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NEWS UPDATE #126


Common Dreams reports: Global sea ice levels are at their lowest in recorded history, according to the U.S. National Snow & Ice Data Center. In the Arctic, the loss is due to climate change and extreme weather events likely influenced by global warming, while the changes in the Antarctic may be attributed to natural variability.

Reduced monsoon has led to reduced groundwater storage and increased usage of groundwater for irrigation
R. Prasad, the Hindu
The groundwater level in north India has been declining at a rate of 2 cm per year during the period 2002-2013, while in north-central and south India, it has increased by 1-2 cm per year during the same period, says a study carried out by a team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar. While changes in monsoon rainfall pattern during the period of study can largely explain the total variability of groundwater storage in north-central and south India, the usage of groundwater for irrigation purposes accounts for groundwater variability in northwest India. The increased usage of groundwater for irrigation in northwest India is, in turn, linked to changes in monsoon rainfall pattern. The results were published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

All north Indian cities fail to meet air quality standards, report finds
The Guardian
Not a single city in northern India meets international air quality standards, according to a Greenpeace report that estimates air pollution kills more than 1 million Indians each year and takes 3% off the country’s GDP. The report released this week also shows that levels of the most dangerous airborne pollutants grew by 13% in India between 2010 and 2015 but fell at least 15% over the same period in China, the US and Europe. It adds to a growing body of research showing the problem of toxic air is not limited only to the Indian capital, Delhi, but afflicts almost all the country’s large cities, particularly in the north. (Also read: The undisclosed air pollutants – by Sunita Narain)

Alarm call: 98 tigers died in 2016, the most in one year since 2001
Catch News
Last year was one of the worst for India’s wild tiger population. As per data placed in the parliament, 98 wild tigers died in 2016, the most in a year since 2001 and 25% more than in 2015, when 78 deaths were reported from across the country’s national parks and reserves. These numbers paint a grim picture of India’s conservation programmes. The country, home to 70% of the world’s tiger population, has been struggling to check organised poaching rings which have been killing the national animal at an alarming rate for years now. (Also read: 1) Of Government, God and Gharial: The Ecological Pogrom in Chambal’s Badlands 2) Kaziranga, India’s rhino paradise, has a poaching problem that’s proving hard to combat)

With demonetisation, Naxals are urging traders in five states to adopt barter system to aid the poor
G.S. Radhakrishna, Scroll.in
On November 22, a fortnight after demonetisation, a poster on the wall of a residential school in Bayyaram, in Kothagudem district of Telangana, asked traders and farmers to accept forest produce from the people in exchange for essential goods. It was signed by Sagar, the spokesman for the North Telangana Special Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoists). The switch to a barter system was not limited to just the two southern states. In Chhattisgarh, for instance, petrol pumps on the highway from Bastar to Jabalpur are accepting payments in kind for fuel. (From The Wire: The Costs of Demonetisation: Choking Tribal Livelihoods; Grain Market Suffering)

Bhopal court issues direct summons to Dow Chemical in 1984 gas leak case
Anupam Chakravartty, Down to Earth
Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal issued summons to The Dow Chemical Company (TDCC) on Friday (January 13) as part of the proceedings against Dow Chemical to make Union Carbide Corporation, US, its wholly-owned subsidiary, appear in the ongoing criminal case on the disaster of 1984 which killed over 25,000 people.  According to Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information and Action, whose application led to the order, previous summons sent through the US Department of Justice did not work on the petitioner’s favour as Dhingra alleged that the US Department of Justice did not cooperate with its Indian counterparts.

Vibrant Gujarat: Nobel Laureates pitch for GM foods, sends strong message to Greenpeace, NGOs
Ajay Singh, Firstpost
In the morning, a session of “Nobel dialogue” was fixed where nine Nobel laureates participated. And they were equivocal in their assertion that the ignorance of political class about the science was a serious concern. And a group of them launched a frontal attack on a group of NGOs, particularly the Greenpeace, that have been resisting the use of genetically modified (GM) seeds. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan pointed out that those who have been using genetically modified medicines for diseases are opposed to GM seeds.

Pesticides suspected to be carcinogenic escape govt ban list
Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, Hindustan Times
A clutch of pesticides that could be carcinogenic and banned in many countries will continue their run in India, though a government panel has recently decided to ban 18 insect killers hazardous to human health and prohibited abroad. This is the first time a decision to ban such a big number of pesticides was taken. There are 261 pesticides registered in India but only 28 had been banned so far. (Also read: Supreme Court gives Kerala 90 days to compensate victims of Endosulfan poisoning)

Vedanta Company Gets Proxy Mining  Licence In Odisha
Deba Ranjan, Countercurrents
Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha and son of Biju Patnaik has given Kodinga Hill to the Vedanta Company. The Vedanta Co. will not do mining on its own. Rather Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), a State Public Sector Unit will extract bauxite and will supply it to the Vedanta Co. The deal was done on 10th January 2017 and happened without waiting for environment clearance.

Surplus power in India: Now heavy users to pay lower tariffs
Sarita Singh, The Economic Times
Major reforms of power tariffs are on the horizon as an official committee has recommended lower tariffs for heavy users to encourage electricity consumption as the country moves from a deficit to surplus situation. In India, power consumers have always been paying higher bills for higher consumption. Slabs are fixed and if you fall in the higher consumption range, you pay more. It’s time the country doles out incentives for high power consumption, a committee constituted to advise the government on ways to increase electricity demand has said.

