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Manchester Metropolitan University Criticised for ‘Boasting About Sustainability While Allowing the Destruction of Biodiversity’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/06/2024 - 11:15pm in

Tags 

Environment

Manchester Metropolitan University has been criticised for allowing invasive ground investigation surveys which could disturb or even destroy active birds’ nests and will involve heavy machinery working within recommended exclusion zones without appropriate protected species licenses. 

According to locals, Ryebank Fields in south Manchester is a rewilded oasis for urban wildlife, a much loved resource for the local community and a valuable carbon sink. 

But once planning permission has been granted, the university (MMU), which ranks as the seventh best University for Biological Sciences in the UK, plans to sell the land to its preferred developers, Step Places and Southway Housing, who will clear the 10-acre site to make way for 120 new homes.

Ryebank Fields in south Manchester is a rewilded oasis for urban wildlife, a much loved resource for the local community but is being cleared to make way for 120-houses. Photo: Friends of Ryebank Fields.

A website set up to promote the Ryebank housing development and a letter sent to residents said the works, which are due to start imminently and are expected to last up to six weeks, will include driving steel tubes into the ground, drilling bore holes, digging trial pits and dropping weights on to steel rods buried up to 6m in the ground. Potential bird nesting habitat will also be cleared from various locations around the site to allow access for heavy machinery and survey equipment. 

All wild birds and their nests are protected by law under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

MMU, Step Places and Southway Housing refused to comment directly to Byline Times, and replied via PR company Lexington Communications, which said "no active bird nests have been recorded on site to date”.

However, during a short walk just after dawn earlier this week ten species of bird were recorded singing and defending breeding territories. Professional ecologists volunteering free of charge for Friends of Ryebank Fields, a campaign group set up to save the site from development, say that they have strong evidence that there are active nests in the area which would be disturbed or destroyed by the works. 

The PR firm also said that although Natural England, the Government body tasked with promoting nature conservation and protecting biodiversity, had not issued any licenses to legally allow disturbance of protected species on the site, “all exclusion zones will be applied and respected when the site investigation works are carried out”.

Images and footage seen by Byline Times of similar works commissioned by MMU at Ryebank Fields in 2019 shows heavy machinery working inside the recommended protected species exclusion zones. Other images show core samples, some of which were later found to be contaminated with asbestos, littering the site after contractors left. 

Sam Easterby-Smith, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Manchester Withington in the forthcoming general election, knows Ryebank Fields well and is adamant that the ground surveys should be carried out in full compliance of environmental regulations and best practice. 

“Any vegetation works and clearance should certainly be avoided during the official bird nesting season from February to August. It would be extremely disappointing if they were to fail in their environmental duties," he said, adding: “While I absolutely recognise the need for more housing, particularly affordable housing, there are other, more appropriate sites nearby.”  

Councillor Richard Kilpatrick, parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats, said if contractors are ignoring protected species exclusion zones, "this is a serious act of environmental vandalism, the type of which we were given cast-iron guarantees would not happen on this site".  

Kilpatrick also expressed his concern that the work was happening at the wrong time of the year for nesting birds and is likely to disturb contaminated land.

After 14 years of successive Conservative Governments failing to address biodiversity loss, the 2023 State of Nature report, a collaboration between environmental NGOs, academic institutions and government agencies including Natural England, concluded that the UK is now one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. 

However, the protection of sites like Ryebank Fields, where many of the "at risk" species highlighted in the State of Nature report, such as birds, amphibians and reptiles and land mammals can be found, has often been labelled as standing in the way of progress by successive Conservative Governments.

Ex Conservative Prime Ministers, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss both consistently sided with developers and were criticised by environmental groups for promising to water down wildlife legislation designed to protect the environment in order to "stream line" the planning process. 

More recently, Rishi Sunak has been accused of abandoning the environment by The Wildlife Trusts - a federation of 46 independent wildlife conservation charities covering the whole of the UK -  and playing politics with the twin crisis of nature and climate change by suggesting we can’t have new homes without first ditching environmental protections.

The Conservative Party’s attempts at normalising biodiversity loss are compounded by an increase in shifting baseline syndrome (SBS). Also described as ‘environmental generational amnesia’, SBS is where, due to a lack of experience, memory and/or knowledge, what many consider to be a normal or healthy environment today, previous generations would consider to be degraded. Many conservationists and scientists now recognise SBS as a significant driver for the continued loss of biodiversity in the UK. 

Universities recognise that they have an important in role to play in educating their students about biodiversity loss and MMU’s website says it is currently in the process of "rewilding" its campus. It has also recently posted about being part of the No Mow May initiative which encourages allowing amenity grassland to grow wild in May to support  pollinators like bees and butterflies.

In a message to potential students on its website, MMU states, “We’ve built sustainability into everything we do – into our business operations, employment practices and into the very fabric of our buildings… from the day you join us to the day you graduate, you’ll find that sustainability is a big part of life at Manchester Met.” MMU Business School also hosts an annual Sustainability Festival which celebrates the work of Manchester’s local communities, organisations and activists. 

Sarah Benjamins from Friends of Ryebank Fields says the University is guilty of greenwashing and branded it hypocritical for boasting about sustainability on campus while at the same time allowing the destruction of biodiversity and disturbance of wildlife at Ryebank Fields. She also commented that “the timing of the works shows a disregard for nature, does not follow best practice and could result in wildlife crimes being committed.” 

Friends of Ryebank Fields are calling for the site to be designated as a Local Green Space and to be recognised and protected as part of the Greater Manchester Nature Recovery Network. Their recent offer to buy the site received no replies from MMU.   

A spokesperson for the group confirmed that a team of local residents and wildlife campaigners had set up a rota for the duration of the works and will be monitoring contractors with a view to reporting any potential wildlife crimes. 

Gaming the Refs: Watchdogs ‘Captured’ Amid Cuts and Political Pressure – as Lid is Lifted on UK’s ‘Lax’ Regulation Regime

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/06/2024 - 8:42pm in

A new report sounds the alarm on a failure by UK regulators to sanction companies that are flagrantly breaching rules on pollution, workers’ rights and other violations. 

‘Protecting All We Care About’, written by the non-profits Good Jobs First and Unchecked UK, examines the current state of the UK's regulatory system, branding it in dire need of an overhaul in many areas following years of political pressure and cuts. 

It draws upon extensive data from the Violation Tracker UK database, documenting over 100,000 cases of corporate wrongdoing since 2010. Often the same companies come up time and time again, suggesting that they are not learning their lessons. 

At a launch conference on Thursday, speakers highlighted how Amazon ‘fulfilment centres’ or warehouses have had thousands of ambulance call-outs in recent years – but have had just three safety offences recorded against them.

The US consistently enforces regulations more strictly than the UK across all areas, attendees heard, while in the UK, deep funding and staffing cuts to regulatory budgets are having "immense effects on enforcement gaps”. 

For instance, there has been a nearly 90% decline in prosecutions by the Environment Agency since 2010. As of 2021, a farm in England – supposedly regulated by the EA – can expect a visit from an environmental officer only once every 236 years. 

It comes as the UK Finance industry is gearing up to push for further deregulation, even under a Labour Government, amid pleas from executives in the City of London.

Yet the use of bans or “prohibitions” barring City firm directors by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has fallen by 62% since 2013, while the number of individual fines has also collapsed, the report finds. Many FCA investigations end in mere warnings, while over half of decisions don’t carry any monetary penalty. 

