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‘It’s as if we’re in Mad Max’: warnings for Amazon as goldmining dredges occupy river

‘It’s as if we’re in Mad Max’: warnings for Amazon as goldmining dredges occupy river

Hundreds of illegal goldmining dredges converge in search of metal as one activist describes it as a ‘free-for-all’

Environmentalists are demanding urgent action to halt an aquatic gold rush along one of the Amazon River’s largest tributaries, where hundreds of illegal goldmining dredges have converged in search of the precious metal.

The vast flotilla – so large one local website compared it to a floating neighbourhood – reportedly began forming on the Madeira River earlier this month after rumours that a large gold deposit had been found in the vicinity.

“They’re making a gram of gold an hour down there,” one prospector claims in an audio recording obtained by the Estado de São Paulo newspaper.

Danicley Aguiar, an Amazon-based Greenpeace activist who flew over the mining flotilla on Tuesday, said he had been stunned by the magnitude of the illegal operation unfolding just 75 miles east of the city of Manaus.

Dredging rafts operated by illegal miners on the Madeira river, Brazil.
Dredging rafts operated by illegal miners on the Madeira river, Brazil. Photograph: Bruno Kelly/Reuters

“We’ve seen this kind of thing before in other places – but not on this scale,” Aguiar said of the hundreds of rafts he saw hoovering up the Madeira’s riverbed near the towns of Autazes and Nova Olinda do Norte.

“It’s like a condominium of mining dredges … occupying pretty much the whole river.”

Aguiar added: “I’ve been working in the Amazon for 25 years. I was born here and I’ve seen many terrible things: so much destruction, so much deforestation, so many illegal mines. But when you see a scene like that it makes you feel as though the Amazon has been thrust into this spiral of free-for-all. There are no rules. It’s as if we’re living in Mad Max.”

There was outrage as footage of the riverine gold rush spread on social media.

“Just look at the audacity of these criminals. The extent of the impunity,” tweeted Sônia Bridi, a celebrated Brazilian journalist known for her coverage of the Amazon.

André Borges, another journalist whose story helped expose the mining flotillatweeted: “We are witnessing, in 2021, a goldminers’ uprising with all the aggressiveness of the days of discovery.”

Brazil’s multimillion-dollar illegal mining industry has intensified since the 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right nationalist who backs the wildcat garimpeiros who trawl the Amazon’s rivers and rainforests for gold.

As many as 20,0000 garimpeiros are believed to be operating within the supposedly protected Yanomami indigenous reserve in Roraima, one of nine states that makes up the Brazilian Amazon.

Deforestation has also soared under Bolsonaro, who has stripped back environmental protections and been accused of encouraging environmental criminals. Amazon destruction rose to its highest levels in 15 years between 2020 and 2021 when an area more than half the size of Wales was lost.

Last week the Bolsonaro administration was accused of deliberately withholding new government data laying bare the scale of the deforestation crisis to avoid international humiliation during the Cop climate summit, which Brazil’s president declined to attend.

Aguiar, a Greenpeace spokesperson for the Amazon, said Bolsonaro’s pro-development rhetoric was partly to blame for the gold rush playing out on the Madeira River. He also pointed the finger at regional politicians in the Amazon who supported plans to allow miners to exploit gold deposits in riverbeds.

In a recent interview, the former head of Brazil’s environmental agency Ibama, Suely Araújo, said she saw only one way of saving her country’s environment: electing a different president.

“It’s hard to believe that this government is going to look after the environment because they are destroying everything,” said Araújo, a public policy specialist for the Observatório do Clima environmental group.


Tom Phillips at The Guardian

Road to hell for marine life: Shell’s Wild Coast seismic assessment plans meet mounting public protest

Road to hell for marine life: Shell’s Wild Coast seismic assessment plans meet mounting public protest

‘Hell no, Shell must go’ — activists protest against the arrival of the Amazon Warrior in Cape Town on Sunday. This is the ship’s last stop before it carries out a seismic assessment in search of oil and gas off the Wild Coast, starting on 1 December.

Waving banners, beating drums and chanting, an array of protesters — including members of Extinction Rebellion Cape Town, Oceans Not Oil and the Green Connection — awaited the arrival of the Amazon Warrior, a 130-metre seismic blasting vessel hired by oil giant Shell, at Cape Town Harbour on Sunday morning. From the outset, their message was clear: “Shell can go to hell”.

“Hell no, Shell must go!” the protesters chanted. Placards with defaced Shell logos on them bobbed above the crowd.

Shell has appointed Shearwater GeoServices to conduct the survey, which will last from four to five months, and cover more than 6,000km² of ocean surface. The survey area is located more than 20km from the coast, with its closest point in water depths ranging between 700m and 3km, Daily Maverick reported.

