President Obama is visiting Alaska to talk climate: Here’s why that’s so ironic

An aerial view of the coast of Sitkalidak Island where the Shell Drill Barge Kulluk ran aground. 8 Jan, 2013 © Greenpeace / Tim Aubry

President Obama is visiting Alaska today to put a spotlight on the realities of climate change and to forge his climate legacy. But less than two weeks ago, he granted Shell final approval to drill for oil in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea.

We’re as confused by that logic as you are.

That’s not the only layer of irony here. The oil deep in Arctic waters is only accessible because of melting ice caused by climate change.

The fact that President Obama thinks he can forge a climate legacy while allowing Arctic drilling shows that he isn’t in tune with the demands of people around the United States and the world to keep Arctic oil in the ground.

Whether simply ironic or downright hypocritical, what’s clear is that President Obama’s rhetoric on climate change is not matching up to his actions. You can write a letter to tell President Obama what true climate leadership looks like.

Here are four statements from President Obama himself that make it perfectly clear why climate leadership cannot include Arctic drilling:

President Barack Obama addresses the media at Coast Guard Station Grand Isle, La., concerning the ongoing, multi-agency response to the Deepwater Horizon incident, 28 May 2010. Coast Guard photo

“Alaskans are on the frontlines of one of the greatest challenges we face this century: climate change.”

This much is true. Over the past 50 years, temperatures across Alaska have increased by an average of 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1.9 degrees Celsius), twice the average in the US.

The solution to climate change in Alaska—and everywhere else—obviously does not lie in extracting and burning more fossil fuels. In fact, a study published in the journal Nature earlier this year found that we cannot afford to burn any of the oil and gas reserves in the Arctic if we hope to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Allowing Shell to drill in the Arctic for “unburnable oil” will have devastating consequences for Alaskans already impacted by climate change.

Should global emissions continue to increase this century, temperatures will rise as much as 12 degrees Fahrenheit (6.6 degrees Celsius) in northern Alaska and 8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius) in the rest of the state. This would greatly exacerbate ice melt, sea level rise, wildfire seasons and other threats already facing Alaskan communities.

“The hunting and fishing on which generations have depended for their way of life and their jobs is being threatened.”

Once again, the President is right on with this one. And once again, drilling for oil in Alaskan waters is not going to help.

Alaska Natives have spoken about how thinning sea and river ice is both threatening the habitats of traditional food sources and making hunting itself more dangerous. Rising temperatures and hotter, drier summers have already increased the strength and frequency of wildfires that decimate food and medicinal plant species and the habitats of food sources like caribou.

Of course, none of this gets better by extracting and burning more fossil fuels.

On top of that, the actual act of drilling poses a great threat to traditional hunting and fishing practices. There’s a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill should Shell find oil—and that’s by the government’s own estimation.

For a sense of how such a spill would impact traditional ways of life, consider the case of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. That spill was so devastating for Native Alaskans that Chief Walter Meganack called it “the day the water died.” More than 25 years later, communities are still recovering.

“Storm surges once held at bay now endanger entire villages.”

Doesn’t really sound like the kind of environment where you’d want to install massive, expensive oil infrastructure operated by a disaster-prone company, does it?

Cleaning up the likely event of an Arctic spill would be next to impossible, with the nearest Coast Guard station 1,000 miles away and harsh weather conditions complicating response. Shell has estimated it would take about six days for responders to reach the site of a spill, while oil would likely reach land—and coastal communities—within three days.

Shell’s track record does little to inspire confidence in its ability to handle these conditions. Its 2012 attempt to drill in the Chukchi Sea ended in eight felony charges for its contractor Noble Drilling, a rig damaged beyond repair after running aground and a critical piece of spill response equipment “crushed like a beer can” during testing in the Puget Sound.

And just last month, a Shell icebreaker vessel tore a 39-inch gash in its hull while taking a shortcut, forcing it to undergo repairs and delaying Shell’s entire operation. Clearly, this is not a company prepared to deal with harsh Arctic conditions only growing more extreme with our changing climate.

“What’s happening in Alaska is … our wake up call. As long as I am president, America will lead the world to meet this threat before it’s too late.”

With this sentence—and indeed this entire trip—President Obama intends to cement his climate legacy. Unfortunately for him, opening the US Arctic to oil drilling for the first time in 20 years is hardly climate leadership.

