Hundreds of Elephants Die as Drought Grips Southern Africa

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Wildlife has been affected, too. Tinaapi Madiri, Zimbabwe’s national elephant manager, said more than 200 elephants have died of dehydration and starvation in recent weeks.

Tinaapi Madiri: “Going into the future with the increased droughts due to climate change and other phenomenon, we are likely to experience more and more of this drought, which could possibly impact significantly on our elephant population.”

Maine finally ready to take applications for marijuana businesses

The Office of Marijuana Policy announced it will begin accepting applications for growing, manufacturing and retailing on Dec. 5, one of the few remaining steps before the recreational market opens in March.

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After three years of delays, Maine is just about ready to begin licensing recreational marijuana businesses.

The Office of Marijuana Policy, which will oversee roll out of the adult-use market, will begin taking testing lab applications on Nov. 18, and start accepting cultivation, manufacturing and retail license applications on Dec. 5.

“The Office of Marijuana Policy has worked … to develop and institute regulations that we hope will serve as a model of how to properly regulate marijuana for the rest of the country,” Erik Gundersen, director of the office, said on Monday. “The goal has been to put forth the best rules and regulations possible.”

The state’s nascent marijuana industry has been waiting since the 2016 legalization vote to go operational. The three other states that legalized recreational marijuana that year – California, Massachusetts and Nevada – rolled out there regulatory structures, but Maine stood still.

The start of state licensing will represent a symbolic victory of sorts for some, but in towns that are limiting the number of local marijuana businesses, Dec. 5 marks the start of an all-out sprint.

State law requires local approval before the Office of Marijuana Policy will issue any final marijuana licenses.

In first-come, first-served towns, local marijuana entrepreneurs will have to obtain their provisional state license before they can apply for one of the few local licenses that are up for grabs.

In these towns, a delay in obtaining a provisional state license could derail the applicant’s hopes of setting up shop where they have bought a warehouse, or leased retail space from a marijuana-friendly landlord.

Other municipalities have set no limit on the number of marijuana licenses they will issue, or plan, like Portland, to hand out a limited number of retail licenses based on a scoring system.

Anyone who wants to apply for one of the state marijuana business licenses, or work in a cannabis business, must get a state-issued identification card. The cards require a criminal background check. Applications are now available on the Office of Marijuana Policy website.

Mark Barnett, the owner of Higher Grounds, a CBD coffee shop on Wharf Street in Portland, also serves as a spokesman for the Maine Craft Cannabis Association. He is planning to apply for a marijuana license and says he does not have any issues with the conditions, such as the criminal background check, that are going to be imposed by the states.

The office will use the information gathered in the background checks to decide if an applicant or their employees satisfy the character requirements written into the state law. For example, certain felony convictions would rule an applicant out.

Barnett said most people in the industry believe that marijuana should be a fully legalized substance because it is safer than alcohol or nicotine.

“It hasn’t sat well with anyone that a relatively benign substance is being treated as a public health threat,” he said. “Everyone wishes this could have been a more free and open situation.”

But Barnett said the background checks and ID cards are not catching anyone by surprise since the state has been working on regulations for months.

“It’s a very difficult industry, and it’s being made doubly difficult with all these regulations,” Barnett said. “I would have preferred a lighter-touch approach.”

The state’s new adult-use rules don’t go into effect until December, but the Office of Marijuana Policy wanted to start helping prospective licensees prepare to enter the emerging industry now so it would have more time to respond to applicants’ questions.

The office began the staggered rollout of program applications Monday because that is when it completed final adoption of its adult-use program rules. These rules create the regulatory framework for marijuana licensing, compliance and enforcement.

The state projects it will begin collecting its first recreational marijuana sales taxes in March 2020.

From legalization to legal sales, Maine is inching toward the slowest rollout of adult-use sales in the United States so far. Economists say the three-year wait for stores to open will have cost Maine more than $82 million in taxes and 6,100 industry jobs.

