Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

Discovering Global Environmental Interconnections

Environmental Journalism in the Public Interest

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I’m an independent journalist who covers international environmental issues in the public interest.copenhagen press pass

My work has been published in publications around the world including National Geographic, The Guardian (UK), Vice Magazine, Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), Al Jazeera, Earth Island Journal, The Toronto Star, Common Dreams, and DeSmog Canada.

Co-winner of the 2012 Prince Albert/United Nations Global Prize for reporting on Climate Change.

News media have cut their coverage of environmental issues so I launched Community Supported Environmental Journalism

Swiss journalist Daniel Wermus in 2010 article: “Stephen Leahy, a Canadian, and one of the world’s best-known investigative reporters on environmental issues, has launched a challenge:
if corporations won’t pay for the news, then it is up to communities and the public to fill the gap.“

I am asking people to provide some financial support so I can continue to research and write articles millions will read*.  Just $10 a month helps guarantee more articles like the ones on this site. All supporters receive a personal, one-page weekly newsletter. Without your support I can’t work for all of us — Stephen

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“Multiple environmental crisis represent “the greatest challenge in the history of our species” – Thomas Lovejoy, professor, George Mason University,  former chief scientist of the World Bank

“We need people like you. In tough economic times, where information flow is increasingly channeled and controlled…” – E. Ann Clark, Associate Professor, University of Guelph

*Yes, millions of readers. My articles are used by newspapers and magazines around the world and reprinted on news websites such as Reuters AlertNetthe GuardianAl JazeeraAlterNet, Common Dreams, Truthout,  InfoSudNone of these pay me for this reuse. Unfortunately I only average $175-$200 payment even if it took a week or more to research and write the article.

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You’d be shocked to see how your jewellery is made

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The Sickest Places in the World

Parts of Indonesia, Argentina and Nigeria are among the top 10 most polluted places on the planet, according to a new report by U.S. and European environmental groups.

 

The Agbogbloshie e-Wasteland in Ghana. Fires are set to wires and other electronics to release valuable copper and other materials. The fires blacken the landscape, releasing toxic fumes. Credit: Blacksmith Institute

The Agbogbloshie e-Wasteland in Ghana. Fires are set to wires and other electronics to release valuable copper and other materials. The fires blacken the landscape, releasing toxic fumes. Credit: Blacksmith Institute

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 5 2013 (IPS) - Parts of Indonesia, Argentina and Nigeria are among the top 10 most polluted places on the planet, according to a new report by U.S. and European environmental groups.

They are extraordinarily toxic places where lifespans are short and disease runs rampant among millions of people who live and work at these sites, often to provide the products used in richer countries.

“People would be shocked to see the conditions under which their lovely jewelry is sometimes made,” said Jack Caravanos, director of research at the New York-based Blacksmith Institute, an independent environmental group that released the list Monday in partnership with Green Cross Switzerland.

Full story: The Sickest Places in the World

No Safe Havens in Increasingly Acid Oceans

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churning-ocean-smlOil, gas and coal are contaminating the world’s oceans from top to bottom, threatening the lives of more than 800 million people

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 15 2013 (IPS) 

Oil, gas and coal are contaminating the world’s oceans from top to bottom, threatening the lives of more than 800 million people, a new study warns Tuesday.

“It took a year to analyse and synthesise all of the studies on the impacts of climate change on ocean species,” Camilo Mora, an ecologist at University of Hawai‘i in Honolulu and lead author, told IPS.

“We are seeing greater changes, happening faster, and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated.” — Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford

Mora is also lead author of ground-breaking climate study published in Nature last week.

“It was very sad to see all the responses were negative. We were hoping there might be some safe havens,” he said.

The study found that carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels are overheating the oceans, turning them acidic and reducing the amount of oxygen in seawater. This is happening too fast for most marine species to adapt and ocean ecosystems around the world will collapse.

By 2100, no corner of the oceans that cover 70 percent of the Earth’s surface will be untouched.

“The impacts of climate change will be felt from the ocean surface to the seafloor. It is truly scary to consider how vast these impacts will be,” said Andrew Sweetman of the International Research Institute of Stavanger, Norway, co-author of the PLOS Biology study published Oct. 15.

This ambitious study examined all the available research on how current and future carbon emissions are fundamentally altering the oceans. It then looked at how this will impact fish, corals, marine animals, plants and other organisms. Finally the 29 authors from 10 countries analysed how this will affect the 1.4 to 2.0 billion people who live near the oceans or depend on them for their food and income.

“We are making a big mess of the oceans. Climate change is having a major impact illustrating the need for urgent action to reduce emissions,” said Mora. Read the rest of this entry »

Overweight? Hungry? Blame ‘Hollow Food’

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wheat harvest sml

Conventional agriculture produces “hollow food”, with low levels of nutrients and vitamins studies show

By Stephen Leahy

TORONTO, Canada, Mar 4, 2006 (Tierramérica)

(Originally published in 2006)

Organic foods protect children from the toxins in pesticides, while foods grown using modern, intensive agricultural techniques contain fewer nutrients and minerals than they did 60 years ago, according to two new scientific studies.

