All posts tagged: Environment

Mountain bikers in fatal cougar attack did everything right, authorities say

Surviving cyclist in satisfactory condition in hospital as official says bikers tried to scare the mountain lion and then hit it

A mountain biker who was killed by a cougar near Seattle and his friend who escaped after the animal attacked him did everything right, authorities have said.

The two men were riding on a trail in the Cascade Mountain foothills on Saturday when the mountain lion began following them. Authorities said they did everything state guidelines advise: getting off their bikes, making noise and trying to scare the animal away. One even smacked it with his bike, after it charged.

The cougar ran off but returned and attacked when the men got back on their bikes. It bit one the survivor on the head and shook him. The second cyclist ran and the animal dropped the first victim and pounced, killing its victim and dragging him back to what appeared to be its den, Sgt Ryan Abbott of King county sheriffs department said.

They did everything they were supposed to do, Abbott said on Sunday. But something was wrong with this cougar.

The survivor was still in hospital on Sunday. A Harborview Medical Center spokeswoman, Susan Gregg, said the 31-year-old man was in satisfactory condition.

Authorities would not confirm the names of the cyclists until the man who died, a 32-year-old Seattle resident, was formally identified. That was expected on Monday.

The attack near North Bend, 30 miles east of Seattle, was the first fatal cougar attack in Washington state in 94 years. The first man managed to get on his bike and ride off, looking back to see his friend being dragged into the trees, Abbott said. The cyclist rode for two miles before he could get a cellphone signal to call 911.

When rescuers arrived, it took about half an hour to find the second victim, who was dead with the cougar on top of him in what appeared to be a den-like area. An officer shot at the animal, which ran off. Several hours later, state fish and wildlife agents used dogs to track the cougar to a nearby tree. They shot and killed it.

Authorities planned to match DNA taken from the animal with DNA from the victims to be certain they killed the right cougar. They also plan to examine the cougar to see what might have been wrong with it.

There are an estimated 2,000 cougars in Washington. Until the 1960s, the state paid hunters a bounty for killing them. Now it allows 250 to be hunted in 50 designated zones. While they are sometimes known to kill livestock or pets, and though one even found its way into a park in Seattle in 2009, encounters with people are rare.

Attacks have become more common, though, as people encroach on the animals territory. In North America, there have been about 25 deadly attacks and 95 non-fatal attacks reported in the past century, but more attacks have been reported in the US west and Canada over the past 20 years than in the previous 80.

Experts say people encountering the big cats in the wild should stop and pick up small children immediately. Because running and rapid movements can trigger the animals prey drive, people should not run. Instead they should face the cougar, speak firmly and slowly back away, appearing as large as possible by standing on a rock or stump or opening a sweatshirt or jacket.

People should also become more assertive if the cougar does not back off. If it does attack, people should fight back.

The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey but a potential danger, Washington state fish and wildlife advises on its website.

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Mumbai beach goes from dump to turtle hatchery in two years

Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings spotted after cleanup of Versova beach by Afroz Shah and volunteers

Hatchlings from a vulnerable turtle species have been spotted for the first time in decades on a Mumbai beach that was rejuvenated in the past two years by a massive volunteer cleanup operation.

At least 80 Olive Ridley turtles have made their way into the Arabian Sea from nests on the southern end of Versova beach in the past week, protected from wild dogs and birds of prey by volunteers who slept overnight in the sand to watch over them.

Versova has undergone what the United Nations has called the worlds largest beach cleanup project over the past two years, transformed from a shin-deep dump yard for plastics and rubbish to a virtually pristine piece of coastline.

The man who leads the ongoing cleanup operation, the lawyer Afroz Shah, said he started anticipating the turtle hatchings two months ago when farmers on the southern end of the two-mile (3km) beach reported seeing turtles in the sand.

Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings in a container as they are helped by wildlife conservationists to reach the Arabian Sea on Versova beach in Mumbai. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The moment we got that news I knew something big was going to happen, he told the Guardian. Last Thursday, some of his volunteers called to say they had spotted dozens of baby Olive Ridley turtles emerging from their nests.

