Biden takes Day One action to protect Arctic lands and waters

January 22, 2021 By Tim Woody

Animals from the Porcupine Caribou Herd in the Arctic Refuge
The Hulahula River runs from Alaska’s Brooks Range to the cArctic Refuge’s coastal plain, which is the calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd.EDWARD BENNETT/BENNETT IMAGES LLC

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After Trump’s sell off, the Arctic Refuge gets a reprieve

Just hours after being sworn into office, President Biden took a number of monumental actions to protect public lands, address the climate crisis and combat systemic racism, including an executive order that places a moratorium on all oil and gas activity in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

This occurred only one day after the previous administration issued leases for drilling in the refuge’s coastal plain in a rushed, flawed and likely illegal process.

Biden’s action was met with great enthusiasm, particularly by many Gwich’in and Iñupiat peoples who have depended on and protected the refuge for thousands of years and rely on the caribou and other resources in the refuge to sustain their communities and cultures.

“Mashi’ choo, President Biden,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “The Gwich’in Nation is grateful to the president for his commitment to protecting sacred lands and the Gwich’in way of life.”

The executive order also reinstated President Obama’s withdrawal of most of the Arctic Ocean and parts of the Bering Sea from oil and gas drilling—an order that had been reversed by the Trump administration. Protecting offshore areas from the threat of a major oil spill benefits not only marine species such as fish, seals and bowhead whales, but the coastlines of sensitive lands like the Arctic Refuge, too.

We are grateful to President Biden for his commitment to protect the refuge, address the climate crisis and respect the human rights of Indigenous peoples. We are also grateful to the millions of people who made today’s announcement possible by putting the climate and social justice first. This action is a result of years of advocacy from people across the United States, including members and supporters of The Wilderness Society, who refused to stay silent as oil corporations and their friends sought to put drilling rigs in the Arctic Refuge.

This action is a result of years of advocacy from people across the United States, including members and supporters of The Wilderness Society.

This does not mean the fight to protect the Arctic Refuge and the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd is over. The moratorium is temporary. But it’s a huge first step in Biden’s plan to review the legality of the Jan. 6 Arctic Refuge lease sale and the issuance of leases to the winning bidders.

We will continue to work with our Gwich’in and Iñupiat partners—as well as the Biden administration and our allies in the Congress and the conservation community—as we explore all options for ensuring that drilling never occurs on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. We’ll also keep putting pressure on corporations like banks and insurers.

But today we rest, raise a glass and celebrate a new day for the Arctic.

Trump administration schedules Arctic Alaska refuge lease sale for early January

The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service photo)

The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service photo)Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare via EmailShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on LinkedInShare on Google PlusPrint article

https://www.adn.com/business-economy/energy/2020/12/03/trump-administration-schedules-arctic-alaska-refuge-lease-sale-for-early-january/

The outgoing Trump administration announced Thursday it will auction off leases to oil and gas companies in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 6, setting the stage for drilling in a pristine region that has been the subject of a decades-long controversy.

“Congress directed us to hold lease sales in the ANWR coastal plain, and we have taken a significant step in announcing the first sale in advance of the December 2021 deadline set by law,” said Chad Padgett, Alaska director of the Bureau of Land Management, in a statement Thursday.“The law makes oil and gas development one of the purposes of the refuge, clearly directing the (Interior) secretary, acting through the Bureau of Land Management, to carry out an aggressive, competitive exploration and development program for the potentially energy rich coastal plain.”

A lease sale, in an area that’s home to polar bears and a vast caribou herd, is expected to face swift court challenges. President-elect Joe Biden has said he strongly opposes drilling in the 19-million-acre refuge.

Already, conservation and tribal groups and 15 states have brought lawsuits to halt a sale, arguing that the administration did not meet federal requirements in a plan, finalized in August, that opened the door for the sale. The plan said that all available acreage — 1.6 million acres of the refuge’s coastal plain — could be included in a lease sale.

It wasn’t until last month that the administration, in a last-minute move, asked the public to nominate specific tracts for the sale.

The Sierra Club said in a statement that the federal government has not allowed its call for nominations to conclude. That deadline is Dec. 17.

Any oil company that participates in a sale will face an uphill battle and potential backlash from the American public that generally opposes the sale, the group said.

