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Updated: 24 min 54 sec ago

Earth Hour 2015 Countdown Begins

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 03:00

As nations and individuals around the globe gear up to participate in the world’s largest grassroots environmental movement, WWF’s Earth Hour kickstarted the countdown to the 2015 event with the release of the official campaign video today. Set to the international hit song ‘Pompeii’ by British rock band Bastille, the two-minute video demonstrates how Earth Hour is empowering individuals and organisations around the world to take action on climate change.

Showcasing memorable moments and achievements from past Earth Hour events as well as powerful statements from world leaders and personalities such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US President Barack Obama and actors Emma Thompson, Li Bingbing and Marc Ruffalo on the issue of climate change, the Earth Hour 2015 video aims to inspire people with the message to act and ‘use your power to change climate change’.

“This is the ninth time the Earth Hour movement will roll across the world. Millions of people will come together to use their power to change climate change and we want to work with them to deliver real solutions for a sustainable future for our planet,” said Sudhanshu Sarronwala, Executive Director, Marketing and Communications WWF International.

In the past eight years, Earth Hour has grown from a symbolic lights-off event in Sydney, Australia to the world’s largest open-sourced environmental campaign mobilising hundreds of millions of people in more than 7,000 cities and 163 countries and territories.

“We would like to thank the band Bastille, Universal and EMI Publishing for helping us create an inspiring video that captures the energy and power of the Earth Hour movement to impact climate change,” said Sarronwala.

Earth Hour 2015 will take place on 28th March 2015 between 8:30 and 9:30 P.M. in your local time zone. To know more about the event and activities happening in and around your city and how you can use your power to change climate change, visit www.earthhour.org.

Categories: Ecological News

NASA, NOAA Find 2014 Warmest Year in Modern Record

Sat, 01/17/2015 - 00:32

By NASA

The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists.

The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000. This trend continues a long-term warming of the planet, according to an analysis of surface temperature measurements by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

In an independent analysis of the raw data, also released Friday, NOAA scientists also found 2014 to be the warmest on record.

“NASA is at the forefront of the scientific investigation of the dynamics of the Earth’s climate on a global scale,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The observed long-term warming trend and the ranking of 2014 as the warmest year on record reinforces the importance for NASA to study Earth as a complete system, and particularly to understand the role and impacts of human activity.”

Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades.

“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.

While 2014 temperatures continue the planet’s long-term warming trend, scientists still expect to see year-to-year fluctuations in average global temperature caused by phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña. These phenomena warm or cool the tropical Pacific and are thought to have played a role in the flattening of the long-term warming trend over the past 15 years. However, 2014’s record warmth occurred during an El Niño-neutral year.

“NOAA provides decision makers with timely and trusted science-based information about our changing world,” said Richard Spinrad, NOAA chief scientist. “As we monitor changes in our climate, demand for the environmental intelligence NOAA provides is only growing. It’s critical that we continue to work with our partners, like NASA, to observe these changes and to provide the information communities need to build resiliency.”

Regional differences in temperature are more strongly affected by weather dynamics than the global mean. For example, in the U.S. in 2014, parts of the Midwest and East Coast were unusually cool, while Alaska and three western states – California, Arizona and Nevada – experienced their warmest year on record, according to NOAA.

The GISS analysis incorporates surface temperature measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperatures, and temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations. This raw data is analyzed using an algorithm that takes into account the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heating effects that could skew the calculation. The result is an estimate of the global average temperature difference from a baseline period of 1951 to 1980.

NOAA scientists used much of the same raw temperature data, but a different baseline period. They also employ their own methods to estimate global temperatures.

GISS is a NASA laboratory managed by the Earth Sciences Division of the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites, as well as airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

The data set of 2014 surface temperature measurements is available at:

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/

The methodology used to make the temperature calculation is available at:

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/sources_v3/

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

Categories: Ecological News

Rise in Mass Die-Offs Seen Among Birds, Fish and Marine Invertebrates

Tue, 01/13/2015 - 03:31

By Sarah Yang
UC Berkeley News Center

An analysis of 727 mass die-offs of nearly 2,500 animal species from the past 70 years has found that such events are increasing among birds, fish and marine invertebrates. At the same time, the number of individuals killed appears to be decreasing for reptiles and amphibians, and unchanged for mammals.

large numbers of dead sunfish and largemouth bass in April 2014 following a severe winter on Wintergreen Lake, Kalamazoo County, Michigan.  – Photo by Gary Mittelbach

Such mass mortality events occur when a large percentage of a population dies in a short time frame. While the die-offs are rare and fall short of extinction, they can pack a devastating punch, potentially killing more than 90 percent of a population in one shot. However, until this study, there had been no quantitative analysis of the patterns of mass mortality events among animals, the study authors noted.

“This is the first attempt to quantify patterns in the frequency, magnitude and cause of such mass kill events,” said study senior author Stephanie Carlson, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.

The study, published today (Monday, Jan. 12) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by researchers at UC Berkeley, the University of San Diego and Yale University.

