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Obama’s Approval of Arctic Drilling ‘Undermines His Climate Message’

US president’s call for action on climate change is at odds with letting Shell drill for oil in the Arctic, says Bill McKibben

Barack Obama has fatally undermined the message of his visit to the Arctic to highlight the dangers of climate change because his administration allowed Shell to drill there, a leading US environmentalist has said.

Bill McKibben, winner of the Right Livelihood prize in 2014, sometimes referred to as an alternative Nobel, and founder of 350.org, said that Obama’s actions were a “bad contradiction”.

polar bear standing amid arctic icePhoto by Eric Regehr/USFWSA male polar bear stands alert on the Arctic coast near Kaktovik, Alaska. On Saturday, Obama acknowledged criticism of the Shell decision, saying he shared concerns about Arctic drilling.

“It is very difficult for Barrack Obama or anybody else to say, ‘look we take this completely seriously, this is the greatest problem the world’s ever faced but it’s OK to go ahead and start drilling a whole new oil field up in the Arctic.’ Those two things are at odds,” McKibben told a conference on fossil fuel divestment in Paris on Tuesday.

Obama’s visit is designed to draw attention to the impact of climate change and highlight the fact that they are already happening in the Arctic. In a speech on Monday he said that world governments still had the power to get a grip on the problem at the UN climate talks in Paris in December.

“This year in Paris has to be the year that the world finally reaches an agreement to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can,” Obama said. “This is within our power. This is a solvable problem – if we start now.”

In his weekly address on Saturday, Obama acknowledged criticism of the Shell decision, saying he shared concerns about Arctic drilling. He said that his administration had ensured that the operations would be carried out “under the highest safety standards possible”.

“We don’t rubber-stamp permits. We made it clear that Shell has to meet our high standards in how they conduct their operations – and it’s a testament to how rigorous we’ve applied those standards that Shell has delayed and limited its exploration off Alaska while trying to meet them,” he said.

But McKibben said that “no one can really listen to what …more

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After the Frack: Bright Lights in the Middle of Nowhere

Air, light, and noise pollution linger long after the drilling is over

The humming sound was deafening. Standing in the driveway of the Brothers’ home it was 50 decibels, but as we walked toward the edge of the road, the sound meter jumped to 85 decibels. The creator of this offensively loud humming noise was the compressor station located just across the road. It ran night and day, 24/7, and had invaded Frank and Theresa Brothers’ home just a year ago. Unfortunately, compressor stations are a necessary component of an oil and gas pipeline system. They help move gas and liquids from one part of the pipeline system to another.

a woman holding a noise level detectorPhoto by Lana StraubThe noise from compressors, which run 24/7 at fracking operations, can be deafeningly loud.

The Brothers’ land has been in their family for generations. When they built their new home prior to the oil boom in Carroll County, Ohio, they had no idea that their new neighbor would be so loud that the sound would knock the photos off of their walls in the middle of the night. The compressor station sits about 350 feet from their home and even though the noise is deafening, with only three years into their mortgage, they can’t afford to move.

“A lot of people have told us that we are fools to pay for our house cause it isn’t worth nothing now,” said Frank. “It’s worth as much as someone is willing to give you for it,” chimed in Theresa. “The oil company offered us 65 percent of the appraised value to move,” said Frank. He said that equals just about what he owes on his mortgage.

Noise pollution is only one of the many types of pollution that people living around oil and gas exploration areas have to deal with. And even after the fracking vehicles move on, remnants like compressor stations remain as constant reminders that the landscape around them has changed forever. Light and air pollution also often linger around along with the noise long after the oil and gas wells have been sucked dry.

Humans aren’t the only ones affected by this. Long before drilling rigs, fracking trucks, and compressor stations enter neighborhoods, the wildlife in the area already begins to feel the impact of preliminary exploration work. If the animals’ habitats haven’t …more

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Biodiversity Limits Disease Outbreaks Among Humans and Wildlife

Habitats with a wide variety of plants and animals serve as biological buffers from pathogens, says study

That protecting nature and its biodiversity provides us with numerous benefits — from aesthetic pleasure, cultural, and spiritual enrichment, to safeguarding life as we know it on Planet Earth — is quite well known. Now there’s increasing evidence that maintaining a wide variety of life can help protect us from diseases as well. Conversely, loss in biodiversity, more often than not, increases the spread of pathogens. A new study published in the journal Science recently underscores years of research to this effect.

Masked Tree FrogPhoto by Andreas KayA masked tree frog, Smilisca phaeota. Nearly one-third of the world's amphibians are threatened or extinct, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Our world has lost more than half of its biodiversity since 1970.

