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Growing Climate Migration Threatens Livestock Farmers in Zimbabwe’s Highlands

Refugees from the lowlands are settling on areas reserved for livestock pastures, wetlands, and even river banks

Ernest Munyama, a smallholder livestock and crop farmer in eastern Zimbabwe’s Mpudzi Resettlement area, looks weary and apprehensive. His herd of cattle dwindling fast as grazing land is becoming scarce in this part of the country. Munyama blames the dwindling pastures on the ballooning number of people migrating from the region’s lower dry areas to the Eastern Highlands in search of good soils, water, and pastures.

farmers walk through banana fieldphoto courtesy of Andrew Mambondiyani/Thomson Reuters Foundation A banana field in Zimbabwe’s Buma Valley in the Eastern Highlands. Increasingly unpredictable rainfall in the lowlands has led to an influx of climate refugees in the region.

Mpudzi Resettlement area is part of the country’s Eastern Highlands in Manicaland province which stretch from Nyanga district in the north down to Chipinge district in the south, along Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique.

In the past several decades, rainfall has become increasingly unpredictable in Zimbabwe and it has suffered through about 10 droughts since the 1980s. The last one was in 2015-16, was induced by an El Nino effect, which is caused by warming of ocean currents off the South American coast that leads to below normal rain patterns and above normal temperatures in specific regions of the world. In fact, according to the country’s meteorological department, Zimbabwe is now facing another climate change-induced drought in coming months.

Zimbabwe has certainly been feeling the impacts of climate change for while now. The country’s average daily temperature in the country has risen by about 2°C over the past century, according to meteorological reports and the country has. The rains have become so erratic in some parts of the country that the United Nations Development Program predicts that agricultural production could decrease by up to 30 percent. About 80 percent of rural Zimbabweans (nearly three-quarters of the country’s population) depend on rain-fed agriculture for a living, making them highly vulnerable to more extreme weather associated with climate change

The country’s Eastern Highlands, however, still have cooler weather conditions, good rainfall, rich vegetation and good soils — all of which is favorable to fruit and vegetable production. On account of these, the Eastern Highlands are turning into a melting pot with thousands of people migrating from the country’s drier areas.

“Climate change may be a cause of internal migration due to the change of rainfall patterns in other areas, plus poor management of underground water systems in other areas,” said Peter Makwanya, climate change researcher and lecturer at the Zimbabwe …more

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A Deadly Pig Disease is Spreading Around the World

Swine fever has made its way into China, home to half the world’s pigs. Farmers in Estonia are already counting the cost

Ott Saareväli, the owner of a pig farm in Lääne county in Estonia, is starting all over again. In September last year, government vets diagnosed an outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) in a section of the farm where pregnant sows are held ahead of farrowing. It made no difference that the outbreak had been limited to one area – all seven thousand of his pigs would have to be slaughtered immediately.

two pigsphoto by Adam Chandler The current outbreak in central and eastern Europe began in January 2014, when cases were first reported in Lithuania, swiftly followed by outbreaks in Poland in February, and in Latvia and Estonia in June and September that year. This time the spread has been far more rapid despite considerable biosecurity efforts.

“We have the strictest biosecurity measures here, and still no one is quite sure how the disease got in – it may have been a truck that wasn’t washed properly after visiting an infected farm,” says Saareväli. “But if you find just one pig, then everything has to go.”

In the wake of the diagnosis, the outhouse used for storing dead pigs was piled high with more than 200 carcasses from the affected section, some of which had been rotting for more than a week. Many of the carcasses had burst open, spilling out dozens of dead piglets. They would all have to be removed by hand, which even some of Saareväli’s most experienced farmhands could not bring themselves to do. The thousands of remaining, healthy pigs would be loaded into special lorries where they would be gassed. The killing process took a little over a week.

“It was emotionally very difficult for everyone,” says Saareväli. “The worst thing was the silence after the last pig was gassed. Pig farms are noisy places, but here it was completely silent.”

This is not the first time Europe has been struck by ASF. In 1957, it was introduced into Portugal, reportedly after infected airline food was fed as swill to pigs near Lisbon airport. The disease spread to Spain and France and took until the 1990s to eradicate through concerted surveillance and culling. In southern Spain, where ticks acted as an additional reservoir, old-fashioned farm buildings were destroyed and replaced with modern facilities to keep ticks out. “There was a major effort to eradicate it,” says Linda Dixon, a cell biologist who works on ASF at the UK’s Pirbright Institute.


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A Tale of Two Whales

A trip to Baja California drives home the perils of irresponsible whale watching

Ever since I watched David Attenborough’s face light up with glee at the sight of a blue whale on the BBC’s Life of Mammals series, I have harbored a not-so-secret ambition to see the largest mammal on Earth. Baja California in Mexico offers a rare chance to live that dream; this peninsula descends from the border with the United States, its coast studded with islands and sandbars. Endangered blue whales come here every winter to feed and reproduce. It should be perfect whale-watching territory. But when I finally got there last year, a nautical nightmare involving gray whales tarnished the whole experience.

 photo of whalePhoto by Philip BouchardWell regulated whale watching trips can benefit wildlife and humans alike, but poorly regulated ones can cause harm to whales. 