The researchers reviewed incidents of mass kills documented in scientific literature. Although they came across some sporadic studies dating back to the 1800s, the analysis focused on the period from 1940 to the present. The researchers acknowledged that some of their findings may be due to an increase in the reporting of mass die-offs in recent decades. But they noted that even after accounting for some of this reporting bias, there was still an increase in mass die-offs for certain animals.

Overall, disease was the primary culprit, accounting for 26 percent of the mass die-offs. Direct effects tied to humans, such as environmental contamination, caused 19 percent of the mass kills. Biotoxicity triggered by events such as algae blooms accounted for a significant proportion of deaths, and processes directly influenced by climate — including weather extremes, thermal stress, oxygen stress or starvation — collectively contributed to about 25 percent of mass mortality events.

The most severe events were those with multiple causes, the study found.

Carlson, a fish ecologist, and her UC Berkeley graduate students had observed such die-offs in their studies of fish in California streams and estuaries, originally piquing their interest in the topic.

“The catastrophic nature of sudden, mass die-offs of animal populations inherently captures human attention,” said Carlson. “In our studies, we have come across mass kills of federal fish species during the summer drought season as small streams dry up. The majority of studies we reviewed were of fish. When oxygen levels are depressed in the water column, the impact can affect a variety of species.”

The study found that the number of mass mortality events has been increasing by about one event per year over the 70 years the study covered.

“While this might not seem like much, one additional mass mortality event per year over 70 years translates into a considerable increase in the number of these events being reported each year,” said study co-lead author Adam Siepielski, an assistant professor of biology at the University of San Diego. “Going from one event to 70 each year is a substantial increase, especially given the increased magnitudes of mass mortality events for some of these organisms.

This study suggests that in addition to monitoring physical changes such as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, it is important to document the biological response to regional and global environmental change. The researchers highlighted ways to improve documentation of such events in the future, including the possible use of citizen science to record mass mortality events in real time.

“The initial patterns are a bit surprising, in terms of the documented changes to frequencies of occurrences, magnitudes of each event and the causes of mass mortality,” said study co-lead author Samuel Fey, a postdoctoral fellow in ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale. “Yet these data show that we have a lot of room to improve how we document and study these types of rare events.”

Funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation helped support this research.

Categories: Ecological News

Lima Climate Talks End, Paris Clock Ticking

Sun, 12/14/2014 - 21:41
The UN climate talks in Lima have ended with the setting of deadlines for the world to come up with plans to curb emissions and adapt to climate change.

By Paul Brown

Thousands march in Lima to add pressure on climate negotiators. Photo courtesy treealerts.org

LONDON, 14 December, 2014 – A deal struck in Lima between 196 nations today leaves open the possibility of saving the planet from dangerous overheating. But its critics say the prospects of success are now slim.

The talks – which ran two days longer than scheduled – set a series of deadlines which mean that every nation is charged with producing its plans to cap and reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.

These commitments will then be assessed to see if they are enough to prevent the world heating up more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the threshold political leaders say must not be crossed in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

The Lima agreement invites all countries to set out their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 31 March. The next step will be to draft a legally binding international agreement on how to get below the 2°C threshold. This text is to be made available to all countries for comment by May 2015.

All Eyes on Paris

By 1 November the secretariat of the UN Climate Change Convention is supposed to have assessed whether the commitment of these 196 nations is enough to stop the world overheating – and, if it is not, to point out by how far they will miss the target.

All this is to set the stage for a dramatic final negotiation in Paris in a year’s time, when a blueprint for a legally enforceable deal is supposed to be on the table. This is a tall order, however, because each time the parties meet the rich and poor countries wage the same arguments over again.

The developing countries say the rich developed countries that caused the problem in the first place must make deep cuts in their emissions and pay huge sums for the poorer countries to adapt to climate change.

 “The text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed.” ~ Sam Smith, WWF Chief of Climate Policy

The rich countries say that the fast industrialisation of many developing countries means that these countries must cut emissions too, otherwise the world will overheat anyway.

The poorest countries of all, and the small island states, who everyone agrees have no responsibility for the problem, want much more dramatic curbs on emissions, and more money for adaptation to sea level rise and climate extremes than is likely to be forthcoming.

New Reality

The talks take place amid their own jargon, with phrases like the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances” seen as essential to point up the difference between rich and poor nations and what they are expected to do.

The talks have dragged on for 15 years since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, in which the rich nations agreed to the first cuts in emissions while allowing the poorer nations to continue developing.

Now that China has overtaken the US as the world’s biggest polluter, and countries like Brazil and India are fast catching up, the scientific case is that every country has to curb its emissions, or else everyone faces disaster.

But whether the talks have gone far enough to allow a deal to be reached in Paris next year is a matter of many opinions.

“As a text it’s not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Peruvian environment minister, who presided over the talks and must have been relieved he got a text on which every country was prepared to agree.

Caustic Reaction

Environmental groups were scathing about the outcome. Sam Smith, chief of climate policy for WWF, said: “The text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed.

“Governments crucially failed to agree on specific plans to cut emissions before 2020…The science is clear that delaying action until 2020 will make it near-impossible to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, yet political expediency won over scientific urgency.”

