Empty half the Earth of its humans. It’s the only way to save the planet | Kim Stanley Robinson

There are now twice as many people as 50 years ago. But, as EO Wilson has argued, they can all survive in cities

Discussing cities is like talking about the knots in a net: theyre crucial, but theyre only one part of the larger story of the net and what its supposed to do. It makes little sense to talk about knots in isolation when its the net that matters.

Cities are part of the system weve invented to keep people alive on Earth. People tend to like cities, and have been congregating in them ever since the invention of agriculture, 10,000 or so years ago. Thats why we call it civilisation. This origin story underlines how agriculture made cities possible, by providing enough food to feed a settled crowd on a regular basis. Cities cant work without farms, nor without watersheds that provide their water. So as central as cities are to modern civilisation, they are only one aspect of a system.

There are nearly eight billion humans alive on the planet now, and thats a big number: more than twice as many as were alive 50 years ago. Its an accidental experiment with enormous stakes, as it isnt clear that the Earths biosphere can supply that many peoples needs or absorb that many wastes and poisons on a renewable and sustainable basis over the long haul. Well only find out by trying it.

Right
Right now we are not succeeding an aerial view of houses in Florida. Photograph: Alamy

Right now we are not succeeding. The Global Footprint Network estimates that we use up our annual supply of renewable resources by August every year, after which we are cutting into non-renewable supplies in effect stealing from future generations. Eating the seed corn, they used to call it. At the same time were pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate that is changing the climate in dangerous ways and will certainly damage agriculture.

This situation cant endure for long years, perhaps, but not decades. The future is radically unknowable: it could hold anything from an age of peaceful prosperity to a horrific mass-extinction event. The sheer breadth of possibility is disorienting and even stunning. But one thing can be said for sure: what cant happen wont happen. Since the current situation is unsustainable, things are certain to change.

Cities emerge from the confusion of possibilities as beacons of hope. By definition they house a lot of people on small patches of land, which makes them hugely better than suburbia. In ecological terms, suburbs are disastrous, while cities can perhaps work.

The tendency of people to move to cities, either out of desire or perceived necessity, creates a great opportunity. If we managed urbanisation properly, we could nearly remove ourselves from a considerable percentage of the the planets surface. That would be good for many of the threatened species we share this planet with, which in turn would be good for us, because we are completely enmeshed in Earths web of life.

A
A farmer at work near the village of Lok Ma Chau, outside Shenzhen, Hong Kong. Photograph: Jerome Favre/EPA

Here Im referring to the plan EO Wilson has named Half Earth. His book of the same title is provocative in all the best ways, and I think it has been under-discussed because the central idea seems so extreme. But since people are leaving the land anyway and streaming into cities, the Half Earth concept can help us to orient that process, and dodge the sixth great mass extinction event that we are now starting, and which will hammer humans too.

The idea is right there in the name: leave about half the Earths surface mostly free of humans, so wild plants and animals can live there unimpeded as they did for so long before humans arrived. Same with the oceans, by the way; about a third of our food comes from the sea, so the seas have to be healthy too.

At a time when there are far more people alive than ever before, this plan might sound strange, even impossible. But it isnt. With people already leaving countrysides all over the world to move to the cities, big regions are emptier of humans than they were a century ago, and getting emptier still. Many villages now have populations of under a thousand, and continue to shrink as most of the young people leave. If these places were redefined (and repriced) as becoming usefully empty, there would be caretaker work for some, gamekeeper work for others, and the rest could go to the cities and get into the main swing of things.

The
The seas have to be healthy too vessels set sail after a four-month fishing ban on Chinas Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea. Photograph: Fang Yi/China News Service/VCG

So emptying half the Earth of its humans wouldnt have to be imposed: its happening anyway. It would be more a matter of managing how we made the move, and what kind of arrangement we left behind. One important factor here would be to avoid extremes and absolutes of definition and practice, and any sense of idealistic purity. We are mongrel creatures on a mongrel planet, and we have to be flexible to survive. So these emptied landscapes should not be called wilderness. Wilderness is a good idea in certain contexts, but these emptied lands would be working landscapes, commons perhaps, where pasturage and agriculture might still have a place. All those people in cities still need to eat, and food production requires land. Even if we start growing food in vats, the feedstocks for those vats will come from the land. These mostly depopulated landscapes would be given over to new kinds of agriculture and pasturage, kinds that include habitat corridors where our fellow creatures can get around without being stopped by fences or killed by trains.

This vision is one possible format for our survival on this planet. They will have to be green cities, sure. We will have to have decarbonised transport and energy production, white roofs, gardens in every empty lot, full-capture recycling, and all the rest of the technologies of sustainability we are already developing. That includes technologies we call law and justice the system software, so to speak. Yes, justice: robust womens rights stabilise families and population. Income adequacy and progressive taxation keep the poorest and richest from damaging the biosphere in the ways that extreme poverty or wealth do. Peace, justice, equality and the rule of law are all necessary survival strategies.

Homes
Homes in Palm Springs, where the average daily water usage per person is 201 gallons more than double the California average. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Meanwhile, cities will always rely on landscapes much vaster than their own footprints. Agriculture will have to be made carbon neutral; indeed, it will be important to create some carbon-negative flows, drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and fixing it into the land, either permanently or temporarily; we cant afford to be too picky about that now, because we will be safest if we can get the CO2 level in the atmosphere back down to 350 parts per million. All these working landscapes should exist alongside that so-called empty land (though really its only almost empty empty of people most of the time). Those areas will be working for us in their own way, as part of the health-giving context of any sustainable civilisation. And all the land has to be surrounded by oceans that, similarly, are left partly unfished

All this can be done. All this needs to be done if we are to make it through the emergency centuries we face and create a civilised permaculture, something we can pass along to the future generations as a good home. There is no alternative way; there is no planet B. We have only this planet, and have to fit our species into the energy flows of its biosphere. Thats our project now. Thats the meaning of life, in case you were looking for a meaning.

This week, the Overstretched Cities series examines the impact of the rush to urbanisation, which has seen cities around the world explode in size. Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/mar/20/save-the-planet-half-earth-kim-stanley-robinson

WHO launches health review after microplastics found in 90% of bottled water

Researchers find levels of plastic fibres in popular bottled water brands could be twice as high as those found in tap water

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water after a new analysis of some of the worlds most popular bottled water brands found that more than 90% contained tiny pieces of plastic. A previous study also found high levels of microplastics in tap water.

In the new study, analysis of 259 bottles from 19 locations in nine countries across 11 different brands found an average of 325 plastic particles for every litre of water being sold.

In one bottle of Nestl Pure Life, concentrations were as high as 10,000 plastic pieces per litre of water. Of the 259 bottles tested, only 17 were free of plastics, according to the study.

Scientists based at the State University of New York in Fredonia were commissioned by journalism project Orb Media to analyse the bottled water.

The scientists wrote they had found roughly twice as many plastic particles within bottled water compared with their previous study of tap water, reported by the Guardian.

