Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Communism is ‘beyond’ them, but Chinese still flock to the party

October 21, 2017


© AFP / by Ludovic EHRET | China’s Communist Party boasts an 89 million-strong membership that still attracts people motivated by ideology — and self-interest

BEIJING (AFP) – Marx might struggle to recognise his heirs among the billionaires, skyscrapers and stock exchanges of modern China.But as the country’s ruling Communist Party meets for its twice-a-decade congress this week, it boasts an 89 million-strong membership that still attracts people motivated by ideology — and self-interest.

“When I was younger, in the 1960s, we were told in school that being in the party signified being someone good,” 53-year-old Liu Shimin, a former employee at a state-owned enterprise and long-standing party member, told AFP.

“At the time, you would join it to stand up for socialism.”

“Today, the ideological side of it is a little beyond me. Communism is so vague, no one can say if it will come true.”

The Chinese Communist Party was clandestinely founded in 1921 by about a dozen revolutionaries in Shanghai.

Since coming to power in 1949, the CCP has survived near-destruction during the decade of the Cultural Revolution — which regime founder Mao Zedong launched against his own cadres — and sweeping pro-market economic reforms.

Throughout, Chinese people have continued to join the CCP in great numbers, with today’s membership making it one of the largest political organisations in the world, alongside India’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Communist Party’s membership comprises 6.5 percent of China’s population of almost 1.4 billion people.

But young recruits do not hide their intentions. They join the party not only to participate in national development, but also out of their own self-interest.

– Joining the ‘elite’ –

“At first, I never imagined joining the CCP. I only started thinking about it after university, when I had to find a job,” said Xiao Wei, a 30-year-old Beijinger.

Xiao is employed by the CCP in a residential area. Her work includes relaying instructions; organising public campaigns on fire safety, the environment and health matters; and putting party slogans on display.

“To be a civil servant or work in a state enterprise, it’s almost obligatory to be in the party,” Xiao said. “It’s like a diploma. It opens doors.”

Not just anyone can join: candidates must apply or be recommended, most often by a university professor or their company’s party cell.

Then, a long selection process begins: courses, dissertations, exams, interviews and a probationary period.

At the end, the CCP chooses candidates based on their high education level, political reliability, or ability to bring something extra to the table.

Some are flattered to have received an invitation to join — recognition that they belong to the “elite”.

“Today, some join the party to enter the civil service, to have a better job or to gain respectability. There’s no doubt about it,” prominent pundit Sima Nan told AFP in front of a portrait of Mao hung in his spacious Beijing apartment.

– ‘Eternally grateful’ –

For all that has changed, the Party today still dominates politics, society and the economy, ruling without opposition and with no tolerance for dissent.

“The benefit of the party is its ability to unite the forces of all these people, to mobilise it, to move the country forward and maintain order,” said Sima. “Without the CCP, all this would be very difficult.”

Sima, 61, became a party member in 1980. He saw the first economic reforms and the country’s opening up as “a way to reach communism more quickly”.

Although he believes that that objective is now “very distant”, he is glad to have personally benefited from the party’s accomplishments.

“My family was very poor,” he said. “If the Communist Party had not been in power, I would never have been able to get a scholarship and enroll in university.”

“I am eternally grateful to it.”

by Ludovic EHRET

India: Toxic Firecracker Haze After Festival of Lights in New Delhi in Annual “Brown Out” of Pollution

October 20, 2017


NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Air pollution in New Delhi hit 18 times the healthy limit on Friday under a thick, toxic haze after a night of fireworks to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali – despite a court-ordered ban on their sales.

Residents of the sprawling Indian capital, which already ranks among the world’s most polluted cities, complained of eyes watering and aggravated coughs as levels of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter that reaches deep into the lungs, rose alarmingly.

Air quality usually worsens in New Delhi ahead of Diwali, the festival of lights, and the Supreme Court temporarily banned the sale of firecrackers, aiming to lessen the risk to health.

Two pedestrians on road in New Delhi engulfed in smog from last year
Authorities crack down on pollution in Delhi a few days before the festival of Diwali. AFP photo

But many still lit fireworks across the capital late into the night, either using old stocks or buying them from neighboring states.

Some environment activists said the court order was poorly enforced and firecrackers were still available to celebrate one of north India’s biggest festivals.

“Breathe nitrate and ammonia, home grown, hand made!” said environmentalist Vimlendu Jha in a Twitter post calling for city authorities to declare a public emergency.

An index of air quality had crossed the “hazardous” limit of 300 on Friday, the most severe level on a U.S. embassy scale of measurement which rates a reading of 50 as good and anything above that as a cause for concern.

Some parts of Delhi such as Mandir Marg showed an air quality reading of 941, close enough to the maximum level of 999 beyond which no readings are available. The index measures concentrations of PM 2.5, PM 10, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide among other indicators.

A hazardous level is an alert in which everyone may experience ill effects and are advised to stay indoors.