“It’s definitely watered down from what we expected,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But those not keen on limiting their own development were happy. “We got what we wanted,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister, said.

Despite the different views the talks did not break down, and so there is still hope. This assessment from Mohammed Adow, Christian Aid’s senior climate change adviser, probably accurately sums up the Lima result: “The countdown clock to Paris is now ticking. Countries had the chance to give themselves a head start on the road to Paris but instead have missed the gun and now need to play catch-up.” – Climate News Network

Editor’s Note: Click here for a rundown of what transpired during the full two weeks of talks.

Categories: Ecological News

Ian Player, Grandfather of Conservation Passes On

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 02:50

Image courtesy http://rhinoseday.com/

Nature conservationist Ian Player has died at his home in the Karkloof Valley in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

The Wilderness Foundation issued a statement stating “”87-year-old Dr Ian Player, passed away peacefully at midday on 30 November 2014 after a short illness.” Player – who is credited with saving the white rhino from extinction in KwaZulu-Natal in the 1950s – suffered a stroke last Thursday. He committed his life to conservation and is known worldwide as the grandfather of South Africa’s conservation movement.

Andrew Zaloumis, CEO of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, a Unesco World Heritage site, posted on Facebook: “In a century when the earth is being badly injured and harmed, nature is desperately in need of wise guardians to protect it.  Ian was such a sage. His voice was a beacon of hope, one that recognized the sacredness of all species and the interconnectiveness of life itself.  For those of us in the trenches he will be sorely missed. He stood with us in a joint quest to ensure the protection and the well being of all the earth’s inhabitants.”

This year, the  world-renowned Dusi Canoe Marathon, a paddling and portaging ultra-marathon from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, will honor Player, its founder and the inaugural winner (and only finisher) in 1951. “His passion for adventure and conservation will always be cherished by the 12 374 men and women who have followed in his footsteps and completed a Dusi, and by every single one of the athletes that will start the 2015 edition of the race in his memory,” Dusi GM Brett Austen Smith said.

There is to be a small, private funeral but numerous memorials are being planned. “His passing has been so gentle and peaceful while his Spirit and Soul were being absorbed into the Greater Universe,” Sheila Berry said on behalf of the Player family.

For more information on his remarkable life, visit Ian Player.com

Categories: Ecological News

EPA Proposes Smog Standards to Safeguard Americans from Air Pollution

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 00:55

By EPA

WASHINGTON– Based on extensive recent scientific evidence about the harmful effects of ground-level ozone, or smog, EPA is proposing to strengthen air quality standards to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) to better protect Americans’ health and the environment, while taking comment on a level as low as 60 ppb. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review the standards every five years by following a set of open, transparent steps and considering the advice of a panel of independent experts. EPA last updated these standards in 2008, setting them at 75 ppb.

“Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk. It empowers the American people with updated air quality information to protect our loved ones – because whether we work or play outdoors – we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act has always been EPA’s responsibility. Our health protections have endured because they’re engineered to evolve, so that’s why we’re using the latest science to update air quality standards – to fulfill the law’s promise, and defend each and every person’s right to clean air.”

EPA scientists examined numerous scientific studies in its most recent review of the ozone standards, including more than 1,000 new studies published since the last update.  Studies indicate that exposure to ozone at levels below 75 ppb — the level of the current standard — can pose serious threats to public health, harm the respiratory system, cause or aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, and is linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes. Ground-level ozone forms in the atmosphere when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds “cook” in the sun from sources like cars, trucks, buses, industries, power plants and certain fumes from fuels, solvents and paints. People most at risk from breathing air containing ozone include people with asthma, children, older adults, and those who are active or work outside. Stronger ozone standards will also provide an added measure of protection for low income and minority families who are more likely to suffer from asthma or to live in communities that are overburdened by pollution. Nationally, 1 in 10 children has been diagnosed with asthma.

According to EPA’s analysis, strengthening the standard to a range of 65 to 70 ppb will provide significantly better protection for children, preventing from 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks and from 330,000 to 1 million missed school days. Strengthening the standard to a range of 70 to 65 ppb would better protect both children and adults by preventing more than 750 to 4,300 premature deaths; 1,400 to 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits; and 65,000 to 180,000 missed workdays.

EPA estimates that the benefits of meeting the proposed standards will significantly outweigh the costs.  If the standards are finalized, every dollar we invest to meet them will return up to three dollars in health benefits. These large health benefits will be gained from avoiding asthma attacks, heart attacks, missed school days and premature deaths, among other health effects valued at $6.4 to $13 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $19 to $38 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 65 ppb.  Annual costs are estimated at $3.9 billion in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $15 billion for a standard at 65 ppb.

A combination of recently finalized or proposed air pollution rules – including “Tier 3” clean vehicle and fuels standards – will significantly cut smog-forming emissions from industry and transportation, helping states meet the proposed standards.  EPA’s analysis of federal programs that reduce air pollution from fuels, vehicles and engines of all sizes, power plants and other industries shows that the vast majority of U.S. counties with monitors would meet the more protective standards by 2025 just with the rules and programs now in place or underway. Local communities, states, and the federal government have made substantial progress in reducing ground-level ozone. Nationally, from 1980 to 2013, average ozone levels have fallen 33 percent. EPA projects that this progress will continue.