He called the forest department and then went down to the beach with about 25 others, guarding the area while the tiny creatures hobbled across the sand, making sure not one hatchling suffered a death, he said.

The Olive Ridley species, thought to be named for the olive-green hue of its upper shell, is the smallest and most abundant sea turtle in the ocean, but is still classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Mothers of the species lay eggs in an enormous mass-nesting process known as arribada. Last month on the coast of the eastern Indian state of Odisha, a record 428,083 Olive Ridley turtles nested simultaneously at the Rushikulya rookery.

Though they nest elsewhere in Mumbai, none had been sighted on Versova beach in decades, due to the acute pollution problem there, Shah said. I had tears in my eyes when I saw them walking towards the ocean.

Sumedha Korgaonkar, who is completing a PhD on Olive Ridley turtles with the Wildlife Institute of India, said it was possible small numbers of the turtles had been nesting on the beach in past years. We cant say for sure since regular patrolling for turtles nests is not done in Mumbai, she said.

Clean-up at Versova beach. Photograph: Shashi S Kashyap/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Beach cleanups definitely have a positive effect on nesting turtles. Many beaches which are major nesting sites are cleaned prior and during the nesting season by villagers, which increases the chances of getting nests [there].

For more than two years, Shah has been leading volunteers in manually picking up rubbish from Versova beach and teaching sustainable waste practices to villagers and people living in slums along the coastline and the creeks leading into it.

About 55,000 people live along the beach and the waterways that feed it in the crowded megacity. Shah said he taught them by example, offering to clean communal toilets and pick up rubbish himself before he ever sought their help.

For the first six to eight weeks, nobody joined, he said. Then two men approached me and said, very politely, Please sir, can we wear your gloves? Both of them just came and joined me. Thats when I knew it was going to be a success.

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He said the team had cleaned 13m kg of debris from the beach in the past two years and are still going, though their campaign was briefly abandoned in November because of administrative lethargy and harassment of volunteers.

India has some of the most polluted waterways and beaches in the world due to rapid, unplanned urbanisation, overpopulation and neglectful attitudes, including to public littering.

There has been a loss of a sense of belonging, Shah said. You can have laws, policies, regulations in place, but if the community doesnt have a sense of belonging, you can see what happens.

This article is part of a series on possible solutions to some of the worlds most stubborn problems. What else should we cover? Email us at

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The Dows Biggest Loser Last Year Was Its Biggest Winner This Week

After a disastrous 2017, General Electric Co. kicked off this year with the best start on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The question is whether the gains will last.

With no major developments specific to the company, the shares probably got a boost from investors anticipating a rebound after last year’s selloff, said Deane Dray, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets. While that’s a welcome respite for long-suffering shareholders, GE still faces an arduous turnaround effort.

Standout Stock

After a poor 2017, GE was the top performer in the Dow during the first week of 2018

Note: Chart includes top and bottom 2018 YTD stocks on DJIA

“There is this reflexive dogs-of-the-Dow bias,” Dray said. “There are still too many negatives and unknowns to give anyone the clear signs that the worst is behind them.”

GE is grappling with weakness in the markets for its power-generation and oilfield equipment, and Chief Executive Officer John Flannery is selling assets and cutting billions of dollars in costs. The manufacturer is also contending with a pension deficit and challenges from a long-term-care insurance portfolio.

But at least for the holiday-shortened first week of the year, GE gave off a faint glimmer of its former stock-market glory. Shares gained 6.2 percent, their biggest weekly increase in more than a year. That followed last year’s 45 percent plunge, which wiped out $128 billion in shareholder value and was the worst drop on the Dow.

GE is likely to rise 10 percent in the next 12 months, according to the average of analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. It should at least get a boost from broad economic health, said Nicholas Heymann, an analyst with William Blair & Co.