Activists protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan along the Wild Coast at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021. Shell’s announcement that it will conduct a seismic survey to probe for oil and gas along the Wild Coast has drawn outrage from the public (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

During this time, the seismic airgun blasts will increase the cacophony of sounds in the ocean, adding to those made by whales, dolphins and other marine life. Scientists and environmentalists alike have raised serious concerns about the “disastrous effects” of seismic assessments on the marine environment.  

shell protest
People protest at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021 against Shell’s offshore exploration plan to probe for oil and gas along the Wild Coast. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Climate activist organisation Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cape Town has said that there is increasing evidence that seismic blasting harms marine life. “Environmentalists are extremely concerned that seismic blasting of this scale will hurt our whales during breeding seasons, possibly separating mothers from their calves. But also fishing communities are sounding the alarm since the shockwaves will also scare off and harm their catch for unknown periods,” said XR Cape Town press coordinator, Michael Wolf.

In a statement on Saturday, XR Cape Town demanded that President Cyril Ramaphosa urgently intervene and withdraw the exploration licence from Shell and its partners, and send the Amazon Warrior home. 

People protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan off the Wild Coast and the arrival of the Amazon Warrior at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Shell’s announcement has spurred widespread public outrage and ignited a petition campaign to stop the survey. 

The Oceans Not Oil coalition started a petition calling on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy to withdraw approval of Shell’s application to probe for oil and gas off the Eastern Cape shoreline. By Sunday morning, the petition had received more than 147,500 signatories. 

About 100-150 protesters and activists were at the Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront when Daily Maverick arrived at around 5.30am on Sunday. From there, the demonstrators marched through the Silo District, eventually arriving at the edge of a pier near Shimmy Beach Club. 

Protesters demonstrate at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021 against Shell’s offshore exploration for oil and gas along the Wild Coast. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

For about three hours the protesters waited to “unwelcome” the Amazon Warrior to Cape Town. The ship eventually arrived in the bay at about 8.15am, but remained outside the harbour.

“The reason why we’re here today is because we’re telling Shell to go to hell. We do not approve of their want to do seismic activity across the Wild Coast because it will not only affect marine life but will affect individuals and marginalised communities,” protester and youth coordinator at the African Climate Alliance, Gabriel Klaasen, told Our Burning Planet.

Klaasen said Shell’s plans for the Wild Coast will not only affect marine life, but will have social and economic impacts on communities in the area. 

“This needs to come to an end if we want to make sure our marine life is secure for future generations to benefit from. The ocean is one of the biggest carbon sinks in the world and if we don’t protect it, we are screwing humans over,” he said. 

Strategic lead for the Green Connection, Liz McDaid addresses protesters at Sunday’s action against Shell’s plan to carry out a three-dimensional seismic survey in search of oil and gas deposits from Morgan Bay to Port St Johns off the Wild Coast, starting on 1 December. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Addressing protesters on Sunday, strategic lead for the Green Connection organisation Liz McDaid said that while there are currently groups of environmental lawyers trying to find ways to stop the project, public pressure on Shell is the way forward.  

“It’s us on the ground who have the best chance of public pressure building to stop them and to shut them down,” said McDaid.

McDaid said Sunday’s action was the first in a series of rolling actions planned before 1 December. There have been protests along the Wild Coast and pickets outside Shell petrol stations across the country, she said. 

A silent march from Muizenberg to Kalk Bay harbour to raise public awareness also took place at midday on Sunday. 

People gather at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021 to protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan along the Wild Coast. Demonstrators gathered to ‘unwelcome’ the ship commissioned to conduct the survey, which docked in Cape Town on Sunday. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

“What we are also planning to do — if we can raise the money — is hire a research vessel to shadow and monitor” the Amazon Warrior’s activity on the Wild Coast, said McDaid. 

“What we also think will put public pressure on Shell is to call on all the holidaymakers who are driving around to boycott Shell,” she said. 

“We were at the Paradise Motors Shell garage yesterday and it was very inspiring to see people look at the posters, drive in and then drive out without getting petrol,” she said.

“As long as we can resist and they know we are resisting, it makes their lives harder.”


Victoria O’Regan at Daily Maverick

Portugal’s power production goes coal-free long before deadline

Portugal’s power production goes coal-free long before deadline

Portugal shut down its last remaining coal plant over the weekend, ending the use of the polluting material for electricity generation and becoming the fourth country in the European Union to do so.

Environmental group Zero said in a statement the Pego plant in central Portugal had been the country’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, adding that “freeing ourselves from the biggest source of greenhouse gases was a momentous day for Portugal”.

The move comes nine years before Portugal’s targeted end of the use of the fossil fuel by 2030.

Belgium, Austria and Sweden are the other three European countries to have already stopped using coal for power generation.