Environment panel against entertaining ‘anti-development’ representations
Jay Mazoomdaar, The Indian Express
Blaming public representations for making “sweeping statements” and having “an anti-development attitude”, the expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydel projects of the Ministry of Environment has decided “not to take any cognizance of such representations” received by its members. In its December 30 meeting, the committee concluded that once a project proposal reaches the EAC for appraisal, it has crossed the stage of public consultation and “the EAC should not go back in time, and should not reopen it, by entertaining unsubstantiated representations received from the people”.

Voices around the world unite to save the Sundarbans
350.org
A recent Global Day of Protest for the Sundarbans united voices from across the globe calling for the preservation of  the world’s largest single tract of mangrove forest, home of endangered species like the Royal Bengal tiger and the Irrawaddy dolphin. Organizers estimate that up to 4,000 people showed their solidarity with the five year-long popular resistance movement opposing the construction of the Rampal power plant in Bangladesh.

Global Sea Ice Hits Lowest Levels ‘Probably in Millenia’
Common Dreams
Global sea ice levels are at their lowest in recorded history, according to new statistics from the U.S. National Snow & Ice Data Center. In the Arctic, the loss is due to climate change and extreme weather events that are likely influenced by global warming, while the changes in the Antarctic may be attributed to natural variability, the center said. But as a result of the declines in both regions, the total loss of ice is likely at the lowest it’s been for thousands of years, said meteorologist Eric Holthaus.

Ticking Carbon Clock Warns We Have One Year to Avert Climate Catastrophe
Common Dreams
We may only have one year remaining before we lock in 1.5ºC of warming—the ideal goal outlined in the Paris climate agreement—after which we’ll see catastrophic and irreversible climate shifts, many experts have warned. That’s according to the ticking carbon budget clock created by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC). The clock’s countdown now shows that only one year is left in the world’s carbon budget before the planet heats up more than 1.5º over pre-industrial temperatures.

Humans have destroyed 7% of Earth’s pristine forest landscapes just since 2000
Chelsea Harvey, The Washington Post
The world’s natural places are disappearing at a galloping clip, says a new study, released Friday in the journal Science Advances. It suggests that more than 7 percent of Earth’s natural, intact forest landscapes have been lost since 2000 — and these ecosystems may be in danger of disappearing entirely from at least 19 countries in the next 60 years. These landscapes represent some of “the last portions of the Earth that are not significantly affected by human influence,” said Lars Laestadius, a forest expert, consultant on natural resources policy and co-author of the new study. “As we lose these, we lose something that is bigger than ourselves.”

Giant iceberg poised to break off from Antarctic shelf
The Guardian
A giant iceberg, with an area equivalent to Trinidad and Tobago, is poised to break off from the Antarctic shelf. A thread of just 20km of ice is now preventing the 5,000 sq km mass from floating away, following the sudden expansion last month of a rift that has been steadily growing for more than a decade. The iceberg, which is positioned on the most northern major ice shelf in Antarctica, known as Larsen C, is predicted to be one of the largest 10 break-offs ever recorded.

Global renewable energy investment fell 18% in 2016: study
The Economic Times
Global investment in renewable energy dropped by 18 per cent in 2016 due to sharp falls in equipment prices and a slowdown in China and Japan, a study found today. After reaching record levels in 2015, investment fell last year to $287.5 billion, according to researchers at Bloomberg New New Energy Finance (BNEF). The fall was due in part to “further sharp falls in equipment prices, particularly in photovoltaics,” it said.

World’s largest tropical peatland found in Congo basin
The Guardian
Scientists have discovered the world’s largest tropical peatland in the remote Congo swamps, estimated to store the equivalent of three year’s worth of the world’s total fossil fuel emissions. Researchers mapped the Cuvette Centrale peatlands in the central Congo basin and found they cover 145,500 sq km – an area larger than England. The swamps could lock in 30bn tonnes of carbon that was previously not known to exist, making the region one of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on Earth.

Almost 75% of Japan’s biggest coral reef has died from bleaching, says report
The Guardian
Almost three-quarters of Japan’s biggest coral reef has died, according to a report that blames its demise on rising sea temperatures caused by global warming. The Japanese environment ministry said that 70% of the Sekisei lagoon in Okinawa had been killed by a phenomenon known as bleaching. Bleaching occurs when unusually warm water causes coral to expel the algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn completely white. Unless water temperatures quickly return to normal, the coral eventually dies from lack of nutrition.

Four dead, 1,000 arrested as demonstrations continue across Mexico
Eric London, World Socialist Web Site
The Mexican government on Thursday declared that it would not rescind its gasoline subsidy cut, as clashes at protests against the measure in recent days left four dead, dozens hurt and over 1,000 arrested. The cut, known as the gasolinazo, will result in a 20 percent gas price hike in the coming year. Although Mexico is a leading oil producer, it imports over half its refined oil and domestic consumers pay just under $4 per gallon, more than in the United States. The gas price hike is already increasing the cost of basic consumer goods such as tortillas, further squeezing the impoverished working class and peasantry.

A collective organism, sharing one distributed brain’: Pentagon successfully tests swarm of intelligent micro-drones
South China Morning Post
The Pentagon may soon be unleashing a 21st-century version of locusts on its adversaries after officials on Monday said it had successfully tested a swarm of 103 micro-drones. The important step in the development of new autonomous weapon systems was made possible by improvements in artificial intelligence, holding open the possibility that groups of small robots could act together under human direction.

‘BioClay’ a ground-breaking discovery for world food security
Phys.org
A University of Queensland team has made a discovery that could help conquer the greatest threat to global food security – pests and diseases in plants. Research leader Professor Neena Mitter said BioClay – an environmentally sustainable alternative to chemicals and pesticides – could be a game-changer for crop protection. “In agriculture, the need for new control agents grows each year, driven by demand for greater production, the effects of climate change, community and regulatory demands, and toxicity and pesticide resistance,” she said.

 

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