Make environmental damage a war crime, say scientists

Call for new Geneva convention to protect wildlife and nature reserves in conflict regions


Refugees from South Sudan cross a bridge. The scientists want military forces held to account. Photograph: Isaac Kasamani/AFP/Getty Images

International lawmakers should adopt a fifth Geneva convention that recognises damage to nature alongside other war crimes, according to an open letter by 24 prominent scientists.

The legal instrument should incorporate wildlife safeguards in conflict regions, including protections for nature reserves, controls on the spread of guns used for hunting and measures to hold military forces to account for damage to the environment, say the signatories to the letter, published in the journal Nature.

The UN international law commission is due to hold a meeting with the aim of building on the 28 principles it has already drawn up to protect the environment in war zones.

Prof Sarah Durant of the Zoological Society of London, one of the signatories to the letter, said the principles were a major step forward and should be expanded to make specific mention of biodiversity, and then adopted across the world.

“The brutal toll of war on the natural world is well documented, destroying the livelihoods of vulnerable communities and driving many species, already under intense pressure, towards extinction,” she said.

“We hope governments around the world will enshrine these protections into international law. This would not only help safeguard threatened species, but would also support rural communities, both during and post-conflict, whose livelihoods are long-term casualties of environmental destruction.” MORE

Renewable energy providing more electricity than coal and nuclear power combined in Germany

Solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric power generates nearly half of country’s output

Electricity production from wind power increased by 20 per cent in Germany the first six months of 2019 compared to the same period last year
Electricity production from wind power increased by 20 per cent in Germany the first six months of 2019 compared to the same period last year ( Getty )

Renewable sources of energy produced more electricity than coal and nuclear power combined for the first time in Germany, according to new figures.

Solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric power generation accounted for 47.3 per cent of the country’s electricity production in the first six months of 2019, while 43.4 per cent came from coal-fired and nuclearpower plants.

Around 15 per cent less carbon dioxide was produced than in the same period last year, according to figures published by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in July.

However, some scientists have attributed the high renewable power output to favourable weather patterns and “market-driven events”.

Fabian Hein, from the think tank Agora Energiewende, told Deutsche Wellethe 20 per cent increase in wind production was the result of particularly windy conditions in 2019.

Meanwhile, electricity production from solar panels rose by six per cent, natural gas by 10 per cent, while the share of nuclear power in the country’s electricity production has remained virtually unchanged.

Black coal use fell by 30 per cent compared to the first half of 2018, and lignite – a coal-like substance formed from peat – fell by 20 per cent.

However, over the same period, electricity production by natural gas rose by 10 per cent. MORE

The federal election should be fought over climate, not chocolate milk

The Arctic’s on fire and it’s about time our media started focusing on what’s really important

Wildfires are burning in 11 regions across the Russian Arctic. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview, and the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership.

The Arctic is on fire.

Newly released satellite images reveal “unprecedented” destruction from massive wildfires in Siberia, Alaska, and Greenland, reported The Independent today:

The pictures show forest fires and burning peat. They also reveal the extent of the damage the fires leave behind. In Alaska wildfires have already burned more than 1.6 million acres of land. Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast, said the amount of CO2 emitted by Arctic wildfires between 1 June and 21 July 2019 is around 100 megatonnes and is approaching the entire 2017 fossil fuel CO2 emissions of Belgium. Even with a sweltering heat wave blanketing much of North America for the last week, what’s unfolding right above us in the Arctic is the most alarming sign of the climate emergency.

Canada is an Arctic country. This story should be near the top of the news every night on every network and platform. Instead the headlines last week were dominated by debates over the healthiness of chocolate milk, thanks to Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s ludicrous and irresponsible attack on the new Canada Food Guide.

With the federal election just three months away, we have to do better. Last week, youth climate organizers held rallies outside CBC offices across the country demanding that our public broadcaster hold a leaders’ climate debate during the upcoming campaign. That’s a good start, but we should raise our expectations.

