China's massive role in illegal logging

China produces more wood and paper products than any nation on Earth.  Sadly, much of it comes from illegal timber.

Bound for China...

Bound for China...

China's timber is mostly imported from developing nations -- especially from the Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America -- as well as Siberia. 

And much of that timber is illegal -- effectively stolen, because no royalties or taxes are paid.  Or the timber is acquired by bribery.  Or it results from logging in places that shouldn't be logged -- such as national parks and protected areas.

Illegal logging takes a terrible toll on native forests and is a massive driver of deforestation and resulting greenhouse gas emissions.  It also robs developing nations of tens of billions of dollars yearly in direly needed revenues -- funds that could be used for schools and hospitals, for instance.

China has been criticized for its role in illegal logging for many years -- and for good reasons.  ALERT director Bill Laurance has frequently voiced his concerns -- for instance, see here, here, here, and here.

And now a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) suggests that China's belated efforts to limit illegal logging are far too limited. 

New logging guidelines issued by China -- which are entirely voluntary -- do not regulate importers of illegally-logged timber into China, said the EIA. 

Instead of voluntary standards, the Chinese government should establish binding and enforceable laws for its timber importers, just as the E.U., USA, and Australia have done.

“As the world’s biggest importer of illegal wood, and in light of extensive irrefutable evidence that Chinese companies are complicit in driving destructive illegal logging and timber smuggling, China needs to move beyond unenforceable voluntary guidelines and take unequivocal actions to prohibit illegal timber”, said the EIA.

Remnants of an Indonesian rainforest...

Remnants of an Indonesian rainforest...

China is playing with fire here.  As it fails to clean up its act, its wood-product-exporting corporations become increasingly vulnerable to boycotts and other consumer actions.  Such actions can have a big impact on a corporation's market share.

Of course, China is not alone.  For instance, South Korea, India, and Thailand are also major importers of illegal timber.

But when it comes to illegal timber imports, China is the biggest, hungriest bear in the room.  And so far this bear has done far too little to limit its burgeoning appetite for illegal timber.


Habitat fragmentation disrupts forest carbon cycles

We all know that fragmenting forests is bad for biodiversity.  But it's also bad for the planet -- because it screws up carbon cycles, makes forests more likely to burn, and promotes global warming. 

Fires... not natural in rainforests (photo by Mark Cochrane)

Fires... not natural in rainforests (photo by Mark Cochrane)

Prior studies, including those led by ALERT director Bill Laurance and ALERT member Tom Lovejoy, have shown that fragmented forests in the Amazon lose a lot of their carbon.  This is evidently because the hot, dry conditions near forest edges kill many trees.  Additional trees are snapped or toppled by wind gusts near edges.

This is bad news because the carbon stored in the trees eventually decomposes and ends up as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. 

Laurance and colleagues estimated that the fragmentation of tropical forests creates up to 150 million tons of atmospheric carbon emissions per year -- equivalent to the entire annual emissions of Great Britain.  And this 'fragmentation effect' is on top of the massive carbon emissions that result from forest destruction.

And now a new study shows that habitat fragmentation also slows down the rate of organic decomposition.  This occurs because the warm, dry conditions near forest edges inhibit wood-eating fungi, which are important decomposers.  In the new study, the rate of decomposition near forest edges was about half that in forest interiors.

This means that dead trees, limbs, leaves, and other woody material will accumulate near edges.  Why is this important?  What happens if you take a lot of fine woody material and dry it out? 

It becomes very, very easy to burn.

In the Amazon, fragmented forests are hugely vulnerable to fires.  Not only does forest fragmentation create a lot of dry, flammable material near forest edges, but cattle ranchers like to burn the pastures surrounding the fragments -- to control weeds and produce a flush of new grass for their cattle.  Many of these fires burn the forests as well.

