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NEWS UPDATE #154


Noor Mohammed writes in The Wire on how over the past seven years, politically-connected sectors have tanked at stock market. While firms in the FMCG and auto sectors have done well, certain power, steel and telecom companies –where access to natural resources and political connections are crucial to success–including Adani and Reliance, have performed horribly.

This year, monsoon has been anything but normal
Shreeshan Venkatesh, Down to Earth
While nearly 150 districts have already received more than 100mm of rains in a single day, around 40 per cent of total districts in the country have had deficient rains. Rain-rich regions of Kerala and coastal Karnataka have received deficient rainfall while the rain shadow regions in southern Tamil Nadu have received rains far above normal. IMD’s long-range forecasts were criticised for large margins of errors and inconclusive probabilities.

580 farmers’ suicides in Marathwada till Aug 15, up from 542 last year, as farming turns “riskier” in era of climate change
Moin Qazi, Counterview
Even as India celebrated its 70th year of independence, the number of suicides of beleaguered farmers in Marathwada, the drought prone belt of Maharashtra, touched a new high. In the last seven and half months ending with August 15, 580 cultivators have committed suicide. At the end of July, the toll stood at 531 and it has gone up to 580 in just 15 days. The total suicidal deaths in Marathwada in the entire 2016 were 542, and the figure for 2015 was 354. Thus in seven and half months this year the number of suicides has gone up by 38 in comparison to the figure for the entire last year .The tragedy is all the more serious since 2016-2017 had good rainfall and better agricultural prices to support a successful harvest.

Bihar floods: the state caught napping, once again
Down to Earth
The recently released report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on Schemes for Flood Control and Flood Forecasting, which looked at the River Management Activities and Works related to Border Areas (RMABA) projects, observed, “There were huge delays in completion of RMABA projects which were long-term solutions for the flood problems of Assam, North Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh.” Kosi High Dam project is one of them. Almost 26 years have passed (1991) since India and Nepal reached at an understanding to take up joint investigations of the project and prepare a detailed project report, but the work is still in progress. (Related: 1)  Flood situation improves in Bihar and West Bengal  2) Floods catch Bangladesh unprepared)

Government eases environmental clearance rules for solar power projects, parks
Live Mint
In move that would bring relief to solar power developers, the Union environment ministry has said that provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006, which mandate environmental clearance for various projects, will not apply to solar PV (photovoltaic) power projects, solar thermal power projects and solar parks. The ministry has, however, clarified that the disposal of PV cells will be covered under the provisions of Hazardous and Other Waste (Management and Trans-Boundary Movement) Rules, 2016. It also said that the development of solar parks will be covered under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. (Related: Environment ministry panel exempts public hearing for companies seeking coal mine expansion)

Over the Past Seven Years, Politically-Connected Sectors Have Tanked at Stock Market
Noor Mohammed, The Wire
Despite benchmark stock market indices touching new highs in recent years, some of India’s large corporates have seen a precipitous drop in their share prices. The reason? While it’s difficult to say exactly, the most poor-performing stocks are conglomerates and companies operating in sectors such as power, steel, telecom and real estate, where access to natural resources and political connections are crucial to success. Companies such as Adani Power, Reliance Power, Reliance Communications, Lanco Infratech and Jindal Steel and Power have seen their stocks plummet from their dizzying heights in 2010.

Kashmir glaciers shrinking rapidly, says study
The Times of India
The impact of climate change is being felt in Kashmir as snowfall has lowered over the years and glaciers are losing mass leading to reduced flows in Chenab, Jhelum and Indus. A recent research has highlighted that Srinagar is facing one of the highest black carbon (caused due to incomplete combustion of fossil fuel) pollution, nearly as much as in Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world. Kashmir University’s department of earth sciences has published a number of studies recently highlighting the severity of water stress and more recently poor air quality in the region.

Death sentence to Kali Valley?
Pandurang Hegde, Deccan Herald
A Karnataka cabinet subcommittee has taken a decision to reduce the protective nature of the forest cover under Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) in Kali Valley from 1,202 sq km to 312 sq km. This is endorsed by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in Delhi (MoEFCC). The collusion of the state and central governments, with different political thoughts, is a definitive indicator of the way our natural resources are appropriated by the powerful elite, tweaking rules and regulations on their own behalf. Kali Valley is part of the fragile Western Ghats region on the border of Karnataka and Goa in Uttara Kannada district. Al

 ‘We will be like fish out of water’
The Hindu
The pall of eviction hangs over 191 villages and a township in Alirajpur, Badwani, Dhar and Khargone districts of the Narmada valley, where an estimated 40,000 families of farmers, adivasis, fishers and potters stand to lose everything that they have ever had — land, homes, livelihoods, social relations and their connection with the river — to the Sardar Sarovar dam, where sluice gates have been closed for over two months. The reservoir is filling up, and a gazette notification was issued to residents to vacate the submergence area by the end of July. Shanobai of Chikhalda village is defiant. “If we are evicted, we will be like fish out of water,” she says. “We will resist eviction until our last breath.” (Related: Medha Patkar Gets Bail On The 15th Day Of Arrest)

Harming the organic farming movement
Chandra Bhushan, Down to Earth
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has recently announced the Draft Food and Standards (Organic Food) Regulations, 2017, aimed at curbing sales of fake organic products. On the face of it, this looks like an excellent regulation, with a promise of protecting the rights of consumers. But a closer analysis shows that it cannot curb sales of fake organic products; in fact, in my view, it might do more harm than good to the organic farming movement in the country.

