Guardian Environment News

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Updated: 11 hours 19 min ago

Plantwatch: Australia's giant stinging trees – 35m tall with a poison that can last for months

Tue, 2020/10/20 - 1:30pm

Scientists are hoping that research into Dendrocnide excelsa could lead to new painkillers

It sounds like something out of The Day of the Triffids: a stinging nettle the size of a large tree, with a sting so vicious it inflicts excruciating pain that can last for days, weeks or even months. But this is no science fiction, these are the stinging trees of Australia.

Dendrocnide excelsa can grow up to 35 metres tall in tropical rainforests in Queensland, one of a gang of six Dendrocnide tree or shrub species found in Australia. These thugs of the plant world belong to the same family as common stinging nettles, with leaves covered in similar tiny needle-like hairs that act like hypodermic syringes, injecting their poison at the slightest touch of the skin, although the poison is far more powerful than a nettle’s.

Related: Australia's stinging trees: if the snakes and spiders don't get you, the plants might | Irina Vetter, Edward Kalani Gilding and Thomas Durek

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Categories: Environment

Former tree of the year felled in Warwickshire to make way for HS2

Tue, 2020/10/20 - 8:11am

Locals say loss of 250-year-old pear tree in Cubbington is ‘absolutely devastating’

Residents have spoken of their “utter devastation” after a 250-year-old pear tree in Warwickshire, a famous local landmark and England’s tree of the year in 2015, was felled to make way for the HS2 rail line.

The tree, thought to be the second-oldest wild pear tree in the country, had become a focal point in the protest against HS2, a high-speed rail line that will connect London and Birmingham, and which protesters say will cause huge environmental damage.

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Categories: Environment

Bottle-fed babies most at risk as study shows high lead exposure in US water

Tue, 2020/10/20 - 3:00am

Researchers say Black infants may be more at risk while about 80% of homes had detectable levels of lead in tap water

  • This story is co-published with Consumer Reports

Not long after Peter and Erica Finin moved from Michigan to Pittsburgh, they had the tap water in their new home tested for lead. It was 2017, and “the whole [lead] situation in Flint was very much in the news”, Peter says. They’d been thinking about starting a family, and wanted to be safe.

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Categories: Environment

10 million snowblowers? Last-ditch ideas to save the Arctic ice

Tue, 2020/10/20 - 12:00am

Some of the solutions sound fantastical – but their proponents argue that there are precious few other options

Time is running out for the Arctic. The region continues to warm at two or three times the global rate and scientists now predict that we could see Arctic summer ice disappear as early as 2042.

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Categories: Environment

Anger as Environment Agency executive takes job at Southern Water

Mon, 2020/10/19 - 11:00pm

Critics say move an example of ‘cosy relationship’ between industry and regulator

One of the most senior executives at the Environment Agency is leaving to join a water company that is under criminal investigation by the watchdog.

The departure of Dr Toby Willison, the director of operations for the EA, to take up a role at Southern Water has angered campaigners seeking to reduce pollution in rivers and coastal waters. Willison has previously been the acting chief executive of the environmental watchdog.

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Categories: Environment

75 ways Trump made America dirtier and the planet warmer

Mon, 2020/10/19 - 10:00pm

In the past four years, Trump has shredded environmental protections for American lands, animals and people

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Categories: Environment

Bears, whales and wolverines: the species imperiled by Trump's war on the environment

Mon, 2020/10/19 - 10:00pm

Despite a grim outlook for American biodiversity, Trump has lifted protections for at-risk animals as part of his aggressive rollback of environmental rules

The prognosis for biodiversity on Earth is grim. According to a sobering report released by the United Nations last year, 1 million land and marine species across the globe are threatened with extinction – more than at any other period in human history.

According to a recent study, about 20% of the countries in the world risk ecosystem collapse due to the destruction of wildlife and their habitats, a result of human activity in tandem with a warming climate. The United States is the ninth most at risk.