Apart from the firecracker ban, the Supreme Court also ordered diesel generators and a power plant to be shut down to try to reduce the pollution. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority also ordered some brick kilns to close and a halt to the burning of rubbish.

Traffic on a street in Delhi amid heavy smog in November 2016
If pollution worsens, parking rates within the city could see a price hike. Getty Images

Dipankar Saha, a scientist at the government’s Central Pollution Control Board, said the still weather had also played a part in the toxic haze hanging over the city.

But pollution levels were better than at last year’s Diwali when crop burning in nearby states and firecrackers combined.

“It was going to be hard to beat last year’s level in any case,” he said.

Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani

See also:

India Diwali: Delhi acts against pollution menace


Smog shrouds the Jama Masjid mosque in an old section of New Delhi, which has been called the most polluted city in the world.Credit Dominique Faget/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


Delhi wakes up to better air quality than 2016, but pollution levels far from safe

Despite SC ban on sale of firecrackers in NCR, Delhi celebrated Diwali, dashing the hopes of cracker-free festivities

Overall, Delhi’s air quality index was calculated at 326 which is ‘very poor’, according to the National Air Quality Index (NAQI). Photo: Hindustan Times

Overall, Delhi’s air quality index was calculated at 326 which is ‘very poor’, according to the National Air Quality Index (NAQI). Photo: Hindustan Times

New Delhi: The jury is yet to decide whether Supreme Court’s ban on sale of crackers worked or not, but citizens of Delhi certainly woke up to better air quality on Friday—the morning after Diwali celebrations—compared to last year. However, the air quality was far from satisfactory even this year.

In 2016, Delhi resembled a gas chamber with particulate matter (PM)10 and PM2.5—the two deadliest components of air pollution—at over eight times the safe limit. This year has been slightly better, with PM10 and PM2.5 levels over two and half times the satisfactory level.

But disturbingly, PM10 and PM2.5 levels—during and after Diwali celebrations in some parts of the national capital—went as high as over 24 times and nearly 15 times, respectively, the satisfactory limit even this year.

According to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) of the Union ministry of earth sciences, the levels of PM10 and PM2.5 in Delhi on Friday morning were at “poor” and “very poor” levels respectively. The level of PM10 was 256µg/m³ and PM2.5 was 154µg/m³—over two and half times the satisfactory levels.

The satisfactory limit of PM10 is 100µg/m³ and PM2.5 is 60µg/m³. These fine particles can settle deep in the lungs and be absorbed in the bloodstream, which can lead to respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer.

SAFAR had predicted a few days ago that there will not be a repeat of 2016 this year.

Overall, Delhi’s air quality index was calculated at 326 which is “very poor”, according to the National Air Quality Index (NAQI). As per SAFAR forecast, the air quality is expected to remain “very poor” on Saturday too with PM10 and PM2.5 levels expected to be at 358µg/m³ and 216µg/m³, respectively.

As per NAQI, very poor air quality “may cause respiratory illness to the people on prolonged exposure. Effect may be more pronounced in people with lung and heart diseases”. During such levels, people are advised to use pollution masks and avoid outdoor activities.

This, however, is still far better than 2016 when air quality levels were “severe” and were recorded over eight times the safe limit. In 2016, the day after Diwali, PM10 levels were recorded at severe level of 836.1µg/m³ (over eight times the safe limit) and PM2.5 at 624.2µg/m³ (nearly 10 times the safe limit).

If initial estimates are to go by, the pollution levels of the national capital a day after Diwali are better than 2015 results when PM2.5 levels were 428µg/m³—over seven times the safe limit.

Meanwhile, Delhi’s neighbourhood towns like Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad also did not see the air quality crossing “very poor” level. As per SAFAR, Gurgaon’s air quality index was at 341 (very poor level), while Noida’s air quality was “poor” with its AQI at 299.

Faridabad, as per data of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), too had “very poor” air quality level with AQI at 336. CPCB is India’s nodal pollution watchdog.

Meanwhile, even though the average levels as per SAFAR showed that pollution levels were not alarmingly high, the data recorded by air quality stations of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) showed that levels of PM10 and PM2.5 touched scary levels during and after Diwali celebrations.

Image result for Air pollution in New Delhi, Diwali, photos

For instance, Anand Vihar, which is one of the most polluted areas of the national capital, recorded PM10 at 2,402 µg/m³ early Friday morning (over 24 times the satisfactory limit) and PM2.5 at 626 µg/m³ (over 10 times the satisfactory limit).

Similarly, Mandir Marg area recorded PM10 levels at 1046µg/m³ (over 10 times the satisfactory limit) and PM2.5 at 355µg/m³ (nearly six times the satisfactory limit).

Another area, RK Puram, which regularly witnesses high levels of pollution, recorded PM10 at 1180µg/m³ (nearly 12 times the satisfactory limit) and PM2.5 at 878µg/m³ (nearly 15 times the satisfactory limit) on Thursday night. At 8am on Friday, the area recorded PM2.5 at 925µg/m³, which was nearly 15 times the satisfactory limit.

