Trump and the EPA

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Donald Trump is now President, an unpalatable fact but unfortunately a reality we must learn to live with. Over the next few posts we will analyse what his presidency might mean for the environment, and the changes that have already come to pass in the few months since he has come to power. Among environmentalists Trump is known as a climate change denier and a person with scant regard for the ecosystem services provided by a healthy environment so it will certainly be interesting to look into. It won’t all be doom and gloom as we will also address ways we can all be hopeful and fight the changes he has enacted.

First up, the EPA:

What is the EPA?

For those living outside the US, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is an agency of the US government created with the aim of protecting human health and the environment. It writes and enforces regulations according to laws passed by Congress, and conducts environmental assessments, research and education.

Who is now in charge?

Scott Pruitt, a climate change doubter, who in the past has actually sued the EPA several times when he was Attorney General for Oklahoma, an oil-producing state.  Since coming to power Trump has already ordered the EPA to remove all references to climate change from the site, so it’s clear he has appointed a like-minded person in Pruitt. Despite Pruitt being confirmed by the US Senate, there has been resistance from former EPA staff, concerned that he has no interest in upholding environmental laws. Prior to Pruitt’s confirmation, senator Cory Booker had stated: “If you look at this individual, Scott Pruitt, if you look at his track record, you will see that his actual work has undermined the mission of the agency that he is now nominated to lead“, so the Republicans were aware of these concerns. 

The appointment of Scott Pruitt will also be closely followed by those in South Florida. Miami Beach is experiencing increased flooding in its streets at spring tides due to sea level rise and this will only get worse if no action is take to curb carbon emissions and greenhouse gases. California will also be keeping a close eye considering their struggle with drought and water shortages.

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Scott Pruitt

Can the EPA just ignore climate change?

Well, it’s not that the EPA is ignoring climate change. I am sure the EPA is full of scientists who just want to get on with their work, but are being forced into silence by the Trump administration. As former EPA scientists stated: “Reasoned action and acknowledgment of scientific truth are fundamental to democracy, public health, and economic growth. Scientific evidence does not change when the administration changes.” However, the results of EPA studies must now all undergo political review before the information can be passed to the press. Politics should never interfere with the distribution of scientific findings and fact. The public face of the EPA can deny climate change as much as they want, but that doesn’t stop it from existing. It DOES exist and we need to do something about it. Even FOX news network, a normal ally and favourite of Donald Trump roasted Scott Pruitt in an interview over his beliefs.

Budget Cuts

Republican congressman, Matt Gaetz has recently released text of a proposed bill to abolish the EPA. Luckily, nothing seems to have come of that, but Trump has since released his budget proposals and it’s not good news for the EPA. The proposal would see the EPA have its funding cut by almost a third and roughly one in five EPA employees would lose their jobs. Funding reductions would mean the cancellation of all climate change research and even a reduction in the air and water quality work they do. In addition, the Clean Power Plan, along with 50 plus other initiatives would be scrapped.

Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan was one of the best things, at least in my mind, to come out of the Obama administration: a plan to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. As one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, the USA needs a plan like this to get on track with tackling climate change.  However, all Trump wants to do is increase jobs by bringing coal plants back on line and increase the use of oil and gas.  In a recent speech he continually talked about “clean coal”, a contradiction if ever I heard one. Even industry leaders in the fossil fuel sector believe that coal has had its day. There is a grain of hope as the proposal does still have to pass Congress, but that is controlled by Republicans so I am not sure how much resistance it will receive.

Clean Water

Trump is currently asking the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers to review the Waters of the US rule, which expanded the authority of regulators over waterways and wetlands. The rule is disputed by landowners and developers who think it has been too overreaching in its powers, but I think it is very sensible. It helps prevent people polluting drinking water and draining wetlands, effectively saving the environment in cases where development or farming methods are too intensive or not suitable to the land. In the UK we have a similar thing called the Environment Agency which has helped clean up our waterways immensely in conjunction with the relevant local water authorities and councils. It issues fines where rules have been flouted but I don’t see why the US think that is an overreaching power. If a regulation has been broken, there should be some penalty in place to discourage further flouting of the law. I think it’s clear from this that the Trump administration are more concerned about putting people in work than having clean air and water.