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Categories: Environment

Asda launches 'greener price' promise and sustainability store

Mon, 2020/10/19 - 4:01pm

Loose fruit and veg to cost no more than wrapped as part of move to cut down on single-use plastics

Asda is to unveil a strategy to help cut down on single-use plastics, pledging that “greener” products without packaging will not carry a hefty price tag, as it opens a sustainability trial store.

To encourage customers to shop sustainably across all its stores, the UK’s third largest supermarket is launching Greener at Asda Price, a promise that loose and unwrapped fruit and vegetables will not cost more than their wrapped equivalents at any of it stores. It aims to tackle criticism that shoppers who want to avoid unnecessary plastic packaging are being punished by being charged more for loose produce.

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Categories: Environment

Climate finance driving poor countries deeper into debt, says Oxfam

Mon, 2020/10/19 - 4:01pm

Countries that did least to cause crisis having to take loans to protect themselves, says charity

Billions of dollars are being loaned on high-interest terms to poor countries seeking help to cope with the impacts of climate breakdown, according to an Oxfam report.

The loan terms risk storing up debt burdens lasting far into the future, the charity says.

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Categories: Environment

French dairy giant accused of polluting country's famous rivers for years

Mon, 2020/10/19 - 12:15pm

Investigation alleges Lactalis breached environmental regulations at several plants and released milk derivatives that killed fish

France’s largest dairy company has repeatedly polluted the country’s rivers over the past decade, according to a new report by French media organisation Disclose.

During a year-long investigation into dairy giant Lactalis, Disclose found that 38 of the company’s production sites in France had breached environmental regulations. In many cases, according to the report, this involved the release into rivers of milk-related derivatives – which can be deadly to aquatic life in large volumes – or byproducts from wastewater treatment plants. The report contains evidence of several instances that it says resulted in the death of fish.

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Categories: Environment

Big oil's answer to melting Arctic: cooling the ground so it can keep drilling

Mon, 2020/10/19 - 12:00am

Technology is keeping patches of Alaska permafrost frozen to preserve energy infrastructure even as indigenous residents’ world is transformed by the climate crisis

The oil company ConocoPhillips had a problem.

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Categories: Environment

Rising tide: why the crocodile-like gharial is returning to India's rivers

Sun, 2020/10/18 - 10:30pm

The bulbous-nosed reptiles were in critical decline until conservationists stepped in

As the sunlight pierces the fog, a fisherman on a boat floating along the Gandak River in Bihar, India, spots a magnificent reptile basking on a sandbar in the middle of the river. Most people would mistake it for a crocodile but its distinctive snout tipped with a bulbous mass and elongated jaw tell him it is a gharial.

Gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) are often mistaken for crocodiles or alligators. They are the only species in the Gavialidae family: river-dwellers that eat only fish and some crustaceans, and which split from all other crocodilians perhaps more than 65m years ago.

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Categories: Environment

Alaska's new climate threat: tsunamis linked to melting permafrost

Sun, 2020/10/18 - 12:00am

Scientists are warning of a link between rapid warming and landslides that could threaten towns and tourist attractions

In Alaska and other high, cold places around the world, new research shows that mountains are collapsing as the permafrost that holds them together melts, threatening tsunamis if they fall into the sea.

Scientists are warning that populated areas and major tourist attractions are at risk.

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Categories: Environment

Eel effects: fears after release of exotic species into New York lake

Sat, 2020/10/17 - 7:33am

The man who freed two bags of eels at a Brooklyn park probably meant well but the effects on the ecosystem are unpredictable

New York state and city wildlife officials say it is too soon to know what effect a dump of exotic eels into a lake in a park in Brooklyn last month will have on local species – but it could become a major problem.

“People like animals and they sometimes think they’re doing a good thing by letting them go,” said Jason Munshi-South, an urban ecologist at Fordham University. “Most will die. Some will become a problem, and then there’s no going back.”