Now whether the low pollution levels—compared to last year—are due to the apex court’s ban on cracker sale leading to less people bursting crackers, awareness among people, favourable weather conditions or the graded response action plan (GRAP), it is yet to be finalized.

On 9 October, the Supreme Court had banned the sale of crackers in Delhi and NCR area.

smoke billows from two smoke stacks at the coal-based Badarpur Thermal Station in New Delhi.
Coal-powered thermal power plants meet most of India’s energy needs. AFP photo

After the high levels of pollution in Delhi-NCR area, SC had approved GRAP to tackle air pollution in Delhi and adjoining regions. The main objective was to institutionalize measures to tackle air pollution emergencies, giving a clear direction of steps to be taken by central and state authorities. GRAP was then notified by the Union environment ministry in January 2017. It classifies air pollution into four categories in terms of air quality—moderate to poor, very poor, severe, and very severe or emergency.

Moderate to poor is when particulate matter PM 2.5 and PM10 levels are between 61-90g/m3 (microgram per cubic metre) and 101-250g/m3 respectively; very poor is when PM2.5 and PM10 levels are between 121-250g/m3 and 351-430g/m3 respectively; severe is when ambient PM2.5 and PM10 levels are more than 250g/m3 and 430g/m3 respectively; and very severe or emergency is when PM2.5 or PM10 levels are above 300g/m3 and 500g/m3 respectively, and persist for 48 hours or more.

In the last few weeks, several aspects of GRAP have already been set in motion.


Xi Jinping hails ‘new era’ at opening of China congress — Xi now a transformative leader alongside Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong.

October 18, 2017

Party conclave likely to cement president’s status as a transformative leader

China anti-corruption purge hits Central Committee

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, suit and indoor

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the opening session of the Chinese Communist Party’s five-yearly Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 18, 2017. Credit Wang Zhao – AFP – Getty Images

By Tom Mitchell and Lucy Hornby in Beijing
FT (Financial Times)

President Xi Jinping declared that China had “entered a new era” as he opened a landmark Communist party congress that he hopes will cement his status as a transformative leader alongside Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong.

“The Chinese nation now stands tall and firm in the east,” Mr Xi said on Wednesday in Beijing at the opening of the party’s 19th congress, marking the formal start of his second five-year term as party leader. The congress, attended by about 2,300 delegates, will deliberate for one week before Mr Xi’s new party leadership team is revealed on October 24.

In an address that ran for more than three hours and was attended by his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, Mr Xi urged his party colleagues to “work tirelessly to realise the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation” and hailed the economic progress made during his administration’s first term.

Image result for Xi Jinping, young school children sitting at attention in their classrooms, October 18, 2017, photos

President Xi Jinping’s (right) first term line-up was influenced by his predecessors Jiang Zemin (centre) and Hu Jintao. Photo: Reuters

“The Communist party is entering the Xi era,” said Sima Nan, a patriotic blogger. “Mao and Deng’s shadows still loom large, but Xi is his own man.”

As the hours ticked by, pictures circulated on social media showing young school children sitting at attention in their classrooms as they watched the president’s address on television.

Image result for chinese school children sit at attention, photos

AFP Photo

Mr Xi, however, offered little in the way of concrete plans and warned that “severe challenges” awaited China’s ruling party. “We have a long way to go in protecting the environment,” he said as air pollution in the Chinese capital hovered at officially “unhealthy” levels.

This is an era that will see China move closer to the centre of the world and make more contributions to humankind

“The last leg of a journey just marks the halfway point,” Mr Xi added, quoting a Chinese proverb. “Achieving national rejuvenation will be no walk in the park; it will take more than drum beating and gong clanging to get there.”

Upon assuming power in November 2012, Mr Xi declared China’s rejuvenation as one of the world’s great powers to be the “dream” of the Chinese people.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

After a stock market crash and run on China’s currency in late 2015 and early 2016, which marked the low points of Mr Xi’s first term in office, the party’s confidence surged as economic growth stabilised and Europe and the US were rocked by the rise of economic nationalism.

Mr Xi indirectly alluded to these events, most notably Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 US presidential election, in Wednesday’s address.

“China’s cultural soft power and the international influence of Chinese culture have increased significantly,” Mr Xi said. “China’s international standing has risen as never before.”

Mr Xi noted that, during his time in office, China’s annual economic output surged from Rmb54tn to Rmb80tn ($8.2tn-$12tn), accounting for about one-third of total global growth.

“China has seen the basic needs of over 1bn people met,” the president said. He added that an average of 13m new urban jobs had been created each year, while some 60m people have been lifted out of poverty.

The Chinese president also highlighted the accomplishments of his signature anti-corruption campaign, which has ended the careers of more than 150 senior officials including 18 members — or about 9 per cent — of the party’s outgoing Central Committee.

One of the speech’s biggest applause lines was Mr Xi’s pledge to maintain the campaign’s “unstoppable momentum”. He said anti-graft investigators would continue to “take out tigers, swat flies and hunt down foxes”, referring to officials of all ranks and corruption suspects who have fled abroad.