“This is a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give one last handout to the fossil fuel industry on his way out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate,” said Michael Brune, head of Sierra Club, in a statement. “The Trump administration’s rushed and sloppy push to sell off the Arctic Refuge for drilling has been a disaster from day one, and has ignored the serious and permanent damage drilling would do to this unique ecosystem and the communities that depend on it.”

The BLM said in its statement that its oil leasing program “established numerous required operating procedures and lease stipulations to mitigate impacts to important resources, including extensive protections for wildlife such as caribou and polar bears.”

Just how many companies will show up for the sale is uncertain. Oil and gas exploration in the region would be costly at a time when demand for oil is waning, and the nation’s major banks have vowed not to finance it.

Proponents of drilling have said the potential for a large discovery in little-explored land, where oil has been found at the surface, will generate interest from companies.

Adam Kolton, head of the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement Thursday that Biden must “use all the tools at his disposal to stop the industrialization of this iconic national treasure.”

The Bureau of Land Management said it plans to open and read bids from companies on a video livestream at www.blm.gov/live.

A Detailed Statement of Sale will be posted online Monday at www.blm.gov/alaska, the agency said. It will describe areas the agency will offer for lease, as well as lease terms, conditions, special stipulations, required operating procedures, and directions about how to submit bids, the statement said.

Also potentially on the table for the refuge is seismic testing this winter. An Alaska Native village corporation based in the refuge has applied with the federal government to analyze the area’s underground oil potential using giant trucks that crisscross frozen, snowy ground. Conservation groups have accused the Trump administration of also trying to fast-track that effort.

Alaska leaders have long sought to open the coastal plain to drilling, but political opposition prevented it for years, allowing a single test well to be drilled in the mid-1980s. Oil companies involved in that effort have closely guarded the results, though court documents suggest the well did not uncover economic amounts of oil and gas.

Trump Administration Finalizes Plan to Open Arctic Refuge to Drilling

The decision sets up a fierce legal battle over the fate of a vast, remote area that is home to polar bears, caribou and the promise of oil wealth.

Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A decision on Monday overturns six decades of protections for the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States.
Credit…Christopher Miller for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday finalized its plan to open up part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas development, a move that overturns six decades of protections for the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States.

The decision sets the stage for what is expected to be a fierce legal battle over the fate of the refuge’s vast, remote coastal plain, which is believed to sit atop billions of barrels of oil but is also home to polar bears and migrating herds of caribou.

The Interior Department said on Monday that it had completed its required reviews and would begin preparations to auction off drilling leases. “I do believe there could be a lease sale by the end of the year,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said.

Environmentalists, who have battled for decades to keep energy companies out of the refuge, say the Interior Department failed to adequately consider the effects that oil and gas development could have on climate change and wildlife. They and other opponents, including some Alaska Native groups, are expected to file lawsuits to try to block lease sales.

“We will continue to fight this at every turn,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, in a statement. “Any oil company that would seek to drill in the Arctic Refuge will face enormous reputational, legal and financial risks.”

Though any oil production within the refuge would still be at least a decade in the future, companies that bought leases could begin the process of seeking permits and exploring for oil and gas.

President Trump has long cast an increase in Arctic drilling as integral to his push to expand domestic fossil fuel production on federal lands and secure America’s “energy dominance.” Republicans have prized the refuge as a lucrative source of oil and gas ever since the Reagan administration first recommended drilling in 1987, but efforts to open it up had long been stymied by Democratic lawmakers until 2017, when the G.O.P. used its control of both houses of Congress to pass a bill authorizing lease sales.

“ANWR is a big deal that Ronald Reagan couldn’t get done and nobody could get done,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Fox & Friends on Monday.

It remains unclear how much interest there will be from energy companies at a time when many countries are trying to wean themselves from fossil fuels and oil prices are crashing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Exploring and drilling in harsh Arctic conditions remains difficult and costly.

Nevertheless, by proceeding with the lease sales, the Trump administration has made the Arctic refuge a potential issue in the presidential campaign, and the region’s fate may ultimately hinge on the election’s outcome. The Democratic nominee for president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., has called for permanent protection of the refuge. However, even if he were to win the White House, it could prove difficult for his administration to overturn existing lease rights once they have been auctioned to energy companies.

