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Showing posts from 2020

Cargill: the company feeding the world by helping destroy the planet

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THE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM      North America’s largest single coronavirus outbreak at the time, started at this Cargill meat-packing plant in Alberta in May. At least one worker died. Dozens contracted it. The Union lost its fight to keep the plant closed after a brief shut-down.     Photo credit - CBC News. It's a controversial corporate giant that transformed how we eat and has the global food industry in its grip. So why haven't we heard of it? Details here.

The graceful albatross - immortalized over the ages as a symbol of both good and ill - is under siege like never before.

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by Larry Powell This is the story of the "Grey-Head." It's but a single member of a large family of albatrosses called Diomedeidae. Major research studies published recently, warn of twin threats facing the already-endangered bird. Each is different. Each is insidious.  The grey-headed albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma).  Photo by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA. In general, the albatross carries higher burdens of mercury in its body than any other bird on earth. (In the marine environment, only some marine mammals carry more.)   Still, even those who measured levels of mercury in "Grey-Heads" at their largest breeding colony on South Georgia Island recently, must have been shocked by what they found. Photo credit: Richard Phillips. They discovered the highest amounts of that contaminant ever recorded in that species anywhere - a  threefold increase over twenty-five-years.  Mercury is described as a “pervasive environmental contaminant that can negatively imp

Ivory Coast without ivory? Elephant populations decline rapidly in Côte d'Ivoire

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Science Daily UN officials take part in the production of manioc (cassava) in Ivory Coast. It's believed large tracts of forest have been cleared there to make way for crops like this.   UN Photo/Abdul Fatai Adegboye Recent years have witnessed a widespread and catastrophic decline in the number of forest elephants in protected areas in Côte d'Ivoire, according to a new study.  Story here.

Weather disasters in 2020 boosted by climate change: report

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PHYS ORG US Firefighter Clay Stephen helps fight Australian bushfires in Tambo Complex near Victoria. Photo by BLM Idaho. The ten costliest weather disasters worldwide this year saw insured damages worth $150 billion, topping the figure for 2019 and reflecting a long-term impact of global warming, according to a report today. Story here.

Manitoba's last wild river.

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The Narwhal The Seal River. A Gov't. of Manitoba photo.     The Seal River is Manitoba’s only major waterway that hasn’t been dammed — and five Indigenous communities have banded together to keep it that way. Story here.

Fertilizer runoff in streams and rivers can have cascading effects, analysis shows

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Science Daily A river in west-central Manitoba, Canada. A PinP photo. Fertilizer pollution can have significant ripple effects in the food webs of streams and rivers, according to a new analysis of global data.  Story here.

Agricultural expansion could cause widespread biodiversity declines by 2050

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                              Journal: Nature Sustainability       A Colombian farmer working on his "finca". These patches of forest are given away at a low price by the government to farmers who then clear them up to grow crops. Photo by  LAIF . Almost 90% of terrestrial vertebrate species around the world might lose some of their habitat by 2050 as land is cleared to meet the future demand for food. However,  according to a modelling study  published in Nature Sustainability ,  proactive policies focusing on how, where and what food is produced could reduce these threats while also supporting human well-being. Slashing is a common site on the Canadian prairies. Farmers cut and burn trees and shrubs to make way for more farmland. In this case, it's along the fringes of the Boreal forest in west-central Manitoba. A PinP photo. Habitat loss driven by agricultural expansion is a major threat to terrestrial vertebrates. Projections based on human population growth and diet

More proof. A walk-in-the-park really can boost our feelings of well-being - especially when there are wild birds to sing to us along the way! Researchers.

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It's not exactly "news" that spending time in nature benefits human health and well-being. But an experiment conducted  by social scientists along some mountain trails in Colorado shows - it's not just the wind in our faces or the grandeur of the scenery we need to thank.                                              by Larry Powell A PinP photo.

