May 8, 2008

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 7, No. 19


Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“The combination of record heat and widespread drought during the past five to 10 years over large parts of southern and eastern Australia is without historical precedent and is, at least partly, a result of climate change.”

— Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology on persistent, nationwide drought (see “Top Stories,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
More deaths alleged at Chevron’s Myanmar pipeline
Africa reels from illegal fishing
Drought persists Down Under

*Environment*
New wind-power projects becalmed

*War, & Other Civilized Pasttimes*
For Cold War Brits, the Day After was a tea-time nightmare


TOP STORIES

* More Deaths Alleged at Chevron’s Myanmar Pipeline

Alleged human rights abuses by soldiers guarding a Burmese pipeline have revived old questions about pipeline co-owner Chevron’s relationship with the military dictatorship that hosts it.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the activist group EarthRights International has interviewed villagers near the Yadana Pipeline, who say government troops working for Chevron have killed local residents, and used others as slave labor.

Activists say that the pipeline brings in $969 million annually for the Myanmar junta, and claims that Chevron has a “moral responsibility” to shut down the pipeline, and thus pressure the dictatorship to end the abuses.

Chevron, however, says the charges are unfounded, and that researchers from another nonprofit, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, found no evidence of abuse by soldiers.

An EarthRights spokesman suggested that the villagers CDA spoke to might have been afraid of speaking too freely to foreigners, and said that his organization works with Burmese nationals, some of whom have been studying rights abuses in the region for more than a decade.

Source:

“Killings alleged at Chevron’s Burma pipeline”
San Francisco Chronicle, April 29, 2008

“The Burma Backstory: How Fossil Fuels Keep the Junta in Business”
Newsdesk.org, September 26, 2007

“Energy Giants Sued for Third World Violence: Doe v. Unocal”
Newsdesk.org, May 13, 2002

Newsdesk.org Topic Search: Myanmar

* Africa Reels from Illegal Fishing

Billions of dollars have been lost worldwide, and entire ecosystems are at risk from the effects of illegal fishing.

Africa, in particular, is threatened by the trend, according to Kenya’s The Nation newspaper.

The culprits — mostly large commercial fleets from Asia and Europe — break international law, and prey on developing nations that lack the infrastructure and clout to enforce fishing regulations.

While the collective financial losses are huge — adding up to $1 billion annually in sub-Saharan Africa alone — the effects are felt at the local level.

Family and subsistence fishers, for example, find their traditional waters suddenly populated with massive trawlers they can’t compete with.

Ecological devastation also follows in the wakes of these fleets, which use vast nets and long lines that sweep up marine life indiscriminately.

Much of this catch is consider economically worthless, and is dumped, lifeless, back in the ocean, further depleting local waters.

Source:

“Africa: Illegal Fishing Costs Continent Sh62 Billion”
The Nation (Kenya), May 2, 2008

* Drought Persists Down Under

Australians had high hopes for the Pacific weather pattern known as La Nina.

That periodic cooling of the eastern Pacific typically brings increased rainfall to the land Down Under — which would have been a blessing for a country entering its tenth year of drought in some regions.

But, with the La Nina pattern fading, the prognosis is grim.

Heavy rainfalls did indeed come to Australia, but only certain parts, and not in the quantities need to break the enduring drought cycle.

Areas plagued by record-low rainfall are actually increasing, and the resurgence of average rainfall elsewhere wasn’t enough to officially close out the dry spell.

Officials said global climate change is at least partly to blame for the persistent drought.

The problem is so bad that the world’s largest cattle ranch, an almost 15,000 square mile spread in Australia’s northwest, is set to shut down completely in the next few months if no additional rains come.

Source:

“Drought getting worse, despite rain”
The Advertiser (Australia), May 6, 2008

“World’s biggest cattle station gets rid of stock”
The Advertiser (Australia), May 6, 2008


ENVIRONMENT

* New Wind-Power Projects Becalmed

With oil prices setting new highs nearly every day, wind power is getting another look.

