August 6, 2008

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 7, No. 31

Important but overlooked news from around the world.


QUOTED:

“Nestle will face swift legal challenge if it does not fully evaluate the environmental impact of diverting millions of gallons of spring water from the McCloud River into billions of plastic water bottles.”

— California Attorney General Jerry Brown wants to shake up the bottled-water industry (see “Top Stories,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
Did U.S. taxpayers pay for Burma junta’s satellite?
California may sue Nestle over water plan
Chile: Dammed if they do

*Environment*
Climate change, as the crow flies
Dreaming of a zero-carbon economy
Ain’t no other fish in the sea?

TOP STORIES

* Did U.S. Taxpayers pay for Burma Junta’s Satellite?

A U.S. government-backed satellite company tested its products in Burma, despite longstanding U.S. sanctions against doing business with that nation’s repressive military regime, a Thai court case reveals.

The revelations grow out of one of several corruption cases under way against former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, according to the Hong Kong’s Asia Times newspaper.

Thaksin’s wife, Pojaman, was sentenced on Thursday to three years in prison for tax evasion in a separate case.

In the U.S.-Burma case, prosecutors say the former prime minister arranged for a Thai state loan to the Burmese junta of $119 million to purchase satellite services that were sold by his family’s company.

Burma, dubbed Myanmar by its ruling junta, later allegedly used some of the loan money in a deal whereby it allowed a company called iPStar to test its satellite-phone services in the nation before launching the products throughout much of Asia.

IPStar’s technology had been built by a U.S. company, Space Systems/Loral, using $190 million in government-guaranteed loans, according to Asia Times.

“Now Myanmar’s junta is likely using U.S.-funded wireless broadband technology to perpetuate its repressive policies and harassment of pro-democracy groups,” wrote Asia Times.

In an op-ed in Satellite Today, Peter J. Brown — the same reporter who wrote about the story for Asia Times — wrote: “It is hard to imagine that the Asia team at the U.S. State Department … (was) unaware that that the government of Thailand … (was) dealing aggressively upfront with the government of Burma months prior to the launch of IPStar given the sheer size of the loan … In this instance, someone either dropped the ball entirely or elected to look the other way.”

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Source:

“U.S. twist to Thaksin court case”
Asia Times, Aug. 2, 2008

“Thaksin Shinawatra’s wife convicted of tax evasion”
Telegraph (U.K.), July 31, 2008

“Satellite Broadband And Politics In Burma”
Satellite Today, June 1, 2008

* California may Sue Nestle over Water Plan

Nestle’s plans to build a water-bottling plant in northern California may uncork a lawsuit against the whole operation.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown threatened to sue the company unless they addresses problems he found in the project’s environmental impact report.

Nestle hopes to divert close to 200 million gallons of water per year from the McCloud River in Siskyou County, according to CBS13 in Sacramento.

“Nestle will face swift legal challenge if it does not fully evaluate the environmental impact of diverting millions of gallons of spring water from the McCloud River into billions of plastic water bottles,” Brown said.

Nestle, which already downsized its original project by half, agreed to conduct further studies on the local watershed and their plastic bottle production to prevent negative environmental impacts.

–Julia Hengst/Newsdesk.org

Source:

“California Attorney General Cracks Down On Nestle Bottling Plant”
CBS13, July 29, 2008

* Chile: Dammed if They Do

Critics of a hydroelectric dam just approved in Chile say building it in a national park is illegal and paves the way for further development on public lands, according to the Santiago Times.

The site of the dam is the 620-square-mile Puyehue National Park in southern Chile, home to scenic landscapes and exotic animal species.

A regional government narrowly approved plans by Italian utility Idroenergia to build two dams on the Pulelfu and Correntoso rivers.

But Chilean legislator Patricio Vallespin said such plans violate a 1940 conservation treaty and existing forest protection laws, which trumps efforts to produce more renewable energy.

He also believes that in quenching the nation’s thirst for energy, local and regional leaders are ignoring the parks’ ecological benefits and setting a bad legal precedent.