The results can be devastating.  Satellite images show that fragmented forests in drier parts of the Amazon virtually 'implode' in the first few years after fragmentation -- the result of a withering recurrence of destructive, edge-related fires. 

The bottom line: One of the best things we can do for forests is not to fragment them. 

This isn't just about conserving a few pretty birds or butterflies.  By reducing forest fires and rampant carbon emissions, it's about keeping our planet more livable for all of us.

 

Cute, funny eco-videos to light up your day

Caring about the environment doesn't have to be all doom and gloom.  It can also be entertaining, informative -- and even funny. 

There's nothing to fear...

There's nothing to fear...

Here are three videos, sent to us by ALERT followers, that each teach us something different about the environment.  All are very short.  Be sure to watch all three.

1) Ratel's night out.  An amateur production from India that quickly tells us about efforts to study a rare and elusive animal, the ratel or honey badger (with thanks to Annapoorna Daithota).

2) Invasion of the yellow crazy ants!  A clever video that shows how invading species can disrupt nature, and what we can do about it (with thanks to Alice Crabtree).

3) Stop the environment -- before it stops us.  An irreverent look at environmentalism (with thanks to Thiago da Silva).

In an era in which technology is making it ever easier to produce and disseminate such videos, we shouldn't underestimate their capacity for reaching -- and hopefully influencing -- a diverse global audience. 

 

'Blood gold': Illegal miners devastating rainforests

How bad a threat is illegal gold mining to the world's rainforests? 

Mining moonscape in Sumatra, Indonesia (photo by William Laurance)

Mining moonscape in Sumatra, Indonesia (photo by William Laurance)

Have a look at these four short videos of illegal mining in the Brazilian Amazon, Peru, Ghana, and Indonesia.  They clearly show the devastation wrought by illegal miners.

Alarming videos like these raise several issues:

- Widespread invasions of the world's shrinking wildernesses illustrate how rapid population growth and poverty conspire to imperil natural environments and indigenous peoples

- A key impetus for rampant illegal (and legal) mining is the rising price of gold

- Illegal mining is often an organized criminal activity that has much wider corrupting influences on societies

- Increased enforcement is direly needed to protect parks, wilderness areas, and indigenous lands from illegal mining 

- Government officials can be pressured to focus effort on enforcement if the public knows about -- and decries -- the illegal mining crisis

In recent years we've heard often about the severe social and environmental costs of 'blood diamonds' and 'blood ivory'.  Clearly, it's time we started talking about 'blood gold' as well.

 

Junk Food, Junk Earth

ALERT member Jean-Philippe Puyravaud has had a gustatory revelation and lost nearly 10 pounds (4 kilograms) in the process.  He tells us how our own health and that of the Earth are inextricably linked:

I recently bumped into the book The New Evolution Diet by Art de Vany, an economist.  I was immediately convinced by his arguments.

Time to eat like a caveman...

Time to eat like a caveman...

For most of human history our ancestors ate meat, fish, vegetables, and fruits.  Our body is not well adapted to handle sugars or the toxicity of grains and milk.  We should strive to mimic the diet of our hunter-gatherer forebears.

Our ancestors also faced an uncertain world and their 'exercise' consisted mostly of long walks interspersed by occasional sudden efforts, like running from a hungry lion.

So, the natural complement to a natural diet is fun exercises involving bursts of intense exercise, such as sprints.  Eat as much as you want so long as you follow the natural diet, and exercise when you feel like it, for fun. 

Do this, de Vany argues, and you'll look like a tribal man or woman: lean, light, muscular.

What would happen if everybody adopted this 'evolutionary diet'?

Obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, and some arthritis would virtually vanish.  We would need more gardens, we'd replace cereals with tree orchards (which is good for the soil), and we'd rewild the Earth so we could have lean bush meat.

In addition, we should ensure that our rivers and oceans provide fresh fish and are not the waste dumps they are now becoming

Surprise!  Our ecological scenario might actually be far better than it is at present.

