A record number of environmental activists and defenders were killed in 2016 — at least 200 people in 24 countries, according to records compiled by the organization Global Witness. The list includes activists who were protesting dams, mines, logging or agriculture, as well as wildlife rangers, forest guards and indigenous peoples. Global Witness says the actual number of slain activists may be much higher, as many deaths go unreported. Will this number continue to rise? Global Witness has tracked at least 98 more murders in the first five months of 2017.
Extinction starts to have an effect on ecosystems long before a species fully disappears. A new paper calls this “biological annihilation” — the effect that localized extinction has on a region when certain species, such as lions, become extirpated from their former habitats. The paper argues we should pay more attention to species even if they are considered “of low concern,” because many of them are actually in decline. Although these species are not currently considered threatened with extinction, their “population decay” causes cascading effects on the abundance of other local species — which, the paper warns, will eventually result in yet more extinctions.
In a move to help the country meet its Paris Accord climate goals, France announced this week that it will ban the sale of gas- and diesel-powered automobiles by 2040. That will be a big shift, as only 1.1 percent of new cars sold in France are currently pure electric vehicles. Even with the pending ban it will still take a long time to get older cars off the road: French consumers currently keep their gas-powered cars running for an average of 8.5 years, well below the 11.6 years in the United States.
Criminal syndicates from a small town in southern China are responsible for trafficking as much as 80 percent of all illegal ivory into the country, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency. Undercover operatives tracked a two-ton shipment of tusks from Mozambique to the town of Shuidong, thereby revealing trade routes, rampant bribery, and the ability to smuggle other wildlife products, including pangolin scales and rhino horns. China has announced the closure of its legal ivory market, but EIA found the syndicates remained active as late as last month.
Mexico this week permanently banned gill nets as part of a last-minute effort to save the vaquita from extinction. Just 30 or fewer of these critically endangered porpoises (Phocoena sinus) remain in their only habitat, the Gulf of California. The cetaceans frequently die after becoming entangled in gill nets, which poachers use to catch the totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi), an endangered fish whose swim bladders sell to Chinese consumers for thousands of dollars a pound. The Revelator will cover this developing story extensively in the coming weeks.
Increases in battery storage capacity will soon transform renewable energy. Battery manufacturing is expected to more than double by 2021, with China leading the charge in building new factories. US states, meanwhile, are already investing in battery storage to support the growth of wind and solar power. This battery boom will help utility-scale energy and individual consumers: a new study finds that batteries could allow solar households to start “defecting” from the power grid in a little over a decade. Just one question remains: where are we going to get the lithium for all of these batteries?
The herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, has been added to California’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer. The listing, which goes into effect on July 7, will require manufacturers to add package warning labels and similar warnings to be places around certain sites where large quantities of the weed killer have been applied. The World Health Organization had previous labeled glyphosate as a “probable” human carcinogen. The chemical is the most widely used pesticide in California – and in the entire world. Monsanto has said it will fight California’s designation in court.
The Trump Administration yesterday announced that the grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) of Yellowstone National Park would lose their protection under the Endangered Species Act. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called Yellowstone grizzlies “one of America’s great conservation successes” and declared the population recovered. This, of course, leaves out future threats from climate change, invasive species, inbreeding, habitat loss and a potential return to trophy hunting. The hotly debated delisting process, which has long been opposed by tribal authorities, began under the Obama Administration.
Today marks World Giraffe Day, an occasion to recognize Africa’s rapidly disappearing giants. Fewer than 100,000 giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) remain today, down from 140,000 just 15 years ago. Last year the IUCN declared the species vulnerable to extinction, but that doesn’t grant them any additional protection. That could come in 2019, when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species will take up the issue, or if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agrees to protect giraffes under the Endangered Species Act. For now, giraffes continue to suffer from poaching, hunting, habitat loss and other threats.
The deadly wildfires raging through Portugal have killed more than 60 people and created smoke clouds big enough to be seen from space. Is this the wave of the future? A new study finds that wildfires have tripled over the past 30 years in the Great Plains, putting a strain on local agencies. Meanwhile, California’s wildfires have doubled this year, where drought is over but a wetter season has just produced more grasses to burn. On top of that, another recent study found that the smoke from wildfires can, itself, have an effect on the climate, extending the vicious cycle even further.