Bird Flu Spreading: Here Are The Avian Influenza Outbreaks In Europe And Asia

Bruce Y. LeeSenior ContributorHealthcareI am a writer, journalist, professor, systems modeler, computational and digital health expert, avocado-eater, and entrepreneur, not always in that order.FollowListen to article4 minutes

Bird flu avian flu outbreaks
Recently, Europe has experienced over 100 outbreaks of avian influenza. (Photo: Getty) GETTY

Here’s some fowl news. Outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza have recently been occurring in various parts of Europe and Asia. Highly pathogenic avian influenza ain’t just your run-of-the-mill bird flu. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “pathogenic” as “causing or capable of causing disease.” Therefore, being called “highly pathogenic” by your friends would not be a compliment. Similarly, highly pathogenic avian influenza is essentially bird flu that is either highly capable of causing disease or can cause severe disease. Or both. That’s why these outbreaks have been a bit of an “oh cluck” problem for poultry and poultry farmers.

According to the German media site DW, in recent months, there have been over 100 outbreaks of bird flu in Europe. Add to this number the outbreaks that have occurred in Asia and you’ve got even more than more than 100. So far, different highly pathogenic strains avian influenza have already made appearances in countries such as Norway, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, and China. For example, the Norwegian Veterinary Institute found the H5N1 strain among 7,500 or so laying hens in Rogaland, Norway. The H5N8 strain was detected in a farm with around 143,000 poultry in Yokote city in Akita Prefecture, Japan. The appearance of such strains on farms have led to rather large culls of poultry in attempts to prevent the virus from spreading further.

There have also been poultry lockdowns. Governments in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands have ordered that poultry be kept indoors.

Now if you don’t have wings and feathers, the risk of getting infected with these strains of bird flu is probably very low. For most of these outbreaks, there haven’t been any reports of human infections. One exception is what’s happened in China, which has experienced more than just a poultry number of infections. They’ve also reported 21 humans being infected with the H5N6 avian influenza in 2021 so far. This is significantly higher than last year, which had only five reported cases among humans.


Any increase in humans getting the bird flu does merit close monitoring to make sure that no human-to-human transmission is occurring. As long as transmission is just between a given human and his bird, or her bird, the virus isn’t likely to be a broader threat to the human population. So no need to panic or hoard any more toilet paper.

However, just because you don’t have a beak and do typically wear either pants or a dress doesn’t mean that you should completely ignore these outbreaks. Influenza viruses are like high school love. They may seem one way today but over time can change substantially due to ongoing mutations. While a given avian influenza virus may be just a chick flick right now, there is always the possibility that sometime in the future it evolves the ability to infect and cause more severe disease in humans. Epidemics and even pandemics can arise should there be sustained human-to-human transmission, as I covered for Forbes in June.RECOMMENDED FOR YOU1Will This Generation Of “Climate Tech” Be Different?More stories like thisFewer stories like this2WHO Warning About Covid-19 Coronavirus Lockdowns Is Taken Out Of ContextMore stories like thisFewer stories like this3A Smarter Type Of Ad Is Already Here, But How Can We Make The Most Of Ethical, Artificially Intelligent Marketing?More stories like thisFewer stories like this

This is yet another reminder that we are not alone. We share this Earth with many other animals. It is important to protect other animals from dangerous viruses as well. Our society needs to be more cognizant of what’s happening with other animals and how human activities may be making other animals more vulnerable to infections. The poultry population could be a significant reservoir for future threats to the human population. After all, the answer to the question, “why did the chicken virus cross the road” may be because humans didn’t pay enough attention.

Western Europe Can Expect More Heavy Rainfall And Fatal Floods As The Climate Warms

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Flipboard
  • Email

August 27, 20215:00 AM ET


Destroyed houses are seen in Schuld, Germany, on July 15 after devastating floods hit the region.Michael Probst/AP

Heavy rainfall and catastrophic flooding events like those that hit Western Europe last month will be more frequent and intense due to climate change, a new scientific study says.

From July 12-15, heavy rainfall led to severe flooding that killed more than 200 people in Germany and Belgium, and caused billions of dollars worth of damage.

The World Weather Attribution initiative, an international group of climate scientists behind the report, said July’s historic rainfall was 1.2 to 9 times more likely to happen due to global warming.

The researchers used peer-reviewed scientific methods to examine how human-induced climate change affected rainfall events in Europe this summer.

Climate change increased the rainfall intensity

People check for victims in flooded cars on a road in Erftstadt, Germany, on July 17 following heavy rainfall that broke the banks of the Erft river, causing massive damage.Michael Probst/AP

Using historical records going back to the late 19th century and computer simulations, the researchers studied how temperatures affected rainfall in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands.

They found climate change increased the amount of rain that can fall in one day in the region by 3 – 19%, when compared to a climate 1.2 degrees Celsius cooler (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) than it is now. The increase is similar for a rainstorm that happens across two days.Article continues after sponsor message

During the rainstorms that hit the region last month, Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, a town in Germany, received two months’ worth of rain in just two days.

