Iraqi children pay high health cost of war-induced air pollution, study finds

Guardian Environment News - Mon, 2016/08/22 - 1:00am

Researchers identify exposure to toxic materials from explosion of munitions and burning of military waste by US army as cause of birth defects and cancers

Air pollution caused by war may be a major factor in the numbers of birth defects and cancers being reported in Iraq and other war zones, a study has suggested.

Human exposure to heavy metals and neurotoxicants from the explosion of bombs, bullets, and other ammunition affects not only those directly targeted by bombardments but also troops and people living near military bases, according to research published in the scientific journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment.

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Categories: Environment

Sluggy McSlugface no more: sea slug named for fly-in, fly-out mining workers

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2016/08/21 - 9:51pm

Multicoloured slug, a species of nudibranch, was discovered in 2000 off the Western Australian coast and will be officially named Moridilla fifo

A multicoloured sea slug discovered off the coast of Western Australia has been named for the state’s fly-in, fly-out mining workforce after a judging panel ruled that Sluggy McSlugface breached the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

The slug, which is a species of nudibranch, was discovered in 2000 off the coast of Dampier, about 1,500km north of Perth, by the WA scientist Dr Nerida Wilson.

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Categories: Environment

The power of water to drive a mill and break a bridge

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2016/08/21 - 9:30pm

Burneside, Cumbria I walked a narrow bank, the mill race on one side and a steep drop to the swirling Sprint on the other. And I thought of last December’s flood

Sprint Mill sits in a small wooded gorge below a cascade of sinuous waterfalls on the river Sprint. There has been a cloth manufacturing or processing mill on this site since at least the 1400s, all dependent on water power provided by the river. The current owners have restored the 19th-century mill with the help of a grant from Natural England; the front wall had developed a worrying bulge. When work began, they found that this three-storey building had been constructed without foundations.

The Dales Way weaves around the most recent mill race, hollowed out of the earth like a small canal and used until the mill closed in 1954. Ahead of me, long-tailed tits fidgeted, tails flicking up and down as they moved on, their ratcheting, rolling contact calls travelling on the breeze.

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Categories: Environment

South Florida's Seminole Cowboys: Cattle Is 'In Our DNA'

NPR News - Environment - Sun, 2016/08/21 - 2:44pm

Florida, with its lush grasslands, ranks 10th in the nation for its beef cattle herds — nearly 2 million head. And the Seminole Tribe of Florida is a major player in the cattle industry.

Categories: Environment

Fine days for harvesting: Country diary 50 years ago

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2016/08/21 - 2:30pm

Originally published in the Guardian on 26 August 1966

HAMPSHIRE: The wondrous fine days of last week have come just right for the harvesters. Although tractors with trolleys are not so picturesque as horses with wains, there remains a flavour of the sacred earth at harvest-time. The more especially in large fields with men and girls scattered at various jobs. And I have seen a young fellow, stripped to the waist, and as brown as a South Sea islander, with a girl beside him, her hair neatly plaited in pigtails, both holding on to a jolting bar, as they returned to the farm after work. The quality remains, in spite of the combustion engine. In many fields the straw is being trussed, and not wastefully burnt. Various uses are being found for it besides the bedding down of animals; in right conditions cabbages can be grown, also seed potatoes bedded and grown, with great saving of labour. If for no better use, it can be made into compost. The hot days have brought swarms of flying ants, fat, juicy, young queens, that birds relish. Starlings, that naturally have quick, gliding flight, learn to hover, not very well, but sufficiently slowly to snatch at the flying ants in midair. The starlings fly at a low level over fields and gardens, and, higher up, seagulls circle to taste the formic acid flavour. They remind me of the time when I have eaten honey-ants in West Australia that were dug up by aborigine girls. These were the only form of sweetmeats that the bush provided, and very good too. I was sorry to learn that the Scops owl had escaped, with but poor chance of survival I fear.