A U.S. research team from Emory University in Atlanta analysed urine samples from children ages three to 11 who ate only organic foods and found that they contained virtually no metabolites of two common pesticides, malathion and chlorpyrifos. However, once the children returned to eating conventionally grown foods, concentrations of these pesticide metabolites quickly climbed as high as 263 parts per billion, says the study published Feb. 21 (2006).

Organic crops are grown without the chemical pesticides and fertilisers that are common in intensive agriculture. There was a “dramatic and immediate protective effect” against the pesticides while consuming organically grown foods, said Chensheng Lu, an assistant professor at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.

These findings, in addition to the results of another study published in Britain earlier this month, have fueled the debate about the benefits of organically grown food as compared to conventional, mass-produced foods, involving academics, food and agro-industry executives and activists in the global arena.

According to the new British analysis of government nutrition data on meat and dairy products from the 1930s and from 2002, the mineral content of milk, cheese and beef declined as much as 70 percent in that period.

“These declines are alarming,” Ian Tokelove, spokesman for The Food Commission that published the results of the study, told Tierramérica.

The Commission is a British non-governmental organisation advocating for healthier, safer food. The research found that parmesan cheese had 70 percent less magnesium and calcium, beef steaks contained 55 percent less iron, chicken had 31 percent less calcium and 69 percent less iron, while milk also showed a large drop in iron along with a 21 percent decline in magnesium.

Copper, an important trace mineral (an essential nutrient that is consumed in tiny quantities), also declined 60 percent in meats and 90 percent in dairy products.

“It seems likely that intensive farming methods are responsible for this,” Tokelove said from his office in London.

Read the rest of this entry »

Stop All Investments in Fossil Fuel Infrastructure or All Will Suffer IPCC warns

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Carbon overload - have to stop expanding

Carbon overload – have to stop expanding

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Apr 22 2014 (IPS) 

Hopefully, on Earth Day today, high-level ministers from all countries are thinking about what they can bring to the table at a key set of meetings on climate change in early May.

This will be the first opportunity for governments to discuss their proposed climate action plans in light of the finalIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last week.

“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.” — Professor Ottmar Edenhofer 

That report warned that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels are still rising far too fast, even with more than 650 billion dollars invested in renewable energy in the last three years. However, over the same time period even more money was invested in getting more fossil fuels out of the ground.

The latter investment is keeping humanity and the planet locked onto a devastating path of a global temperature increase of four to five degrees C, the IPCC’s Working Group III report warned.

Scientists and economists say that unlocking ourselves from disaster will require a massive reduction in emissions – between 40 percent and 70 percent – by midcentury. This is can be readily accomplished without inventing any new technology and at a reasonably low cost, reducing global economic growth by a comparatively tiny 0.06 percent.

“It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the IPCC team, said at a press conference.

It does mean an end to investments in expanding fossil fuel infrastructure as the annual growth in CO2 emissions from burning oil, coal and gas must peak and decline in the next few years. The atmosphere already has 42 percent more CO2 than it did prior to 1800.

This extra CO2 is trapping more heat from the sun, which is heating up the oceans and land, creating the conditions that spawn super storms and extreme weather. And it will do so for the next 1,000 years since CO2 is a very durable molecule.

“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” Edenhofer said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Nano Worry: Big Concern for Very Small Things

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Buckyball Molecule C320, Artwork Laguna Design

Buckyball Molecule C320, Artwork Laguna Design

By Stephen Leahy

First published 04.07.04 at WIRED.COM

(I wrote this 10 years ago and was one of the first articles about environmental risks of nano techI have not been able to update it )

Nanoparticles called fullerenes — aka buckyballs — are extremely stable arrangements of carbon atoms that look like soccer balls. Eva Oberdörster, an aquatic scientist at Southern Methodist University, has conducted a study that looks at the potential risks of nanomaterials.

The nascent nanotechnology industry collectively cringed last week after a study showed that fish exposed to nanoparticles suffered brain damage. Critics say the much-hyped multibillion-dollar nano industry has a dark side few want to talk about.

“How many more studies showing toxicity are needed before regulators step in?” asks Kathy Jo Wetter of the Winnipeg-based ETC Group. ETC and other environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on the commercial production of nanoparticles.

Nano products are not subject to any special regulations, in part because little is known about the environmental and health implications of nanotechnology, says Kevin Ausman, executive director of the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology at Rice University in Houston.