Although a hefty 60%-70% of its electricity comes from renewable sources, Portugal still relies heavily on imported fossil fuels to meet overall energy needs.

There are concerns the Pego plant, run by the privately held group Tejo Energia, might now be converted to burn wood pellets.

“The challenge now is to ensure utilities do not make the mistake of replacing coal with fossil gas, or unsustainable biomass,” said Kathrin Gutmann, campaign director at Europe Beyond Coal.

“Ditching coal only to switch to the next worst fuel is clearly not an answer,” said Zero’s president Francisco Ferreira. “Instead, the focus should be on rapidly upscaling our renewable energy capacity in wind and solar.”

A draft document seen by Reuters in June showed the EU was considering tightening rules on whether wood-burning energy could be classified as renewable. read more


Catarina Demony via Reuters

Satellites discover huge amounts of undeclared methane emissions

Satellites discover huge amounts of undeclared methane emissions

“These are large emissions, and we see quite a lot of them on the global scale, much more than we had expected.”

Huge amounts of uncounted emissions of highly warming greenhouse gas methane are being released by “super-emitters” all over the world, satellite observations reveal. 

Scientists have only recently worked out how to detect methane emissions from space, but what they have seen since has taken them by surprise. The greenhouse gas, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is leaking from gas pipelines, oil wells, fossil fuel processing plants and landfills all over the world. It is frequently released through negligence and improper operations; the emissions, in many cases, are not accounted for in mandatory greenhouse gas inventories. 

“We see quite a lot of those super-emitters,” Ilse Aben, senior scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) told Space.com. These are large emissions, and we see a lot of them on the global scale — much more than we had expected.”

Aben heads a team of experts working with data from an instrument called Tropomi (for TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument) that flies on the European Sentinel 5P satellite, which is part of the Earth-observing constellation Copernicus.

Sentinel 5P launched in October 2017, and Tropomi started providing data a few months later. In the years since, scientists have slowly learned how to reliably interpret its measurements. 

“We measure methane concentrations in the total column from the top of the atmosphere down to the surface,” Aben said. “What we are looking for is the little bit of extra signal that suggests something is being released on the ground.”

Tropomi pinpoints emission sources with a rather crude resolution of 3.4 by 4.3 miles (5.5 by 7 kilometers), an area about the size of a smaller city. But the Tropomi team collaborates with Canadian company GHGSat, which currently flies three methane-detecting satellites, the first of which launched in 2016. GHGSat provides a much more detailed resolution of 66 feet (20 meters), which enables the company to do finer detective work. 

“With Tropomi, we look for these hotspots on a global scale,” said Aben. “We measure methane across the globe every day, and then we provide these locations to GHGSat and they can zoom in and pinpoint the exact facility that is leaking those emissions.”

Plumes of potent greenhouse gas methane leaking from a gas pipeline in Kazakhstan can be seen in this image captured by the European Sentinel 2 and Sentinel 5P satellites. (Image credit: Copernicus)

The oil industry’s dirty secrets

The collaboration has proved fruitful. In data gathered over the first two years of Tropomi’s operations, scientists discovered major leaks of methane in the oil and gas fields of Turkmenistan, most of which were completely preventable.

Oil and gas fields must build flare installations that prevent methane from leaking into the atmosphere, and Aben said that these leaks suggest those installations are not being used properly.

“These emissions actually relate to flare installations that are not being flared in the oil and gas industry,” said Aben. “Flaring is meant to get rid of the methane gases by burning them. It would obviously be better to capture the gas, but they are not even burning it. It’s just methane pouring out, and that is not normal operations.”

The Tropomi measurements revealed thousands of kilograms (in some cases even tens of thousands of kilograms) of methane leaking from 29 plants every hour. 

And the problem is not limited to Turkmenistan. A separate analysis of Sentinel 5P data released by French analytics company Kayrros in March this year found frequent methane leaks on three major pipelines supplying natural gas from Russia to Europe. Most of these events happened during maintenance work. Surprisingly, Kayrros detected 40% more leaks in the pandemic year 2020 compared to 2019, in spite of the overall reduction in gas imports from Russia to Europe, which was reported by the International Energy Agency. 

The U.S. is not blameless either. American scientists, using the Tropomi data, detected huge amounts of methane leaking from abandoned uncapped gas wells in Pennsylvania, and quantified massive leaks from several gas well blowouts that spouted methane for weeks. 

Yasjka Meijer, the mission scientist of Europe’s planned greenhouse gas monitoring mission CO2M, told Space.com that combined, all these leaks might account for much more than the emissions that natural gas companies report. These hidden emissions could, in fact, undermine the effectiveness of the shift away from the burning of coal toward the burning of gas for electricity generation, Meijer said. Many countries rely on gas as a temporary measure to decrease greenhouse gas emissions while developing fully renewable energy resources.