The Clean Air Act provides states with time to meet the standards. Depending on the severity of their ozone problem, areas would have between 2020 and 2037 to meet the standards. To ensure that people are alerted when ozone reaches unhealthy levels, EPA is proposing to extend the ozone monitoring season for 33 states. This is particularly important for at-risk groups, including children and people with asthma because it will provide information so families can take steps to protect their health on smoggy days.

The agency is also proposing to strengthen the “secondary” ozone standard to a level within 65 to 70 ppb to protect plants, trees and ecosystems from damaging levels of ground-level ozone. New studies add to the evidence showing that repeated exposure to ozone stunts the growth of trees, damages plants, and reduces crop yield.  The proposed level corresponds to levels of seasonal ozone exposure scientists have determined would be more protective.

EPA will seek public comment on the proposal for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register, and the agency plans to hold three public hearings. EPA will issue final ozone standards by October 1, 2015.

To view the proposal: http://www.epa.gov/glo/

Categories: Ecological News

NASA Captures a Year in the Life of Earth’s CO2

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 12:26

Courtesy of NASA

An ultra-high-resolution NASA computer model has given scientists a stunning new look at how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere travels around the globe.

Plumes of carbon dioxide in the simulation swirl and shift as winds disperse the greenhouse gas away from its sources. The simulation also illustrates differences in carbon dioxide levels in the northern and southern hemispheres and distinct swings in global carbon dioxide concentrations as the growth cycle of plants and trees changes with the seasons.

The carbon dioxide visualization was produced by a computer model called GEOS-5, created by scientists at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.

The visualization is a product of a simulation called a “Nature Run.” The Nature Run ingests real data on atmospheric conditions and the emission of greenhouse gases and both natural and man-made particulates. The model is then left to run on its own and simulate the natural behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere. This Nature Run simulates January 2006 through December 2006.

While Goddard scientists worked with a “beta” version of the Nature Run internally for several years, they released this updated, improved version to the scientific community for the first time in the fall of 2014.

For detailed views of various parts of the world, visit:
A Closer Look at Carbon Dioxide

Categories: Ecological News

Global Fishing Watch is Eye on the Ocean

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 12:05

Close to 90 percent of the world’s oceans are over-fished or fully exploited, according to 2014 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Fishing fleets operate way out to sea, often operating in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and other no-go zones, far beyond watchful eyes.

But not for much longer.

At the recent 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia the prototype of a new big data technology platform called Global Fishing Watch was unveiled. Developed through a technology partnership between SkyTruth, Oceana and Google, the system utilizes AIS (Automatic Identification System) satellite data points from commercial shipping and analyzes the data which provide near-real-time information about a ship’s movements. It includes identity, speed and direction of the vessels and is capable of removing non-fishing vessels from the display. The platform will ultimately provide citizens with a simple, online platform to visualize, track and share information about fishing activity worldwide.

In the press release issued at the unveiling, Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless states, “By engaging citizens to hold their elected officials accountable for managing fisheries sustainably and for enforcing fishing rules, Global Fishing Watch will help bring back the world’s fisheries, protecting and enhancing the livelihoods of the hundreds of millions of people who depend on ocean fisheries for food and income.”

Brian Sullivan, Program Manager, Google Ocean & Earth Outreach stated that by combining massive data and cloud computing to enable new tools in a Google-scale approach, the new platform can lead to “ocean sustainability and public awareness.”

“So much of what happens out on the high seas is invisible, and that has been a huge barrier to understanding and showing the world what’s at stake for the ocean. But now, satellite data is allowing us to make human interaction with the ocean more transparent than ever before. Fishermen can show how they are doing their part to fish sustainably, we can motivate citizens to watch the places they care about, and we can all work together to restore a thriving ocean,” said John Amos, President and Founder of SkyTruth.

The projected launch of the Global Fishing Watch free web portal is anticipated in 2015 or 2016, depending on the availability of funding.

Learn more about the project here.

SkyTruth is a nonprofit organization using remote sensing and digital mapping to create stunning images that expose the environmental impact of natural resource extraction and other human activities. We use satellite imagery and geospatial data to create compelling and scientifically credible visuals and resources to inform environmental advocates, policy-makers, the media, and the public. To learn more, visit SkyTruth.org.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 600,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, visit www.oceana.org.

Google Earth Outreach is a team dedicated to leveraging and developing Google’s infrastructure to address environmental and humanitarian issues through partnerships with non-profits, educational institutions, and research groups. To learn more, visit earth.google.com/outreach.

Categories: Ecological News

Land Trust Alliance Teams with Environmental, Health Allies to Combat National Health Crisis of Nature Deficit Disorder

Sat, 11/15/2014 - 00:21
“If nature contact were a medication, we would be prescribing it to everybody.”

~ Howard Frumkin, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington

Cooperative Initiative Anchored by Wingspread Declaration

The Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization working to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America, has teamed with allies from across conservation and health sectors to announce today an initiative to combat nature deficit disorder, a national health crisis with substantial economic and social implications.