A
A colourful microfibre of plastic found in bottled water. Photograph: Abigail Barrows

According to the new study, the most common type of plastic fragment found was polypropylene the same type of plastic used to make bottle caps. The bottles analysed were bought in the US, China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Lebanon, Kenya and Thailand.

Scientists used Nile red dye to fluoresce particles in the water the dye tends to stick to the surface of plastics but not most natural materials.

The study has not been published in a journal and has not been through scientific peer review. Dr Andrew Mayes, a University of East Anglia scientist who developed the Nile red technique, told Orb Media he was satisfied that it has been applied carefully and appropriately, in a way that I would have done it in my lab.

The brands Orb Media said it had tested were: Aqua (Danone), Aquafina (PepsiCo), Bisleri (Bisleri International), Dasani (Coca-Cola), Epura (PepsiCo), Evian (Danone), Gerolsteiner (Gerolsteiner Brunnen), Minalba (Grupo Edson Queiroz), Nestle Pure Life (Nestle), San Pellegrino (Nestle) and Wahaha (Hangzhou Wahaha Group).

A World Health Organisation spokesman told the Guardian that although there was not yet any evidence on impacts on human health, it was aware it was an emerging area of concern. The spokesman said the WHO would review the very scarce available evidence with the objective of identifying evidence gaps, and establishing a research agenda to inform a more thorough risk assessment.

A second unrelated analysis, also just released, was commissioned by campaign group Story of Stuff and examined 19 consumer bottled water brands in the US.It also found plastic microfibres were widespread.

The brand Boxed Water contained an average of 58.6 plastic fibres per litre. Ozarka and Ice Mountain, both owned by Nestle, had concentrations at 15 and 11 pieces per litre, respectively. Fiji Water had 12 plastic fibres per litre.

Abigail Barrows, who carried out the research for Story of Stuff in her laboratory in Maine, said there were several possible routes for the plastics to be entering the bottles.

Plastic microfibres are easily airborne. Clearly thats occurring not just outside but inside factories. It could come in from fans or the clothing being worn, she said.

Stiv Wilson, campaign coordinator at Story of Stuff, said finding plastic contamination in bottled water was problematic because people are paying a premium for these products.

Jacqueline Savitz, of campaign group Oceana, said: We know plastics are building up in marine animals and this means we too are being exposed, some of us every day. Between the microplastics in water, the toxic chemicals in plastics and the end-of-life exposure to marine animals, its a triple whammy.

Nestle criticised the methodology of the Orb Media study, claiming in a statement to CBC that the technique using Nile red dye could generate false positives.

Coca-Cola told the BBC it had strict filtration methods, but acknowledged the ubiquity of plastics in the environment meant plastic fibres may be found at minute levels even in highly treated products.

A Gerolsteiner spokesperson said the company, too, could not rule out plastics getting into bottled water from airborne sources or from packing processes. The spokesperson said concentrations of plastics in water from their own analyses were lower than those allowed in pharmaceutical products.

Danone claimed the Orb Media study used a methodology that was unclear. The American Beverage Association said it stood by the safety of its bottled water, adding that the science around microplastics was only just emerging.

The Guardian contacted Nestle and Boxed Water for comment on the Story of Stuff study, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/15/microplastics-found-in-more-than-90-of-bottled-water-study-says

Volkswagen Apologizes for Testing of Diesel Fumes on Monkeys

The controversy over Volkswagen AG’s diesel-emissions cheating took another twist when the carmaker apologized for a test that exposed monkeys to engine fumes to study effects of the exhaust.

The company said the study, conducted by a research and lobby group set up by VW, Daimler AG, BMW AG and Robert Bosch GmbH, was a mistake. The New York Times reported earlier about a 2014 trial in a U.S. laboratory in which 10 monkeys inhaled diesel emissions from a VW Beetle.

“We apologize for the misconduct and the lack of judgment of individuals,” Wolfsburg, Germany-based VW said in a statement. “We’re convinced the scientific methods chosen then were wrong. It would have been better to do without such a study in the first place.”

The revelations show the rocky road for Volkswagen as it emerges from its biggest crisis after the 2015 bombshell that the company installed emissions-cheating software in some 11 million diesel vehicles to dupe official tests. They also do little to help the poor public perception of the technology under scrutiny for high pollution levels in many European cities. In an additional twist, the Beetle model used in the test was among the vehicles that were rigged to conform to test limits, The New York Times reported.

Daimler said separately it would start an investigation into the study ordered by the European Scientific Study Group for the Environment, Health and Transport Sector. BMW too distanced itself from the trial, saying it had taken no part in its design and methods. Bosch said it left the group in 2013. The study group, financed equally by the three carmakers, ceased activities last year and the project wasn’t completed, VW said.

“We believe the animal tests in this study were unnecessary and repulsive,” Daimler said in a statement. “We explicitly distance ourselves from the study.”

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-28/volkswagen-apologizes-for-testing-of-diesel-fumes-on-monkeys

    How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

    The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the worlds healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally

    How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

    How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

    The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the worlds healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/11/how-build-healthy-city-copenhagen-reveals-its-secrets-happiness

    Cape Town faces Day Zero: what happens when the city turns off the taps?

    In 10 weeks engineers will turn off water for a million homes as this South African city reacts to one-in-384-year drought. The rich are digging boreholes, more are panic-buying bottled water, and the army is on standby

    The head of Cape Towns disaster operations centre is drawing up a plan he hopes he never has to implement as this South African city on the frontline of climate change prepares to be the first in the world to turn off the water taps.

    Weve identified four risks: water shortages, sanitation failures, disease outbreaks and anarchy due to competition for scarce resources, says Greg Pillay. We had to go back to the drawing board. We were prepared for disruption of supply, but not a no-water scenario. In my 40 years in emergency services, this is the biggest crisis.

    The plan being drawn up with the emergency services, the military, epidemiologists and other health experts is geared towards Day Zero, the apocalyptically named point when water in the six-dam reservoir system falls to 13.5% of capacity.

    Play Video
    1:15

    Water crisis in Cape Town as ‘day zero’ approaches video report

    At this critical level currently forecast for 16 April piped supply will be deemed to have failed and the city will dispatch teams of engineers to close the valves to about a million homes 75% of the city.

    Its going to be terrifying for many people when they turn on the tap and nothing comes out, says Christine Colvin, freshwater manager for WWF and a member of the mayors advisory board.

    In place of piped water, the city will establish 200 water collection points, scattered around the city to ensure the legally guaranteed minimum of 25 litres per person per day within 200 metres of every citizens home.

    This will be a major burden on municipal coffers. The estimated cost of installing and running the new system for three months is 200m rand (12m). Instead of selling water, it will be given away for free, which will mean R1.4bn in lost revenue.

    Cape Town reservoir satellite

    The total city budget is R40bn, so this wont destroy us, but it will cause severe discomfort, says the deputy mayor, Ian Neilson, who adds that he has not had a bath at home for a year. A bigger concern is to ensure the economy doesnt collapse. We need to keep business and jobs going Clearly, there could be a severe impact. It depends on how long it continues.