Conclusion

Overall, it’s clear that big changes are afoot for the EPA and the USA as a whole. It will take a while to see what the impact of the Trump administration is going to be, but initial signs indicate less protection for environmental resources, and a move away from curbing climate change to increased use of fossil fuels. Among all this doubt though there is certainly resistance. Most recently the Natonal Resources Defence Council and Pesticide Action Network have filed a case against the EPA over its move to ignore the results of a scientific study stating the pesticide chlorpyrifos has links to brain damage. I wish them the best of luck in taking on the EPA and am sure this will be the first of many challenges against the EPA if they continue on in this way.

 

 

 

 

 

Donald Trump and the Environment

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Source: Huffington Post

 

So, it’s election day in the US and the world is waiting to see who will be their next president: Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton. In this article focus on Donald Trump  and what he has (or hasn’t) said regarding the environment if he ends up in office. Sources for all the information are listed at the end.

Denial of Climate Change

Firstly, Trump doesn’t outline any environmental policy on the issues section of his campaign site. To my mind this indicates he doesn’t think the environment is a worthwhile issue and there is information to back up this theory; he denies climate change. It is well known that back in 2012 he tweeted “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He hasn’t deleted this tweet, so presumably he still believes this. In fact, if he were to be elected he would be the only leader of a country to deny climate change. Trump has also stated that he would remove the US from the Paris agreement which, as outlined on the European Commission’s website, is “the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal”. This deal is ever more important than the Kyoto agreement and would be a devastating blow for the planet if the US left.

Abolishment of the EPA

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) would be abolished under a Trump presidency. To put this into perspective this is the equivalent of the UK doing away with the Environment Agency. Trump believes the EPA has created too much red tape over the years limiting the ability of companies to operate. I admit that no environmental agency is perfect, but the red tape is usually there for good reason: to protect the environment from humans and their activities. The strange thing is, whilst he wishes to destroy the EPA, he wants to improve water and air quality, aims that are surely at odds with one another. At an oil conference in Bismarck, North Dakota he states:  “My priorities are simple: clean air and clean water.” He hasn’t deemed to outline how he aims to do that without the EPA, and I don’t think I need to point out the irony of him making this statement at an oil industry conference. He has also been accused of using the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, for self promotion and not out of real concern for the residents. 

Energy Policy

Trump supported the Keystone XL pipeline before it was rejected by Obama due to climate change concerns, and it has now emerged he owns stocks in two fossil fuel companies involved in the Dakota Access pipeline. One of his energy advisers is an oil billionaire and CEO of the largest US fracking company, Harold Hamm. It should therefore come as no surprise that he wishes to increase oil and gas production and he recently stated “We’re going to save the coal industry”.  This all sounds rather worrying in an age where we should be moving to renewables, but there have been warning signs that he isn’t a fan of renewable energy. For example, has been waging a battle for some years now against the proposed building of an offshore windfarm near his Aberdeenshire golf course. 

Trump has also stated he would relax the Clean Power Plan, which includes stricter fuel efficiency standards for vehicles in the US. How would he prioritise making the air cleaner whilst at the same time allowing vehicles to be more polluting?

Other Environmental Issues

Trump has proposed a wall is built along the entire Mexican/US border. Whilst the aim of this idea is clearly to prevent illegal immigration I don’t think anyone has considered the environmental impact this would have. Animals don’t keep to borders. Birds can fly over a wall, but what are others to do? Tunnels could be put in the wall for them to move through however that is no substitute for the freedom of populations to roam. Any species that is already low in numbers could be split in two, reducing the gene pool further and making extinction more likely. I imagine cougars and desert bighorn sheep wouldn’t be able to have tunnels built, as they would be large enough for humans to fit through, and therefore render the wall pointless.