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Categories: Environment

A collared pratincole pays a rare visit to Somerset

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2016/08/21 - 1:30pm

An exotic visitor, that should should have been sunning itself by the Mediterranean, attracts crowds of birdwatchers to the Ham Wall reserve

My birding friend Rob may have got married only the day before, but nothing stops him from looking regularly at his pager to check out the latest sightings of rare birds. Fortunately, he then took the trouble to text me the news: that a collared pratincole had turned up at the RSPB’s Ham Wall reserve, just down the road from my home.

It would have been rude not to pay this bird a visit, especially as it should have been sunning itself on some Mediterranean marsh, not flying around the Somerset Levels. I had never actually seen this species before in Britain, so I walked along the disused railway line that bisects the marshes with more than the usual spring in my step.

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Categories: Environment

Listen to the sand eels on climate change | Letters

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2016/08/21 - 10:43am

Michael Grange (Letters, 19 August) recommends “not asking the frogs first” before building tidal barrages on the Severn. But we are already being spoken to by the sand eels, mosquitoes, birds, butterflies and even the humble Highland saxifrage (Climate change threatens UK’s mountain plant life, 18 August) if only we would listen.

They are on the move already. The environmental effects of sea-level rise will dramatically alter the Severn estuary, and all its inhabitants, if we do little to deploy alternatives to fossil fuels now. Can the seriousness of the crisis justify the sacrifice of some present wetlands in order to avoid them being found far inland by our great grandchildren?
Professor Terry Gifford
Research Centre for Environmental Humanities, Bath Spa University

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Categories: Environment

Radon from fracking will not be a threat | Letter from Prof Averil MacDonald

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2016/08/21 - 10:42am

In his letter (11 August) Dr David Lowry raised the issue of radon and shale gas quoting studies in Pennsylvania and sought to reinforce his own views by quoting from a study undertaken by Public Health England in 2014. Let me quote the same study, which states, “caution is required when extrapolating experiences in other countries to the UK since the mode of operation, underlying geology and regulatory environment are likely to be different” and “the PHE position remains, therefore, that the shale gas extraction process poses a low risk to human health if properly run and regulated”.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas present throughout the UK at very low levels. PHE recognised that radon may be released to the environment from shale–gas activities, as is the case with existing natural gas supplies, but at concentrations that are not expected to result in significant additional radon exposure. PHE will be undertaking baseline outdoor and household radon monitoring in the Vale of Pickering in North Yorkshire in areas around Third Energy’s KM8 well near Kirby Misperton at three-monthly intervals. The first monitoring “measurements indicated that the radon concentration in the outdoor air around KM8 is close to the UK average”. There is no indication of elevated radon concentrations in Pickering, a radon affected area in close proximity of KM8. The analysis for the control site in Oxfordshire showed that the radon concentrations were similar to those for the Vale of Pickering.

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Categories: Environment

National parks must be for people, plants, pumas - not Big Oil

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2016/08/21 - 9:40am

Huge swathe of new “protected natural area” in Peru’s Amazon is included within an oil and gas concession run by Canadian company

The creation of the 1.3 million hectare Sierra del Divisor National Park in the western Amazon in November 2015 generated considerable elation and Peruvian and international media coverage. Logging, gold-mining, coca cultivation and narco-trafficking were highlighted by some media as ongoing threats to the new park, but why such failure to acknowledge what is possibly, in the long-term, the most serious threat of all?

The sorry, alarming fact is that approximately 40% of the park is superimposed by an oil and gas concession run by a Canadian-headquartered company, Pacific Exploration and Production. This is despite Peru’s 1997 Law of Protected Natural Areas stating “the extraction of natural resources is not permitted” in parks, while 2001 regulations on Protected Natural Areas state “the exploitation of natural resources is prohibited.” In addition, Peru’s 1993 Constitution “obliges” the government “to promote the conservation of biological diversity and protected natural areas.”

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Oil rig stranded off Isle of Lewis to be refloated at high tide

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2016/08/21 - 9:18am

Salvage experts plan operation two weeks after 17,000-tonne Transocean Winner ran aground near Carloway, Scotland

Salvage experts have said they will try to refloat at high tide a 17,000-tonne oil rig that has been stranded on the coast of the Isle of Lewis for two weeks.