    Neilson stresses that Day Zero can be avoided. A lowering of pipe pressure and a public information campaign to conserve water have cut the citys daily water consumption from 1,200 million litres to 540 million litres. If this can be pushed down another 25%, the taps should stay open to the start of the rainy season in May.

    But this is no guarantee. Three consecutive years of drought have made a mockery of normal seasonal patterns.

    Were in a critical transition period where the past is no longer an accurate guide to the future, says Colvin.

    She illustrates her point with two maps. One based on historical data shows the water risk of Cape Town is green, meaning it is among the lowest in South Africa. The other based on future climate projections is almost the complete opposite, with the city located in a middle of an alarming red heat zone.

    What we didnt know was when that future would arrive, says Colvin. Businesses and investors have heard the long-term projections but they havent heard the starting gun go off. If this drought can pull the trigger then that could be a good thing. If this is seen as a pressure test for the new normal, it will help us to adapt.

    The government has struggled to keep pace. Plans to make the city more resilient to climate change by diversifying the water supply with boreholes and desalination plants were not due to kick in until after 2020. But the climate has moved faster, bringing a drought so severe it would usually be expected only once every 384 years.

    Dam today, gone tomorrow

    Theewaterskloof
    Theewaterskloof Dam, the main water source for the city of Cape Town, is at a fraction of its water capacity. Photograph: Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images

    What was the biggest reservoir in the system Theewaterskloof Dam has mostly evaporated or been sucked dry.

    One side of the lake is now a desert. Devoid of life, this is a landscape of sand dunes, cracked earth and dead trees. It takes more than 30 minutes walk under a burning sun to reach the last pool of water, which is barely wide enough to skim a stone across. In what looks like a dark failure of evolution, it is ringed by the carcasses of stranded fish.

    On the other side, by the dam wall, the water is nearly 10 metres deep, but the shoreline is receding at the rate of the 1.2m a week, leaving the bed exposed to the sun. The afternoon winds once attracted sail boats; now they whip up white dust storms that envelop much of the valley.

    The change is visible by the week, said Paul Furstenburg, restaurant manager at Theewater sports club. When I arrived here four years ago, it was like a sea, he says, pointing to photographs on the walls of high waves crashing up to the car park during a storm and dozens of boats sailing in regattas. Now, the shoreline is more than 100m back and one of the three small vessels left in the water is stranded on a sandbank. The club which would normally be thronged with sailors, water-skiers, swimmers, campers and fishermen is almost empty. The revenue has dried up too, leaving the 20 staff worried about their futures. This has gone from a holiday resort to nothing, says Errol Nichols, the safety officer. It has become a desolate place.

    A
    A dead fish on the dry bed of Theewaterskloof dam. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

    In Cape Town itself, the population is jittery. Were scared, says Amirah Armien as she queues to fill a couple of bottles at the spring beside Newlands Brewery. Water is life. What are we going to do without water?

    After a run on bottled water last month, supermarkets introduced limits for each customer. Hardware shops have sold out of water tanks and pool covers. Borehole drillers are now so overwhelmed with requests that there is a year-long wait. Even dehumidifiers which are being marketed as water from air devices are out of stock.

    People are freaking out, said David Gwynne-Evans, a botanist. You go to the shops and see people buying 20 bottles of water. Its a ridiculous increase of disposable plastic.

    He believes Cape Towns vineyards bear a large share of blame because they are water-intensive yet they have continued to expand during the drought. Wine is a luxury. We shouldnt be using water for that, yet even now new vineyards are opening.

    Were scared water is life

    Residents
    Residents queue to collect drinking water from a mountain spring collection point last month. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

    The crisis has exacerbated prejudice and division. One homophobic pastor blames the drought on gays and lesbians. There has also been sharp criticism of the government, and feuds between the national and provincial authorities over the handling of the crisis.

    Yet among the broader populace efforts to avert Day Zero have been successfully ramped up.

    Many hotels have removed the plugs from rooms so guests must have a shower rather than a bath. Blue droplet-shaped signs above office toilet sinks remind users Conserve H2O. Use sparingly. There are more signs in the cubicles, which are divided into No 1 and No 2 toilets to ensure maximum efficiency. Some shopping malls have turned off the taps and installed hand-sanitiser dispensers.

    At an individual level, the learning curve has been steep. Civic-minded Capetonians have become accustomed to showering or just ladling hot water in a baby bath that collects the run-off so that it can be used in first the washing machine and then the toilet.

    A major topic of conversation for Capetonians is how many litres they use and how long they can go without washing their hair or flushing.

    Ive never talked about toilets so much, says Fiona Kinsey, a young office worker. Last year, we were discussing whether it was OK to wee in a public toilet and not flush. Now we are way beyond that.

    Shame is used to maintain discipline. An online water consumption map allows neighbours to check on each others usage. Some sports clubs have installed buzzers on their showers that embarrass people who linger under the water for more than two minutes.

    There is a positive aspect to this sudden shock. Many people are happy to see a greater awareness of conservation and consumption inequality. Social activists say the rich are experiencing what life has always been like in poor townships, where many residents are used to lining up at standpipes.

    For
    For residents of informal Cape Town settlements such as Masiphumelele, collecting drinking and washing water from a communal tap has been a daily routine for many years. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

    Using washing water to flush the toilet is what people in townships do all the time, says Makoma Lekalakala, director of Earthlife Africa. So is washing with buckets and scuttles. I had my first shower when I was in my 20s.

    Dee Watson, a teacher, describes the situation as a euphoric stage in which most people are looking out for others in a positive way.

    Whats amazing is to mix and talk in the queue with every strata of society. We all need water so it brings people together, says Watson. For now at least, most people are laughing and joking. But its scary that some people are being greedy and panic-buying.

    There have been acts of benevolence. At the start of the drought, Newlands spring where water flows freely from underground was a site of mud, crowds and chaos as people jostled to get at the taps and informal labourers competed to carry water for tips.

    People were getting hurt, remembers Riyaz Rawoot, a local resident who says he spent R25,000 from his own pocket to organise the spring with the construction of multiple access points and provision of uniforms for the water carriers.

    Im not making any money. I just want to be of service. Until now it has been fun, but it is becoming more stressful as more people come, he says. Im worried about Day Zero. People are scared and they dont trust the government, so they might panic and try to get water any way they can.

    A
    A social leveller? Cape Town residents queue to collect drinking water from a mountain spring. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

    Neighbours are already unhappy that their previously quiet street is now a hive of activity, with people carrying water containers in squeaky shopping trolleys back and forth from the spring to cars parked along the main road. Its a nightmare, says one of the residents of the Cresswell House senior citizens community. They come all through the night. Its so noisy we cant sleep.