In fact, it sends the exact wrong message to the rest of the world. As the current chair of the Arctic Council, US leadership must set the right tone for other Arctic nations. Already this year, Russia submitted a bid to claim more than 463,000 square miles of Arctic sea ice and Norway announced that it would expand Arctic drilling (parliamentary opposition has since delayed those plans).

Allowing Shell to drill in Alaska would open the floodgates for other nations to exploit Arctic resources, putting us further down a path towards climate disaster. If this is what “America lead[ing] the world” on climate change looks like, America is leading in the wrong direction.

Has President Obama, been listening to his own words?

It’s time to send him some of yours. Write a personal letter to President Obama and tell him why you think he should protect the Arctic and our climate.

Ryan Schleeter is an online content producer for Greenpeace USA.

A version of this blog was originally posted on Greenpeace USA’s The Environmentalist.

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After a reign of hundreds of years, it’s time King Coal was de-throned

Power Week - Coal

It’s true coal launched the industrial revolution, with all the benefits that it brought to humankind. But the cost has been huge – both in terms of human health and greenhouse gas emissions. Add to that mining accidents, local people forced out of their homes to make way for new coal mines, acid rain and smog pollution, and you’ll see why King Coal has had its day.

Coal is the dirtiest fuel on the planet, and the dominant source of CO2 emissions. Across the world, about 10 billion tonnes of CO2 come from coal-fired power generation every year, making up 30% of fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

It’s not only the dirtiest fossil fuel, it’s unfortunately also the cheapest, making it dangerously appealing for emerging economies wanting to industrialise quickly to catch up with the developed world. China’s a good example. By some estimates, its economy has grown 30-fold since 1980, most of it fuelled by coal. China’s dependence on coal contributed half of global CO2 emissions growth in the past decade. The price has been horrendous air pollution that is claiming over a million lives every year, most of it linked to coal-burning.

But the signs are that coal has had its day. As China strives to tackle its air pollution crisis and modernize its economy, coal consumption is falling even while its economy continues to grow, resulting in the largest reduction in CO2 emissions for any country, ever.

The World Bank has warned that coal is no answer to global poverty. Its climate change envoy, Rachel Kyte, said recently that when it came to lifting countries out of poverty, coal was part of the problem, not the solution.

Investors, at least, appear to be listening. Coal companies are in trouble around the world. In the US, nearly 40 coal companies have filed for bankruptcy protection since 2012. Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, has lost nearly 90% of its value in the past year.

But some governments, particularly in Australia and Japan, continue to support this dirty fuel. They need to understand that coal is history. It cannot be made “clean” by technological solutions like carbon capture and storage (CCS), where carbon emissions from power plants are buried underground. CCS requires particular geological conditions which don’t exist in many countries. And even Norway, which has plenty of “suitable” areas (empty gas and oil fields underground), has abandoned some of its key projects, because it’s too expensive.

Still, coal continues to enjoy huge public subsidies, along with oil and gas, of about $550 billion a year. These have to end. The future is not coal, it’s renewable energy. Coal is part of human history. Now it belongs in a museum.

Quotes/Facts:

  • “Coal is not the answer to global poverty, says the World Bank. It’s part of the problem, not the solution”.
  • The Swiss bank UBS says large-scale centralised power stations will soon become extinct because they are “not relevant” for future electricity generation. Instead, it’ll be cheaper and more efficient for households and businesses to generate their own energy.
  • Pollution from coal-fired power plants in the EU resulted in thousands of premature deaths. In countries with heavy coal use, more people seem to be killed by coal than in traffic accidents.
  • The European Commission says improving energy efficiency by 40% by 2030 would cut fossil fuel imports by €505 billion a year.

Joanna Mills is a Communications Strategist for Greenpeace International.

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How we responded to the crisis that was Tianjin

On Wednesday 12 August, Tianjin’s Binhai port area was rocked by two enormous chemical explosions. Greenpeace East Asia’s Beijing team immediately went to the scene to test, check and measure. Here’s what they found.

Tianjin Chemical Explosion in China

It was like a scene from Armageddon, but this was no Hollywood movie. Blasts so severe they were seen from space, and when the fires had “settled” local residents and the whole of China woke up concerned for the safety of the citizens of Tianjin and the brave firefighters tackling the blast, many of whom lost their lives.