Ian Tyler, a non-executive director and former senior banker, told the conference that enforcement by the FCA is “highly selective”, with big firms often facing only fines, while smaller firms and their bosses face more severe consequences, such as criminal prosecution. 

Meanwhile, the Treasury Select Committee which is also meant to hold rogue bosses to account “lacks rigour and knowledge,” with staffers often being secondees from finance firms, he said. 

Other speakers pointed out that “regulatory capture” has worsened in the UK in recent years, with watchdogs sometimes receiving gifts from those they scrutinise, particularly in the water industry. Research by he Liberal Democrats earlier this year found that OfWat bosses have been treated to dinners from disgraced water firms despite public outrage over sewage scandals. 

Officials there received lunches at shows and even an umbrella gifted by firms, seemingly attempting to keep the regulator on side.  

Some regulators in the UK are also expected to be cheerleaders for industry, unlike in the US. The FCA now has to deal with alleged conflicts of interest after the Government passed the 2023 Financial Services and Markets Bill, where ministers gave the FCA a new ‘growth duty’ – a demand for it to promote growth and competitiveness. In other words, to act as an industry cheerleader as well as its regulator. 

“This new obligation to promote market interests presents a conflict with FCA’s mission to ensure financial stability and protect consumers,” the Good Jobs First report suggests. 

Equally, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) which regulates North Sea Oil firms, has a "conflicting" core mission to achieve the maximum recovery of UK petroleum. Environmentalists say that industry-promotion objective stands in "direct conflict" with the UK’s commitment to net zero.

Other issues like the ‘fragmentation’ of watchdogs, such as lack of a single enforcement body for labour rights, was also cited as a significant problem. 

Watchdogs or Lapdogs?

The report from Unchecked UK argues that the UK's regulatory system is "not delivering” – pointing to a huge disconnect between workers, consumers and the environment being abused by firms – while prosecutions or fines for related offences are often non-existent. 

On workers’ rights, there have been 193 convictions for breaches and 349 licences revoked in the labour market since 2008 by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, and there has been a steep decline in licences being revoked since 2021. Yet Anti-Slavery International estimates that over 130,000 people are trapped in slavery in the UK. 

The Low Pay Commission reports that 120,000 cases of minimum wage underpayment benefited from HMRC investigations into non-compliant employers in 2021/2022. Yet there are an estimated 760,000 workers paid less than the minimum wage. 

In housing, OpenDemocracy found that half of local authorities in England and Wales didn't prosecute any private landlords or letting agents between 2019 and 2021, despite more than 314,000 complaints being made in that period. 

Generation Rent states that 250,000 landlords are renting out properties that do not meet the legal Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards as of 2022. But according to the National Audit Office, only 10 English landlords were barred from renting out property between 2016 and 2021.

On consumer rights, customers spent 1.5 billion hours in 2021/2022 dealing with "detriment" arising from disputes with traders, the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy reports. 

The Violation Tracker database shows that the Food Standards Agency has prosecuted only eight meat and dairy producers since 2021, while The Guardian notes that hospital admissions for salmonella, e. coli, and campylobacter infections have reached record levels.

Meanwhile, the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) has prosecuted 17 cases since 2010, with an average fine of £63,000 for water safety compliance, according to Violation Tracker. The fines are likely to be seen as a cost of doing business. Last month, the BBC reported 26 confirmed cases of cryptosporidium due to faecal contamination of water in Brixham, Devon.

Violation Tracker also reveals that airlines have faced total fines of £165,000 for aviation safety violations and £15,000 for one licensing violation since 2010. Yet the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy identifies aviation as the sector with the highest incidence of consumers being wronged. 

On domestic goods, the Office for Product Safety and Standards issued total penalties of £35,894 via the courts for just three cases between 2018 and 2021, according to Violation Tracker UK. 

Yet the Office for Product Safety and Standards has itself found that 63% of electrical products from online marketplaces were "non-compliant," and nearly a quarter were unsafe.

The situation is even more stark when it comes to environmental offences.

Following major cuts under the coalition austerity years, enforcement action by the Environment Agency plunged by 88% between 2010 and 2023.

The Guardian and Point Source have also reported that no warnings or penalties for water pollution by industrial farming were issued between 2018 (when the law was introduced) and 2021. 

Violation Tracker UK also identifies 22 published cases of climate violations under the Greenhouse Gas Trading Scheme Regulations since its introduction in 2012, and 35 enforcement cases against oil and gas companies since 2010, resulting in £4.2 million in fines. 

There have been just nine published enforcement cases of illegal damage to habitats since 2010 against companies, one by National Resource Wales and 8 by Natural England, with only one case receiving a monetary fine. The sanction was a paltry £2,605, according to Violation Tracker UK. 

Helpfully for an incoming Labour Government, when it comes to issues like sewage and environmental pollution, much could be done to enforce laws currently on the statute book – without needing new legislation to be passed.

As Hannah Slaughter, Senior Economist at the Resolution Foundation, told the conference: "It's often taken it for granted that if a law exists, that means that it's happening...It's become clear that this is not always the case."

You can read the full report here. 

Byline Times is relaunching our VoteWatch project to monitor disinformation, dodgy campaigning, and dark money during the 2024 General Election. Get in touch if you have a tip off or any insights: votewatch24@bylinetimes.com

If you have another political story or tip-off, email josiah@bylinetimes.com.

Bushfire survivors call out Peter Dutton’s abandonment of communities on the frontline of climate change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/06/2024 - 8:30pm in

Tags 

Environment

Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action Media Release Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action (BSCA) has spoken out in response to Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s statements in The Australian today that the Federal Liberal Party would dump Australia’s interim emissions reduction targets. The organisation, founded and led by bushfire survivors, has labelled the move reckless and devastating.…

The post Bushfire survivors call out Peter Dutton’s abandonment of communities on the frontline of climate change appeared first on The AIM Network.

Two Degrees: Guardrail? Or Guide Rail to Disaster?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/06/2024 - 12:31am in
by Kent Peacock

image of water flowing through melted ice

Ice melt at a glacier in Columbia. (Michael Hamments, Unsplash)

The idea that 2⁰C is a safe guardrail against global heating was a guesstimate by an economist almost fifty years ago, and it had a sketchy scientific basis even at that time. In November 2023, a consortium comprised of many of the top glaciologists and climate scientists in the world published a report entitled “The State of the Cryosphere 2023—Two Degrees is Too High.” (See also the review on Carbon Brief.)  The only hope of preventing catastrophic sea-level rise, the authors say, is to cool the planet to a temperature anomaly of not much more than 1⁰C, as soon as possible. In a time of unrelenting bad news for the climate, no one wants to hear a prescription like this. But climate policy must be adjusted—quickly—to reflect this grim reality.

I am a philosopher of science, not a scientist, and certainly not a glaciologist. However, I have done what anyone can do, which is listen to and read what the glaciologists have to say. My aim here is simply to outline some very important things that glaciologists and other earth scientists have been trying for a long time to tell us about ice, and why it matters to anyone who cares whether our fractious species could have any sort of a sustainable future.

What Everyone Needs to Know

My focus is on ice melt and the resulting sea-level rise because policymakers and the public do not widely understand the immediacy of this problem. Here is the key finding of the study published by the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI): “A compelling number of new studies . . . point to a [melt] threshold for both Greenland and parts of Antarctica well below 2°C, committing the planet to between 12–20 meters of sea-level rise if 2°C becomes the new constant Earth temperature.”