UNESCO declared the region to be part of the Southern Andes Temperate Rainforest Biosphere Reserve, which Chile shares with neighboring Argentina.

The measure is meant to give the park and the surrounding area added protection.

The Rio de los Cipreses National Reserve has also been approved as the site of another hydroelectric project, three days after Puyehue decision.

–T.J. Johnston/Newsdesk.org

Source:

“Hydro Project Approved in Chile’s Puyehue National Park”
The Santiago Times, July 27, 2008

ENVIRONMENT

* Climate Change, as the Crow Flies

A group of new studies find that the patterns of bird migration literally change with the weather — or more accurately, the climate.

Boston University scientists have been analyzing the timing of migrations of 32 species of birds since 1970, Thainidian News reports.

They found that birds’ earlier spring arrivals on the East Coast owed to warming temperatures.

The swamp sparrow, which overwinters in the American south, has kept pace with climate change because it doesn’t have to travel as far for food as temperatures shift.

The great crested flycaster, however, travels as far as South America, and can’t adapt as easily to the changing availability of food.

The Times of India reports that a scientist at Britain’s Durham University has reached a similar conclusion about bird migration in Europe.

Professor Brian Huntley discovered a prevalence of species normally found in southern Europe — such as the Dartford warbler, Cirl bunting, little egret and Cetti’s warbler — have become more common in the northern part of the Continent over the last 25 years.

Huntley also found that species native to the north — such as the fieldfare, redwing and Slavonian grebe — have become rarer.

Climate change has also apparently driven Magellanic penguins from Argentina and Chile to Brazilian shores earlier than usual — and many are not arriving healthy.

As reported in The Guardian, an Argentine biologist theorizes that the penguins can’t find enough food in their habitat.

“One reason could be that warming waters and climate change have impacted the fish population,” Marcelo Bertelotti told the newspaper.

Other scientists also blame a recent oil spill off the Uruguayan coast has despoiled the penguins’ feeding waters.

Stanford University conservation expert Cagan H. Sekercioglu said the search for cooler climes could lead to an “escalator to extinction” for 15 percent of the world’s 10,000 species of birds by the end of the 21st century.

“Over half of seabird species are already threatened or near threatened with extinction,” he told ecological advocacy Web site Mongabay.com. “This is double the rate of forest birds.”

–T.J. Johnston/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“As climate warms, birds are migrating earlier: study”
Thaindian News, June 22, 2008

“Birds fly north in climate change vanguard”
Times of India, July 30, 2008

“Penguins wash ashore in Brazil, prompting concerns about their habitat”
The Guardian, July 23, 2008

“Birds face higher risk of extinction than conventionally thought”
Mongabay.com, July 15, 2008

* Dreaming of a Zero-Carbon Economy

Several nations around the world have launched national programs to increase energy efficiency, cut carbon emissions and build environmentally friendly buildings to slow the effects of global warming.

Some question the importance — and motivation — of environmentally protective policies, but many countries remain undeterred in the face of occasional resistance.

Spain, which has the highest dependency on fossil fuels of all European Union countries, recently introduced 31 measures that will help cut their oil imports by 10 percent.

Some of the actions include cutting street lighting by half, slower speed limits, distributing low-energy lightbulbs, and strict thermostat regulation in public buildings, reports The Independent.

Although Miguel Sebastian, Spain’s industry minister, told the newspaper that “the era of cheap energy has passed,” the proposals were ridiculed by some Spanish media as unworkable.

South Africa, one of the world’s significant greenhouse gas producers, has a new plan to become a low-carbon economy.

The regional newspaper BuaNews reports that the proposals would require all new coal-fired power stations to capture and store carbon emissions.

Also in the plan is a carbon tax, a significant measure for a country that gets 90 percent of its electricity from coal.

Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said that if action is taken now, South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions should stabilize by 2025 and then begin to decline.

The plan is noteworthy due to South Africa’s developing nation status, which makes such actions voluntary, not obligatory, under international agreements.

Brazil recently created an international fund that aims to raise $21 billion to fight deforestation in the Amazon, according to environmental website Mongabay.com.