“We have solved many tough problems that were long on the agenda … but never got done,” the president added.

“The focus for Xi has clearly been party-building and cleaning out corruption,” said Andrew Polk at Trivium China, a Beijing-based consultancy. “Everything else has been secondary.”

Mr Xi also outlined a vision for China through the middle of the 21st century, predicting that the world’s most populous nation would be “moderately prosperous” by 2035 and “prosperous, strong and democratic” by 2050. “It will be an era that sees China moving closer to centre stage and making greater contributions to mankind,” he said.

The president’s long-term vision has stoked speculation that he might seek to stay on as party leader beyond the traditional 10-year term.

Additional reporting by Xinning Liu

Australia Retreats on Renewable Power

October 17, 2017

Government junks plans to encourage use of low-emission sources for electricity

CANBERRA, Australia—The Australian government returned coal to the heart of its energy policy, after blaming blackouts and rising power bills on a too-aggressive rollout of renewable sources and a surge in gas exports.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday junked a plan promoted by the country’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, to require power producers to generate a minimum portion of their energy from low-emission sources by 2020.


Where’s the coal-fired power plant, Abbott asks

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott enters the chamber, late for Question Time today. Picture: Gary Ramage
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott enters the chamber, late for Question Time today. Picture: Gary Ramage
  • The Australian

By Simon Benson
The Australian

Tony Abbott has questioned why the government’s much anticipated energy plan has not included a new coal fired power plant, claiming that it was presented as an emissions policy which failed to sharpen the distinction between the Coalition and Labor.

Mr Abbott also accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of not honouring a promise to allow a discussion in the Coalition party room on the politics of the policy.

“It’s good that the government has finally accepted that the Clean Energy Target was always a bad idea,” Mr Abbott told The Australian.

“But Malcolm promised a political discussion in the party room and I’m disappointed that this didn’t go ahead.

“The point I was going to make was that the government had brought forward a good framework but there was a lot that had been left to officials.

“We should sharpen the distinction and make it clear that Labor was for emissions reductions and we were for lower prices by supplementing Snowy 2.0 with Hazelwood 2.0. We had to ensure that Australian coal had a future in Australia by actually getting built a new coal-fired power station”

Following a presentation on the National Energy Guarantee to the party room this morning, Mr Abbott challenged Mr Turnbull over whether the regulator would place a priority on reducing emissions or reducing prices.

An exchange followed in which Mr Abbott said that according to the projections in the policy, unreliable power was going up and reliable power was going down.

He then questioned why Mr Turnbull had placed so much focus on hydro and not coal. The Prime Minister responded by reminding the party room that the government did not own any coal fired power stations.

At around 11.20am, Mr Turnbull tried to wrap up the party room meeting when Mr Abbott rose to his feet again and reminded the Prime Minister he had promised a discussion on the politics of the policy.

Despite reports of a hostile exchange, the Australian has been told that Mr Turnbull simply ignored Mr Abbott’s request for further political discussion and shut down further debate by calling for a vote.

There was an overwhelming majority in support of the policy despite deep reservations among many MPs about its ability to lift the government’s political fortunes or even deliver the savings to households promised.

One MP told The Australian that the policy amounted to a saving of $2 a week on people’s power bills, and even then that could not be guaranteed.

“It is not the panacea that everyone was expecting,” the MP said.

EPA’s Scott Pruitt Announces End of Obama-Era Clean Power Plan Meant to Limit Greenhouse Gas Emissions

October 10, 2017

Clean Power Plan was designed by Obama administration to limit greenhouse gas emissions

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at the White House in June.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at the White House in June. PHOTO: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Trump administration is formally withdrawing federal limits on carbon emissions at power plants, triggering the next stage of what is likely to be a yearslong fight over the government’s centerpiece regulation for slowing climate change.

The move pushes forward on a central pledge of President Donald Trump: a rollback of Obama -era environmental rules he has criticized for harming businesses and coal miners in particular. And it pushes the federal government further away from any effort to combat global warming, following Mr. Trump’s June announcement that he intends to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced in Kentucky that he would sign a proposal Tuesday to reverse the rules. The announcement, made at an event organized by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) in the coal-mining town of Hazard, Ky., confirmed what many had expected for weeks.

President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday that begins the process of reversing climate change policies put in place by President Obama, including his predecessor’s Clean Power Plan. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday has the details. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press (Originally published March 28, 2017)

“Repealing this Obama-era rule would close a chapter of regulatory overreach that set standards without regard to the steep costs or availability of technology necessary to meet them,” Hal Quinn, chief executive of the National Mining Association, said in a statement applauding the decision.

Power-plant emissions are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases, and President Barack Obama’s administration targeted them with limits outlined by the EPA’s Clean Power Plan in 2015. The Obama limits became central to the country’s ability to reduce emissions under the Paris accord.

But Mr. Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax,” ordered a review of the Clean Power Plan in March. The EPA’s review called the plan a legal overreach, and both Mr. Trump and Mr. Pruitt have said it is burdensome to U.S. companies, and an unfair punishment for the fossil-fuel businesses to the benefit of wind- and solar-power producers.