As the planet continues to warm, the likelihood and strength of extreme weather events are likely to increase further, the study added.


Three (Hopeful!) Takeaways From The UN’s Climate Change Report

This report further supports the concept that the effects of climate change will become worse as time goes on, if humans don’t make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions soon.

These findings follow a major report from the United Nations that said global climate change is accelerating, and humans are the overwhelming cause.

Extreme weather events have wreaked havoc all over the world this summer. This month deadly floods hit Tennessee and wildfires have swept across the U.S. West Coast and Europe, destroying parts of Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Spain. Fires have also erupted in Russia’s northern Siberia region.

Back from the brink: Iberian lynx population rises to over 1,000

Fargo, ND, USA / The Mighty 790 KFGO | KFGOThomson ReutersMay 28, 2021 | 8:29 AM

MADRID (Reuters) – The Iberian lynx population in Portugal and Spain rose above 1,000 last year after 414 cubs were born under a joint breeding programme, in a major leap towards conserving the endangered species, Spain’s Environment Ministry said on Friday.

The initiative was launched in 2002 when the number of Iberian lynx, a wild cat native to the Iberian Peninsula, plunged to just 94 in Spain and none in Portugal, due to farming, poaching and road accidents.

By the end of last year there were 1,111 Iberian lynx living in the wild in the region, including 239 breeding females, the ministry said in a statement. The number was a record high since monitoring of the species began, it said.

“With a 30% increase from 2019, this demographic curve allows us to be optimistic and to draw scenarios that distance the big Iberian feline from critical risk of extinction,” the ministry said.

In 2015, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) downgraded the threat level for the Iberian lynx, a spotted nocturnal wild cat distinguished by its beard and ear tufts, to ‘Endangered’ from ‘Critically Endangered’, which the ministry said was thanks to the ongoing conservation efforts.

The World Wildlife Fund, a partner in the programme, said the data was encouraging.

“This is a great success for conservation in Spain and the world. Few species are able to escape from such a critical situation as the Iberian lynx has been in,” said WWF Spain’s chief Juan Carlos del Olmo.

In order to be classified as non-endangered, the Iberian lynx population would need to be above at least 3,000, including 750 breeding females, the WWF said.

Del Olmo said this could be achieved by 2040, but that much still needed to be done to eradicate threats to the Iberian lynx, such as road accidents and hunting, and to improve prosecution rates for killing lynx.

(Reporting by Michael Susin, editing by Andrei Khalip and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Travel From U.K. Shut Down As Nations Assess Threat Of New Coronavirus Strain

December 21, 202011:25 AM ET


Passengers wearing face masks wait next to the Eurostar Terminal at Gare du Nord train station in Paris on Monday. France is banning all travel from the U.K. for 48 hours in an attempt to make sure that a new strain of the coronavirus in Britain doesn’t reach its shores.Lewis Joly/AP

Updated 2:30 p.m. ET

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Monday attempted to reassure skittish European neighbors that his government had the threat of a new strain of the coronavirus under control.

In a press conference at No. 10 Downing St., Johnson also said he was in talks with France, one of several nations which have banned entry from the U.K. since the weekend, causing chaos for travelers and cargo shipments.

Johnson said he and the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, had “a very good call” earlier in the day, adding that both leaders want to find a way to resume freight traffic between the two nations.

“It was an excellent conversation with the French president,” Johnson said. “He stressed he was keen…to sort it out in the next few hours, if we can.”

This comes as a growing number of countries are barring travelers fromthe United Kingdom as a way to preemptively block the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus that is sweeping through southeast England.Article continues after sponsor message

U.K. officials warn the new variant of the virus could be as high as 70% more contagious than the various strains already circulating. However, there’s no evidence, so far, suggesting the new variant is more deadly.

France announced it was suspending all travel from that county for 48 hours beginning Sunday at midnight.

The new restrictions on U.K. travel have crippledfreight transport across the English Channel. Trucks loaded with cargo were backed up for miles trying to get into and out of Britain, while many travelers have been left stranded at airports and train stations across Europe.

Countries in Europe including BelgiumBulgariaGermanyItaly and the Netherlands, announced bans on travelers from the U.K.

Canada also announced it was suspending flights from the U.K. for a 72-hour period, while Israel announced the entry of non-Israeli citizens from the U.K. has been prohibited “including those who have already been issued permits.”

“We in the U.K. fully understand the anxieties of our friends about COVID, their anxieties about the new variant,” Johnson said. “But it’s also true that we believe the risks of transmission by a solitary driver, sitting alone … are really very low.”

NPR’s Frank Langfitt reporting from London on Monday explained the island nation’s predicament on NPR’s Morning Edition this way: “It feels much more isolated than it did just a few days ago here on the island of Great Britain.”

He also noted that the Brexit transition period, which ends Dec. 31, only complicates matters.

