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9 Environmental Boundaries We Don’t Want to Cross

9 Environmental Boundaries We Don’t Want to Cross | Wired Science | Wired.com.The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

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Climate change threatens to turn the planet into a stormy, overheated mess: That much we know. But according to 28 leading scientists, greenhouse gas pollution is but one of nine environmental factors critical to humanity’s future. If their boundaries are stretched too far, Earth’s environment could be catastrophically altered — and three have already been broken, with several others soon to follow.

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This grim diagnosis, published Wednesday in Nature, is the most ambitious assessment of planetary health to date. It’s a first-draft users’ manual for an era that scientists dub the “anthropocene,” in which nearly seven billion resource-hungry humans have come to dominate ecological change on Earth. The scientists’ quantifications are open to argument, but not the necessity of their perspective.

“It’s a crude attempt to map the environmental space in which we can operate,” said Jon Foley, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and one of the paper’s lead authors. “We need to keep our activities in a certain range, or the planet could tip into a state we haven’t seen in the history of our civilization.”

Thresholds for atmospheric carbon dioxide and ozone have already been described, and are widely known to the public. But the scientists say five other factors are just as important: ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, land use, freshwater use and biodiversity. They say chemical pollution and atmospheric aerosols may also be essential, but can’t yet be quantified.

Values for the proposed boundaries are still just estimates, and don’t account for how pushing one could affect another — how, for example, acidification that kills plankton could make it harder for the ocean to absorb CO2 and rebound from nitrogen pollution. Ecological models still can’t capture the entirety of Earth’s biological, geological and chemical processes, and it’s impossible to run whole-Earth experiments — except, arguably, for the experiment that’s going on now.

 

Despite those uncertainties, one aspect of Earth’s behavior is becoming clear. Records of global transitions between geological ages, and of regional changes between environmental stages, suggest that planet-wide change could happen relatively quickly. It might not take thousands or millions of years for Earth’s environment to be altered. It could happen in centuries, perhaps even decades.

Exactly what Earth would look like is difficult to predict in detail, but it could be radically different from the mild environment that has prevailed for the last 10,000 years. It was temperate stability that nurtured the rise of civilization, and it should continue for thousands of years to come, unless humanity keeps pushing the limits.

“The Earth of the last 10,000 years has been more recognizable than the Earth we may have 100 years from now. It won’t be Mars, but it won’t be the Earth that you and I know,” said Foley. “This is the single most defining problem of our time. Will we have the wisdom to be stewards of a world we’ve come to dominate?”

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Foley’s team put the atmospheric carbon dioxide threshold at 350 parts per million, a level the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change says should keep Earth’s average temperature from rising by more than four degrees Fahrenheit. Current atmospheric CO2 levels are already approaching 400 parts per million.

Also exceeded are limits for species loss, which the scientists set at 10 per year per million species, and nitrogen use, pegged at 35 million tons per year. The current extinction rate is ten times higher than advised, ostensibly compromising the ability of ecosystems to process nutrients. The use of nitrogen — which is needed for fertilizer, but causes oxygen-choking algae blooms — is nearly four times higher than recommended.

On the positive side, atmospheric levels of ultraviolet radiation-blocking ozone are safe, thanks to a 1987 ban on ozone-destroying chemicals. Total rates of ocean acidification, freshwater consumption and land use are also acceptable, but those thresholds are expected to be exceeded in coming decades.

The seven boundary points are certain to be controversial, and Nature commissioned seven separate critiques by leading experts in each field.

William Schlesinger, president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, said the recommended nitrogen limit “seems arbitrary.” Echoing his words was Steve Bass of the International Institute for Environment and Development, who said the 15 percent cap on land devoted to agriculture could as easily be 10 or 20 percent.

International Water Management Institute researcher David Molden said the 4,000 cubic kilometer ceiling on freshwater use — roughly one-third of all freshwater — “may be too high.” Myles Allen, an Oxford University climatologist, argued that CO2 emissions should be counted in a different way. Cristian Samper, director of the U.S. Natural History Museum, said that taxonomic family loss is a more relevant measure than species loss.

