A grimly telling story in the news this week. The Aleppo-based International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), with an extensive collection of indigenous seed stock from Syria and the Fertile Crescent, took refuge in Beiirut in 2012. ICARDA director Dr. Mahmoud Solh told Radio Australia that rebel forces allowed his team to depart with some 140,000 seed packets from freezer storage as Aleppo descended into war. "The center was occupied unfortunately by armed forces... but some of them are farmers and they had received seeds from us," he said. "They understood the value of the center and they know we are apolitical and have nothing to do with the government." But not all of ICARDA's seed samples made it out, and now Dr. Solh is requesting a withdrawl from a remote Arctic "doomsday" seed bank with samples from around the world to be safeguarded in the event of global catastrophe. Reuters reports that ICARDA wants some 130 boxes out of 325 it had deposited with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, containing a total of 116,000 samples.
Colombia is suffering the worst drought and forest fires in the country's history, partially due to weather phenomenon El Niño. According to meteorologists, the situation is likely to get worse. El Niño is the warming of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean which occurs every few years, causing heavier than usual rainfall in some areas such as Peru and Ecuador but unusually hot and dry weather in Colombia. Luis Felipe Henao, Colombia's Housing Minister, said the last three years have been the driest that the country has ever suffered. The Río Magdalena is at its lowest level on record, at less than half its average flow of 7,200 cubic meters per second. The Río Cauca is also dangerously low, and the Río Pance almost entirely dry. So far this year 3,421 forest fires have been reported, affecting 77,300 hectares of woodland. Water restrictions have been put in place in 130 municipalities acrss the country, and rationing could also be imposed in hundreds more towns. The effects of the drought are not expected to improve until March 2016, according to the Colombian meteorological institute IDEAM. (Colombia Reports, Sept. 22)
Working-class districts of Istanbul, following the lead of rebel Kurds in Turkey's east, are declaring their own "autonomy" from the state—amid ongoing street clashes with security forces. The center of the urban rebellion is the Gazi neighborhood, where the Gazi People's Initiative has proclaimed self-government, pledging to resist all police operations in the district. Upon the declaration Aug. 15, residents marched through the district with a banner calling for freedom for imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. On Aug. 19, a 17-year-old youth was killed in nearby Esenler district, when police opened fire on an "unauthorized" demonstration by the PKK-aligned Revolutionary Patriotic Youth Movement (YDG-H). Police said they were fired on by masked YDG-H militants. On Aug. 24, masked militants reportedly torched a public bus with Molotov cocktails after stopping it at a street barricade in Okmeydanı district. In July 26 street-fighting in Gazi, a police officer was killed, allegedly by a sniper who fired from a building. Gazi district is a stronghold of Turkey's Alevi minority. (Daily Sabah, Aug. 24; AFP, Aug. 19; JINHA, Aug. 16; BGN, AFP, July 26)
An Aug. 12 Public Radio International interview with Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, notes that Iran in 2009 quietly appealed for help from the US in managing a severe water crisis—and suggests that the need for assistance from American hydrologists was the secret lubricants behind the US-Iran nuclear agreement. "The conversation between Iran and the United States over water has extended back more than a decade before 2009," Gleick said. "There have always been contacts at the university level, and at the level of the National Academy of Sciences, between the countries about water efficiency, water conservation, water technologies and how to manage droughts. As the water situation in the Middle East has gotten worse, the interest has gotten higher." Growing usage and an ongoing drought have meant a severe and worsening water crisis for Iran over the past 15 years. Two years ago, a study by the World Resources Institute ranked Iran as the world's 24th most water-stressed nation. (This timeline from The Guardian shows the trajectory of the nuclear talks, which began secretly in early 2013, and were formalized later that year.)
Following weeks of mounting protests over economic conditions and corruption, tens of thousands took to the streets of Baghdad Aug. 7, filling Tahrir Square to demand basic services including electricity in the midst of a crushing heat-wave. The protest had the support of all Iraq's Shi'ite factions—in a challenge to Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi from his own constituency. Even parliament speaker Saleem al-Jubouri called on Abadi to dismiss of a number of ministers accused of corruption related to a budget-cutting package that just passed, under pressure from fallling oil prices. Large protests were also reported from across Iraq's Shi'ite south, including in the cities of Basra, Najaf, Karbala and Nasiriyah. A week earlier, secular and left-wing groups held a smaller protest in Tahrir Square. But the leftists also had a contingent at the Aug. 7 march, chanting "Secularism, secularism, no to Sunni, no to Shia." (In Defense of Marxism, Aug. 10; AP, Aug. 7)
Just weeks before President Obama announced details of his climate change action plan, federal officials approved a deal to allow expanded mining of coal on Navajo lands and its continued burning at the Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington, NM. The deal extends the lease on the plant by 25 years, and allows for an expansion of the Navajo Mine that supplies it. It came less than a month after operators of the Four Corners plant (chiefly Arizona Public Service) agreed to settle a lawsuit by federal officials and environmental groups that claimed plant emissions violated the Clean Air Act. Under the settlement, operators agreed to spend up to $160 million on equipment to reduce harmful emissions, and to set aside millions more for health and environmental programs. The regional haze produced by the plant and others ringing the Navajo reservation has long drawn protest. Under pressure from the EPA, the plant in 2013 shut down the oldest and dirtiest three of the five generating units to help the facility meet emission standards. But many locals are not appeased. "Our Mother Earth is being ruined," said Mary Lane, president of the Forgotten People, a grassroots Navajo organization. "We don't want the power plant to go on. It's ruining all the environment, the air, the water." (Navajo-Hopi Observer, July 21)
China's Qingdao Maritime Court on July 27 ruled that a lawsuit against ConocoPhillips China and China National Offshore Oil for a 2011 oil spill can proceed. The suit was brought by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation and it the first case to proceed since the country revised a law (LoC backgrounder) allowing NGOs to directly sue polluters in the public interest. The Chinese government has already fined the companies approximately $258 million for the spill. Other cases are also pending under the law, which became effective on Jan. 1.
Russia Today on July 12 announces breathlessly: "Earth is facing the prospect of a 'mini ice age' this century, with our sun's activity projected to fall 60 percent in the 2030s, British astrophysicists say, based on the results of new research that they claim allows exact predictions of solar cycles." The scientists in question are a team from Northumbria University led by a Professor Valentina Zharkova. While the lead researcher's nice Russian name must be appealing to RT, there are other aspects of the story that doubtless make it even more irresistible. We smell Putin propaganda to allow him to go on exploiting Arctic oil without having to worry about contributing to global warming. Why have we seen this reported in few sources other than the unreliable (and state-controlled) RT?