“We, as a species, are now far more sedentary and disconnected from the land than our forerunners, and we are paying the price,” said Rand Wentworth, the Alliance’s president.

This cooperative initiative is anchored by the Wingspread Declaration, a document signed by 30 of America’s leading health officials, academics and nature-focused nonprofits. The Declaration calls for concerted action from health, environmental, academic, governmental and corporate actors to cooperatively reconnect people with nature and secure new commitments to protecting nature.

“If nature contact were a medication, we would be prescribing it to everybody,” said Howard Frumkin, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington, and one of the signatories to the Declaration. “It is safe, it is effective in preventing and treating a wide range of diseases and improving well-being, and, compared to many medications, it costs less, has fewer side effects and doesn’t need to be administered by a specialist. Investment in natural settings for healing, recreation and routine activities is investment in health – and it’s an investment that yields a very high return.”

This new initiative comes at a time when more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, incurring $148 billion in medical costs annually and contributing to 18% of U.S. adult deaths. Publicly available data shows U.S. healthcare costs are the highest per capita in the world – and that amount continues to increase.

“But consider an alternative,” Wentworth said. “Consider a forest trail. Consider a fresh breeze. Consider the robust body of evidence linking human health to nature.”

Wentworth said on both the quantitative and qualitative levels, time outdoors is known to improve people’s well-being. Nature deficit disorder is linked to higher rates of anxiety disorders and of mood disorders, such as depression, and exposure to green space counters these tendencies. People who live near natural settings are likely to report better mental health; urban parks are known to lower stress and elevate mood; and studies have even linked green neighborhoods with lower rates of obesity in children and longer life spans in elders.

“We know that increased activity can improve health,” said Ray Baxter, senior vice president of Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy at Kaiser Permanente, and another signatory to the Declaration. “We also know that access to nature can encourage and empower increased activity. So we should do everything possible to increase access to nature for everyone.”

Leaders from parks and health are discussing and supporting the Wingspread Declaration this week at milestone meetings in New Orleans and Sydney, Australia. Over 13,000 health providers at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in New Orleans and 5,000 parks and protected-land professionals at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia, will learn more about the Declaration and its goals.

Additional supporters are also responding to the Declaration’s call on health institutions to include nature in their practices and prescriptions; call on schools to ensure all children grow up connected to nature; call on elected officials and philanthropists to invest in parks, trails and green spaces; and call on employers to reconnect their employees with nature.

“We have a moral imperative to improve access to nature for communities with the highest health needs,” said Rue Mapp, who also signed the Declaration and is CEO and founder of Outdoor Afro. “And in doing so, we not only prevent health problems, but we treat the crisis at hand.”

Visit www.healthandnature.org to learn more about and endorse the Wingspread Declaration.

About the Land Trust Alliance

Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance is a national land conservation organization that works to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America. The Alliance represents 1,200 member land trusts supported by more than 5 million members nationwide. The Alliance is based in Washington, D.C., and operates several regional offices. More information about the Alliance is available at www.landtrustalliance.org.

About the University of Washington School of Public Health

The University of Washington School of Public Health is one of the nation’s leading such institutions. Our vision — “Healthy people in sustainable communities — locally, nationally, and globally” — drives a three-part mission: teaching, research, and service. Over the last 40 years, our 10,000 graduates have gone on to transform communities and lead health organizations. Our faculty and students accomplish innovative research to meet the emerging challenges of the 21st century, such as environmental change, obesity and nutrition, health policy, health systems that work, and the social factors that affect our health. To learn more, visit sph.washington.edu.

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and nonprofit health plans. Founded in 1945, we have a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve approximately 9.5 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/share.

About Outdoor Afro

Outdoor Afro is a social community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, birding, fishing, gardening, skiing and more. Outdoor Afro disrupts the false perception that black people do not have a relationship with nature and works to shift the visual representation of who can connect with the outdoors. To learn more, visit www.outdoorafro.com.

Joshua Lynsen
Media Relations Manager, Land Trust Alliance

Categories: Ecological News

The U.S. and China Announce New Actions to Reduce Carbon Pollution

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 04:04

By John Podesta & John Holdren
The White House Blog

Today in Beijing, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping made history by jointly announcing the United States’ and China’s respective targets for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change in the post-2020 period.

This announcement is a unique development in the U.S.-China relationship. The world’s two largest economies, energy consumers, and carbon emitters are reaching across traditional divides and working together to demonstrate leadership on an issue that affects the entire world.

By making this announcement well in advance of the deadline set out in the UNFCCC negotiations, the two leaders demonstrated their commitment to reducing the harmful emissions warming our planet, and urged other world leaders to follow suit in offering strong national targets ahead of next year’s final negotiations in Paris.

President Obama believes we have a moral obligation to take action on climate change, and that we cannot leave our children a planet beyond their capacity to repair. Over the last year, a spate of scientific studies have laid out the scope and scale of the challenge we face in the starkest of terms. “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” says the U.S. National Climate Assessment. “Without additional mitigation efforts…warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes.