Demand Recovery

“The macro environment for the global industrial economy is shaping up in 2018 to perhaps be the best so far this century,” Heymann said in a report Thursday. Rising oil prices and strength in commercial aerospace are likely to lift sentiment for GE this year after a “horrendous 2017,” he said.

“We sense forward expectations have been taken down to the level where they can be achieved in a ‘sleep-walking’ environment,” Heymann said. Still, the turnaround “will require an endless amount of heavy lifting.”

GE still needs to demonstrate its ability to reduce its pension deficit, improve cash flow and pull off asset sales, Heymann said. Dray pointed to pending reserve charges related to long-term-care insurance as another concern. GE has been studying the impact of that on the finance business and announced that dividends paid by GE Capital to the parent would be suspended as a result.

The Boston-based manufacturer will announce its fourth-quarter earnings Jan. 24 and may provide additional details on expectations for the year.

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    Too right it’s Black Friday: our relentless consumption is trashing the planet | George Monbiot

    Growth must go on and its destroying the Earth. But theres no way of greening it. So we need a new system, writes Guardian columnist George Monbiot

    Everyone wants everything how is that going to work? The promise of economic growth is that the poor can live like the rich and the rich can live like the oligarchs. But already we are bursting through the physical limits of the planet that sustains us. Climate breakdown, soil loss, the collapse of habitats and species, the sea of plastic, insectageddon: all are driven by rising consumption. The promise of private luxury for everyone cannot be met: neither the physical nor the ecological space exists.

    But growth must go on: this is everywhere the political imperative. And we must adjust our tastes accordingly. In the name of autonomy and choice, marketing uses the latest findings in neuroscience to break down our defences. Those who seek to resist must, like the Simple Lifers in Brave New World, be silenced in this case by the media.

    With every generation, the baseline of normalised consumption shifts. Thirty years ago, it was ridiculous to buy bottled water, where tap water is clean and abundant. Today, worldwide, we use a million plastic bottles a minute.

    Every Friday is a Black Friday, every Christmas a more garish festival of destruction. Among the snow saunas, portable watermelon coolers and smartphones for dogs with which we are urged to fill our lives, my #extremecivilisation prize now goes tothe PancakeBot: a 3D batter printer that allows you to eat the Mona Lisa, theTaj Mahal, or your dogs bottom every morning. In practice, it will clog up your kitchen for a week until you decide you dont have room for it. For junk like this, were trashing the living planet, and our own prospects ofsurvival. Everything must go.

    The ancillary promise is that, through green consumerism, we can reconcile perpetual growth with planetary survival. But a series of research papers reveal there is no significant difference between the ecological footprints of people who care and people who dont. One recent article, published in the journal Environment and Behaviour, says those who identify themselves as conscious consumers use more energy and carbon than those who do not.

    Why? Because environmental awareness tends to be higher among wealthy people. It is not attitudes that govern our impact on the planet but income. The richer we are, the bigger our footprint, regardless of our good intentions. Those who see themselves as green consumers, the research found, mainly focused on behaviours that had relatively small benefits.

    I know people who recycle meticulously, save their plastic bags, carefully measure the water in their kettles, then take their holidays in the Caribbean, cancelling any environmental savings ahundredfold. Ive come to believe thatthe recycling licences their long-haul flights. It persuades people theyvegone green, enabling them to overlook their greater impacts.

    None of this means that we should not try to reduce our footprint, but we should be aware of the limits of the exercise. Our behaviour within the system cannot change the outcomes ofthe system. It is the system itself thatneedsto change.

    Research by Oxfam suggests that the worlds richest 1% (if your household has an income of 70,000 or more, this means you) produce about 175 times as much carbon as the poorest 10%. How, in a world in which everyone is supposed to aspire to high incomes, can we avoid turning the Earth, on which all prosperity depends, into a dust ball?

    By decoupling, the economists tell us: detaching economic growth from our use of materials. So how well is this going? A paper in the journal PlosOne finds that while, in some countries, relative decoupling has occurred, no country has achieved absolute decoupling during the past 50 years. What this means is that the amount of materials and energy associated with each increment of GDP might decline but, as growth outpaces efficiency, the total use of resources keeps rising. More important, the paper reveals that, in the long term, both absolute and relative decoupling from the use of essential resources is impossible, because of the physical limits of efficiency.