“The past administration was unapologetic,” Mr. Pruitt said during Monday’s announcement. “They were using every bit of power, every bit of authority to use the EPA to pick winners and losers in how we generate electricity in this country. And that’s wrong.”

EPA’s assessment under Mr. Pruitt calls the plan an unlawful expansion of the agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act by holding power generators responsible for limiting emissions through control systems that work from outside of their sites, according to documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal last week.

Eliminating that requirement would be in line with what many industry officials wanted.

The American Petroleum Institute, the Washington lobbying group for U.S. oil and gas producers, called the Clean Power Plan flawed and said emissions were improving even without it.

“Market forces and technological innovation have driven the increased use of natural gas which has brought great benefits to American consumers, workers, and the environment,” Jack Gerard, the group’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Utility industry officials were reserving comment ahead of Mr. Pruitt’s formal signing of the withdrawal Tuesday.

Mr. Pruitt’s decision was met with swift opposition from both states and environmental groups. New York’s attorney general said he will sue to stop the repeal and his California counterpart said he “will do everything in my power to defend the Clean Power Plan.”

Environmental groups made similar promises and many experts have said they expect the Trump administration’s actions to lead to years of rule-making procedure and litigation.

“The fight against this dangerous decision is only just beginning,” the Sierra Club said in a statement. “Trump can’t reverse our clean energy and climate progress with the stroke of a pen, and we’ll fight him and Scott Pruitt at the state and local level across America.”

The administration’s rollback comes just months after the government’s group of top climate researchers reported evidence showing more clearly that climate change and extreme weather events are coming from human activity. Their draft “Climate Change Special Report” documents thousands of studies that show the hottest temperatures in 1,700 years, the fastest-rising seas in more than 2,000 years and a five- to 10-fold increase in U.S. coastal flooding since the 1960s.

Write to Timothy Puko at

Appeared in the October 10, 2017, print edition as ‘EPA to Withdraw Power-Plant Rules.’

Interior Report Recommends Cuts or Changes to Seven National Land Monuments — “Changes to nearly half the geographic national monuments”

September 18, 2017

White House has yet to act on the recommendations

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended cutbacks or other changes to nearly half the geographic national monuments he recently reviewed at the request of President Donald Trump, according to a report sent to the White House and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The report recommends reducing the boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante preserves in Utah, and reopening hundreds of thousands of square miles of protected oceans in both the Pacific and Atlantic to commercial fishing—in actions numerous environmental groups would likely fight to block.

Those are the findings in a report the secretary sent to Mr. Trump in August. The details of the report weren’t released at the time.

Officials at the Interior Department referred requests for comment to the White House, which declined to comment.

“The Trump administration does not comment on leaked documents, especially internal drafts which are still under review by the president and relevant agencies,” White House spokeswoman Kelly Love said in a statement Sunday.

Besides Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, the list of land monuments recommended for downsizing or otherwise made less restrictive—including by allowing traditional activities including ranching and logging—are Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou; Nevada’s Gold Butte; Maine’s Katahdin; and New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte. The ocean preserves Mr. Zinke wants reopened to commercial fishing include Northeast Canyons and Seamounts off the Massachusetts coast and both Rose Atoll and the Pacific Remote Islands.

Mr. Zinke recommended no changes to 17 other national monuments that the president included in the review, which he ordered after complaining some of his predecessors had locked up too much land and water in the preserves that can be created by presidents or Congress under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Most of the monuments that Mr. Zinke reviewed were created by two of Mr. Trump’s Democratic predecessors, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

If the president acts on the recommendations, they could have enormous economic implications in areas around the monuments.

For example, huge fisheries could reopen in both the Atlantic and Pacific. Prior to a nearly 600,000-square-mile area being created as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, the region was a major fishery for Hawaii and Samoa, Mr. Zinke said in his report. Along with the two other marine monuments he singled out for change, he asked the president to take actions including through boundary reductions to allow most commercial fishing to resume.

Similarly, a reduction in the size of Utah’s 1.9-million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument—which was established by Mr. Clinton in 1996—could open that area of canyons to coal and oil exploration. The report notes that the monument contains “an estimated several billion tons of oil and large oil deposits.”

Mr. Zinke also said traditional activities such as ranching and logging would be better protected by reducing acreages or making other changes at Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou, Nevada’s Gold Butte and New Mexico’s Rio Grande Del Norte national monuments.

And in the case of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico, Mr. Zinke recommended the president amend that preserve to, among other things, to lift motorized restrictions in areas close to the U.S.-Mexican border for national security reasons.

Mr. Zinke told the president his agency had received about 2.6 million comments about the monument, review but that most were from campaigns organized by environmental groups. He made a point during his personal tours of some of the monuments to meet with residents of nearby, rural areas who he said had not been adequately represented when the monuments were created.

“Too often, it is the local stakeholders who lack the organization, funding and institutional support to compete with well-funded NGOs (non-governmental organizations),” he wrote.

