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Learning to Say ‘No’ to Risky Mega-Projects

13. Dezember 2018 - 14:08

Scott Moore is a Harvard-trained political scientist who was formerly a top advisor to the U.S. State Department on China and the environment.  He is now Director of the Global China Program at the University of Pennsylvania.  Here, he teams up with ALERT Director Bill Laurance to voice concerns about the stunning proliferation of mega-projects worldwide, many being built under China’s controversial Belt & Road Initiative.

A year ago, scientists made what is now one of the rarest of discoveries: a new species of great ape, one of humanity’s closest relatives in the animal kingdom.  

But scarcely have we become acquainted with our new relation, since named the Tapanuli orangutan, than it may disappear from the face of the Earth. 

Fewer than 800 members of the species are thought to exist, all in an isolated group living in northern Sumatra.  Unfortunately, the orangutans’ only home is also the site of a planned Chinese-backed hydropower dam

The rare orangutan is far from the only species at risk from a global boom in big infrastructure projects that, if left unchecked, will devastate the natural world. 

But the real tragedy is that their sacrifice may be in vain: many of the world’s mega-projects turn out to be bad for profits and people as well as the planet. 

And while the world does need roads, railways, and dams, nations need to get better at deciding when and where they make sense – and how to say no when they don’t.    


Over the past half-decade, countries across the globe have seen a surge in proposed mega-projects, thanks in large part to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a multi-trillion-dollar plan to build roads, railways, pipelines, and ports from New Zealand to Nicaragua. 

Such investment has politicians and investors across the globe salivating at the prospect of finally overcoming the bottlenecks that have long isolated developing from developed-country markets, and that many national leaders see as a route out of poverty for their people. 

But the fact is, many mega-projects simply aren’t worth the risk to investors, host nations, or the environment. 

Big infrastructure projects carry undeniable attractions for investors and politicians: they often stimulate trade and industry, and can help boost employment. 

But the hidden costs are high.  Research shows that the construction of roads, of which more than 25 million kilometers are expected to be built by 2050, devastate local environments by opening up previously-isolated areas to deforestation, mining, and land speculation. 

Coming on top of an animal apocalypse — the recent reported loss since 1970 of 60 percent of the world’s wildlife — a global boom in infrastructure is likely to destroy much of what’s left of the natural world. 

The devastation can be so great that Brazilian scientist Eneas Salati has claimed the best thing you could do for the Amazon rainforest is simply blow up all the roads.


The hidden costs of mega-projects aren’t borne by the planet alone.  A surge in cheap financing, especially by China, has increased the risk of “debt traps” for poor countries, locking them into financing projects they can’t really afford. 

For example, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Laos, and a number of Pacific Island nations are already teetering on the brink of financial insolvency. 

Nor is infrastructure alone a solution for poor countries: contributions to growth can be undermined by widespread corruption. 

Moreover, sudden influxes of foreign capital for infrastructure and extractive industries can rapidly inflate the local currency, destabilizing the economy while robbing other industries such as manufacturing, exports, and tourism of their competitiveness. 

For investors, meanwhile, pursuing big infrastructure projects in fragile countries and environments can also be risky.  Cost-benefit studies show that many mega-projects produce surprisingly poor returns. 

Oxford University researchers have found, for example, that large hydropower dams regularly exceed cost estimates by 90 percent — and over half of big dams built since 1934 have performed so poorly they’ve become stranded assets.

Of course, investors aren’t entirely blind to such risks.  One common tactic is to insist on favorable tax conditions, often while giving generous ‘incentives’ to politicians. 

Such strategies have a way of coming back to bite investors and host nations.  For example, in Papua New Guinea, open warfare has erupted among indigenous tribes as the financial realities and tax losses from a $19 billion natural-gas project funded by foreign investors have come to light. 

Such conflicts are joltingly common in developing nations, and help illustrate the many underlying sources of risk for big infrastructure. 


Given these gauntlets of risk, the world must say no to many proposed mega-projects — as far too many are ill-conceived and dangerous. 

Instead, decision-makers and investors should follow transparent science-based criteria to determine which infrastructure projects will really benefit people without trashing the planet.

Fortunately, we know enough now to red-flag the most high-risk projects — such as those in remote or wild areas, in epicenters of biodiversity, in locales prones to damaging floods or landslides, and in the dark shadows where corruption and economic disparity thrive. 