    A global growth rate of 3% means thatthe size of the world economy doubles every 24 years. This is why environmental crises are accelerating at such a rate. Yet the plan is to ensure that it doubles and doubles again, and keeps doubling in perpetuity. In seeking to defend the living world from the maelstrom of destruction, we might believe we are fighting corporations and governments and the general foolishness of humankind. But they are all proxies for the real issue: perpetual growth on a planet that is not growing.

    Those who justify this system insist that economic growth is essential for the relief of poverty. But a paper in the World Economic Review finds that the poorest 60% of the worlds people receive only 5% of the additional income generated by rising GDP. As a result, $111 (84) of growth is required for every $1 reduction in poverty. This is why, on current trends, it would take 200 years to ensure that everyone receives $5 a day. By this point, average per capita income will have reached $1m a year, and the economy will be 175 times bigger than it is today. This is not a formula for poverty relief. It is a formula for the destruction of everything and everyone.

    When you hear that something makes economic sense, this means it makes the opposite of common sense. Those sensible men and women who run the worlds treasuries and central banks, who see an indefinite rise in consumption as normal and necessary, are beserkers: smashing through the wonders of the living world, destroying the prosperity of future generations to sustain a set of figures that bear ever lessrelation to general welfare.

    Green consumerism, material decoupling, sustainable growth: all areillusions, designed to justify an economic model that is driving us to catastrophe. The current system, basedon private luxury and public squalor, will immiserate us all: under this model, luxury and deprivation areone beast with two heads.

    We need a different system, rootednot in economic abstractions butin physical realities, that establishthe parameters by which we judgeits health. We need to build a world in which growth is unnecessary, aworld of private sufficiency and publicluxury. And we must do it beforecatastrophe forces our hand.

    George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

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    ‘The threats continue: murder of retired couple chills fellow activists in Turkey

    The killing of two activists who successfully campaigned to shut down a mine has shocked environmentalists in Turkey who fear their deaths will embolden others to kill to protect their profits

    Cedar branches whisper in the Anatolian breeze. Twigs crunch underfoot. A truck rumbles from a distant marble quarry. The crack of a hunters rifle echoes through the forest.

    The sounds of tranquility and violence intermingle at the remote hillside home of Aysin and Ali Byknohutu, the Turkish beekeepers and environmental defenders whose murder in Finike earlier this year has sent a chill through the countrys conservation movement.

    If the killings of the retired couple were not shocking enough, the aftermath a dubious judicial investigation and the alleged suicide of the key suspect have raised questions in parliament and the media about the priorities of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoan, who increasingly seems to care more about the economy and concrete than lives and the environment.

    Ali and Aysin were organic farmers who moved to a remote forest home so that they could be closer to nature after they retired.

    Ali and Aysin in their beekeeping suits. Photograph: Handout

    A hand-painted sign above their gate reads Ali Baba iftlii (Father Alis Farm), a joking reference to the ditty that Turkish children sing to the tune of Old MacDonald. Their two-storey house and garden carefully laid out in neat rows of vegetables sits in a clearing among cedar and pine trees.

    Their house itself is testimony to the couples commitment to each other, their country, their family and the environment. Two cups sit by a kettle on the stove next to an open sugar bowl. Pride of place on the wall is a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatrk, who founded the Turkish Republic out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Below it are several stacks of books bedtime stories for their grandchildren, and publications on global issues: Can a City Be Sustainable?, Worldwatch Institute on the State of the World 2016 and A Guide to Organic Farming.

    Moving there was the realisation of a long-held ambition. In his youth, Ali had written a poem in which he declared, My only wish is a big garden with cheerful children.

    This was their dream retirement, said a source close to the family, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisals. They moved there for inner peace. Then they came up against the marble companies.