“The Eurotunnel, which also runs under the channel, is also closed. It seems to be a precautionary measure for about 48 hours,” Langfitt said. “There’s a lot of concern around the Christmas season. We’ve already seen backups at the Port of Dover 20 miles long. And what’s been happening is people are trying to get freight across the channel before the deadline of the Brexit transition period, which is going to end on New Year’s Eve.”

Freight trucks are parked on the M20 near Folkestone in Kent as part of Operation Stack after the Port of Dover was closed and access to the Eurotunnel terminal suspended. There are concerns over a highly contagious new variant of the coronavirus, which led several nations to suspend travel and shipments from the U.K.Steve Parsons/AP

The Associated Press reports that there are fears the travel restrictions could result in food shortages if they are not eased in the near future.

For his part Johnson tried to quell those worries. He pointed out that the travel ban at the Port of Dover only applied to people driving freight trucks and not to shipping containers, which Johnson said accounted for roughly 20% of the volume of goods at the port.

“Which means the vast majority of food, medicines and other supplies are coming and going as normal,” Johnson said.

All of this comes on the same day the European Medicines Agency, followed within hours by the European Commission, authorized the use of the COVID-19 vaccine jointly developed by BioNTech and Pfizer. The U.K. has already approved its use.

Earlier on Monday, Frances’s Minister Delegate for Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said in a tweet it was his hope “a solid health protocol” could be established so movement could recommence.

“In the next few hours, at European level, we’re going to establish a solid health protocol to ensure that movement from the UK can resume. Our priority: to protect our nationals and our fellow citizens,” Djebbari said.

The BBC, which reports more than 40 nations have imposed some sort of restriction on the U.K., adds there’s also a push in Brussels, where the European Union is headquartered, for a more coordinated response to the new variant of the virus and how many of the nations respond to it.

The British broadcaster notes that when the coronavirus first began to spread earlier this year, a number of EU member states enacted an “every-country-for-itself” model, which it said put strains on the entire concept of European cooperation.


‘We Cannot Continue With Christmas’: U.K. Tightens Rules As Virus Variant Spreads

While EU nations consider how to respond to the latest crisis in the coronavirus pandemic, the British government placed many parts of the country into what is known as a “Tier 4” lockdown over the weekend.

Under those restrictions, British officials urge those under Tier 4 should refrain from interacting with anyone outside their immediate household during the Christmas holiday.

In a bit of good news on the vaccine front, Johnson said more than half a million U.K. citizens had received their first dosage of the coronavirus vaccine.

Dutch cull 48,000 chickens after new bird flu cases emerge

Dutch health officials ordered the culling of 48,000 chickens after an outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu was discovered on a farm in the northern province of Groningen.BIOSECURITYAVIAN INFLUENZADISEASESHEALTH & DISEASEby The Poultry Site11 November 2020, at 7:22am

Reuters reports that the measures are the latest taken in the Netherlands, a leading exporter of poultry and eggs, after the H5N8 disease was first found in wild fowl.

The latest cull comes shortly after animal health authorities ordered 200,000 chickens to be culled in the eastern town of Puiflijk earlier in November.

Read more about this story here.

Tens of millions across Europe brace for tough new restrictions as coronavirus cases soar

LIVE TVEdition

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN

Updated 9:36 AM ET, Fri October 23, 2020

Wales launched a 'firebreak' lockdown. Here's what it means

Wales launched a ‘firebreak’ lockdown. Here’s what it means 04:16

London (CNN)Tens of millions more people across Europe face tougher coronavirus restrictions going into the weekend as countries across the region battle to bring down rising infection rates.A two-week “firebreak” lockdown comes into force at 6 p.m. local time Friday in Wales, under which everyone except critical workers is expected to stay at home.The restrictions are the toughest seen in Wales since the spring, when the United Kingdom was badly hit in the first wave of infections to sweep Europe.New restrictions also came into force Friday morning in northern England’s Greater Manchester region, following a protracted tussle between national and local leaders over financial support.Content by Keeper SecurityKeep your data secure with this password managerThough the benefits of working from home are myriad — there was zero chance you’d become a master of sourdough bread in the third-floor break room, right?

Czech PM apologizes as country suffers in Europe's second coronavirus wave

Czech PM apologizes as country suffers in Europe’s second coronavirus waveRegions in Italy, France, Spain, Germany and elsewhere are also introducing curfews in a bid to stem the spike in cases. And Slovakia has announced strict new limits on people’s movement and activities from Saturday.Ireland on Thursday became the first country in Europe to reimpose a national lockdown.The Irish measures, which prohibit social gatherings and require people to work from home unless they are providing an essential service, will remain in place for six weeks.A sign outside the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin's city centre. Ireland has reimposed a national lockdown for six weeks in a bid to combat the rise in cases of the virus.A sign outside the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin’s city centre. Ireland has reimposed a national lockdown for six weeks in a bid to combat the rise in cases of the virus.

‘Common endeavor’

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford urged the country to pull together as he announced the two-week lockdown plan.”A firebreak period is our best chance of regaining control of the virus and avoiding a much longer and much more damaging national lockdown,” Drakeford said Monday. “This is the moment to come together, to play our part in a common endeavor.”