We should turn this entire federal election campaign into a climate debate. If CBC and the big corporate networks refuse to host a climate-specific leaders’ debate, independent media outlets can step up and do the job. At the riding level, local outlets and social movement organizations should take the initiative to convene climate debates, demand that candidates show up, and amplify the good and bad responses to help shape the national discussion. And of course there’s a battle to be waged on social media platforms and through independent publications, where our collective efforts can push climate justice to the top of the election agenda and push cheap personal smears and alt-right disinformation and xenophobia back into the gutter where they belong. MORE

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Elizabeth Warren: Here’s how we can break up Big Tech

big tech
Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook face a new and sweeping review of their activities by the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

Twenty-five years ago, Facebook, Google, and Amazon didn’t exist. Now they are among the most valuable and well-known companies in the world. It’s a great story — but also one that highlights why the government must break up monopolies and promote competitive markets.

Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.

…we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor.

America’s big tech companies provide valuable products but also wield enormous power over our digital lives. Nearly half of all e-commerce goes through Amazon. More than 70% of all Internet traffic goes through sites owned or operated by Google or Facebook.

Elizabeth Warren puts a giant tech breakup billboard in San Francisco’s face Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

As these companies have grown larger and more powerful, they have used their resources and control over the way we use the Internet to squash small businesses and innovation, and substitute their own financial interests for the broader interests of the American people. To restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last, it’s time to break up our biggest tech companies.

Using Proprietary Marketplaces to Limit Competition.

Many big tech companies own a marketplace — where buyers and sellers transact — while also participating on the marketplace. This can create a conflict of interest that undermines competition. Amazon crushes small companies by copying the goods they sell on the Amazon Marketplace and then selling its own branded version. Google allegedly snuffed out a competing small search engine by demoting its content on its search algorithm, and it has favored its own restaurant ratings over those of Yelp.

My administration would restore competition to the tech sector by taking two major steps:

First, by passing legislation that requires large tech platforms to be designated as “Platform Utilities” and broken apart from any participant on that platform.

Second, my administration would appoint regulators committed to reversing illegal and anti-competitive tech mergers. MORE

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Big Tech’s US antitrust nightmare just got a whole lot worse

 

Will Greens ever compromise climate for power? Never.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May at a Trans Mountain pipeline protest on Burnaby Mountain. Photo: Elizabeth May/Facebook
Photo: Elizabeth May/Facebook​

“Before voters take her seriously, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May must be frank and clear about what her newfound willingness to partner with the Scheer Conservatives would mean in practice.”

rabble reporter Karl Nerenberg is absolutely right. Canadians have a right to know where I stand. If a newly elected caucus of Green MPs were to find ourselves with the balance of responsibility, we would talk with all the other parties. That is the process. But we will never agree to a single confidence vote in favour of a government that is not in lock-step with a commitment to hold to the clear warnings of the global scientific community that we must achieve the Paris target. That target is no more than 1.5 degrees global average temperature increase (above that before the Industrial Revolution). It requires the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels as well as massive reforestation. Small measures, like keeping existing carbon taxes in place, are woefully inadequate.

It must be noted that Canada’s current target was put in place under former prime minister Stephen Harper and is wholly inconsistent with the Paris target. Only the Greens have a plan to meet the 1.5 degree Paris target. None of the others have commitments that come close.

Canadian prime ministers — even in a minority — have significant autonomy and power to do huge damage that never requires a vote in parliament. The points made by Nerenberg in arguing that I had somehow missed the inherent dangers of Conservatives in power are exactly the points I made in January 2006 to the NDP telemarketer who caught me at home cooking dinner and tried to convince me to donate. At that time, I was not a member of any party. As executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, I pushed back, expressing my horror at the NDP decision to bring down the minority government of former prime minister Paul Martin. That administration had just brought in a commitment (with all provincial governments buying in) to universal childcare, to the Kelowna Accord with Indigenous nations, and to a real plan for Kyoto (now long forgotten). The telemarketer had pressed on “There’s no need to worry about Stephen Harper,” he told me. “The most he could get will be a minority.” I laid out for that telemarketer all the things a prime minister could do without ever taking them to Parliament, just as Karl Nerenberg did in his article on Monday, July 22.

Exactly as I had feared, within weeks of becoming prime minister, Harper cancelled our commitment to Kyoto — without a single debate in Parliament. He cancelled the billions of dollars for climate action announced in the 2005 budget. Just as when Canada is on the right side of history, under Harper, we punched above our weight becoming climate saboteurs.

