Monday, 7 January 2013


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Green Stories Of 2012: Environmental News In Review (PHOTOS)
Huffington Post, 31 December 2012.

The year 2012 saw extreme weather ravage regions around the world, a frustrating presidential campaign, severe disease outbreaks, controversial energy developments and climate change in action.

From Hurricane Sandy to a lioness "befriending" an antelope, a vast array of environmental news was documented in photos and videos. Check out below for some of the most memorable green stories of 2012.

1. Shell Arctic Drilling

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Shell's exploratory drilling in the Arctic sparked anger this year among concerned locals and environmentalists. According to the Associated Press, Shell finished preliminary drilling at a well in the Chukchi Sea and one in the Beaufort Sea.

In this July 14 photo, a Shell drilling ship drifts near the Alaska coast, raising questions about the company's preparedness.

Greenpeace and The Yes Lab launched a hoax campaign to challenge Shell's drilling plans, and Paul McCartney argued, "As the ice retreats, the oil giants are moving in. Instead of seeing the melting as a grave warning to humanity, they're eyeing the previously inaccessible oil beneath the seabed at the top of the world. They're exploiting the disappearance of the ice to drill for the very same fuel that caused the melting in the first place."

2. Superstorm Sandy

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Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Jamaica on Wednesday, October 24, 2012. The storm turned deadly in the Caribbean, and a hurricane/winter storm hybrid decimated regions along the U.S. East Coast.

In the storm's aftermath, HuffPost found that some of Sandy's damage was the result of poor coastal development plans and emergency preparedness failures.

3. 2012 Election's 'Climate Silence'

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Climate change was not mentioned in any of the presidential debates for the first time in a generation, sparking's Brad Johnson to remark, "President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Governor Mitt Romney, and Representative Paul Ryan have failed to debate the greatest challenge of our time. Climate change threatens us all: the candidates' silence threatens to seal our fate."

In Obama's first press conference after winning re-election, the president declared, "I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behaviour and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we've got an obligation to future generations to do something about it."

4. Fracking Debate

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The hydraulic fracturing debate heated up this year as multiple states contemplated the natural gas drilling process. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Department of Environmental Conservation considered whether to lift a fracking moratorium.

Engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea told HuffPost's James Gerken, "It's the [initial] drilling, the cementing and the casing of the wells that are causing most of the problems with contamination of drinking water supplies."

According to HuffPost's Lynne Peeples, "critics suggest the purported "filtering" of testing data is just one of the ways people are left in the dark about the assortment of heavy metals and other toxic contaminants that may be in their air and water as a result of drilling, hydraulic fracturing and other phases of natural gas production. Recent studies have identified more than 600 chemicals used throughout the process of natural gas production, and often left undisclosed by companies. Additionally, natural but equally hazardous substances can be released from the wells."

5. Arctic Ice Melt

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Arctic sea ice levels hit record lows this September, the ice extent covering 49 percent below the 1979 average, when satellite records began.

Scientists continued to emphasize the role that humans play in these changes. "It's crystal clear. If we burn all the fossil fuels, we create certain disaster," NASA scientist James Hansen warned.

6. Nuclear Secrets

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The safety of nuclear power plants in the U.S. was questioned this year, as plants from New York to California came under scrutiny.

In October, HuffPost's Tom Zeller examined an un-redacted version of a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report. He wrote that this version "highlights the threat that flooding poses to nuclear power plants located near large dams - and suggests that the NRC has misled the public for years about the severity of the threat, according to engineers and nuclear safety advocates."

NRC whistleblowers accused the organization of being dangerously secretive about serious threats facing U.S. nuclear plants.

7. Toxic Chemical Concerns

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Parents were given more to worry about this year as reports suggested that the chemicals replacing their problematic predecessors were similarly toxic. One concerned parent expressed her worry about the "toxic land mines that we're dodging every day," to HuffPost's Lynne Peeples.

The "BPA-free" label also faced scrutiny this year, as experts questioned the labelling regulation process.

8. Undercover Factory Farm Abuse

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Image: Screen capture from video

Disturbing undercover footage documenting alleged animal abuse emerged from multiple factory farms this year.

An undercover investigator at a Wyoming pig farm documented workers appearing to prod, punch and sit on a pig with a broken leg, and flipping young piglets through the air. The investigator told HuffPost's Joanna Zelman, "They would just kick a sow in the face to get her to turn around, and the sow would scream and run away... And they think it is normal, because they’ve just been doing it for so long, or because that’s just how everybody else does it, or just because that's the easiest way." According to the Humane Society, 9 employees were later charged with animal cruelty.

Following an undercover investigation at pig breeding facilities in Oklahoma, a complaint was filed alleging that thousands of sows had their movement severely restricted and some with large sores, torn vulvas and ripped skin were left untreated. In California, a chicken hatchery was sued after footage revealed hatchlings with ripped skin and exposed organs being thrown into bins, trapped under machinery and drowned.

Butterball again faced scrutiny when another undercover video from a plant connected to company emerged. Butterball employees in North Carolina had previously been charged with animal cruelty.