The number of older people getting coronavirus in Europe is rising again. That's really bad news

The number of older people getting coronavirus in Europe is rising again. That’s really bad newsDrakeford called the lockdown “sharp and deep” and said all non-essential businesses such as shops, restaurants and bars must shut down from Friday evening until November 9. “The only exceptions will be critical workers and jobs where working from home is not possible,” he said.Drakeford also said businesses affected by the lockdown would receive the necessary support but called on the UK government to make more funds available.A handwritten sign on a window of a shop announces its closure in Swansea city centre, south Wales, a day before the "fire-break" lockdown comes into force.A handwritten sign on a window of a shop announces its closure in Swansea city centre, south Wales, a day before the “fire-break” lockdown comes into force.The new restrictions in the Greater Manchester region mean that its 2.8 million residents are not allowed to socialize indoors with anyone they do not live with, nor meet in private gardens. Outdoor social events in places like parks are limited to groups of six.All pubs, bars, gyms, and casinos that don’t serve food must close. However, people can continue to visit restaurants and pubs that remain open because they serve “substantial meals,” as long as they only eat there with people they live with. In addition, Mancunians have been told to avoid all but the most essential travel outside of the area.

Slovakia curfew

Slovakia’s government announced its partial lockdown measures at a news conference Thursday.Starting Saturday, people will not be allowed to leave their homes without a negative coronavirus test except in certain circumstances. These include going to have a test, going to work or school, shopping for food in their nearest shop, attending medical appointments, taking care of animals and attending a funeral.People can leave their homes freely however between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. each day.

Traveling to Italy during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

Traveling to Italy during Covid-19: What you need to know before you goSchools will be closed for in-person classes from October 26 until November 27, except for nurseries, kindergartens and lower grade elementary schools, which take children up to roughly the age of nine.Public transport will be limited between October 26 and November 15 to make it harder for the population to move about.Meanwhile, the governor of the southwest Italian region of Campania, Vincenzo De Luca, urged the government Friday to implement a national lockdown as Italy faces rising infection rates.”The current data on the infection makes any type of partial measure ineffective,” De Luca said.De Luca called for everything to be shut down apart from essential services and for people’s movement between different regions and municipalities to be limited.”In any case, Campania will move in this direction very soon,” he said. Campania encompasses the city of Naples and the Amalfi Coast, areas normally popular with tourists.

Night-time curfews

France’s night-time coronavirus curfew will be extended more widely in the country from Saturday, with 46 million French people affected, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Thursday.Castex said 38 French departments, or administrative areas, would be added to the 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, bringing the number of departments under curfew to a total of 54 out of 101 departments. French Polynesia will also be under curfew, Castex said.The measures are needed because “in France, and in Europe, the second wave is upon us,” Castex said, adding that the number of deaths would keep increasing.France reported a new record for daily coronavirus infections with 41,622 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to numbers released by the French Health Agency on Thursday.This brings the total number of confirmed cases in France to 999,043, according to government statistics. According to Johns Hopkins University (JHU) data, France has recorded more than 1 million cases and more than 34,000 deaths.People wearing protective face masks  wait for a tram on October 22, 2020 in a street of Saint-Etienne, central eastern France. People wearing protective face masks wait for a tram on October 22, 2020 in a street of Saint-Etienne, central eastern France.A night-time curfew will also come into force from Saturday in areas of Greece seeing the highest rates of infection and masks will become mandatory outdoors.Big cities Athens and Thessaloniki are considered high-risk areas in the country’s four tier-system, along with more than a dozen other regions, including Zante and Heraklion.Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who announced the new restrictions in a televised address to the nation Thursday, said Greece was in better shape than most European countries but warned that tough months lie ahead.The aim of the 12.30 a.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is to limit outdoor parties and gatherings, with the greatest rise in cases seen among young people, Mitsotakis said.Greece recorded an additional 882 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, hitting a fresh daily record. According to Greece’s national public health organization, Greece has recorded 28,216 cases and 549 deaths in total.A health worker checks a coronavirus test in Kozani, Greece, on October 16, 2020.A health worker checks a coronavirus test in Kozani, Greece, on October 16, 2020.

‘Time for partying in nightclubs to stop’

Even Sweden, which did not go into a full lockdown in early spring during the first wave of the pandemic in Europe — putting an emphasis instead on personal responsibility — has announced new restrictions.Nightclubs where dancing is permitted will be limited to 50 people from November 1, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Thursday.”It’s time for partying in nightclubs to stop,” said Lofven. “It is disrespectful to health care staff, who have worked hard, day and night, when they open a newspaper and see photos from packed nightclubs and dance floors.”The tightening of nightclub restrictions, still lenient compared with many other European countries, comes as Sweden sees a spike in coronavirus infections.The country reported 1,614 new cases in the past 24 hours. The daily record for new infections was set Tuesday with 3,180 new cases, according to JHU figures.Venues that don’t allow for dancing but serve food and beverages to seated customers at a safe distance do not have to limit numbers.Meanwhile, rules on sporting and other events will be relaxed from November 1 to allow up to 300 spectators where they can be seated at a safe distance. Currently, 50 spectators are allowed.

