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As September ends, Planet Experts looks back on the stories we ran this month and decides which were the most important to the environment and the planet as a whole. We’ve already covered the 6 Best Things to Happen in September 2015 and the 5 Most Promising. Now it’s time for the 5 Worst.

This is our least favorite list to do, as unlike our “5 Stupidest” list, these stories share news that’s not only aggravating but outright damaging to the environment. Below are the stories we dread, and proof that the long, hard work of activists and conservationists  is far from over.

5) Seabirds Starved in Northern California, and We Don’t Know Why

Common Murre. (Photo Credit: Dick Daniels)

Common Murre. (Photo Credit: Dick Daniels)

Planet Experts correspondent Monica Heger returns to deliver some ominous news about seabirds off the Northern California coast: They’re washing up on the beaches, starved or malnourished, in unprecedented numbers. The scenario shares similarities with Heger’s earlier report of birds washing up in the Bay Area covered in a mysterious goop. Just as in that story, scientists aren’t sure what’s to blame for the malnourished seabirds, but it could be due to warming ocean waters. Read More

4) Walruses, and the Ice They Need to Survive, Are Disappearing

Young male Pacific walruses on Cape Pierce in Alaska. (Photo Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Walruses on Cape Pierce in Alaska. (Photo: USFWS

This is the second year in a row that we’ve reported on the unprecedented crowdings of walruses on Alaskan beaches. What’s happening is that as the sea ice in the Arctic disappears, the walruses that traditionally use it to feed and rest have to bring their calves to shore, leading to overcrowding, abandonment and mass deaths during stampedes. “These walruses ought to be spending most of their time in the water right now, not packed together on the beach where there’s less food and they’re more likely to be killed by stampedes or bears,” says biologist Shaye Wolf. Read More

3) Exxon Has Known About Man-Made Climate Change Since the ‘70s

This is one of those hang-your-head stories that just leaves you feeling dirty. Planet Expert Michael Mann shares a report on how Exxon’s own scientists confirmed their role in global warming decades ago…and instead of doing anything positive, they opted to begin a campaign of climate change misinformation and deceit. Folks, it doesn’t get any dirtier than that. Read More

2) Half of the Ocean’s Vertebrates Have Been Eliminated

This month, WWF released a sobering report that calculates 49 percent of marine vertebrates have disappeared since the 1970s. Also of note: populations of locally and commercially farmed fish have been cut in half, coral reefs could be wiped off the planet by 2050 and ocean water is now more acidic than it’s been in the last 300 million years. Read More

1) Volkswagen

Martin Winterkorn, former CEO of the Volkswagen Group. (Photo Credit: Volkswagen Sweden)

Martin Winterkorn. (Photo Credit: Volkswagen Sweden)

Of course #1 was going to be Volkswagen. This month, the largest automaker in the world confessed that it’s been cheating US emission tests for the last seven years. By installing illegal software in its diesel-powered VW and Audi models, Volkswagen enabled these vehicles to pump out 10-40 times more emissions than the US legal limit. This is a car company that’s been at the top of its game, a trusted name in the field, and in a single day its stock dropped nearly one-quarter of its value – equivalent to $17.6 billion. A penitent Martin Winterkorn resigned as the company’s CEO last week, though he claims to be as shocked as anybody “that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group.” Read More

For more of the top stories of September 2015, check out these lists:

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