According to Foley, who called his team’s threshold values a “cave painting” version of the true limits, the paper is less important for its details than its approach. And though the critics argued over the numbers, all agreed that exceeding them will be disastrous.

“Planetary boundaries are a welcome new approach,” wrote Molden. “It is imperative that we act now on several fronts to avert a calamity far greater than what we envision from climate change.”

Peter Brewer, an ocean chemist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, criticized the paper’s lack of proposed solutions. Given the ongoing failure of governments and citizens to follow their scientists’ advice on climate change, more than dire warnings is clearly needed.

“Is it truly useful to create a list of environmental limits without serious plans for how they may be achieved?” Brewer wrote. “Without recognition of what would be needed economically and politically to enforce such limits, they may become just another stick to beat citizens with.”

“It’s unsatisfactory, I agree. We don’t answer the question of how to keep humanity from crossing the boundaries,” said Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Environment Institute and a lead author of the Nature paper. “That’s the next challenge. To stay within planetary boundaries, we need tremendous social transformation.”

See Also:

Note: The Nature paper is an edited version of the full article, which is available from the Stockholm Resilience Institute.

Citations: “A safe operating space for humanity.” By Johan Rockström, Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart Chapin, III, Eric F. Lambin, Timothy M. Lenton, Marten Scheffer, Carl Folke, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Björn Nykvist, Cynthia A. de Wit, Terry Hughes, Sander van der Leeuw, Henning Rodhe, Sverker Sörlin, Peter K. Snyder, Robert Costanza, Uno Svedin, Malin Falkenmark, Louise Karlberg, Robert W. Corell, Victoria J. Fabry, James Hansen, Brian Walker, Diana Liverman, Katherine Richardson, Paul Crutzen, Jonathan A. Foley. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“Thresholds risk prolonged degradation.” By William Schlesinger. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“Keep off the grass.” By Steve Bass. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“Tangible targets are critical.” By Myles Allen. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“Identifying abrupt change.” By Mario J. Molina. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“The devil is in the detail.” By David Molden. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“Consider all consequences.” By Peter Brewer. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“Rethinking biodiversity.” By Cristian Samper. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

Laundry Lint Pollutes the World's Oceans

Laundry Lint Pollutes the World’s Oceans – ScienceNOW.

There’s nothing subtle about dryer lint: Clean the fluffy, gray mat off the filter or risk a fire. Washer lint, however, is sneaky. Nearly 2000 polyester fibers can float away, unseen, from a single fleece sweater in one wash cycle, a new study reports. That synthetic lint likely makes its way through sewage treatment systems and into oceans around the world. The consequences of this widespread pollution are still hazy, but environmental scientists say the microscopic plastic fibers have the potential to harm marine life.

The existence of so-called microplastics in marine environments is not, in itself, a revelation. Larger bits of plastic, such as those in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, gradually break down into microscopic fragments. And minute plastic fibers have turned up before in treated sewage and on beaches. But no one had looked at the issue on a global scale, says ecologist Mark Browne of University College Dublin.

So Browne and his team recruited far-flung colleagues on six continents to scoop sand from 18 beaches. (The scientists had to wear all natural-fiber clothing, lest their own garments shed lint into the samples.) Back in the lab, the researchers painstakingly separated the plastic from the sand—a process that involved, among other things, hand plucking microscopic fibers from filter papers. A chemical analysis showed that nearly 80% of those filaments were made of polyester or acrylic, compounds common in textiles.

Not a single beach was free of the colorful synthetic lint. Each cup (250 milliliters) of sand contained at least two fibers and as many as 31. The most contaminated samples came from areas with the highest human population density, suggesting that cities were an important source of the lint.

Cities come with sewers, and Browne’s team thought the plastic fibers might enter the ocean via sewage. Sure enough, synthetic lint was relatively common in both treated wastewater and in ocean sediments from sites where sewage sludge had been dumped. In all the samples, the fibers were mainly polyester and acrylic, just like the ones from the beaches.

Finally, the researchers wanted to see how synthetic lint got into sewage in the first place. Given its polyester-acrylic composition, they thought clothing and blankets were a good bet. So they purchased a pile of polyester blankets, fleeces, and shirts and commandeered three volunteers’ home washing machines for several months. They collected the wastewater from the machines and filtered it to recover the lint. Each polyester item shed hundreds of fibers per washing, the team reports in the 1 November issue of Environmental Science and Technology.