The fund will promote conservation, sustainable development and alternatives for people who currently make their living cutting the forest down.

Deforestation causes massive amounts of carbon emissions annually, making Brazil a major polluter and an easy target of environmental groups and foreign governments.

The fund is designed to offset criticism by enabling foreign governments to support forest conservation “without exerting any influence over our national policy,” according to Minister of Strategic Planning Roberto Mangabeira Unger.

Greenpeace said it was the first time Brazil had tied global warming to rainforest preservation, reports the BBC.

On the other side of the planet, OPEC oil producer United Arab Emirates is building Masdar City — a $22 billion, zero-carbon metropolis run primarily on solar power, where all water and waste will be recycled, buildings will be ecologically sound and cars will be banned.

In addition, the city will be a research and development hub for alternative and renewable energies, according to the Associated Press.

The World Wildlife Fund notes that the UAE has the largest carbon footprint per capita in the world.

Considering the country’s dependence on air conditioning and penchant for SUVs, Masdar is a way to “curb the trend of being environmentally irresponsible,” according to Khaled Awad, Masdar City’s development director.

Jonathan Loh, co-author of the 2006 WWF report, said “It would be best if the UAE reduced energy consumption throughout the country, not just in one location.”

–Julia Hengst/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Spain cuts speed limit and turns out lights”
The Independent, July 31, 2008

“South Africa: Progressive Climate Change Strategy Announced for Country”
BuaNews (South Africa), July 29, 2008

“Brazil asks rich countries to fund Amazon rainforest conservation”
Mongabay.com, August 2, 2008

“Brazil launches rainforest fund”
BBC, August 1, 2008

“Zero-carbon city plan draws cautious praise”
Associated Press, February 24, 2008

* Ain’t no Other Fish in the Sea?

Tuna may be the signature fish of Japan, the world’s foremost consumer of fish, but last week Japan’s largest organization of tuna fishermen agreed to suspend business because of sharply declining stocks of the fish.

It was just one of many stories in recent weeks about how overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change are having serious effects on the world’s oceans.

On the Atlantic coast of the United States, the Washington Times reported on the declining catch of blue crab, quoting crab fisherman Bob Rice as saying: “It’s been steadily going downhill every since the oyster fishery crashed and more and more watermen turned to crabbing.”

Rice told the paper he blamed not just overfishing, but pollution, runoff and other human impacts.

In Australia, the World Wildlife Foundation has warned that some of the Great Barrier Reef’s shark species are nearing endangered status because of overfishing, as well as government shark-abatement efforts.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Web site quoted a WWF spokesman as suggesting that tourism industries stage tiger shark-watching tours, modeled on whale-watching tours, in an effort to raise awareness about the problem.

The ocean’s health can be measured through the vitality of less glamorous species as well.

The New York Times on Sunday reported on the problems and how the loss of predator species such as tuna and shark has created an explosion in the population of jellyfish.

And Bloomberg News last month reported that a recent study found that nearly a third of the planet’s reef-building coral species are in danger of extinction.

Bloomberg quoted one of the authors of the report, marine biologist Suzanne Livinstone of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., as saying: “When we began this process, we didn’t think it would be anywhere near as high as that … Climate change is the overarching threat which comes in on a much larger, global scale,” adding to localized disturbances, she said.

“If corals cannot adapt, the cascading effects … will threaten the geologic structure of reefs and their coastal protection function, and have huge economic effects on food security for hundreds of millions of people dependent on reef fish,” the report found.

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Tuna fishing suspended in Japan”
BBC.org, Aug. 1, 2008

“WWF flags shark watching expeditions to protect species”
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Aug. 2, 2008

“Reef Corals Face Extinction Due to Global Warming, Over-Fishing”
Bloomberg, July 10, 2008

“Confusing picture for crabs”
Washington Times, August 3, 2008

“Stinging Tentacles Offer Hint of Oceans’ Decline”
New York Times, Aug. 3, 2008


Editors: Will Crain, Josh Wilson

Interns: Julia Hengst, John Hornberg, T.J. Johnston

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