Projects pocked with red flags can then be scrutinized carefully by international experts, greatly increasing public transparency.

Learning to say no to flashy mega-projects will mean making tough political and economic decisions. 

But there is a very important silver lining.  By freeing ourselves from our recent obsession with mega-projects, we can help ensure that investment flows to initiatives that promote shared prosperity and help protect the planet’s riches for future generations.   

Kategorien: english

Surging Development Dangers in Indonesian New Guinea

5. Dezember 2018 - 1:55

The Pacific island of New Guinea sustains one of the world’s last great tracts of unbroken rainforest.  But it’s a rainforest in trouble.

The Indonesian government is attempting to crisscross the western half of New Guinea — a land called “Papua”— with some 4,000 kilometers of new paved highways.

Known as the “Trans-Papuan Highway”, this sprawling road network will open up vast expanses of forest for exploitation. 

An analysis just published in the journal Environmental Science and Policy — by an international team that includes several ALERT researchers — concludes that the road-building scheme has “red flags all over it”.

Perils for Diversity

Home to such unusual creatures as Tree-Kangaroos and Birds of Paradise, New Guinea is exceptional not only for the uniqueness of its fauna and flora but also its astonishing cultural diversity — with more than 700 indigenous societies and languages.

Many of New Guinea’s indigenous groups maintain traditional lifestyles, with strong ties to their ancestral lands and forests. 

But since annexing western New Guinea from the Dutch in the 1960s, the Indonesian central government has advanced a series of top-down schemes – including ill-fated agri-industrial developments and a transmigration program that reportedly brought in over a million settlers from elsewhere in Indonesia, creating intense social conflicts with local residents.

These prior initiatives have wrought major environmental and social changes, but the Trans-Papuan Highway has the potential to top them all.  Here are six of the biggest red flags identified in the recent study.

Red Flag 1: Accelerating Forest Destruction

The planned road routes will cut through fully or largely intact forest, including many areas that are sparsely populated. 

Analyses of the road routes and prevailing land-use trends suggest that three major new hotspots of deforestation are likely to be created — in Central, Eastern, and South-eastern Papua.

New hotspots of deforestation likely to arise from the Trans-Papuan Highway.

Red Flag 2: Threats to Lorentz

Lorentz National Park and World Heritage Site is a global jewel, recently ranked 13th out of more than 173,000 protected areas worldwide in terms of its biological uniqueness and irreplaceability. 

Nearly 200 kilometers of new roads will be cut across Lorentz, greatly increasing access to 50,000 hectares of mining concessions inside the park. 

Planned roads and existing mining leases inside Lorentz World Heritage Site.

Alarmingly, Indonesia has a long history of downgrading or downsizing its protected areas to allow access to minerals, timber, or other valuable resources. 

Red Flag 3: Social Conflicts and Violence

By cutting through the traditional lands of so many different indigenous groups, the roads will almost certainly provoke further anger and anti-government sentiment — the last thing Indonesia needs.  Just this week, two dozen road workers were killed by anti-government rebels in Nduga regency in eastern Papua. 

Such anti-government militancy arises because indigenous peoples are very poorly represented in legal processes in Papua.  Of 14 million hectares of customary land claims under review by the Indonesian government, virtually none are in Papua — illustrating just how badly the Indonesian government has treated traditional Papuan land rights.

Red Flag 4: Massive Carbon Emissions

The hotspot of deforestation in Southeastern Papua harbors some of the world’s largest peatlands — which contain exceptionally large stores of carbon.  The burning and decomposition of peatlands is one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions from land-use change.

And peat fires in Indonesia have been largely responsible for the choking haze that has repeatedly plagued much of Southeast Asia, forcing widespread closures of schools and airports and major increases in respiratory distress.

Red Flag 5: Spiraling Costs

The Trans-Papuan Highway has shaky financial foundations. The roads would be extremely expensive to construct because they’d need to traverse some of the steepest and wettest terrain in New Guinea, requiring innumerable bridges and culverts and heavy earthworks.

Much of the planned road construction is in steep mountainous areas (shown in orange).

In addition, maintenance costs for roads in such steep and high-rainfall environments are notoriously high — estimated at around 20 percent of the initial road-construction cost per year, based on World Bank experts working in Papua

Without expensive ongoing maintenance, such roads can easily be rendered useless by recurring landslides, slumping, potholes, and fissures.   