    It is also far from clear that drought is a social leveller. Wealthy homeowners have drilled boreholes and invested in water tanks so they have an independent supply. Joggers who go out at 5am say they can hear the phut phut of sprinklers being used to water lawns before most people are awake. Some residents have called environmental groups to complain their neighbours are filling swimming pools.

    At the other end of the income spectrum, there are worries. The government has promised that standpipes will continue to flow in informal settlements after Day Zero, but there is scepticism in the Kanini neighbourhood of the Langa township. The one pipe that serves 20 families tailed off here last Thursday without explanation. Some locals feel they are being punished because of a public outcry about the waste at a street car-washing centre at the neighbouring settlement of Joe Slovo.

    Im worried everyone is worried. It will be a crisis for us, says Nowest Nmoni, who makes a living by brewing Umqombothi beer in oil drums. If we lose water, we lose our income.

    Q&A

    Living in Cape Town? Share your experiences

    If you live in Cape Town we’d like to find out how the water shortage is affecting your daily life.Tell us what you think about the measures put in place and what steps you’re taking to save water using our encrypted form here.

    Your stories will help our journalists build a complete picture of the situation and we’ll use some of them in our reporting.

    Maintaining social programmes will also be a challenge. City officials say hospitals and prisons will run as normal because they have access to aquifers, but questions remain about 819 schools, half of which do not have boreholes. There would be sanitation risks if their toilets were unable to flush, but the authorities insist they will remain open.

    The objective is no school closures. We dont want kids on the street compounding issues, says deputy mayor Neilson.

    When the Brazilian city of So Paulo faced drought catastrophe in 2015 the army drew up secret plans to take control of reservoirs and water supplies fearing violent unrest, but officials in Cape Town play down such security fears. Though thousands of South African Defence Force and police personnel will be deployed after Day Zero to guard water distribution centres, reservoirs and other strategic areas, they say, the number of officers at each site will be determined by risk assessments of each locations past history of protest or gang activity.

    This isnt going to be martial law. It will be low profile, says JP Smith, an alderman responsible for safety and security. There might be some trouble about people cutting queues, but I dont foresee a big increase in crime. The bigger problem will be congestion.

    For him, it is a moot point. He believes Day Zero will be avoided. The premier of Western Cape, Helen Zille, however, believes there is a 60% chance that it will occur.

    While the debate rages about what will happen, who is to blame and whether the city will be drawn together or pulled apart, Pillay and his colleagues at the disaster risk management office are obliged to prepare for the worst something other cities may soon be obliged to do.

    We dont want to create panic. We can avert Day Zero, he says. We had hoped that rainfall would replenish the dams, but it hasnt happened. What this signalled to me what that climate change is reality. If you doubted it before, you cant now.

    Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/03/day-zero-cape-town-turns-off-taps

    Britain’s Next Megaproject: A Coast-to-Coast Forest

    This story originally appeared on CityLab and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

    Northern England is set to get a whole lot greener. On Sunday, the UK government unveiled plans for a vast new forest spanning the country from coast to coast. Shadowing the path of the east-west M62 Highway, the new forest will create a broad green rib across England from Liverpool to the east coast city of Hull.

    If fully realized along the lines announced this week, the forest will ultimately contain 50 million new trees, stretched in a dense 62,000-acre patchwork along a 120-mile strip. Not only will the forest repopulate one of the least wooded parts of the country with local, mainly broadleaf tree species, it will also provide a band of newly greened landscape to escape to from the many big cities located nearby.

    The goal of a thick green ribbon is still a long way off, of course. So far, the government has pledged just an initial £5.7 million of the £500 million needed to fully realize the project. But what’s significant about the plan is that it amps up a transformation that is in fact already underway—it is actually the second major attempt in recent years to re-green the English landscape.

    That first attempt lies roughly 100 miles south, in the English Midlands, where a vast new woodland stretching across a 200-mile strip is steadily reaching maturity. First planted 28 years ago, the National Forest, as it is called, is just beginning to mature and reveal how transformative such a rethink of the landscape can be. Like the new northern forest, it’s not just about providing a new carbon sink and leisure facility, but also about imagining what a landscape partly denuded by industrial exploitation and grazing can look like once these uses become obsolete.

    This sounds wonderful—but first, a reality check. If Britain is planning new forests, it’s because the island badly needs them. Overall, the UK’s landscape contains one of Europe’s lowest proportions of woodland: just 13 percent. No one expects a populous, heavily developed country like the UK to reach the levels of, say Finland, which, at over 73 percent woodland, is Europe’s leafiest country by far. The UK trails far behind its more comparable neighbors Belgium (22.6 percent woodland) and France (31 percent), making it look decidedly bare and patchy by comparison.

    This is especially true in England, which is just 10 percent woodland, compared to 15 percent in Wales and 18 percent in Scotland; in both countries, forestry has replaced pastoral farming in some areas. Even this small proportion is under attack, as ancient woodlands across the country face destruction. Current threats are numerous, including the endangering of 35 ancient forest tracts destined to be damaged by the construction of England’s new high-speed rail link, because tunneling or diversion has been deemed too expensive and inconvenient. Already, some critics are protesting that the Northern Forest project is a fig leaf—albeit a vast one—intended to mask neglect and abuse of woodlands elsewhere. There may also be a degree of political machination going on (although when isn’t there?), with the British government seeking a high-profile project that can reassure people that leaving the EU will not mark an end to all green policies and state support.

    The existing National Forest nonetheless shows how attractive and sustainable such projects can be, provided they are not created at the exclusion of other conservation efforts. Its first saplings were planted in 1995 across a broad sweep that mixes towns, croplands, and former coalfields. Consisting mainly (if not exclusively) of slower-growing broadleaf trees sourced from the local area—a marked difference from the regimented stands of non-native pine that British forestry focused on for much of the 20th century—the forest is gradually starting to reveal its ultimate appearance.

    Over the past 20 years, the National Forest has spread like a sort of expressionist mosaic across the landscape. By offering funding incentives for mainly private landlords to plant, it has steadily joined up existing woodlands to create what will ultimately become a seamless forest habitat. By spring 2016, 8.5 million trees had already been planted there, but the project is by no means finished. Currently a little over 20 percent of the designated land is forest area. Maintaining the current jigsaw puzzle layout, the aim is to cover one-third of the total area with trees.

    The area of the National Forest in 1991, before planting began. The pale green areas show new plantings conducted before the project’s foundation.
    The same area in 2016, with new plantings greatly enlarged.

    So far, over 80 percent of this forest area is accessible to the public, making it easy to enjoy for nearby city-dwellers. Indeed, it’s the intimate link with major cities that connects the National and Northern Forests, as both plans create new havens of peace in some of England’s more densely inhabited, city-filled areas.

    The advantages of this are numerous. Just as trees within cities clean and cool their air, so do woodlands on the urban edge reduce the pollution and noise caused by highways, helping to shelter both residents and visitors from their effect. In the US alone, it’s estimated that the pollution-reducing abilities of trees cut annual health costs by as much as $7 billion. Seaming the busier transit corridors of England with trees would not only give local cities newly attractive playgrounds on their fringes, but ensure that these fringes—and possibly even parts of the cities beyond them—are cleaner, fresher and more moderate in temperature.