“A lot of oil and gas producers say that their average leakage is about 3 to 4%,” said Meijer. “It turns out to be much more. But burning gas in a power plant outperforms coal in terms of the carbon footprint only if the leakage is not more than about 8%. With the numbers now, we actually have doubts, because it might be perhaps 10 or 15% and then the global climate impact would be much larger.”

But it’s not just the fossil fuel industry that has its dirty emission secrets. Aben said the team was almost shocked at the extent of methane plumes leaking from landfills.

“Before we saw the first one, I had never thought we would be able to see landfill emissions from space,” said Aben. “That certainly gave us a ‘wow’ moment when we saw it for the first time. And now there’s a whole bunch of them that we have detected.”

The  Copernicus Carbon Dioxide Monitoring mission (CO2M) will be able to spot individual sources of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide. (Image credit: ESA)

Early stages 

Thorsten Fehr, head of the atmospheric section at the European Space Agency (ESA), which is developing the CO2M mission and operating Sentinel 5P for Copernicus, cautions that monitoring greenhouse gas emissions from space is still in its early stages. But the space industry is ready to take the technology another step further and effectively start policing emitters from space. Such a capability will be crucial to keep the world on track to meeting its emission reductions targets in order to keep global warming close to the 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degree Celsius) limit set out in the Paris Agreement negotiated at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris.

Currently, nations self-report their emissions based on the amount of fossil fuels the various sectors of their economy burn. However, countries often release these numbers on a five-year delay, and experts question their accuracy.

“The Paris Agreement asks for a transparency framework,” Fehr told Space.com. “To basically show what people are doing, and that’s exactly what we are trying to do now.”

There are currently a plethora of space missions being readied to tackle methane emissions. In addition to GHGSat, Sentinel 5P and CO2M, a U.S. company called MethaneSAT, a spin-off from the nonprofit organization Environmental Defense Fund, plans to launch a new methane-monitoring spacecraft in October 2022. Earth-observation company Planet, together with a range of research institutions including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, are developing an entirely new constellation of methane-monitoring satellites as part of a public-private partnership. 

This sneaky greenhouse gas is a focus of an international pledge that was introduced at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow on Nov. 3. Over 100 nations have signed the document, promising to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. According to a European Commission’s statement, this reduction alone could reduce the atmospheric warming projected by 2050 by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.28 degrees Celsius).

Scientists call methane emissions a “low-hanging fruit” and hope that the reductions should be relatively easy to achieve. 

“It’s in nobody’s interest to release this methane,” said Meijer. “It should be easier to regulate than carbon dioxide, because for carbon dioxide, you would have to tell people to stop burning the fossil fuels.”

The carbon dioxide challenge

To similarly monitor carbon dioxide emissions is much more complicated. But Fehr says ESA is ready for the challenge, and with the CO2M mission plans to provide the first of its kind tool capable of distinguishing individual anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide from space.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, launched in 2014, currently provides data on the regional distribution of carbon dioxide sources and natural sinks, reflecting global trends and seasonal changes. Its sister instrument, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, is attached to the International Space Station, taking measurements since 2019. But the resolution of these two instruments is nowhere near detailed enough to spot individual emitters.

“There’s a big difference between monitoring carbon dioxide and methane,” said Meijer. “The [natural] amount of methane in the air is much lower than the amount of carbon dioxide. Plus what is being emitted from sources is much higher than the background so it’s much easier to distinguish it from space. For carbon dioxide it’s the opposite. There’s already a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere naturally and the addition of individual sources is relatively small, you’re talking about a quarter of a percent.”

There are currently nearly 420 parts of carbon dioxide in a million parts of air, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the 1700s, before humankind started burning fossil fuels, the value was about 280, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The CO2M mission, expected to launch by 2026, hopes to measure the concentrations with an accuracy of 0.25%, which, according to Meijer, is still a technical challenge. 

Making the world to cooperate 

Aben hopes satellite observations will help keep the world on track to tackle climate change. The scale of the methane leaks surprised scientists, she said, but now that the previously hidden gas pipeline leaks and polluting landfills can finally be seen, fixing the problem is, at least, possible.

“I think that these satellite observations will certainly stir up and change the way we will be reporting emissions,” she said. “We are seeing things that I think are not visible at the moment in some of the reporting. Not all of the reporting is wrong, but this certainly adds a category of emissions that we might have missed.”

Meijer, however, cautions that it might still take a considerable effort to get the whole world on board. “This is the first time that you can actually put a finger on it,” he said. “But the problem is, how are you going to communicate with a country somewhere in Africa that there is too much methane leaking out of their facilities.”