Road slumping in Papua.

Red Flag 6: Big Risks for Investors

The combination of high construction and maintenance costs, serious potential for social conflicts, and strong opposition from environmental and indigenous-rights groups means that investments in the Trans-Papuan Highway will be extremely risky for national and international investors.

The road and development projects associated with it could easily become mired in conflicts over land ownership and financial losses to corruption — two acute concerns in Indonesia. 

Serious Questions

The new study raises fundamental questions about the Trans-Papuan Highway — serious questions that need serious answers. 

For instance, why is such an ambitious, expensive, and intensely risky highway network being built in the first place?  Is it part of a rational development strategy, or is it motivated by central-government desires to assert top-down control in Papua? 

Every nation has the right to determine its own development priorities.  But there is nothing even faintly undemocratic about helping citizens to understand the risks and realities — so they can make better development decisions for everyone.

Photos by Rhett A. Butler/, Mark Ziembicki, and William Laurance

Kategorien: english

The Trouble with Environmental Impact Assessments

23. November 2018 - 12:58

A tsunami of development projects is sweeping across the planet.  It’s in the form of new roads, dams, mines, housing estates, and assorted other infrastructure projects.  

The governments enabling these developments are all telling us not to worry; that each project undergoes a rigorous Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to ensure the environment is safe; that we can have economic development and a healthy environment too.

But the sad fact is, those assessments are increasingly not worth the paper they’re printed on.

All around the world there is a growing catalogue of cases where EIAs are giving green lights to developments that should never see the light of day — projects that are destroying irreplaceable habitat or wiping out the last representatives of endangered species.

The Joke is On Us

One EIA gave the thumbs up on a housing project being carved out of Panama’s tropical forest because it reported only 12 common bird species present in the area.  This suggested the development could not threaten anything rare.  

But a bird expert did his own survey of the same area and and identified 121 bird species in just two hours.  And this included several rare and threatened species.

Another EIA for a 900-kilometre-long highway slicing through the heart of Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest concluded that the project would cause no net increase in deforestation.  Yet independent analyses suggest this project will provoke forest losses of 5 million to 39 million hectares by 2050 — an area approaching the size of Switzerland.

The approval of a hydropower project in North Sumatra was based on an EIA that was so utterly rife with inaccuracies and misrepresentations that ALERT experts and other top scientists wrote directly to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, decrying its blatant distortions. 

Today, this hydropower project is bulldozing ahead, cutting across the scarce remaining habitat of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan—the rarest great ape species in the world.

Keeping the Developer Honest

The frontline of environmental protection in most countries is the EIA.  It’s usually a legal requirement placed on a developer to measure the impact on nature of their proposed development.

If that impact includes anything the government has pledged to protect, such as a threatened species, then the development is halted or redesigned to avoid the impact.  

Or that’s the idea, anyway.  The only problem is that the EIAs are increasingly not stopping bad projects.  And there are many reasons why.

Good Assessment is Challenging

To begin with, a rigorous assessment takes time, effort, and resources. For example, detecting threatened species where the proposed development will occur — one of the main things EIAs are supposed to do — is technically challenging and expensive.  

Limiting the EIA effort to ‘quick and dirty’ assessments saves money and also helps avoid detecting rare ‘red-light’ species that might block the development.

Then there’s the scope of the assessment.  The impacts of any development are rarely confined to its planned ‘footprint’.  

Large mining projects in the Amazon, for example, have caused sharply increased deforestation up to 70  kilometers outside of mine sites. This is because the mines require new forest roads and those, in turn, promote illegal land encroachment and forest loss.

Furthermore, EIAs often fail to consider longer-term impacts of developments.  Few EIAs in Malaysia, for example, consider the chronic increases in poaching, habitat fragmentation, and other human pressures that occur when a new road slices into a forest.  

And the environmental changes from roads extend well beyond the road itself.

In the Amazon, roads create broad ‘deforestation halos’ — with 95 percent of all deforestation occurring within 5.5 kilometers of a legal or illegal road.  

Developers often underestimate the spatial impacts of planned projects.  EIAs for large hydro-dams in Brazilian Amazonia, for example, have consistently underestimated the size of the area that will drowned under reservoirs — by 65 percent, on average.