    With even the National Forest still incomplete and juvenile, all this is some way off. Across its length, the results are already magical, with even lower thicket-like saplings scattered across the landscape in a way that looks utterly organic (although it isn’t), while the forest floor in places is already turning ultramarine with bluebells in spring.

    Recreating this sort of widely-spaced green patchwork in the new Northern Forest 100 miles away would certainly be welcome. Threaded through an area that touches the outer edges of major cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds, the area is one of the least wooded in all Britain. It’s nonetheless an area that’s often beautiful, passing through high moorlands as it crosses the low Pennine mountain range. Turning this corridor into a greener, lusher place wouldn’t just make the surroundings of nearby cities more attractive. In doing so, it might also attract weekend visitors away from the nearby Yorkshire Dales and Peak District, celebrated beauty spots and national parks that can heave with people on sunny weekends. It would also serve to join up habitats for rare animals such as birds and bats. Within a few decades, a squirrel could travel from east coast to west, solely by leaping from tree to tree.

    Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/britains-next-megaproject-a-coast-to-coast-forest/

    Macron awards US scientists grants to move to France in defiance of Trump

    Frances president awards millions of euros to 18 American scientists to relocate in effort to counter Donald Trump on the climate change front

    Eighteen climate scientists from the US and elsewhere have hit the jackpot as Frances president, Emmanuel Macron, awarded them millions of euros in grants to relocate to France for the rest of Donald Trumps presidential term.

    The Make Our Planet Great Again grants a nod to Trumps Make America Great Again campaign slogan are part of Macrons efforts to counter Trump on the climate change front. Macron announced a contest for the projects in June, hours after Trump declared he would withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord.

    More than 5,000 people from about 100 countries expressed interest in the grants. Most of the applicants and 13 of the 18 winners were US-based researchers.

    Macrons appeal gave me such a psychological boost, to have that kind of support, to have the head of state saying I value what you do, said winner Camille Parmesan, of the University of Texas at Austin. She will be working at an experimental ecology station in the Pyrenees on how human-made climate change is affecting wildlife.

    In an interview with the Associated Press, Parmesan described funding challenges for climate science in the US and a feeling that you are having to hide what you do.

    Trump has expressed skepticism about global warming and said the Paris accord would hurt US business by requiring a reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

    We will be there to replace US financing of climate research, Macron told the winners in Paris on Monday.

    If we want to prepare for the changes of tomorrow, we need science, he said, promising to put in place a global climate change monitoring system among other climate innovations.

    The research of the winning recipients focuses on pollution, hurricanes and clouds. A new round of the competition will be launched next year, alongside Germany. About 50 projects will be chosen overall, and funded with 60m ($70m) from the state and French research institutes.

    Initially aimed at American researchers, the research grants were expanded to other non-French climate scientists, according to organizers. Candidates need to be known for working on climate issues, have completed a thesis and propose a project that would take between three to five years.

    The time frame would cover Trumps current presidential term.

    Some French researchers have complained that Macron is showering money on foreign scientists at a time when they have been pleading for more support for domestic higher education.

    Macron unveiled the first winners at a startup incubator in Paris called Station F, where Microsoft and smaller tech companies announced projects to finance activities aimed at reducing emissions.

    Mondays event is a prelude to a bigger climate summit Tuesday aimed at giving new impetus to the Paris accord and finding new funding to help governments and businesses meet its goals.

    More than 50 world leaders are expected in Paris for the One Planet Summit, co-hosted by the UN and the World Bank. Trump was not invited.

    Other attendees include Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took a spin on a Parisian electric bike Monday to call attention to health problems caused by pollution.

    The Hollywood star and former California governor argued that Trumps rejection of the Paris climate accord doesnt matter, because companies, scientists and other governments can pick up the slack to reduce global emissions.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/11/macron-awards-grants-to-us-scientists-to-move-to-france-in-defiance-of-trump

    The Ten Worst Things Scott Pruitts EPA Has Already Done

    No part of the government has been untouched by the Trump revolution. Multiple Cabinet departments are headed by people opposed to their core missions, the judiciary is being transformed at an unprecedented rate, and thanks to the new tax cut, even the sacred cows of Medicare and Social Security are now in line for legislative slaughter.

    But nowhere is the takeover clearer than at the Environmental Protection Agency, now headed by Scott Pruitt, who made his name suing the watchdog on behalf of fossil-fuel interests. In one year, Pruitt has destroyed the foundations of the agency, firing scientists and replacing them with industry lobbyists; undoing critical regulations that protect our air and water; and favoring industry interests over public health.

    The trajectory is clear: Prioritize polluters freedom over personal freedom, health, and environmental protection. Here are the top 10 worst actions Pruitts EPA has taken in 2017:

    10. Corruption

    Pruitt is probably the most suspect member of the Trump administration, which is saying a lot. At his confirmation, he lied to Congress (a felony) about his private email account, which he used for communicating with industry representatives. When he served as Oklahomas attorney general, Pruitt was discovered to have simply cut and pasted a letter written by oil giant Devon Energy onto his own stationery.

    And then theres the money. Since taking office, Pruitt racked up $58,000 in taxpayer-paid travel bills for flights to and from Oklahoma (where he is rumored to be mulling a Senate run in 2020), often on the flimsiest of pretexts. The EPAs inspector general is investigating.

    Pruitt also spent $40,000 of taxpayer money to fly to Morocco to promote fossil fuels. (How that counts as environmental protection is anyones guess.) And he retained a shady PR firm that has previously done opposition research on journalists, at the cost to taxpayers of $120,000a contract voided when the news of it broke.

    9. Slashing the Budget to Tidbits

    The EPA is, in large part, a law-enforcement agency. Yet can you imagine any other law-enforcement department slashing its budget by more than 30 percent in one year? The result is a deliberate anarchy as polluters know the EPA cant (and doesnt want to) do its job. Enforcement actions have dropped by more than 30 percent from Obama administration levels, and more than 20 percent from George W. Bush levels. Demands that polluting factories clean up their act have plummeted nearly 90 percent. The cops are just not walking the beat.

    For example, Superfund enforcementi.e., making polluters pay for cleaning up the toxic messes theyve madehas been cut 37 percent, causing many cleanups to simply stop altogether (PDF). In 2017 alone, programs that have been completely eliminated include those that reduce radon in schools, control runoff pollution from roads, and certify lead-paint-removal contractors, among many others. And thats by design: Candidate Trump promised to eliminate all of the EPA, leaving only tidbits. Pruitt is his hatchet man. But even these budget cuts dont include the largest shrinking of the agency…

    8. Hollowing Out the Agency

    Its not just EPAs budget being cutits the agency itself. More than 700 employees have left or been forced out. Thats just the beginning: Congress is set to appropriate $60 million to buy out the contracts of EPA staff, whose positions will be eliminated. Many high-level enforcement jobs remain vacant.