In Copenhagen in 2009, President Obama pledged that the United States would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. We’re on track to meet that goal while growing the economy and creating jobs, thanks to the historic fuel economy standards enacted during the President’s first term; the measures to reduce carbon pollution, deploy more clean energy, and boost energy efficiency through the President’s Climate Action Plan; and the leadership demonstrated by a growing number of U.S. businesses, who have increased their investment in clean technologies and pledged to phase down the potent greenhouse gases known as HFCs.

After 2020, the United States will reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. This goal is both ambitious and achievable, grounded in an intensive analysis of what actions can be taken under existing law, and will double the pace of carbon pollution reduction in the United States from the pre-2020 period. It also means the United States is doing its part to contain warming to 2 degrees Celsius, though achieving that global outcome will require global ambition and commitments from all economies.

Chinese President Xi announced for the first time his intention to peak Chinese CO2 emissions around 2030, and further committed to make best efforts to peak early. China also announced a target of expanding the share of zero-emission sources in primary energy, namely renewables and nuclear, to 20% by 2030. To achieve that goal, China will have to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of zero-emission generation capacity by 2030, about the same as all their current coal-fired capacity and nearly as much as the total installed capacity in the U.S. energy sector today.

“There’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other,” President Obama said in September. “And that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.”

Today in Beijing, the leaders of the world’s two largest economies — and the world’s two biggest emitters — stood together and committed to tackling that threat head-on. If other leaders follow suit, if more businesses step up, if we keep our level of ambition high, we can build the safer, cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous world future generations deserve.

John Podesta is Counselor to President Barack Obama. John Holdren is the President’s science advisor.

Categories: Ecological News

Europe Faces Crunch Decision on Climate Policy

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 21:32

By Kieran Cooke

As European leaders meet to take a final decision on a new climate and energy policy up to 2030, there is intense interest worldwide to see if Europe opts to take a bold lead in tackling climate change.

The vast Elektrownia Bełchatów power plant in central Poland is Europe’s biggest polluter
Image: G.Mordalski via Wikimedia Commons

LONDON, 23 October, 2014 − It has not been easy. Negotiations on the new energy and climate policy involving all 28 European Union member states have been going on for months – and, in some instances, for years.

The European Council meets today and tomorrow in Brussels with a heavy agenda – including the ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The European Commission’s 2030 policy framework on climate and energy that is up for discussion has two key elements:

  • A binding agreement to cut overall EU CO2 emissions by 40 percent over 1990 levels by 2030.
  • Achieving savings of at least 30 percent in energy efficiency across the EU, also by 2030.

The long-term goal is an ambitious one – nothing short of the transformation of Europe’s energy system and its economy. The EU will be decarbonised: the plan is to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions by between 80 percent and 90 percent by 2050.

There are other ingredients in the package, which is designed to replace the existing policy, focused on 2020 targets. These include commitments to renewables and to the reform of the EU’s ailing Emissions Trading System, moves towards a more integrated cross-border energy system, plus the phasing out of subsidies for Europe’s coal industry.

Many compromises

The devil, as always, is in the detail. Achieving agreement among EU member countries – each with its own distinctive political set-up and economic ambitions – is difficult, some would say impossible. Many compromises have had to be made.

Some countries still have reservations about the whole idea of setting binding emission reduction targets, saying this will increase energy costs and result in Europe losing its economic competitiveness − particularly with the US, where the price of energy has dropped significantly due to the widespread take-up of shale oil and gas.

Poland is one of the countries that will be hard to convince. It is heavily dependent on coal for its energy, and is fighting against any move to phase out subsidies for the coal industry.

A group of countries, led by Germany, wants EU energy efficiency targets to be binding, while others, led by an increasingly Euro-sceptic UK government, say each country should be allowed to set its own energy efficiency goals – and that there should be less interference by Brussels.

Meanwhile, scientists and economists say the new package – even if it is approved − is not nearly ambitious enough.

Professor Jim Skea, a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says countries are doing only what is politically achievable, rather than what is necessary to transform the EU’s energy sector.

“I don’t think many people have grasped just how huge this task is,” Skea told BBC news. “It is absolutely extraordinary and unprecedented. My guess is that 40 percent for 2030 is too little too late if we are really serious about our long-term targets.”

Some business interests remain firmly opposed to the EU’s new energy regime, but many of Europe’s biggest corporations − frustrated by frequent changes in policy and by political interference − are backing a call for more robust action on climate change.

“We remain increasingly concerned at the costs, risks and impacts associated with delayed action on climate change on our markets, supply chains, resources costs, and upon society as a whole,” says an open letter to the European Council from the Climate Group and 56 other leading EU businesses and organisations.

Relations strained

With relations between the EU and Russia increasingly strained due to events in Ukraine and elsewhere, European countries are concerned about their energy security and dependence on gas imports from Russia.

A report by the ECOFYS consultancy and the Open Climate Network group says gas imports into Europe could be cut in half by ramping up investment in renewable energy and achieving greater energy efficiency. Emissions targets would also be met much sooner.