At the recently concluded COP26 conference, nations strengthened their commitments to the goals of the Paris Agreement, agreeing to speed up the elimination of coal from the energy mix and increase their emission reduction efforts across the board. 

With the new pledges, the world might be on track to keeping the global temperature rise within 3.2 degrees F (1.8 degrees C). That value is still above the preferred limit of 27 degrees F (1.5 degrees C), but considerably better than the 4.8 degrees F (2.7 degrees C) trajectory predicted under previous plans. The battle is by far not yet won.


Tereza Pultarova at Space.com

Chinese-owned steel mill coats Serbian town in red dust; cancer spreads

Chinese-owned steel mill coats Serbian town in red dust; cancer spreads

A few hundred meters from the huge furnaces of the Chinese-owned Smedrevo steel mill in central Serbia, the village of Radinac is covered in thick red dust. Cancer rates have quadrupled in under a decade, and residents want the plant to clean up or shut down.

Zoran, 70, a throat cancer patient who speaks with a voice prosthesis after his larynx was removed, said residents must dry their laundry indoors and use vinegar to clean the dust from their cars.

“Water cannot wash it off,” he said. “We do not go out. We do not dare.”

According to data from the Smederevo public health body, which a watchdog called Tvrdjava obtained through a freedom of information request and shared with Reuters, the municipality of around 100,000 people reported 6,866 cancer cases in 2019, up from 1,738 in 2011.

The plant says it has invested 300 million euros in technology and pollution reduction since China’s biggest steelmaker, Hesteel, bought it from the Serbian state for 46 million euros ($53 million) five years ago.

“We are all citizens of Smederevo…. Would we be working despite pollution, against ourselves and our children?” the plant’s manager for environmental protection, Ljubica Drake, said in a statement to Reuters.

Three new production facilities will significantly reduce pollution after their completion in 2022, she said. It was “not correct” to conclude that higher cancer rates were caused by the plant’s activities, she said, adding that the disease could be a result of NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999 during a war in Kosovo.

Chinese-owned steel mill coats Serbian town in red dust

Image 1 of 4

Zivadnika Arsic, a 86-year-old woman, stands in front of her once white house, now covered with the red dust from the Chinese-owned HBIS Serbia steel mill in the village of Radinac, as cancer rates have quadrupled in under a decade, near the city of Smederevo, Serbia, November 3, 2021. Picture taken November 3, 2021. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

But activists say the plant is an example of Chinese-owned industrial firms ignoring pollution standards.

Nikola Krstic, the head of Tvrdjava, an environmental group whose name means The Fort, said an analysis of the red dust in September showed high concentration of heavy metals.

“The air in the town is far below European standards for 120 days per year,” he told Reuters. “Red dust is greasy, it sticks to lungs, makes breathing difficult.”

China has invested billions of euros in Serbia, which is a candidate to join the EU but has an uneasy relationship with the West more than two decades after the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, and has pursued close ties with Beijing.

The authorities in Belgrade say they are prepared to challenge Chinese-owened companies over pollution.

In April, Serbia’s authorities ordered China’s Zijin Mining Group to temporarily halt some operations at the country’s only copper mine over failure to comply with environmental standards. The mine said it would rectify all the problems swiftly, and it was permitted to reopen.

“Not only must polluters be fined, … if they cannot reduce pollution … they must halt operations,” Zorana Mihajlovic, Serbia’s mining and energy minister, told Reuters last week.


Aleksandar Vasovic via Reuters

‘Must-Read’ Analysis Reveals Massive Global Gap Between Declared and Actual Emissions

‘Must-Read’ Analysis Reveals Massive Global Gap Between Declared and Actual Emissions

The new investigation from the Washington Post reveals as much as 13.3 billion tons of under-reported emissions.

A major new investigation from the Washington Post has found “a giant gap” between the greenhouse gas emissions nations are reporting to the United Nations and what their planet-heating emissions actually are.  

Published Sunday, the investigation is being heralded as “a must-read story” based on “amazing” and “incredibly helpful” reporting.

The Post team assessed 196 countries’ emissions data for 2019, plugging in information for the 45 countries that submitted reports to the U.N. that year and making projections for the others.

Comparing that data with independent global emissions measurements, the Post found there was at least 8.4 billion tons and as much as 13.3 billion tons in underreported emissions. Carbon dioxide made up the majority of the gap, with methane following. Nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, sometimes known as f-gases, accounted for smaller portions of the gap.

Pointing to the ongoing COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the reporting notes that “the numbers they are using to help guide the world’s effort to curb greenhouse gases represent a flawed road map” and that the challenge of reigning in emissions “is even larger than world leaders have acknowledged.”