Conclusion

Whether it be the denial of climate change, proposed abolition of the EPA or his energy policy it is clear that Donald Trump has scant regard for the environment. It can be hard to cover everything in one post, but I hope this at least makes you aware of the basics. I for one don’t think he is fit to be in charge of a country, but it is up to each of you to make up your minds. If you are an American citizen I hope you have gone out and voted, and remember, only if you vote do you have the right to criticise the outcome.

P.S. There was meant to be an article on Hilary Clinton to portray a balanced view on both of the Democratic and Republican candidates. Unfortunately, we have run out of time, but hope to bring you that one at a later date regardless of the outcome of the election.

Sources

https://www.donaldjtrump.com/issues/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/09/27/trump-didnt-delete-his-tweet-calling-global-warming-a-chinese-hoax/

http://www.dailydot.com/layer8/trump-vs-clinton-environmental-issues/

http://www.ecowatch.com/voter-guide-climate-change-2012756804.html

https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/international/negotiations/paris/index_en.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/14/donald-trump-flint-visit-water-plant-tour

http://www.vox.com/2016/5/26/11788374/donald-trump-energy-speech

http://www.ecowatch.com/donald-trump-dakota-access-pipeline-2040029544.html

https://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/clean-power-plan-existing-power-plants

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/22/trump-resumes-fight-against-windfarm-near-his-golf-course

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37200583

Part 1: Hinkley Point C – What is all the fuss about?

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Image: Adrian Sherratt

You may have seen in the news recently much debate about the new nuclear reactor planned for Hinkley Point in Somerset. EDF had been wondering whether to finance it, Theresa May is delaying the decision, but what is really going on? This post aims to clear up the situation.

UK Government

The government gave the go ahead for new nuclear power stations back in 2006, stating they would make a “significant contribution” to energy generation, considering we are phasing out coal fired power stations. Before Hinkley C the last new nuclear station was Sizewell B which opened in 1995.

The new power plant at Hinkley C will purportedly provide just 7% of our electricity. For some silly reason we have also agreed to pay double the current market price for it over 35 years. To even a passing reader this seems rather expensive to fulfill not much of our energy needs. In comparison, gas power stations are £27.50 per MWh less expensive at generating energy. The executive director of Greenpeace, John Sauven, says it is “terrible value for money”.

Amber Rudd, the former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, emphasised “we have to secure baseload electricity”. However, more and more research is suggesting the idea of needing power stations to maintain baseload is a fallacy. Practical experience shows that renewable energy can easily cope alone. As an example, the states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Holstein in Germany already use 100% renewable energy. This is a net figure because they trade with each other and between other states to achieve this, but does show with a bit of effort it is possible.

As for construction, at least that will provide 25,000 jobs, although it remains to be seen how many of them come from the local area. Once construction has finished 900 people will be employed to operate the station itself. What will it cost taxpayers? The government has insisted consumers will only have to pay about £10 per year for Hinkley C’s construction, but has provided no figures or evidence to back this up.

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EDF

EDF, the French power giant, has been tasked with building the power station. They have yet to complete building any reactors like those which will be used at Hinkley. The construction of their nuclear power plant at Flamanville in France has had many problems and is now years behind schedule and way over budget. I wonder if this is what we have to look forward to in the construction of Hinkley C? It certainly hints that the £10 per year cost to UK taxpayers is like rise and not just by a bit.

As EDF is 85% owned by the French government, any decision on this scale also effects them. They have been under strain to approve this project, even leading to EDF’s finance director, Thomas Piquemal, resigning reportedly amid fears the investment could damage EDF. In July the French Financial Markets Authority raided EDF’s offices, investigating claims they had misrepresented the cost of Hinkley. Some staff believe the project could sink the company, with the company warned its credit rating may be downgraded if it goes ahead. The French government have even offered to help bailout EDF to cover construction costs. Things are certainly not looking good for EDF as a company in its own right, and many are already calling Hinkley C a ‘white elephant’.