The administration’s push to open up the refuge has been backed by lawmakers in Alaska, as well as by local energy firms and other Alaska Native groups, who have said that drilling could provide much-needed jobs and revenue for the state, where oil production has declined since the 1980s.

“Thousands of Alaskans are employed in our oil industry, and their livelihoods depend on the good-paying jobs created by our state’s reserves,” said Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska. “Today, we are one step closer to securing a bright future for these Alaskans and their families.”

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge spans 19 million acres in northeastern Alaska. The fight over drilling centers on 1.5 million acres in the refuge’s coastal plain, which is believed to contain the largest onshore reserves of oil in North America that remain untapped.

Opponents say that opening the refuge to development would be a step backward in an era when the world should be burning less oil in order to avoid drastic global warming. They also say drilling could harm vulnerable wildlife in the area, including polar bears, which are already struggling because of climate change, and Porcupine caribou herds that use the coastal plain as a calving area.

“There’s no good time to open up America’s largest wildlife refuge to drilling and fracking, but it’s absolutely bonkers to endanger this beautiful place during a worldwide oil glut,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group.
ImageDavid Bernhardt, the interior secretary, at the White House in January.  “I do believe there could be a lease sale by the end of the year,” he said on Monday. 
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

For decades, Democrats in Congress had blocked proposals to open the refuge. But in 2017 the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress included a section in a tax bill authorizing the Interior Department to establish a plan to sell leases in the coastal plain. Under the law, the agency must conduct at least two lease sales of 400,000 acres each by the end of 2024.

As part of the process, the Department of Interior was required to conduct a review of the potential environmental effects of drilling. The final version of that environmental impact statement was released in September and recommended that oil and gas leasing be allowed in the 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain.

In its review, the agency said that activities associated with oil and gas development — including new roads and truck traffic, as well as air, noise and water pollution — could potentially harm wildlife. But it suggested that there were ways to blunt the effects, such as limiting the use of heavy equipment for one month of the year during caribou calving season.

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Environmentalists have criticized the agency’s review as insufficient, saying it was largely based on older research and failed to address several concerns. For instance, critics have noted, the environmental impact statement does not provide an estimate of how many polar bears could potentially be killed or harmed by exploration in the coastal plain.

Drilling opponents have also said that the Interior Department downplayed the risks of climate change in its review. For example, the agency estimated that the refuge could produce as many as 10 billion barrels of oil over its lifetime, but argued that the effect on greenhouse gas emissions would be minimal, since most of that oil would simply displace oil being produced elsewhere in the country. In comments submitted to the agency, the attorneys general from 15 states, including New York, called this displacement theory “completely unsupported.”

3 issues may thwart Trump’s ANWR plan

OIL AND GAS

Heather Richards and Niina H. Farah, E&E News reporters

Published: Tuesday, August 18, 2020ANWR. Photo credit: Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikipedia

A view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikipedia

The Trump administration announced yesterday that it would open nearly all of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain to oil and gas leasing.

But it didn’t say when.

Timing is just one of the major questions lingering after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced a record of decision authorizing the first-ever oil and gas leasing program in the refuge.

From oil prices to politics, a minerals auction in ANWR is full of uncertainties. Allowing development in the ecologically rich landscape between the Brooks mountain range and the Arctic Ocean has been a key part of President Trump’s energy dominance agenda. But with the 2020 presidential election fast approaching, many drillers are still waylaid by an oil price bust, and critics have vowed to fight the Interior approval.

The agency’s final environmental review of the leasing plan was published last fall, as Interior raced to fulfill a 2017 congressional mandate to hold an oil and gas auction in ANWR’s coastal plain.

The record of decision sets “where and under what terms and conditions” a leasing program can take place in the 1.6-million-acre region. There are multiple questions it did not answer, however, leaving the fate of drilling up in the air. Here are three of them:

When is the sale?

The looming presidential election may pressure Interior to lease the land quickly, as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has voiced opposition to the prospect of drilling in the refuge.

“The Trump administration is hell bent on getting parts of ANWR leased for drilling before it leaves office on January 20,” said Robert Percival, head of the University of Maryland School of Law’s Environmental Law Program, in an email.

