Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

Discovering Global Environmental Interconnections

Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category

Who Wants a Sustainable, Pollution-Free New York by 2030?

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Wind turbines on the Tug Hill plateau in upstate New York

Wind turbines on the Tug Hill plateau in upstate New York

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 19 2013 (IPS)

As usual, midtown Manhattan is packed with whisper-quiet cars and trams while thousands walk the streets listening to the birds of spring sing amongst the gleaming, grime-free skyscrapers in the crystal-clear morning air.

Welcome to New York City in April 2030.

I think the public will be 100 percent behind this, if they know about it.

This is not a fantasy. It is a perfectly doable goal, said Stanford University energy expert Mark Jacobson. In fact, the entire state of New York could be powered by wind, water and sunlight based on a detailed plan Jacobson co-authored.

It’s not only doable, powering New York on green energy is “sustainable and inexpensive” and would save lives and health costs, Jacobson told IPS.

Each year, air pollution kills 4,000 people in New York State and costs the public 33 billion dollars in health costs, according to the study Jacobson co-authored with experts from all over the U.S. It will be published in the journal Energy Policy.

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Canadian Police/Spy Service Considers Environmentalists Threats to National Security

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Man w picture of grandchild to be arrested for protesting against  tar sands expansion, Ottawa, Canadat to

Man w picture of grandchild to be arrested for protesting against tar sands expansion, Ottawa, Canada

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 20 2013 (IPS) 

Canada’s police and security agencies think citizens concerned about the environment are threats to national security, and some are under surveillance, documents reveal.

The RCMP, the national police force, and Canada’s spy agency CSIS are increasingly conflating terrorism and extremism with peaceful citizens exercising their democratic rights to organise petitions, protest and question government policies, said Jeffrey Monaghan, a researcher with the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Protests and opposition to Canada’s resource-based economy, especially oil and gas production, are now viewed as threats to national security, Monaghan said. This conclusion is based on official security documents obtained under freedom of information laws over the last five years.

Full Story here.

Written by Stephen

05/11/2013 at 7:10 am

“We’re all scared…But we must tell the truth” — Experts Fear Collapse of Global Civilisation

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terrifying co2 graph

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 11 2013 (IPS)

Experts on the health of our planet are terrified of the future. They can clearly see the coming collapse of global civilisation from an array of interconnected environmental problems.

“We’re all scared,” said Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University.

“But we must tell the truth about what’s happening and challenge people to do something to prevent it,” Ehrlich told IPS.

Global collapse of human civilisation seems likely, write Ehrlich and his partner Anne Ehrlich in the prestigious science journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society.

This collapse will take the form of a “…gradual breakdown because famines, epidemics and resource shortages cause a disintegration of central control within nations, in concert with disruptions of trade and conflicts over increasingly scarce necessities”, they write.

Already two billion people are hungry today. Food production is humanity’s biggest industry and is already being affected by climate and other environmental problems. “No civilisation can avoid collapse if it fails to feed its population,” the authors say.

Escalating climate disruption, ocean acidification, oceanic dead zones, depletion of groundwater and extinctions of plants and animals are the main drivers of the coming collapse, they write in their peer-reviewed article “Can a collapse of global civilisation be avoided?” published this week.

Dozens of earth systems experts were consulted in writing the 10-page paper that contains over 160 references.

“We talked to many of the world’s leading experts to reflect what is really happening,” said Ehrlich, who is an eminent biologist and winner of many scientific awards.

Our reality is that current overconsumption of natural resources and the resulting damage to life-sustaining services nature provides means we need another half of a planet to keeping going. And that’s if all seven billion remain at their current living standards, the Ehrlichs write.

If everyone lived like a U.S. citizen, another four or five planets would be needed.

Global population is projected to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050. It doesn’t take an expert to conclude that collapse of civilisation will be unavoidable without major changes.

We’re facing a future where billions will likely die, and yet little is being done to avoid certain disaster, he said.

“Policy makers and the public aren’t terrified about this because they don’t have the information or the knowledge about how our planet functions,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »

Pollution as big a health problem as malaria or TB, finds report

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Haina, Dominican Republic - Children are developmentally impaired as a result of lead poisoning

Haina, Dominican Republic – Children are developmentally impaired as a result of lead poisoning

Industrial pollutants harm the health of 125 million people,

many of whom live in the developing world and work in mining

Stephen Leahy

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 October 2012 12.30 BST

Waste from mining, lead smelters, industrial dumps and other toxic sites affects the health of an estimated 125 million people in 49 low- and middle-income countries. This unrecognised health burden is on the scale of malaria or tuberculosis (TB), a new report has found.

This year’s World’s worst pollution problems (pdf) report was published on Tuesday by the Blacksmith Institute in partnership with Green Cross Switzerland. It documents, for the first time, the public health impact of industrial pollutants – lead, mercury, chromium, radionuclides and pesticides – in the air, water and soil of developing countries.

“This is an extremely conservative estimate,” said Bret Ericson of the Blacksmith Institute, a small international NGO based in New York City. “We’ve investigated 2,600 toxic sites in the last four years, [but] we know there are far more.”

