi, makes the case that this could finally push the private sector to begin taking water conservation and protection seriously.

☔ In Colombia, at least 2,260 people in 10 Manizales’ neighborhoods are still without gas, energy, and water services after they were suspended last week during heavy rains caused approximately 40 landslides.

A dog hopes to be rescued in a destroyed area after mudslides caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Manizales,
“A dog hopes to be rescued in a destroyed area after mudslides caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Manizales, Colombia, on April 19, 2017.” Source: The Atlantic

+ The landslides and heavy rains in Peru are now estimated to have affected approximately 1.2 million people. 120,000 households are food insecure at the national level.

💣🍽 Yemen Update:

  • Half of Yemen’s population lacks clean water, sanitation, and hygiene services
  • Seven million people are facing famine
  • 48,000 people displaced by conflict on western coast since January, with three million people displaced in the last two years
  • Incidents of gender-based violence have increased by more than 63% since the conflict escalated
  • The number of children killed in conflict increased by 70%, and nearly twice as many children were injured and recruited into the fighting, since March 2016 compared to the same period the previous year.
TOPSHOT-YEMEN-CONFLICT-WATER
“A boy rides a donkey carrying plastic containers full of water in an impoverished coastal village on the outskirts of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, on April 17.” Source: Foreign Policy

👣⚒ Human Rights Update ⚖

✊🇻🇪 Photo essay in The Atlantic documents the “mother of all marches” in Venezuela this week, where thousands of protestors assembled against the Maduro administration/regime.

🌎👣⚒ Communities in the Chocó province of Colombia have been displaced by renewed violence by ELN groups, who seem to have clashed with the (supposedly disarmed) paramilitary groups present in the province. The paramilitary groups have provided networks of “security” for the mining operations in Chocó. Killings of Indigenous people have been reported in the departments of Chocó, Cauca, and Nariño, affecting the Wounan, Nasa and Awá Indigenous Peoples.

+ Vattenfall, a Swedish energy company, is investigating human rights violations in the Cesar coal region of Colombia, where thousands of people have been murdered and tens of thousands driven from their land. The majority of European coal imported from Colombia comes from this region. Vattenfall is expected to present a proposal as to how energy and mining companies can compensate victims of “blood coal” and continue on with their operations.

Solar panels in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China, on April 18, 2017.
Solar panels in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China, on April 18, 2017. Source: Foreign Policy

New in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management

🌎🌊Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, examined reefs in Hawaii, the Florida Keys and the U.S. Virgin Islands and found that the seafloors around these declining reefs are eroding. The study examined seafloor depths since the 1930s. “Think of the reefs as kind of natural speed bumps,” said oceanographer David Zawada, one of the study’s co-authors. “Take that away, this wave energy, more of it is going to be able to migrate in closer to shore.”

🏞 ⚖ 💰Nonnavigable U.S. waterways remain under the uncertain jurisdiction, as the Trump administration has directed the EPA to review the broadly contested “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule. While there are a number of legal and environmental challenges to the WOTUS legislation, the administration has specifically ordered the review to concern itself with consistency to “promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and respecting states’ rights.”

Residents view the first iceberg of the season as it passes the South Shore, also known as Iceberg Alley, near Ferryland Newfoundland, Canada, on April 16, 2017.
“Residents view the first iceberg of the season as it passes the South Shore, also known aIceberg Alley, near Ferryland Newfoundland, Canada, on April 16, 2017.” Source: The Atlantic

🏔⏳A team of scientists from Canadian and U.S. universities has documented the first case of large-scale river reorganization to result from human-caused climate change. The retreat of Kaskawulsh Glacier in Canada’s Yukon territory has caused a rerouting of the meltwater away from the Kluane and Yukon River. The fresh water flows are now ending up in the saline Pacific Ocean instead of the Bering Sea. The scientists claim that, although events had occurred in the planet’s geological past, this event is, to their knowledge, relatively so sudden as to be labeled “geologically instantaneous.”

❄🛰⌛ Stef Lhermitee of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands alerted NASA to a new crack in Greenland’s Petermann Glacier this week, after examining satellite images. NASA performed an airborne mission over Petermann and found the crack is in an unusual location toward the middle of the ice. The crack has the potential to intersect with a crack on the glacier’s eastern side.