    Other key posts have been filled by former industry shills, like Nancy Beck, a chemical-industry lobbyist whos now ostensibly in charge of regulating toxic chemicals. Whistleblowers have reported a culture of fear and suspicion, with longtime staffers assumed to be disloyal to the new regime.

    Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning at Environmental Defense Fund, told The Daily Beast these cuts are motivated not by budgetary concerns but by opposition to the EPAs core mission. Its easy to think of it as reducing bureaucracy, Holstein said, but when you consider the fact that EPA is such a small agency to begin with, with a budget thats basically what it was in the 1970s (adjusted for inflation), its pretty clear that further reductions in staff is all part of a strategy to undermine and hollow out EPA as an effective public health agency.

    7. Disaster Failure

    One of the most stark examples of the EPAs incapacity came after Hurricane Harvey, when the unfolding storm disaster caused factories to release nearly 6 million pounds of pollution into the air. The EPA was slow to respond, but quick to issue a press release congratulating itself. In one case, a chemical plant exploded, triggering evacuations, and the EPA was found to have simply not shown up at the scene until after the explosion happened.

    By coincidence, the EPA had just withdrawn the Chemical Disaster Rule, which would require companies to disclose which hazardous materials they had on site. That withdrawal didnt affect the Houston response, but it indicated that the next such disaster might be even worse; the EPA is not a disaster-response agencyits value comes from monitoring risks over the long term, which now it wont do as efficiently.

    This will only get worse. Global climate disruption has already increased the frequency of extreme weather events. If the EPAs budget is slashed by a third, and if climate change is not allowed to be spoken of, let alone factored into risk analysis and resource allocation, Harvey is just a tiny taste of what is to come.

    6. Secrecy

    You wouldnt know the EPA is a public agency from Pruitts unprecedented secrecy. He has demanded that employees not take notes at meetings with him, ordered a denial of Freedom of Information Act requests, and implemented gag rules that ban staffers from talking about a host of environmental issues. Until pressured, he refused to release his meeting calendarnot surprisingly, given what it reveals (see No. 5).

    And once again, theres the enormous waste of money. Pruitt has retained his own round-the-clock security detail, costing taxpayers $830,000. No EPA administrator has ever done that. He also installed a secure phone booth in his own office for $33,000, and special locks that cost $6,000.

    The reason for all this secrecy is obvious

    5. The EPA Is Now an Industry Puppet

    As he did in Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt is taking his orders from the polluters hes meant to regulate. The New York Times recently tracked who Pruitt met with on a single day, April 26: top executives from a coal-burning utility, the board of a huge coal-mining company, and lobbyists from General Motors. No environmental or public health groups.

    The remainder of the six-month period the Times examined was similar: chemical manufacturers, Shell Oil, truck manufacturers, the National Mining Association, Oklahoma oil lobbyists; not to mention the Koch brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council and CropLife America, a trade association run by pesticide manufacturers.

    The effects of these close contacts have been obvious.Sometimes, theyve been plums handed out to specific companies, like the aforementioned Devon Energy, which had agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties for illegally emitting 80 tons of toxic pollution each yearuntil Pruitt simply voided the settlement and let it go with a slap on the wrist.

    More often, the effects are far broader…

    4. Regulatory Rollback

    Pruitts EPA has eliminated regulations that:

    • Verified emissions from a companys industrial expansion are what the company says they are. (Now the EPA will simply take estimates at face value.) (PDF)
    • Blocked a potentially disastrous mining operation in Alaskas Bristol Bay. (The mine will now go forward, though a single leak could devastate the worlds largest sockeye salmon population.)
    • Required the tracking of methane emissions (this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court).
    • Required data collection of emissions from oil and gas companies.
    • Monitored fracking.
    • Required companies to disclose which hazardous chemicals theyre storing.
    • Protected tributaries of sensitive bodies of water (even though the EPAs analysis showed it would cost less to prevent the pollution than to allow it). (PDF)
    • Set tighter emissions standards for trucks.
    • Banned the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos.

    Still under rollback review are restrictions on smog, coal ash, mining waste, mercury, and benzene pollution. Even the popular Energy Star appliance certification program has been slated for reduction.

    3. The Clean Power Plan

    Power plants account for approximately 35 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. Without tackling power plants, you cant address climate change. And without unified federal action, you cant address power plants.

    The Clean Power Plan was born on Aug. 3, 2015, when it was finalized by President Obamas EPA, and it died on March 28, 2017, when President Trump called for a review. To no ones surprise, in October, the EPA recommended a total repeal.

    Its hard to overestimate how important and game-changing the Clean Power Plan was. It called for a 32 percent reduction in power-plant carbon emissions by 2030. It offered incentives for investment in renewable energy, creating thousands of jobs. It set state-by-state targets that took into account each states unique needs. And now its dead.

    2. The War on Science

    In the era of alternative facts, its no surprise that science, the scientific method, and scientists have all come under attack at Pruitts EPA.

    To take one example, Pruitts climate denialism (more on this later) defies the unanimous consent of the scientific community, choosing the fake science of fake think tanks like the Heartland Institute, which regularly churns out bogus scientific reports to create the perception that there is significant disagreement about climate change.

    Another example was Pruitts decision that scientists who have received EPA funding within three years can no longer serve on the agencys 12 scientific advisory committees. While that may sound like a smart conflict-of-interest provision, its actual effect will be to exclude the majority of scientific experts from serving on the committees, and to replace them with industry experts instead.

    For good measure, Pruitt has also defied economics as well. In fact, renewable energy generates more jobs than fossil fuel energy, but Pruitt endlessly repeats the lie that regulatory rollbacks are needed to save jobs.

    All this has happened away from the spotlight. To the average person, said Holstein, the EPA seems like a murky government agency and nobody really knows how it works. But everyone who is familiar with it knows that its science and technology capabilities are at the heart of its success in protecting all of us from pollution.

    1. Climate Change Denial

    Finally, in terms of real-world consequences, theres nothing that tops climate change. The World Health Organization estimates that 250,000 people will die each year between 2030-2050 from factors directly attributable to climate change. That doesnt even count the mass migration crises that rising sea levels and changing crop zones will bring about. There is full scientific consensus that human emissions are warming the planet; over a five-year period, 928 peer-reviewed articles affirmed this fact, while zero opposed it.

    Pruitt has stuck the EPAs head in the scientific sand. The phrase climate change has been erased from the agency website. Any offices working on climate change have been closed or reassigned. Pruitt has even created a blacklist of EPA employees who had worked or published on the issue. Meanwhile, Pruitt claims to have advised Trump to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, which he did, even though the rest of the world has signed it and is moving forward without the U.S.

    Nor is Pruitt alone. His chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, was previously the chief for Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who calls climate change a hoax. Pruitt has also hired Inhofe aide Byron Brown to serve as his deputy.