Percival pointed out that it is harder and potentially costlier for the federal government to revoke a lease once it is held by an oil company.

“And they would love to have the drilling start before a new administration can stop it, so that the area will no longer have a pristine character,” he added.

Bernhardt noted yesterday that the political landscape wasn’t guiding ANWR decisionmaking, but he did not specify a date for the sale beyond the congressionally mandated deadline of 2021 and the possibility of getting one in this year.

Interior staffers have said they were left out of ANWR decisions in recent weeks, with details limited to a tight political circle helming the agency (Energywire, Aug. 12).

That approach hasn’t changed with the release of the record of decision yesterday, some say.

“We have heard nothing yet on a lease sale” on the coastal plain, one senior Interior official said yesterday, noting that there has also been silence on the timeline for an anticipated 2020 sale in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), west of ANWR.

The lack of open planning is “frustrating,” the official said.

There is also polarized but sustained political pressure on Alaska’s congressional delegation to advance an ANWR sale.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) is up for reelection and will likely put his weight behind the first sale, given the state’s desire for good news on the fossil fuel front, said Larry Persily, an Alaska-based oil and gas columnist and longtime observer of the state’s resource-rich North Slope.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), meanwhile, leveraged her position as chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to push the ANWR leasing program through Congress three years ago but has since warned that drilling might not happen until 2030. She’s “astute enough to know there are major impediments to this,” said Persily.

Murkowski said over the summer that she was “struggling” with the idea of supporting Trump in the upcoming election after a largely peaceful protest outside the White House was dispersed with tear gas.

The president responded in a series of tweets in June promising to campaign for anyone who runs against her when Murkowski comes up for reelection in 2022.

“I gave Alaska ANWR, major highways, and more. Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!” Trump tweeted.

Given the political bombast surrounding ANWR, opponents of drilling say they are preparing for the administration to advance a sale soon.

“They’ve said they are going to be aggressive in their leasing and companies could try to get in, and that is very consequential,” said Brook Brisson, a senior staff attorney at Trustees for Alaska.

Carl Tobias from the University of Richmond School of Law said environmentalists could stall the administration by taking Interior to court.

“I don’t think we are going to be seeing any real leasing for a long time,” he said.

Will drillers bite?

A near-term ANWR sale would come at a poor time for the oil and gas industry, experts note, as the sector grapples with a drop in oil demand due to the coronavirus crisis.

Bernhardt said in a call with reporters yesterday that oil drillers look at long-term projections when weighing whether to bid on drilling rights.

Alaska Oil and Gas Association President Kara Moriarty also played up the coastal plain’s long-term energy potential in a statement yesterday.

“While the industry has been hard hit by the recent pandemic and low prices, it is critical that the government continue to meet its leasing obligations — such as the statutory mandate to carry out lease sales for ANWR,” she said.

But others say persistent challenges for Alaska’s oil sector could hurt chances for a sale. Many of the deep-pocketed oil and gas producers equipped to drill in the far north have already left the state.

Earlier this year, British oil supermajor BP PLC finalized the sale of its assets to Texas-based Hilcorp Energy. That came after Chevron Corp.’s North Slope departure, leaving just ConocoPhillips remaining from the so-called Big Three operators (Energywire, Dec. 11, 2019).

ConocoPhillips is focused on the NPR-A, where it recently won approval to advance the $6 billion Willow oil project. The company has expressed interest in delving deeper into the reserve and has favored plans to open more protected areas of the NPR-A’s Teshekpuk Lake area to oil and gas production.

“That’s probably where they see their future,” Persily said. “It’s more affordable [than ANWR]. It’s less contentious, and it fully occupies Conoco’s time up here.”

Waning interest in developing big, expensive oil projects in places like the Arctic could kill the prospects for the first ANWR lease sale, said Persily.

Still, a lease sale could draw at least some interest, he said. But actual development still seems unlikely.

“The leases could be cheap if there is not a lot of interest from deep-pocketed people, but even if you get it for a dollar, why would you do it if it’s going to cost you billions before you know if there is oil there?” he said.

There are other potential pitfalls for the industry: There is a ballot measure this year that could hike taxes on oil production.

