The Most Important Environmental Stories of 2016
by Maureen Nandini Mitra – December 28, 2016
The past year brought a lot to agonize about, but also some news to cheer and draw inspiration from
It’s been quite a year. I wouldn’t put 2016 down as a particularly great trip around sol, but it has definitely been an eventful, historic year. As we began drawing our annual tally of the most important environmental stories of the year at the Journal, it was hard to look past the dark cloud cast on our movement by the recent election. But look past we did, and we found that it’s been a mixed bag — while the year offered us much grim news, there have also been and some positive, inspiring events and developments that remind us that all hope is never lost. Here’s our list of the most important stories of 2016. These stories aren’t necessarily headline-grabbers, but they are likely to have long-term impacts on the environment, on us, and on our fellow living beings.
The Upset Victory of Donald Trump
Photo by Tony Webster Trump's election has been a major setback to the environmental movement. We have to gear up for at least four years of vigorous battles to protect our lands and waters.
The unexpected victory of climate change denying Donald Trump has definitely been a major setback for the environmental movement in the US. There’s a high chance that many of the environmental protections we have fought so hard for in the past might get rolled back. At immediate risk are Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate accord, and the powers of the EPA. Trump has also prioritized removing restrictions against coal, oil, and natural gas extraction and reviving “vital energy infrastructure projects” like the Keystone XL pipeline. Given the fossil fuel execs and climate deniers Trump has been tapping for key positions in his administration, the coming years are sure to bring increased federal leasing of lands for fossil fuel extraction, cuts to clean energy research programs, and fewer protections for critical lands and ecosystems.
Looks like, come January, we have to gear up for at least four years of vigorous battles to protect our lands and waters.
President Obama bans oil drilling in large areas of Atlantic and Arctic oceans
Hundreds of kayaktivists protest drilling in the Arctic and the Port of Seattle being used as a port for the Shell Oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer (Daniella Beccaria/seattlepi.com via Associated Press)
President Obama moved to solidify his environmental legacy Tuesday by withdrawing hundreds of millions of acres of federally owned land in the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean from new offshore oil and gas drilling.
Obama used a little-known law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to protect large portions of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic and a string of canyons in the Atlantic stretching from Massachusetts to Virginia. In addition to a five-year moratorium already in place in the Atlantic, removing the canyons from drilling puts much of the eastern seaboard off limits to oil exploration even if companies develop plans to operate around them.
Read more >>>
Watersheds Lost Up to 22% of Their Forests in 14 Years. Here’s How it Affects Your Water Supply
by Yiyuan Qin and Todd Gartner - August 30, 2016
Drought in Sao Paulo. Flooding in the Himalayas. And pollution in Sumatra. These three distinct water crises have a common cause—degradation in forests.
That’s because upstream forests, wetlands and other “natural infrastructure” play a critical role in supplying clean water downstream. They stabilize soil and reduce erosion, regulate water flow to mitigate floods and droughts, and purify water. Yet the world’s watersheds lost 6 percent of their tree cover on average from 2000-2014, putting citizens at risk of losing their water supplies.
On the Yangtze River at Badong, China. Photo by Bernd Thaller/Flickr.
Who Can Use GFW Water?
GFW Water allows anyone with internet access, regardless of expertise, to visualize critical watershed information and threats, and screen for cost-effective, sustainable natural infrastructure solutions. For example:
- Downstream utilities, municipalities, businesses and others who make infrastructure investments can identify risks and explore natural infrastructure options and find information to improve operations and protect water at a lower cost.
- Finance and development institutions can gather data, explore trends and gain insights about the regions they support to develop a pipeline of investable opportunities to enhance water security and bolster economic development.
- Researchers and civil society can use data to support their projects and find the information needed to advance their research and campaigns to protect watersheds.
Global Forest Watch (GFW) Water, a global mapping tool and database launched today, examines how forest loss, fires, unsustainable land use and other threats to natural infrastructure affect water security throughout the world. GFW Water provides data sets, statistics and risk scores for all of the world’s 230 watersheds, areas of land where all of the water drains to a common outlet such as a river. Users can drop a pin anywhere to learn about the risks to the water supply near them, and find resources on how investing in natural infrastructure protection can help alleviate these threats.
Findings from GFW Water reveal some of the watersheds most threatened by forest loss, fires and erosions:
Recent Forest Loss in Sumatra, Indonesia Watershed
As forests are cut down or converted to other land uses, their ability to regulate flow and purify water diminishes, putting communities at risk of flood, drought, higher water treatment costs and greater incidence of drinking water contamination.
The watershed of Sumatra, Indonesia experienced the most forest loss from 2000-2014, losing more than 22 percent of its forest cover (8 million hectares, or an area about the size of South Carolina). Research shows that agricultural expansion, logging and infrastructure extension as a result of expanding global markets for pulp, timber and oil palm are among the major drivers. Forest clearing in the region has intensified floods, landslides, fires and water pollution.
What’s good for the planet is good for health
Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO
El Houssaine Louardi, Minister of Health, Morocco
Hakima El Haite, Minister of the Environment, Morocco
11 November 2016
Dr Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO
Stop and take a breath. No matter where you live in the world, the chances are great that the air filling your lungs is polluted. Worldwide, roughly 9 out of 10 people live in places where air quality levels exceed the World Health Organization’s safe limits.
Unfortunately, the air we breathe is getting worse not better. Between 2008 and 2013, air pollution levels increased by 8% among cities that monitored air pollution globally. Every year an estimated 6.5 million people die from lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke and heart disease associated with air pollution.
