Environment

Sinking land, poisoned water: the dark side of California's mega farms

Guardian Environment News - Wed, 2018/07/18 - 3:00am

The floor of the Central Valley is slumping, and there is arsenic in the tap water. Now it seems the two problems are connected

Isabel Solorio can see the water treatment plant from her garden across the street. Built to filter out the arsenic in drinking water, it hasn’t been active since 2007 – it shut down six months after opening when the California town of Lanare went into debt trying to keep up with maintenance costs.

Related: ‘Nothing to worry about. The water is fine’: how Flint poisoned its people

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Categories: Environment

How Penzance became Britain's first ever plastic-free town

Guardian Environment News - Wed, 2018/07/18 - 3:00am

The Cornwall community achieved this status last December, by uniting against straws, bottles, takeaway boxes and disposable forks. Now 330 other towns aim to follow them

Emily Kavanaugh is standing in her skincare-product shop, Pure Nuff Stuff, on Chapel Street. The narrow lane leads down towards the Jubilee pool, the triangular lido that juts like a ship’s prow into the sea from Penzance. “Here, try one,” Kavanaugh says, handing me a piece of packing material. The little white cloud looks and feels like a polystyrene packing “peanut”, but, Kavanaugh assures me, “it tastes exactly like a communion wafer”. After a wary nibble, I pop the whole thing in and notch it up as a snack.

Kavanaugh’s packaging is made not of plastic but corn starch. If eating it feels like an act of faith, it is because there is a growing fervour in this Cornish seaside town. Last year, Penzance became the first town in Britain to receive “plastic-free” status from Surfers Against Sewage (SAS). The former single-issue movement, founded in Cornwall in 1990, has become a national marine conservation charity with plastics in its sights. But, rather than target shopping bags or plastic-lined coffee cups, SAS is attempting to unite whole communities against single-use plastic of all types, including straws, bottles, packaging, takeaway boxes, cotton buds, clingfilm and forks.

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Wildfires rage in Arctic Circle as Sweden calls for help

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 11:30pm

Sweden worst hit as hot, dry summer sparks unusual number of fires, with at least 11 in the far north

At least 11 wildfires are raging inside the Arctic Circle as the hot, dry summer turns an abnormally wide area of Europe into a tinderbox.

The worst affected country, Sweden, has called for emergency assistance from its partners in the European Union to help fight the blazes, which have broken out across a wide range of its territory and prompted the evacuations of four communities.

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How many hippos are too many? Proposed cull raises questions

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 10:00pm

By resurrecting a proposal to allow trophy hunters to shoot 250 hippos annually, Zambia stirs controversy.

The hippo — really? That’s the common response when tour guides in Africa tantalize travelers with this question: “What’s the most dangerous animal on the continent?” Lion? Rhino? Elephant? No, no, no. Eventually, the tour guide delivers the answer with a twinkle in their eye: the hippo, yes, that water-loving, one-tonne mammalian oddity. Despite their hefty and somnolent appearance, hippos are fast and aggressive — a dangerous mix — and may kill several hundred people a year (of course the most dangerous animal in Africa is not really the hippo at all, it’s the mosquito — but no one likes a know-it-all).

Despite being one of the most unusual animals on the planet — their closest relatives are whales and dolphins — hippos don’t get a lot of love. They tend to be overshadowed by the continent’s other remarkable mega-mammals. Who can compete with elephants and giraffe and lion? Perhaps, that’s why it’s not exactly surprising that the announcement of a hippo cull in Zambia didn’t exactly make global news.

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Adani says it still needs a loan for rail line if coalmine is to go ahead

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 7:01pm

Major hurdles to Carmichael mine remain despite comments by Karan Adani that the company has ‘completed financing’

Adani says its Carmichael coalmine remains contingent on a loan to build a rail line to the Galilee Basin – comments that analysts believe will ramp up pressure on the Australian government to further subsidise the project.

Karan Adani, the son of company boss Gautam Adani, and the head of the conglomerate’s ports business, told India’s Economic Times the company had “completed financing on the mine” and that it had received all necessary approvals.

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Canada's high Arctic glaciers at risk of disappearing completely, study finds

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 3:54pm

Satellite imagery shows hundreds of glaciers shrinking as average annual temperature rises 3.6C in 70 years

Hundreds of glaciers in Canada’s high Arctic are shrinking and many are at risk of disappearing completely, an unprecedented inventory of glaciers in the country’s northernmost island has revealed.

Using satellite imagery, researchers catalogued more than 1,700 glaciers in northern Ellesmere Island and traced how they had changed between 1999 and 2015.

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Plantwatch: phosphate leading to widespread pollution

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 1:30pm

Phosphate fertilisers are causing dangerous levels of pollution in waterways that harm aquatic plants and animals

Much of the environment is awash with fertilisers, boosting thuggish weeds such as stinging nettles that swamp other wild plants. Nitrate is a big villain in this onslaught, but far less notice is taken of phosphate.

Phosphate is crucial for plant growth and development, and it is estimated that half the world’s food supplies rely on phosphate fertilisers, but this is a dwindling resource that is used very inefficiently, which is leading to widespread pollution. Unlike nitrate, phosphate binds very strongly to the soil, which makes it difficult for plant roots to get hold of. And so farmers apply even more phosphates in fertilisers and manure, although much of that phosphate then sticks to the soil again, driving the levels of phosphate in the soil even higher.

Related: Conservationists claim 'legal victory' in dispute over government protection of rivers

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'Mad marketing': Coles Little Shop for children undercuts plastic bag ban, critics say

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 11:00am

Promotion deemed commercial exploitation of children as well as environmentally damaging

Environmental groups and health advocates have denounced Coles’s new Little Shop promotion as “commercial exploitation of kids”, “nonsensical” and “environmentally damaging”.