The semi-submersible rig Transocean Winner ran aground close to Dalmore beach near Carloway, Scotland, on 8 August. It was being towed from Norway to Malta when a towline snapped in rough seas.

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Categories: Environment

Louisiana Ignored Dire Forecasts And Flash Flood Warnings

NPR News - Environment - Sun, 2016/08/21 - 6:24am

Tens of thousands in Louisiana were surprised by floods last week. In a changing climate, what more can be done to warn communities that the weather can do things they aren't used to?

Categories: Environment

In Drought-Stricken California, There's No Longer A Fire 'Season'

NPR News - Environment - Sun, 2016/08/21 - 6:17am

The state now sees wildfires that are on average bigger than ever and that burn through more of the year. Cal Fire's Southern Region information officer Michael Mohler speaks to Rachel Martin.

Categories: Environment

Calls to halt McArthur River mine operations over safety and remediation concerns

Guardian Environment News - Sun, 2016/08/21 - 1:30am

Report demands mining stop until it can be determined how and at what cost the operation can be made safe

The huge McArthur river mine must stop operations until a public commission of inquiry is set up and has examined whether it can be made safe and at what cost, according to an independent report being released on Monday.

Based on the limited public data on the mine, up to $1bn will need to be spent to safely remediate the site, according to Gavin Mudd from Monash University and the Mineral Policy Institute, who wrote the report.

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If US national parks are to continue to thrive they must reflect the diversity of our population

Guardian Environment News - Sat, 2016/08/20 - 11:00pm

As the National Park Service turns 100, a new campaign aims to make the country’s natural spaces more appealing to all Americans, regardless of race, over the next century. It’s vital they succeed

In the sweltering heat of a summer day, I walked along the visitor trails of Yosemite national park. I had just made the five-hour drive from my childhood home in Los Angeles to glimpse a vision of the future. There in the valley surrounded by high towers of stone, I watched as thousands of tourists from all over the world marvelled at the sheer granite walls of El Capitan, Washington Column and Half Dome. Like ancient cathedrals of divine architecture, these magnificent features stand as monuments to the notion that the natural heritage of our nation must be preserved for all time.

Throughout my life I have enjoyed spending time in the outdoors. Despite having grown up in the urban heart of LA, I frequently ventured into the wild places of California, from the slopes of the San Gabriel mountains to the summit of Mount Whitney. Though I was blessed, thanks to sacrifices of my parents, with a lifetime learning and playing in nature, on this occasion, as with many visits to the valley, I noticed that I was among the very few people of colour there. And though I felt no less welcome to enjoy the splendour of this magnificent place, I wondered how it might be possible to encourage tourism to Yosemite – and other national parks – that reflects the diverse population of the US as a whole.

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‘Next year or the year after, the Arctic will be free of ice’

Guardian Environment News - Sat, 2016/08/20 - 11:00pm

Scientist Peter Wadhams believes the summer ice cover at the north pole is about to disappear, triggering even more rapid global warming

Peter Wadhams has spent his career in the Arctic, making more than 50 trips there, some in submarines under the polar ice. He is credited with being one of the first scientists to show that the thick icecap that once covered the Arctic ocean was beginning to thin and shrink. He was director of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge from 1987 to 1992 and professor of ocean physics at Cambridge since 2001. His book, A Farewell to Ice, tells the story of his unravelling of this alarming trend and describes what the consequences for our planet will be if Arctic ice continues to disappear at its current rate.

You have said on several occasions that summer Arctic sea ice would disappear by the middle of this decade. It hasn’t. Are you being alarmist?
No. There is a clear trend down to zero for summer cover. However, each year chance events can give a boost to ice cover or take some away. The overall trend is a very strong downward one, however. Most people expect this year will see a record low in the Arctic’s summer sea-ice cover. Next year or the year after that, I think it will be free of ice in summer and by that I mean the central Arctic will be ice-free. You will be able to cross over the north pole by ship. There will still be about a million square kilometres of ice in the Arctic in summer but it will be packed into various nooks and crannies along the Northwest Passage and along bits of the Canadian coastline. Ice-free means the central basin of the Arctic will be ice-free and I think that that is going to happen in summer 2017 or 2018.