EU’s farm animals ‘produce more emissions than cars and vans combined’

Greenpeace says bloc must get a grip on reducing greenhouse gases from livestock or risk missing Paris agreement targets

A German Angus cattle eats hay
 Deforestation to produce feed is a major driver of carbon dioxide emissions attributable to cattle. Photograph: Jens Büttner/dpa

Cows, pigs and other farm livestock in Europe are producing more greenhouse gases every year than all of the bloc’s cars and vans put together, when the impact of their feed is taken into account, according to a new analysis by Greenpeace.

The increase in meat and dairy production in Europe over the past decade has made farming a much greater source of emissions, but while governments have targeted renewable energy and transport in their climate policies, initiatives to reduce the impact of food and farming on the climate have lagged behind.

In 2018, the latest year for which accurate data is available from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock on EU farms (including the UK) were responsible for the equivalent of about 502m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, mostly through the methane they release. That compares with 656m of carbon dioxide from Europe’s cars and vans in the same year.

But when the indirect greenhouse gas emissions are calculated, using established methods to estimate the deforestation and land use changes associated with growing animal feed, then the total annual emissions are equivalent to 704m tonnes of carbon dioxide. The calculations are set out in a new Greenpeace report entitled Farming for Failure, published on Tuesday.

The EU’s meat and dairy production rose by 9.5% between 2007 and 2018, which according to Greenpeace translated into an increase in annual emissions of 6%, or about 39m tonnes. That would be the equivalent of putting 8.4m new cars on the road.

If such rises continue, the EU has little chance of meeting its obligations to reduce greenhouse gases under the Paris agreement. Last week, the EU strengthened its targets on cutting emissions, announcing a target of 55% cuts by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, as part of the European green deal, and ahead of key UN climate talks next year.

Marco Contiero, agriculture policy director for Greenpeace, said policymakers must get a grip on livestock emissions, or face missing carbon reduction targets. “European leaders have danced around the climate impact of animal farming for too long,” he said. “Science is clear, the numbers as well: we can’t avoid the worst of climate breakdown if politicians keep defending the industrial production of meat and dairy. Farm animals won’t stop farting and burping – the only way to cut emissions at the levels needed is to cut their numbers.”

Halving intensive animal farming would cut about 250m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, about the same as the total emissions from the 11 lowest-emitting countries in Europe.

A spokesperson for the UK’s National Farmers’ Union said farmers were taking action, with a target of being carbon neutral by 2040. Farming in the UK is directly responsible for 10% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, according to the NFU, without taking into account indirect emissions related to feed.

“If we are to achieve [the carbon neutrality goal], we must reduce all our greenhouse gas emissions,” said the spokesperson. “A focus on improving productivity is key here, alongside maintaining and improving our storage of carbon in grassland and producing more renewable energy.”

Greenpeace is calling for an end to public subsidies for industrial-scale animal farming under the EU’s common agricultural policy, as part of the bloc’s plans for a green deal. Such a policy is unlikely to win much favour from the powerful farming lobbies in most large European countries, but policymakers will be under pressure to show how they can meet the EU’s climate targets without large-scale reforms to farming.

Europe Drives Destruction of US Forests in the Name of Fighting Climate Change

Europe is often considered to be a global leader on climate action. For over a decade, the European Union (EU) has been actively promoting the need for action on climate change, pushing policies that scale back carbon emissions and support the growth of renewable energy.

On the bright side, this has led to the retirement of a large number of coal-burning power plants and increased adoption of solar and wind power. However, a number of countries have embraced biomass electricity, a short-term fix that is at best a false solution, and at worst is speeding up carbon emissions, pollution and forest destruction. In fact, though many may believe that solar and wind power are the main sources of the EU’s renewable energy, it is actually biomass, which represents nearly 60 percent of the total.

Biomass electricity is generated by burning organic matter. Forests have rapidly become a primary source of biomass fuel in the EU. Flawed carbon accounting assumes burning trees is carbon-neutral if a tree is planted to replace the one that has been chopped down, but biomass imported from the U.S. to the EU is never properly accounted for. This faulty logic has led to massive renewable energy subsidies for biomass under the EU Renewable Energy Directive program. It has further encouraged countries like the U.K., Netherlands and Denmark to subsidize the destruction of forests for fuel at a time when we need to let forests grow to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, protect biodiversity and shore up natural protections against extreme flooding and droughts. For example, thanks to an average £2.1 million in subsidies every day, Drax, the largest carbon emitter in the U.K., is now also the world’s largest burner of wood for power.

To add insult to injury, in the absence of sufficient supplies of wood from its own forests, the EU is heavily reliant on importing wood pellets from forests far away. In fact, biodiverse and carbon-rich forests across the United States’ Southern Coastal Plain — a region that encompasses coastal North and South Carolina, southern Georgia and Alabama, and northern Florida — have become the primary global target for supplying biomass fuel to the EU. The Southern U.S. is now the world’s largest producer and exporter of wood pellets. Under the guise of “renewable energy,” the voracious European demand for wood pellets has put forests and communities in this region at increased risk.