Those who create mathematical models have a saying: “garbage in, garbage out”.  This means that, independently of the quality of their models, if the data are bad, their conclusions are bad.

The situation with our food is analogous: “garbage in, garbage outside”.  If you eat the wrong food, you get the wrong Earth.

Logging sharply increases fire risk for endangered forests

The Mountain Ash forests of southeastern Australia are renowned for supporting the world's tallest flowering plants.  Sadly, clear-cut logging and fierce fires have devastated these once-magnificent forests, with just a tiny fraction of the original old-growth forest remaining.  Now a new study shows that logged forests are far more likely to burn than those that have never been logged.

Razed forests...

Razed forests...

The study, led by Chris Taylor and renowned forest-expert David Lindenmayer, was based on careful statistical analysis of past fire and logging histories.  It found that younger forests -- those logged 7-36 years previously -- were far more likely to suffer intense fires during dry conditions.

Logged forests, they found, had an altered structure and flammable slash in the understory, which made the forests much more vulnerable to intense fires.

The intense fires have a huge impact on native wildlife, particularly the endangered Leadbeater's Possum, which requires mature forest for survival.  Such mega-fires have also killed hundreds of people and destroyed thousands of homes and private properties in southeastern Australia. 

The authors argue that current logging is creating a long-term legacy, making the small patches of surviving old-growth forest much more vulnerable to devastating fires in the future. 

Halting industrial logging, they argue, is the only solution for the endangered Mountain Ash forests.

Explosion of illegal roads in the Amazon

The Amazon is the world's greatest rainforest.  Will it survive in perpetuity?  Those who study Amazon conservation fear one thing most of all: roads.

In wildernesses such as the Amazon, roads often open a Pandora's Box of environmental problems, such as illegal logging, colonization, hunting, and mining.  A new study shows a great deal of illegal road building in the Amazon, with loggers and ranchers likely being key culprits. 

Road to ruin... (photo by Rhett Butler)

Road to ruin... (photo by Rhett Butler)

A key finding of the study: For every kilometer of legal road in the Amazon, there are nearly three kilometers of illegal roads.

The study (which you can download for free here) was led by Chris Barber of South Dakota State University, a remote sensing expert, and included ALERT director Bill Laurance, who has long studied Amazon roads and their environmental impacts.

The study also found that 95% of all deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon occurs within 5.5 kilometers of roads

This startling figure shows that, of all human activities, it is roads that most directly determine just where natural environments are likely to be destroyed and degraded.

Ecologists who study roads can be a little messianic at times, arguing that new roads in wilderness areas are an overriding proximate cause of environmental devastation.  Studies like that by Chris Barber and his colleagues show just why they fret so much. 

 

Big risks for the world's biggest coal mine

Nandini Velho, an outstanding young Indian researcher who is currently studying for her doctorate in Australia, is worried that Australians might be making a big mistake by launching what could eventually become the world's biggest coal mine.  Here's her take on things:

Anything for coal...

Anything for coal...

In 2012, the Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, visited Mundra, a port and special economic zone located in the state of Gujarat in western India.  His trip to India promised “huge benefits.”

But here in India, Mundra usually reminds us of the poor track-record of the Adani Group, an Indian conglomerate that focuses on big energy and agribusiness projects. 

That's a serious worry because the Australian government has now given clearances for a truly massive coal mine in Queensland, known as the Carmichael Coal Mine -- to none other than Adani.

The projected carbon emissions from this mine -- most of its coal would likely be burned in China and India -- would exceed that of 52 different nations.  For instance, its resulting emissions would be four times that produced each year by the entire nation of New Zealand.

The poor track record of Adani is facilitated by well-oiled crony alliances with the Gujarat state government.  This is where Narendra Modi, India’s newly elected and scandal-tainted prime minister, formerly governed.

Political scandals in Gujarat state have become legend in India.  India’s Comptroller and Auditor General recently revealed the state exchequer (finance minister) has lost more than $20 million in just the first phase of the Adani-owned Mundra port.