Are Ganesh mandals in Maharashtra behind a nationwide dilution of noise pollution norms?
Aarefa Johari, Scroll.in
In the run-up to the 10-day Ganesh festival that begins on Friday, Ganpati mandals (festival organisers) in Maharashtra are feeling triumphant. On Wednesday (August 16), during a hearing in the Bombay High Court of a batch of petitions against the violation of noise pollution norms, the state government informed the bench that Maharashtra has no silence zones anymore. It said this was because the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests had issued an amendment to the Noise Pollution Rules of 2000 on August 10, giving state governments complete authority to declare a space as a silence zone.

Mumbai’s blue dogs: Pollution board shuts down dye industry after HT report
Hindustan Times
The state pollution control board shut down the Navi Mumbai-based private company that was releasing untreated industrial waste into the Kasadi river at Taloja, and was discharging residual dye powder into the air and in the water, which was turning dogs in the area blue. HT first reported on August 11 about the dogs mysteriously turning blue, after residents spotted the canines. After local activists filed a complaint with the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), it was discovered that a private company was releasing blue dye into the air and the river water.

WORLD

Global reaction: Trump pulls US out of Paris Agreement on climate change
Carbon Brief
President Donald Trump has, after months of procrastination and deliberation, carried through with one of his campaign pledges by announcing that he will withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. It is not yet clear exactly what process he will deploy to achieve his desired exit from the deal, but Article 28 of the Paris Agreement provides a clause allowing parties to pull out which would take four years to complete. This means it would likely conclude on the eve of the next US presidential election. What he did not say – as many had feared – was that he would pull the US out entirely of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). (Also read: The former Marshall Islands minister Tony De Brum, the ‘hero’ of Paris climate agreement dies)

Study links heatwave deaths in London and Paris to climate change
Carbon Brief
In 2003, more than 70,000 people across Europe died in a sweltering heatwave that spanned much of the summer. France was among the worst-affected countries, with 15,000 deaths in August alone. In the UK, the summer saw more than 2,000 heat-related fatalities. A new first-of-a-kind study works out how many of the deaths in Paris and London are down to the heatwave being intensified by human-caused climate change. The findings suggest that 506 of the 735 summer fatalities in Paris in 2003, and 64 of the 315 in London, were a result of human influence on the climate. (Related: Climate Change Has Influenced Timing of Europe’s Floods)

World GDP in current US dollars seems to have peaked; this is a problem
Gail Tverberg
World GDP is no longer growing robustly. In fact, it may even have started shrinking, with 2014 being the peak year. In particular, it is related to the fall in oil prices since mid-2014 and to the problems that oil producers have been having since that time, earning too little profit on the oil they sell. A similar problem is affecting natural gas and coal, as well as some other commodities. These low prices, and the deflation that they are causing, seem to be flowing through to cause low world GDP in current US dollars.

Solar panel capacity to overtake nuclear energy next year in historic landmark
The Independent
Solar panel capacity is set to overtake nuclear worldwide for the first time within the next few months, according to expert predictions. The total capacity of nuclear power is currently about 391.5 gigawatts but the total capacity of photovoltaic cells is expected to hit 390 gigawatts by the end of this year with demand growing at up to eight per cent per year, according to GTM Research. While this would be a landmark moment for renewable energy, nuclear still generates much more electricity than solar – nearly 2.5 million gigawatt-hours a year compared to the latter’s 375,000 gigawatt-hours. (Related: Study: Nearly 140 countries could be powered entirely by wind, solar and water by 2050)

Fukushima Plant Is Releasing 770,000 Tons of Radioactive Water Into the Pacific Ocean
Dahr Jamail, Truthout
When Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered a triple-core meltdown in March 2011 as the result of devastating earthquake, most people had no idea this was only the beginning of a nuclear disaster that has arguably become the single worst industrial accident in human history. Keeping the three core meltdowns cool has been an ongoing challenge that has yet to be met. As fresh water is pumped over the cores, it is then stored on site in massive tanks. The Tokyo Electric Power company (TEPCO), the operator of the plant, then has to figure out what to do with that water. Recently, TEPCO announced that it would dump 770,000 tons of radioactive tritium water into the Pacific Ocean.