A polyester sweater may seem cozy and innocent on a winter day, but its disintegrated fibers could be bad news in marine environments, Browne says. Other studies have found that microplastics in the ocean absorb pollutants such as DDT. And Browne’s own work has shown that filter-feeding mussels will consume tiny plastic particles, which then enter the animals’ bloodstreams and even their cells. If the same thing happens in nature, the plastic fibers could “end up on our dinner plates,” incorporated into seafood, Browne warns.

There is still no direct evidence that the fibers—pollutant-tainted or otherwise—harm marine life, but Browne says it’s worth figuring out. He argues that the fibers are “guilty until proven innocent” and says that textile and washing machine manufacturers, as well as sewage treatment plants, should be looking for ways to keep the fibers out of the ocean. Garments that shed less lint, or filters that trap the fibers, might help.

ScienceNOW sent a copy of the study to Patagonia, one popular maker of fleece sweaters. No one was able to review the study and comment before deadline, but spokesperson Jess Clayton said that Patagonia does intend to follow up on the findings with Polartec, its primary supplier of fleece.

Christopher Reddy, an environmental chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, says it’s still hard to tell where lint pollution fits in the spectrum of environmental problems. It won’t “trump CO2 in the atmosphere” as a priority issue, but he calls the new results “provocative” and says they should trigger follow-up studies that measure the effects of the fibers on marine life. “It never ceases to amaze me that we continue to find more pollutants entering the coastal environment,” he adds. “What else is out there we may be missing?”

EPA Plans to Issue Rules for Fracking Wastewater

EPA Plans to Issue Rules for Fracking Wastewater: Scientific American.

 

Image: NETL.gov

The EPA took another step toward tightening oversight of hydraulic fracturing today, announcing it would initiate a process to set national rules for treating wastewater discharged from gas drilling operations.

Until now, the agency has largely left it to states to police wastewater discharges. Some have allowed drillers to pump waste through sewage treatment plants that aren’t equipped to remove many of the contaminants, leading to pollution in some rivers and to problems at drinking water facilities.

Cynthia Dougherty, EPA’s director of ground water and drinking water, told a Senate panel today that the agency has an important role to play in bolstering state standards.

“I wouldn’t say they’re inadequate,” she said of states’ regulations, “but they could use the help.”

When drillers frack a gas well, they inject thousands of gallons of chemicals, some of which are highly toxic even at low concentrations. When the fluid comes back up, it carries extremely salty water that can contain heavy metals and radioactive elements.

In Western states, most drilling wastewater is injected deep underground for permanent storage. There are fewer injection wells in the East, however, so much of the waste from drilling in the Marcellus Shale? was initially discharged into surface waters.

The EPA has the authority to issue permits for such discharges, but current rules allow shale gas drillers to pass their waste through public sewage plants even if those plants are not equipped to remove pollutants. (There are currently no rules covering wastewater from coalbed methane drilling, a type of gas production that drills into coal seams, so those wastes can be discharged without treatment.)

For years, Pennsylvania allowed growing volumes of wastewater to flow into the state’s rivers. As ProPublica reported two years ago, the water’s high salt and mineral content was believed to have elevated pollutant levels in some streams. It also may have clogged industrial equipment, killed fish and caused contamination in drinking water.

In March, the EPA sent a letter to environmental officials in Pennsylvania expressing alarm at high pollutant levels in the wastewater that was being discharged into the state’s waterways. The agency urged the state to increase monitoring. The next month, the state asked drillers to stop discharging waste unless it was properly treated. By June, state officials said that no waste was being discharged without full treatment.

In an email to ProPublica, the EPA said that concerns about releases in Pennsylvania and “other information” led the agency to initiate the process to set new national rules. The agency said about 22 billion gallons of wastewater from coalbed methane drilling go into surface waters across the country each year. The EPA does not have data on how much shale gas wastewater is being discharged nationwide.