Assuming the plant gets built, what would happen should a future UK government decide to close it prior to 2060? Documents seen by The Guardian show that UK taxpayers could be left with a £22b bill if that were to happen. This gives EDF zero risk, but there could be numerous reasons why the UK may not want to continue for instance costs, loss of public confidence and a change in energy infrastructure (IS THIS THE RIGHT WORD?). Do we really want to be tied into such a contract?

Chinese Investment in Hinkley

Now EDF have finally made the decision to proceed with construction the Conservative PM Theresa May has decided to delay the start. May, as former home secretary, had apparently voiced concern about the attitude to Chinese investment in Hinkley, according to Vince Cable. The Chinese General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNCP) are providing a third of the £18b cost. It has recently been alleged that the CGNCP had conspired to produce nuclear material without the USA’s permission and were involved in nuclear espionage. Hardly an ideal start to a relationship that will have to last the duration of construction. Wisely, May and her ministers now want to read through the contract and make a final decision this autumn. However at this rate it is projected Hinkley C might not be up and working until 2030 due to delay after delay! Barry Gardiner, the shadow energy secretary, has called the handling of the situation “absolute chaos” and I am inclined to agree.

I understand the need to look at the fine print, but China has now said the delay is putting strain on UK – China relations and warn we are at a “crucial historical juncture”. It isn’t good to rely on any country too much, but the Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming, says China have already “invested more in the UK than in Germany, France and Italy combined over the past five years”. China is such a super power and their decisions effect us on a day to day basis. Annoying them post-Brexit would not be a smart move and the UK would be wise to consider the current position they have put themselves in.

Conclusion

Hinkley C has been dogged by investment and costs issues from the start and its construction has barely started which is hardly a good omen. Why haven’t the UK decided to look into renewable energy instead of nuclear? Is the government determined to deny climate change is happening and avoid the fact renewables are the way forward? Or have they decided to proceed because it would be far to complicated to stop what is in motion already? These are questions which will be addressed in our next post.

Links that provided information for this post:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jul/30/theresa-may-delayed-hinkley-point-chinese-beijing-vince-cable

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36921785

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jul/28/hinkley-point-c-to-go-ahead-after-edf-board-approves-project

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36903904

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37016120

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36897180

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/11/nuclear-espionage-charge-for-china-firm-with-one-third-stake-in-hinkley-point

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/08/china-warns-uk-relations-historical-juncture-hinkley-point-liu-xiaoming

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2016/jul/28/hinkley-point-c-nuclear-plant-fails-all-tests-bar-the-politics?CMP=share_btn_tw

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/mar/18/hinkley-point-c-nuclear-deal-22bn-poison-pill-taxpayer

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/mar/17/french-government-edf-united-front-hinkley-point-money-nuclear-plant-union

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/11/nuclear-espionage-charge-for-china-firm-with-one-third-stake-in-hinkley-point

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2987376/dispelling_the_nuclear_baseload_myth_nothing_renewables_cant_do_better.html

 

Review: Hugh’s War on Waste

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Image: Gus Palmer/Keo Films/BBC

Hugh’s War on Waste returned for a third episode on Thursday evening. The first two episodes had aired a while ago and looked at food waste, especially the ridiculous cosmetic standards supermarkets impose on farmers for vegetables. This episode was partly a follow-up, but mainly tackled other issues such as coffee cups and packaging.

If you haven’t seen the episode yet you can watch it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07m8qwz/hughs-war-on-waste-episode-3-the-battle-continues

First question on my mind was ‘Have supermarkets changed?’ Hugh found there had been some improvements, including Morrisons, M & S, Aldi, Lidl and Co-Op all introducing more wonky veg or relaxing standards. Now it is our responsibility as consumers to purchase these less than perfect looking vegetables to make their sale go mainstream. It’s criminal in this day and age to be throwing away perfectly good food.

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Image: Getty

Coffee Cups

Next up on Hugh’s agenda was coffee cups, mainly those produced by Costa, Caffe Nero and Starbucks.

FACT: We throw away 2.5 billion cardboard cups a year.