Vested interests

So why don’t EIA assessors simply ‘try’ harder, do the job properly, and extend their assessment to incorporate all impacts related to the development?

In short, vested interests.  Most governments require EIAs be funded by the developer itself.  That gives the developer a lot of control and influence — and the last thing the developer wants is an EIA that stops it dead in its tracks.

EIAs are often carried out by consultants that are supposed to be independent but are actually paid for by the developer.  And assessors who conduct stringent EIAs may be blacklisted by other developers in the future.

On occasion, one even sees EIA consultants defending and promoting the project in public — which is like the judge in a murder trial testifying for the defense. 

In northern Queensland, experts were stunned to see an EIA consultant publicly defending a major resort development, known as ‘Kur-World’, that he was being paid to be objectively assessing.

How do developers get away with such poor outcomes? The answer is inadequate governance. Governments responsible for ensuring the integrity of the EIA process are failing to ensure it actually happens at the level required.  

Governments have vested interests, too. Development is usually equated with economic growth and jobs, and politicians can turn these benefits into votes.

Add to that bribery and corruption, which is rife in many developing countries, and it’s easy to see how developers often gain an unhealthy hold over political and governance processes, including the EIA.

Prepare for the Tsunami

In the coming years our planet will see incredible development pressure, including 25 million kilometers of new paved roads and over 3,700 major hydropower projects.  

Assessing such impacts in way that prevents or greatly limits their environmental impacts is technically do-able; the science is available.

A greater challenge, however, is demanding appropriate transparency, accountability, and compliance around our assessment efforts.

Without those ingredients, we are hopelessly unprepared for the development tsunami. 

EIAs will often let ill-advised projects advance with only minor tweaks, such as fish-ladders for dams, or underpasses for major road projects — which will allow a few animals to traverse the project but still massively diminish animal movement and survival.

Yes, we need EIAs — but much better EIAs than we are presently getting.  Most EIAs are full of holes, and so we need to stare at them with a very hard eye.


Kategorien: english

‘Apocalypse Now’ for Amazonia: Devastating Promises by Brazil’s President-Elect

14. November 2018 - 14:05

ALERT’s Philip Fearnside is arguably the world’s top expert on conservation of the Amazon forest.  Here he tells us why Brazilians are so worried about the recent election of Jair Bolsonaro — the man many people are calling the ‘Tropical Trump’.

Brazil’s election two weeks ago of Jair Bolsonaro — known by many as the “Tropical Trump” — is clearly a catastrophe for Amazonia.  

Despite Brazil’s incredible natural values including the world’s greatest rainforest, environmental issues were of little significance to most voters during the recent campaign.

What was really on voters’ minds?  An April 2018 poll found three-quarters of the population worries about Brazil being invaded by a rich country bent on stealing its natural wealth. 

Such paranoia aids Bolsonaro’s efforts to portray environmental concerns as threats to Brazil’s national sovereignty.


Along with Bolsonaro, conservative victories in this year’s congressional elections could speed up approval of proposed legislation that would effectively eliminate environmental licensing and halt the creation of new protected areas.

Bolsonaro is especially hostile to the rights of indigenous peoples.  He promised not to allow demarcation of “a single centimeter” of new indigenous land.

Many ordinary Brazilians are scared.  Eleven pieces of legislation Bolsonaro supports are being fast-tracked and may be passed even before he takes office on 1 January 2019.  

One of Bolsonaro’s main congressional allies has promised to “sell” the country’s indigenous lands.

Bolsonaro is extremely popular with big agribusiness and its economically powerful lobby. 

Of considerable interest to them is a proposed law to classify the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) — which seeks to have certain private lands redistributed from wealthy landowners to the rural poor — as a terrorist organization.  

This, plus Bolsonaro’s proposal to allow weapons to be carried for "protection of rural properties," could incite more armed conflicts in Amazonia — which is already the scene of thousands of rural murders.

And while he’s at it, Bolsonaro also promises an end to “activists” such as environmental and social advocates and to expel international environmental groups.


Under Bolsonaro’s present plans, Brazil’s environmental agencies would be stripped of power to license infrastructure projects — an enormous issue because such projects are major drivers of deforestation.

What remains of infrastructure licensing would be distributed to other ministries, notably those that most impact Amazonia: Agriculture, Infrastructure, and Mines and Energy.  