For my colleagues and I at our Beijing office, this was the start of an intense and important period. Thirty staff banded together to become the Greenpeace Tianjin Rapid Response Team, working day and night to investigate conditions and send crucial information to the media and the public. It was sleepless, stressful and worrying; but also filled me with hope and a feeling of conviction of Greenpeace’s vital role in society.

Squeezing water from a stone

Struggling against an immense situation and a vacuum of information regarding the chemicals involved, we “squeezed water from a stone” to find out as much as we could about the chemical hazards that were lingering in the Binhai area after the blast.

Water Sources Test at Tianjin Explosion Site in China

Dressed in safety gear, I volunteered as part of a team who ventured as close as 900m from the blast site to take water samples and bear witness, but I was not prepared for the devastation I was about to encounter. Glass from windows lay shattered on the ground, cars burnt out and an eerie silence lingered over the zone.

The local residents we met and interviewed were full of fear and uncertainty, exacerbated by the Tianjin government’s slow release of information. As an independent group doing our best to identify the toxic substances and advise residents on how best to protect themselves and their families, Greenpeace was warmly welcomed. Residents were happy to see us, keen to help and hear our findings.

Back at HQ

Whilst we were in the field, a number of our colleagues back in Beijing HQ were conducting their own desktop research on how wind direction and rain could pollute the air quality and sea. But this was not the only problem – if a warehouse was storing tubs of hazardous chemicals that detonated the combined equivalent of 24 tonnes of TNT, how many other hazardous chemicals were stored illegally (and potentially lethally) in other ports around the country?

What we uncovered was shocking. Looking at ports in Shanghai, Ningbo, Guangzhou and Qingdao we discovered that the issue of poorly enforced hazardous chemical regulations is a nationwide problem.

Warehouses built within 1000m or so of elderly homes, kindergartens and residential areas violated safety regulations and proved that what happened in Tianjin could happen anywhere. With coverage picked up in domestic and international media, it set off a chain reaction of information causing outrage and spreading awareness across China.

The fight continues

For Greenpeace, it’s always been important to “bear witness” – to see, record and share what effects we’re having on our planet so that this information is preserved and seared into the public’s consciousness.

Water Sources Test at Tianjin Explosion Site in China

Right now the situation is stable and the workload of our rapid response team has slowly quietened. But it’s far from over. We now know that these chemicals are literally in our backyard with the potential to explode at any moment. Greenpeace will continue to monitor the situation, publicise wrong doings and push policies to change how the hazardous chemicals industry is regulated, because I, along with millions of other people, do not want to see an avoidable tragedy such as this happen again.

Follow Greenpeace East Asia’s work in China here.

Eric Liu is a Toxics Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia

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It’s not a whale. It’s not a shark. It’s a whale shark!

…or maybe it’s a Whark? Whatever you want to call it, today is International Whale Shark Day! But before you start running away screaming “Jawwwwws!” don’t be alarmed. With a face like a whale and a body like a shark, these seemingly frightening creatures are actually gentle giants.

Found in tropical oceans in areas like the Maldives, Philippines and Mexico they feed mainly on plankton and are by far the largest living non mammalian vertebrate. But despite being docile (they pose absolutely no threat to divers) they’re also unfortunately hunted for their highly prized fins and meat.

As a vulnerable species we need to protect the whale shark and their ocean home. Check out these facts about whale sharks… And then raise a glass of plankton and celebrate whale shark day!

A whale shark in Cenderawasih Bay National Park, Indonesia

The whale shark weighs on average 12 tonnes and can grow more than 14 metres in length. Despite its gigantic size, whale shark teeth are only 6mm long.

The Whale shark's migration route takes them close to the shores off Rapu Rapu Island, in the Philippines

Each whale shark has a unique pattern, much like humans’ fingerprints. This allows researchers to run visual analytics to correctly identify and track each whale shark.

 A whale shark in Cenderawasih Bay National Park, Indonesia

Whale sharks move slowly in the ocean. They swim 5km /hour but can dive up to 1,000 metres. However, whale sharks prefer to roam shallow seas with 50 metre depth. This makes them exceptionally vulnerable to ship collisions and fishing nets.

Whale shark off Saudi Arabia. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List regards the species as one of the most vulnerable marine animals in the world. Indonesia, through its Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, enacted a law for whale shark conservation. Unfortunately, law enforcement much like the whale sharks, has little to no teeth.