This implies that 2°C is not a guardrail beyond which the effects of carbonization would become unacceptable, but a point at which climate catastrophe is guaranteed. This report and other results imply that current climate agreements (based on staying within the 2°C limit and “aspirationally” holding to 1.5°C) are hopelessly inadequate.

image of an iceberg in Greenland, reflected against the water

An iceberg stands tall off of Greenland. For how long? (Grid-Arendal, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This report came out just before COP28 in late 2023. It has received almost no notice or discussion in major media outlets. It was certainly not considered in any decision-making that occurred at COP28.

The result described in this report is not a new idea. In 2013, G. L. Foster and E. J. Rohling published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which they stated, “[O]ur results imply that acceptance of a long-term 2°C warming [CO2 between 400 and 450 ppm] would mean acceptance of likely (68% confidence) long-term sea-level rise by more than 9 m above the present. Future studies may improve this estimate…”

Indeed, future studies have only made the estimate higher. Note that this paper appeared before the Paris Agreement of 2015, which set 2°C as the world’s climate policy goal.

Other scientists warned about catastrophic sea-level rise well before 2015. In 2007, James Hansen stated, “The nonlinearity of the ice sheet problem makes it impossible to accurately predict the sea-level rise change on a specific date. However, as a physicist, I find it almost inconceivable that BAU [business as usual] climate change would not yield a sea level rise change of the order of meters on the century timescale.”

And as far back as 1978, prescient glacier whisperer John H. Mercer made two key predictions:

“If the CO2 greenhouse effect is magnified in high latitudes, as now seems likely, deglaciation of West Antarctica would probably be the first disastrous result of continued fossil fuel consumption.”

“One of the warning signs that a dangerous warming trend is under way in Antarctica will be the breakup of the ice shelves on both coasts of the Antarctic Peninsula, starting with the northernmost and extending gradually southward.”

In 1995 the Larsen A ice shelf, at the tip of the Peninsula, blew apart overnight, and in 2002 Larsen B, a sheet of ice about 200 meters thick and having an area greater than the state of Rhode Island, crumbled in a few weeks. Mercer also correctly predicted that the center of WAIS (the West Antarctic Ice Sheet) would begin to thin.

Mercer’s predictions were not tied to any particular temperature increase. However, note his statement that deglaciation would likely be the first disastrous consequence of our fossil fuel addiction, not something that would conveniently occur long after the terms of office of our present political leadership.

António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, deserves credit for recently warning that seas may rise to “unthinkable” levels and threaten “a mass exodus of entire populations on a biblical scale.” But policymakers have largely ignored the decades-long warnings of scientists about catastrophic sea-level rise.

How Much Could Sea Level Rise?—And How Fast?

There is nothing sacred about our present sea-level rise. Throughout geological history sea-level rises have see-sawed up and down, sensitive to small variations in climate. If all the present ice in the world were to melt, it would raise ocean levels between 65 and 70 meters. Seven would come from Greenland, roughly 58 from Antarctica, a few more from the various mountain glaciers and ice sheets around the world, and some from thermal expansion of sea water in a warming world.

No one thinks that all 70 meters worth of ice could melt anytime soon. But numerous studies show that we are already at carbon dioxide and temperature levels consistent with seas 20 meters or more higher than we have now. As Hansen’s remark indicates, it is difficult to predict precisely how fast or exactly when this much sea-level rise could occur. However, policymakers should grasp that it likely would take the form of a steadily accelerating increase punctuated by abrupt, unpredictable, and irreversible pulses as ice sheets collapse, one by one.

graph showing projected sea level rise from melt in Antarctica, ranging from nearly zero meters in 21000 to nearly 10 meters in 2030

Sea-level rise from Antarctica if current emissions continue. (ICCI)

To understand why this is the case, we have to know something about ice. For our purposes, there are three main kinds of ice in the world: ice on land (icefields, mountain glaciers, land-based ice caps); floating ice (sea ice and ice shelves); and marine ice sheets (also called marine terminating glaciers). The latter kind of ice is the wild card, for reasons everyone needs to understand.

If land-based ice melts, it is simple—sooner or later the water ends up in the sea. Melting is a major mechanism of ice loss in Greenland.

The melting of the second type of ice, sea ice and ice shelves, has at least three major effects on the earth system: Darker open water absorbs much more solar radiation than ice, so that the melting of sea ice, which replaces reflective ice cover with absorptive dark water, is one way in which warming causes more warming. Also, ice shelves buttress the land-based and marine-terminating glaciers behind them, and when the shelves disappear, the glaciers can flow into the sea much faster, which of course does raise sea-level rise. Furthermore, the loss of sea ice and ice shelves will have disastrous effects on marine biota.

Ice Over Flotation, and Why it Matters

To understand the risk posed by grounded marine ice sheets—the third, critical group—we need to understand the important concept of “ice over flotation.”

Imagine a stack of old-fashioned ice blocks in a bathtub containing about a foot of water. The ice sits on the bottom of the tub because it is too heavy to float. This is ice over flotation—more ice than can float in a given footprint and depth of water. The more blocks of ice you add to the stack, the higher the water level will go when it ultimately melts.

Marine ice sheets are like our bathtub in that they contain huge amounts of ice over flotation. Over millennia, snow builds up within a geographical basin and compresses into blue ice, which accumulates faster than it can flow out of the basin. The vast weight of the ice compresses the earth’s crust, making the basin deeper and allowing for even more ice buildup.

image of very high ice cliffs towering over people walking below

Ice, pregnant for calving. (Natalie Robinson, imaggeo)

Grounded marine ice sheets can remain stable for thousands of years so long as the climate remains cold enough and they are protected from the open sea by ice shelves. But if relatively warm sea water gets access to the base of the ice domes, they can collapse catastrophically, possibly even within a few years (though how fast remains a matter of investigation).

If the calving face (the often-turbulent ice cliff where icebergs break off into the sea) eats into the heart of the ice sheet, there are several feedbacks that can cause the collapse to accelerate. (For more detail, see my CACOR talk.) Glaciologists speak of Marine Ice Sheet Instability (MISI)—the deeper into the interior basin the calving front goes, the faster the ice crumbles. Studies of paleoclimate show that on rare occasions the collapse of ice masses can lead to several meters of sea-level rise per century.

Here’s the catch: The chain of events that would trigger such a catastrophe could be set in motion many years before the event itself. And like a slow-motion avalanche, it might be unstoppable beyond a certain point no matter how much we reduce emissions or recycle our beer cans. In an important sense the question, “How long would it take for the predicted 12–20 meters to cash out?” is not relevant. There is absolutely no scope for delay.

Hence, our climate policy should be guided not by the principle of brinkmanship (“how close to the edge can we skate?”), but by the precautionary principle (“we don’t want to go there”). Climate brinkmanship is very similar to nuclear brinkmanship except that we play chicken not with other nations, but with the entire planetary ecosystem. Although current climate policy affects the pretense of sober cost-benefit analysis, it is in fact a form of high-stakes gambling.

What Worries Me

A cynical old saw is, “We have the morals we can afford.” Writers like Naomi Klein believe that solving the climate problem will force us to solve the larger problem of the predatory nature of most human interactions and move humanity to a new level of equity and cooperation.

