Polar Bears Need an Area Larger than California to Survive
On Nov. 24, the U.S. government designated 187,000 square miles an area larger than the size of California on the north coast of Alaska as "critical habitat" for the polar bear. The ruling results from a lawsuit that followed the 2008 Bush Administration decision to list the polar bear as threatened (which itself followed on the heels of lawsuits). But it leaves unresolved several key questions: Namely, the notion that the polar bear can be saved from extinction without stopping the emissions fueling global warming, since its sea ice habitat is melting at unprecedented rates each summer at the same time oil companies want to install new rigs offshore. The 2008 Endangered Species Act listing explicitly forbade the government from taking action on greenhouse gas emissions just to save polar bear habitat. "The critical habitat designation clearly identifies the areas that need to be protected if the polar bear is to survive in a rapidly melting Arctic," said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity, which also represented NRDC and Greenpeace in the latest lawsuit. "However, unless the Interior Department starts to take seriously its mandate to actually protect the polar bears critical habitat, we will be writing the species obituary rather than its recovery plan." Meanwhile, the annual re-freezing of the Arctic appears to be lagging far behind the norm.
Greenhouse Gases Measured at All-Time Highs
The U.N. reported Nov. 24 that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are at an all-time high. Concentration of the major greenhouse gases has increased 38% since pre-industrial times (before 1750), and 27.5% just since 1990. As world governments begin the latest round of climate talks (COP 16) today in Mexico, scientists also warned that the goal of slowing global warming to an average of 2C is no longer realistic; 4C is more likely, though far from desirable, given the consequences. One possible consequence: world food shortages. This year, thanks to crop failures due to excessive drought in Russia and massive flooding in Pakistan (both of which are consistent with the climate change impacts predicted by scientists, even if they can't be said to have been caused by global warming), the world is "dangerously close," in the words of the U.N., to a food crisis.
Europe Bans Bisphenol A (BPA) in Baby Bottles
Taking action that has so far been politically impossible in the U.S., the European Commission on Nov. 26 approved a ban on Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles, as of June 2011. BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical (it mimics estrogen) that has been linked to a host of health problems in lab animal and increasingly human studies. Though the U.S. Senate is expected to vote today on a largely worthy food safety bill, a provision to remove BPA from sippy cups and other children's products was stripped out prior to the vote. The good news is that many private companies and retailers have already taken steps to remove BPA from products that children put in their mouths. Photo: Istock
The U.S. Will Export Coal (Lots of Coal) to China
On Nov. 23, three men in Cowlitz County, Wa. (pop. 102,000) ensured that the vast U.S. coal deposits will be available for burning in China, when they unanimously approved the permit for a new coal export depot in Longview, Wa. "Energy companies would use the terminal to send millions of tons of coal from Montana and Wyoming through the Columbia Gorge by train, then load it into ships bound for China," according to Earthjustice. "Australia-based Ambre Energy would annually export 5 million tons of coal from a Longview port." Environmental groups opposed the permit, arguing that the region's clean energy and low carbon goals would be undermined by shipping its fossil fuels across the ocean. Despite its own vast coal reserves, China has recently become a net importer of coal, according to a recent New York Times story. Burning coal, of course, is among the dirtiest ways to generate electricity or fuel industry; in addition to copious climate-warming carbon dioxide, coal-burning emissions include toxic compounds like mercury that contaminate fish, and acid gases like nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide that cause acid rain and smog.
Bluefin Tuna (Still) Endangered
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, an inter-governmental panel, voted Nov. 27 to reduce, but only barely, fishing for the lucrative bluefin tuna. For that and other failures, Oceana dubbed the ICCAT the "I Can't" of fishing regulation, despite that being its job. With stocks down 80% since 1970, the bluefin tuna has become an icon of overfishing. Thanks to the latest decision, the popular fish is still "on the path toward extinction," in the words of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has petitioned the U.S. government to list bluefin tuna as an endangered species, now that the international organization charged with ensuring a sustainable catch has failed to set strict catch limits that will allow the species to recover. According to WWF, to sustain the species in the wild, the catch needed to be reduced 10 times more than the commission reduced it. Prices, in the meantime, remain high, as one bluefin tuna sold for sushi fetched $177,000 this year. The commission did manage to increase protections for two species of shark, but failed to protect not only bluefin tuna, but a range of other imperiled sharks, according to the Pew Environment Group. The U.S. government also noted improved protections for sea turtles. As a consumer, you can choose U.S. or Canadian albacore, or U.S. troll- or line-caught yellowfin (ahi) tuna... and alternatives to shark, like mahi mahi. Photo: Oceana
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