High biodiversity has now been shown conclusively to reduce the transmission of many infectious diseases of wildlife, humans, and plants,” Dr Felicia Keesing, a biologist at Bard College and lead author of the study, explained in an interview. “Preserving biodiversity appears to be a valuable and useful way for humans to protect themselves from exposure to pathogens. For diseases of humans, there is very strong evidence now that naturally high levels of biodiversity reduce exposure to the pathogens that cause West Nile virus, Lyme disease, and hanta viruses.”

Keesing has specifically been studying the ecology of Lyme disease and the recent increase in tick populations, which carry the Lyme bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, in the forests of northeastern United States. (The incidence of Lyme disease in the US has nearly tripled since 1995). Her research indicated that this increase was in direct proportion to the explosion of populations of mice, deer, and other tick hosts that are less skilled at killing the piggybacking parasites, and in inverse proportion to the fall in populations of other tick carriers, such as opossums, which are better at picking off and killing ticks that try to bite them.

The research concluded that the latter group of animals can actually serve as a biological buffer between the Lyme bacterium and the humans it infects by killing off ticks before they get a chance to latch on to humans.

Keesing postulated this theory of the “dilution effect” of biodiversity in a 2012 study while at Siena College. Since then, she and other researchers have …more

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Poland’s Primeval Forest Has Lost its Staunchest Defender

Obituary: Janusz Korbel

Ecologist Janusz Korbel, defender of Poland’s primeval Bialowieża Forest, passed away earlier this month. He was 69 years old. An architect and urban planner by training, Korbel was a founding member of the deep ecology movement in Poland and for the past 21 years had dedicated his life to protecting Europe’s last stretch of lowland forest in against logging and development.

Janusz KorbelPhoto by Agnieszka SadowskaKorbel believed that deep ecology could be cultural in some ways, but also held fast to the principle that nature does not need humans.

Straddling the border between Poland and Belarus Białowieża (pronounced byah-wo-vyeh-zhah) Forest is one of largest remaining parts of the immense 8,000-year-old forest that once stretched across the European Plain. Divided  between Belarus and Poland, the 580 square mile forest is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is home to myriad flora and fauna, including more than 250 bird species, 1,500 species of fungus, moose, wolves, lynx, beavers, wild boars, and the largest wild population of the European bison, the continent’s  heaviest land animal.

The Polish section of the forest (one third portion of the entire forest) includes the country’s oldest national park — Białowieża National Park.  Established first as a nature reserve in 1921, and later a national park in 1932, the park covers an area of about 153 square km (about 17 percent of the forest area on the Polish side) and is famous for its bison population and, perhaps even more, for its strictly protected 10 sq km inner zone of old growth, which has existed without much human intervention for nearly 800 years. This heart of Białowieża, called Obręb Ochronny Orłówka, is accessible to tourists only under the supervision of a guide. The 83 percent of the forest that lies outside the national park is open to selective logging. It’s this area that’s been the subject of an ongoing battle between conservationists like Korbel and local foresters.

I first met Korbel in 2005 when I was doing doctoral research in the village of Bialowieża. As a cultural anthropologist, I was interested in the ways communist and peasant pasts interact with conservation politics. Korbel drew me into his world of art, music, photography, and activism, and a wide network of friends.  He had a gentle voice and demeanor, yet he was …more

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Green Activism in Palestine

A permaculture project near Ramallah hopes to reconnect the people in this conflict-ridden region with nature

Land is key to the ongoing occupation in Palestine. Wars have been fought over territory and legal battles have spun out for decades over matters as basic as accessing a plot. Despite land being such a major issue, the human cost of occupation means that the environmental cost is forgotten not just by Western outsiders like myself, but also by Palestinians themselves.

women and kids at the nature parkPhoto by by Morgan CooperDuring family Friday's at the Mashjar, parents and children learn about nature together via various fun activities.

The destruction of olive trees has, of course, become almost a symbol of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The cultural significance of olive branches as messages of peace add a metaphorical layer to the trials Palestinian farmers face when their income and heritage is destroyed. (Read the Journal’s 2002 report on this issue here). However, there are many other native plants and wildlife that too, are an integral part of Palestinian history and culture.

While walking in the hills around Ramallah with a group of friends recently, I ran into Saleh Totah, an activist who co-founded Mashjar Juthour, a 2.5 acre arboretum and eco-park on the Thahr al Okda hillside. Totah and his partner, Morgan Cooper, started Mashjar Juthour, which translates roughly as “the Roots Arboretum,” in 2013 as a permaculture education project seeking to re-establish the diverse range of flora that flourished in Palestine years ago, but which has been lost in conflict and in ignorance.