After the legislative rewrites, gubernatorial vetoes and contractual snafus, regulators are saying Maine will record its first adult-use sales on March 15, or 1,223 days after voters narrowly approved full-scale legalization at the polls.

Maine’s recreational cannabis market will top $158 million in sales its first year and almost $252 million in its second, according to research from New Frontier Data, a national marijuana analytics consulting firm.

Youth Climate Activists Stage Sit-In at House Speaker Pelosi’s Office

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Image Credit: Twitter: @sunrisemvmtdc

On Capitol Hill, 50 youth climate activists with the Sunrise Movement occupied the offices of California Senator Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday, demanding meaningful action on climate change. Organizer Claire Tacherra-Morrison said in a statement, “Democratic leadership is failing to treat this like the emergency that it is. Business-as-usual is killing us.”

DemocracyNow: Greta Thunberg, Frances Crowe and a Passing of the Torch

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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, sailed into New York Harbor Wednesday after an occasionally harrowing, two-week trans-Atlantic voyage. Greta walks the walk, living her life with as small a carbon footprint as she can. She decided to forgo flying as part of that commitment, so, in order to make it from Europe to North America, she sailed on a zero-emissions racing yacht.

The day before Greta’s arrival, on Tuesday, another activist ended a remarkable voyage. Frances Crowe, a lifelong peace activist, died at home in Western Massachusetts, surrounded by her family, at the age of 100. Frances was a firebrand, a nonviolent warrior for justice, arrested countless times protesting war, nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants and more.

The departure of one elder activist on the eve of the arrival of one so young symbolizes, bittersweetly, the passing of a torch.

Frances was born just months after World War I ended. “My mother told me she took me to my first march when the soldiers came home,” she wrote in “Finding My Radical Soul,” her memoir. “I was only a baby, but I have always had the feeling that war has defined my life.”

Her husband, Tom, was a medical doctor. Speaking on the “Democracy Now!” news hour in 2005, she described a pivotal moment in her life, Aug. 6, 1945, the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima: “I was a bride. My husband was in the Medical Corps in the Army. He had told me a few weeks before that he had heard rumors that we were developing this incredible weapon. He was at sea when we dropped the bomb, but I was alone in our apartment in New Orleans. When I heard it on the radio, I unplugged the iron, left the place mat that I was ironing and went out looking for a peace center in the streets of New Orleans.”

From that day, at the age of 26, until she died, Frances Crowe never relented in her pursuit of peace and justice. She was a war tax resister, refusing to pay taxes to support the sprawling Pentagon budget. She opposed South African apartheid and U.S. intervention in Central America in the 1980s and in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s. She climbed fences into the Seneca Army Depot, and was arrested for pouring her own blood on a newly built Trident nuclear submarine just before it was launched in Connecticut.

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Wednesday, at Manhattan’s North Cove Marina, a vessel of a different kind arrived.

Hundreds of young climate activists cheered as Greta disembarked, standing on terra firma for the first time in two weeks. “The ground is still shaking for me,” she said as she opened her press conference.

“The climate is an ecological crisis, a global crisis, the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced,” she said. “If we don’t manage to cooperate, to work together despite our differences, then we will fail. … Let’s not wait any longer. Let’s do it now.”

We first met Greta at the U.N. climate change summit in Katowice, Poland, last December. She explained then on “Democracy Now!” that, because of her Asperger’s, “I work a bit different. I see things in black and white. I guess I saw the world from a different perspective.”

She focused intently on the worsening climate crisis, even suffering debilitating depression around the age of 11. “I got out of that depression by promising myself that I’m going to do everything I can to change things,” she said Wednesday.

That determination led her to launch a school strike for the climate, skipping school every Friday to stand in front of the Swedish parliament, demanding action to prevent catastrophic climate change. Her protest spread, quickly going global. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren around the globe have participated in their own, local school strikes for the climate.

This Friday, Greta will join kids in New York at their monthly strike outside the United Nations. A global strike for the climate, expected to be one of the largest global protests in history, will take place on Sept. 20. After that, Greta will make her way, using “a lot of trains, buses and probably even sailing,” she
explained, to the next U.N. climate change summit in Santiago, Chile, in December.