The devastating consequences of air pollution affect both the climate and health. They are seen everywhere from smog-encircled mega-cities to village dwellings filled with smoke from indoor cooking. Yet virtually all air pollution is man-made - and often excessive.
Climate change compromises the essential prerequisites for good health - safe water, secure shelter and food security. Without them tens of thousands of lives are needlessly lost each year. Between 2030 and 2050, WHO estimates climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from undernutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.
From Turkey: A social ecology challenge to environmentalism
From social ecologist Cagrideniz Eryilmaz in Turkey:
Social Ecology Challenges Environmentalism: HES Opposition Cases in Turkey
I have completed a sociology dissertation aiming to analyze environmental grassroots movements in Turkey within a frame of social ecology. Hundreds of local movements rose against the construction of thousands of HES (hydroelectric power plants) in the last few years. HES opposition shows new and unique aspects challenging traditional ‘environmentalism’ in Turkey. Except for the Bergama movement (against a gold mining company, 1990-2005), this was the first time local people developed such numerous grassroots movements throughout the country. Local people, who had not joined any protests in their lives, became pioneers of protest, voicing new slogans like “we will resist for our right to live until the end.” Not only did they join the environmental movement but they also used concepts of ‘rights of nature’ and ‘living space’ for the first time. The unique difference between traditional urban environmentalism and these local grassroots activities pushed me to write this thesis after years of professional Environmental NGO (ENGO) experience in several areas of Turkey.
Social ecology is necessary in order to analyze this movement, especially through environment/nature and environmentalism/ecology dualities. Only the critique of liberal environmentalism and the radical proposals of Libertarian Municipalism (LM) can uncover dominant urban environmentalism and analyze the significance of the rising environmental grassroots in Turkey. Beyond the scope of social movement literature, social ecological analysis provides insights for the environmental grassroots in terms of ideology, economics, politics, activities, and forms of organization that challenge domination.
Turkey’s Map of Environmental Injustices is now online!
Posted by Sonia Goicoechea on December 9th, 2013
By Begum Ozkaynak and BOG – Bogazici University- EJOLT team
“The Map of Environmental Injustices in Turkey” that we have been engaged in as EJOLT-Turkey, with the Political Ecology Working Group in Istanbul, went online at www.direncevre.org (in Turkish) on October 19, 2013.
While still in its preliminary stages and incomplete, it incorporates some 100 well-known environmental resistance movements as reported by local activists and scholars. The good news is, just after its launch, both the map and its website have generated many likes on Facebook and legions of twitter followers, and also received substantial nationwide media coverage (see the list below with links).
While many of the reported cases in the map focus on water conflicts (e.g. access to water, dam construction, wetlands), several are about mining activities, industrial activities and mega-infrastructure projects, and others address energy production (e.g. coal, nuclear). It is hoped that the compilation and analysis of these cases, coupled with simultaneous exploration of the change in material and energy flows in Turkey, will provide a basic yet arguably very important step toward informing national public debate on the structure of growth and the distribution of risks, benefits and costs within the development and environment nexus.
Water management in Europe faces rising challenges as ecosystems weaken
Water pollution and excessive water use are still harming ecosystems, which are indispensable to Europe’s food, energy, and water supplies. To maintain water ecosystems, farming, planning, energy and transport sectors need to actively engage in managing water within sustainable limits.
Water is finite, and cannot continue to absorb limitless amounts of pollution without damaging the resources and ecosystems we rely on.
Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director
‘European waters – current status and future challenges’ brings together findings from nine other European Environment Agency (EEA) reports published during the course of 2012 and early 2013. The report shows a mixed picture for the status of Europe’s water bodies, while the findings are worrying when it comes to ecosystems' ability to deliver essential services.
Strong ecosystems should be maintained, partly because they provide vital services which are often overlooked, the report says. For example, restoring a wetland is not only good for biodiversity but also water filtration, water retention and flood prevention. Although essential, these services are not accounted for in current financial and economic systems.
“Water is finite, and cannot continue to absorb limitless amounts of pollution without damaging the resources and ecosystems we rely on,” Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said. “Farmers, planners and companies need to cooperate more, to make sure that the combined pressures on ecosystems do not pass harmful limits.”
8 - 10 June 2012
ECOFEST ISTANBUL is a culture, arts and social responsibility project aimed at developing a broader environmental public awareness concerning nature friendly and sustainable living culture in many fields of life from manufacture to design, energy to nutrition, through inspiring and innovative artistic events that will take place from 8 to 10 June.
Bringing together environmentally sensitive disciplines and sectors, ECOFEST ISTANBUL events and fair booths will be based primarily at KüçükÇiftlik Park, but will also spread to the streets of Nisantasi. These include thematic concerts, open kitchen and taste activities, ecological fashion shows, workshops for kids, recycled art works, installations, street events and many other festivities.
While much of Europe is still suffering the effects of economic recession, a new report argues that efforts to increase prosperity should not damage the environment. Indeed, Europe’s economy depends on a healthy environment, including the materials and services provided by the natural world, according to the new edition of Signals from the European Environment Agency (EEA).
Signals is an annual publication which aims to explain complex environmental issues for a non-expert audience. The 2012 edition explores the environmental impacts of our consumption and production patterns, and ways these can be changed to reduce their effect on the environment. This subject was chosen because it is a significant component of a ‘green economy’, one of the main focuses of the Rio+20 sustainable development Summit which will take place in Rio de Janeiro later this month.
"Almost all environmental problems, from climate change to the extinction of species, can be traced back to the way we consume natural resources," EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade said. "Europe is currently at a turning point, where we have the opportunity to move towards a more equitable, greener economic model. Changing the way we live, produce and consume will open a whole world of new opportunities."