A series of headlines from around the world, compiled by Max Wilbert and Mark Behrend. Featured image by Max Wilbert.

2019 Was the 2nd Hottest Year on Record

Global average temperature reached the 2nd highest annual level ever recorded, according to preliminary data for 2019. While the data is not yet finalized, it’s almost certain 2019 will go down as the 2nd hottest ever. The hottest five years on record have been the last five years, and we are in the final days of the hottest decade in the record.


70,000 Children Have Been Detained at the U.S. Border in 2019

As climate crisis and ecological collapse drives ever more migration, abuse at the southern border of the U.S. is escalating. One recent report finds that nearly 70,000 children have been detained in 2019:

The story lays out in excrutiating detail the emotional pain of victims of President Donald Trump’s child separation policy, focusing on, among others, a Honduran father whose three-year-old daughter can no longer look at him or connect with him after being separated at the U.S. border and abused in foster care.

“I think about this trauma staying with her too, because the trauma has remained with me and still hasn’t faded,” the father told AP.

The 3-year-old Honduran girl was taken from her father when immigration officials caught them near the border in Texas in March 2019 and sent her to government-funded foster care. The father had no idea where his daughter was for three panicked weeks. It was another month before a caregiver put her on the phone but the girl, who turned four in government custody, refused to speak, screaming in anger.

“She said that I had left her alone and she was crying,” said her father during an interview with the AP and Frontline at their home in Honduras. “‘I don’t love you Daddy, you left me alone,'” she told him.


Koalas Declared “Functionally Extinct” After Fires Destroy 80% of Remaining Habitat

Experts believe the long-term outlook for the species is bleak, after centuries of habitat destruction, overhunting, and culling.


Light Pollution is Key ‘Bringer of Insect Apocalypse’

Light pollution is a significant but overlooked driver of the rapid decline of insect populations, according to the most comprehensive review of the scientific evidence to date.

Artificial light at night can affect every aspect of insects’ lives, the researchers said, from luring moths to their deaths around bulbs, to spotlighting insect prey for rats and toads, to obscuring the mating signals of fireflies.

“We strongly believe artificial light at night – in combination with habitat loss, chemical pollution, invasive species, and climate change – is driving insect declines,” the scientists concluded after assessing more than 150 studies. “We posit here that artificial light at night is another important – but often overlooked – bringer of the insect apocalypse.”


Sea Ice Update:

Arctic sea ice extent for November 2019 ended up at second lowest in the 41-year satellite record. Regionally, extent remains well below average in the Chukchi Sea, Hudson Bay, and Davis Strait.

October daily sea ice extent went from third lowest in the satellite record at the beginning of the month to lowest on record starting on October 13 through October 30. Daily extent finished second lowest, just above 2016, at month’s end. Average sea ice extent for the month was the lowest on record. While freeze-up has been rapid along the coastal seas of Siberia, extensive open water remains in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, resulting in unusually high air temperatures in the region. Extent also remains low in Baffin Bay.


Gemeni Solar Project Threatens Important Habitat in Nevada

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently released a document identifying the severe impacts that would be inflicted on the Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) from the Gemini Solar Project, located in southern Nevada. The agency, tasked with recovering rare species headed for extinction, wrote a Biological Opinion for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency in charge of permitting the 7,100 acre Gemini Solar Project which will be located on public lands near Valley of Fire State Park, as part of its consultation process. BLM is reviewing an Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

Although the document claims that mitigation measures will make up for the impacts, the FWS claims that the Gemini Solar Project could kill or injure as many as 1,825 federally threatened desert tortoises in its 30-year operational lifespan. While the Biological Opinion assures us that the project would be heavily mitigated, it still raises dire concerns about these impacts.

The Mojave desert tortoise had declined so drastically decades ago that in 1990 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the species as federally threatened. In the year 2000 the FWS began systematically surveying desert tortoise population numbers across its range using the latest scientific methods. What they saw was continuing declines of tortoise numbers, and even population crashes. Based on these surveys the Desert Tortoise Council has recently recommended up-listing the status of the Mojave desert tortoise from a threatened status to a higher endangered status–which means an emergency to stave off extinction.

The vegetation would be mowed using 23,000 pound Heavy Duty mulchers. Because not all individual tortoises will be detected by biologists or project staff, the agency is concerned that death and injury of desert tortoises could result from excavation activities such as clearing of vegetation, and entrapment in trenches and pipes during construction. Tortoises could be crushed by heavy vehicles. The FWS claims tortoise burrows would be avoided during all this constriction and maintenance activity with equipment and vehicles over years, but we have seen tortoise home burrows crushed and caved in by such activities on other development projects.