Greta’s work as an activist is just beginning. She is a living example of what Frances Crowe said not long ago: “There is something else also to life, the joy of struggle, that not enough people have tasted. The joy of community, and the joy of cooperation, instead of competition; these are the values that I want to perpetuate and talk about to young people.”

Frances Crowe, rest in power. Greta Thunberg, long may you carry the torch.

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Al Jazeera: BlackRock in Amazon: ‘World’s largest investor in deforestation’

Report by Friends of the Earth faults asset manager for investing in companies that contribute to Brazil’s fire risk.

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An aerial view of a burning tract of Amazon jungle as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Porto Velho, Brazil [Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]
An aerial view of a burning tract of Amazon jungle as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Porto Velho, Brazil [Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]

As Amazon fires spark unprecedented deforestation, a report released on Friday shows that BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, holds extensive investments in the sectors deemed responsible for the devastation of forests in Brazil.

With $6.5 trillion of assets under management, BlackRock was labeled the “world’s largest investor in deforestation” by the report’s authors – Friends of the Earth US, Amazon Watch, and Dutch research firm Profundo.

The report, BlackRock’s Big Deforestation Problem, looks at financial data from 2014 to 2018 showing the global investment management firm to be among the top three shareholders in 25 of the planet’s largest publicly traded companies with “deforestation risk”.

The data reveal that BlackRock’s holdings in six sectors – soy, beef, palm oil, rubber, timber and pulp/paper – have increased by more than $500m in the last five years.

Jeff Conant, the report’s lead author and senior international forest programme manager with Friends of the Earth US, said that “BlackRock’s investments are directly causing the forest fires in the Amazon and deforestation around the globe”.

“I don’t believe that BlackRock and their providers are even looking at deforestation risk,” he told Al Jazeera. “There are not a lot of worse companies out there than the companies on [our] list.”

Of the 167 deforestation-risk companies identified by the researchers, BlackRock held shares in 61 of them – valued at $1.5bn by the end of last year.

“Sound corporate governance practices, including how companies manage the material environmental and social factors inherent to their business models, have the potential to impact the long-term value of our clients’ assets,” BlackRock said in a statement provided to Al Jazeera.

“Our obligation as an asset manager and a fiduciary is to manage our clients’ assets consistent with their investment priorities,” the company added.

“Absent the option to divest from these companies, we engage with them to evaluate how they manage the material sustainability-related risks and opportunities within their businesses, and encourage them to adopt the robust business practices consistent with sustainable long-term performance.”

ESG: ‘Do whatever they want’

Conant said that BlackRock makes money off of environmentally destructive agribusiness, particularly through commodity holdings in index funds that passively track global markets.

“[BlackRock] can get the ESG industry to do whatever they want,” Conant said, referring to environmental, social and governance factors that thus far appear unsuccessful at screening out companies with deforestation risk from such funds. “Passive investment is an active problem.”

“Most ESG funds are based on data from the ESG industry, which is really not necessarily looking at the whole picture and scanning the right sources for information,” he added. “They are not thinking extremely deeply about what environmental impacts are – and their relative weights.”

Overuse of land, water and pesticides – when combined with the adverse effects of climate change – have contributed to fires raging in Brazil, as well as in the Arctic, Indonesia and Central Africa.

Conant said, however, that these blazes are “to be expected and we will see more of them”.

He also suggested that the problems were exacerbated by the “authoritarian regime of [Brazilian President Jair] Bolsonaro, which is being backed by global finance”.

High-risk holdings and conflict-linked securities could pose a dilemma for BlackRock that is financial, environmental and moral.

Earlier in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that deforestation and other land-use practices account for almost one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

“BlackRock can follow the lead of other global asset managers and make change for the good of the rainforest, the climate, and its customers by shifting investments out of companies wrecking the planet, and applying maximum pressure to change company behaviour,” said Moira Birss of Amazon Watch.