I would like to think that this is the way it will go. The problem is that as we get closer to stark emergency, it will be harder to respond in ways that are measured and equitable. If there is any hope of saving West Antarctica, it will involve some combination of emissions reduction, fossil fuel replacement, improved land management, direct air capture of carbon, and possibly solar radiation management, applied on an emergency basis and not merely when it is politically and economically convenient.

As the situation becomes more dire, our increasingly desperate responses are likely to become more technocratic, risky, and unilateral. Humanity might squeak through the climate bottleneck, only to be left with a world that is even more inhumane and unjust than the one we have now. We really should listen to what those glaciologists are saying.

Kent Peacock is a professor of philosophy at the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta, Canada.

 

The post Two Degrees: Guardrail? Or Guide Rail to Disaster? appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Fears Over Russian Oil Grab in Antarctica Might be ‘Trolling’ to ‘Unsettle its Opponents’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/06/2024 - 9:45pm in

Last month, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee discussed reports that a Russian polar survey vessel named the Alexander Karpinsky had located a vast oil and gas field beneath the Weddell Sea, off the coast of the British Antarctic Territory.

The field allegedly contains "approximately 70 billion tons" of hydrocarbon resources - enough to meet world demand for the next fourteen years - and provoked alarming headlines, some suggesting an imminent resource grab by the Russian Federation in the Antarctic.

It also caused significant unease internationally, as many have interpreted Russia’s behaviour as prospecting, which is prohibited under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, to which Russia is a signatory.

The Alexander Karpinsky is owned and operated by a company called RosGeo – a Kremlin-owned geological holdings company which describes itself as "the largest geological prospecting holding in Russia". RosGeo’s stated aim in sending the Karpinsky to the Antarctic was to "assess the oil-and-gas bearing prospects of the Antarctic Shelf".

But despite this, RosGeo maintained when questioned - by the South African paper The Daily Maverick - that its activities in the Antarctic were "exclusively scientific in nature", and that because "hydrocarbons are a natural component of the geological environment, […] it would be illogical to exclude them from consideration".

Regardless of whether RosGeo’s activities amount to prospecting or not, it’s questionable whether the results of its ‘scientific’ surveys are credible.

Professor Adrian Hartley from the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Geology & Geophysics was sceptical of the claim that an oil field had been found using a seismic survey alone. 

"What I suspect they’ve done is used seismic data to image a geological structure beneath the seabed that could contain hydrocarbons, assumed it’s full of oil, and then made a rough calculation as to its volume. The problem is, you can’t calculate volumes unless you know the size and porosity of your reservoir so that’s a big issue with their numbers. There will be some massive assumptions in their figures. Structures like that can also just be full of water or gas," he explained to Byline Times.

Another professor from the same department, Professor John Howell, made similar observations, saying: "This is massively overplayed and not something we need to be worried about, at least in the short term. Nothing has been discovered - oil is only discovered by drilling. Everything else is speculation and fantasy."

Professor Howell said there has been a fair amount of activity in the Southern Ocean but it’s so "far from anywhere that the logistics are really challenging and discoveries would have to be huge before they would be commercial", so, there's "very little appetite for this at present".

"The Russians are much more interested in the Arctic on their doorstep, if they are active down there, it’s probably just trolling," he added.

The inflated nature of RosGeo’s claims suggest that Russia’s true motivations may lie more in the realm of geopolitics than in geology. 

On the world stage, it’s not necessarily important whether Russia’s claims about finding oil are true. What’s important is that Russia’s behaviour is provocative, and that it threatens to violate the Antarctic Treaty System. In other words: this episode probably doesn’t signify that Russia intends on drilling in Antarctica in the near future, but that Russia is using its Antarctic activities to maintain its image as a world power, and to create discord among other nations while doing so.

Professor Alan Hemmings, a professor of Antarctic governance at University of Canterbury New Zealand, told Byline Times: "Extracting hydrocarbons is still in the future, but the possibility (whether or not it eventually happens) is having consequences right now. States are making choices about what they will or will not countenance based upon keeping open future options. The Russian Federation may be mobilising its activity not only as part of future-proofing its own self-image as a resources superpower, but as a geopolitical device to unsettle its opponents.’

The problem with using Antarctica as a field in which to perform geopolitical manoeuvrings is that it creates competition between the states involved, thereby increasing the likelihood of an eventual confrontation. Russia’s prospecting – though innocuous - risks initiating a resource scramble, into which any number of nations could be drawn.

From afar, Antarctica might appear a barren, uninhabited desert. In reality, many nation states maintain a presence there in the form of polar research stations. The newest of these – Qinling Station – was completed earlier this year, and belongs to the Chinese Government.

A report from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) suggested that Qinling "will possess a satellite ground station" which "will have inherent dual-use capabilities". The report also speculated that the station could be used to gather signals intelligence and "collect telemetry data on rockets launching from newly established space facilities" in Australia and New Zealand. Although other nations operate greater numbers of stations, China has the fastest growing footprint in Antarctica having opened three since 2009.

Although China’s behaviour in the region has been less overtly inflammatory than Russia’s, President Xi’s rhetoric shows that the CCP has long seen the Antarctic as strategically important.

In 2013, Xi stressed the significance of polar exploration as a way to "take advantage of ocean and polar resources". The Chinese state has also expressed its desire to amend the Antarctic Treaty’s 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection, which is the document that specifically prohibits mining.

It will be possible to amend the Antarctic Treaty in 2048, provided a majority of all parties vote in favour of the proposed change. China – as ever, it seems – is taking the long view: working gradually and methodically over time to reach its objectives. For that reason, they could be a greater threat to the Antarctic Treaty than Russia.

China’s political power is also predicated on its economic clout, and its economy accounts for around 28% of world manufacturing output. As the world transitions away from fossil fuels, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which there’s a global scramble for the rare earth metals required to manufacture batteries, causing manufacturing-based economies to abandon the Antarctic Treaty for the sake of taking the lead.

As to the question of an eventual conflict being fought over Antarctica, Professor Hemmings said the following: "Yes, I do fear that if we do not head off the business-as-usual and nationalism-infused interest in exploiting Antarctic hydrocarbons at some point, we risk further deterioration of great-power relations in Antarctica.

"There is nothing to preclude the Antarctic becoming yet another place that states fight in and over. Antarctica is happily the one place on earth where we have not had interstate warfare - but of itself that does not guarantee that this will continue to be the case into the future if we act foolishly. "

He added: "You’ll recall that an awful lot of wars have been fought over areas that from afar are written off as deserts"

The real challenge for the future will be maintaining a global consensus on Antarctica in an increasingly polarised geopolitical environment. Conflict – though at present unlikely - cannot be ruled out, no matter how successful the Antarctic Treaty has been since its inception. For now, it seems the wisest course of action is to remain watchful, monitor the situation, and not to serve the causes of other nations interested in disrupting the peace by overreacting to their tactics.

Study reveals first emissions snapshot of Australian coal mines

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/06/2024 - 11:25am in

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Environment

Monash University Media Release  Monash researchers have compiled the first snapshot of annual emissions generated by 140 coal mines across the country. Their analysis uncovered clusters of coal mines in NSW and QLD were surrounded by densely populated urban areas, raising health concerns. The findings suggest the proximity of coal mines to nature and forest…

The post Study reveals first emissions snapshot of Australian coal mines appeared first on The AIM Network.

