ICYMI – eco news round up, 1 June 2019

Guardian spurs media outlets to consider stronger climate language

The Guardian has decided to alter its style guide in order to better convey the environmental crises, in turn prompting some other media outlets to reconsider the terms they use in their own coverage. After the newspaper announced it would now routinely use the words “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” instead of “climate change” and “global heating” instead of “global warming”, a memo was sent by the standards editor of CBC, Canada’s national public broadcaster, to staff acknowledging the need review to review their own style.

Other newsrooms around the globe have been digesting the changes, with journalists at several UK and US media outlets reporting internal conversations about the language used regarding the climate. Laura Helmuth, the health, science and environment editor at the Washington Post said she had “circulated the Guardian story about your guidelines to our reporters and copy desk for inspiration”. Likewise, Scott Kraft, managing editor of the LA Times, said “We are also reviewing our style guide in light of the recent report from the United Nations”, in reference to a stark report last year that warned that flooding wildfires and drought would seriously escalate by 2030 if humanity did not cut its planet-heating emissions by nearly half.

However, others are more sceptical about the changes. Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale programme on climate change communication, said the media could help to clarify the climate issue by using images that illustrate the impact on people, rather than remote depictions of melting ice and distraught polar bears. He said, “For better or worse, I think climate change and global warming are likely to remain the primary names for the phenomenon”.

Adani coalmine environmental approvals given three-week deadline

The Queensland government has placed a three-week deadline on the final environmental approvals for the controversial Adani coalmine in Queensland’s Gailee Basin, outlining that a decision on the plan is due on 13 June. Announcing the timeframe for the environmental approvals on Friday, Annastacia Palaszczuk said, “I know initially people thought this was [going to take] months. What I’m announcing today, it’s in a matter of weeks”. She added that such a tight timeframe was “good news” and a “breakthrough”.

The mine would be built on one of the only and one of the best remaining habitats for the black-throated finch, which faces extinction. The environment department said earlier this month that it had asked Adani to gather more information about the finch population to allow for effective management and monitoring. However, Palaszczuk intervened in the approval process to call for a speedy resolution this week, following the surprise federal election result on Saturday that saw huge swings to the Liberal National party in two-party preferred terms throughout Queensland.

Environment groups have criticised the hurried deadline. Peter McCallum, Mackay Conservation Group coordinator, said “The delay in Adani’s plans being approved is because they’ve been grossly inadequate.”

World’s rivers ‘awash with dangerous levels of antibiotics’

The largest global study on the subject has found that hundreds of sites in rivers around the world are awash with dangerously high levels of antibiotics. This type of pollution can allow bacteria to develop resistance to the life-saving medicines, rendering them ineffective for humans. This rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a global health emergency that could kill ten million people by 2050, the UN warned last month.

The research shows that some of the world’s best-known rivers, including the Thames and the Tigris, are contaminated with antibiotics classified as critically important for the treatment of serious infections. The researchers tested 711 sites in 72 countries and found antibiotics in 65% of them. In 111 of the sites, the concentrations of antibiotics exceeded safe levels, with the worst cases more than 300 times over the safe limit, meaning resistance is much more likely to develop and spread.

The Danube, the second largest river in Europe, was the most contaminated in the continent. Yet Gaze said, “Even the low concentrations seen in Europe can drive the evolution of resistance and increase the likelihood that resistance genes transfer to human pathogens”.

Right whale population decline linked to ocean warming, research says

Ocean warming has caused the main food supply of the endangered North Atlantic right whale to shift, causing them to travel farther for food and moving them closer to shipping lanes. Scientists have long been searching for an explanation for the abrupt decline in the North Atlantic right whale population, which has dropped from 482 in 2010 to approximately 411 today. A paper published this month in the journal Oceanography links an influx of warm water in 2010 to a reduction in the whales’ key food supply, forcing the whales in turn to change their feeding grounds. The paper says, “The right whale population is not healthy and more time spent foraging may lead to additional mortality, amplifying the challenges this species faces”.

There was hope the population would rebound but in the past decade it has become clear the whales are among the most endangered species in the world. In 2017, at least 17 right whales died. In 2018, no calves were born. That prompted new measures to protect the whales from industrial fishing lines and large vessels.

The paper challenged the assumption that species can adapt quickly to changing ocean conditions. Instead, the authors wrote: “Low calf production is an indication that [the whales] are not yet able to forage well in these new habitats”. Nevertheless, the scientists still display slight confidence that the whales will rebound as they have spotted seven calves so far this year.

Matt Canavan shrugs off Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions increase

The resources minister, Matt Canavan, has shrugged off Australia’s trend of rising emissions, brushing over the United Nation’s estimation that the net greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 were equivalent to 537 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. After a government report to the UN showed the country’s greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise last year, Canavan told Sky News that people needed to take a “balanced viewpoint” when assessing the trend because “the export of Australian gas is helping the world lower its carbon emissions even though there is an issue in how it is accounted for country to country”.

Canavan attributed the increase “almost principally due to the construction or bringing online of LNG export terminals”. Although, according to the latest Australian government inventory, emissions have recently rocketed due to a 19.7% increase in LNG exports, there have also been increases in stationary energy, transport, fugitive emissions, industrial processes and waste sectors.

Still, the government’s energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, told media this week the government’s climate targets were “ambitious”, despite the fact that its 26%-28% emissions reduction target is not considered to be aligned with the Paris goal of limiting global heating to no more than 2 degrees.

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