Shia Insurrection In Saudi Arabia; Energy and the Battle For Awamiya
Thomas C Mountain, Countercurrents
Since May, 2017 an ongoing insurgency has been raging in the Shia heartland town of Awamiya in eastern Saudi Arabia. This almost unknown urban war in the midst of the Saudi oilfields, with 2 million barrels a day being pumped via Awamiya alone (20% of total Saudi exports) with the House of Saud, after Russia, being the 2nd largest oil producer worldwide, should be sending shivers down the spines of those occupying the seats of power both east and west. How long the Shia rebellion in eastern Saudi Arabia, home to almost all Saudi oil reserves, will be able to maintain an armed resistance to the Saudi military assault is the 10 million barrel a day question.

Propaganda On Venezuela Busted
Countercurrents.org
There is a full scale propaganda war going on against Venezuela. Speaking at a press conference in Cartagena, Columbia with Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos, US Vice President Mike Pence said that “Venezuela is sliding into dictatorship” and that “the United States will not stand by” as democracy “crumbles”. “That once rich nation’s collapse into authoritarianism has pushed it into poverty and caused untold suffering for the Venezuelan people,” he continued. Following the comments of US Vice-president Mike Pence in Cartagena, a journalist went to Catia Caracas to ask an ordinary Venezuelan to go out and buy 8 everyday items within 30 mins – watch what happens.

ExxonMobil: Oil and gas giant ‘misled’ the public about climate change, say Harvard experts
The Independent
Fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil “misled the public” about the risks posed by climate change, an analysis of its public and private announcements on the subject by two Harvard University academics has concluded. While the company’s scientists and senior executive largely accepted the scientific consensus that global warming is real and poses significant risks, it spent thousands of dollars on regular advertorials in The New York Times (NYT) and other newspapers, in which it sought to cast doubt on the science. In some cases, the firm, led by the current US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, from 2006 to 2016, even contradicted itself.

Monsanto sold banned chemicals for years despite known health risks, archives reveal
The Guardian
Monsanto continued to produce and sell toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs for eight years after learning that they posed hazards to public health and the environment, according to legal analysis of documents put online in a vast searchable archive. More than 20,000 internal memos, minuted meetings, letters and other documents have been published in the new archive, many for the first time. Most were obtained from legal discovery and access to documents requests digitised by the Poison Papers Project, which was launched by the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy.

Mexico’s avocado boom causing deforestation and illnesses in local population, experts say
The Independent
Growers have been cutting down swaths of forest to make room for more fruit trees in the state of Michoacan, the world’s avocado capital. Experts are now concerned that chemicals used in the orchards could be behind illnesses afflicting the local population. About 40 percent of the world’s avocados are grown in Mexico, and most of those come from the area around Jujucato and Lake Zirahuen. Avocados occupy some 137,000 hectares (340,000 acres) of land in Michoacan, according to state government figures. Half of those orchards were planted in forests after the land was bought through dubious legal means, according to Jaime Navia, head of a rural technology NGO called Gira.

Bolivia approves highway through Amazon biodiversity hotspot
The Guardian
Bolivia has given the go ahead to a controversial highway which would cut through an Amazon biodiversity hotspot almost the size of Jamaica and home to 14,000 mostly indigenous people. President Evo Morales enacted the new law opening the way for the 190-mile (300km) road through the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park, known as Tipnis, its Spanish acronym . The road will divide the park in two and strip it of the protections won in 2011 when a national march by thousands of protesters ended in clashes with the police and forced the government to change its position.

Leading elephant conservationist shot dead in Tanzania
The Guardian
The head of an animal conservation NGO who had received numerous death threats has been shot and killed by an unknown gunman in Tanzania. Wayne Lotter, 51, was shot on Wednesday evening in the Masaki district of the city of Dar es Salaam. The wildlife conservationist was being driven from the airport to his hotel when his taxi was stopped by another vehicle. Two men, one armed with a gun opened his car door and shot him. Lotter was a director and co-founder of the PAMS Foundation, an NGO that provides conservation and anti-poaching support to communities and governments in Africa. Since starting the organisation in Tanzania in 2009, he had received numerous death threats relating to his work. (Related: Three more rangers killed in a deadly month around the world for wildlife defenders)

Elon Musk leads 116 experts calling for outright ban of killer robots
The Guardian
Some of the world’s leading robotics and artificial intelligence pioneers are calling on the United Nations to ban the development and use of killer robots. Tesla’s Elon Musk and Alphabet’s Mustafa Suleyman are leading a group of 116 specialists from across 26 countries who are calling for the ban on autonomous weapons. The UN recently voted to begin formal discussions on such weapons which include drones, tanks and automated machine guns. Ahead of this, the group of founders of AI and robotics companies have sent an open letter to the UN calling for it to prevent the arms race that is currently under way for killer robots.

Most countries lose out with forest-to-farm conversions
SciDev
Converting forests into farms is not economically viable except in selected regions, says a global study.
Published last month (July) in PLoS Biology, the study by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) examined deforestation in more than 50 countries in the tropics between 2000—2012, and identified regions where deforestation is most and least beneficial. According to Luis Roman Carrasco, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the NUS faculty of science, the study was undertaken “to help policymakers realise whether their deforestation strategies made economic sense and how these could be modified to avoid inefficient loss of natural resources.”

 

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