Nearly 800 scientists warned members of the European Parliament that burning trees releases more carbon than coal or gas per unit of energy generated (making climate change worse), and they also pointed out that logging degrades critical ecological services that standing forests provide, such as natural flood control. Standing forests act like sponges, slowing the rate of water flow into streams and rivers, helping to prevent flooding. When a forest is cleared, the volume of water and soil erosion entering streams and rivers is accelerated during periods of heavy rain, causing rivers and streams to overflow. Tropical storms and hurricanes are common in the U.S. Southeast and are becoming more intense in the era of climate change.

In recent years, the communities of the Southern Coastal Plain have experienced some of the most devastating and costly flooding events in the world, with disproportionate impacts to low-income, rural communities of color. Protecting wetland forests, which provide natural flood protections, has become a regional priority among conservation groups and communities across the region.

Despite the industry’s best attempts to greenwash wood pellets as a “sustainable, renewable” fuel, numerous investigations by the media and environmental organizations have provided hard evidence of the industry’s toxic air pollution and destruction of biodiverse forests. Once clear-cut, these forests can take up to a century to fully regenerate and recapture the carbon that was emitted from the logging and burning of biomass. The science is clear that we don’t have the luxury of waiting a century to draw down carbon — we must do it now. Additionally, the process of turning trees into wood pellets releases toxic pollution into the air, further compromising the health of nearby communities, which are already overburdened by other sources of industrial pollution. For example, in one small community in eastern North Carolina, there are other polluting industries besides the Enviva wood pellet plant: a natural gas pipeline, a chicken processing facility and a natural gas-fired power plant, all dumping pollution on a community that is predominantly low-income and Black.

Thankfully, despite the biomass and wood pellet industries spending millions of dollars to lobby and promote this false solution to climate change, more elected officials, environmental organizations and frontline communities are starting to see the light, and the days of burning our forests for electricity may be numbered.

Impacted Communities Fight Back

For years now, the EU’s burning of forests for electricity has flown under the radar, and the EU is often praised for its move away from coal.

Thankfully, more and more organizations working to end the use of fossil fuels have started to see how important our forests are for protecting us from the worst impacts of climate change and how destroying them to make electricity is not the right path forward. For example, leaders in the anti-coal movement, including Mary Anne Hitt, the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, and founder Bill McKibben, have recently publicly denounced biomass as a false solution that must be stopped, reinforcing the need to protect forests while staying focused on renewable energy like solar and wind.

In addition to the growing biomass opposition from high-profile organizations leading the charge to phase out fossil fuels, the frontline communities that are facing new wood pellet production facilities in the United States — and communities facing the conversion of dirty coal plants to dirty biomass plants or brand new biomass power plants in Europe — are fighting back. Those who suffer the most from this pollution and destruction are rising up.

In North Carolina, for example, Enviva, the world’s largest wood pellet manufacturer, applied to expand production at three of its facilities. In each of those communities, local leaders and affected residents showed up at public hearings, demanding the state take action to stop Enviva’s expansion. Even in rural Mississippi and Alabama, where local citizens had little warning of proposed new facilities, Enviva was met with opposition.

“We believe that everyone should have a clean, safe place to live, work, and play,” said Belinda Joyner, a Northeastern organizer for Clean Water for North Carolina. “Enviva has come in and detracted the living conditions of the community. This is what the community has to live with and it’s an injustice to them.”

And in Europe, despite the fact that many of the big environmental groups have ignored biomass for fear it would impact their fight against coal, local communities in Irelandthe Netherlands and France have come out strong in their opposition to burning wood for electricity in their backyards — and have even stopped new facilities from being constructed. Collectively, residents in the U.S. and EU are tired of empty rhetoric on climate change and are calling out biomass as a false solution while taking a stand for forests.

As the scientific evidence and public opposition mounts, elected officials on both sides of the pond are starting to express concern and take action. In March, the Virginia legislature passed the Clean Economy Act, which explicitly excludes biomass from the renewable energy list. In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper expressed concern about biomass at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. The state’s newly developed Clean Energy Plan stated that biomass would not be a part of the state’s clean energy future, noting that the EU policy treating biomass as carbon neutral “should be challenged at the national and international level.” In Georgia, there is currently a bipartisan forest resolution before the state House and Senate that criticizes biomass as a climate solution and calls for greater protection for forests.

Additionally, more European leaders at the EU and national levels are expressing concern about biomass. Vice President of the EU Frans Timmermans, who is in charge of the European Green Deal, has noted that the “issue of biofuels needs to be looked at very carefully” to ascertain whether it “does not do more harm than that it does good.”