All this is akin to inviting the ‘fox to guard the chicken coop’.

Brazil’s current environmental licensing is woefully inadequate even without Bolsonaro’s schemes to weaken it further.  Control of deforestation would be relaxed, he claims, with an end the “industry of [environmental] fines.”


For Bolsonaro, comparisons to Donald Trump are inevitable.

Climate-change denial, a powerful force in Brazil, is vigorously endorsed by Bolsonaro.  

Like Trump, he portrays climate change as a foreign conspiracy — to prevent Brazil from developing economically — and uses social media to send climate-denialist materials to his voting base.

In August 2018 one of Bolsonaro’s sons traveled to New York to meet with Steve Bannon —  the man who convinced Trump to abandon the Paris Climate Agreement.  

During his election campaign, Bolsonaro promised to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement, just as Trump has done for the U.S. 

But just before the runoff election in Brazil, Bolsonaro appeared to walk back this controversial pledge — seemingly flip-flopping, as Trump has done many times in the past.

Yet Bolsonaro will only support the Paris climate accord, he says, if he gets a written guarantee that there would be no “Triple A Project” — a planned ecological corridor connecting the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean — which Bolsonaro sees as a foreign plot to usurp control over Amazonia.

Bolsonaro also wants a guarantee of no “independence of any indigenous area.”  

He evidently believes indigenous peoples might one day declare independence from Brazil and be recognized by conspiring foreign governments.

Since guarantees for such deep-fringe positions could never reasonably be expected, Bolsonaro’s intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement evidently remains unchanged.


Ironically, of all nations on Earth, Brazil is expected to suffer some of the greatest impacts of climate change, based on our best scientific knowledge.

If Bolsonaro is given free reign, we may just find out exactly how bad climate change is for the Brazilian economy, agriculture, hydro-power, and its peerless biodiversity and ecosystems.


Kategorien: english

Question: Which of These Primates Knows More About Climate Change?

2. November 2018 - 14:43

Time for an ALERT’s pop quiz:

Among the quotes below, which were made by the primate on the left, versus the primate on the right?

Quote 1: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”

Quote 2: “Well, I think climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax”

Quote 3: “Record low temperatures and massive amounts of snow. Where the hell is GLOBAL WARMING?”

Quote 4: “I believe in clean air. Immaculate air. But I don’t believe in climate change”

Quote 5: “Obama said in his SOTU that ‘global warming is a fact.’ Sure, about as factual as ‘if you like your healthcare, you can keep it”

Quote 6: “Oook aaaak zooook!”

Answers: All six quotes were made by the primate on the right (really!).

For a running list of everything Donald Trump has done so far to impact environmental conservation, take a look at this National Geographic article.

Kategorien: english

Trails on Trial: Which Human Uses Are OK for Protected Areas?

18. Oktober 2018 - 11:40

No question about it: Parks and protected areas are the absolulte cornerstone of our efforts to protect nature.  In the long term, we can’t save wildlife and ecosystems without them.

But people want to use parks too — and in rapidly growing numbers.  For recreational activities ranging from hiking and birdwatching and camping to noiser affairs such as mountain-biking, snowmobiles, and four-wheel-driving.

Where do we draw the line?


There’s no question that roads in parks can be a double-edge sword. 

We need some roads so tourists can access parks, but we have to be super-careful where and how we build them.

For instance, in regions where law enforcement is weak, roads can rip apart a forest — sharply increasing illegal activities such as poaching, logging, and mining

For example, it’s been estimated that new roads – often driven by foreign mining or timber investors from nations such as China – could could chop in half or damage up to a third of all the national parks in sub-Saharan Africa

In Nouabale Ndoke Park in Congo, poaching wasn’t a big problem until a new road was built along the edge of the park.  

Suddenly the fatal rak-rak-rak of AK-47 rifles – often aimed at elephants by ivory poachers – was being heard all too often.

And what about a simple bike trail or a walking track?  They let in people too.  Are trails and tracks harmless?


Not always.  For instance, it’s known that mountain biking causes a range of impacts. 

Their tires chew up the soil and cause compaction and erosion — a significant problem in the fragile alpine vegetation in mountainous areas where many bikers like to explore.

And by moving rapidly, bikers can scare wildlife. 

In North America and Europe, many wild species, such as bears, wolves, caribou, and bobcats, have been shown to flee or avoid areas where human hikers or bike traffic occur with regularity.