    They could not avoid them. The road up to their home passes from the turquoise coastline of the Aegean through pomegranate and orange groves to a dusty orange quarry one of more than a dozen in Finike.

    The opencast mines divert rivers, blast rocks with TNT and stir up dust that chokes the surrounding vegetation.

    When the couple discovered that some had also been opened close to heritage sites in contravention of licensing regulations, they took action.

    Long involved in leftwing politics, consumer rights groups and residents associations, the couple linked up with several friends to form a group called Torader.

    A marble quarry in Finike. Turkey boasts 40% of the worlds marble reserves. Photograph: Jonathan Watts for the Guardian

    Our initial aim was to educate people about the environment. Then when we realised the quarries were damaging the forest, we started to campaign against them, said Bayram Tael, a co-founder. I knew it was dangerous, but I didnt think it would lead to murder.

    They were up against powerful business interests. Turkey boasts 40% of the worlds marble reserves and nine out of 10 quarries are found in Anatolia. They are a mainstay of the regional economy and the countrys $2bn-a-year natural stone export business. China is currently the biggest customer, but Turkish marble is also found in Disneyland, the White House, the Vatican, Burj Khalifa, the Bundestag and luxury hotels across the world.

    Among those with family connections to the industry are the Finike mayor and the head of the Turkey Marble, Natural Stone and Machinery Association Selahattin Onur.

    Undaunted, Ali, Aysin and their fellow campaigners launched a successful challenge that shut down two marble companies Bartu Mermer and Baheci. Bartu Mermer fought back with a defamation lawsuit against Ali. But he won again in March 2017. The judge not only acquitted him, but also cancelled the companys operating license.

    Hailing the victory, Ali predicted it would be the first of many. Before, citizens were scared to sue companies now the decision will encourage all environmentalists, he declared.

    Ali and Aysin Byknohutu discovered some mines had been opened close to heritage sites against regulations.

    Two months later, he and his wife were dead.

    Today, the murder scene has been cleaned up, but the hallway wall is pocked with pellet marks as is the window over the threshold. Police say Ali was gunned down with a sawn-off shotgun as he opened the front door and shone a torch towards the intruder. He then fell to the ground, close to where he had earlier discarded his beekeeping gloves, hat and veil which still lie in a heap on the stairs.

    The killer is then assumed to have chased Aysin to the verandah, where she had gone to scream for help. Strangely, she was found with her arms above her head as though she has been dragged to the site and her body was face up although forensic experts say she was shot from behind. The neighbours who live out of sight but within earshot say they heard nothing.

    Murder suspect Ali Yamu reportedly committed suicide in prison. Photograph: Handout

    A suspect Ali Yma was quickly found and arrested. He confessed to carrying out the execution in return, he said, for a promise of 50,000 lire (10,000) from a quarry owner who he knew only by the alias irkin (Ugly). Yuma said he was paid 3,000 lire up front and promised the rest on completion. He was instructed to make the killing look like a robbery.

    That ought to have been where the Turkish justice system cranked into high gear to track down those behind the assassination. Instead, it was the starting point for months of delays, obfuscations and another death that has frightened and frustrated activists and raised wider questions about the countrys slide away from democratic rule of law.

    Within weeks of his imprisonment, Yuma changed his testimony to say he acted alone. Police concluded he wanted to rob the couple to buy heroin. The killer had a history of drug-related arrests, but it was odd that the laptop and other electronic goods taken from the home were dumped in the well instead of sold. There were other mysteries that were not adequately explained by the official report: Where was the murder weapon that he said he had stolen? How had he climbed the five-foot-high barbed-wire fence, as he claimed? How had he entered without disturbing the two fierce Anatolian shepherds that the Byknohutus kept as guard dogs?

    There are plans to turn the Byknohutus home into an eco-residency. Photograph: Jonathan Watts for the Guardian

    Doubts grew with the publication of a letter smuggled out of prison by Yumas wife that she later handed over to the prosecutor. It was addressed to a marble company owner. The contents now posted online read, Pay the money as you promised me. If you dont I will tell the truth on judgment day. You said kill them and we will pay. Why are you waiting? In 10 days if you dont pay, your life will be in my pocket.