From Wednesday, Coles shoppers will be offered a free toy – a miniature version of 30 well-known household products – with every $30 spent.

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Coalition's national energy guarantee described as having 'no benefit' to emissions

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 11:00am

Former head of Clean Energy Finance Corporation says governments should not support Neg in current state

Oliver Yates, the former head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, says state and territory governments should not sign on to the Turnbull government’s national energy guarantee until such time as it contains meaningful emissions reductions.

Yates, a respected industry player now active in the renewables sector, and a board member of the Smart Energy Council – a solar group critical of the Neg – told Guardian Australia the Turnbull government’s policy “doesn’t do anything other than create a stable emissions profile for existing coal-fired power stations.”

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Categories: Environment

UK must take lead on nuclear weapons | Letters

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 9:43am
The tide towards annihilation can be turned if the political will is there, writes CND general secretary Kate Hudson

As your article on nuclear weapons states (All you wanted to know about nuclear war but were too afraid to ask, 16 July), the use of a nuclear weapons is now more likely than at any time since the cold war. Billions are being spent on modernising superpower nuclear arsenals. The old “deterrence” myth – that they will never be used – is still being deployed, but at the same time Trump is unveiling plans for new “usable” nuclear weapons, and outlining more scenarios in which to use them.

With Trump’s tearing up of the Iran nuclear deal, the dangers of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East are increasing. The possibility of denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula hangs on a thread – a return to threat and counter-threat is an ever-present danger, with potentially catastrophic consequences. But this tide towards annihilation can be turned if the political will is there. Maybe we can’t expect that from the trigger-happy US president, but we should demand it from our own government.

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EPA proposal to limit role of science in decision-making met with alarm

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 9:29am

Democratic lawmakers and scientists denounced proposal to allow administrators to reject study results if research isn’t public

Democratic lawmakers joined scientists, health and environmental officials and activists on Tuesday in denouncing a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), backed by industry, that could limit dramatically what kind of science the agency considers when making regulations.

Related: Andrew Wheeler: 'point man for Trump' focused on undoing Obama's EPA agenda

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Categories: Environment

Hosepipe ban firm loses 133 litres of water in leaks per house a day

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 7:11am

United Utilities, imposing ban on 7m households, is second worst for leaking pipes

The water company ordering a hosepipe ban on 7m households in the north-west of England has the second-worst record for leaking pipes of any supplier, industry data shows.

The temporary use ban being imposed by United Utilities from 5 August has led to calls for water firms to do more to tackle leakage on their networks.

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How Trump’s wildlife board is rebranding trophy hunting as good for animals

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 3:58am

As hunters hold immense clout in the Trump administration and most of the council’s members are advocates of the sport, critics worry the board will protect their hobby, not the animals

Donald Trump has called big-game trophy hunting a “horror show”, despite his own sons’ participation in elephant and leopard hunts, and in 2017 he formed an advisory board to steer US policy on the issue.

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Only 2% of lithium-ion batteries in Australia are recycled, report says

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 12:18am

CSIRO says lack of consumer awareness is ‘number one issue’ affecting recycling

Australians have to boost their recycling of lithium-ion batteries, a new CSIRO report has found.

Consumers only recycle 2% of our lithium-ion batteries, and an estimated $813m to $3bn worth of valuable components is in landfill. The commonly-used rechargeable batteries are used in mobile phones, laptops, household appliances and, increasingly, electric vehicles.

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IEA warns of 'worrying trend' as global investment in renewables falls

Guardian Environment News - Tue, 2018/07/17 - 12:00am

Fossil fuels increased share of energy supply investment last year – the first time since 2014

The world’s energy watchdog has sounded the alarm over a “worrying” pause in the shift to clean energy after global investment in renewables fell 7% to $318bn (£240bn) last year.

The International Energy Agency said the decline is set to continue into 2018, threatening energy security, climate change and air pollution goals.

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Swan upping on the Thames: counting the Queen's birds – in pictures

Guardian Environment News - Mon, 2018/07/16 - 11:00pm

This week marks the annual stocktake of the crown’s swans on the River Thames, known as swan upping. The process of counting the swans on the river and identifying them as belonging to the Queen or one of the two City livery companies that also have rights to them – has been carried out since the 12th century, when the birds were so prized for their meat that all wild swans in England were appropriated as property of the crown. The pomp, finery and techniques of swan upping would be familiar to the villagers who looked on centuries ago

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Our phones and gadgets are now endangering the planet | John Harris

Guardian Environment News - Mon, 2018/07/16 - 10:00pm

The energy used in our digital consumption is set to have a bigger impact on global warming than the entire aviation industry

It was just another moment in this long, increasingly strange summer. I was on a train home from Paddington station, and the carriage’s air-conditioning was just about fighting off the heat outside. Most people seemed to be staring at their phones – in many cases, they were trying to stream a World Cup match, as the 4G signal came and went, and Great Western Railway’s onboard wifi proved to be maddeningly erratic. The trebly chatter of headphone leakage was constant. And thousands of miles and a few time zones away in Loudoun County, Virginia, one of the world’s largest concentrations of computing power was playing its part in keeping everything I saw ticking over, as data from around the world passed back and forth from its vast buildings.

Most of us communicate with this small and wealthy corner of the US every day. Thanks to a combination of factors – its proximity to Washington DC, competitive electricity prices, and its low susceptibility to natural disasters – the county is the home of data centres used by about 3,000 tech companies: huge agglomerations of circuitry, cables and cooling systems that sit in corners of the world most of us rarely see, but that are now at the core of how we live. About 70% of the world’s online traffic is reckoned to pass through Loudoun County.

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