Buy Me a River: Water Privatization Pushes Forward

Efforts to privatize water services throughout the world are facing determined grassroots opposition on several fronts, while other countries are preparing to sell their water supply to private companies with little resistance. Fourteen activists in El Salvador have been arrested on charges of terrorism for demonstrating against a World Bank-backed plan to hand government water management over to private firms through local concessions for up to 50 years. Activists argue that the state-run water service, mired as it is in corruption and bribery scandals, is the best alternative to layoffs and higher rates that would come with privatization. They have already seen the alternative, having fought for the state to take over water services after a private firm simply stopped providing a local community with running water. In southern Chile, activists are worried about the future of Patagonia’s waterways after the government approved a $4 billion hydroelectric dam project, backed by two corporations, that would flood wilderness and cut down protected forest land.

Oil Spills Are Commonplace, Decried, and Tolerated

Far from isolated mega-catastrophes — such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound — oil spills occur routinely around the world, causing environmental and economic damage, provoking investigations by regional governments, and often leaving the victims unsatisfied. Entering the words “oil spill” in the Google News search engine returned more than 2,500 distinct articles published in the last 30 days on the topic. At the top of the news right now is the 100-foot fountain of petroleum that smothered the Canadian town of Burnaby this week, after a pipeline was pierced by a road-excavation crew. Fifty homes were evacuated and the contamination spread to the nearby Burrard Inlet, a harbor and wetlands ecosystem home to a variety of marine wildlife, including four species of salmon. Experts told the Canadian Press that the cleanup will cost millions, and that the toxic effects of petroleum in soil, sand and water could last for decades.

The Disappearing Honeybee

A widespread honeybee die-off, known as “colony collapse disorder,” has seen bees disappear from hundreds of thousands of hives around the world this winter. Experts are scrambling to explain why bees are fleeing their hives en masse and dying elsewhere. Honeybees affect one-third of all food eaten in America and the United Kingdom, pollinating orchards, gardens and crops. Twenty-four U.S. states have been affected, as have Scotland, Spain, Italy, Poland, Greece and other parts of Europe. A Pennsylvania beekeeper blames a new insecticide used to treat agricultural crops, while scientists on the West Coast say the culprit is cold weather and mites.

Record Earnings From Endangered Ocean Harvest

The fishing industry brought in a record $71.5 billion last year, most of it from ocean fisheries that lack ecological oversight. Now, a new report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization finds that 25 percent of ocean fisheries are virtually depleted, and 52 percent “fully exploited.” This comes on the heels of a study last year that predicted a complete collapse of ocean fisheries worldwide by 2050 without reform of fishing practices and curtailing pollution. Fish Farmer Magazine reports that with the record harvest, wild fisheries have “levelled off” even as aquaculture becomes the “world’s fastest growing food production sector.” Sources:
“Record high for global seafood trade”
Fish Farmer Magazine, March 5, 2007
“Ocean fisheries maxed out”
Inter Press Service, March 5, 2007

Plastics & Your Health

By Martin Leatherman & staff
New studies of chemicals used in plastics reveal potential health problems, including miscarriages and abnormal fetus development. But regulation remains a tricky prospect. Legislators in California are developing bills targeting chemicals used in consumer products, including plastics, which may cause human health problems.
Cosmetics and chemical manufacturers say that such new legislation is unnecessary because a variety of state and federal laws already regulate the industry, according to the Christian Science Monitor. One chemical of concern, bisphenol-A, or BPA, is used in baby bottles, teething rings, packaging materials and wall and floor coverings. In a study published in the May 2005 edition of Endocrinology, mouse fetuses exposed to one percent of the amount of BPA deemed safe for humans developed significantly more tissue in their mammary glands.

FOCUS: Overfishing — Local to Global

Jodi Wynn & staff
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, overfishing is leading to a humanitarian and ecological crisis. The report finds that over 70 percent of fish species are being caught at a rate faster than they reproduce, leading to the near-depletion of many commercial fish stocks. In the U.S., the National Marine Fisheries Service reported that 92 percent of domestic fish stocks are overexploited, but can recover if well managed. With more than 200 million people worldwide depending on fishing for a living, and 2.5 billion relying on fish for food, the U.N. said that declining fish stocks will affect “food security and economic development” as well as social welfare and underwater ecosystems.
The FAO also predicts that within ten years fish stocks will be further depleted by growing human populations. The New Zealand fisheries minister expressed fears that post-tsunami relief efforts could “create the conditions for overfishing and resource depletion, particularly where these problems were already occurring.”

FOCUS: Tsunami Ecology

Research by Allison Bloch, Intern, and Michael Stoll, Guest Editor 
In response to the question of why stories about nature don’t usually become front-page news in the mainstream media, Frank Allen, a veteran journalist who had written for The Wall Street Journal once said, “Environmental stories don’t break, they ooze.” So it follows that when news does break, it has nothing to do with the environment. Or does it? The day after Christmas, several environmental stories were spun out of a major event — a tsunami that swept the shores of 12 Asian countries and killed as many as 150,000 people. Most readers, naturally, assumed it was a human tragedy unrelated to the ecology.