Flaws in the emissions reporting methods have been previously acknowledged, the Post noted, attributing the gap to “questionably drawn rules, incomplete reporting in some countries, and apparently willful mistakes in others—and the fact that in some cases, humanity’s full impacts on the planet are not even required to be reported.”

A key factor in the under-reporting, according to the investigation, are nations’ dodgy figures on CO2 emissions from land use, like doubtful numbers on how much carbon forests are able to absorb, and thus how much countries can subtract from their reported emissions.

As a prime example, the Post used the palm oil industry in Malaysia, a country that most recently submitted its emissions figures in 2016. In a likely exaggeration, the country claimed its forests were sinking over 243 million tons of carbon, “slashing 73 percent of emissions from its bottom line.”

In a Monday tweet sharing the Post‘s investigation, the Washington, D.C. branch of climate group Extinction Rebellion accused politicians of “fudg[ing] the numbers.”

“When will the lying, the deception, the false promises stop?” the group tweeted. “Only systemic change at a scale and speed unprecedented in human history can get us out of this mess.”


Andrea Germanos at Common Dreams

A mountain of unsold clothing from fast-fashion retailers is piling up in the Chilean desert

A mountain of unsold clothing from fast-fashion retailers is piling up in the Chilean desert

A huge heap of unworn clothing is piling up in Chile’s Atacama desert.

An estimated 39,000 tons of clothes that can’t be sold in the US or Europe end up in Chile yearly.

The clothes occupy a large stretch of the desert, blanketing dunes in a layer of discarded textiles.

Heaps of unworn clothes are being discarded in the Chilean desert, adding to a swiftly swelling graveyard of fast-fashion lines past.

According to a report from Agence France-Presse, the massive mound of clothes consists of garments made in China and Bangladesh that make their way to stores in the US, Europe, and Asia. When the garments are not purchased, they are brought to Chile’s Iquique port to be resold to other Latin American countries.

AFP found that about 59,000 tons of clothing end up at the port in Chile every year. Of that, at least 39,000 tons are moved into landfills in the desert.

Alex Carreno, a former employee at the Iquique port’s import section, told AFP the clothing “arrives from all over the world.” Carreno added that most of the clothes are later disposed of when the shipments can’t be resold across Latin America.

The used clothes brought to the desert heaps for disposal now blanket an entire swathe of land in the Atacama desert in Alto Hospicio, Chile.

aerial view used clothes fast fashion atacama desert chile
Aerial view of used clothes discarded in the Atacama desert in Chile. 

“The problem is that the clothing is not biodegradable and has chemical products, so it is not accepted in the municipal landfills,” said Franklin Zepeda, founder of EcoFibra, a company that is trying to make use of the discarded clothing by making insulation panels out of it.

Zepeda, whose firm has been using textile waste to create its thermal and acoustic building insulators since 2018, told the AFP that he wanted to “stop being the problem and start being the solution.”

Fast fashion, while affordable, is extremely harmful to the environment

For one, the fashion industry accounts for 8 to 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, according to the United Nations. In 2018, the fashion industry was also found to consume more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined. Researchers estimate that the equivalent of a garbage truck of clothes is burned and sent to a landfill every second

And the rate at which consumers buy clothing does not appear to have slowed down in the 21st century. According to statistics from the Ellen McArthur Foundation, a UK-based think-tank and circular-economy charity, clothing production doubled during the 15 years from 2004 to 2019. McKinsey also estimated that the average consumer purchased 60% more clothes in 2014 than they did in 2000.


Cheryl Teh at Insider

SpaceX Boca Chica Operations Have Severely Impacted Wildlife Refuge

SpaceX Boca Chica Operations Have Severely Impacted Wildlife Refuge

SpaceX’s operations at its Boca Chica test site in Texas have severely impacted the adjacent Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and its wildlife due to rocket explosions, wildfires and excessive road and beach closings, according to a letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Federation Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Frequent closures of the Refuge caused by SpaceX activities are already substantially impairing both the Refuge’s ability to adequately manage the Refuge and the public’s enjoyment of the Boca Chica Beach area for wildlife-dependent recreation. There are both ‘adverse’ and ‘severe’ impacts to Refuge public use, management, wildlife, and habitat from the SpaceX activities,” the letter said.

The letter to FAA Safety Division manager Daniel P. Murray was signed by Manuel Perez III, manager of the South Texas Refuges Complex, and Charles Ardizzone, project leader of the Texas Coastal Ecological Services Office.

The Jan. 22 letter said that SpaceX’s plans to significant expand its operations and physical footprint to include launches of the Super Heavy and Starship rockets will further exacerbate the impacts on the sensitive wetlands and the endangered species that reside there. FWS officials urged the FAA to conduct a much more rigorous environmental review of the plans than it is currently performing.