9. BP Oil Spill Aftermath

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In November, BP pleaded guilty to felony charges related to the Gulf oil spill, including charges of manslaughter and lying to Congress about the size of the leak. For these charges, the company is expected to pay $4.5 billion, the biggest corporate criminal penalty in U.S. history.

In December, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier gave final approval on BP's oil spill settlement with businesses and individuals. According to the Associated Press, the company estimates it will pay $7.8 billion.

10. Grassroots Movements

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Grassroots movements organized this year in efforts to tackle some of the greatest environmental challenges facing the planet today.

The international climate campaign pushed to "connect the dots" between climate change and extreme weather events.

In July,'s Bill McKibben wrote a viral Rolling Stone article arguing that most fossil fuel reserves must stay underground to prevent disastrous climate change.

McKibben then launched a "Do The Math" tour, sparking an on-going fossil fuel divestment campaign.

As McKibben explained, "If we can show people that fossil fuels are to the planet's safety what the tobacco industry is to our individual health, we may be able to loosen their grip on policy-making."

11. Keystone XL Battle

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TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline plans continued to face obstacles this year.

The proposed pipeline, aiming to carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, was blocked by President Obama earlier this year, but he later offered support for the lower portion.

Construction has begun on the southern segment between Oklahoma and Texas, but faces challenges from protesters and some landowners.

While supporters claim the pipeline will create jobs, NASA's James Hansen argues that Canada's exploitation of oil from the tar sands could mean "game over for the climate."

12. Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

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In January, HuffPost's Lynne Peeples reported on government watchdogs slamming the U.S. Navy for redacting information in a federal report on the drinking water supply at the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune. The site has been at the centre of a pollution scandal after links were made between chemical exposures in the 1950s-80s and high disease prevalence among former residents.

In August, President Obama signed a bill providing health benefits to exposed Marines and families.

13. SeaWorld Lawsuits

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Image: Screen capture from video

SeaWorld was in the spotlight this year as video emerged of a 2006 "near death" incident between a trainer and a SeaWorld orca. The footage was shown at a trial on the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau.

SeaWorld was also accused by PETA of violating the 13th Amendment on slavery. PETA complaining that the whales "were forcibly taken from their families and natural habitats, are held captive at SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld Orlando, denied everything that is natural to them, subjected to artificial insemination or sperm collection to breed performers for Defendants' shows, and forced to perform, all for Defendants' profit." The historic case was later dismissed by a federal judge.

14. West Nile Outbreak

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The U.S. experienced one of its worst West Nile virus outbreaks ever, thanks in part to weather conditions.

The aerial spraying of pesticides to battle disease-carrying mosquitoes faced opposition from some residents and scientists who argued it's ineffective and potentially dangerous. As one concerned activist told HuffPost's Lynne Peeples, "How many times have they told us something was safe and then 10 years later it comes out that it's not safe?"

15. Extreme Weather

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The U.S. suffered through a severe heat wave, the worst drought since 1988, and a raging wildfire season.

Outside of the U.S., other nations also experienced extreme weather, and the Philippines was recently hit by Typhoon Bopha, which killed over 1,000 people.

Many researchers are connecting the dots between some extreme weather trends and climate change. This year, NASA scientist James Hansen blamed three past heat waves on climate change, warning, "There is still time to act and avoid a worsening climate, but we are wasting precious time."

16. Coal Export Protests

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In December, Pacific Northwest activists protested proposed coal export terminals.

In May, Waterkeeper Alliance's Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spoke against the export of Montana and Wyoming coal through ports in Oregon and Washington, arguing, "They're coming to ship their poison, so that they can poison the people in China, and that poison is going to come back here and poison your salmon and your children."

17. Drowning Nations

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Some low-lying countries and coastal cities grew increasingly concerned this year as projections suggested sea levels could rise, largely due to climate change, up to three feet by the year 2100.

Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed expressed concern about his country, which could be uninhabitable by 2100, in his new documentary, "The Island President."

He warned in a HuffPost interview, “What happens to the Maldives today is going to happen to everyone else tomorrow.”

18. Japan Tsunami Debris

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The 2011 March tsunami in Japan carried about five million tons of debris into the ocean, according to the Associated Press. Some of that debris has begun to wash up on the U.S. west coast.

AP reports:
Of the more than 1,400 tsunami debris sightings reported to NOAA, the agency only traced 17 pieces back to the event, including small fishing boats, soccer balls, a dock and a shipping container housing a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with Japanese license plates.
19. Doha Climate Conference

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The U.N. climate conference in Doha, Qatar resulted in the extension of the Kyoto Protocol, although the treaty will only cover about 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Associated Press, the talks also lead to "vague promises of financing to help poor countries cope with climate change, and an affirmation of a previous decision to adopt a new global climate pact by 2015."

In one of the most memorable moments of the conference, the Philippines' lead negotiator, representing a nation damaged by Typhoon Bopha, addressed fellow delegates in tears. He said, "I appeal to leaders from all over the world to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face... If not us, then who? If not now, then when?"

20. Viral Animals

From the hoax baby-snatching eagle video to the shark stalking a kayaker, animals continued to make headlines this year.

One of the most popular stories of the year emerged from photos suggesting a lioness "befriended" a baby antelope, although the true motives of the lioness were later questioned.

[Source: Huffington Post. Edited.]

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