Meanwhile, environmental groups have tried to make investment in ANWR as unpalatable as possible from a public relations perspective.

The largest U.S. banks, and several in Europe, have committed to not directly fund oil and gas development in the Arctic following an extended campaign by the Sierra Club and others (Climatewire, March 4).

It’s unclear what that attempt to pressure not just banks but energy companies may have on ANWR bids, said Brisson of Trustees for Alaska.

“Is any company going to risk its reputation?” she said.

Who will sue?

Critics of BLM’s decision to allow oil and gas leasing in the Arctic refuge say it has several fatal flaws that could imperil it in court.

“The law requires the agency to carefully analyze, disclose and mitigate the numerous inherent harms that opening up this amazing place to oil drilling will cause. But the agency ignored these obligations,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in an email.

For example, she said, the agency failed to take a “hard look” at how oil spills or seismic activity planned in the heart of polar bear habitat would affect the vulnerable species. The plan also did not take into account the increased stress on the animals from the project and how those stresses will negatively affect a species already at risk from rising global temperatures.

Monsell criticized BLM for making assumptions in its analysis that she said underestimate the climate effects of the project.

The federal agency could also face challenges over its pace for moving forward with drilling and for failing to work closely enough with the Fish and Wildlife Service in its decisionmaking.

“BLM ignored agency scientists again and again in this process, including calls by FWS for significant information gaps to be closed before a program is adopted,” Brisson said in an email. “This is only one way that BLM rushed to adopt this program.”

Additionally, the record of decision takes up the most expansive of the scenarios Interior considered in its environmental analysis by opening nearly all of the coastal plain’s acreage for drilling.

That route has already been flagged as problematic by some critics who say the administration is overstepping limitations meant to protect the refuge.

Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, noted that the record of decision is poised to barrel past a technical 2,000-acre surface footprint limitation set up by Congress.

Similar accusations of flawed analysis were a common theme in responses to Interior’s announcement from conservationists and watchdog organizations. Autumn Hanna, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, deemed the program a “fool’s errand.”

The Trump administration has lost several high-profile energy battles in the courts, from industry regulations to pipeline projects, based on failures to follow process, some observers noted yesterday. It’s a weak spot that several appeared ready to exploit.

The administration’s record of decision on the oil and gas leasing plan repeats the “the same errors” that it made before losing oil pipelines like Keystone XL, which was halted due to problems with Endangered Species Act compliance, said Jessica Girard, director of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, in a statement.

“The fight is not over,” Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said in a statement. “We have attorneys on this case, and the courts will get to hear about the corrupt and illegal ways the Trump administration has used to open the Sacred Place Where Life Begins for drilling.”

Assam floods: 96 animals die at Kaziranga National Park

A total of 132 animals have been rescued so far from the Park

https://gulfnews.com/photos/news/assam-floods-96-animals-die-at-kaziranga-national-park-1.1595135583306?slide=16



The electric hum of life may have originated with primordial lightning

lightning striking Earth

(Image: © Shutterstock)

There’s an electrical hum in most animals, including ourselves. No one knows where it came from or why exactly it exists. Now, new research suggests this electric hum came from primordial lightning.

In most vertebrates and invertebrates, there is constant background cellular electrical activity, often coursing through the nervous system, with a small frequency range from 5 to 45 Hertz — well below the range of human hearing for sound waves. A new study, published in the journal International Journal of Biometeorology, notes this extremely low frequency (ELF) range overlaps with natural vibrations in the atmosphere caused by lightning.

Related: How big can lightning get?

“About 20 years ago, we started to discover that many biological systems, from the simplest of organisms like zooplankton in the ocean to our brains, have electrical activity in exactly the same frequency range as that produced by global lightning activity,” Colin Price, lead author on the new study and researcher at the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University in Israel, told Live Science. “We think that on evolutionary timescales, over billions of years, life-forms may have used what nature has given them and have somehow either synchronized to those frequencies or adapted to them.”