In addition to such financial scandals, the Mundra port project has had serious environmental costs -- including large-scale destruction of mangroves, degradation of creeks, saltwater incursions, and encroachment of pastoral lands.  

In its pro-development zeal, the Queensland government evidently learned little about environmental risks, corruption, and predatory alliances during its visit to India.  And Australia's staunchly pro-development federal government seems just as oblivious.

Both might be in for some hard lessons if they choose to deal with Adani.


Company to spend $12 million felling Papua's rainforests

How much rainforest can you destroy with $12 million?  Quite a lot, actually...

Make way for oil palm... (photo by William Laurance)

Make way for oil palm... (photo by William Laurance)

According to a recent report by the Indonesian policy group Greenomics, an Indonesian oil palm company plans to spend $12 million over the next three years to clear over 38,000 hectares of intact rainforest in Papua

That's an area roughly the size of 75,000 football fields.

The Indonesian province of Papua encompasses the western half of the island of New Guinea.  Its ancient rainforests are among the biologically richest ecosystems on Earth.

Notably, the oil palm company planning to fell the forests, known as PT Austindo Nusantara Jaya Tbk -- or ANJT for short -- has been a key supplier of the mega-corporation Wilmar, the world's biggest palm oil producer. 

Earlier this year Wilmar issued a "no-deforestation pledge", promising not to clear any more forests for palm oil production.

Clearly, Wilmar's pledge will be laughable if it promises it won't clear forests, and then simply buys palm oil from ANJT -- which is busily bulldozing some of the world's most biologically diverse and carbon-rich rainforests.

So, let's all keep a sharp eye on Wilmar -- while urging it to steer clear of forest-killing companies like ANJT.

 

Will India slash environmental protections?

ALERT member Jean-Philippe Puyravaud tells us about worrying developments in his Indian homeland:

A recent news article in Nature reports that Indian ecologists are alarmed about the newly elected government approving big development projects without adequate environmental impact assessments (EIAs). 

They have good reasons to be afraid. 

At least the developers are happy...

At least the developers are happy...

The government is fast-tracking a wide range of approvals for major road, dam, mine, and infrastructure projects. 

In India and many other democracies today, environmental laws are considered by politicians to be a hurdle to development

Environmental laws are labeled red-tape, EIAs are deemed arbitrary, and environmentalists are slagged off as biased activists who act against the greater interest of the nation.

But is this really the case? 

In a corrupt society like India's, red-tape is really a euphemism for 'bargain'.  Favors are purchased from the government -- which then turns a blind eye to a project's real environmental impacts.

Are EIAs 'arbitrary'?  Most are not.  They are merely not up to an acceptable standard -- and the legal framework in any case is largely inadequate.

Environmentalists are delaying the nation's development?  Hardly. 

In reality, many problems are delaying national progress by reducing India's GDP, such as the inordinate number of traffic deaths on Indian roads, pollution, life-style-related epidemics, and widespread nepotism

In short, protecting biodiversity never sank a nation.

Can the newly elected government of India reduce red tape and economic hurdles while safeguarding its unique biological heritage? 

The signs are not promising.  With an avalanche of new development projects likely to be approved very quickly, the challenges for Indian biodiversity are likely to come hard and fast.   

 

Megadiversity in peril?

ALERT member Gopalasamy Reuben Clements is one of Malaysia's most active scientists.  Here he tells us about his mission to save an imperied megadiversity hotspot:

A tsunami of forest clearing for oil palm

A tsunami of forest clearing for oil palm

Malaysia is one of Earth’s 17 megadiverse countries.  It straddles Peninsular Malaysia and a chunk of Borneo.

With over 220 species of mammals, 620 birds, 250 reptiles and 150 frogs, few countries on Earth boast similar biodiversity to Malaysia.