FAA has issued a preliminary environmental assessment (PEA) with the preferred option of approving the expanded operations. The agency held two public hearings on the project last month. The deadline for public comments was Nov. 1.

Debris is removed from marshland after an explosion at SpaceX’s Boca Chica test site. (Credit: SpaceX)

FWS said the impacts of SpaceX’s operations have been much greater than anticipated when the federal government approved the Boca Chica facility in 2014. The FAA conducted an environmental impact statement (EIS) that included a FWS analysis of the impact on the operations on the local area.

At the time, SpaceX planned to launch 12 Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets from the facility just north of the Mexican border. However, Elon Musk’s company abandoned those plans in 2018, electing to develop and flight test the much larger Starship and Super Heavy launchers.

Although the original approval allowed SpaceX to fly experimental vehicles at Boca Chica, the impacts of those activities were not analyzed in the original EIS, the FWS letter said.

“Since 2014, SpaceX has undertaken activities not covered in FAA’s 2014 EIS which addressed
only 12 launches per year, not continual experimentation related to the Starship/Super Heavy
proposal as is currently being carried out. SpaceX activities not covered include a higher
frequency of road closures extending well beyond 180 hours, large explosions from reported
anomalies, the appearance of significantly large staffing, 24/7 operations, traffic, and construction activities not analyzed in the 2014 EIS,” the letter said.

Under the 2014 approval, SpaceX was limited to closing access to the wildlife preserve and beach for 180 hours annually. FWS said it recorded that access was closed for more than 1,000 hours in 2019. SpaceX disputed that claim, claiming it only closed access for 158 hours, the letter said. The company now wants to expand closings to 300 hours per year.

Ruts in the marshland created by removal of debris from a November 2019 explosion. (Credit: SpaceX)

“In addition, SpaceX rocket debris falling onto the Refuge has damaged the sensitive wind tidal flats. And, the vehicles or machinery used to retrieve rocket debris have created ruts and caused other damage that interrupts water sheet flow across these flats. Two SpaceX incidents on July 25, 2019 and again in August 2019 resulted in wildfires of 130-acres and 10-acres respectively burned through coastal prairie and dune habitats on refuge managed land. Anomalies resulting in explosions on November 20, 2019, February 28, 2020, and December 9, 2020 resulted in debris scattered onto refuge managed lands. Retrieval methods damaged the sensitive alkaline flat and refuge cable fencing installed to protect the area from disturbance,” the FWS letter said.

The FWS letter was included in comments sent the FAA by group of 11 environmental organizations opposing SpaceX’s planned expansion. The submission included internal FWS emails, one of which chronicled the impacts SpaceX has had on the local environment. [Emphasis added]

Example of damages by/from Space-X:

Traffic volume, road closures, wildlife mortality
Impacts to habitat: tidal flats, dunes, coastal prairie – debris, fires, rutting, wetland filling
Fires – 2 fires in 2019
Explosions (Debris scattered) – several since 2019
Development – conversion to industrial development/testing area
Residential Eviction – Kopernik Shores
Loss of public access to refuge, state park, beach and no reliable access or land management

Important Dates:

Nov 2018 – during Federal Government Shutdown/Furlough – Space X announces they will change activity from launch facility to a testing facility
April 21,22 -2019 – Space X employee(s) get stuck with 2 vehicles and a forklift in tidal flats. Causes significant damage to tidal flats. Space X employees did not have permission to be on the refuge.
July 25, 2019 – 130-acre fire caused from Space-X test that sent fire/embers into the coastal prairie
August 2019 – second 15-acre fire, mostly in the dunes
November 20, 2019 – MK 1 explosion; Nose cone north of HW 4; cable fence damaged (never fixed)
February 28, 2020 – explosion – SN1 – Big debris north of HW4
Dec 9, 2020 – explosion of SN8 – Big debris (LE managed); Space-X still dragged/damaged flats

In its letter, FWS said SpaceX’s activities have “significantly diminished” the service’s ability to maintain the health of the wildlife refuge and protect its endangered species.

“This occurs by preventing or constraining public access year-round, hampering biological and monitoring studies including sea turtle patrols, sea turtle cold-stunning responses, hampering refuge management and law enforcement patrol, increased observations of road mortality of wildlife at all hours of daytime and nighttime, damage to sensitive habitats such as the wind tidal flats and to the salt prairie from explosions and fires, as well as adversely impacting nesting habitat for sensitive species. According to the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, Wilson’s and Snowy Plovers, have essentially stopped nesting near the SpaceX site in the last two years,” the FWS letter said.

SpaceX’s plans to launch Starship and Super Heavy rockets from Boca Chica involve a significant expansion of the facility, including the filling in of 17 acres of marshland and the construction of a power plant.