A separate report by Ernst & Young, the professional services company, says the EU is in danger of missing out on the financial benefits of developing renewable technologies.

Stable long-term targets and smart industrial policy, Ernst & Young says, can help Europe secure its slice of “a cake that will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars by the turn of the century”. – Climate News Network

Categories: Ecological News

California Geese Applaud Ruling on Foie Gras

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 13:21

Foie Gras ducks in Normany, France. Photo via Wikipedia

Or they would if they could, because the October 14, 2014 Supreme Court ruling means that California’s ban of the sale of foie gras, a delicacy that is produced by force-feeding corn to ducks and geese so as to enlarge their livers beyond normal size, remains in place. Animal rights activists have long condemned the practice of force-feeding as being cruel and painful. In 2004 the California legislature took their point and passed a ban that went into effect in 2012.

The fight was led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and the law was authored and shepherded by former California state legislator John Burton, who described the drive as a “long, hard fight.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision means that the people of California have the right to prohibit the sale of certain food items, solely because they are the product of animal cruelty,” Jonathan Lovvorn, chief counsel for the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement.

Food Fight

Opposition to the ban from foie gras  (which means fatty liver in Frenchproducers and restaurateurs was fast and furious. A challenge (Association des Eleveur v. Harris, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-1313) was formally mounted in the United States District Court of Central California by the Canadian foie gras producers, Association Des Eleveurs de Canards et D’Oies Du Quebec, New York-based Hudson Valley Foie Gras, and California-based HOT’S Restaurant Group. Thirteen meat and poultry producing states weighed in with a supporting brief in favor of overturning the foie gras ban. The appeal was also supported by almost 100 star chefs.

Informally, the plaintiffs argued that the law did not take into account new, more humane methods of foie gras production. But their primary claim rested on the concept that the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from interfering with interstate commerce.

In a brief defending the law, California Attorney General Kamala Harris argued that the state did not exceed its jurisdiction in implementing the ban. “State laws prohibiting the sale of products based on concerns about animal welfare, or simply on a social consensus concerning what is appropriate, are not unusual,” she wrote, citing various states’ laws prohibiting the sale of horse meat.

Ultimately, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the producers’ line of reasoning. Relatively confident that the conservative high court would be open to the argument that the ban violated interstate commerce rules and curtailed free trade, the foie gras contingent took their case to the highest court in the land. However, on October 14th, the high court declined to hear the appeal thus leaving intact an August 2013 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the law.

No Foie Gras For You

Foie gras is no longer available in California. Photo via Wikipedia

The reaction of the food community to the ruling has been every bit as emotional as that of animal rights activists. The ban, they say, will crush culinary creativity by discouraging chefs from taking risks. It is yet another instance of political correctness and odious government overreach. One chef even alleged that the ban was a violation of free speech. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain called foie gras “one of the most delicious things on earth and one of the ten most important flavors in gastronomy,” urging one and all to lavish their dinner guests with a “delicious, unctuous terrine of foie gras.” Those who object to it solely based on the nature of its production are quite simply “twisted souls.”

Rumors circulated throughout the foodie community that there would soon be specially trained patrols roaming the state to find and prosecute foie gras scofflaws. In response, some partisans vowed, there would be an underground movement to open foie gras speakeasies and renegade pop-up restaurants where the contraband could be served.

So why all the frenzied reaction to the loss of something that – really – is a very small part of the foodie food-chain?

There’s a lot more at stake in the war over foie gras than its particular culinary virtuosity.
California’s law is seen by the country’s giant food producers – the so-called factory farms – as an ominous portent of animal welfare regulation to come.

The state has already passed a law requiring larger cages for egg-laying hens in 2010. That law was appealed by six states who argued that California should not be allowed to have standards different from those of other states. They further alleged that the infrastructure changes required to meet those standards would cost out-of-state farmers hundreds of millions of dollars effectively limiting if not preventing outright their ability to sell their products.

The egg-producers weren’t alone in voicing their alarm. Dom Nikoim with the Missouri Pork Association claims that the law is “a clear violation of the U.S. Commerce Clause,” and warns that it likely won’t stop with eggs.“Logically, the next step is, we should extend our authority on how you produce pork to other states, as well. Then is it dairy, is it beef, is it corn? Go down the list.”

For now, geese, ducks and egg-laying hens have won the day, but the anti-animal welfare regulation lobby is large and powerful. And you can be sure that they – and their representatives in Congress – have only just begun to fight.

Categories: Ecological News

World Food Day 2014 Toasts Family Farmers

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 23:59

By Food Tank

We must do more to incentivize, celebrate and exponentially improve the lives of family farmers to ensure all people have access to fresh, healthy food.

Today, the world puts 500 million family farmers in the spotlight in observance of World Food Day 2014. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has recognized family farmers as central to solving global hunger and malnutrition.

According to FAO, family farming includes all family-based agricultural activities. Family farming is a means of organizing agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production, which is managed and operated by a family and is predominantly reliant on family labor. In addition, FAO reports that based on data from 93 countries, family farmers account for an average of 80 percent of all holdings, and are the main producers of food that is consumed locally.