In Indonesia, even trails used by quiet eco-tourists and birdwatchers scared away some sensitive wildlife species or caused them to shift to being active only at night.

 In turns out that each type of human activity – be it hiking or biking or horse riding — has its own signature impact on nature.

And overall, we simply don’t know the net effect of human recreation on parks and protected areas globally.

However, a study earlier this year found that roughly one-third of all terrestrial protected areas worldwide – a staggering 6 million square kilometers, an area bigger than Kenya – is already under intense human pressure.

Roads, mines, industrial logging, farms, townships, and cities all threaten these supposedly protected places.


Is the answer to stop people from visiting parks?

Not really.  Visitors in many parts of the world help to fund the operation of national parks and represent a vital form of income for local people.

Exposure to nature is also one of the best ways to build support for environmental protection, generating political momentum for the establishment of protected areas.

And locking people out of land is a very unpopular thing to do.  Governments that block people from accessing nature reserves often face an electoral backlash.


If we accept that people should must access parks, what’s the best way to limit their impacts on ecosystems and wildlife?

One way is to encourage them to stay on designated trails and tourist routes.  

A recent study (using geotagged data from photos) showed that half of all the photos taken by park visitors occurred in less than 1 percent each park.

In other words, most visitors use only a small part of each park.

And that’s good news for nature. 

If people tend to limit their activities to the vicinities of pretty waterfalls, spectacular vistas, and designated hiking areas, that leaves much of the park available for disturbance-sensitive animals and ecosystems.

So, there’s room for practical science and management here. 

We want to design protected areas in a way that let’s people enjoy them – but focusing their activies in particular areas — while retaining large and intact core areas of the park where wildlife can roam free with little human disturbance.

And while we’re designing our parks, we want to use every opportunity – every visit – as a way to educate and empower visitors. 

We need people using parks to understand, appreciate, and stand up for nature.

Kategorien: english

Commotion in the ocean: What’s happening to our seas?

9. Oktober 2018 - 10:39

In 2011, underwater temperatures shot up by two degrees Celsius in Western Australian waters — and stayed that way, well above normal, for a staggering 10 weeks.

This punishing heatwave changed the ecosystem for good.

Returning five years later, scientists found that 100 kilometers of kelp forests had been wiped out — replaced by tropical and subtropical fish, seaweed, and coral.

They don’t expect the kelp to return. 


It’s now clear: Climate change is happening as much below the waves as above.

A new study in Nature Communications finds that marine heatwaves have been increasing sharply over the last century.

Comparing data from two periods — 1925-1954 and 1987-2016 — the study found heatwaves jumped by 34 percent in frequency.

And the duration of heatwaves (number of days per year where underwater temperatures reached high extremes) more than doubled.

Finally, the studied showed that intense heating had spread geographically, extending across 65 percent of the ocean’s surface.


Less than a hundred years ago, it was common for regions of the sea to go a full year without experiencing a heatwave.

Now, the opposite is true: at any particular place, marine heatwaves happen each year more often than not. 

This isn’t just bad news for kelp forests, but also for many other ecosystems and species, and for people who depend on the oceans for their livelihoods. 

Perhaps of greatest concern is the world’s coral reefs—bastions of biodiversity, the tropical rainforests of the ocean.

Reefs have evolved to survive within certain temperature ranges.  But now, we’re blowing right past them.


When the waters around coral reefs become too warm, the coral expel their symbiotic algae (called “zooxanthellae”), which normally feed the coral via photosynthesis.

With their algae gone, the coral turns ghostly white—a phenomenon known as “coral bleaching”.

If the heat wave lingers over weeks or months, the corals and their algae can’t recover, and the corals and the reefs perish.    

Hit with a double dose of hot temperatures in 2016 and 2017, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef experienced its worst coral bleaching to date. 

These heat waves were linked directly to global warming, based on an exhaustive battery of statistical analyses.

The upshot: Nearly a third (29 percent) of the Great Barrier Reef has been decimated by overheating in just the past two years.


Although the calamity on the iconic Great Barrier Reef was global news, the Australian government is failing to protect its seas at every turn.

Australia is, on a per-capita basis, among the worst carbon polluters in the world—and also sells huge amounts of coal to China, India, and other big-polluting nations. 