I am going to admit I had no idea that coffee cups weren’t recyclable, although that’s more to do with the fact I don’t really drink coffee. The programme showed me I was far from alone in thinking this. Why can’t coffee cups be recycled? Don’t they say they can be on them? Well yes and no. They CAN be recycled, although currently in the UK there is only one facility that can do this, so hardly any will be making their way there to be recycled! They are also coated with polyethylene. In the recycling process this stops the cardboard from being reduced to small enough pieces to be usable. Hence, most coffee cups can’t actually be recycled.

The technology does exist to produce more mainstream recyclable coffee cups. Hugh visited an inventor who had created a coffee cup with a simple plastic lining. When sent for recycling the cup would easily dissolve in water and the liner could be caught.

Hugh drove round on a red London bus covered in coffee cups, spreading the message. It’s frustrating that it took this sort of action for them to reply to his emails asking for an interview. Starbucks said they would increase the discount for those using their own cups, but this has since stopped. Clearly just them trying to avoid a PR disaster. They even said they had a goal to make cups 100% recyclable by 2015 on their website. Ha! It is apparent that all coffee shops have become masters of greenwashing on their websites. They hope that sounding eco-friendly will convince customers they are trying. Thanks to Hugh we know they really aren’t!

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Image: BBC

Packaging

FACT: The UK generates 10 million tonnes of packaging waste a year

Just one word: Amazon. The amount of customers that Amazon has in the UK must be phenomenal, so no wonder Hugh set his sights on tackling them. They have a machine that is supposedly meant to work out the optimum packaging that they should use. Either there is something very wrong with that machine or they don’t have a wide enough range of box sizes. Hugh even showed the products could fit in other box sizes they had. They flew in their US head of global sustainability, but I personally think it was all for show. She reeled out the usual ‘all our boxes can be recycled and they are mostly made of recycled materials’. As an environmental scientist I felt these sort of statements completely missed the point. We all learn ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’. In fact the UK government has a 5 step waste hierarchy. Clearly Amazon think they are doing well on the recycling part, but they should focusing on reduce. Less resources used in the first place can only benefit everyone.

Amazon said they are trialling a new ‘Box on demand’ machine, that cuts the box according to the products in the order, but we can only wait to see if anything comes of it.

All in all, a fantastic programme. Thank you Hugh and the BBC. Not really sure what we would do without celebrities such as Hugh to bring these issues to the attention of the public. Now it is over to us, to keep the pressure on businesses to reduce waste and show we are willing to put our money where our mouth is.

Relevant links:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/packaging-producer-responsibilities

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2010-to-2015-government-policy-waste-and-recycling/2010-to-2015-government-policy-waste-and-recycling

http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/node/2472

New posts coming soon

It has been a while since we last posted a series of posts as a team so we thought it was high time to get our act together.

In the coming months we shall be posting on a range of subjects all key to understanding how the environment will fair in the UK post-Brexit. We shall be spotlighting MPs, many newly appointed to the Cabinet by our new PM Theresa May, and definitely touching upon the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Their background prior to being assigned their new roles will be analysed as this if often a good indicator of what they will be like in office. We hope to cover topics including farming, fisheries, forestry, climate change and energy to name a few. In addition to these series of posts there may be reviews of TV programmes that focus on the environment. Personally, I am hoping to watch the latest installment of Hugh’s War on Waste (this evening at on BBC One at 9pm for those interested). Stay tuned!

Entomophagy project ‘The Bug Shack’ gets support from the Catalyst Centre

My friend Dr Jenny Josephs, has just acquired help from the Catalyst Centre to make her dream ‘The Bug Shack’ a reality. It just goes to show there is in fact plenty of support for entomophagy out there. We are of course going to have to change our attitudes and embrace it in order to feed the growing world population.

USSP Catalyst Centre

Keen readers will be waiting with baited breath to find out about the 2014 winners of the Catalyst Centre. Well, it’s time to put you out of your misery. We’re thrilled to announce that the first winner is…..

The Bug Shack!

