Photo: Karen Apricot
We reported on some really nasty events this month. Some of these reports were disappointing, some of them were gross and some of them were just heart-wrenching. These are the nine worst environmental stories of July 2016…
Every year, hundreds of long-finned pilot whales and Atlantic white-sided dolphins are slaughtered in the shallows of the Faroe Islands. The cull begins in July and involves fishermen herding the cetaceans toward the coasts to be stabbed to death as they struggle to escape. Grisly footage of the event has been made public by Sea Shepherd Global, an oceanic wildlife conservation group. The group has urged consumers to boycott seafood products from the Faroe Islands, singling out salmon sold at Costco.
Everybody feels bad for Brazil right now, and with good reason. Its political system is mired in a high-level corruption scandal, the government has struggled to provide adequate facilities for the Olympics (and begged for money to do so) and the Zika virus verges on a “full-blown public health disaster,” according to a May report in the Harvard Public Review. Last month, the country further disgraced itself by shooting a jaguar at a public ceremony, which makes this month only slightly less painful.
Last week, we learned that more than half of Brazil’s population sees the Olympic games as a threat to their country, harmful to both its economy and its reputation abroad. Meanwhile, athletes have abandoned their official Olympic housing, citing poor living conditions, and authorities have warned that swimmers face significant health risks from Rio’s water.
If you don’t know that those adorable puppies at your local pet store came from a puppy mill, you’re allowed to be shocked, but the rest of us need to actually stop this from happening. For over 60 years, dogs have been stockpiled at unlicensed locations and forced to breed in the hopes of churning out as many puppies as possible. These mills often operate without thought to clean or humane treatment. As writer Nick Marinoff describes,
“Puppy mills confine dogs to tiny wire cages for years at a time. Forced to breed continuously, mothers are given little rest between cycles, deprived of food and often subjected to low-quality care and living conditions. Many of the dogs never leave their cages or go outdoors. When they can no longer breed, the dogs are usually killed, sold at auction or abandoned in shelters. [Elizabeth Oreck of the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary] says that puppies bred in these factory-like settings are regarded as little more than a ‘cash crop commodity.’”
6) Climate Change Is Taking Its Toll
Planet Experts shared several disturbing climate change stories this past month, but three in particular showcase the damage that is happening right now in the present day. First, writer Nick Marinoff reported on the Isle of Jean Charles, whose residents can be considered the first “climate refugees” in the United States. Located off the coast of Louisiana (which loses about 75 kilometers of coastal region each year), the Isle of Jean Charles will soon be underwater. Washington has awarded the native Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe nearly $50 million to relocate.
Across the world, the Republic of Kiribati is also sinking. Expected to vanish completely in the near future, the island nation is already asking its residents to flee. “Migrate with dignity” is the official government recommendation.
Finally, and most alarmingly, scientists are accepting that the damage done by excess carbon dioxide (or man-made global warming) will not be reversed in our lifetime. The initiatives taken by governments, even with the Paris Climate Agreement, are not strong enough to stop the course we’re on. This doesn’t mean improvements cannot be made, nor that efforts should cease – after all, the planet will only get warmer if we do nothing – but it does mean that the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a problem that will continue to impact mankind for decades to come.
Case in point, the planet has continued to warm to unprecedented levels. For the third time running, June smashed its previous average global temperature (and July will likely follow suit). After 2014 and then 2015 ranked as the hottest years in recorded history, 2016 is on track to leave them both far behind. Thus far 2016 has broken nine global heat records. NASA scientist Walt Meier said that the past six months have been “extreme” and created “unusual weather patterns” and “record low sea ice extents.”
Hotter weather has been shown to negatively impact the economy. This month, we reported that higher temperatures are reducing the number of viable working hours in Southeast Asia, and could cost the global economy $2 trillion by 2030.
Last month, Oxfam America reported that five common foods are actually major contributors to climate change and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The five foods – wheat, soy, corn, rice and palm oil – are not dangerous by themselves, but the industries that surround them are. To keep up with the growing demand for these crops, forests have to be destroyed to make way for farms, which reduces the planet’s capacity to absorb carbon emissions. And, specifically in the case of palm oil, not only are forests being destroyed, they are also being burned at prodigious rates, which further exacerbates GHG emissions.
As a news agency, we’d like to be as “fair and balanced” as the bigger brands out there, but that’s hard to pull off when one political party has made anti-environmentalism a central plank of their platform. If you search for stories about “Republicans” on this site, you’re not going to get a lot of good news, but that’s never been our intent. When Obama okays more ocean drilling or loses to frackers in court, we’re right on top of it. It just so happens that Republicans really have a beef with Mother Nature.
Case in point, the 2016 party platform released in tandem with the Republican National Convention disavows the Paris Climate Agreement, and science in general. “Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue,” the document states. “We reject the agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.”
According to the document, Republicans want to cancel President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to make American energy more sustainable and reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent. They want to eliminate fracking regulations, build more oil pipelines, stop carbon taxes, unravel the EPA and sell the nation’s public lands.
None of that is hyperbole. Those are the things the party has explicitly said it wants to do.
2) Drought Is Ravaging the Planet
Our offices are based in California and we’ve been suffering through the fifth year of drought just like our 30 million or so fellow residents. According to the latest figures, we now know that the drought is only going to get worse before it gets better. But our discomfort is minimal compared to what’s happening around the world.
Central India has experienced record low rainfall for the past decade, and the lack of water in both central and northern India has led to famine, murder and suicide. Local governments have banned the use of water for farming and livestock, and some villages can only use water to drink. Some only have access to drinking water two or three days a week.
South Africa, too, is suffering. With just a few weeks left before the planting season begins, experts fear that the region has too little water to sustain a harvest. If the drought does not abate, millions could potentially starve.
Last month, I made a list of the three most heart-wrenching stories of June 2016. It’s a clickbait title, but the stories are true. And the number one story – activists being murdered south of the U.S. border – is no less true today.
In July, Lesbia Yaneth Urquia, a 49-year-old activist fighting the construction of a hydroelectric dam in Honduras, was brutally murdered and discarded in a roadside bin on the outskirts of Marcala. Sadly, this type of news is not uncommon for the country, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Even worse, native activists and human rights defenders in the country are accusing the U.S. of implicitly aiding abuses.
Activists like Beverly Bell, the founder of Other Worlds and a member of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), are determined to keep on fighting for justice. “It doesn’t take violence,” she told Planet Experts. “It just takes the U.S. and Canada to stop supporting the most oppressive dictatorship in the world in terms of environmental defenders.”
Further south, land disputes between indigenous groups and farmers are growing deadly in Brazil. “A slow genocide is taking place,” said Guarani leader Tonico Benites. “They kill our leaders, hide their bodies, intimidate and threaten us.”
Tonico estimates that despair over losing their lands to developers has driven some 1,000 Guarani to commit suicide over the last decade