For Decades, Officials Knew a School Sat on a Former Dump — and Did Little to Clean Up the Toxins

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/06/2024 - 8:00pm in

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Environment

The city of Gainesville, Florida, needed to choose a site for a dump. Of all the places it could have chosen during its search in the late 1950s, the local government settled on an unlikely location: the backyard of a school. Joseph Williams Elementary sat on the east side, in the predominantly Black part of town.

Where children played, the ground bubbled. Birds swarmed, feeding on trash. At one point, a pile of 20 dead dogs and cats were dropped in the yard of the elementary school, just 100 feet away from classrooms. This was no ordinary playground.

A horrific stench of dead rats and decomposing garbage was impossible to escape, recalled Wayne Fields, who still lives in his childhood home opposite the site. “The smell was so bad, during school, after school,” said Fields, a 69-year-old businessman. “It was ridiculous.”

Both of Fields’s parents were teachers at the school. “We used to say that when we turn off the light we can all see each other because we are glowing from the chemicals,” he said.

Despite violating multiple health statutes, the local government was unbothered. “This is a necessary evil. I think we’re doing a very fine job,” then-City Manager William Green said in 1963. Besides, he said, the city poured “glorified perfume” on the garbage every so often.

This “necessary evil” has haunted this Florida community for decades. Sixty years later, the site is overgrown grassland, but contamination at the school still poses a large risk to students’ health. In the last few years, community members have called on the Alachua County school district and state agencies to assess the connection between the contaminated land and health issues in the area.


Wayne Fields in Gainesville, Fla., on Dec. 30, 2023.
Photo: Elise Swain for The Intercept

It is often difficult to show a direct link between a contaminant and adverse health impacts, and no such investigation has yet been done at the school. But for years soil and air testing have consistently revealed evidence of substantial environmental toxins on the property. Levels of the carcinogen benzo(a)pyrene peaked in 2020 at a concentration up to 218 times higher than what is considered safe for direct exposure in residential settings. Researchers, meanwhile, have pinpointed East Gainesville as an asthma hot spot.

For decades, a rotating cast of city, county, and state officials have been aware of the contaminants in the school yard — and have taken little action to address the problem, The Intercept found in an investigation based on hundreds of public and archival documents, government emails obtained through records requests, and interviews with dozens of Gainesville residents.

Alachua County officials have proposed renovations to the school and overseen the removal of some contaminated soil from the property in the last decade, while a local nurse’s advocacy prompted the state health and environmental protection departments to order additional soil testing in recent years. Their primary focus has not been the former landfill but another contaminant discovered decades ago: abandoned oil tanks. Yet what’s needed, former school district employees and community members say, is nothing short of the removal of the school in its entirety, a full cleanup of the site itself, and a comprehensive assessment of the impact of soil toxins on students’ health. Neither the school district nor the Florida Department of Environmental Protection seem willing to go that far.

“Williams Elementary is safe,” said Jackie Johnson, a spokesperson for Alachua County Public Schools, in an email to The Intercept. She added that the school board hasn’t received a formal recommendation to demolish or majorly reconstruct the school and that the district has no current plans to do so. 

District representatives met with the Department of Environmental Protection in January, Johnson said, and “it was made clear that there is currently no health threat to students or staff at the school.”

But just last month, the school board and the environmental protection department approved another round of soil and air testing at Williams.

The state Department of Health “has responded to many community concerns regarding Williams Elementary School,” Paul D. Myers, the department’s administrator in Alachua County, told The Intercept in an email. The state environmental protection department “continues to monitor the successful remediation at Williams Elementary” and will keep working with the school district and city “on any contaminated or potentially contaminated properties,” wrote Kathryn Craver, an external affairs director at the department’s northeast district.

An Intercept investigation reveals:

  • The city of Gainesville, Florida, placed a landfill in the backyard of Joseph Williams Elementary School in the 1950s. The dump was closed 60 years ago, but even after other environmental issues were discovered on the site, it was never fully cleaned up.
  • Years of soil and air testing have revealed substantial evidence of environmental toxins on the property, which sits in a chronically underfunded and predominately Black part of town. In 2020, the level of one carcinogen detected at the site peaked at up to 218 times higher than what’s considered safe in residential areas.  
  • The Alachua County School District has cleaned up some soil from the property. But neither the county nor the state has agreed to fully clean up the site or conduct a comprehensive study of the toxins’ impact on students’ health.

This situation in Gainesville is not an anomaly. Dozens of schools across 35 states sit on or adjacent to former, or currently open, landfills, according to The Intercept’s analysis of news articles, state databases, and public records from across the country. From New York to Ohio, there have been many reported cases of illness, predominantly cancer, from both teachers and students who have attended schools next to hazardous waste. These occurrences tend to be in lower-income communities of color, The Intercept found.

No federal agency prohibits new schools being placed on, or next to, dump sites, or requires schools near landfills to conduct cleanups. In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency was authorized by Congress to create voluntary school siting guidelines, but these remain discretionary and don’t apply to existing schools.

Florida state law makes it illegal to build a new K-12 school on or adjacent to a known contaminated site unless steps are taken to ensure that children will not be exposed to threatening levels of contaminants. But at Williams Elementary, like other schools in Florida, the contamination surfaced years after it was built.

“It’s this long-standing pattern of the devaluing of people of color, pushing them into less desirable spaces.”

The lack of regulation to address decades-old problems deepens an enduring crisis of environmental racism.

“We see a really strong pattern where white affluent students are facing significantly less risk at school,” said Sara Grineski, a sociology professor at the University of Utah who studies environmental health disparities. “It’s this long-standing pattern of the devaluing of people of color, pushing them into less desirable spaces.”


Wayne Fields Jr. stands at his family home, across the street from the former Gainesville dump behind Williams Elementary, on Dec. 30, 2023. He and his father both attended the school, and Fields Jr. says they have both experienced health issues, including asthma.
Photo: Elise Swain for The Intercept

Second-Class Citizens

Williams Elementary is named after the Black businessman who built it in the 1930s, seeing a need for a school on the east side of Gainesville. A middle school was built across the field in 1955 — a few years before the landfill was placed in the backyard of Williams.

“We were Black and seen as second-class citizens,” said Gussy Butler, aged 95, one of East Gainesville’s oldest residents. “They weren’t concerned; it was a Black area.”

The dump site was 150 feet away from students sitting in classrooms, and the pollution was made worse by the area’s impractical geography. The east side of Gainesville is lower and has more sensitive wetlands than the west, where economic development has generally been focused.

Local media began covering the dire consequences several years after the landfill was built. “The ditch is filled with black, stagnant water pumped from holes dug to hold the garbage,” the Gainesville Sun reported in June 1963. “The area being filled with garbage is wetter than normal so the odor problems are compounded. The health department conceded that the area is ‘a little too wet for an ideal landfill.’”

Still, the city stood firm. “Many of us and our children have spent many happy hours on top of a landfill,” wrote City-County Health Officer Edward G. Byrne in an op-ed at the time. “I do not believe this will be a major problem for Alachua County for some time to come.”

Yet by the end of that summer, following petitions to the city for relief, the dump was moved to airport land. It was already clear that the implications would be long-lasting. “Building on the filled land is out of the question for 10 to 15 years. As the garbage slowly decays the earth will gradually settle,” a Gainesville Sun article said. “Any building constructed on it probably would be ruined within a short period by the sinking.”

At the end of the decade, the Nixon administration founded the EPA, a pivotal moment in the monitoring of toxic sites. “Some of the reasons we have these situations occurring today is that prior to the foundation of the EPA, there were few, if any, environmental laws that protected human health,” said Claudia Persico, a professor at American University who researches environmental policy.