Mr. Zinke also recommended the president request congressional authority to enable tribal co-management of sensitive cultural areas, such as Native-American artifacts in the Gold Butte monument.

And he suggested the president establish three national monuments of his own: two representing buildings in Kentucky and Mississippi involved in African-American history, and a 130,000-acre natural area along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front important to the Blackfeet tribe called Badger-Two Medicine.

Environmental groups and their supporters said the president doesn’t have the legal authority to significantly alter national monuments, and pledged to fight him in court if he follows through on the recommendations.

“Secretary Zinke’s recommendations would amount to the largest elimination of protections for public lands and wildlife habitat in U.S. history,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. “All told, this proposal—if implemented—would result in an area several times the size of Yosemite National Park being turned over for mining, drilling, and logging.”

Write to Jim Carlton at

Fast-melting Arctic sign of bad global warming

August 14, 2017



WASHINGTON (AP) — One of the coldest places on Earth is so hot it’s melting.

Glaciers, sea ice and a massive ice sheet in the Arctic are thawing from toasty air above and warm water below. The northern polar region is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the planet and that’s setting off alarm bells.

“The melting of the Arctic will come to haunt us all,” said German climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf.

While global leaders set a goal of preventing 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of man-made warming since pre-industrial times, the Arctic has already hit that dangerous mark. Last year, the Arctic Circle was about 3.6 degrees (6.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal.


Earth is getting hotter because of the buildup of heat-trapping gases spewed into the air by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, according to decades of peer-reviewed research. Scientists have long predicted the Arctic would warm first and faster than the rest of the globe. Real-time measurements are proving them right.

The Arctic is mostly ocean covered with a layer of ice; changes from ice to water often kick in a cycle that contributes to global warming.

An AP animation shows how sea ice coverage has dropped an average of 34,000 square miles per year.

Sea ice is white and it reflects the sun’s heat back into space. But when it melts, it’s replaced with dark ocean that strongly absorbs it, said former NASA chief scientist Waleed Abdalati, who heads the environmental research program at the University of Colorado.

That heat gets transferred back up to the atmosphere in the fall and winter. As that happens, water vapor — a greenhouse gas — hangs around, trapping more heat. More clouds form around that time, also acting as a blanket, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.


Winter is crucial. Three times in the past two cold seasons, air temperatures near the North Pole were near or even a shade above freezing. That’s about 50 degrees warmer than it should be. From last November through February, Barrow, Alaska — the northernmost U.S. city — was 7 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the 20th century average, and much of the Atlantic Arctic off Norway and Greenland was as hot.

Warm winters weaken sea ice, which floats on the ocean surface. It’s supposed to recover, spread more across the Arctic and get thicker in the winter so it can withstand the warmth of the summer. But a warmer winter means less protection when the heat hits.

In September 2016, the time of year the spread of ice across the Arctic is at its lowest, Arctic sea ice was the second lowest day on record, about 40 percent below the lowest day measured in 1979 when satellite records started. Between those two days 37 years apart, the Arctic lost enough sea ice to cover Alaska, Texas and California combined.

Then it didn’t grow back that much this winter, setting record low amounts from November through March, when sea ice reaches its peak spread.


Of all the global warming warning signs in the Arctic, “it is the sea ice that is screaming the loudest,” Serreze said.

That’s a problem because a growing body of studies connects dwindling sea ice to wild weather. The reduced winter sea ice interacts with warmer oceans to change conditions in the air that then triggers a potent noticeable shift in the jet stream, the giant atmospheric river that controls much of our weather, said Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis. This theory is still debated by scientists, but increasingly more researchers are agreeing with Francis.

It’s not just sea ice on the decline. Glaciers in the Arctic are shrinking. And the massive Greenland ice sheet is slowly but steadily melting and that can add a big dose to sea level rise. Since 2002, it has lost 4,400 billion tons (4,000 billion metric tons) of ice.

Then there’s the Arctic carbon bomb. Carbon dioxide and methane — which traps even more heat — are stuck in the permafrost in places like Alaska and Siberia.

“Roast the Arctic and you create a mess everywhere on Earth,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer.


Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears. His work can be found here .


This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Al Gore: I’ve given up on climate ‘catastrophe’ Trump

July 28, 2017


© AFP / by Frankie TAGGART | A decade after his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” sent shockwaves around the world with its dire warnings of environmental disaster, former US vice president Al Gore is sounding the alarm on climate change again

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – He once gave Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt, but mention the US president to Al Gore these days and you’ll get a withering frown.

“He’s a catastrophe, of course, but he has effectively isolated himself,” the former US vice president says, his nostrils dilating a few millimeters past scorn but stopping short of open contempt.

A decade after his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” sent shockwaves around the world with its dire warnings of environmental disaster, Gore is sounding the alarm on climate change again.

“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” released by Paramount on Friday, had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival a day before the January 20 inauguration.