A whale shark swims in the warm water off the coast of the Philippines.  

Like most sharks, whale sharks breed slowly which make them dangerously vulnerable to overfishing. Most of which, are contributed due to the world’s insatiable appetite towards shark fins.

Inspired? Take action to protect their ocean home here!

Sumardi Ariansyah is an Oceans Campaigner in Indonesia, with Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

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Still searching for justice a decade after Hurricane Katrina

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 19 Sep, 2005 © Greenpeace / Christian Åslund

Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest natural disasters ever to strike the United States. Like Typhoon Haiyan and other destructive storms in recent memory, Katrina disproportionately impacted more vulnerable communities—both as the storm hit, and in the recovery process afterwards. While these communities often contribute the least to storm-strengthening climate change, they suffer most.

Now, ten years after Hurricane Katrina, many local elected leaders in hard-hit areas are quick to say that the region has recovered, it’s resilient and it’s open for business. But Hannah Strange of Greenpeace USA shares the other side of this story, and a vision of social and climate justice from the communities most affected.  

A version of this blog was originally posted on Greenpeace USA’s The Environmentalist.


Ten years ago, the United States bore witness to climate change at work. The devastating impacts of Hurricane Katrina made it clear that climate change is not simply a problem for future generations. It is real, it is here, and it will impact all of us—some communities more deeply than others. 

A range of evidence suggests links between rising ocean temperatures due to global warming and the destructive power of hurricanes like Katrina. One 2013 study even found that global warming could increase the number of Atlantic hurricanes as strong as Katrina by as much as 700 percent.

And it’s no secret that Hurricane Katrina had the greatest consequences for marginalised communities, especially communities of colour. For instance, populations in the areas most damaged by Katrina were 46 percent African American, compared to 26 percent in undamaged areas. In New Orleans itself, damaged areas were 75 percent African American. Of the 1,800 lives claimed by Katrina, more than half were black.

More than 25,000 evacuees from New Orleans took shelter in the Houston Astrodome for roughly two weeks following Hurricane Katrina. Photo by FEMA/Andrea Booher.

While this disparity was fairly obvious in the weeks and months following the disaster, it continues to be true to this day. Structural inequalities present well before Katrina—and the failure to include impacted communities in developing real solutions—continue to hamper recovery.

Contrary to the rhetoric you’ll hear from leaders all the way up to President Obama, affected communities are still healing from Hurricane Katrina.

The Gulf South Is Rising

Communities in the region hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina —called the Gulf South—are coming together this week the commemorate the ten years that have passed under the banner of #GulfSouthRising. In a week of action, local leaders will tell their side of the story—to say that the illusion of recovery is not progress and that a return to business-as-usual structures of privilege is not justice.

Through the Movement Support Hub, Greenpeace USA is answering Gulf South Rising’s call for support for the week of action. We’re here in solidarity with local leadership and the vision built by impacted communities. The anticipation is building as we get closer to a weekend full of powerful and transformative events.    

A Vision for Justice

In the lead up to the 10-year commemoration of Katrina, leaders across the Gulf South came together to articulate principles and demands for true resilience and recovery. Together, they created these five demands for the Gulf South—points we can all consider in other disaster situations as well:

  1. A right to return. Displaced families and communities have a right to return to their homes, to social and public services, and to economic opportunities.
  2. Those lost will not be forgotten. Not all of those who died or were misplaced have been accounted for, which is an affront to the trauma their friends and families have already suffered.
  3. Value the people, protect the land. Communities are more resilient, but no safer now from another Katrina than they were ten years ago. Extractive industries are threatening the land, health, and culture of the Gulf. We must take meaningful steps to address climate resilience for all communities.
  4. Recovery must be with the people, for the people and by the people. A recovery that benefits a privileged few is not a recovery at all. Economic, racial and environmental justice must be embedded in recovery for communities affected by Katrina.
  5. The illusion of recovery is not progress. We cannot accept the inequalities embedded in what has been labeled as progress so far. It’s time to prop up the voices of communities on the frontlines of this disaster and build a movement to achieve true recovery and resilience.

August 29, 2015 marks ten years since the Katrina broke the levees in New Orleans. It’s also time to put the Gulf South on the right track to recovery—one that prioritizes justice over privilege and real resilience over quick profit. By healing communities in the Gulf, we can heal a nation.