“The world cannot do without the family farmer,” says Amy McMillen, Partnerships and Outreach Coordinator for FAO. “It’s because of the family farmer that we eat a variety of healthy foods every day.  And yet, family farmers still make up the majority of poor and hungry people in the world. We must do more to incentivize, celebrate and exponentially improve the lives of family farmers to ensure all people have access to fresh, healthy food.”

The face of family farming in North America is dynamic. Results from a new survey of 75 North American family farmers, led by Humanitas Global in collaboration with FAO and Food Tank, were unveiled at the Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa today. The results demonstrate what is at play for those who have stayed on the farm, chosen to leave the farm or taken up farming for the first time. A consistent takeaway from the results demonstrates that North American-based family farmers remain committed to family farming, despite the challenges that exist.

“The survey results and our conversations with farmers reinforce a deep affinity for family farming, but they also show that farmers are torn between a love for the land and trying to make ends meet,” said Nabeeha M. Kazi, President & CEO of Humanitas Global and Chair of the Community for Zero Hunger. “For those who no longer work the family farm, the importance of feeding their communities and the world remains very much part of their identity.”

Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents who have left the family farm said they remain involved in agriculture in their current careers.  In addition, a majority of those who have left the family farm said they intend on returning in the future.

“We do not want the universe of family farmers to shrink, and we must have policies, programs and resources to enable family farmers to stay on the farm if they desire to do so and perform at their potential,” says Kazi.  “However, we also cannot overlook the power of those who have left the farm. These individuals have tremendous and highly credible voices as we promote and protect the family farm. We should deploy them to inform policy, shape programs and amplify the story of the family farmer in diverse spaces.”

The greatest challenges for family farmers today include the cost of land, labor costs, government regulations and policies, climate change and the inherent risk of farming, as well as the disproportionate amount of work required given the financial returns.

“The survey results show that family farmers do not rely on farming alone to pay the bills,” says Kazi. “Approximately 67 percent of respondents to the survey said that a family member’s income or additional part-time work supplements income from farming.”

On the positive side, a connection with the land and food systems, independence and working outdoors were all cited as the principle advantages of being a farmer. Those who grew up and remained on farms, those who left farms to pursue other careers and new family farmers all spoke of tending to the land and watching food grow as the most fulfilling aspects of being a farmer.

“Family farmers are facing economic challenges and beyond,” says Danielle Nierenberg, President of Food Tank. “In addition to tools and resources, family farmers are concerned about issues that all Americans worry about – including providing health care for their families and higher education for their children. And yet, so many people stay on the family farm or are committed to returning, because farming is fulfilling, intellectually stimulating and challenging – and it has shaped their values.”

Neirenberg points out that the commitment to family farming is unwavering. She notes that many respondents who have left the family farm said they still pitch in on the farm when they can.  Many went on to say that if no one was available to tend the family farm, they would return home to take over rather than lose it.

The challenges that family farmers face in the United States and throughout North America mirror the challenges seen globally. Climate change, low profitability and better off-farm opportunities all emerge as the greatest global threats to family farming.

“Recognizing the external pressures on family farming, many which the global community can help alleviate, is crucial if we are to make family farming viable and desirable for the next generation,” says McMillan. “FAO celebrates family farmers. We have to be very deliberate and responsive to the needs of the family farmer so they can successfully and profitably do what they love, and that love is feeding and nourishing the world.”

 

Categories: Ecological News

Star-Studded Conservation Campaign

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 11:19

Conservation International, (CI) a non-profit that operates around the world working on topics related to ecosystems, biodiversity and human well-being recently launched the “Nature is Speaking” campaign, a series of videos featuring the voices of international celebrities.

Each voice speaks as a part of the planet;  Julia Roberts is Mother Nature and Harrison Ford is the ocean. Kevin Spacey is a memorable rainforest; Robert Redford speaks as the redwoods, with Penelope Cruz as water and Ed Norton speaks for the soil. All the voices make the point that is so often lost; that Nature doesn’t need Humans, Humans need Nature.

CI’s manifesto, or Humanifesto spells it out, pointing out that nature will go on, with us or without us.

Our Humanifesto

Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.
Human beings are part of nature. Nature is not dependent on human beings to exist.
Human beings, on the other hand, are totally dependent on nature to exist.
The growing number of people on the planet and how we live here is going to determine the future of nature. And the future of us.
Nature will go on, no matter what. It will evolve.
The question is, will it be with us or without us?
If nature could talk, it would probably say it doesn’t much matter either way.
We must understand there are aspects of how our planet evolves that are totally out of our control.
But there are things that we can manage, control and do responsibly that will allow us and the planet to evolve together.
We are Conservation International and we need your help. Our movement is dedicated to managing those things we can control.
Better.
Country by country.
Business by business.
Human by human.
We are not about us vs. them.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an American, a Canadian or a Papua New Guinean. You don’t even have to be particularly fond of the ocean or have a soft spot for elephants.
This is simply about all of us coming together to do what needs to be done.
Because if we don’t, nature will continue to evolve. Without us.
HERE’S TO THE FUTURE. WITH HUMANS.

View the videos here.

Categories: Ecological News