It is also home to bizarre species found nowhere else on earth, often in unique ecosystems such as peat swamps and limestone karsts.  For instance, an you guess what this animal is?

Bizarre land snail ( image (c) Reuben Clements)

Bizarre land snail ( image (c) Reuben Clements)

It’s actually a land snail.  In 2008, I discovered that this creature, Opisthostoma vermiculum, is the only one in the world with four axes of coiling.  It's known only from a single limestone karst in Peninsular Malaysia.

Unfortunately, Malaysia is fast losing its natural forests to oil palm and rubber plantations and infrastructure development, with wildlife hunting an additional peril.

A recent study showed that Malaysia had the highest rate of deforestation in the world between 2010 and 2012.  As a result, even a network of key wildlife corridors identified by the government may end up being paper corridors.

Many endemic plant and animal species are threatened with extinction.  Even Malaysia’s trio of large charismatic mammal species, the Malayan tiger, the Asian elephant and the Sumatran rhinoceros, now face a very uncertain future.

To advocate for endangered wildlife, my wife Sheema Abdul Aziz and I co-founded a non-profit research group known as Rimba, which means ‘jungle’ in Malay.

Since 2010, Rimba’s biologists have been conducting research on threatened species and ecosystems in Peninsular Malaysia.

Our team of young scientists has managed to secure a state-wide ban on hunting flying foxes facing local extirpation, as well as briefly halting development in a crucial wildlife corridor.

Saving flying foxes in Malaysia

Saving flying foxes in Malaysia

Rimba hopes its research can help decision-makers in Malaysia to reduce growing threats to imperiled ecosystems and species.  Here's our tagline: "we all NEED a jungle out there!"

Scientists slam Australia for being, well, stupid

Our apologies to the many millions of Australians who did not vote for the Tony Abbott government.  For those that did, one of the world's top scientific organizations has a nuanced message for you:

You are idiots.

Don't blame me -- I didn't vote for him!

Don't blame me -- I didn't vote for him!

Mind you, the organization -- the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, which is meeting in Cairns, Queensland this week -- did not actually say that. 

What they said was that they had a great number of issues and concerns with the Abbott government's approach to climate change, national parks, World Heritage sites, illegal-logging legislation, endangered species, and renewable-energy initiatives

But what they really meant was this: If you voted for the Tony Abbott government and care a whit for the environment, you need to have your head examined.

The ATBC is the world's largest scientific organization devoted to the study and conservation of tropical ecosystems and biodiversity.  Several ALERT members, including Priya Davidar, Pierre-Michel Forget, Tom Lovejoy, and Bill Laurance, are former presidents of the Association.

The Cairns conference has delegates from 55 nations, many from developing countries.  Most of those delegates found it incredible that a relatively wealthy nation like Australia could justify so many anti-environmental actions by blaming its economy -- which in fact is quite robust.

Yesterday Senator Christine Milne, the leader of the Australian Green Party, gave a keynote talk at the conference.  She castigated the Abbott government's environmental stance -- and received a standing ovation.

Virtually everyone agrees: The Tony Abbott government is sending an appalling message to the world, especially to developing nations that are often making far bigger commitments to nature conservation with far less national wealth.

The hottest of the biodiversity hotspots?

Where's the planet's most biologically endangered real estate?  The answer might surprise you.

Can you guess what kind of cat this is?

Can you guess what kind of cat this is?

According to ALERT member Çağan Şekercioğlu, the answer is Turkey.  Çağan is an outstanding researcher and also directs the Turkish environmental organization KuzeyDoğa.  He shares his experience with us:

Turkey is the only country covered almost entirely by three of the world’s global biodiversity hotspots: the Caucasus, Irano-Anatolian, and the Mediterranean

At the nexus of Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa, Turkey’s location, mountains, and encirclement by three seas have resulted in spectacular biodiversity, making it ‘the biodiversity superpower of Europe’.