Most importantly, in May, the EU announced that it will assess its biomass strategy as part of its biodiversity action plan. This could lead to a revision of current biomass policy 10 years ahead of schedule, with the aim of eliminating controversial sources like wood from the mix. Ideally, this would also incorporate more accurate accounting for carbon emissions from burning wood to generate electricity. Currently, carbon emissions from wood are about three times higher than “emissions from a similar-sized natural gas electric power plant,” according to one 2010 study.

Belgium and Ireland have both denied recent applications for new biomass facilities. In the U.K., the Netherlands and Denmark — three of the largest biomass electricity-producing countries — there is growing opposition from all levels of government, which is vital because economically, the subsidies from these countries are all that keeps this industry going. A recent national opinion poll in the Netherlands found that 98 percent of the country’s citizens “agree that biomass subsidies should be stopped.”

As can be expected from any dirty industry that is one policy change away from toppling like a house of cards, biomass advocates are in attack mode on the organizations, elected officials and even the media that are exposing the truth about this deceptive and destructive energy source. Starting astroturfed not-for-profit groups, running expensive greenwashing ad campaigns and attacking the credibility of its critics are just a few of the dirty tricks that the industry has employed in recent months. They have even attacked the credibility of investigative reporters who have written balanced stories on their industry.

It seems the growing movement to stop the destruction and burning of forests for electricity may be winning, but it’s not out of the woods yet. The light at the end of the dark biomass tunnel is a 21st-century energy economy powered by clean, renewable energy and a forest economy that is restorative rather than destructive. There needs to be political will to double down on new climate policies that focus on the right priorities like protecting and restoring our forests, not just planting trees. We need climate policies that stay focused on investing in renewable energy like solar and wind rather than false solutions like biomass and natural gas. And as we transition to a regenerative economy, it must be powered by the people, building opportunity for those who have suffered the most at the hands of the industries that have reaped tremendous profits while creating the climate crisis we find ourselves in today.

Collectively defeating the insidious side of EU renewable energy is essential to avoid utter climate chaos. The sooner governments around the world can unite to move away from all dirty fuels — including coal, fracked gas and biomass — and lean toward actually protecting nature, the better.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

France sends jets and ships to tense east Mediterranean

French Rafale fighter, 2011 file picImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionTwo French Rafale fighters are being based temporarily in Crete

France is deploying two Rafale fighter jets and a naval frigate in the eastern Mediterranean because of tensions between Greece and Turkey.

French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in disputed waters in the area. A Turkish survey ship began such a mission on Monday, angering Greece.

Mr Macron told Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis that the French military would monitor the situation.

The area is rich in untapped energy.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the only solution in the Mediterranean was dialogue and that his country was not chasing adventure.

“If we act with common sense and reason, we can find a win-win solution that meets everyone’s interests,” he said.

There are also tensions around Cyprus over rival exploration rights. The Republic of Cyprus and Greece do not accept any such rights for Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus in the region.

Oruc Reis survey ship, 23 Jul 20Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe Oruc Reis seismic research ship is on a two-week mission, Turkey says

France is also at odds with Turkey over the crisis in Libya. Turkey has sent military support to the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, while France, Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates support the forces of Gen Khalifa Haftar. Russia and the UAE are Gen Haftar’s main arms suppliers.

France already has a helicopter-carrier, Tonnerre, heading to Beirut with aid to ease the city’s suffering after the devastating 4 August port explosion.

The French frigate La Fayette has been on exercises with the Greek navy and is staying in the area. The Rafale jets were in Cyprus for an exercise and are now relocating to Souda, on the Greek island of Crete.

Mr Macron tweeted: “I have decided to strengthen the French military presence temporarily in the Mediterranean, in co-operation with Greece and other European partners.

“The eastern Mediterranean situation is worrying. Turkey’s unilateral decisions concerning oil exploration are provoking tensions. Those tensions must end, to enable calm dialogue between countries which are neighbours and allies in Nato.”

Map showing competing claims in Eastern Mediterranean

Hominid Footprints on Crete Could Change Evolutionary Theory For Good

 2338  29 Google +1  0  7  4057

Paleontologist Gerhard Gierlinski, from Warsaw, Poland, was just trying to get away from it all in the summer of 2002 and enjoy the warm seas and soft sands on the Greek island of Crete with his girlfriend. A researcher at the Polish Geological Institute, he was always ready to take samples of interesting things he spied on vacations, and he traveled with a hammer, a camera and a GPS for just such occasions.

What he discovered along the Mediterranean shores of the town of Trachilos would rock his world and send some researchers who were convinced that humans evolved solely in Africa, into angry denial, and resulted in many of them casting aspersions on his jaw-dropping find.

Gierlinski asked colleagues from Poland, Sweden, Greece, the US and the UK, among them Dr. Per Ahlberg, for their opinions on what he saw as human-like footprints that had somehow been made into a flat rock along the shore.

The 5.6 million-year-old footprints made in Trachilos, Crete 5.6 million years ago. Photo: The Conversation.

The team of experts came to the conclusion that indeed, the impressions had been made by ancient human ancestors 5.6 million years ago, making them by far the oldest footprints ever discovered in Europe.