After solar project construction is complete and hundreds of tortoises are dug up and raided out of their burrows, the agencies are proposing to then release them back on to this disturbed habitat. The presence of re-occupied desert tortoises on the solar site, with vehicle traffic, may result in injuries or death during routine maintenance of facilities such as vegetation trimming. Tortoises outside of the fenced solar site may also be injured or killed due to truck traffic along the transmission lines and associated access roads.

Capture and translocation (moving) of desert tortoises may result in death and injury from stress or disease transmission associated with handling tortoises, stress associated with moving individuals outside of their established home range, stress associated with artificially increasing the density of tortoises in an area and thereby increasing competition for resources, and disease transmission between and among translocated and resident desert tortoises.

Translocation has the potential to increase the prevalence of diseases, such as Upper Respiratory Tract Disease (URTD), a major mortality factor for desert tortoises. Stresses associated with handling and movement could exacerbate this risk in translocated individuals that carry diseases. Equally, desert tortoises in quarantine pens could increase their exposure and vulnerability to stress, dehydration, and inadequate food resources.

The Gemini Solar Project represents an unacceptably large threat to tortoise populations, connectivity, and high-quality habitat in the northeastern Mojave Desert. FWS appears to us to be minimizing the threat of this project and recommending mitigation measures that will fail to halt tortoise mortality and further cumulative habitat degradation.


Australia Bushfires Rage

3900 square miles of Australia (an area more than 3 times the size of Yosemite National Park) were burned during a single week of November.  – New York Post, 11/26/2019

Rice Farming is Major Source of Methane Emissions

Rice farming, long believed responsible for 2.5% of carbon emissions, is now believed to emit up to twice as much — due to new farming methods that only burn the fields intermittently, rather than annually. Leaving the fields in standing water has been found to stimulate bacterial growth that adds the equivalent of 1200 coal-fired power plants in carbon emissions.  – Independent (online news magazine), 09/10/2018

The Plastic Pollution Explosion

A deer found dead in rural Thailand recently had 18 pounds of plastic in its stomach.  – CNN, 11/26/2019

Consumer Culture Metastasizing Across the Globe

France says that Black Friday is the worst ever American import, topping Halloween and McDonald’s. The one-day shopping frenzy is said to produce the equivalent of a truckload of textiles being dumped every second, across France.  – France 24, 11/30/2019

E-Waste is Growing Fast

Electronic waste worldwide is expected to exceed 50 million tons annually by 2020. Before it becomes e-waste, producing a single computer and monitor requires 1.5 tons of water, 48 lbs. of chemicals, and 530 lbs. of fossil fuels.  – “The Balance SMB (balancesmb.com), 10/15/2019

Amazon Deforestation Accelerating Under Bolsonaro

Amazon deforestation in 2019 (so far) is estimated at more than 1130 square miles, an area equal to 97% of Yosemite.  – CNN, 11/14/2019

Another estimate puts Amazon deforestation at 3700 square miles thus far this year.

Sea of Okhotsk Warming Rapidly

Parts of the Sea of Okhotsk, between Siberia and Japan, are now 3° C. warmer than in pre-industrial times. Oxygen levels in the sea are down, and the Okhotsk salmon population has declined 70%, just since 2004. With colder areas of the planet reacting fastest to climate change, scientists fear that what is happening around Okhotsk is a warning for seas and sea life globally.  – Washington Post, 11/12/2019

Air Pollution in India

Forty percent of school children in four of India’s largest cities have lung capacity described as “poor” or “bad,” following breathing tests. Air quality in Indian cities is consistently rated among the worst in the world.  – India Times.com, 05/05/2015

Niger is Desertifying Rapidly

In Niger, an area of grasslands equal to 110,000 football fields is lost every year to desertification and erosion. Nomadic herdsmen, who have followed this lifestyle for centuries, blame climate change. Some report losing half of their herds in recent years, and say they are now being driven into cities to look for work.  – France 24, 12/05/2019

30-40% of Food is Wasted for “Cosmetic Reasons”

Thirty to forty percent of American farm produce never makes it to market, due to inefficient distribution, and to discarding for cosmetic reasons.  – France 24, 11/30/2019

Alaska Temperatures Caused Salmon to Have Heart Attacks

Record high temperatures across portions of Alaska caused thousands of salmon to have heart attacks and die last summer.