ENN summarizes the most important and compelling environmental news stories of the week. In the news December 5th - 9th: Costly oil drilling in Alaska, chemical spill endangers wildlife, clean energy in poor nations, shrinking glaciers, and much more.
The Week's Top Ten
In the news December 5th - 9th: Costly oil drilling in Alaska, chemical spill endangers wildlife, clean energy in poor nations, shrinking glaciers, and much more.
1. Brazil Government Announces 31 Percent Drop in Amazon Destruction
While the Amazon rainforest has lost 7,300 square miles in the past year, that statistic isn't as dire as it could be based on recent history, according to an official announcement this week. The loss represents a slowing of the destruction by about 31 percent. Crediting stricter regulations and enforcement, Environment Minister Marina Silva said, "The effort that has been carried out by a group of government agencies ... demonstrates results."
2. Land Sale Bill Ignites Passions in American West
The idea floated by Rep. Jim Gibbons (R. Nev.) and Rep. Richard Pombo (R. Calif.) to sell public land to the mining industry hasn't gone over too well in some camps. Objecting to the idea on the grounds that recreation areas could be sold for mining even without evidence that mining them would be productive, Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, is adamantly opposed to the bill. "It's an abominable idea," he summarized. "Our public lands are for the public."
3. Oil Firms May Pay $10 Billion To Drill in Alaska
Even further West, in Alaska, opponents and proponents of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are digesting news from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that the pricetag for the privilege of drilling could reach as high as $10 billion. This figure is double that of prior estimates, and some fear -- while others hope -- that it could swing some votes in Congress in favor of drilling as a means of helping to close the federal budget deficit.
4. Scientists Say Greenland Glaciers Retreating
The retreat of the world's glaciers seems to be continuing with recent word from Greenland of unprecedented rates of melt. Courtesy of global warming, scientists believe, sea levels have risen approximately four to eight inches over the past century due to glacial melt, causing significant impacts on land.
5. In Alaskan Village, Erosion is Measured in Skulls on the Shoreline
This article on the fate of an Alaskan village illustrates the problem of rising sea levels for communities on the shore. Southwest Alaska's Kuskokwin River has swallowed up playing fields and hospitals alike during springtime floods caused by melting ice. Most recently, a graveyard has fallen victim to the advancing waters, spurring new interest in erosion control.
6. Endangered Siberian Tiger, Other Rare Species, at Risk from Chinese Chemical Spill
The environmental impacts of last month's chemical spill in China continue to reveal themselves, in this case with detrimental results to wildlife in Russia. Snaking down the Amur River into Russia following an explosion at a chemical factory in China, a toxic benzene slick is headed to Russia's Amur region, a crucial habitat to endangered Siberian tigers and a wealth of other wildlife.
7. EU Governments Agree on Rules To Tackle Pollution from Mining Waste
In Europe, an agreement signed this week will step up controls on mining waste. Under the new law, EU governments will be required to monitor and regulate mining companies' management of waste flowing into bodies of water. Mining waste makes up approximately 20 percent of all waste generated in the EU, and has been known to contain toxic heavy metals.
8. U.N. Talks Support Clean Energy in Poor Nations
Clean-energy projects in developing nations -- including as hydroelectric power in Honduras and wind energy in China -- will be put on a fast track following a U.N. agreement made Thursday. The "Clean Development Mechanism" (CDM) would extend beyond the year 2012 when the Kyoto protocol's first phase expires. The program allows nations to earn credits at home for their investments in clean energy projects in Third World countries.
9. Groups Want Snowmobiling Halted through Caribou Land
Snowmobiling enthusiasts might not be allowed to enjoy one of Idaho's most popular trail systems, if environmental groups have anything to do about it. In an emergency request, environmentalists asked a judge to order a stop to trail grooming through endangered caribou habitat in Idaho, striking fear in the hearts of resort owners. But with a recent documented caribou decline of dramatic proportions, animal advocates are convinced that dire measures are necessary.
10. Lawyer of 'Erin Brockovich' Fame Dies Age 73
On a sad note, the week noted the passing of Ed Masry, the L.A. environmental lawyer played by Albert Finney in the feature film, "Erin Brockovich." In a career spanning more than 40 years, Masry was noted for his work on open-space preservation, as well as for the now-famous case in which more than 600 L.A. residents affected by a carcinogen leak into ground water won damages totaling in the hundreds of millions.
Guest Commentary: Meat Wall
By Steven J. Moss, San Francisco Community Power
You walk into a restaurant, the waiter escorts you to a wall of artificial meat and asks you to pick which square you want for dinner. Or maybe you grow your own meat at home, choosing from different flavor tablets to create sheets that taste like chicken, beef, or pork, ready to slide into your toaster oven for a quick meal. It may sound far-fetched, but scientists are actively working to find ways to easily produce fake meat. And with China’s demand for meat expected to double every decade, there will almost certainly be market for such a product.
The idea has its attractions. Livestock operations are a substantial pollution source, fouling the water and land. Cattle ranches continue to replace rain forest and other natural areas throughout South America. The world’s wild fish population is rapidly being depleted. And the intensive production of cows and chickens may contribute to emerging outbreaks of deadly human diseases, such as mad cow and avian flu. Not to mention the wide scale suffering imposed on animals destined for the oven. Artificial meat, cultured from single cells and produced in large quantities, could reduce the afflictions caused by the international meat industrial complex.
But artificial meat is not without its “ick” factor. The very idea of sheets of cells growing into something akin to meat is a bit creepy, in an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” kind of way. Of course a visit to a local slaughter house or sausage factory may be no less iky, and considerably more bloody.
Chances are, given the rapidly rising demand for meat, and the cleverness of our scientists, we’ll soon enough be confronted with the opportunity to build animal-less meat factories. When the time comes we’ll want to do our due diligence over the potential environmental consequences of artificial meat ranching. Fish farming, another popular technology that’s emerged over the past few decades, has turned into a mixed blessing. While it’s improved fish supplies, taking some pressure off wild species, it’s also created substantial amounts of land and water pollution, and threatens genetic diversity.
Perhaps more importantly, the emergence of an artificial meat market could have profound effects on our souls. We’ve transitioned from hunters and gatherers in a world dominated by wild animals; to domestic animal tenders surrounded by cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens; to a plastic wrap world in which unidentifiable animal parts are delivered to us in cardboard boxes at fast food restaurants. Artificial meat, if it proves popular, could usher in the next phase, completely severing our ties to the animal kingdom. That might be a good thing, leading to pressure to protect greater amounts of natural habitat in which other species can thrive. Or it could be the next step towards creating a completely artificial world, in which rivers and streams have been turned into pipelines and faucets, reality is on television, and food is a flavored pellet.
Of course before we get to this next fork in the road, scientists need to figure out how to get artificial meat to taste something like the real thing. The main barrier seems to be getting the texture right, with the appropriate mix of fat and muscle. Doing so requires that the artificial meat gets some exercise. I’ll leave it to you to imagine what that might look like.
Steven J. Moss is the publisher of the Neighborhood Environmental Newswire. He serves as Executive Director of San Francisco Community Power, www.sfpower.org.
Photo: A woman sells flowers in Dakar, Senegal. Credit: Â© Youssef Tawfik, Courtesy of Photoshare.