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Categories: Environment

Prickly business: the hedgehog highway that knits a village together

Sat, 2020/10/17 - 12:30am

With their miniature ramps, stairs and holes cut into fences and stone walls, the gardens of Kirtlington in Oxfordshire are a haven for wildlife

Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant. This was the first lesson from my village safari around Kirtlington in Oxfordshire, home to the UK’s longest volunteer-run hedgehog highway. “Leaving out bread and milk is the worst thing you can do,” says resident Chris Powles, who created the highway. It passes through 60 properties in the village, all linked by CD-sized holes cut into fences and walls, some of which have been around since the 18th century.

Hedgehogs need space to create territories, forage and find mates. The compartmentalisation of land into private gardens is one of the causes of their disappearance from our landscape – they have declined by 90% since the second world war. More than 12,000 hedgehog holes have been created as part of the UK’s hedgehog highway network, and Kirtlington has one of the most creative routes on the map. Miniature ramps and staircases thread between gardens in this higgledy-piggledy place, with its 13th-century church and notices about cake sales and “cricketers wanted”.

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Categories: Environment

The tardigrade in the ice hole: how extreme life finds a way in the Arctic

Sat, 2020/10/17 - 12:00am

Tiny organisms nicknamed water bears offer clues about possible alien life but the changing climate means their habitat faces an uncertain future

As we make our way across Greenland’s ice sheets, I look around. We’re surrounded by numerous tiny black holes, some only a few centimeters in diameter, others up to 4-8in (10-20cm) wide. As we advance, we notice that more and more holes are magically appearing, and their edges are increasingly distinct. They’re called cryoconite holes.

Related: Greenland's ice melting faster than at any time in past 12,000 years

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Categories: Environment

Rowan Williams urges UK universities to divest from fossil fuels

Sat, 2020/10/17 - 12:00am

Former archbishop says oil firm holdings not compatible with duty to next generation

The former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has called on UK universities to follow the example of Cambridge and end their multimillion-pound investments in fossil fuels.

Williams, a former master of Magdalene college, Cambridge, said all universities had a duty to their students to create a “safer world”, and investing tens of millions of pounds in fossil fuel corporations was incompatible with this.

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Categories: Environment

Household recycling surge raises costs for councils in England

Sat, 2020/10/17 - 12:00am

A third of councils have collected up to 50% more recycling since coronavirus lockdown

The amount of household recycling collected has nearly doubled in some areas during the pandemic, pushing up the costs of keeping services running, local councils have said.

Eight in 10 English councils reported a rise in the volume of paper, cardboard, plastic and glass being collected since the national lockdown began, according to data from the Local Government Association (LGA).

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Categories: Environment

For Australia's sake, I hope Trump's climate science denialism loses | Michael Mann

Fri, 2020/10/16 - 12:00pm

US policy has emboldened Scott Morrison to be less ambitious on climate, just when so much is at stake

Anyone in Australia who witnessed the Black Summer bushfires (as I did), and anyone in the US who experienced the thick smoke from our western wildfires (as I have), knows how much damage climate change is already doing. The stark reality is that worldwide efforts to avert ever-more catastrophic climate change impacts lie in the balance in the 2020 US election.

Donald Trump will go down in history bearing substantial responsibility for the deaths of over 200,000 Americans due to his rejection of the advice of public health experts and his refusal to endorse policies such as social distancing and mask-wearing that could have saved many thousands of lives. But his rejection of the science of climate change sets the stage for a far greater toll. Far more human lives will be lost from the impacts of climate change if we fail to act.

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Categories: Environment

Protester HS2 wanted jailed gets suspended sentence

Fri, 2020/10/16 - 10:40am

Elliott Cuciurean’s case is seen as important ruling about right to protest

An environmental protester who HS2 asked to be imprisoned has was given a suspended sentence in a landmark case about the right to protest.

Elliott Cuciurean, who is described by fellow environmental activists as a “conscientious protector”, was accused by the high-speed rail company of repeatedly breaching an injunction not to trespass on an HS2 site at Crackley Woods in Warwickshire.

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Categories: Environment