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Categories: Environment

The eco guide to air pollution

Guardian Environment News - Sat, 2016/08/20 - 10:00pm

We call it ‘smog’ or ‘haze’ but it’s a real killer. There are ways to find out where it’s worst, and clean air campaigns which are well worth supporting

These days fresh air is hard to find, even in parks. Nearly a quarter of London’s green open spaces now breach laws on nitrogen dioxide pollution (the stuff that spews out of diesel exhausts).

When the air in the park is worse than at the side of the road, that’s a new low. If you’re a Londoner, type in your postcode at Asi Open Data to find the nearest park where NO2 emissions don’t exceed 40 micrograms per cubic metre.

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Categories: Environment

Yellowstone fish deaths: 183 miles of river closed to halt spread of parasite

Guardian Environment News - Sat, 2016/08/20 - 6:51pm

Ban on all fishing, rafting and other river activities in the US river will remain until fish stop dying, say officials

Closures on a 183-mile stretch of the Yellowstone river and hundreds of miles of other waterways could continue for months while biologists try to prevent the spread of a parasite believed to have killed tens of thousands of fish.

The closures will remain until the waterways improve and fish stop dying, according to officials from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The ban includes all fishing, rafting and other river activities.

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Categories: Environment

Inuit fear they will be overwhelmed as ‘extinction tourism’ descends on Arctic

Guardian Environment News - Sat, 2016/08/20 - 4:05pm
Visit of giant cruise ship will bring money and tourists to the Northwest Passage, but fears grow for the area’s people and its ecosystem

In a few days, one of the world’s largest cruise ships, the Crystal Serenity, will visit the tiny Inuit village of Ulukhaktok in northern Canada. Hundreds of passengers will be ferried to the little community, more than doubling its population of around 400. The Serenity will then raise anchor and head through the Northwest Passage to visit several more Inuit settlements before sailing to Greenland and finally New York.

It will be a massive undertaking, representing an almost tenfold increase in passenger numbers taken through the Arctic on a single vessel – and it has triggered considerable controversy among Arctic experts. Inuit leaders fear that visits by giant cruise ships could overwhelm fragile communities, while others warn that the Arctic ecosystem, already suffering the effects of global warming, could be seriously damaged.

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Categories: Environment

If wind and solar power are cheaper and quicker, do we really need Hinkley Point?

Guardian Environment News - Sat, 2016/08/20 - 8:00am
Nuclear energy’s cost, and a focus on alternative technology, including research on a new generation of hi-tech battery storage, is leading observers outside the green lobby to question the project’s value

Should Theresa May take the axe to the troubled Hinkley Point nuclear project, it will propel wind and solar power further into the limelight. And for renewable technologies to become really effective, Britain and the rest of the world need breakthroughs in electricity storage to allow intermittent power to be on tap 24/7, on a large scale and for the right price.

Cheap, light and long-life batteries are the holy grail, and achieving this requires the expertise of people like Cambridge professor Clare Grey. The award winning Royal Society fellow is working on the basic science behind lithium-air batteries, which can store five times the energy in the same space as the current rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are widely used today.

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Categories: Environment

If we’re serious about industrial strategy, renewables is a good place to start

Guardian Environment News - Sat, 2016/08/20 - 7:59am
With the future of Hinkley Point in doubt and the government committed to assist British business, now is the time to get behind wind power

Cancelling the planned new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point will be a huge victory for the offshore wind industry. The word from inside No 10 is not clear yet, but there are so many Tories, including the prime minister, unsettled by the prospect of the Chinese building a plant in Britain to an untested French design that the prospects of it going ahead appear slim.

As if to emphasise the continuing success of Britain’s elegant turbines in the sea, the government cleared the way for a new array off the Yorkshire coast earlier this week.

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