Around the planet, flashes of lightning strike the ground 50 to 100 times per second. These strikes have been known since the 1960s to create extremely low frequency  waves of electromagnetic energy that resonate around the planet’s atmosphere t. Known as Schumann resonances, these ELF waves  have encircled the planetor billions of years — ever since Earth has had an atmosphere. While the strongest resonance is at a frequency close to 8 Hz, several others occur between 3 and 60 Hz.Today, Schumann resonances can be measured anywhere on Earth that is electrically quiet, such as in a desert, far from electrical grids.

The new theory proposes primordial cells may have somehow synced their electric activity with these natural atmospheric resonances, particularly the peak resonance near 8 Hz. Such synchronization isn’t uncommon. We synchronize our circadian rhythm to days and seasons; and many species navigate off  Earth’s magnetic field.

“Evolution exploits whatever it can,” said Michael Levin, a biologist at Tufts University in Massachusetts who was not involved with the new research. He noted for example, “When living things are screened [blocked] from a geomagnetic field, they don’t develop right.”

Today, not all life vibrates at exactly the Schumann resonance. The researchers suggest that while early life was synced at around 8 Hz, the cellular activity in animals slowly drifted to other frequencies as the animals evolved, with different frequencies being used for different types of activity in the brain.  For example, specific frequencies in human brain waves have been linked to specific mental states such as alertness, dreaming and deep sleep. The Schumann resonance is closest to frequencies found in humans’ deep relaxed state, suggesting primordial life could have been in a state similar to deep relaxation.

Related: 10 things we learned about the human body in 2019

While there is a possibility that this research might lead to medical applications, it is highly unlikely this resonance could be exploited for harmful applications, the researchers note. The waves, the researchers note, are a natural state and one we are constantly surrounded by.

“We’re living in these fields, we’ve adapted to them, we’ve evolved with them, and they may have affected our evolution,” Price told Live Science. “But I don’t think that these fields are affecting us directly today. Otherwise, every time there was a thunderstorm nearby, we would be falling over or something.”

The researchers haven’t yet identified how lightnings’ resonance and biological electrical activity could have become synced. One idea is that lightning strikes could have affected calcium ion transfer within the cells, which is how most electrical activity in animals arises.

Not all scientists are onboard with the new theory.. “The proposal… in all fairness, is speculative,” said James Lin, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago who was not involved with the new research. For example, Lin notes that some electrical signals, such as ones that control heart rate, are more correlated with body mass than the Schumann resonance.

The researchers are continuing to look at possible mechanisms as well as extending their work into the botany realm, looking for effects of these atmospheric resonances on photosynthesis.

“There’s more and more evidence that there does appear to be links between these natural atmospheric frequencies and biological organisms,” Price told Live Science. “But we don’t understand it ⎯ what the connections are and how it’s working, so it’s just a start. We just published this to kind of put it out there. Hopefully others can advance it and go further on it.”

Letters | Coronavirus crisis shows why Hong Kong must stop illegal wildlife trade and conserve global biodiversity

  • Hong Kong remains a major transit point for the illegal wildlife trade and the number of consignments that go undetected is troubling. Strong action can help Asia’s World City shed its reputation as a haven for illicit wildlife trafficking
Live turtles on display at a farmer’s market in Guangzhou, in Guangdong province of southern China, on May 4. Photo: EPA-EFE
Live turtles on display at a farmer’s market in Guangzhou, in Guangdong province of southern China, on May 4. Photo: EPA-EFE

Following the 2003 Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, a team of virologists led by Dr Vincent Cheng from the University of Hong Kong warned of a “time bomb” waiting to explode from China’s wildlife markets. As predicted, the Covid-19 pandemic emerged with devastating repercussions that are affecting every corner of the world.

Despite China declaring a ban on most

wildlife sales

and the closure of wildlife markets, a suspected disease source, there are reports of markets back in operation.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, illegal wildlife trade was one of the world’s most profitable illicit sectors, worth US$10 billion to US$23 billion a year and run by the syndicates that traffic drugs, arms and people. In the past decade, more than 2,000 wildlife species have been trafficked through Hong Kong, with a 57 per cent increase in the trade and a 1,600 per cent increase in profits.

Many species are heavily threatened by the trade, including elephants, rhinoceros, pangolins, sharks, lions and tigers. The

recent confiscation

of 26 tonnes of illegal fins, from more than 38,000 mostly endangered sharks, confirms that Hong Kong remains a major transit point for the illegal wildlife trade. The number of consignments that go undetected is troubling.