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This start-up is completely different from anything we’ve ever seen before. The company’s name may give you a bit of a clue as to the nature of the business, but we couldn’t wait for Dr Jenny Josephs to tell us more.

What’s The Bug Shack all about?

I came up with the idea for The Bug Shack in order to combat environmental, welfare and nutrition issues in the current rearing of meat products. Across the globe there’s a huge movement gearing towards eating insects as a nutritional, tasty and environmentally friendly alternative to meat and I believe there’s a great business opportunity there! Insects contain all of the protein…

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Deforestation in the news

Just a quick post about a couple of news articles I found today about deforestation. They both show the far reaching consequences that deforestation can have.

Fish surveyed in the study. Image from: http://www.bbc.co.uk

This first article indicates that fish are impacted by deforestation. This is not really that surprising when you think about it. The bottom of the food chain relies on an input of carbon from somewhere, and it was assumed by many that algae was the main source. However these findings suggest that decomposing leaves and other detritus from trees actually provide a large amount of organic carbon. In fact some fish were found to have almost 70% of their biomass originating from carbon found in trees. With less food available to plankton, one can assume there will be fewer and smaller plankton. This means less food for fish and therefore more fish with a lower body mass than would be expected. The article can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27834440

Image from: en.wikipedia.org

The second article talks about how the recent ebola outbreak in Africa could be caused by deforestation. Continued deforestation in West Africa is bringing humans into contact with rare diseases which they wouldn’t normally come across. If deforestation continues at its current rate then I can only think that the outbreak are going to get worse. Ebola is thought to be carried by bats, and if their forest habitat is removed they are going to start frequenting rural communities more. This means humans are more likely to come into contact with the disease. In fact, mining in forests is increasing in popularity as a way to make a living. Those who mine and farm in deforested areas are the most likely to suffer an outbreak of ebola. The article can be found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/08/how-deforestation-and-human-activity-could-be-to-blame-for-the-ebola-pandemic/

Charlie Hamilton-James. Image from: http://www.bbc.co.uk

Lastly you should try and see the BBC programme ‘I Bought a Rainforest’ if you haven’t already. It is a great 3 episode series following the exploits of cameraman Charlie Hamilton-James. The series illustrates the reality of protecting a forest from deforestation. People chop down trees illegally because they often have no other form of income, they don’t want to do it but have no choice in order to survive. Quite often drugs are grown on land that has been deforested because it fetches a good price. It just goes to show that all the legislation in the world can be made, but if it isn’t realistic then it won’t work. People need to earn money somehow, even if it means breaking the law.

Review: Natural World: The Pygmy Hippo

Pygmy hippo. Image from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Rating: four star

I always really enjoy the Natural World series from the BBC, and this brilliant programme on pygmy hippos was no exception. During the episode we follow the many exploits of Australian ecologist, Wei-Yeen Yap who is trying to research the elusive pygmy hippo.

Pygmy hippos are, as their name suggests, small and also nocturnal just to make the search harder! They live in a small area of West Africa, and the research Wei is doing takes part in the Tai National Park, in the Côte d’Ivoire. The park faces many pressures including illegal logging and poaching. Bush meat can often be a vital source of protein, and during the programme they visit a market on the border where many different kinds of animals are for sale, including mangabeys. Although they find no pygmy hippos for sale, they meet someone who confirms people do still hunt them. Where forest isn’t protected cocoa plantations are cropping up, so make sure next time you buy chocolate that it is Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance certified. This will help give something back to the community and hopefully protect these, and many other, beautiful animals.

To start with Wei and fellow researchers are seen surveying the park for signs of hippos. They set up camera traps in areas where they find tracks and it isn’t long before they are rewarded with footage of the animal they came to look for. It is then that we learn of the next stage of their plan. They want to capture and tag a pygmy hippo. The team builds several traps along the tracks they know to be frequented by the hippos thanks to the camera trap video footage. To start with they don’t set the traps to shut, in the hope that the hippos familiarise to walking through them. Unfortunately, just as the first veterinary trapping team is due to arrive Wei falls ill. She ends up having to go to hospital where it is confirmed she has malaria and a stomach bug. This just goes to highlight the risk that researchers go to work in these conditions. You can take anti-malarials, but still catch this horrible disease. Luckily after a few days she is back and the trapping starts in earnest. They record pygmy hippos going into the entrance of the traps, but not all the way in. The problem is soon spotted, other animals are eating the bait before the hippos arrive, so there is no incentive for them to enter.