Instead of conducting another EIS, which would take years, the FAA has elected to conduct a less rigorous and faster environmental assessment (EA) of the expansion plans. FWS officials recommended FAA conduct a new EIS given the inadequacy of the original statement and the substantial impacts expected under SpaceX’s expanded operation. They said it is required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“The FWS believes that an EIS may be the more appropriate NEPA pathway for this proposed action if significant effects cannot be avoided. The FWS requests that you give adequate consideration to and objective analysis of our NEPA concerns; that you adequately comply with the [Endangered Species Act]; and, that you conduct an alternative action analysis per Section 4(f) of the Transportation Act of 1966,” the letter said.

Critics have made the same arguments. They claim that FAA’s decision to use an EA is an improper attempt to fast track approval of SpaceX’s expansion plans.


Douglas Messier at Parabolic Arc

20,000 Pounds of Trash Removed From Pacific Garbage Patch: ‘Holy mother of god. It worked!’

20,000 Pounds of Trash Removed From Pacific Garbage Patch: ‘Holy mother of god. It worked!’

“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch can now be cleaned,” announced Dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat, the wonderkid inventor who’s spent a decade inventing systems for waterborne litter collection.

Recent tests on his Ocean Cleanup rig called System 002, invented to tackle the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic pollution, were a success, leading Slat to predict that most of the oceanic garbage patches could be removed by 2040.

Intersections of ocean currents have created the massive floating islands of plastic trash—five slow-moving whirlpools that pull litter from thousands of miles away into a single radius.

The largest one sits between California and Hawaii, and 27-year-old Slat has been designing and testing his systems out there, launching from San Francisco since 2013.

GNN has reported on his original design for the floating device, but his engineering team improved upon it. System 002, nicknamed “Jenny,” successfully netted 9,000 kilograms, or around 20,000 pounds in its first trial.

It’s carbon-neutral, able to capture microplastics as small as 1 millimeter in diameter, and was designed to pose absolutely no threat to wildlife thanks to its wide capture area, slow motion, alerts, and camera monitors that allow operators to spy any overly-curious marine life.

Jenny consists of two boats dragging a very long net in a U-shape behind them.

They use computational modeling to predict where and at what speed the movements in the water will be shifting the plastic. They then fill up their net, pull it on board, and bring it ashore for recycling.

The team are also turning some of the trash they collect into designer sunglasses—and earnings from the stylish shades will go toward helping support the nonprofit so they can continue cleaning up the ocean. The new glasses are the first product to be created from the recovered ocean debris—but they say it will not be the last.

A timeline of hope

Slat estimates ten Jennies could clean half the garbage patch in five years, and if 10 Jennies were deployed to the five major ocean gyres, then 90% of all floating plastic could be removed by 2040.

There are obvious challenges, like the fact that millions of pieces of plastic flow into the oceans every year, and that investors may believe river cleanup is easier, cheaper, and doesn’t require the use of fossil fuels to power the boats.

And that’s why Slat’s nonprofit has also launched a number of ‘interceptor’ barges to clean up polluting rivers, intercepting plastic before it reaches the ocean.

Nevertheless—this is a huge breakthrough in the cleanup of ocean plastics, and one worth celebrating.


Andy Corbley at Good News Network

Arctic scientists team up with Billie Eilish to urge climate action ahead of COP26

Arctic scientists team up with Billie Eilish to urge climate action ahead of COP26

The group Arctic basecamp previously set up a tent camp at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Music star Billie Eilish joined forced with scientists from the group Arctic Basecamp on Tuesday, calling on world leaders to stand together and take urgent action at the U.N. COP26 climate summit next week.

The singer recorded a video message, with “The Office” actor Rainn Wilson, explorer Levison Wood and Robert Irwin, son of the late Australian conservationist Steve Irwin, also lending their voices to the project in conjunction with Britain’s University of Exeter.

The global climate summit, hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, kicks off in Glasgow on Oct. 31.

“This year our leaders are deciding the global actions required on the environment climate emergency in a critical decade for our planet,” Eilish said. “We must stand together and speak up to save our planet, not just for us, but for our future generations, and we need urgent, urgent action now and to work together as one.”

Britain has cast the summit as the last big chance for countries to commit to steps to slow rising temperatures.

“Courage. That’s what our world’s leaders need more than anything. The decisions that they make about the climate crisis in the next decade are the most important decisions in our planet’s history,” Wilson said.

Arctic Basecamp was founded by Gail Whiteman, a social scientist who studies how decision makers make sense of environmental threats such as climate change. The group has set up a tent camp for scientists at the World Economic Forum in Davos and will be attending the COP26 summit.

“This is a crisis and the Arctic is sounding the alarm. It is time that world leaders come together to create real change that ensures a safe future for humanity,” Whiteman said in a statement.


Marie-Louise Gumuchian via Reuters