The intense global demand for wild meat, exotic pets and animal parts for medicines, ivory and curios is decimating wildlife populations and biodiversity, leaving us empty forests, savannahs, deserts and seas.

Not only are ecosystems and the services they provide compromised, the risk of future zoonotic disease outbreaks will remain high if it is not stopped. There is strong, science-based evidence to indicate that degraded ecosystems are less resilient to the impacts of the

climate crisis

, leaving nature and humanity exposed.

Why a greener Hong Kong can better keep pandemics at bay
17 May 2020

Hong Kong can have a huge positive impact in tackling the wildlife trade through strident, committed action. On this World Biodiversity Day, we ask the government to take stronger steps to shed our reputation as one of the world’s major hubs for the wildlife trade and to better meet its obligations under the Convention of Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

We urge the government to increase and strengthen enforcement operations, and to include wildlife crime offences under Schedule 1 of Cap. 455 Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance, to further deter transnational criminal enterprises.

Hong Kong must shed its reputation as a global hub for the illegal wildlife trade if it is to live up to its aspirations as Asia’s World City.

While the world reels from coronavirus, the next pandemic is waiting in the wings

Stop The Wildlife Trade: Zoonotic diseases represent a real and present threat to the modern world – after failing to address the danger for centuries, we must act now

Poached in Africa, pangolin meat is consumed by hunters and the scales are destined for the Chinese pharmacopoeia market

Poached in Africa, pangolin meat is consumed by hunters and the scales are destined for the Chinese pharmacopoeia market ( Reuters )

The mountains are high and the emperor is far away, goes the Chinese proverb. Over the years, the chorus of warnings on the wildlife trade and sale of live animals has steadily grown louder.

For too long, governments across the world have made overtures to curb this crisis of animal rights, but they have turned a blind eye to the continued growth of the industry in their own backyards. The threat to public health has been known to us for centuries, even since the Black Death.

But it is not going away. Rather it is becoming a more serious and sustained threat to the modern world. Indeed, zoonotic diseases are responsible for 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million deaths every year around the world. As human civilisation expands into more animal habitats, and the exploitation of the natural world continues, these infectious diseases are likely to become ever more common.

Researchers and experts have been warning of the threat of zoonotic viruses from Asia’s wildlife trade for some time. One academic paper from 2017 warns that the rise of China, a “cradle” of such diseases since the Black Death, would almost certainly herald a new wave.

Income growth means more Chinese consumers can afford the rare meats seen as “luxury”, fuelling the demand that leads to smuggling, corruption and illegal markets. Urbanisation increases the risk of a disease becoming an epidemic. And globalisation brings China closer to the world. Just as the bubonic plague bacteria spread across the ancient silk roads to reach Europe, the coronavirus was carried from Wuhan across the globe in Boeing 747s and cruise liners.

While huge swathes of the rest of the world pull down the shutters on shops, businesses and markets, and impose lockdowns to halt the terrifying spread of the disease, there are markets in filthy conditions across China and southeast Asia selling live animals. The general trend is that territories further from Beijing and the east coast have more flagrant abuses.

China’s growing international clout also threatens to ramp up the illegal wildlife trade. While it has traditionally relied upon its close neighbours, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos, for certain animals such as pangolins and dogs, its global ambitions could change this.

Its Belt and Road Initiative, a massive state-backed programme of investment across 60 countries to stimulate growth and trade and cement influence, might ease the illegal wildlife trade and put habitats of rare species like Asian brown bears and Persian leopards within reach, according to an article in one nature journal.

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The WHO and governments globally are facing pleas to halt the sale of animals in unhygienic conditions

China has taken steps to control the wildlife trade. In February, it instituted a temporary ban on selling and eating wild animals, and authorities moved to close markets across the country. At the beginning of this month, the Ministry of Agriculture hinted that the dog meat trade could be outlawed.

Jill Robinson, the founder of an organisation that runs animal sanctuaries in China and Vietnam for trafficked bears, warned me that we need a sea change in our attitude towards animals and the cultural practices surrounding their treatment.