    Pruitt has gotten in a little trouble for these actions. After stating on CNBC that I would not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see, the EPA inspector general referred the matter to the EPAs scientific integrity officer, Francesca Grifo, since EPA officials are required to reflect scientific consensus in their comments. (In response, a right-wing group demanded an investigation of Grifo.)

    But theres little that can stop Pruitts anti-science crusade, absent congressional action, which, with the present Congress, seems highly unlikely. After going through some of this litany with the EDFs Holstein, I asked him if there was anything that any of us could or should do.

    Holstein said the most important actions to watch for in 2018 may be in the obscure realms of budget cuts and regional office closures. There are also a lot of things well be looking at in terms of whether administration will lower the hurdle for pollutants, reduce enforcement at EPA and at the Justice Department, and try to dial the budget down at NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which often studies climate change] and other science agencies.

    When I asked if there was any hope, given the awful news from 2017, Holstein took the long view. What I say to people who want to give up is: Dont do it, he said. We have built over the last 40 to 50 years a bipartisan national legacy of bedrock environmental protections and safeguards and we should fight for them. The fact that President Trump and Administrator Pruitt would like to help polluters avoid responsibility doesnt change one bit the fact that we have nearly a half century of national and public commitment to a cleaner environment and healthier communities.

    Besides, Holstein added, we have a great deal at stake.

    Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-ten-worst-things-scott-pruitts-epa-has-already-done

    Penguins starving to death is a sign that somethings very wrong in the Antarctic | John Sauven

    Overfishing, oil drilling, pollution and climate change are imperilling the ecosystem. But ocean sanctuaries could help protect what belongs to us all, says Greenpeace director John Sauven

    The awful news that all but two penguin chicks have starved to death out of a colony of almost 40,000 birds is a grim illustration of the enormous pressure Antarctic wildlife is under. The causes of this devastating event are complex, from a changing climate to local sea-ice factors, but one thing penguins, whales and other marine life dont need is additional strain on food supplies.

    Over the next year we have the opportunity to create an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary the largest protected area on Earth which would put the waters off-limits to the industrial fishing vessels currently sucking up the tiny shrimp-like krill, on which all Antarctic life relies.

    In 1990, the Voyager 1 space probe looked back at Earth from six billion kilometres away and took a historic selfie of our solar system. What it saw, according to renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan, was a pale blue dot.

    Our planet is a blue planet, echoed David Attenborough, in his opening words to the BBCs landmark Blue Planet series. With over 70% of our world covered by water, this is no exaggeration. Our oceans can be seen from across the solar system.

    The majority of this water falls outside of national borders. In fact, almost half of our planet is a marine natural wonder outside the boundaries of flags, languages and national divisions. These vast areas cover 230 million square kilometres, and they belong to us all. To give a sense of scale, thats the size of every single continent combined, with another Asia, Europe and Africa thrown in for good measure. The size of our oceans may seem overwhelming. Our collective responsibility to protect them, however, should not.

    It wasnt long ago that the oceans were thought to be too vast to be irrevocably impacted by human actions, but the effects of overfishing, oil drilling, deep sea mining, pollution and climate change have shown that humans are more than up to the task of imperilling the sea and the animals that live there.

    humpback
    A humpback whale dives for krill in Wilhelmina Bay, off the Antarctic Peninsula. The creeping expansion of industrial fishing is targeting the one species on which practically every animal in the Antarctic relies: krill. Photograph: Charles Littnam/WWF/EPA

    All of us who live on this planet are the guardians of these environments, not only to protect the wildlife that lives in them, but because the health of our oceans sustains our planet and the livelihoods of billions of people.

    Heres the good news. The tide of history is turning. We on the blue planet are finally looking seriously at protecting the blue bits. Just a few months ago, in a stuffy room far from the sea, governments from around the world agreed to start a process to protect them: an ocean treaty.

    This ocean treaty wont be agreed until at least 2020, but in the meantime momentum is already building towards serious and binding ocean protection. Just last year a huge 1.5 million sq km area was protected in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. In a turbulent political climate, it was a momentous demonstration of how international cooperation to protect our shared home can and does work.

    Over the next two weeks, the governments responsible for the Antarctic are meeting to discuss the future of the continent and its waters. While limited proposals are on the table this year, when they reconvene in 12 months time they have a historic opportunity to create the largest ever protected area on Earth: an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary. Covering the Weddell Sea next to the Antarctic peninsula, it would be five times the size of Germany, the country proposing it.

    The Antarctic is home to a great diversity of life: huge colonies of emperor and Adlie penguins, the incredible colossal squid with eyes the size of basketballs that allow it to see in the depths, and the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale, which has veins large enough for a person to swim down.

    The creeping expansion of industrial fishing is targeting the one species on which practically every animal in the Antarctic relies: krill. These tiny shrimp-like creatures are crucial for the survival of penguins, whales, seals and other wildlife. With a changing climate already placing wildlife populations in the Antarctic under pressure, an expanding krill industry is bad news for the health of the Antarctic Ocean. Even worse, the krill industry and the governments that back it are blocking attempts at environmental protection in the Antarctic.

    Ocean sanctuaries provide relief for wildlife and ecosystems to recover, but its not just about protecting majestic blue whales and penguin colonies. The benefits are global. Recovering fish populations spread around the globe and only now are scientists beginning to fully understand the role that healthy oceans play in soaking up carbon dioxide and helping us to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Sanctuaries encourage vital biodiversity, provide food security for the billions of people that rely on our oceans, and are essential to tackling climate change. Our fate and the fate of our oceans are intimately connected.

    Creating the worlds largest ever protected area, in the Antarctic Ocean, would be a signal that corporate lobbying and national interests are no match for a unified global call for our political leaders to protect what belongs to us all. The movement to protect over half our planet begins now, and it begins in the Antarctic.

    John Sauven is director of Greenpeace

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/13/penguins-starving-death-something-very-wrong-antarctic

    Exclusive: footage shows young elephants being captured in Zimbabwe for Chinese zoos

    Rare footage of the capture of wild young elephants in Zimbabwe shows rough treatment of the calves as they are sedated and taken away

    The Guardian has been given exclusive footage which shows the capture of young, wild elephants in Zimbabwe in preparation, it is believed, for their legal sale to Chinese zoos.

    In the early morning of 8 August, five elephants were caught in Hwange national park by officials at Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks).

    These captures are usually kept as secret as possible. The Guardian understands that in this case the usual procedure was followed. First, a viable herd is identified. Then operatives in a helicopter pick off the younger elephants with a sedative fired from a rifle. As the elephant collapses, the pilot dive-bombs the immediate vicinity so the rest of the herd, attempting to come to the aid of the fallen animal, are kept at bay. When things quieten down, a ground-team approaches the sedated elephants on foot, bundles them up, and drags them on to trailers.

    The footage, a series of isolated clips and photographs provided to the Guardian by an anonymous source associated with the operation, documents the moment that operatives are running into the bush, then shows them tying up one young elephant. The elephants are then seen herded together in a holding pen near the main tourist camp in Hwange.