Blue whale-watching trips center around Loreto Bay on the east coast of the peninsula, about 700 miles south of Tijuana. Early in the morning on the day of our tour, we motored into the beautiful bay around Isla Carmen. We waited, anticipation mounting, but the glittering waters of the Sea of Cortez remained stubbornly whale-free. Just as our hopes were fading, there was an exhalation next to the boat, so loud that it made us jump.

And there it was — Attenborough’s blue whale. The blowhole appeared first, followed by a plume of whale breath that shot straight into the sky. The whale’s unfeasibly huge back cut through the water, nearly 100 feet of it, going on and on, until the tiny dorsal fin appeared. We got a hint of the fluke before the whale vanished. This sequence was repeated several times before the whale initiated a deep diving sequence. We cheered, we whooped, we almost cried.        

By this time, a flotilla of boats had caught up to us. They raced off towards a spout nearer the shoreline, but within a few hundred feet of the whales, the captains killed their speed, as required by law. There was good reason for that caution. Approaching whales too quickly, coming too close or making too much noise can stress or even harm these marine mammals. In fact, a government spotting boat, complete with red awning and Mexican crest, was watching us. Anyone that breached the rules risked losing their license.

Like most countries that offer whale-watching tours, Mexico too, has regulations to protect whales from over-eager tourists and their guides. These laws also make for better whale watching. Our experience was …more

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How an Ohio Family Surrounded by Shale Gas Plants Forced Companies to Curb Pollution

The Youngs are among 3.25 million Ohioans living within half a mile of oil and gas plants

Leann Leiter co-authored this article with Tyler Rivlin of Earthworks

Allen Young and his family are surrounded. They can see three sizeable natural gas plants — operated by Dominion and Energy Transfer Partners — without taking a step off their property. Over the past three years, these facilities have taken over the boomerang-shaped ridge less than a half-mile from the Young’s home in Powhatan Point, Ohio.

Fracking well explosionphoto courtesy of A shale gas well exploded in February close to where the Young's live in Belmont County, Ohio.

Soon after the compressor stations went into operation, Allen, his wife, and two children noticed unsettling changes. Their previously fresh air often smelled, they were plagued by noise from engines and machinery, and the whole family experienced frequent headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, nosebleeds, and other respiratory symptoms. Concerned for his family’s health and wellbeing, Allen attempted to resolve these issues by reporting them directly to the sites’ operators for over three years — but to no avail. He’d even called and written to Dominion about the ongoing problems. Citing the plethora of gas companies in the area and the lack of “evidence” that Dominion was the one responsible for the problems, the company wrote back: “Dominion is declining your claim.”

Fortunately, the Young’s haven’t given up. Along with other Ohio residents, Allen is using an important avenue for action: submitting complaints to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). Recently, Earthworks has teamed up with Ohio residents like Allen to pressure these public agencies to do their jobs and hold companies accountable for fixing problems and ending the pollution they create.

Through the Community Empowerment Project, Earthworks offers tools and support to residents like Allen who live on the frontlines of oil and gas development. It uses a specialized camera that allows users to see and document the air pollution endemic to facilities like the Dominion and ETP compressors. This technology, called Optical Gas Imaging (OGI), makes visible this normally invisible pollution, and is the same technology used by regulators like the Ohio EPA. After Allen saw OGI footage of the emissions he and his family were exposed to every day, he decided to start submitting formal complaints to the Ohio EPA.

A complaint is a way of officially reporting problems or concerns to regulators. Ohio EPA rules require that the agency investigate and respond to complaints from …more

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Bug Off!

As climate change creates new habitat for mosquitoes, it’s time to protect yourself and your furry friends

It’s another stifling summer day in Boulder, Colorado, winding down into a still, humid evening. During my daily evening walk with my dog, we turn toward a wooded bike path, hoping the shade will offer some relief. My rough collie, with his thick double coat, is as grateful as I am to get out of the sun. A friend’s Labrador likes to take a swim in a nearby shallow canal.

 photo of dam in LaosPhoto by ASCOM Prefeitura de VotuporangaResearch shows that climate change is allowing mosquitoes to spread to new regions as they warm. 

As we get closer to the canal, the onslaught begins — mosquitoes. They have everything they need right here: plenty of water, heavy undergrowth, and a steady stream of runners, bikers, and dog-walkers. This is the perfect habitat for them, and they seem to be making the most of it. Even through the fabric of my t-shirt, I can feel the bites. The bugs quickly home in on the dog’s head and snout. My friend’s black lab fares even worse, thanks to his short, dark fur.

According to the City of Boulder, 2018 has been an exceptional year for mosquito activity. Though mosquitoes are usually just a mild annoyance in our high, dry climate, so far the city has recorded almost twice the numbers seen in 2017, and three times the average. 