It’s also a time to remind ourselves that climate change is here, it is real and the devastation it creates can take generations to resolve. 

Hannah Strange is the Director of Greenpeace USA’s Movement Support Hub.

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eZombie Invasion: The scary reality of Mexico’s e-waste problem

eZombies are on the rise in Mexico.

Mexico is suffering from a silent invasion: the invasion of the eZombies. From beyond the grave, millions of toxic electronics are threatening the health of Mexico’s rivers, food and its people. The United Nations University estimates that, in 2014, Mexico generated 1 million tonnes of potentially hazardous electronic waste. That is 8.2kg per person. Even scarier, only 10% of these eZombies are dealt with in the right way. Another 50% are left to pollute people and the planet via informal recycling or dumping sites.

Mexico’s current e-waste situation is bad. But unless we act now, it could get a whole lot worse. 

The Switch

This year, Mexico is switching from an analogue to digital TV signal, a necessary technological advance. However, it is estimated that this switch could lead to the dumping of some 40 million old televisions—most of which contain lead, mercury or brominated flame-retardants. The Mexican government has created a plan to deal with these new TV eZombies on paper, but it lacks the basic who, how, where and with what money each state in Mexico will deal with the invasion. Instead, the focus has been on giving away 10 million new TVs, yet more potential eZombies.

Unless we come together to stop this invasion, we could be facing a potentially nightmarish situation.

Fortunately there is still hope, and there is still time. Greenpeace Mexico is calling on the Secretary of Communications and Transport (SCT) to turn its paper plan into a reality before it’s too late. And we are assembling a crack team of #eZombieHunters to join us in tracking down and identifying eZombie TVs that have escaped containment, calling on the SCT to detain them and treat them.

E-Zombie Apocalypse Action in Mexico 21 Aug, 2015 © Arturo Rocha / Aerofilms / GreenpeaceTwo Greenpeace Mexico activists unveiled a banner at the Muelle de Los Muertos in Puerto Vallarta reading “Peligro: eZombies fuera de control” (Danger: eZombies out of control).

Worldwide eZombie Detox

The invasion has begun in Mexico, but this is a global problem with a global solution.

What if our electronics didn’t turn into eZombies? What if our TVs, our computers, our phones and our clothes were not made with these dangerous chemicals in the first place? In Mexico and around the world, millions of Detox warriors, #eZombieHunters, online activists and everyday people are joining the fight for a future free of toxic chemicals.

Help spread the word about what is happening in Mexico on your social media channels with the hashtag #eZombies, and join the global Detox movement to create a cleaner planet for our future generations.

Robin Perkins is the Detox Programme Leader at Greenpeace México.

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Call for Papers: ITherm 2016

ITherm 2016 will be held along with the 66th Electronic Components and Technology Conference (ECTC 2016, www.ectc.net), a premier electronic packaging conference, at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.  Based on the success of ITherm 2014 in Orlando, Florida, USA, papers will be presented in oral and selected topical poster sessions.  All papers will be peer reviewed by two or more reviewers, and will be published in the ITherm proceedings.  In addition to paper presentations and vendor exhibits, ITherm 2016 will include panel discussions, keynote lectures by prominent speakers, and professional short courses.  Original papers are solicited in the following general areas (but not limited to):

Thermal Management:
Novel Materials: Thermal Vias, Heat Spreaders and Thermal Interface Materials
Natural and Forced Convection Air Cooling
Advances in Compact Air Movers
Single-Phase Liquid Cooling
Novel Phase Change Cooling Techniques: Boiling, Thin Film Evaporation, Heat Pipes, Thermosyphon, Spray and Jet Impingement
Microfabricated Thermal Management Devices and Systems
Sub-Ambient Cooling: Solid State, Vapor Compression, Absorption, Adsorption, Thermo-acoustic, Magnetocaloric
Thermal Management in Wireless, Networking, Computing, Lighting, Harsh Environments, and Peripheral Hardware.
Thermal and Energy Management in Data Centers
Three-Dimensional Electronics
Advances in Experimental Characterization
Advances in Computational Characterization: Multi-Scale Modeling, Compact Modeling, Multi-Physics Modeling, Multi-Objective Design and Optimization

 