“This is just a really good opportunity to be able to track the amount and the content of the waste at these wells,” said Jason Pitt, a spokesman for the Sierra Club. “You really can’t treat these chemicals as they come up without really knowing what’s in them.”

The Independent Petroleum Association of America issued a statement today saying it would work with the EPA to develop new standards and noted that drillers are increasingly cleaning and reusing their wastewater. Officials in Pennsylvania and at the EPA have said that increased recycling has been an important factor in reducing wastewater discharges.

The EPA said it would propose wastewater rules for coalbed methane drilling in 2013. Similar rules covering shale gas will come a year later, after the agency gathers more data on discharges.

The plan is one of several recent moves to increase federal oversight of fracking. Earlier this year, the EPA proposed rules that would limit air emissions from fracking operations. The Interior Department?, which regulates drilling on federal lands, has said it will issue rules covering fracking within the month.

 

From ProPublica.org (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.

 

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  1. 1. JamesDavis 04:28 PM 10/21/11
    All of this drilling from wells and mines that is causing the waste water pollution should be shut down and not allowed to continue and no new permits issued until the EPA has these rules in place. It doesn’t make sense to wait a hundred years before regulating these dangerous polluting companies. Them dragging their heels as long as they have have cost many lives and ego systems. A job is not worth that many human and animal lives or endangering human health. They can wait until the EPA has these rules in place and when these companies disregard these rules, like they do in West Virginia, there should be at least a $50 to $100 million dollar fine or every rule they break or disreguard. I bet they will follow the rules then.

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  2. 2. David Russell in reply to JamesDavis 10:56 PM 10/21/11
    The EPA will be extinct shortly. The current congress has made it a mission to destroy the EPA and any other regulatory commission in place and because they hold the purse strings it will happen either overtly or covertly by simply not funding it. Meanwhile Republicans shed crocodile tears over the long overdue reduction of NASA which might actually cause jobs and allow for new and creative manufacturing in both vacuum and microgravity environments not to mention a possible venture in sharing space with the public.

    A lot of that will depend on us getting off our butts and start to use Carbon for more than burning and that included CH4. Two Nobel prizes were awarded for graphene and now quasi-crystals have taken another one. What else is happening but very under the radar is the growth of nanotubes, diamond seeding (creating 2K diamonds from small seeds in high pressure carbon rich atmospheres) and the use of carbon composites as both metallic type materials and ceramics that are more malleable and yet harder than steel, titanium etc.

    There was an article in Dec 2010 describing the creation of H2 and O2 at rates of 3000 times the input and in a just in time type of production based on knowledge that was presented in 1993. What was new is that the process is on demand, prolific and sustainable. The upside is that both products burn and oxidizing H2 creates water as the waste product.

    Artificial leaves are being developed using Si which is interesting but again Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Iron and Sulfur are abundant, cheap and could create fuels that burn clean, materials that are lighter, conductive, semi-conductive and non-conductive with the current materials science we have developed using nano tubes and graphine.

    Will this get funded? Probably not because the political system is bought and paid for by big oil, pharmaceuticals, Wall Street and not by the people that are doing this research. There was some very interesting science being done by MIT where viruses were being custom tipped to create all kind of materials that had the above qualities and the only known use I have heard of to date was the military using them for batteries.

    We have real science that is in the works and in some cases mature but will the EPA and other regulatory sectors will be starved to allow the crap to continue.
    So excuse my pessimism, but I am trying to save enough quarters to buy a congressman.

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  3. 3. JamesDavis in reply to David Russell 08:35 AM 10/22/11
    I know, David; it is a shame that we have all this science and the republicans are killing it all. You forgot to mention the nuclear auto that GM killed…GM is controlled by the republicans. That car could get over 300,000 miles on 8 grams of thorium. 100 or a 1,000 grams of thorium could power your house or business, probably, forever.

    There is great hopes for graphine batteries, but again it is being underfunded by the republicans.

    I have a whole jar of quarters if you want them.