    Last month, the public prosecutor was finally ready to submit his indictment, which meant the familys legal team would get their first opportunity to question Yuma on the record. He had told them he was ready to reveal everything.

    He never got the chance. Days later Yuma reportedly committed suicide in a high-security prison where he had been moved for his safety. Guards claimed he hung himself in a toilet with elastic from his clothing. Many find this incredible.

    It was a top-security L-type prison that had been designed suicide proof and where prisoners were watched around the clock, said an activist, who asked to remain nameless. I dont believe he killed himself. I think he was silenced.

    The familys lawyer Eser Dursun said the prospects for justice were now slim. This is a very important case, but we cannot win because the murderer is dead. Under Turkish law that means the case is closed.

    For Turkeys environmental campaigners, this is part of a broader alarming trend.

    Onur Akgl, a campaigner for the Northern Forests Defence conservation group put the case in the broader context of Erdoans increasingly authoritarian rule and drive to boost the economy at all costs.

    The murder of Ali and Aysin is a sign of the new climate in Turkey, he said. Ecologists strongly suspect there is more to this case than individual motives. The attack on the environment now is the biggest in our countrys history. Their murder can be seen as a message to others. It shows how far some interests are willing to go.

    Erdoan refutes such claims. He says his pro-business policies are in the national interest and accuses those who try to impede development as traitors and terrorists.

    Environmental defenders have been under suspicion since 2013 when a small group of activists tried to resist plans to turn Istanbuls Gezi Park into a shopping mall. Their demonstration morphed into the biggest anti-government protest in memory with hundreds of thousands taking to Taksim Square and streets around the country.

    Protests to save to save Gezi Park in Taksim Square, Istanbul. Photograph: Monique Jaques/Corbis via Getty Images

    Eight people died and thousands were injured in clashes between the riot police. For what? a scornful Erdoan asked afterwards. For 12 trees! Since then, he has pushed ahead with several massive infrastructure projects a third airport, a third bridge over the Bosphorus and a new canal that environmentalists say has led to the felling of 100 million trees.

    Those who stand in the way of these and other projects feel vulnerable.

    Now that two activists have been assassinated, we fear there will be more, said Melike Vergili, a founder of the Phaselis Initiative NGO. Her group which has campaigned to conserve the coastline in Antalya against hotel developers joined rallies calling for justice after the couple were killed. To be an activist in Turkey is to be constantly worried. We have to protect ourselves as well as the environment.

    Tuba Gnal and Birhan Erkutlu, who have been campaigning against hydroelectric dams near their home in the Alakr Valley in Antalya. Photograph: Courtesy of Alakr Nehri Kardelii

    Nobody is feeling the pressure more than Tuba Gnal and Birhan Erkutlu, who have been campaigning against a cascade of hydroelectric dams near their home in the Alakr Valley in Antalya. The dreadlocked, nature-loving couple have received death threats, been accused in defamation suits and labelled terrorists. Last month, shots were fired at their home. They believe the murders of Ali and Aysin have emboldened those willing to break the law to push through projects.

    Maybe one day they will kill us. They can if they want, but we will keep defending innocent lives. We are not afraid, Birhan told the Guardian. The government and the police do nothing to protect environmental protectors. They are not willing to punish those who threaten us. Thats why the threats continue.

    With forest conservation now such a sensitive political subject, supporters of Ali and Aysin are in a difficult position. They plan to turn the dead couples home into a eco-residency, to establish a memorial park in Antalya, and to continue the campaign against the quarries and to get justice for the killings.

    This is the first time two people have died trying to protect nature in Turkey. If we win, it will set a precedent that will help others in a similar position, said one of those close to the campaign. It would be a big step for Turkey. Ali and Aysin may be dead but they can still help the living.

    Fellow activists say they will continue Ali and Aysins campaign against the quarries. Photograph: Handout

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