Tough Times for Animal Travellers

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Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. (COSEWIC) The Blackmouth ( Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) a type of Chinook.  Image by Animal Diversity Web. After maturing at sea, Chinook Salmon on Canada's West Coast swim back to their natal streams to spawn. Twenty-eight populations of Chinook Salmon live in Southern British Columbia, each with different habitats and survival strategies. Chinook Salmon face many threats in both fresh and saltwater, including climate change and detrimental effects from hatchery fish. At the current meeting, COSEWIC considered the 12 populations of Chinook Salmon most impacted by hatcheries: four were designated Endangered, three Threatened, and one Special Concern, while one was deemed Not at Risk. Three remote populations were determined to be Data Deficient, and will require additional research before being re-assessed.   Details here.

If we are to stabilize world food production, we not only need a wider variety of crops, but ones that are sown and harvested at different times, too.

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SCIENCE DAILY Harvesting of vast fields of food crops like this one in Manitoba, Canada, have had to be delayed over winter due to unseasonably bad weather in recent years. A PinP photo. Securing food supplies around the globe is a challenge facing humanity, especially in light of the predicted increase in the world's population and the effects of climate change. Greater crop diversity in agriculture is seen as a stabilizing factor for food security. Yet crop diversity alone is not sufficient. Researchers now argue that it's also essential that crops differ in their temporal production patterns. Story here.

Human-made materials outweigh living biomass

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                        Journal Nature A PinP photo. The year 2020 may mark the crossover point when human-made mass surpasses that of living biomass according to a study published in Nature this week. The mass embedded in human-made items, such as buildings, roads and machines, has doubled every 20 years for the past 100 years. These findings underscore the increasing impacts that humans have on Earth. Since the first agricultural revolution humans have halved plant biomass, from around 2 teratonnes (2,000,000,000,000 tonnes) to the current value of around 1 teratonne, through land-use changes such as agriculture and deforestation. The increasing production and accumulation of human-made objects (termed anthropogenic mass) has also contributed to a shift in the balance between living and human-made mass. Ron Milo and colleagues estimate changes in global biomass and human-made mass from 1900 to the present day. They show that at the beginning of the twentieth century, the mass of hu

The Big Banks’ Green Bafflegab

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The Tyee Profit, profit, profit. Look behind their pro-climate ads and do what they do. Follow the money. Story here. RELATED: How ethical are ethical funds?

Humanity is waging war on nature, says UN secretary general

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António Guterres lists human-inflicted wounds on natural world in stark message World is ‘doubling down’ on fossil fuels despite climate crisis – UN report Pumpjacks dot the landscape in southwestern Manitoba. A PinP image.

New UN climate report is bleak, but there's a solution - trees.

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CONSERVATION  INTERNATIONAL (Note - this report came out last year. But it bears repeating.) Humanity must overhaul the global food system to stop the climate breakdown, according to a dire report released in 2019.  Story here. When trees are grown together with crops and livestock, as an integrated production unit, numerous benefits can be observed. Trees have been shown to indirectly increase crop yields, improve soil and water quality, increase biodiversity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase carbon sequestration. (Source - Climate Connection.) Scenes such as this, where trees were planted in rows, as "shelterbelts," used to be common on the Canadian prairies. But, no more. Many farmers are now slashing and burning such trees, so their huge farm machines can operate more efficiently, such as this one in southwestern Manitoba. A PinP photo.

On Wells and Wellness: Oil and Gas Flaring as a Potential Risk Factor for Preterm Birth

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Environmental Health Perspectives Cattle graze in a field as gas flares from a pumping installation on the Eagle Ford Shale in Karnes County, Texas. The shale oil boom is going strong on a formation that stretches for about 500 kilomtres across south Texas, one of the most prolific oil patches in the U.S. Excess gas is burned off at oil pumping stations which dot the countryside. A Greenpeace photo. Several studies have examined the association between unconventional oil and gas development and adverse birth outcomes. But up to now, no study is known to have looked specifically at flaring—the controlled burning of natural gas at the well site to relieve pressure or dispose of waste gas.1 In a recent article in Environmental Health Perspectives, investigators report their findings on flaring and maternal and fetal outcomes.  Details here.