Mechanics:
Modeling and Simulation for Reliability at Package, Board, and System Levels
Failure Mechanics and Damage Modeling
Experimental Techniques
Constitutive Models
Impact, Drop and Vibrational Analysis of Packages,
Sub-Systems, and Systems
Solder Profile Modeling, Fatigue Mechanics of Packages, Interconnects
Materials Characterization, Simulation, Design

 

Emerging Technologies:
Sensors (Medical, Military, Consumer, Structures, Diagnostic, etc.)
Nanotechnology: Thermal, Mechanics, Material and Process Related Issues in Nanostructures
Micro-Fluidics
Chip-Integrated/Embedded Cooling Systems
Fiber-Optics Interconnect Systems & Free Space
Optical Interconnects
MEMS: Device and Package Level Reliability Issues
Integrated Biochips and Bioelectronics
Medical, Telecommunication, and Automotive Systems
Space Systems: Earth Orbiting and Deep-Space Missions

 

Submit an Abstract
Please submit a 400 word text-only (no figures and tables) abstract on the ITherm website: www.ieee-itherm.org. Deadline for Abstracts is September 4th, 2015. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by October 2nd, 2015.

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Confessions of a frustrated “soil-hugger”

Ecological Soil Fertilization in France. 3 Aug, 2013 © Emile Loreaux / Greenpeace

As a soil scientist you would expect me to be enthusiastic about the benefits that soil gives to humanity and very happy that the United Nations designated 2015 as International Year of Soils. During this year there have been numerous activities throughout the world to draw attention of a wider public to the value of soil. In the UK, the British Society of Soil Science has been active in organising events in schools – recognising the need to enthuse future generations.

The properties of natural soils under forest or grassland are especially impressive; by “natural” I mean soils largely unaltered by humans by processes such as ploughing. In these soils the interactions between physical, chemical and biological processes are particularly amazing. Part of me want to be a “soil-hugger” and stop any interference with these habitats so that the wonderful structures and biodiversity, established over many years, are preserved. However, as we all know, a great deal of land, and therefore soil, needs to be used for agriculture. About 40% of the total global land surface is used for some form of agriculture but even this figure understates agriculture’s global impact. Large areas of land are unsuitable for agriculture, being made up of deserts or mountains or are too cold. In the UK, some 70% of the land area is used for agriculture and values in the range of 50% to 70% are common elsewhere. Hence, in many regions, the majority of land suitable for agriculture is already utilised, and this means the majority of soils are modified by human activity. So if we are concerned about the quality of soil on our Planet, it is these agricultural soils where we need to focus our attention.Food for Life Documentation in California. 12 Apr, 2015 © Peter Caton / Greenpeace

Producing food, as well as fibre and fuel, is just one function we derive from soils – albeit a vitally important one. But soils also provide a range of so-called “ecosystem services” including storage and filtering of water, influencing the composition of the atmosphere through regulating flows of greenhouse and other gases, and providing a habitat for a vast array of animals and microbes (biodiversity).

When thinking about the way we treat our soils at least two issues need to be considered. First, it is usually inevitable that soil used for agriculture, at least for growing annual crops such as wheat as opposed to grass (termed “arable soils”), will be somewhat less valuable for “ecosystem services” than a soil under natural vegetation. This is because the soil will normally have a lower organic matter content than the corresponding natural soil and is likely to have increased inputs of nutrients whether from fertilizers, manures or biological nitrogen fixing plants such as clover. So an acceptable trade-off has to be determined in different regions for the proportions of land used primarily for agriculture and those maintained primarily for other “ecosystem services” – but bearing in mind that people need to eat!

Second, for soils under agriculture a key issue is sustainability – ensuring that the practices used permit continued production of crops at an acceptable level for many years as opposed to good yields for a short period followed by decline. In human history, serious damage to soils was almost certainly a factor in the collapse of civilizations. A key factor for achieving sustainability is maintaining soil organic matter content as this component influences virtually all soil properties – biological, chemical and physical. Adding manure is an obvious way of increasing organic matter content but, in most places, there is simply too little manure available to rely solely on this. Using other organic by-products such as sewage sludge, domestic waste and “wastes” from food processing can be valuable provided these do not introduce pollutants or pathogens. There is evidence that even small changes in soil organic matter content, either increases or decreases, can have disproportionately large impacts on soil physical properties. So there is scope for research to find ways of making limited supplies of organic resources achieve maximum impact – making a little go a long way. In fields used for growing annual crops, a move to reduced tillage, as an alternative to ploughing, can be helpful as this concentrates organic matter near the soil surface, but reduced tillage is not successful in all soil types or environments.