Since then, the new US president has sent out a former CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil to represent America on the world stage and appointed an anti-climate litigator to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

He has moved to loosen restrictions on coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions, slashed EPA funding, and reversed his predecessor Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

And then of course there was that announcement of withdrawal from the 196-nation 2016 Paris agreement on climate change.

“We’re going meet the US commitments regardless of what Donald Trump says,” 69-year-old Gore tells AFP during an interview in Beverly Hills to promote his film.

“There’s a law of physics that sometimes works in politics: for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

– Uprising –

“It’s as if the rest of the world is saying, ‘We’ll show you, Donald Trump. Now there is a progressive uprising to organize in ways I haven’t seen since the Vietnam War.”

In one of the most intriguing scenes towards the end of the 100-minute “An Inconvenient Sequel” Gore is seen heading for a meeting with the then president-elect at Trump Tower in New York.

He voiced cautious optimism at the time that the environmental movement might be able to do business with the incoming president, but Gore has since given up hope.

“Where he’s concerned — absent some unforeseeable circumstances — I’m not going to waste any more time trying to convince him because he’s surrounded himself with this rogue’s gallery of climate deniers,” Gore says.

“Even though I have protected the privacy of those conversations, I will tell you that I had reason to believe that there was a chance that he would come to his senses. But I was wrong.”

“An Inconvenient Truth” (2006) re-energized the international environmental movement on its way to winning two Oscars and taking $50 million at the box office.

Despite worries over the potential environmental damage of a Trump administration, the follow-up actually has a more hopeful message than its predecessor.

It follows Gore, who has trained an army of some 10,000 organizers to spread his environmental gospel, as he delivers rousing workshops around the world.

– ‘We have the solutions’ –

“There have been two huge changes since the last movie. Number one, the climate-related extreme weather events have become far more numerous and more destructive. That’s true all over the world,” Gore tells AFP.

“Number two, we have the solutions now. That’s a hopeful message people need to be more aware of. The fact that these renewable energy technologies, batteries in electric cars and so many others, have come down in cost with such dizzying speed, is truly miraculous.”

Born in Washington, Gore shuttled between his home in Tennessee and a hotel in the capital while his father served in the House of Representatives and later in the Senate.

Gore would himself go on to serve as a Congressman for three terms and was a two-time senator before becoming vice president under Bill Clinton during one of the country’s greatest economic booms.

Gore narrowly lost the presidential election to George W. Bush in 2000 and reinvented himself as a seer on climate change after his White House dreams were blown away, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

His opponents over the years have accused him of being a fantasist and even a fraud, but he says his years in politics have given him a thick skin.

Gore describes himself as a “recovering politician,” however, and is adamant that he has no plans for a comeback for the 2020 presidential election.

“The longer I go without a relapse, the less likely one becomes,” he tells AFP.

by Frankie TAGGART

China backs hundreds of global coal power projects — China is exporting its pollution to poorer, less developed countries

July 5, 2017


© AFP/File | A man catches fish with a net in the Huangpu river across the Wujing Coal-Electricity Power Station in Shanghai in February

BEIJING (AFP) – Chinese companies are planning or constructing hundreds of coal-fired power projects around the world, data show, even as Beijing talks up its commitment to fighting climate change.

The report by German environmental lobby group Urgewald comes as China seeks to fill a vacuum left by the United States following President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement.

Urgewald estimates about 250 Chinese companies are involved in nearly half of the 1,600 new coal power projects planned or being built worldwide.

They include state-owned energy giants China Datang Corporation, China Huaneng Group, and SPIC.

Urgewald bases its figures on publicly available company information and the Global Coal Plant Tracker published by San Francisco-based research platform CoalSwarm.

It estimates more than 840,000 megawatts will be added to the world’s coal-fired power capacity if the 1,600 projects are completed.

Just 120 major coal plant developers — including 26 Chinese companies — are responsible for about two-thirds of the planned expansion.

The projects are in 62 countries, including 14 which have no existing coal-fired power capacity.

China-backed projects are planned or under way in several nations including China, Pakistan, Malawi, Egypt and Jamaica, Urgewald said in the report published on June 29.

“If the Chinese government truly wants to position itself as a global climate leader, it needs to rein in its state-owned companies that are flooding the world with new coal power plants,” Trusha Reddy, coordinator of the International Coal Network at Earthlife Africa, was quoted by Urgewald as saying.

China’s National Energy Administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Urgewald said the top 120 companies were “paving the road towards climate chaos”.

“The companies pushing forward this glut of new coal infrastructure pose a threat to us all, as their projects would bury our chances of keeping global warming well below two degrees Celsius,” Urgewald director Heffa Schuecking said.

China, the world’s biggest polluter but also its biggest investor in renewable energy, has repeatedly vowed to stay the course on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

Earlier this year it reportedly cancelled more than 100 carbon-belching coal power projects.

But although China’s own coal consumption has fallen for the past three years, reducing the fossil fuel’s share of its energy use to 62 percent, it has also been investing heavily in coal projects abroad as part of its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

That has prompted accusations that China is exporting its pollution to poorer, less developed countries.