Hence, when it comes to global warming, Australia is part of the problem, not part of the solution. 

The political conservatives currently running Australia get their marching orders and most of their donations from the country’s massive coal, gas, and mining industries.

And if being one of the world’s worst polluters isn’t bad enough, the Australian government has also recommended cutting its marine sanctuaries by half.

Indeed, if the current rightwing government has its way, 76 percent of the Coral Sea, home to the Great Barrier Reef, would be opened up to commercial fishing and trawling, practices that are notoriously damaging to marine life. 

How much more wrong-headed can things be?


Many people in the world, including ALERT scientists, see things like this:

Australians, remember these shocking trends and dire warnings the next time you go to the voting booth. 

Australians are famous for their heartfelt saying: “Do the right thing.” 

The world is watching, Australia. 

It’s time to do the right thing.

Kategorien: english

Turning Rainforest To Furniture – Global Markets Gobble Up the Congo Basin

29. September 2018 - 2:34

The rainforests of Central Africa’s Congo Basin are disappearing before our eyes.  

New research is suggesting a major cause is demand for furniture in the United States – furniture manufactured from African timbers that in turn are imported from China.

A new study from the University of California examines timber exports from five Central African countries to China between 2001 and 2015.  

During that period, China more than doubled its wood imports from the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest, and is now its biggest timber importer.

Trevon Fuller, lead author of the study, has little doubt that U.S. markets are a main driver behind increased pressure on African forests.  U.S. consumers have long loved low-cost Chinese flooring, furniture and plywood

Further, satellite data from Fuller’s team shows that forest loss in Congo Basin nations rose when timber exports increased. 


While the U.S. is clearly part of the problem in Africa, China is at least as much of a worry. 

For example, in 2013, the European Union introduced the E.U. Timber Regulation.  It requires ‘due diligence’ from importers to verify that timber being brought into E.U. markets isn’t illegally harvested.

This slowed timber exports from the Congo Basin to the E.U., but China was quick to jump in and exploit the void instead. 

And the Chinese worry little about whether timber is illegally harvested or obtained via bribery, according to a wide range of sources.

When Gabon banned log exports in 2010 to encourage local wood-processing while stymieing illegal logging, China responded by quickly leaping into nearby Cameroon.

Just as bad, Chinese loggers want only round logs (raw timber), providing almost no opportunity for value-adding or local employment (via sawmilling or woodworking) by timber-producing countries.

This ensures that China maximizes its profits while local countries stay poor.


China is the biggest force behind a growing illegal trade that is stripping the native forests of many countries.  Many developed nations – such as the U.S., Australia, and E.U. – are now enacting laws to ban illegal timber imports.

But those laws do little to influence China’s aggressive behavior, or taming the dark side of the global timber trade.  

Ultimately, strong demand from consumer nations for cheap Chinese-manufactured furniture is driving a great deal of deforestation.

When the world wants cheap furniture, China will get it for them, one way or another.

Kategorien: english

A Photographic Celebration of Nature

17. September 2018 - 22:57

To celebrate another important milestone for ALERT -- we are now reaching up to 2 million readers each week -- we are going to do something a bit different.

Rather than talk about the dire need for nature conservation, we're going to share some images of the last place on Earth where Orangutans, Tigers, Elephants, and Rhinos still coexist -- along with an abundance of other species — the Leuser Ecosystem of Indonesia.

Getting there was half the fun (photo by William Laurance)

A rainforest dragonfly (photo (c) Suprayudi)

A mother Orangutan and her baby feeding on bark they've stripped off a tree (photo by William Laurance)

A rainforest kingfisher in hunting mode (photo (c) Suprayudi)

Suprayudi describes a favorite food of orangutans -- a rainforest fruit whose seeds they disperse (photo by William Laurance)

The glorious beauty of a rainforest gecko (photo (c) Suprayudi)

A rainforest forb in flower (photo by William Laurance)

One of the bolder Long-Tailed Macaques -- the rest of his troop had already fled as we approached (photo by William Laurance)

A tree-snake slithers into our campsite (photo (c) Siprayudi)

Thomas' Langur, a species of leaf monkey, feeding on foliage (photo by William Laurance)

Beauty near the rainforest floor (photo (c) Suprayudi)

An evening mist settles over the rainforest (photo by William Laurance)

We saw amazing things at night. A spotlight reveals the huge eyes of a Slow Loris, a rainforest primate (photo (c) Siprayudi).