The project is one of many that have cropped up in Palestine in recent years, including rooftop gardens and fish farms, that hope to reconnect the people in this conflict-ridden region with their natural environment and inspire Palestinians to work towards a sustainable future for themselves and their land.

That day, and on a subsequent visit when we helped to clear stones, we heard about the different plants growing in the Mashjar: Palestinian oak with its edible acorns, orchids which are used to make the drink salep, tiny, wild peas which we ate from the pod. Many of Mashjar's plants have a dual purpose. They make the land itself rich and sustainable while also providing sustenance. Lentils, for example, are grown for food and at the same time return nitrogen to the soil for hungry trees.

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‘Animal Abuse and Harassment is a Pervasive Problem in the Wildlife Film Industry’

In Conversation with wildlife filmmaker Chris Palmer

Chris Palmer is one of the world’s foremost wildlife documentary experts. Over the course of his nearly three-decade long career in filmmaking, Palmer has spearheaded the production of more than 300 hours of original programming for prime-time television and the IMAX film industry — work that won him and his colleagues many awards, including two Emmys and an Oscar nomination (for the film Dolphins). Palmer has swum with dolphins and whales, come face-to-face with sharks and Kodiak bears, camped with wolf packs, and waded through Everglade swamps. The veteran filmmaker is president of One World One Ocean Foundation and the MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation, which produce and fund IMAX films on conservation issues.  He is also the director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University.

Chris Palmer

In his 2010 memoir, Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom, Palmer revealed troubling trend toward sensationalism, extreme risk-taking, and even abuse that’s pervasive in the wildlife film business. In his latest book Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker, released earlier this year, Palmer returns again to the dark side of wildlife filmmaking, openly admitting that he too has been “as guilty of fabricating phony wildlife scenes” as those he now criticizes, and calls for wildlife filmmaking to move in a healthier direction.

Palmer recently took time out from his busy schedule to talk with Earth Island’s International Marine Mammal Project. We found him to be a very thoughtful critic of the film industry, describing how too many nature filmmakers conduct themselves in ways that harm wildlife, mislead viewers, or fail to promote conservation of the natural world. 

IMMP: In your new book, Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker, you talk about how the industry has been negligent in making nature films. Can you summarize what you see as problems?

Chris Palmer: The abuse and harassment of animals during the filming of shows has been a pervasive problem and continues to be so even now. For example, just last September, Discovery made a program about a naturalist being eaten by an anaconda. That kind of filming puts an anaconda though a significant amount of stress. Luckily, not all wildlife programs are like that at all.

The second problem is that there is a lot of …more

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Coping With Naples’ Toxic Waste Crisis

Can the Campania countryside survive the damage wreaked upon it by decades of illicit trash dumping?

In Naples, a seaside metropolis of three million in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, the city’s public services sometimes “forgets” to gather the trash from city dumpsters. A week passes and the waste overflows from the sides of dumpsters. Two weeks pass, and the old and weak cannot launch their trash bags to reach the height of the odorous mountains. The dumpster, sidewalk, and half the street soon vanish.

Finally, a month passes and the people, despaired by sight and smell, set the trash mountain ablaze. My fiancée, a former medical student from Sicily, races around the house slamming windows and cursing, trying to keep out the carcinogenic smoke.

Garbage bags on a street cornerPhoto by mksfca/flickrNaples has a garbage collection problem. In the past 20 years, Naples and the Campania countryside have attracted new nicknames: “Land of Poison,” “Triangle of Death,” “Land of Fires.”

In the 1600s, when Naples was experiencing its Golden Age, Goethe described the area as the “most fertile plain in the world.” French writer Stendhal once cried, “Paris and Naples, the two true capitals!” Naples was, and some argue still is, the city of art, love, and philosophy — a city that wears her pleasures in the streets.

In the past 20 years, however, Naples and the Campania countryside have attracted new nicknames: “Land of Poison,” “Triangle of Death,” “Land of Fires.” A land once fertile and revered has devolved into a place where toxic waste seeps into water sources; where black pillars of smoke from burning garbage dumps have exposed local populations to increased risk of lung carcinoma. Birth defects here are 80 percent above European averages, and researchers have found that breast cancer rates in the region were 47 percent above the national average.

Stories abound of rampant political corruption, the mafia’s involvement in the garbage business, and tens of billions of dollars of dirty money changing hands. There are even whispers of nuclear sludge being trucked in from Germany and dumped in makeshift landfills under buffalo grazing fields.

The cause of Campania region’s environmental damage and public health crisis is so disperse that it’s difficult to point fingers. There are the Italian politicians who, during northern Italy’s industrial boom in the 1980s and ’90s, looked the other way while internationally known carcinogenic chemicals were used …more

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