Nanotechnology is a catchall term for an enormous range of research and technology measured at the scale of one-thousandth the width of a human hair. At this very small scale, ordinary materials have extraordinary properties promising the semi-fantastic — supercomputers that fit on the head of a pin and fleets of cancer-fighting nanobots — and the more mundane — better paint and eye shadow.

Stain-resistant nanopants and sunscreens and cosmetics using nanosized titanium dioxide particles are already on the market. And the Nanodesu bowling ball is one of the first consumer products that uses nanoparticles called fullerenes — aka buckyballs – which are extremely stable arrangements of carbon atoms that look like soccer balls.

To see what might happen if buckyballs got into the environment, Eva Oberdörster, an aquatic scientist at Southern Methodist University, put some into a fish tank at a concentration of 0.5 parts per million, along with nine largemouth bass. The buckyball-breathing fish experienced significant brain damage after 48 hours. Brain-cell membranes were disrupted, an affliction that has been linked to illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

Oberdörster’s unpublished study, which was released last week, is one of the few completed studies looking at the potential risks of nanomaterials. There is some cause for concern. Two recent studies documented lung damage in animals after they inhaled a type of buckyball called a carbon nanotube. Another showed that nanoparticles can get into the brain if inhaled.

They’re also small enough to cross cell walls and leak into the nucleus, the home of an organism’s DNA. And, in the case of titanium dioxide nanoparticles, they can kill bacteria. That’s good news in a hospital, but bad news in the environment, where bacteria are extremely important for maintaining soil fertility, among other things.

Understanding how nanomaterials and the environment interact is a complex, interdisciplinary problem, says Ausman.

“Some of the ways we normally measure environmental toxicity aren’t applicable to nanotechnology. And there aren’t many researchers who really understand these novel materials.”

One who does is John Bucher, director of federal toxicology research at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. His group will soon begin a series of studies on the environmental health effects of three types of nanoparticles.

“There are so many different types of nanomaterials, some are likely toxic,” says Bucher.

Sorting out the impacts of nanotech won’t be easy, since the properties of nanomaterials are not well-defined yet. Something such as gold — which is normally biologically inert — is highly reactive and likely to disrupt biological processes when it’s nanosized.

And then there’s the problem of trying to detect particles of such a tiny size, says Bucher. Microscopes powerful enough to identify nanoparticles are just being developed.

It will be several years before the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences toxicology studies are completed.

Ausman thinks regulations will be needed to guide future applications, but not enough is known to establish these yet. In the meantime, the nano industry and the benefits it can bring society shouldn’t be held back over toxicity fears, he says.

“I’m not concerned at this point.”

Written by Stephen

05/05/2014 at 7:45 am

Global Land Grabbing by Speculators, Investment banks, Pension funds

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Kenya green hills CIAT Neil Palmer sml

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 10, 2012 (IPS)

Land is the missing element at next month’s big U.N. sustainable development summit known as Rio+20, where nations of the world will meet Jun. 20-22 with the goal of setting a new course to ensure the survival and flourishing of humanity.

However, governments are apparently unaware that a reversal of decades of land reform is underway with speculators, investment banks, pension funds and other powerful financial interests taking control of perhaps 200 million hectares of land from poor farmers in Africa, Latin America and Asia in recent years. Speculators and investors know land is the key to three necessities of life: food, water and energy. But neither land nor community land rights are on the summit agenda.

“Rural people are losing control over land and water because of this global land grab,” said Honduran farmer leader Rafael Alegria of the international farmers’ movement La Via Campesina.

Anywhere from 80 to 227 million hectares of rural, often agrarian land have been taken over by private and corporate interests in recent years, according to an April report released by Friends of the Earth International.

Many small land holders are being displaced in Central America and up to 40 percent of Honduran small farmers live in extreme poverty, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation, Alegria told IPS through a translator.

Read the rest of this entry »

Carbon Emissions: Most Important Number in Human History

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terrifying co2 graph

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Dec 17 2012 (IPS) (Re-posted)

The most important number in history is now the annual measure of carbon emissions. That number reveals humanity’s steady billion-tonne by billion-tonne march to the edge of the carbon cliff, beyond which scientists warn lies a fateful fall to catastrophic climate change.

With the global total of climate-disrupting emissions likely to come in at around 52 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes) this year, we’re already at the edge, according to new research.

To have a good chance of staying below two degrees C of warming, global emissions should be between 41 and 47 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2020, said Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Switzerland’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich.

Only when we see the annual global emissions total decline will we know we’re making the shift to climate protection,” Rogelj told IPS.

Making the shift to a future climate with less than two degrees C of warming is doable and not that expensive if total emissions peak in the next few years and fall into the 41-47 Gt “sweet spot” by 2020, Rogelj and colleagues show in their detailed analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The study is the first to comprehensively quantify the costs and risks of emissions surpassing critical thresholds by 2020.

This shift means 65 percent of existing coal power plants will have to be shut down in the next decade or two. Read the rest of this entry »

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