Just 1% of Farms Control 70% of Global Farmland: Study Finds 'Shocking State of Land Inequality'

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ECO WATCH RELATED: Concentration Matters. Farmland Inequality on the Canadian Prairies

British chicken driving deforestation in Brazil’s “second Amazon”

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THE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM This satellite shot shows soybean production in Cerrato, Brazil. Green represents areas cleared before 2001 and purple - between 2007-2013. NASA. Soya used to feed UK livestock linked to industrial-scale destruction of vital tropical woodland. Story here.

As giant ice shelves collapse amid global warming in the Arctic, experts call for more protection for the "Last Ice Area" (LIA). The vast communities of plants and animals living there could be lost, they warn, before we even get to understand them!

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     by Larry Powell                                   The vast Milne Ice Shelf broke up this summer. Animals found  living within its ice cavity (red box),  are shown on the right.  Photo credits: Left: Joseph Mascaro, Planet Labs Inc.  Right: Water and Ice Laboratory, Carleton University. Using tools which included video taken by a robot submarine, a Canadian research team recently discovered an amazing array of plants and animals, living in the hear t of Milne, the very ice shelf which broke apart just this summer north of Ellesmere Island (above), losing almost half of its mass. Dr. Derek Mueller, Professor of Geography and Environment Science at Ottawa's Carleton University, is a team member who's worked in the area for decades. In an email to PinP, he can barely disguise his excitement over what they found. "There are really neat microbial mats (communities of micro-organisms including cyanobacteria, green algae, diatoms, heterotrophic bacteria, and viruses) that li

As South Africa clings to coal, a struggle for the right to breathe

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YaleEnvironmnt360 A small coal Mine, Highveld, South Africa.  A Sierra Club photo. Close ties between the ruling elite and the coal industry have helped perpetuate South Africa’s dependence on the dirtiest fossil fuel for electricity. But now residents of the nation’s most coal-intensive region are suing to force the government to clean up choking air pollution. Story here.

The role we humans play in the continuing decline of Earth's biosphere knows no boundaries. Sadly - an essential part of human life - food production - remains part of the problem.

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by Larry Powell   A thick blanket of smoke again darkens skies over northern India. Every year, farmers light large numbers of small fires between September and December—after the monsoon season—to burn off rice stalks and straw leftover after harvest, a practice known as stubble or paddy burning. (A NASA satellite image.)  Details here. Smoke from burning stubble hovers over a small town in southwestern Manitoba, CA. Nov. 2020. A PinP photo. Canada is no stranger to the same practise. While "stubble-burning" in this country did not approach that of India's (at least not this year), numerous such fires were still common again this fall over the eastern prairies (See above) and in past years (below). Stubble-burning in Manitoba - circa 2005. Photos by PinP. Wildfire smoke (see brown) over the Canadian prairies last year. A NASA photo. Smoke from several large wildfires in Canada (now proven to be more severe, frequent and prolonged thanks to manmade climate change) was so

Snarl for the camera! An international team of scientists and software developers use facial recognition technology to identify individual grizzlies in the wild.

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 By Larry Powell An adult female grizzly  (Ursus arctos). "BearID," as the program  is called,  captures a bear’s face in a  photo image,  rotates,  extracts and embeds it in order to classify the individual.   Facial recognition techniques have long been used to identify primates, including humans. But, up 'til now, there's really been no effective way of identifying wild species like the grizzly (brown) bear who, unlike the zebra or giraffe, lacks unique and consistent body markings.       In co-operation with two US software developers, four scientists from the University of Victoria bought their idea to reality. They tested their system on grizzlies at two locations - Knight Inlet, BC, and Katmai National Park, Alaska. After taking thousands of pictures, they were able to positively identify 132 individuals with almost eighty-four percent accuracy.  An adult female in another colour phase. Both images by Melanie Clapham, U of Victoria, Canada.  The technology en