Of nearly 10,000 native vascular plant species, a third are endemic.  Large carnivores such as brown bear, wolf, Caucasian lynx, caracal -- pictured above -- striped hyena, and possibly even leopard, still roam the wild corners of this diverse country -- along with 78 million people.

Two papers I published in 2011 highlight Turkey’s growing conservation crisis, the worst in the country’s long and fascinating history.

Turkey’s globally important biodiversity in crisis” is a comprehensive overview of Turkey’s natural wealth and environmental problems.

Turkey’s rich natural heritage under assault”, published in Science, highlights the scale and extent of these threats -- in particular all the environmental laws that were weakened the past two years to make it easier to replace Turkey’s crucial habitats and protected areas with mines, dams, tourist resorts, and other types of “development”.

Not many places left for nature...

Not many places left for nature...

Turkey’s astonishingly rich biodiversity, especially for a temperate country of its size, is being destroyed rapidly.  

Unfortunately, Turkey lacks the biological ‘‘charisma’’ of many tropical countries and suffers from the international misconception that, as a nation that wants to enter the European Union, it must have adequate funds and priorities to support conservation.

These factors, combined with the Turkish public’s general disinterest in conservation and the government’s unrelenting pro-development obsession, have created a conservation crisis.

With Turkey’s biodiversity facing severe and growing threats, the country is now entirely covered by crisis ecoregions, most of them critically endangered.

 

Eco-crisis: The devastation of Borneo's forests

Warning: Do not look at this map if you don't want to feel depressed. 

The image shows how much of Borneo's biodiversity-rich forests have been destroyed or degraded in the last four decades -- and it's enough to ruin anybody's breakfast.

Trouble for orangutans and lots of other species (from Mongabay)

Trouble for orangutans and lots of other species (from Mongabay)

From 1973 to 2010, the tropical rainforests of Borneo have been razed twice as fast as those elsewhere on the planet, according to a freely available study that just appeared in PLoS One.

In the paper, David Gaveau, Sean Sloan, and colleagues analyzed Landsat imagery to see how much of Borneo's mega-diversity forests have been cleared, burned, or degraded by industrial logging. 

It's not a pretty picture -- as also detailed here in the leading environmental website Mongabay.

In 1973, more than three-quarters of Borneo was blanketed by native forest, much of which was undisturbed or little disturbed, according to the study.

By 2010 nearly 17 million hectares of the forest -- an area larger than England, Wales, and Northern Ireland combined -- had vanished.

Echoing an earlier study that spanned all of Indonesia, industrial logging, oil palm, and wood-pulp plantations were apparently the biggest culprits, along with slash-and-burn farming.

Increasingly, large expanses of Borneo are dominated by selectively logged native forests.  As highlighted previously here at ALERT, these forests still retain considerable biodiversity and carbon, but are intensely vulnerable to being cleared or burned.

The challenge at hand for Borneo is clear, the study concludes.

It's vital to slow forest destruction, by safeguarding existing protected areas and especially by defending the selectively logged forests that now increasingly dominate the island.

 

Birds wiped out by pesticides: A new 'Silent Spring'?

In 1962, Rachel Carson provoked the modern environmental movement with her classic book, Silent Spring -- which castigated big chemical manufacturers and government regulators for allowing the rampant use of DDT and other environmental toxins that killed wild animals and triggered deadly cancers.  Could we be on the verge of another Silent Spring?

No more songs to herald the Spring?

No more songs to herald the Spring?

That's the frightening implication of a new paper in the leading journal Science, which suggests a commonly used type of toxin, known as a "neonicotinoid pesticide", is causing severe declines of bird populations. 

The toxin, which is chemically similar to nicotine, is the most widely used pesticide on Earth.

In the study, which was based in the Netherlands, the researchers showed that the insecticide so severely depressed insect numbers that local populations of 15 species of insect-eating birds declined strongly as well

Where the pesticide was applied heavily, local bird populations declined by an average of 3.5 percent annually, a rapid fall in numbers.  These declines only began in the mid-1990s, after the toxin was introduced to the Netherlands.