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  4. 4. hallmen0601 09:52 AM 10/22/11
    Maybe, just maybe we should stop relying on the federal government to fix locally fixable problems and elect civil SERVANTS who will actually do their jobs for the pay they receive. Companies need to do the same and are much more easily controlled and FORCED to do business correctly, morally, ethically and monetarily feasible. The EPA is in way over their heads and in need of being controlled to enforce rules and gers already in place. They are not here to take over price fixing and negotiating FOR unions so the Federal Government may covertly rule through back-door politics and smile while stealing your empowerment that can and will develop the new technologies for peace and prosperity belonging to the many, not the few legal thieves in corporate dominance and political back-door payoffs scandals.

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  5. 5. innovation 02:43 PM 10/23/11
    There are several problems with your line of reasoning. First, these shale fields extend over the area of several states. In order to compete with one another, states will face significant pressure to lower environmental standards. Second, the pollution caused by this practice, if allowed to continue in its current form, will continue to cross state lines as it contaminates entire river systems and watersheds. Finally, these fields, and the resources they contain, are arguably matters of national security as the represent large portion of our current reserves. Given these arguments alone, we’re faced with issues that are clearly in the federal domain.

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  6. 6. eco-steve 05:29 PM 10/23/11
    America has a big problem. Republicans refuse to acknowledge the environmental, and especially climatic damage done by US industries. They are just plain lazy and egoistical, expecting that God will take the necessary measures in their place. God only helps those that helps themselves, not those that help themselves to other people’s ressources…. It may well result in UN embargos on american exports….The world will not clear up the mess in their place!

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  7. 7. HowleyGreen 09:01 PM 10/23/11
    What about requiring all U.S. Senators and Congressmen to pass a basic, high-school level science exam before they can take their oath of office. They can pick their science: biology, chemistry, physics, geology. Doesn’t really matter. We don’t need them all to be scientists. Just familiar with the scientific method.

    John Howley
    http://www.HowleyGreenEnergy.com

Forget Mother Nature: This is a world of our making – environment – 14 June 2011 – New Scientist

Forget Mother Nature: This is a world of our making – environment – 14 June 2011 – New Scientist.

Humans have transformed Earth beyond recovery – but rather than look back in despair we should look ahead to what we can achieve

THE Holocene, with its mild climate so remarkably stable and good for us, is over. We humans have transformed Earth’s climate, geology, biology and hydrology so extensively, profoundly and permanently that geologists are proposing the formal designation of a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.

International scientific panels will ultimately decide whether to recognise the new epoch, and it could be a decade or longer before we get a final ruling. Nevertheless, it’s high time that we – and I do mean all of us – take stock of the new Earth we have created. One reason to do this is to help answer a basic geological question: will the Anthropocene last long enough to justify its designation as a new epoch, or will it remain a mere geological event akin to the impact of an asteroid? It will also help us answer a more profound question: what do we do now?

The first lesson of history is simple: the Anthropocene was a long time in the making. Significant human alteration of the biosphere began more than 15,000 years ago as Palaeolithic tribes evolved social learning, advanced hunting and foraging technologies, and the use of fire, and used them to open up forested landscapes and kill off megafauna.

These Palaeolithic human impacts were significant and extensive, but they were minor compared with the impact of the rise of agriculture more than 8000 years ago. By domesticating plant and animal species and engineering ecosystems to support them, humans introduced a wide range of unambiguously anthropogenic processes into the biosphere.

Human alteration of Earth systems tends to be far more extensive and complex than one would expect based on numbers alone. Even 8000 years ago, with a population of just 10 million or so, humans had already altered as much as a fifth of Earth’s ice-free land, primarily by using fire to clear forest. The reason small populations had such extensive impacts is that early agriculture emphasised labour efficiency. Early farmers did not use the plough, and that meant constantly shifting cultivation to the most fertile areas. As a result, most of the landscape was in some stage of recovery, giving rise to “semi-natural” woodlands. These were among the first anthropogenic biomes, or “anthromes“.

In this way, human populations were able to increase and expand for millennia, converting vast tracts of pristine forest into semi-natural woodlands and less productive land into rangeland. As populations grew larger and more dense they created ever more intensively transformed anthromes by tillage, irrigation, manuring and cropping. By 1750, more than half of the terrestrial biosphere had been converted into anthromes, leaving an ever greater permanent record in soils, sediments and the atmosphere. This process ultimately gave rise to the densely populated village and urban anthromes most of us live in today.

