Category: Controversy

Scientists puzzled by hundreds of dead penguins

More than 700 Magellan penguins have washed up dead on the beaches of south Brazil over the last month, capturing headlines worldwide and leaving scientists puzzled.

The penguins are currently migrating from Patagonia to south Brazil – a journey which no doubt claims some lives but not at this magnitude.

According to the Brazilian Center for Coastal Studies at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, however, the penguins likely died of natural causes.

In a press release, the center said it had analysed the dead animals’ conditions and found that most of the birds were young, and showed no signs of external injury or oil in the plumes.

According to biologist Mauricio Tavares: “Birds in the first year of life are inexperienced,” adding that dead birds at this time of year is common and the result of “the process of natural selection”.

Some questions have been raised as to just how natural this occurrence is, however. According to TreeHugger, dead penguins washing ashore happens with “disturbing” regularity.

A more detailed report on the latest penguin deaths is expected later this month.

New poll finds climate change is not a big issue for Americans

In news that will neither shock nor surprise, a poll has found that Americans don’t care as much about global warming as they used to.

The survey, snappily titled “Every single climate poll done since that Al Gore movie came out”, conducted by the Washington Post and Stanford University, found that climate change is no longer the top concern for Americans, and now ranks second to air and water pollution as the planet’s biggest environmental worry.

Just 18 percent named climate change as their top concern, compared to 33 percent in 2007.

Nonetheless, Americans do see the issue as a threat: three-quarters say they believe the Earth is getting warmer and will continue to do so if nothing is done.

Findings from the poll indicate that Washington’s decision to can action on climate policy means that the issue has receded from the public consciousness. Similarly, President Obama has slowed down on pushing a bill that would limit greenhouse gas emissions, after the proposal stalled in the Senate in 2010.

Governments look to cash in on melting Arctic

The temperature of the Arctic is increasing twice as fast as the rest of planet, which will play a key role in the shaping of future geopolitics, according to a new report.

As the ice melts, more opportunities in shipping, tourism and oil and gas extraction are unlocked, and the world’s largest economies are waiting to cash in on control of the region. The report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) says that the rapidly-melting Arctic is a “bellweather for how climate change may reshape geopolitics in the post-Cold War era”.

An absence of ice will open up waterways allowing for expanded shipping routes, and allow greater opportunities for extracting fossil fuels, which are believed to lie beneath the Arctic waters. So, ethical implications aside, the question is: who will take control of the area? The International Institute for Strategic Studies has produced a comprehensive map illustrating the intentions of neighbouring regions.

The report from C2ES indicates some areas of debate. In it, the authors say that while countries seem “focused on building a cooperative security environment in the region”, there is also an “apparently contradictory trend toward modernizing their military forces in the Arctic”. This means that if political cooperation fails, most of the Arctic nations have no qualms about sending in troops ready to compete in the Arctic’s formidable environment.

Furthermore, the USA is absent from the Law of Sea treaty – the one document that provides a framework for resolving territorial disputes in the Arctic, as well as detailing the rights of nations in using the world’s oceans. It is unlikely that the States would forfeit a claim on this enormous commercial opportunity because of a detail like this, and therefore conflict is likely to arise in this area, too.

The report also notes that the ability of the eight circumpolar nations to respond to disasters in the Arctic area is extremely limited. Should the emerging Arctic experience an ecological crisis from gas or oil exploration, or a humanitarian crisis from a shipwreck, for example, response capabilities are likely to be highly inadequate. This, according to the report, poses a greater threat than the potential militarisation of the area.

Yet the overall environmental implications can’t be overlooked. The very fact that these controversies are being discussed is because the Arctic’s environment is being destroyed by climate change. Surely adding new, damaging infrastructures to the area will only accelerate its progress to extinction?

Are cats having an ‘apocalyptic’ effect on the environment?

BBC Springwatch star Chris Packham stirred controversy last week after claiming that domestic cats could have an ‘apocalyptic’ impact  on the environment.

In an interview with Radio Times magazine he said: “In Australia, introduced species such as foxes, rabbits, rats and cats have had an apocalyptic impact.

“They’ve decimated the indigenous fauna and as a direct consequence the natural ecosystems of this continent have been damaged.

“In urban areas, cats are the culprits and when they go feral they wreak havoc in the countryside, killing bandicoots, wallabies, quolls and bettongs; the intricate relationships of the entire ecosystem are destroyed and it collapses and dies.

“Although it’s in a very different part of the world, it makes you wonder what an impact Tibbles has on our own beleaguered, battered and badly damaged ecosystems.”

According to Packham, over 200 million creatures are killed by domestic cats each year. This figure could be reduced by as much as 50 percent if owners introduced a ‘cat curfew’, he says.

In response to horrified cat owners’ complaints, he added: “I love cats, I think they are beautiful, a wonderful predator. But what’s the point of feeding birds in the garden if you’re feeding them to your cat?”