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Thousands of U.S. Public Housing Residents Live in the Country’s Most Polluted Places

Yet, the EPA’s process for identifying so-called Superfund sites — referring to polluted and hazardous locations — has often failed to capture the most deprived communities. The EPA’s national priorities list is “a little bit ad hoc,” said Steph Tai, an environmental law professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “It’s sort of advocacy based, like people have to advocate for something to rise to that level.”

In a chronically underfunded area such as East Gainesville, the landfill’s potential for long-term contamination was quickly forgotten after it was closed. With a lack of resources, people had other concerns. “It just went away,” Fields, who lives across the site, said. “Nobody discussed it.”


Classrooms at Williams Elementary seen on Dec. 30, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla. At one point in 2020, soil samples taken from the school contained levels of carcinogenic chemicals up to 218 times higher than what is safe for residential neighborhoods.
Photo: Elise Swain for The Intercept

Sinking Buildings

At Williams Elementary, the prediction that buildings would sink proved prophetic, even a quarter of a century later. In 1989, the district began constructing a half-million-dollar music and art suite at the school.

“They put Williams at the top of the list because it had been deprived for so long,” said Jennifer Lindquist, a former art teacher at the school for 22 years.

Almost as soon as the new facilities were built, the building began to fall apart. “The crack became straight through the building and through the foundation and everything,” Lindquist said. “It was not sound ground. When they pulled up the borings you could still see decomposing trash.”

In April of that year, city planners — members of a citizen board that reviews land use — found records of the landfill while working on a report. Gainesville city commissioners told the Alachua County School Board to take soil samples. The school board was going to “run a plug down there and test the soil,” Norm Bowman, then planning board clerk, said at the time. “It’s no big deal.”

But the problems extended beyond the remnants of the former landfill. Around the same time, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection found “excessively contaminated soil” on the property that was polluting the groundwater. The contamination was attributed to four underground storage tanks containing heating oil. From the 1960s to 1980s, these were common in rural locations without main gas lines. The school board registered the tanks in 1987 but didn’t know when they had been installed, Craver, from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, told The Intercept in an email.

In 1988, the school district applied for the environmental department’s Early Detection Incentive, which provided state-contracted cleanup to owners of underground petroleum tanks with suspected contamination. The site was assigned a ranking score of 9 out of 10. According to the department, “the higher the score, the greater the potential threat.”

But state officials ultimately decided that excavating the soil was “considered to be inappropriate … because of the high cost due to the depth of contamination.”

There are multiple conflicting narratives on the dates the tanks were removed. State records reviewed by The Intercept state that, as of 1991, three of the four tanks had been abandoned in place. Craver, meanwhile, said that three tanks were removed in 1988, with the other in 1991, but “oil can remain in soil for decades until remediated.”

What’s undisputed is that the tanks had corroded, leaving oil to seep out across the site. Still, the state went quiet for another two decades. This time, both the landfill and the oil tanks were forgotten.


A view of the Alachua County Public Schools office in Gainesville, Fla., on Dec. 30, 2023.
Photo: Elise Swain for The Intercept

Asthma Hot Spot

DeVante Moody, who started attending Williams in the late 1990s, remembers being teased about his “trash school.” At first he thought it was just typical school rivalry, or because the students sucked at sports.

“The running joke came from the community: ‘Oh, y’all go to the trash school,’” said Moody, now 31 years old and a support technician at the University of Florida hospital network. Like Wayne Fields, whose son also attended Williams, multiple generations of Moody’s family attended the school. His 11-year-old son now attends the neighboring Lincoln Middle School.

Moody recalls “the forbidden area,” a closed-off field the size of a large swimming pool, where students were not allowed to venture. They were never told why. Classrooms sat in trailers beside it, and children ran around the adjacent field at lunchtime.

It wasn’t until years later that Moody discovered it had been a landfill. “They literally meant ‘Y’all go to the trash school’ because it used to be a trash dump,” Moody realized. “So this is not a joke. This is serious.”

Throughout his childhood, Moody, like many of his classmates, had trouble breathing. “We were all just asthmatic children. We just thought it was normal,” he said.

Moody’s respiratory issues were particularly serious, and he was hospitalized twice with collapsed lungs. He distinctly remembers being in the intensive care unit at age 7, turning to his father and asking: “Am I going to die?”

Researchers recently identified East Gainesville as a pediatric asthma hot spot and linked poor health outcomes to racial and economic segregation. Across Alachua County, asthma-related hospitalization rates were nearly three times higher and emergency department visits were six times higher for Black residents than for white residents in 2018. Other research has shown that the hospitalization rate due to pediatric asthma in Williams Elementary’s ZIP code ranks among the worst 25 percent of ZIP codes in the state. The group most deeply affected are Black children aged 5 to 9. 

It’s part of a nationwide trend: A study published by The Associated Press last year found that Black children are more likely to have asthma than kids of any other race in America, mostly due to the influence of past racist housing laws and proximity to pollution.

In 2008, a few years after Moody left Williams Elementary, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection mobilized contractors to test contamination at schools across the county. “The state asked us to quickly go run out to all multiple schools and take soil samples around just to try and make sure that everything’s OK,” said Jesse Brown, senior engineer at Golder Associates, who visited Williams and 20 other schools at the time. “They just wanted a quick snapshot to see what risk each of these sites had.”

At Williams, Brown’s team identified two of the former underground petroleum tanks and took half a dozen soil samples. They didn’t find anything concerning, according to a report the firm submitted to the state environmental agency.

Yet that finding did not appear to sufficiently assuage the agency. Seven years later, the agency reached back out to the Alachua County School Board about Williams Elementary to offer more state funding for research into petroleum contamination. Another contractor was sent out to the school in 2015. Over the next two years, engineers who analyzed soil samples found high concentrations of multiple carcinogenic chemicals and benzo(a)pyrene equivalents, a way of evaluating the overall carcinogenicity of multiple compounds. BaP — which is commonly found in cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, and asphalt — and BaP equivalents are generally considered safe at concentrations of 0.1 mg/kg. At Williams, analysts detected a level of 7.2 mg/kg. Prolonged exposure to the chemical increases the risk of cancer, as well as asthma, according to scientific studies. 

In general, communities of color suffer disproportionately from environmental toxins. Grineski, the University of Utah sociology professor, said that her research shows that “a district with more foreign born kids and more Black kids has greater concentrations of cancer-causing air toxins than other school districts.”

The state’s health department, which investigates cancer clusters, does not consider East Gainesville to have a higher than normal incidence of cancer. The agency “does not have any data that is indicative of a cancer cluster in the community,” Myers, the department’s administrator in Alachua County, told The Intercept in an email.

Still, Fields, who struggles with various health issues — including trouble breathing since he had a heart attack a couple years ago — strongly believes it to be so.

On a drive around East Gainesville, Fields gave a biography of the generations of homeowners. As he pointed out house after house, he explained how each family had in some way been affected by the disease.

“This neighborhood is mostly made up of widows,” he said.


Caution tape hangs over a bare patch of soil at Lincoln Middle School in Gainesville, Fla., on Dec. 30, 2023.
Photo: Elise Swain for The Intercept

A Community’s Outrage 

In 2017, two years after the state funded a new round of testing at Williams Elementary, the Alachua County school district issued a press release notifying parents that elevated levels of BaP had been found in the soil, due to contamination from petroleum products.