Preliminary DMS image of the new rift in Greenland_s Petermann Glacier, directly beneath the NASA Operation IceBridge aircraft. Gary Hoffmann, NASA
NASA satellite image of the new crack on Greenland’s Peterman Glacier. Source: The Washington Post

+ Bloomberg published the first of a three-part series on the economic, political, and humanitarian impacts of a melting arctic. There is more at stake than meets the eye.

+ It’s not just the Northern arctic that’s melting. Two other studies were published in Nature this week discussing the discovery of an extensive network of lakes and rivers transporting liquid meltwater across Antartica. One paper discusses the possibility that one specific drainage system in question, may have stabilizing effects on the ice shelf.

+ The White House budget proposal would cut all four of NASA’s climate-related satellite missions, including the one which took the Greenland photographs.

Those missions are aimed not only at helping scientists learn more about key parts of the climate system and how global warming is changing them, but also at practical matters such as monitoring the health of the nation’s coastal waters and providing earlier warnings of drought stress in crops.

+ One industry that has and would certainly continue to benefit from such data – insurance.  Great piece in the NYT Magazine this week discussing how flood insurance has become big business on the U.S.’s eastern coast.

👾💃🏘 Another great essay in the Times Magazine addresses why we are still denying a phenomenon even as we are experiencing it. As a society, we came to think of climate change as some binary disaster. Instead, it has become more akin to an encroaching disturbance of the status quo. As a result, Mooallem argues, we are consistently adapting to this new normal through a social process of “generational environmental amnesia.”

There are, however, many subtler shifts in our awareness that can’t be as precisely demarcated. Scenarios that might sound dystopian or satirical as broad-strokes future projections unassumingly materialize as reality. Last year, melting permafrost in Siberia released a strain of anthrax, which had been sealed in a frozen reindeer carcass, sickening 100 people and killing one child. In July 2015, during the hottest month ever recorded on earth (until the following year), and the hottest day ever recorded in England (until the following summer), the Guardian newspaper had to shut down its live-blogging of the heat wave when the servers overheated. And low-lying cities around the world are experiencing increased “clear-sky flooding,” in which streets or entire neighborhoods are washed out temporarily by high tides and storm surges. Parts of Washington now experience flooding 30 days a year, a figure that has roughly quadrupled since 1960. In Wilmington, N.C., the number is 90 days. But scientists and city planners have conjured a term of art that defuses that astonishing reality: “nuisance flooding,” they call it.

Kahn calls our environmental generational amnesia “one of the central psychological problems of our lifetime,” because it obscures the magnitude of so many concrete problems. You can wind up not looking away, exactly, but zoomed in too tightly to see things for what they are. Still, the tide is always rising in the background, swallowing something. And the longer you live, the more anxiously trapped you may feel between the losses already sustained and the ones you see coming.

☣🗼🐠 BP’s operations in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oil fields leaked natural gas for (at least) four days and crude oil for three days.  “There have been no injuries and no reports of harm to wildlife,” BP spokesman Brett Clanton said Saturday. It is unclear how that could be the case, given the significant amounts of methane in natural gas.

+ Oil and gas are not the only contaminants threatening Arctic waters. Garbage, including billions of small plastic pieces, is being channeled into Greenland and Barents Seas by strong ocean currents.

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“A Sri Lankan resident walks through damaged homes at the site of a collapsed garbage dump in Colombo on April 16, 2017. Hopes of finding anyone alive under a collapsed mountain of garbage in Sri Lanka’s capital faded as the death toll reached 23 with another six reported missing, police said. Hundreds of soldiers, backed by heavy earth moving equipment were digging through the rubbish and the wreckage of some 145 homes that were destroyed when a side of the 300-foot (90-meter) high dump crashed on April 14.” Source: The Atlantic

Quick Reads to Sound Smart at Parties

What we know, first and foremost, is that it hardly matters what Trump says because what he says is as likely as not to have no relationship to the truth, no relationship to what he said last year during the campaign or even what he said last week. What he says bears no relationship to any consistent political or policy ideology or world-view. What he says is also likely to bear no relationship to what his top advisers or appointees have said or believe, making them unreliable interlocutors even if they agreed among themselves, which they don’t. This lack of clear policy is compounded by the fact that the president, despite his boasts to the contrary, knows very little about the topics at hand and isn’t particularly interested in learning. In other words, he’s still making it up as he goes along.

Long read – but plenty of pictures:  Tim Urban explains the awesomeness of Elon Musk’s new business venture.

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