The trapping team has to leave, so Wei gets back into researching what else she can. She discovers a hippo burrow that extends back well under the bank, and even has an air pocket. There are even marks on the walls that look like they could have been made by the hippos’ ‘tusks’. If this is true it is definitely new to science. It is great to this being uncovered right in front of your eyes. I believe she uses a GoPro on a stick to find this out, and just shows even the best research involves improvised equipment. She also reanalyses some footage from the traps and finds she has just caught the edge of a hippo spraying poo and urine with its tail. This is believed to be how they mark the edge of their territories and communicate. Wei soon finds plenty of poo to analyse back at the lab which should hopefully reveal information about their diet.

The team finding evidence of pygmy hippos. Image from: http://www.pressreader.com

Unfortunately a second trapping team come and go, but still they don’t have any luck trapping and tagging a hippo. However, by the end of the programme the team have recorded three different hippos on their camera trap footage. One male and female look like they are coming to and from the same den, which would be an interesting development because until now it was thought that pygmy hippos lead a solitary life apart from mating. Wei even thinks that one of the males is one previously recorded in 2010, showing it had survived in the forest for 3 years. With the current pressures on the forest, it would be great to think that it is the same male.

Wei-Yeen Yap at Marwell. Image from: http://www.cbfilms.tv

I really did enjoy ‘Natural World: The Pygmy Hippo: A Very Secret Life’ because we just don’t know much about it. In fact at the beginning of the programme Wei visits Marwell Wildlife Park to show us up close what the pygmy hippo looks like, as you are very unlikely to meet it in real life in the wild. I do hope that Wei eventually manages to tag a pygmy hippo, because it would provide some fascinating insights, such as where do they go, and how far do they travel. If you still haven’t watched it, it’s available here until the 17th May.

Tar sands and their environmental effects

The change in landscape from tar sands mining. Image from: portlandrisingtide.org

Previously I have used images to convey the physical and environmental impacts the extraction of oil sands, or tar sands is having. The impacts are both local to Alberta, Canada and global. In this post I shall briefly outline what exactly these are.

1) The tar sands are being mined for oil, the use of which generates greenhouse gases. However, the method of extraction used with tar sands means the total greenhouse gas emissions is much higher than conventional extraction, therefore there will be a bigger impact on climate change. 1

2) As can be seen in the above picture, the landscape used to be boreal forest. Deforestation means there are fewer trees to take up carbon, one of the main greenhouse gases. I’m pretty sure everyone would prefer to look at boreal forest than the horrible landscape created by tar sands mining.

3) The destruction of the boreal forest also means the destruction of habitat for many species. Who knows how many animals have suffered as a consequence? Just the loss of one species in an area can have a profound impact on the way an ecosystem works.

4) Large amounts of water are diverted from the Athabasca River. It is then superheated and injected underground in order to make the bitumen fluid enough to pump to the surface. One estimate is that three barrels of water are needed to produce one barrel of oil. This means less water available further downstream. 2

Tailings pond. Image from: http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/155010 Original source: http://www.niehs.nih.gov, by Jiri Rezac

5) Tar sands create tailings ponds, which are effectively large pools of waste from the extraction process. 3 These ponds are so large they can actually be seen from space. The fact that they are filled with toxic waste is a hazard enough, but they are endangering the First Nation communities in the area. The toxic waste has been found leaking into the Athabasca River and therefore their water supply, and there have been reports of elevated occurrences of cancers and other diseases in the area. 4 It is of course everyone’s right to have safe drinking water, but this is obviously being contravened in this case. The tar sands are also damaging sacred areas and affecting cultural practices. If this is the effect on the human population, who knows how the wildlife in the local area is being affected.