The district said it would be removing and replacing soil from parts of the school courtyard. Still, school officials assured parents that “the levels found at Williams would not pose a health risk unless there is a lifetime of exposure, which would mean eating or touching the soil every day for thirty years.”

For Moody and Fields’s families, who had lived in East Gainesville all their lives, being in such close proximity daily is not that much of a reach. Yet, Moody, whose cousins attended Williams that year, said that, to his knowledge, his relatives didn’t hear about the contamination at the time. “My family had not one clue,” he said.

The state removed over 2,500 tons of petroleum-contaminated soil from the courtyard and transported it to a waste site in Georgia before the start of the school year in September. A concrete cap was placed over the remaining contaminated soil until it could be excavated in school breaks over the following year. Another 1,000 tons were removed between December 2017 and June 2018.

“Due to this excavation and removal, the accessible soils are no longer an exposure risk,” Craver said.

Meanwhile, the school district held a public forum, titled “Schools of the Future,” where community members could submit anonymous feedback. Many of the comments mentioned the Williams and Lincoln schools — and some referenced the former dump site. “Can Williams Elementary use the surrounding land to increase/renovate since the school was built on a dump site!! This should be a priority!!!” one comment said. “Remove Lincoln and Williams off the dump site,” another person wrote.

With no further action from local officials, community members continued to press the issue. In June 2019, Fields and other residents expressed their frustrations on the area’s history in a public county meeting on plans to expand another dump site in the area.

“What you’re talking about doing, it’s preposterous,” Fields said.


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As Covid-19 hit, others started asking questions. Alexandria Owens, a pediatric critical-care nurse scientist working in East Gainesville, began to look into why so many kids ended up in the intensive care unit with asthma issues.

Poking around online, Owens found the state records about the eroded oil tanks at Williams. She spent hundreds of hours reading documents and compiling data. She wondered if there was a correlation between the toxic soil and the state of children’s health in the area. “Kids end up on life support,” Owens said. “It’s alarming knowing that these types of chemicals can exacerbate asthma.”

Owens had no idea about the former dump site, which is not mentioned in state environmental or health department records. But she started reaching out to the school district in March 2020 about the high asthma rates in the neighborhood and the leaked oil tanks. “I felt like my argument was even stronger because these kids are at a higher risk, let’s actually sound the alarm because Covid-19 is happening,” Owens said. “But that did not happen.”


A pane of glass on a classroom door at Williams Elementary reflects the site of the former dump in Gainesville, Fla., on Dec. 30, 2023.
Photo: Elise Swain for The Intercept

At every turn, Owens was being stalled. “You don’t need to be calling all these people,” a manager of the Petroleum Restoration Program at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection told her in a phone call in June 2020, according to notes Owens took at the time. “Pediatric asthma wasn’t in our top priority list,” a community programs administrator at the Alachua County Health Department told Owens the following month. (The employee was referencing priorities from a county-level assessment that happens every few years, according to Myers, the health department’s administrator in Alachua County.)

It was Owen’s outreach that ultimately triggered the Florida Department of Health to conduct an assessment at the school. In July 2020, the department published a report stating that it “does not expect the occurrence of health risks associated with exposure to groundwater and soil.” But the report was not comprehensive; the department could not evaluate indoor air quality or assess the impact on students prior to 2016 due to insufficient or unavailable data.

The department said the concentrations of BaP that had previously been found in the soil could create additional health risks if it vaporized into the air. The report recommended that the department continue to assess indoor and outdoor air quality for the presence of the chemical. Owens was relieved an assessment had been done but continued to press state and local officials on the issue.

At times, she grew frustrated with the process. In a July 2021 email outlining an apparent miscommunication between the school district and the state environmental agency about the state’s plans for the school, she wrote that such communication breakdowns “will continue to delay the timely remediation of a problem that could absolutely exacerbate health issues in the children from my community.”

She also felt that, in addition to testing, there needed to be more excavation — and that the school building should be moved.

To help reach residents of Gainesville impacted by the pollution exposed in this article, The Intercept is sending postcards to the local community about the potential exposure to toxic chemicals at their neighborhood school. Our mailer will share key findings from the story and information about the governmental agency that can address the problem, along with a chance to speak with our team.

Stalled Reconstruction

Carlee Simon, who became interim superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools in December 2020, shared Owens’s assessment. Simon had attended Williams as a child, and her parents were teachers in the district, but she knew nothing of the site’s toxicity before starting the job.

Based on the information she got from colleagues and the environmental department and the aged state of the building, Simon soon concluded that the only solution was to rebuild the entire school. “We needed to have the entire building demolished,” Simon said. “Our discussions were how long would it take between us tearing down the building and the soil actually being addressed and ready for us to build on. That was like a massive unknown.”

It was likely going to take years, and the school board was divided. “It was pretty clear that budget priorities of the past shaped that community,” she said. She noted that a new school was built in a wealthier part of Gainesville just a few years earlier. “The first completed school they built was in a highly affluent and influential community, not a dilapidated building on the east side,” she said.

Gainesville’s east side is also still haunted by the decision back in the 1950s to put a dump in a residential neighborhood near two schools. Archival records show that city officials placed the landfill near the schools with the hopes that burying trash in the swampy land would make the land usable in the future. Jennifer Smart, the communications director for the city of Gainesville, told The Intercept the current government couldn’t speak to the school’s environmental problems. “With so much of this timeline reaching back many decades, it’s a historical record in which current City of Gainesville leadership did not participate and have no specific knowledge,” Smart wrote in an email.

Experts told the Intercept that cost-pressed governments often build schools on cheap land. “The tension is often between like there’s concern for student’s health, but also there’s the concern about using public monies for more expensive lands,” said Tai, the UW–Madison environmental law professor. “So a lot of times economic concerns sort of pressure states into still siting schools in toxic areas.”

After multiple disagreements with the board, including on other topics such as how to handle Covid-19, Simon was fired from the job after 15 months — the seventh superintendent to leave the job in the last 10 years. She is now interim dean for the School of Education at the University of Alaska Southeast.

While internal school district emails indicate there were plans to renovate the school in 2021, that has still not happened. A list of reconstruction projects on the school district website dating back to November 2019 describes design plans for four other schools in the district. Williams Elementary, however, is stuck in limbo. According to the website, “the district is drafting the required state application for permission to demolish buildings on the campus.”

Johnson, the school district spokesperson, told The Intercept that the Covid-19 pandemic drastically changed the district’s reconstruction plans: “Facilities projects that have been completed have cost much more than originally expected, affecting the timeline for other proposed projects.” Williams is among the projects that fell by the wayside.


A basketball hoop outside the Alachua County Public Schools office in Gainesville, Fla., on Dec. 30, 2023.
Photo: Elise Swain for The Intercept

More Testing, More Toxins

Soil and air testing have been a constant at Williams Elementary over the last several years. Since July 2020, state contractors have been deployed to the school at least a dozen times. 

The most alarming results came in November 2020, when soil testing revealed BaP equivalent levels of 21.8 mg/kg in one part of the property: 218 times over the recommended residential limit. (State records show that BaP equivalent levels fluctuated over the next year and a half, dropping down to 7.8 mg/kg in that same area by July 2022 and to 2.6 mg/kg on a different part of the property.)