The nicotine-like pesticides have previously been associated with severe declines of bees -- which are vital pollinators of many agricultural crops and wild plants. 

Now it appears that wherever the pesticides are used heavily, insect-eating bird populations are also declining rapidly.

Were she alive today, Rachel Carson would be aghast to think her deadly Silent Spring might be returning.

 

Will an avalanche of private money help or hurt Africa?

"TRADE NOT AID".  Increasingly that's the catch-cry of some politicians and rock stars such as Bob Geldoff, when discussing Africa's future.  But will trade and private investment save Africa -- or merely open it up to predatory exploitation?

Tough choices ahead... (photo by William Laurance)

Tough choices ahead... (photo by William Laurance)

That's a pressing question because Africa is in the midst of an investment gold-rushChina is investing over $100 billion annually just in African mining

Investors from India, Brazil, the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia are now pouring funds into ventures ranging from minerals and oil to infrastructure and timber. 

In the midst of this tidal wave, it's worthwhile to consider the trials and tribulations of one major effort to bring private investment to Africa -- a campaign that ultimately precipitated the suicide of the main investor, who had been heavily criticized for his efforts.

In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, writer Christiane Badgley tells the story of the U.S. corporation Herakles Farms and its ongoing attempt to establish a massive oil palm plantation in Cameroon.

But despite the almost-messianic leadership of its director Bruce Wrobel, Herakles Farms has come under fire both within Cameroon and internationally.

ALERT member Joshua Linder played an important role in this story, with help from other ALERT researchers including Tom Struhsaker, Tom Lovejoy, Corey Bradshaw, Lian Pin Koh and Bill Laurance. 

These scientists helped to raise the alarm about this project and its potential to have grave environmental impacts in a global biodiversity hotspot.

The issue of aid versus private investment for developing nations is not a simple one, but anyone thinking seriously about this issue needs to read Badgley's article. 

For Africa -- in the midst of an investors' feeding frenzy -- there are few easy answers and many dangers ahead.

Religious leaders: Environmental destruction "is a sin"

Destroying Earth's environments is a sin -- plain and simple. 

Time for another big flood?

Time for another big flood?

While many hold something akin to this view, it's remarkable to hear it said so forcefully by Pope Francis I, the leader of the world's Roman Catholic faithful.

Pope Francis made the off-the-cuff remark recently in southern Italy, when speaking to a local farmer.

"I fully agree with what has been said about 'safeguarding' the Earth, to bear fruit without 'exploitation'.  This is one of the greatest challenges of our time," said the Pontiff.

"In my [South American] homeland, I see many forests, which have been stripped ... that becomes land that cannot be cultivated, that cannot give life."

In May, Pope Francis also underscored the responsibility of humankind to act as "Custodians of creation".

The Pope's remarks follow not long after a 'Fatwa' was declared by Indonesia's Muslim leaders, making it a religious offense to participate in illegal wildlife trafficking.  

And in 2010, global religious leaders called on the world's political leaders at the G20 Summit in Canada to make environmental protection a top priority, along with alleviating poverty.

While a few religious pacesetters have long emphasized sustainability, could this be a fundamental new development?   Are mainstream religious leaders beginning to elevate environmental protection to something approaching sacrosanct behavior?

With Earth's environmental challenges growing daily, let's pray that they do.

 

Does 'vampire' squirrel have world's fluffiest tail?

Just when you thought it was safe to go outside again, comes this news from the rainforests of Borneo: The legendary 'vampire' squirrel evidently has the biggest, fluffiest tail of any mammal in the world.

More tail than squirrel...

More tail than squirrel...