But, like most weather reports, the outlook for large windmill projects is anything but predictable, plagued as they are by noise complaints, endangered species and fickle commercial backers.

In the United Kingdom, a giant wind farm planned for the Thames River estuary now appears to be in jeopardy after Dutch oil giant Shell announced it would pull out of the project.

The BBC reported that Shell, citing the rising cost of building materials, would sell its 33 percent stake in the London Array, a proposed wind farm that had been listed by Forbes magazine as one of the biggest clean energy projects in the world.

The pullout sparked anger on the part of environmentalists and other supporters of the project.

Nick Rau, an activist with Friends of the Earth, pointed out that the decision comes at a time of record profits for oil companies.

“Shell announced a 12 percent profit rise to 3.92 billion pounds,” Rau told the BBC. “It should be investing those profits in renewable energy projects, not focusing its efforts on making money from sucking fossil fuels out of the ground and contributing to climate change.”

The company has said it will continue to pursue wind power projects in the United States.

Yet U.S. wind power projects have run into some snags of their own.

A proposed set of three wind farms in Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay was scaled back to two this week after officials concluded that one location would pose a threat to endangered birds in the area.

In contrast to the London Array, which was supported by Friends of the Earth, the Massachusetts clean energy project was partly scuttled by opposition from environmentalists.

New Bedford’s Standard-Times cited the Massachusetts Audubon Society as one of the groups that helped kill the third wind farm.

Wind power is sometimes touted as one of the cleanest energy sources available, but as the Tribune-Democrat, in Johnston, Penn., reported, windmills can sometimes cause noise pollution.

According to the newspaper, Todd and Jill Stull of Portage Township, Penn., have filed suit against Gamesa Energy USA, alleging that the company’s 30-turbine Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm, which began operating last year, has created a public nuisance.

The Tribune-Democrat quoted the couple’s lawyer, Bradley Tupi, as saying: “They assured the officials in the township in question that the turbines would be quiet. The turbines are quite loud. They wake Dr. Stull up and he must go to the basement to sleep.”

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Wind turbine plan off Fairhaven dropped; 2 other SouthCoast sites still eyed”
Standard-Times (Mass.), May 6, 2008

“Couple sues wind farm over noise levels”
Tribune-Democrat (Penn.), May 4, 2008

“Green Giants: The World’s Biggest Clean-Energy Projects”
Forbes.com, April 30, 2008

“Shell pulls out of big wind farm”
BBC.com, May 1, 2008


WAR & OTHER CIVILIZED PASTTIMES

* For Cold War Brits, the Day After was a Tea-Time Nightmare

A wry old anti-nuclear slogan used to say “One nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day.”

If you’re British, and the nuclear bomb manages to ruin your afternoon tea, well, then you’ve really got a problem.

Or so one might conclude from the release last week of declassified Cold War-era documents that found British officials worrying about what a nuclear war would do to food supplies.

The BBC quoted one document from 1955 as saying the government must be “completely ready to maintain supplies of food to the people of these islands, sufficient in volume to keep them in good heart and health from the onset of a thermonuclear attack on this country.”

But, the document stated, the kind of rationing that existed in World War II would be “fatally deficient” in keeping the British people fed in the case of a nuclear war.

And the devastation of national tea supplies would just add insult to injury.

“The tea position would be very serious with a loss of 75 percent of stocks and substantial delays in imports and with no system of rationing it would be wrong to consider that even one ounce per head per week could be ensured,” said one government report from some time between 1954 and 1956.

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Nuclear threat sparked tea worry”
BBC News, May 4, 2008

“Teatime terror: Brits’ big nuclear worry revealed”
Agence France-Presse, May 5, 2008

“Documents: Nuclear threat triggers tea worry in UK”
Xinhuanet (China), May 5, 2008


Editors: Josh Wilson, Will Crain

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