In a letter to Williams Elementary in December 2020, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection alerted the school that two chemicals, naphthalene and acenaphthene, had been found in the soil. The latter was present at three times the standard level. Exposure to naphthalene by inhalation is associated with hemolytic anemia, damage to the liver, and neurological damage, according to the EPA. In late 2021, the environmental department installed a venting system underneath one of the school’s buildings to mitigate soil concentrations of naphthalene.

Air quality has also been a persistent issue at Williams, and on at least one occasion in 2020, a teacher reportedly complained about it to the principal, according to an email obtained by The Intercept. State contractors, meanwhile, have repeatedly found elevated levels of chemicals in the air at Williams, including chloroform, a possible carcinogen that is often used in industrial processes. 

In February 2021, after Owens’s urging, the state Department of Health released a report sampling six indoor air and four outdoor locations at the elementary school. The department found that it was possible there would be vapor intrusion, which is the migration of chemicals from the soil into the air. The report found that some concentrations of chemicals, including benzene, carbon tetrachloride — which can produce kidney and liver damage — and chloroform were at a level where they could cause considerable health risk through exposure. The health department recommended continued air monitoring.

That same month, a firm contracted by the environmental department reported excess levels of naphthalene in the air, as well as BaP in the soil.

Despite the findings in Gainesville, the state health department touted Williams Elementary as one of its “Success Stories.” Though students and workers at the school had been “exposed to contaminated soil and air,” the post said, they were not expected to develop adverse health effects.

Experts studying air pollution in schools have revealed it has extremely damaging effects on children. “Air pollution can cause what’s called externalizing behaviors, aggressive behaviors in kids,” said Persico, the American University public policy professor. “That causes them to get into fights or to misbehave, and then they’re more likely to be suspended in school.”


Water flows from a drinking fountain in a playground at Williams Elementary.
Photo: Elise Swain for The Intercept

An Ongoing Issue 

Despite years of appeals from within the school and the broader community, Williams Elementary is still trying to find a way to get rid of the polluted soil. The school district’s maintenance manager asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in an email last May “about the possibility of having some assistance with the removal of the contaminated soil, if and when the Board decides to demo Buildings 1 and 2 at Williams.”

An environmental consultant at the department responded that the agency could investigate and cover the cost of needed remediation if the school board approved renovations or demolition.

The environmental department recently contracted Leah D. Stuchal, a research professor at the University of Florida, to review air testing results from November that revealed excessive levels of chloroform. In February, Stuchal concluded that the excess levels “were not believed to be a result of petroleum contamination” and that monitoring for petroleum contaminants in indoor air was no longer needed. Still, Stuchal recommended continued monitoring for chloroform, of which the source remains unclear.

“The recommendation for continued monitoring of chloroform is because the source is unknown and the population exposed involves children,” Stuchal told The Intercept in an email.

Craver, of the environmental department, said that “out of an abundance of caution,” the agency “continues to maintain a passive venting system and conduct indoor air monitoring.”

The school recently concluded another round of testing, but there are no public records of testing at Lincoln Middle School across the field. And the long-forgotten landfill remains part of the land’s history.

Meanwhile, community members in East Gainesville have been waging a fight against the expansion of a different landfill. Just 2 miles from the schools, it was meant to close in January but has applied to continue operating until 2028. As a local news outlet reported last year, “It’s history repeating.”

“The people in our neighborhoods … I can guarantee you they have experienced enough tragedies,” Fields said in a county meeting on the proposed landfill plans. “It used to be an ongoing joke in our neighborhood, we are all gonna die from cancer because the dump site was right there between Lincoln and Williams Elementary. Well, guess what happened?”

The reporting for this article was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

The post For Decades, Officials Knew a School Sat on a Former Dump — and Did Little to Clean Up the Toxins appeared first on The Intercept.

Global research warns climate change is increasing groundwater temperatures

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/06/2024 - 7:39pm in

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Environment

Charles Darwin University Media Release A world first global groundwater temperature model projects that shallow groundwater will warm on average by between 2.1 and 3.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.  Charles Darwin University (CDU) Outstanding Future Researcher Dr Dylan Irvine and University of Newcastle’s Dr Gabriel Rau collaborated with colleagues from Canada,…

The post Global research warns climate change is increasing groundwater temperatures appeared first on The AIM Network.

Sustainable Aviation: Paving the Way for Clearer Skies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/06/2024 - 7:50am in

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Environment

In an era where environmental sustainability is paramount, industries worldwide are increasingly seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint and mitigate their impact on the planet. One such industry at the forefront of this effort is aviation. Sustainable aviation, characterized by a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, minimizing noise pollution, and conserving natural resources,…

The post Sustainable Aviation: Paving the Way for Clearer Skies appeared first on Peak Oil.

Do we really need more iPhones?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 01/06/2024 - 5:27pm in

I shared this video on YouTube this morning. In it, I ask what I think is an important question. Do we really need more iPhones? Or do we actually need more health and social care, education, and so much else that generates remarkably little carbon? Sometime soon, we are going to have to decide.

The transcript is:

How many iPhones does the world need?

Now that might sound like an odd opening to a video, but it's a really important question because well, I bet that if you have an iPhone or a Samsung or whatever else it might be - I don't really care which brand we're talking about here - you don't use all the facilities that that phone can provide to you.

For example, the vast majority of people do not use the cameras on their phones to the limit of their ability. Most, in fact, only use the forward-facing camera and not the backward one, which is the really good one. And I could go on and on and on about the ridiculous quality of these phones in comparison to what use we make of them.

And in that there's a particularly important point. We massively over consume material items that we don't really need that then go to waste in our current economy.

Why do we do that? Because we're incentivised to do so by advertising. Advertising that tells us that if we do not have this latest phone or car or garment or whatever else it might be, then we will be an inadequate person. And, therefore we must go out of our way, and quite possibly go into debt, to secure whatever it is that is being advertised towards us.

And the point is, if we don't need those things but are spending money on it, there is a very high possibility that something that we do need, but are not spending on, is not provided instead.

And what am I talking about? Well, look, we all know we're not getting adequate health care at present.

We all know that young people are not being educated properly in the UK at present.

We all know that we have not got proper police forces, nor do we have a proper judicial system if ever they catch a criminal.

We all know that there are inadequate prisons.

We all know that we're not spending enough on the environment.

We all know so many other services that are failing - social care, the NHS, you name it - they're all going wrong.

Why are they going wrong? Because politicians have decided, in the interest of big business, that there is a limit to the size of the state. However much we need the things that the state can supply, and which no one else can deliver to us in a cost-effective way, they're saying, “No, we need iPhones, or Samsungs, or whatever else, or giant cars”, and my point here is, we've got to make a choice at some time.

We have to decide.

Are we going to consume forever more at cost to the planet because we know we cannot eat up resources in the way we are already?

Or are we going to have more of those things which actually take remarkably little carbon to deliver like more teachers in classrooms, or more social care, where somebody sits in front of somebody else and makes sure they're okay in their own home, or whatever else.

Are we going to make the choice for the things we really need?

Or are we going to continue to overconsume what we don't really want?

It's the biggest decision that we as a bunch of people, a population, a human race, have to take because depending upon the outcome, we'll either get the services we need and survive, or we're all frankly going to be going to live in a planet that is going to heat beyond our imaginations and we're going to sort of burn in hell.

I don't like that idea.

I don't suspect you do.

So there's only one really tenable outcome here.

Do we want more iPhones or would we like more from the NHS?

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