The US has an estimated 100,000-300,000 toxic sites, mainly factories or industrial areas, but toxic sites in the low- and middle-income countries assessed in the report are often in residential areas. “We see a lot of disease when we go into these communities,” said Ericson. “But we were surprised the health burden was so high – as much as malaria.”

Click to read full story:  Pollution as big a health problem as malaria or TB, finds report | Global development | guardian.co.uk.

Help Wanted: 27 Planet Earths

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This story was featured on the IPS wire and on the Al Jazeera network in 2011. It shows that national parks, conservation and protected areas do not and cannot halt the decline in biodiversity that is humanity’s life support system. It is hopeless without addressing the root causes: too many of us, taking too much and having too big of an impact. On our present course we’ll need 27 planet Earths by 2050 experts conclude. — Stephen 

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jul 29, 2011 (IPS)

Protecting bits of nature here and there will not prevent humanity from losing our life support system. Even if areas dedicated to conserving plants, animals, and other species that provide Earth’s life support system increased tenfold, it would not be enough without dealing with the big issues of the 21st century: population, overconsumption and inefficient resource use.

Without dealing with those big issues, humanity will need 27 planet Earths by 2050, a new study estimates.

The size and number of protected areas on land and sea has increased dramatically since the 1980s, now totaling over 100,000 in number and covering 17 million square kilometres of land and two million square kilometres of oceans, a new study reported Thursday.

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But impressive as those numbers look, all indicators reveal species going extinct faster than ever before, despite all the additions of new parks, reserves and other conservation measures, according to the studypublished in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

“It is amazing to me that we haven’t dealt with this failure of protected areas to slow biodiversity losses,” said lead author Camilo Mora of University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“We were surprised the evidence from the past 30 years was so clear,” Mora told IPS. Read the rest of this entry »

Governments Fail to Take Steps to Steer Away From Looming Crisis

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ttfiscal carbon cliff

Rio+20 should have been about life, about the future of our children”

By Stephen Leahy

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 19 2012 (IPS)

“Very disappointing.” That was the term business and non-governmental organisations used to describe the formal intergovernmental negotiations at the Rio+20 Earth Summit as of Tuesday.

With overwhelming scientific evidence showing that the Earth’s ability to support human life is at serious risk, the Rio+20 summit is being held to help chart a safe course that will steer away from disaster and bring a better future people around the globe.

After two years, negotiators from more than 190 nations agreed Tuesday to a 49-page draft of the document “The Future We Want”, intended to be the roadmap for this transformation. This document will be presented to heads of states in Rio de Janeiro to revise and finalise by the summit’s conclusion on Friday.

Yet the draft document leaves out a 30-billion-dollar fund proposed by a group of developing countries known as the G77 to finance the transition to a green economy. Nor does it define tangible Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will be substituted for the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015.

“This (the revised text) is extremely disappointing….There is no vision, no money and really no commitments here,” said Lasse Gustavsson, head of the Rio+20 delegation from WWF International, which works to stop environmental degradation worldwide.

Rio+20 should have been about life, about the future of our children, of our grandchildren. It should have been about forest, rivers, lakes, oceans that we are all depending on for our food, water and energy security,” Gustavsson told TerraViva.

Instead, two years of work have resulted in merely a long document that commits to virtually nothing but more meetings, he said.Rio+20 logo

“This document is a great disappointment. There’s no ambition and little reference to the planetary boundaries we face,” said Kiara Worth, representing the U.N.’s Major Group on Children and Youth at Rio+20.

“The voices of civil society and future generations is going unheard. We ought to call this Rio minus 20 because we are going backwards,” Worth told TerraViva. Read the rest of this entry »

“We Should be Shaking in Our Boots” – UN Environment Official

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Construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, Brazil -- sml Photo by Hans Silvester

Earth’s Ability to Support Us At Risk – An Indictment of Governments We Elected

By Stephen Leahy

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 19 2012 (IPS)

The science is crystal clear: humans are threatening Earth’s ability to support mankind, and a new world economy is urgently needed to prevent irreversible decline, said scientists and other experts at an event on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

Yet the Global Environment Outlook report, or GEO 5, which was launched on June 6 and assessed 90 of the most important environmental objectives, found that significant progress had been made only in four in the 20 years since the first landmark summit in Rio in 1992.

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said the results of GEO 5 were “depressing, even to me”.

“This ought to have us shaking in our boots,” Steiner told TerraViva at the Fair Ideas conference that concluded Sunday. ”It is an indictment of our behaviour over the past 20 years and of the governments we elected. We need an honest conversation about why we are not turning things around.”rio banner sml

Instead, “what’s happening right now in the RioCentro (Rio+20 official site) is that science is being picked out of the text of the final agreement,” Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, told the conference.

Rockström said he had received updates from the negotiations that the United States and some of the world’s least developed countries were attacking the science showing humanity is pushing up against “planetary boundaries”.

Climate is only one of those “planetary boundaries”. Another is the ongoing decline of biodiversity, where so many plants and animals are going extinct that the Earth’s living systems, upon which humanity depends, are unravelling. Fresh water is another planetary boundary. Water is a limited resource, yet water use has increased six-fold in the past century.

“The science is absolutely clear: we are up against the edges of the planet’s ability to support us and approaching irreversible tipping points,” Rockström said. Read the rest of this entry »

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