Graph showing the oldest footprints in the world. Original article reprinted with permission from

They had been made during the Miocene era, at a time when the entire Mediterranean Sea had dried up. The scientific world was faced with the notion that these small footprints on the Greek island would now be the earliest-known human-like prints in the world — far older than the prints previously found in Africa, from Laetoli in Ethiopia, which were made 3.66 million years ago on a volcanic deposit there.

Ahlberg, from Sweden’s Uppsala University, and his collegue Matthew Robert Bennett, from Bournemouth University in the UK, took on the unenviable task of putting their names on the scientific paper that would be published regarding the discovery of the footprints.

Later, Ahlberg would describe what happened later as “six and a half years of sort of a living hell.” Their paper, published in the Proceedings of the Geologist Association, may be read by clicking here.

In an exclusive interview with Greek Reporter, Ahlberg was asked if there has been any further feedback — or blowback — since the 2017 publishing of the article, and if this discovery has been deliberately ignored and shunted aside since it may be politically incorrect or go against the “Africanist” theory of human origin.

Uppsala University’s Dr. Per Ahlberg, one of the writers of the scientific paper on Crete’s hominid footprints. Photo courtesy Dr. Ahlberg.

“The short answer is that there has not been much of a response at all from the mainstream palaeoanthropological community. Of course you can never really know what goes on in the heads of other scientists, but I do rather think the story has been deliberately ignored because it doesn’t fit the prevailing narrative,” the member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences replies.

However, one key group of researchers, the scientist told Greek Reporter, have not ignored the startling findings of 2002. “Shortly after publication we made contact with Madelaine Böhme’s group at Tübingen and her colleagues in Bulgaria and Canada, who have been working on the scarce and fragmentary body fossil record of European Miocene hominins. The key animal on that side is Graecopithecus, known from a single lower jaw found near Athens and a tooth plus some other bits and pieces from Bulgaria.

“It is similar in age to the Trachilos footprints, perhaps marginally older. As you might guess, the Böhme team had great difficulty getting their work published as well, and met the same kind of hostility as we did.” These researchers were very impressed with the Trachilos team’s groundbreaking findings, and friendships were quickly established among the scientists.

“Last spring we met up in Crete to film material for a major TV documentary dealing with the emerging evidence for an early presence of hominins in Europe, and also to take samples for palaeomagnetic dating and detrital zircon dating of the Trachilos locality, Ahlberg recalls. “The present dating, based on microfossils called foraminifera, is robust but not terribly precise; we would like to be able to narrow it down.

“We had intended to move forward fairly quickly with follow-up papers describing the footprints in more detail and establishing the date more precisely, but various things got in the way. Madelaine and her team have been focused on new excavations and new discoveries from Bavaria (Danuvius guggenmosi, a Miocene ape very close to the common ancestor of hominins and chimpanzees) and Bulgaria – and then the coronavirus pandemic came along. So everything is kind of in stasis right now, but we do intend to pick up the story again,” Ahlberg adds.

Asked if the scientist’s all-important funding had been affected by the controversial nature of the findings, he answers in the negative. “My funders (the Knut & Alice Wallenberg Foundation) are entirely happy that I am doing sound and exciting science, and so they keep supporting me. Also… most of my research does not deal with early hominins but with other long-ago things such as the origin of jawed vertebrates and the transition from fish to land animals. In these areas I’m one of the world-leading researchers.”

In his original article, Ahlberg had stated “it is now for the researchers in the field to embark on finding more tracks.”  As it turns out, no additional discoveries of footprints have been made in this area since that time.

As to why not, the researcher answers “I can’t tell you; you would have to ask those people why they have made their particular decisions. However, the Böhme team is very active in their pursuit of new ape and hominin body fossils from the Miocene of Europe, so that’s certainly moving the story forward.”

Since Ahlberg had stated in his earlier paper, published in The Conversation “the very essence of science is prospection, discovery, evidence-based inference and debate,” Greek Reporter asked him how scientific progress can occur if these these things are shut down.

“Well,” the researcher answered, “the obvious answer is that it can’t. However, in the area of early hominins, things aren’t quite as bad as that. The voices arguing for a hominin presence, and perhaps origin, in the Miocene of Europe are getting louder. A particularly important milestone in this regard was the publication of the Danuvius paper, not in some minor journal, but in Nature.

“Similarly, Böhme team member David Begun, who’s based in Toronto, has written a quite authoritative book about the Miocene apes of Europe called, delightfully, “The Real Planet of the Apes.” This is getting quite a lot of attention. So while there are still plenty of people who are not listening, and who no doubt would like us to just shut up and go away, the debate is not in fact being shut down.”

“There are always people who are open-minded and curious enough to allow new perspectives to break through — though often only after a long struggle. What is more of a concern is whether research funding in some areas is becoming strongly tied to adherence to particular paradigms, because that kind of thing can really stifle innovation. I have been extremely fortunate in having sufficient freely disposable funding to pursue ideas I’m interested in, even if they are unpopular with some.”