“Markets have unsanitary conditions, and vast amounts of antibiotics are being used simply to keep the animals alive. This latest outbreak calls for great change globally and no country is immune. Governments must now take the decision to make massive and sweeping change or risk the next deadly virus that is waiting in the wings.”

Wuhan virus outbreak exposes perils of exotic wildlife trade

ASEAN+

Thursday, 23 Jan 2020
4:40 PM MYT

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Xinhua): A new coronavirus spreading from the city of Wuhan has put a spotlight on China’s poorly regulated wild animal trade
– driven by relentless demand for exotic delicacies and ingredients for traditional medicine.

China’s markets, where wild and often poached animals are packed together, have been described as a breeding ground for disease and an incubator for a multitude of viruses to evolve and jump the species barrier to humans.

More than 500 people have been infected by the new flu-like virus that authorities say emerged from illegally traded wildlife in a seafood market in the central Chinese city, with the death toll at 17 and expected to rise.

“The origin of the new coronavirus is the wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan seafood market,” Gao Fu, director of China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told a briefing.

Preliminary research suggested that in the most recent stage of its evolution, the Wuhan virus was passed on to humans from snakes. But Chinese government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan has also identified badgers and rats as possible sources.

Conservationists and health experts have long denounced the trade in wildlife for its impact on biodiversity and the potential for spreading disease in markets.

“The animal welfare part of this is obvious, but much more hidden is this stashing and mixing of all these species together in a very small area, with secretions and urine mixed up together,” said Christian Walzer, executive director of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

China’s wet markets have already been blamed for outbreaks of other infectious diseases in China and southeast Asia, including the virus responsible for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people worldwide in 2003.

“The other thing you have to consider is that these animals are massively stressed in these cages so their immune systems fail very quickly,” said Walzer.

“It is a perfect system. You couldn’t do it any better if you tried,”
Walzer said of the markets’ propensity to generate viruses.

Photographs taken at the Wuhan market before it was closed at the end of last year show cages packed with snakes, porcupines and foxes. Media said about 50 types of wild animal were on sale at the market, including endangered pangolins.

According to a report by the China Business Journal, a state-owned paper that interviewed the sister of a vendor infected by the virus, snakes, ducks and wild rabbits were popular at the market.

Since the outbreak began, authorities in Wuhan and elsewhere have shut down markets, zoos and forest parks, suspended trade in live poultry and the trade and transport of wild animals, though residents in some areas said the measures appeared to be largely symbolic.

The southeastern province of Guangdong, where a wide variety of animals are sold, has long been regarded as a prime source of new diseases.

Scientists believe Sars was caused by cross-species transmission in the province – with the blame initially falling on masked palm civets, which are considered a delicacy.

Authorities slaughtered thousands of the animals although bats were later believed to have been the source of Sars.

After Sars, China tried to improve the way the animal trade is regulated. At the same time, authorities have tried to curb the poaching of exotic species and has a long list of officially protected wildlife.

But efforts to protect animals often lose out to generations of tradition.

Environmentalists have long campaigned for new laws to restrict the use of wild animals in Chinese medicine and to develop synthetic alternatives.

But many animal products are still easily available.

Snakes, peacocks and even crocodiles are on sale via Taobao, a Chinese e-commerce website run by Alibaba.

Reuters contacted an Inner Mongolia resident named Gong Jian who sells snake, camel, crocodile and deer meat via WeChat.

Given booming business, he said he was aiming to expand his online marketing.

“Customers really like the crocodile – they stew it,” he said. – Xinhua

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2020/01/23/wuhan-virus-outbreak-exposes-perils-of-exotic-wildlife-trade

Australia bushfires: Carrots dropped from helicopters feed wallabies

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/newsbeat-51098239/australia-bushfires-carrots-dropped-from-helicopters-feed-wallabies

As animals try to recover from bushfires which have ravaged Australia, wildlife services in New South Wales have taken to the skies to help wallabies.

The marsupials’ food sources and habitats have been burned in the fires, so authorities are airdropping over 2,000 kg of carrots and sweet potatoes from helicopters.

Elsewhere in the state, communities and rescue centres have helped kangaroos, camels, horses and alpacas to survive.

But they’re the lucky ones – many more animals have died in the fires, and in some cases the animals have had to be put down because their burns are too severe.

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