The rise of industrial systems in the past century has transformed the majority of the terrestrial biosphere into intensively used anthromes dominated by novel ecological processes. Now more than 7 billion strong and growing, we continue to transform the last wild biomes into anthromes – a process that must end soon as we reach the limits of the usable biosphere. Already, more than 12 per cent of Earth’s ice-free land is used continuously for crops and 16 per cent for livestock.

Thus we find ourselves in the Anthropocene. Today, even if the population were to decline substantially or land use to become far more efficient, the extent, duration and intensity of human activity has altered the terrestrial biosphere sufficiently to leave an unambiguous geological record differing substantially from that of any prior epoch. Earth’s biodiversity, biogeochemistry and evolution are now profoundly reshaped by us – and are therefore in our hands.

There will be no returning to our comfortable cradle. The global patterns of the Holocene have receded and their return is no longer possible, sustainable or even desirable. It is no longer Mother Nature who will care for us, but us who must care for her.

This raises an important but often neglected question: can we create a good Anthropocene? In the distant future will we be able to look back with pride?

We have seen what we can do, and it is awesome. In just a few millennia, humanity has emerged as a global force of nature – a networked system of billions of individuals creating and sustaining an entirely new global ecology. We live longer than ever, and our average standard of living has never been higher. These unprecedented achievements clearly demonstrate the remarkable ability of our social systems and technologies to evolve and adapt, often to changes we ourselves have induced.

Yet it is also easy to see what we have lost and are even now destroying. Wild fish and forests are nearly gone. We are warming the atmosphere, melting the ice caps, acidifying the ocean, polluting land and sea, driving species to extinction and inducing invasions by species from around the world – and in some areas leaving only a wasteland of monocultures and weeds. Clearly it is possible to look at all we have created and see only what we have destroyed.

But that, in my view, would be our mistake. We most certainly can create a better Anthropocene. We have really only just begun, and our knowledge and power have never been greater. We will need to work together with each other and the planet in novel ways. The first step will be in our own minds. The Holocene is gone. In the Anthropocene we are the creators, engineers and permanent global stewards of a sustainable human nature.

Erle C. Ellis is an associate professor in the department of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County

The Dead Sea Is Disappearing, but Could Be Saved [Slide Show]

The Dead Sea Is Disappearing, but Could Be Saved [Slide Show]: Scientific American.

The surface of the Dead Sea, already 424 meters below sea level, is falling by a meter a year. Jordanians to the east, Israelis to the west, and Syrians and Lebanese to the north are pumping so much freshwater from the Jordan River that almost none reaches the sea any more. Israel and Jordan are also siphoning water from the lake to extract valuable minerals, hastening the decline.

Photojournalist Eitan Haddok has traveled from Paris to the Middle East many times to document the sea’s retreat, as scientists try to understand the repercussions. Here are some additional Haddok images and insights to consider.

All photographs by Eitan Haddok

View the slide show

The World’s Ongoing Ecological Disasters

The World’s Ongoing Ecological Disasters – By Joshua E. Keating | Foreign Policy.

Good snippet-type article outlining some massive eco-disasters we’ve either never heard of or have blocked out…

BY JOSHUA E. KEATING | JULY 16, 2010

NIGERIA

Disaster: Oil spills

Going since: Around 1966

Damage done: The Deepwater Horizon incident may have been the worst oil spill in U.S. history, but it pales in comparison to the ongoing catastrophe that has afflicted Nigeria’s Niger River Delta over the last five decades. As many as 546 million gallons of oil are believed to have spilled since oil exploration began in this region — the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez spill every year.

There are around 2,000 official spill sites in the region, some of them decades old.
Oil companies operating in the region blame thieves and sabotage for the majority of the spills, though local activists say aging equipment and lax safety are the cause of many of them. The number of severity of the spills may actually increase in coming years as the industry moves into more remote and difficult terrain in the delta.

It’s not just the spilled oil that can be dangerous. Pipeline explosions, like in the one that killed more than 100 people outside Lagos in 2008, are increasingly frequent as well.