 (Russia sends coal to N. Korea after China stops)

Philippines: A year of walking with China

July 5, 2017
As soon as President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office last year, he announced that his administration would pursue an “independent foreign policy.”

This piece is a part of a news analysis series on the first 12 months of the Duterte administration.

President Rodrigo Duterte took an abrupt turn from his predecessor regarding his foreign policy. As soon as he assumed office last year, he announced that his administration would pursue an “independent foreign policy.”

Article II, Section VII of the 1987 Constitution provides that, “The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In its relations with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.”

It appears, however, that pursuing a so-called independent policy would mean appeasing China following the ruling of an international arbitral tribunal on the Manila’s complaint against Beijing’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

On July 12, 2016, the United Nations-backed tribunal based in the Hague, Netherlands issued a ruling invalidating China’s historic claims over the disputed waters. Beijing refused to honor the ruling and reiterated its position that it has a historic and legal claim over the South China Sea.

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Duterte has met with Chinese President Xi Jinping thrice since the issuance of the arbitral ruling. The first was during his visit to Beijing in October 2016 where the two leaders signed several agreements between their governments. They met for the second time in November 2016 on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit in Lima, Peru. During their bilateral meeting, Duterte assured Xi that he would adopt a foreign policy that veers toward a China-led regional development.

A few days after the conclusion of the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila, Duterte received a phone call from Xi to discuss regional issues and how to strengthen ties with the 10-member regional bloc’s regional partners. This follows a watered-down ASEAN chairman statement which failed to mention the international tribunal’s ruling or militarization in the South China Sea. The ASEAN, under Philippine chairmanship, is set to push through with the enactment of a code of conduct on the South China Sea before the year ends.

Last May, Duterte went again to Beijing to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. The president, however, skipped the opening ceremony of the two-day forum. The Chinese president had pledged $124 billion for his Silk Road plan which could help developing countries like the Philippines.

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Duterte was able to raise with his Chinese counterpart the arbitral ruling during his second visit to Beijing in May but the president said Xi threatened that China would go to war if the Philippines will drill oil in the South China Sea. The Philippine delegation did not raise the arbitral ruling during the start of the discussions on a bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea. China and Southeast Asian nations only settled for a “gentleman’s agreement” to prevent war or to keep the situation in the region stable.

De La Salle University Professor Renato De Castro said that the notion of shifting to an independent foreign policy is rhetorical and without substance as it would mean independence from the United States.

“For Mr. Duterte, independence means separation from US but in exchange for becoming like Cambodia or Laos—countries that are deemed tributary kingdoms of China,” De Castro said in an exclusive interview with

On October 2016, Duterte announced that he is cutting ties with the US, the Philippines’ longtime ally and trading partner. Days after the announcement, he clarified that the separation from the US is “not severance of ties.”

Duterte had expressed his intention to end the Philippines’ war games with the US during his first months in office. The first Balikatan military exercises under the Duterte administration was shortened, scaled down and focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster response instead.

Dindo Manhit, president of the private think tank Stratbase ADR Institute, shared the same sentiment, noting that seeking new friendships and disregarding traditional partners does not improve the country’s ability to preserve national interest.

“Above all, the Philippines’ interest as a smaller country is to ensure that international law prevails. International law is what evens the playing field between countries,” Manhit told, adding that the best proof of this is how the Philippines succeeded in its arbitration case against China.

The Philippines must be willing to use the arbitration ruling to strengthen its position if the bilateral consultation mechanism with China will work, Manhit said.

“Without a willingness to use the ruling to our advantage, what will our country be able to bring to discussion?” Manhit said.

However, a bilateral approach in resolving the maritime dispute would mean that the stronger power would be able to use its influence and resolve the dispute according to its terms, according to De Castro. Duterte appears to have chosen China’s goodwill and economic largess over the Hague ruling.

“Appeasements means that smaller power unilaterally extends concession to a bigger power. The Philippines has already set aside the Hague Ruling and has degraded its alliance with the US to earn China’s good will and possibly, some economic side-payments,” De Castro said.

Manhit, however, noted that there is still room for policies to change or for events to change the decision-making of the Duterte administration as it concludes its first year. The government is highly urged to reconsider its current approach on the issue.

On the other hand, De Castro warned that the Philippines may follow the footsteps of Cambodia and Laos as a result of being obliged for economic reasons to favor China following its investments in the country.

“He (Duterte) wants the Philippines to be independent from the U.S. but a tributary kingdom of China… We will become like Cambodia and Laos, extremely dependent and subservient to China. Associate Justice (Antonio) Carpio used the term ‘filandization,’” [sic] De Castro said.


A year of Duterte’s dystopian vision

A year of accelerated spending—or so they say

A year of battling through traffic and train queues

— Graphics by RP Ocampo


 (Contains links to several more related articles)

 (The Philippines should know that China has a nasty habit of not honoring agreements)

 (Has links to several related articles)

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China’s coast guard monitors and regulated fishing in the South China Sea

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