We cannot negotiate with the atmosphere. The window on 1.5 degrees is closing. Without a complete shift in direction, we will blow past 1.5 degrees, past two degrees and put ourselves on an irreversible course to the point of no return — before the next election in 2023.

What is the “point of no return?” It is going to two degrees and tripping over the red line to unstoppable, self-accelerating, runaway global warming — in which the worst case scenario is too terrifying to contemplate.

The stakes are too large for a typical political cop-out. While we have the chance to secure our children’s future, Greens will never agree to support any government that fails to address the climate emergency. As we propose in “Mission: Possible, the Green Climate Action Plan,” we have to reduce the partisanship, put in place the equivalent of a “war cabinet” and make survival the business of government.

So “the very best thing” is not propping anyone up. It is serving as prime minister in a nation mobilized and unified to ensure Canada once again punches above our weight and gets us — humanity — through the climate emergency to a livable, thriving world grounded in equity and justice.  SOURCE

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University of Alberta researcher creates new cling wrap from leftover canola straw

Researcher Marleny Saldaña shows the raw materials used to make canola-based cling wrap at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
Marleny Saldaña

EDMONTON—One industry’s trash is another researcher’s treasure.

For canola oil producers, the straw is the most useless part, often left behind when harvesting canola. But Marleny Saldaña, a researcher in food and bioengineering processing at the University of Alberta, has created a new use for the leftover fibrous stalk, and that is cling wrap, more popularly known in the kitchen as Saran wrap.

“Canola is big in Canada, mainly in Alberta. We produce tons of canola,” she said. “We find that we are opening up a new use for residue that has no value until now.”

Saldaña said she noticed that the straw is mostly composed of cellulose and lignin, components that give tensile strength. She used the cellulose nanofibres found in the straw to make the see-through, plastic-like film.

Her creation could not come at a more perfect time because in March, China started banning shipment from canola companies in Canada. Saldaña believes her product could create a diverse local industry for canola in Alberta.
“We have created a new product that has high value. If we can do this in a refinery or treatment of all this canola straw (here), then we are adding more jobs, probably sending some high-value product to other countries,” she said. MORE

We’re leaving so much food on farms to just rot in the fields

Most of the reports you hear about food waste don’t even include the amount that’s left behind on farms, but new research shows it’s a lot.


[Photo: Liubov Yashkir/iStock]

You might be familiar with the fact that in the U.S., an estimated 40% of food goes uneaten. That’s an alarming statistic on its own. This amount of wasted food correlates with waste in other areas: Around 21% of all water used in the U.S. and 18% of cropland is dedicated to food that will never get eaten, exercising a significant strain on already stressed resources.

But most of the traditional research into food waste looks only at what goes uneaten at the distribution, retail, and consumer levels. These measurements capture how much inventory grocery stores toss, for instance, or how much consumers let go rotten in their fridge without eating. When a team of researchers at the University of Santa Clara set out to figure out how much produce is wasted before it even leaves the fields, they found a much more dire picture.

According to the research team, around 33% of food that’s grown is either unharvested or left behind in the fields because the growers suspect it might not meet the specifications of their buyers. Growers often estimate the amount of produce they leave in the fields, but the Santa Clara team found, after conducting thorough analyses of 123 farms in northern and central California, that in-field food waste exceeds growers’ estimates of losses by around 157%. Some produce categories are more prone to waste than others: The Santa Clara team found that around 55.6% of cabbage was left behind, compared to just 4.7% of perennial artichokes. These variations are often due to how uniformly a crop grows (generally, growers are looking for a consistent product to offer buyers) and how frequently they’re harvested, on top of factors like crops’ resistance to variable weather.

The contrast between traditional harvesting (left) and harvesting to minimize waste (right). [Photo: courtesy Full Harvest]

But the findings from the study, while limited to a specific region in California, should wake growers up to the magnitude of loss likely happening in their fields. “The first step in addressing this problem is measuring it,” says Gregory Baker, executive director of the Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University.

This developing understanding of in-field food loss could also, Baker adds, give rise to solutions to address it.  MORE