The report cited the Norwegian Government Pension Fund for having blacklisted many companies in BlackRock’s portfolios. In addition, CalPERS – which provides benefits for public employees in the US state of California – has recognised deforestation as a “material investment risk”.

“Responsible stewardship is about more than just public statements,” said Ward Warmerdam of Profundo, which performed much of the research for the report. “It is about aligning your investment strategy with broadly accepted environmental and social standards.”

Earlier this summer, a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis faulted BlackRock for losing $90bn through fossil fuel investments during the past decade.

The new report says that BlackRock could instruct companies active in the Amazon to audit their supply chains, and in turn remove investments at all linked to the current fires.

“It takes time to unwind those investments but a public statement is very easy,” Conant told Al Jazeera. “[BlackRock] should ask all index providers to develop default fossil-fuel and deforestation-free investment funds.”

He criticised the Brazilian government’s efforts to “wipe out one of the world’s most precious ecosystems for short-term profit”, adding that BlackRock should “take an active stance in rejecting that offer to destroy the Amazon for business“.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

Maine: Reports of unleashed dogs biting visitors cause concern in Acadia

On Tuesday, August 13, Acadia National Park officials said there were three instances of dogs running off leash and biting visitors this week alone.

After multiple reports of visitors getting bitten by dogs, rangers at Acadia National Park are reminding the public about certain regulations that accompany bringing a furry friend to the area.

RELATED: What to do before and during a dog attack, according to trainers

According to a tweet sent out by the park on Tuesday, August 13, there were three instances of dogs running off leash and biting visitors this week alone.

Acadia National Park

@AcadiaNPS

Rangers report there were three instances of visitors being bitten by dogs running off leash in Acadia this week alone. Regulations require all pets to be restrained on a leash no longer than 6 feet (2 m). More at http://go.nps.gov/AcadiaPets 

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As a result, rangers are reminding visitors that all pets that come to the park must be on a leash no longer than six feet. They also should not be left unattended, since hot summer sun can threaten the safety of animals — especially in cars. 

RELATED: 3 dogs found dead inside hot car in Jamestown, Rhode Island

As is typical with most public spots, pet owners must remove any waste from campground and picnic areas, parking lots, roads, and other developed places.

Acadia has designated pet-friendly areas, which include:

  • 100 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads
  • Blackwoods, Seawall, and Schoodic Woods campgrounds
  • Isle au Haut (for day hiking)

Officials say most lakes in the park are public water supplies, so pets and people may not swim in them.

Also off-limits are:

  • Sand Beach and Echo Lake
  • public buildings
  • ranger-led programs
  • Wild Gardens of Acadia
  • Duck Harbor Campground

Service Animals are allowed to accompany their owners to all park locations.

To read a complete list of park trails that are closed to pets or that are not recommended for pets, click here.

Trump Slashes Endangered Species Act!

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The Trump administration finalized changes rolling back the Endangered Species Act Monday. Regulators will now be allowed to factor in economic considerations when granting “endangered” status, species classified as “threatened” will see their protections weakened, and scientists will be limited in setting climate change-related protections. Critics say the changes were made to clear the way for mining, drilling and development projects in areas populated by protected species. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is a former lobbyist for the oil and agribusiness industries. He is currently under investigation for possible ethics violations. The 46-year-old landmark Endangered Species Act has saved over 99% of classified animals, plants and insects since its inception. It’s credited with protecting the grizzly bear, the humpback whale and the bald eagle from extinction, among many others.

Environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and attorneys general have vowed to fight the changes. The Sierra Club called the move the “Trump Extinction Plan.” The International Fund for Animal Welfare said in a statement, “The most comprehensive assessment of biodiversity ever completed was released earlier this year and shows that more than one million species are at risk of extinction. These species are inextricably linked to our own well-being, livelihoods, economies, food security, and overall survival. Gutting key protections of the Endangered Species Act is precisely the wrong action for the U.S. to be taking.”