So there we have it, a list of some of the environmental impacts the oil sands, or tar sands, are having on both a local and global scale. We can try and ignore what is going on in Alberta, Canada but in the end it will affect all of us. People in the UK should especially be made aware that the government are actually delaying legislation on fuel quality which would aim to discourage high emissions fuels such as oil from tar sands. 5 Shell and BP are already involved, and the Royal Bank of Scotland is one of the major investors. 1 Countries are obviously so eager to keep using oil and other fossil fuels, and delay the switch to renewable as long as possible, that they don’t care what the environmental impact is anymore. It’s truly a tragic situation and I hope this post will make people more aware of what is happening in Canada.

For more statistics and facts, such as the potential area of tar sands extraction could cover an area the size of England, the Rethink Alberta website has quite a few.

Sources:

1. http://www.no-tar-sands.org/what-are-the-tar-sands/

2. http://portlandrisingtide.org/campaigns/tar-sands-oil-exports/tar-sands-faq/

3. http://www.pembina.org/pub/2470

4. http://www.polarisinstitute.org/files/Boiling%20Point.pdf

5. http://www.no-tar-sands.org/campaigns/dirty-diplomacy-tar-sands-lobbying-and-the-fuel-quality-directive/

 

Ivory Stockpiles: Should We Burn Them and If So Why?

French Customs with the illegal ivory stockpile before crushing and burning it. Image from: Remy de la Mauviniere/ AP

France was in the news on Thursday for destroying all three tonnes of its illegal ivory stocks. The aim of this was to send a clear message to those involved in wildlife crime: the illegal trade in ivory will not be tolerated. So why do countries have ivory stockpiles?

Ivory and rhino horn were banned from international trade by the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) in 1989. Since then countries haven’t know what to do with ivory and rhino horn which they have confiscated, so they’ve formed it into stockpiles. It should be noted that the ban was temporarily removed to permit stockpiles from certain African countries to be sold off in 1999 and 2008.

The second sale of ivory is seen by many as a massive mistake. The supports of the sale argued that the selling of stockpiles was no bad thing, flooding the market with ivory should lower prices. Many people use ivory as a status of wealth, if it suddenly becomes less valuable then demand from the rich should decrease. However, from what can be seen this did not happen. Buyers in destination countries such as Japan and China saw the sale as a signal that ivory was now readily available. The demand for ivory and rhino horn has increased rapidly since 2008, along with the poaching rate. If the illegal trade is not reduced soon, then rhinos and elephants are looking at extinction in the not too distant future. 

So should we burn stockpiles? There isn’t a great history on stockpiles being stored securely. In many countries officials are tempted by bribes as they simply don’t earn much, resulting in them sneaking out ivory and rhino horn from the stockpiles to sell to dealers. In one case an entire stockpile was stolen and replaced with plastic replicas so it looked like nothing had gone missing. Some are keeping hold of stockpiles in the hope that CITES will allow another sale, and there are certainly those petitioning for this to happen. The money earned from these sales is meant to go back into elephant and rhino conservation, but it still isn’t clear whether that happened in either 1999 or 2008. I think they would have to guarantee the money went to conservation for another sale to be approved.

I just hope that the burning of stockpiles at the moment, and the subsequent media coverage, really does have an impact on the illegal trade. In my opinion though, stockpiles just shouldn’t be allowed. As a friend pointed out to me, it’s like keeping hold of a bunch of gold and not expecting someone to steal it. In fact the price of ivory and rhino horn is often more than the price of illegal diamonds and gold. So if I could have my way, I would simply burn any ivory or rhino horn that was found to be illegal straight away to remove the temptation. I say ‘found to be illegal’ because hunting of elephant and rhino in some countries is still allowed, but only if you have a permit. The tusks and horn can then be taken back as hunting trophies, however they are often illegally sold. My thoughts on that can be found here. In conclusion, I think yes we definitely need to burn ivory stockpiles and any more ivory that is found, straight away.