    Elephant
    In this part of the footage, a young female elephant is seen being kicked in the head repeatedly by one of the captors. Photograph: The Guardian

    Finally, in the most disturbing part of the footage, a small female elephant, likely around five years old, is seen standing in the trailer. Her body is tightly tied to the vehicle by two ropes. Only minutes after being taken from the wild, the animal, still groggy from the sedative, is unable to understand that the officials want her to back into the truck, so they smack her on her body, twist her trunk, pull her by her tail and repeatedly kick her in the head with their boots.

    Altogether, 14 elephants were captured during this time period, according to the source, who asked to remain to anonymous for fear of reprisal. The intention was to take more elephants, but the helicopter crashed during one of the operations. It is estimated that 30-40 elephants were to be captured in total.

    The elephants that were taken are now in holding pens at an off-limits facility within Hwange called Umtshibi, according to the source. One expert who reviewed the photographs, Joyce Poole, an expert on elephant behaviour and co-director of the Kenya-based organisation ElephantVoices, said the elephants were bunching huddling together because they are frightened.

    The
    The young elephants in their enclosure. According to experts, they are bunching, huddling together because they are frightened. Photograph: The Guardian

    Audrey Delsink, an elephant behavioural ecologist and executive director for Executive Director for Humane Society International Africa, also reviewed the photos and footage. She believed that most of the elephants were aged between two and four. Basically, these calves have just been weaned or are a year or two into the weaning process. In the wild, elephants are completely dependent on their mothers milk until they are two, and are not fully weaned until the age of five.

    A number of the calves, she said, were displaying temporal streaming a stress-induced activity. Many of the gestures indicate apprehensive and displacement behaviour trunk twisting, trunk curled under, face touching, foot swinging, head-shaking, ear-cocking, displacement feeding, amongst others. Zimparks were approached but did not make a comment.

    The buyer for the young elephants is a Chinese national, according to inside sources who asked not to be named. Last year he was associated with a case involving 11 wild hyenas, who were discovered in a truck at Harare international airport that had been on the road for 24 hours without food or water and were reportedly in an extremely stressed condition, dehydrated and emaciated and, in some cases, badly injured.

    One
    One of the hyenas found in a consignment at Harare airport in Zimbabwe. Photograph: The Guardian

    The legal live trade in wild animals

    The capture of the baby elephants is just one of a number of operations that have taken place in Zimbabwe and across the continent over several decades. Nine elephants were reportedly exported from Namibia to Mexico in 2012, six from Namibia to Cuba in 2013, and more than 25 from Zimbabwe to China in 2015. In 2016, the US imported 17 elephants from Swaziland despite objections from the public and conservationists. From 1995-2015, more than 600 wild African elephants and 400 wild Asian elephants are reported to have been traded globally, according to a database kept by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

    Under Cites, trading live elephants is legal, with a few stipulations. The destination must be appropriate and acceptable, and the sale must benefit conservation in the home country. But elephant conservationists and animal welfare advocates point out a number of flaws in the system. There are no criteria setting out what appropriate and acceptable means and what is really contributing to conservation, explained Daniela Freyer of Pro-Wildlife, a German-based organisation that seeks to improve international legislation protecting wildlife. Currently, it is entirely up to authorities in the importing countries to define and decide. There are no common rules and no monitoring of the conditions of the capture, the number of animals being traded, where they will end up or the conditions in which they will be kept at their destination. There is also no monitoring of the requirement that a sale benefit conservation.

    For example, Zimbabwe and China are the biggest players in the live elephant trade, but Iris Ho, wildlife programme manager at Humane Society International (HSI), says they have found little information from the importing countries on the animals arrival. We dont know how many facilities in China have received the elephants imported from Zimbabwe during the last few years. We dont know the status of these animals.

    Attempts to comply with the few Cites stipulations such as appropriate and acceptable destinations are sometimes dismissed. In 2016, a Zimbabwe delegation of Zimparks and ZNSPCA inspectors travelled to China to access the facilities, where they found that most of the zoos showed signs of poor treatment of the animals. But their recommendation that a shipment of 36 elephants remain in Zimbabwe until the holding facilities in China were completed and assessed for compliance by Zimbabwe, was ignored.

    On September 16 Chinese papers announced in cheery headlines that three elephants two females and a male, aged approximately four years old had arrived at the Lehe Ledu wildlife zoo. Photographs of the elephants from Chinese media were analysed by Poole, who noted that the face one of the females looked pinched and stressed. The elephant appears to have begun to wear her tusks down on the bars, rubbing back and forth in frustration. Poole added that the sunken look, dark eyes and mottled skin are common for young, captured elephants. In the wild, you only see the pinched, sunken look in sick or orphaned elephants.

    The zoo has said that it is providing more than 1,000 square metres of indoor space and 3,000 sq metres outdoors. The animals have six full-time babysitters and every meal is prepared carefully, based on scientific recommendation.

    A video posted on YouTube celebrating the arrival of the elephants at Lehe Ledu zoo.

    Finally, questions have been asked about whether Zimbabwe is complying with the Cites stipulation that the sale of the elephants must benefit their conservation in the wild. The environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, was reported in the Guardian last year as saying the sale of the elephants was necessary to raise funds to take care of national parks in Zimbabwe, which have been ravaged by drought and poaching. But in the past, there have been unconfirmed reports of Grace Mugabe, the presidents wife, using funds from the sales of elephants to pay off a military debt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    The international body governing the trade, Cites, is increasingly coming under fire for its role. The scientific literature states that captive facilities continue to fall far short of meeting elephants natural needs for movement, space and extended social networks, with negative effects on health, behavior and reproduction, said Anna Mul, a legal adviser on animal law at Fondation Franz Weber, an organisation that is lobbying Cites to end the trade of live elephants.

    A spokesman for CITES said: The triennial CITES conference held last year (CoP17) agreed that appropriate and acceptable destinations was defined as destinations where the importing State is satisfied that the recipient of the live animals is suitably equipped to house and care for them. CoP17 also agreed on a process to assess if additional guidance on this matter is required. Further, both the importing and exporting countries are now required to be satisfied that any trade in live elephants should promote the conservation of elephants in the wild. In addition, the exporting Party must also be satisfied that animals are prepared and shipped so as to minimize the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment of live elephants in trade… CITES does not address the way in which the animals are captured or stored prior to export.

    But for now, China continues to import the vulnerable elephants at almost conveyor-belt speed. According to Ho, some pressure to stop the practice is beginning to be felt, but the country is influenced by the view that breeding is conservation. And then, of course, there is a willing partner in Zimbabwe and the thrill of seeing African elephants by the visitors.

    Its a win-win, she said, for those who are financially profiting from the legal trade in the calves. But its a lose-lose for the animals, both imported and left behind.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/03/exclusive-footage-shows-young-elephants-being-captured-in-zimbabwe-for-chinese-zoos