Naturally fertilised organic soil in Mbita district, Kenya. 24 Jan, 2015 © Peter Caton / Greenpeace

There can be conflicts between the different uses of soils and between factors conducive to long-term sustainability compared to short-term production. Developing management practices to meet the range of different requirements, production and environmental, and developing sensible policies to address any necessary trade-offs, is not easy. Soils researchers regularly grapple with these issues, as do farmers. It is my hope that these groups will work more closely together to find solutions; innovative forms of funding are essential for encouraging such cooperation between researchers and farmers, in addition to funding for gaining more fundamental knowledge of soil processes using exciting new techniques that are becoming available. Because soils differ so widely in their properties (for example light sand compared to heavy clay, soils prone to flooding compared to those facing drought), simple prescriptions of a “one size fits all” nature are generally unhelpful.

It is also essential that the quality of soils is taken seriously by policy makers on behalf of the citizens they represent. Current policies and regulations vary between countries but are generally weaker than those for protecting the quality of water or air. If the International Year of Soils leads to some strengthening of relevant policies, and greater embedding of soil protection within other policy areas, something valuable will have been achieved.

David Powlson is a Lawes Trust Senior Fellow for Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, UK.

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A mothership your mother wouldn’t like

Illegal Purse Seine Fishing Vessel. 24 Nov, 2011 © Alex Hofford / Greenpeace

Motherships… transshipping… they sound like things you’d find in outer space while you’re star trekking across the universe. But the Rainbow Warrior is finding them way out in the high seas, in areas of the Pacific Ocean that are more than 200 nautical miles from land, and outside the jurisdiction of any country or its laws.

On the surface, they sound pretty innocuous. Motherships are out here providing fuel and provisions to other vessels out at sea, but many of them do a whole lot more. There’s a type of mothership called a reefer, with massive refrigerated holds that are filled with the catch from smaller fishing boats. The process of moving fish from one vessel to another is called transshipping, and it lets the fishing boats work for months or years without having to go into port. The industry claims transshipping saves money, fuel and time, but recent reports recent reports (here and here) have revealed that these practices are not just done for efficiency, they can be used as a way to plunder the oceans, dodge regulations, and keep fishermen as a captive workforce. They work far from land and law, often enabling labour abuse, overfishing, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing to continue unchecked.

Lets get this totally clear: transshipping lets fishing vessels travel half way around the world to work in the Pacific, keeping their workers isolated and their catch out of sight of authorities, sometimes for years on end, without having to go into a Pacific port once.

Illegal Purse Seine Fishing Vessel. 24 Nov, 2011 © Alex Hofford / Greenpeace

“Fishers are perceived to be particularly vulnerable to deceptive and coercive employment practices for a number of reasons. Fishing vessels, especially in the long-distance fishing fleet, can stay in remote areas of the sea for several years at a time, and transship fuel, stores, crew and fish at sea. Fishers aboard these vessels will find it difficult to report abuse, injuries, and deaths and seek assistance for their own protection.” — International Labour Office, 2013.

Recently, an exposé by Associated Press used satellite detection and photography to reveal transshipment of slave-caught fish in the waters of Papua New Guinea. If there were no motherships to take fish and provide fuel and supplies, fishing vessels would have to operate from Pacific ports, where their catches could be inspected, and crew who were suffering violence or mistreatment would have the chance of escape. Unloading in nearby ports would contribute much-needed jobs and income to the Pacific people who are seeing their oceans stripped by distant water fishing fleets.

You don’t need to take my word for this. The agencies that manage both global and regional fisheries know the risk transshipment poses to fisheries management catch data and science, as well as to the fishing industry and its workers.

Fishing Vessels in the Pacific Ocean. 17 Sep, 2009 © Greenpeace / Paul Hilton

In the Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recommends: “To the greatest extent possible, flag states should prohibit their vessels from engaging in transshipment of fish at sea without prior authorization issued by the flag state. An even more effective approach would be to prohibit transshipment of fish at sea entirely, as some states have already done.”