Concentration Matters. Farmland Inequality on the Canadian Prairies

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The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives    by Darrin Qualman, Annette Aurélie Desmarais, André Magnan and Mengistu Wendimu A scene typical to the Canadian prairies - a big farm at harvest time. A public domain photo by cj berry. The ownership and control of Canada’s food-producing land is becoming more and more concentrated, with profound impacts for young farmers, food system security, climate change and democracy.  On the Canadian prairies, small and medium-sized family farms are often portrayed as the primary food production units. Yet, the reality of farming in Western Canada is quite different. In fact, a small and declining number of farms are operating the lion’s share of Prairie farmland and capturing the lion’s share of farm revenue and net income.  The authors analyse the extent of farmland concentration in Canada’s three Prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba), where over 70 per cent of the country’s agricultural land is situated. They find that 38 per ce

Recent research shows: More rare, endangered sharks are dying in the worldwide trade in shark fins than earlier feared.

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by Larry Powell   The "Grey Nurse" or "Sand Tiger," shark (  Carcharias taurus ), a coastal species on the ICU's Red List as  critically endangered. A public domain photo by Richard Ling.  Here's how sharks are "finned." After hauling them aboard their vessels, the fishermen cut off their fins, then toss them back into the ocean. Still alive, they sink to the bottom where they're either eaten by other predators or die of suffocation.    About 100 million sharks are believed to be taken by fishers each year, most of them for their fins alone.  It's an industry estimated to be worth US$400 million a year.  The blue shark (Prionaceglauca). Photo by Mark Conlin/NMFS. If one were to believe official trade records over the past twenty years, most fins traded on world markets have come from more abundant "pelagic" species (ones which live in the open ocean) like the blue shark (above).  The leopard shark (Stegostoma fasciatum). An ADV

Pollution and pandemics: A dangerous mix. Research finds that as one goes, so goes the other -- to a point.

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ScienceDaily A highway project in Alberta. A PinP photo. Are we setting ourselves up for the spread of a pandemic without even knowing it? Story here.

Ending greenhouse gas emissions may not stop global warming

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Nature (With minor editing by PinP) One of several steel power pylons toppled in an historic wind, snow and ice storm which swept through eastern Manitoba about a year ago. It left thousands without power in what was described as the worst power outage in the history of Manitoba Hydro. Damages are expected to exceed 100 million dollars. A Manitoba Hydro photo.  Even if human-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be reduced to zero, global temperatures may continue to rise for centuries afterwards, according to a simulation of the global climate  published in Scientific Reports. Jorgen Randers and Ulrich Goluke modelled the effect of different greenhouse gas emission reductions on changes in the global climate from 1850 to 2500. They also created projections of global temperature and sea level rises. What do they show? Under conditions where manmade greenhouse gas emissions peak during the 2030s, then decline to zero by 2100, global temperatures will be 3°C warmer and sea levels 3

Where people go, there too, goes Covid-19! Surprising? Perhaps not. But, if more solid science will help to convince the doubters - here it is!

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Nature A busy London pub. Photo by Steve Parker. Reopening places such as restaurants, fitness centres, cafes, and hotels carries the highest risk for transmitting SARS-CoV-2, according to a modelling study based on data from the United States published in Nature. Reducing occupancy in these venues may result in a large reduction in predicted infections, the model suggests. The study also highlights disparities in infection risk according to socioeconomic status. To assess how changes in movement might alter the spread of the  virus, Jure Leskovec and colleagues use phone data (collected this spring) to map the movements of millions of people from different local neighbourhoods. They combined these data with a model of transmission. This allowed them to identify potential high-risk venues and at-risk populations. The simulations from their model accurately predict confirmed daily case counts in ten of the largest metropolitan areas (such as Chicago, New York City and San Francisco). T