According to local folk tales, the animal -- which actually goes by the prosaic name of 'tufted ground squirrel' -- has a fondness for fresh blood.  The 35-centimeter-long squirrel will reputedly spring onto the back of a live deer in order to gash its neck and drink its blood.

While many biologists have doubts about the squirrel's blood-swilling habits, no one can doubt the spectacular dimensions of its tail.  According to a recent essay in Science, the squirrel has the biggest, fluffiest tail (relative to its body size) of any mammal species alive.

The tail doubles as an umbrella...

The tail doubles as an umbrella...

Rather charmingly, the dimensions of the squirrel's tail were worked out by a 15 year-old, Emily Mae Meijaard -- the daughter of the well known conservation scientist Erik Meijaard.

But sadly, the vampire squirrel's rainforest home is under siege.  Indonesia is now the world's fastest forest-destroying nation, and the rate of forest loss is evidently accelerating. 

Even worse, the squirrel is only known to live in undisturbed, old-growth rainforest -- which is rapidly vanishing in Borneo.

Perhaps the vampire squirrel needs to develop a taste for loggers and bulldozer drivers...


Will the World Bank increase eco-destructive loans?

Alarm bells are ringing.  Leaked emails suggest the World Bank -- once notorious for lending hundreds of billions of dollars for environmentally destructive projects -- could be easing loan conditions for a range of risky projects.

Not happy with the Bank...

Not happy with the Bank...

Environmentalists and human-rights campaigners are up in arms because the leaked emails suggest the Bank is considering a radical step -- making more than $50 billion in public funds available annually for large power, mining, transport, and farming projects that frequently have major environmental impacts.

The leaked emails -- which were seen by The Observer newspaper in the UK -- suggest senior officers at the Bank are worried about the repercussions of such loans, fearing they would lead to an increase in "problem projects".

In the past, some World Bank loans have come under intense fire for causing large-scale environmental damage and social disruption in the Amazon, India, Indonesia, Africa, and elsewhere.

The emails suggest the Bank may expand the use of "biodiversity offsetting" -- which allows developers to destroy nature in one place if they compensate for it elsewhere.  Many conservationists view such measures with suspicion.

The World Bank and its subsidiaries loan billions of dollars annually to over 100 countries to alleviate poverty.  It is the world's largest development institution.

The Bank was lambasted in the 1980s and 1990s by environmental and social-rights activists for its damaging lending policies and because it is dominated by industrialized countries

Since then the World Bank has improved its record to a degree, bringing in more environmental and social safeguards, but the leaked emails have many worried that the Bank's bad old days might be returning.

 

Momentous changes ahead for the tropics

The world's tropical regions will be the epicenter of change in global economies, population growth, and environment.  That's the take-home message of a groundbreaking report that forecasts massive changes this century in the tropics.

Huge changes ahead... (from Mongabay)

Huge changes ahead... (from Mongabay)

The ambitious State of the Tropics Report was launched last week in Burma and Singapore, in a special televised event. 

The report was kicked off by Nobel Laureate and Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi with assistance from Sandra Harding, the Vice-Chancellor of James Cook University in Australia, and a panel of experts that included ALERT director Bill Laurance

Produced by a coalition of 12 universities and research institutes from the Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America, the State of the Tropics report sees dramatic changes ahead for the world's tropical regions:

- by the latter part of this century, the population of tropical nations will swell by over 3 billion additional people, with Africa's population nearly quadrupling

- food demand in tropical and developing nations will double by mid-century

- by 2050, two-thirds of all children will live in the tropics

- land-use pressures will intensify sharply because of a dire need to increase food and biofuel production in the tropics

- as the century unfolds, tropical nations will increasingly be the centers of global economic growth and also rising geopolitical conflicts over land, water, and natural resources

- the tropics sustains 80% of all species, many of which will be imperiled by rising habitat loss, climate change, and other perils.

The State of the Tropics report is the first comprehensive effort to project change across the entire tropical region -- which will increasingly become a key driver of social, economic, and environmental change globally.