Here in the Pacific, the fisheries management body requires 36 hours notice prior to transshipment on the high seas. The member country must also submit “a plan detailing what steps it is taking to encourage transshipment to occur in port in the future.” Purse seine vessels, which take over 70% of the tuna catch in this part of the Pacific, are already prohibited from transshipping at sea.

If there’s one thing we can say for sure about transshipping, we don’t know what we don’t know. Transshipment is a black hole in seafood supply chains. It enables fish laundering, and keeps dodgy practices at a deniable distance from brands, logos and reputations. For the sake of our oceans, the future of tuna, and to stop the disgraceful treatment of fisheries workers, it’s time to put an end to this practice.

It’s time to stop high seas transshipping, and get those ‘motherships’ back in the science fiction movies where they belong.

Oliver Knowles is the Tuna Global Project Leader, based at Greenpeace New Zealand.

The Greenpeace Ship Rainbow Warrior sailing into the Pacific Ocean to confront the fishing industry with a simple message: It’s time to change tuna.

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A mothership your mother wouldn’t like

Motherships… transshipping… they sound like things you’d find in outer space while you’re star trekking across the universe. But the Rainbow Warrior is finding them way out in the high seas, in areas of the Pacific Ocean that are more than 200 nautical miles from land, and outside the jurisdiction of any country or its laws.

On the surface, they sound pretty innocuous. Motherships are out here providing fuel and provisions to other vessels out at sea, but many of them do a whole lot more. There’s a type of mothership called a reefer, with massive refrigerated holds that are filled with the catch from smaller fishing boats. The process of moving fish from one vessel to another is called transshipping, and it lets the fishing boats work for months or years without having to go into port. The industry claims transshipping saves money, fuel and time, but recent reports recent reports (here and here) have revealed that these practices are not just done for efficiency, they can be used as a way to plunder the oceans, dodge regulations, and keep fishermen as a captive workforce. They work far from land and law, often enabling labour abuse, overfishing, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing to continue unchecked.

Lets get this totally clear: transshipping lets fishing vessels travel half way around the world to work in the Pacific, keeping their workers isolated and their catch out of sight of authorities, sometimes for years on end, without having to go into a Pacific port once.

“Fishers are perceived to be particularly vulnerable to deceptive and coercive employment practices for a number of reasons. Fishing vessels, especially in the long-distance fishing fleet, can stay in remote areas of the sea for several years at a time, and transship fuel, stores, crew and fish at sea. Fishers aboard these vessels will find it difficult to report abuse, injuries, and deaths and seek assistance for their own protection.”- International Labour Office, 2013.

Recently, an exposé by Associated Press used satellite detection and photography to reveal transshipment of slave-caught fish in the waters of Papua New Guinea. If there were no motherships to take fish and provide fuel and supplies, fishing vessels would have to operate from Pacific ports, where their catches could be inspected, and crew who were suffering violence or mistreatment would have the chance of escape. Unloading in nearby ports would contribute much-needed jobs and income to the Pacific people who are seeing their oceans stripped by distant water fishing fleets.

You don’t need to take my word for this. The agencies that manage both global and regional fisheries know the risk transshipment poses to fisheries management catch data and science, as well as to the fishing industry and its workers.

In the Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recommends: To the greatest extent possible, flag states should prohibit their vessels from engaging in transshipment of fish at sea without prior authorization issued by the flag state. An even more effective approach would be to prohibit transshipment of fish at sea entirely, as some states have already done.”

Here in the Pacific, the fisheries management body requires 36 hours notice prior to transshipment on the high seas. The member country must also submit a plan detailing what steps it is taking to encourage transshipment to occur in port in the future.Purse seine vessels, which take over 70% of the tuna catch in this part of the Pacific, are already prohibited from transshipping at sea.

If there’s one thing we can say for sure about transshipping, we don’t know what we don’t know. Transshipment is a black hole in seafood supply chains. It enables fish laundering, and keeps dodgy practices at a deniable distance from brands, logos and reputations. For the sake of our oceans, the future of tuna, and to stop the disgraceful treatment of fisheries workers, it’s time to put an end to this practice.

It’s time to stop high seas transshipping, and get those ‘motherships’ back in the science fiction movies where they belong.

Oliver Knowles is the Tuna Global Project Leader, based at Greenpeace New Zealand

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