CHINA

Disaster: Coal fires

Going since: 1962

Damage done: China’s recent industrial growth depends heavily on coal — the source of 70 percent of the country’s energy — a major reason why it recently became the world’s largest carbon emitter. The country’s mining sector is also extremely dangerous, killing as many as 13 miners every day. But nowhere is the danger of China’s out-of-control coal addiction more evident than in the 62 raging underground coal fires that have burned in Inner Mongolia since the early 1960s.

Covering an area more than 3,000 miles long, China’s northern coal fires are estimated to destroy as many as 20 million tons of coal per year, more than the entire annual production of Germany. According to some estimates, these fires could be the cause of up to 2 to 3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. A new initiative by the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region aims to put half the fires out by 2012.

Inner Mongolia’s coal fires may be the most severe, but they are hardly unique. An underground fire in Centralia, Pa., begun the same year as many of China’s, is also still burning.

HAITI

Disaster: Deforestation

Going since: 1492

Damage done: Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island, as well as similar geographic and climate conditions. So why do severe storms and hurricanes — not to mention earthquakes — only cause horrific human tragedy on the Haitian side? One large reason is the almost complete destruction of Haiti’s trees.

When explorer Christopher Columbus first landed in what was then dubbed Hispañola, around three-fourths of it was covered in trees. Today, 98 percent of its forests are gone — one of the worst cases of deforestation in human history.

The main culprit is charcoal, by far the country’s most popular fuel source, which consumes up to 30 million trees per year. The Dominican Republic has banned cutting down trees for charcoal and subsidized propane as a substitute, and the contrast can be seen in satellite photographs of the border.

Without roots to hold the soil together, hurricanes and earthquakes are much more likely to case deadly landslides. The erosion of high-quality topsoil has also devastated Haiti’s agricultural sector, exacerbating its endemic poverty.

The list of challenges confronting Haiti following this year’s earthquake is long and daunting, but if the country is ever going to stand a fighting chance, what it needs more than anything else is more trees.

UZBEKISTAN/KAZAKHSTAN

Disaster: The shrinking of the Aral Sea

Going since: The 1960s

Damage done: Straddling the border of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the Aral Sea was once the world’s fourth-largest inland water body and home to at least 20 species of fish and a thriving coastal economy in the surrounding towns. In the early 1960s, the Soviet government built more than 45 dams and 20,000 miles of canals in an effort to create a cotton industry on the desert plains of Uzbekistan, depriving the sea of its main sources.

Over the next three decades, the sea shrank to two-fifths its original size, turning fishing villages into barren desert outposts. Thanks to the high salt content in the remaining water, all 20 fish species are now extinct. Drinking water supplies in the area are dangerously low and the ground contains dangerous pesticides from the cotton farms. When the wind sweeps across the now-dry sea bed, it spreads up to 75 million tons of toxic dust and salt across Central Asia every year.

Thankfully, dams constructed in the last decade on the Kazakh side seem to be leading to a partial recovery. The Northern Aral’s surface span has grown by 20 percent and fish and bird species are starting to return. The Southern Aral, however, still remains a shadow of its former self.

PACIFIC OCEAN

Disaster: The Eastern Garbage Patch

Going since: Discovered in 1997

Damage done: Somewhere between California and Hawaii lies the world’s largest garbage dump — a massive soup of plastic and debris one-and-a-half times the size of the United States and 100 feet deep. The “patch” is the product of the North Pacific Gyre, a loop of currents that picks up trash from the West Coast of the United States and East Asia and funnels it into an endless loop in the North Pacific.

Within the patch, pieces of plastic outweigh zooplankton by a factor of 6 to 1, and are often mistaken by fish and birds for food. Chemicals from the plastic can also make their way into the food chain, including fish consumed by humans.

The patch is the most widely publicized example, but this is a global problem. According to the U.N. Environment Program the world’s oceans contain 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. These plastics are responsible for the deaths of more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year.

E.P.A. Considers Risks of Gas FRACKING

–need to check with local groups here.. can we just lend support, reports, and fact-checking on these things??

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/24/business/energy-environment/24gas.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=business

By TOM ZELLER Jr.
Published: July 23, 2010

ME: fracking causes human health, widllife health, externality and clearn environemtnal destruction. DUH!!!

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