Across the US, however, 2018 hasn’t been an anomalous mosquito year, but even under normal conditions, skeeters can be one of summer’s most annoying features. They can also be dangerous. Mosquitos carry a range of diseases in the US, including West Nile Virus, and less commonly, malaria, dengue, and Zika. And they are likely to become even more annoying across much of the country. Research shows that climate change is allowing mosquitoes — as well as other disease-bearers like ticks — to spread to new regions as they warm. The risk of disease transmission from mosquitoes also increases in warmer temperatures, specifically, when temperatures are between 61 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit. As you may have guessed, the number of so called “danger days” where temperatures fall within this range are also increasing in the US.

“Spending plenty of time outside, whether in your backyard, on the beach or on a family camping trip, is important,” David Andrews, senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. “By taking a few simple steps, you can spend more time enjoying the outdoors …more

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How Many Dam Bursts Are Too Many?

Many nations are counting on hydropower to meet growing energy needs even as climate change is likely to increase risks

This week, a breach of the Swar Chaung dam in central Myanmar forced an estimated 50,000 people from their homes and flooded the country’s main highway. The dam, located in Bago region, overflowed as the result of this year’s particularly generous monsoon, which has already flooded crops in south and central Myanmar and displaced 150,000 people.

 photo of dam in LaosPhoto by Asian Development BankClimate scientists are predicting that increased rainfall will be one of the most unpredictable and potentially catastrophic effects of climate change. It follows that flooding and dam breaches could become more common. (Pictured: Nakai Dam in Laos)

Catastrophic weather events caused by monsoonal overpour are becoming everyday news in south and southeast Asia, with 2017 bringing devastating floods to India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, causing more than 1,000 deaths. Just last month, the collapse of the Xe-Pian Nam Noy hydroelectric dam in Laos killed 35 people and displaced thousands more, including communities in neighbouring Cambodia who were not told about the disaster.

At the time of writing, the death toll of monsoonal flooding in Kerala stands at 445. Emergency workers and the 225,000 displaced people sheltered in displacement camps are breathing a sigh of relief that the  Mullaperiyar and Idukki dams didn’t burst, which they would have had the rains continued. Thirty-five of Kerala’s fifty-four dams were opened for the first time in history and the low lying coastal state remains on red alert.

Climate scientists are predicting that increased rainfall will be one of the most unpredictable and potentially catastrophic effects of a warming climate. The distribution of rainfall throughout the year is likely to alter, meaning longer dry spells and more intense monsoons. It follows that we will likely see more flooding and more dam breaches (and collapses) in the coming years. Yet hydroelectric dam policies are proceeding largely unabated in the developing world while their potential risks in a changing climate are poorly understood.

photo of woman displaced by damphoto by Fiona McAlpineA dam-displaced woman in Sarawak. New dams can displace entire communities, and flooding caused by dam breaches poses a serious danger to downstream communities. 

These policies are particularly disturbing considering mega-dams are a huge contributor to global carbon emissions through the methane produced by decomposing organic material at the bottom of reservoirs (which …more

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California Lawmakers Move State Towards 100 Percent Carbon-Free Electricity

Bill passed by Assembly would require complete shift to clean energy by 2045

California has given fossil fuel-derived energy a hefty shove towards obsolescence after legislators voted to require that 100 percent of the state’s electricity come from carbon-free sources.

 photo of solar panelsPhoto by Randy Montoya / Sandia Labs The clean energy bill passed by the California Assembly on Tuesday still needs to be approved by the state senate and Governor Jerry Brown.

The bill, which will need to be approved by the state senate and Governor Jerry Brown, will require a complete shift to clean energy such as solar and wind by 2045. It would also demand that electric utilities source 60 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030, up from the current target of 50 percent.

California ridding itself entirely of carbon-intensive energy has been a politically vexed proposition for the past two years, with state Republicans arguing it was unfeasible and would drive up electricity prices.

But the state has emerged as a bastion of defiance to the Trump administration on climate change, among other issues, as it has been scorched by record wildfires and a prolonged drought. A report released this week warned that the state is on course for punishing heatwaves, thousands of additional deaths, and the erosion of two thirds of its coastline due to rising temperatures, wildfires, and sea level rise.

Brown has already set out ambitious goals to expand renewables and the use of electric cars. The state legislature has already passed a law that requires newly built homes to be equipped for solar power. In July, the state announced its greenhouse gas emissions were lower than in 1990, despite a growing economy.

The bill to go 100 percent renewable energy was authored by state senator Kevin de Leon, who called it a “victory for clean air. It’s a victory to tackle climate change and the devastation that it’s leaving in its wake.”

Brown has yet to confirm he will sign the bill. His predecessor as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, wrote to lawmakers to back the legislation and urge them to be “undeterred by those who wish to stop our progress and move backwards.”

California becomes the second US state, after Hawaii, to call for carbon-free electricity by 2045. The clout of the Californian economy could help spur some other states, such as Massachusetts and New Jersey, to do the same.

Environmentalists hailed the vote as a landmark moment.

“This is a pivotal moment for …more

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