A Sumatran Elephant feeding on grass verging the rainforest (photo by William Laurance)

These small tree-vipers are among the most common snakes in the Leuser Ecosystem (photo (c) Suprayudi)

A five foot-long Water Monitor, a smaller cousin of the Komodo Dragon (photo by William Laurance)

Oil palm planted illegally inside the Leuser Ecosystem (photo by William Laurance)

Each year farms, tracks, and roads encroach further into the Leuser Ecosystem -- conservationists are trying to staunch the forest loss (photo (c) Suprayudi)

It's important to remember what we're fighting for -- visit the Leuser Ecosystem and see the wonders of Sumatra's imperiled nature (photo (c) Suprayudi)

To learn more about the Leuser Ecosystem or help to save it, contact the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme or Forest, Nature and Environment of Aceh

All photos by Bill Laurance and Suprayudi


Kategorien: english

Right-Wingers Humiliate Australia & Hammer the Earth

2. September 2018 - 9:01

An unsigned editorial by a frustrated ALERT member:

Only in an upside-down country like Australia would the term “Liberal” actually mean far-right conservative.

Australia’s "Liberal Party" showed its true colors last week by toppling the country's conservative but mainstream Prime Minister — in an effort to install their own right-wing hero.  A hero that nobody liked.

Thankfully, the attempt failed, miserably.

And in advancing this ill-fated coup, Australia’s hard-core conservatives haven't just failed themselves.

They’ve failed and embarrassed all Australians.  And the Earth as well.

Heat-stressed sheep en route from Australia

Emulating America?

For right-wingers in Australia, there seems to be only One True God: The god of mining and fossil-fuels — especially coal, the dirtiest of all energy sources, which Australia burns and exports massively.

The god of mining generously feeds and rewards Australia’s right-wingers – with a heady diet of tens of millions of dollars each year – mostly from foreign-owned corporations.

In turn, the right-wingers fall all over themselves telling Australians that coal is good — and how efforts to slow global warming and promote renewable energy are ill-considered and economically bad.

But no matter what else might happen, the far-right conservatives have been looking to help themselves.

The latest political disaster — resulting in Australia’s seventh Prime Minister in just the past decade — shows just how bad things Down Under have become. 

And Australia can thank its far-right extremists.

For this resounding humiliation. 

For the growing comparisons of Australia to unstable, tin-pot dictatorships.

For the election of Australia to the annals of environmental shame.

It almost sounds like Trump’s America.

Donald Trump and Australia's loudest disciple of Big Coal, Tony Abbott

Naughty, Naughty

Australians have never hesitated to wag their fingers at the environmental sinners of the world.  Don’t destroy Indonesia’s rainforests.  Stop the illegal logging of New Guinea. 

Stop global warming before it kills off our Great Barrier Reef.

But those arguments are ringing hollow now. 

Just a decade ago, things seemed different.  In 2007, Australia named global-warming Icon Tim Flannery as Australian of the Year

It seemed to herald a view that Australians saw the environment — and their role in protecting it — as a major priority.

But since then, good will has flown out the window, along with an unnervingly long list of national leaders. 

The conservatives killed off Australia’s carbon-pricing scheme – making Australia the first developed nation ever to do so.

In Queensland, rapid broad-scale land clearing has roared back.

The iconic Great Barrier Reef is being battered by extreme heat-waves and by pollution from rapid land-clearing and runoff.

Massive heat-caused bleaching of corals on the Great Barrier Reef

Heat-waves and droughts recently caused the largest dieoff of mangrove forests ever documented in Australia.

And Australia’s higher-altitude species — specialized for cool, cloudy conditions — are increasingly taking it in the neck as the thermometer rises.

The list of eco-calamities keeps growing.  And the politicians from Australia's hard right — and their all-powerful mining god — can be thanked for much of it.

Stop the Damage

With their clumsy, bully-boy tactics, the Australian far-right is not just hurting the country's environment and its booming outdoor-based tourism, lifestyles, and industries.

It's ravaging Australia’s credibility as an international leader — as a nation with enviable principles and conscience.

It surely isn’t worth it. 

In the land Down Under, it’s time to stop upside-down thinking and give the right-wingers in the Liberal Party a great big boot into political obscurity.

Kategorien: english