A record-breaking winter is refusing to loosen its grip in parts of the central and eastern United States, putting a big freeze on the country’s shipping industry. Almost 90 percent of the US Great Lakes area are completely frozen over, closing off lucrative trade routes with Canada. The shipping industry is, literally, at a standstill with thousands of dollars in profits lost every day.
In China, animal rights activism is flourishing with increasing numbers of people seeing animals as pets, not protein.
For centuries, China has raised dogs, cats and other animals for food and for use in traditional medicines. But as the country grows in affluence, social attitudes are changing.
Pet ownership, once condemned by the Communist Party as bourgeois, is flourishing.
And with no animal welfare laws except for wild animals, growing numbers of Chinese are using blogs, websites and the streets to protest against the mistreatment of animals.
On this edition of 101 East, we look at the growing fight for animal rights in China.
Senior adviser to Tokyo Electric Power says controlled release into sea is much safer than keeping contaminated water on-site
A senior adviser to the operator of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has told the firm that it may have no choice but to eventually dump hundreds of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
Speaking to reporters who were on a rare visit to the plant on the eve of the third anniversary of the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, Dale Klein said Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco] had yet to reassure the public over the handling of water leaks that continue to frustrate efforts to clean up the site.
“The one issue that keeps me awake at night is Tepco’s long-term strategy for water management,” said Klein, a former chairman of the US nuclear regulatory commission who now leads Tepco’s nuclear reform committee.
“Storing massive amounts of water on-site is not sustainable. A controlled release is much safer than keeping the water on-site.
“Tepco is making progress on water management but I’m not satisfied yet. It’s frustrating that the company takes four or five steps forward, then two back. And every time you have a leakage it contributes to a lack of trust. There’s room for improvement on all fronts.”
Tepco’s failure to manage the buildup of contaminated water came to light last summer, when it admitted that at least 300 tonnes of tainted water were leaking into the sea every day.
That revelation was followed by a string of incidents involving spills from poorly assembled storage tanks, prompting the government to commit about $500m (£300m) into measures to contain the water.
They include the construction of an underground frozen wall to prevent groundwater mixing with contaminated coolant water, which becomes tainted after coming into contact with melted nuclear fuel deep inside the damaged reactors.
Tepco confirmed that it would activate an experimental wall at a test site at the plant on Tuesday. If the test is successful, the firm plans to build a similar structure almost 2km in length around four damaged reactors next year, although some experts have questioned its ability to use the technology on such a large scale.
Klein, too, voiced scepticism over the frozen wall solution, and suggested that the controlled release of treated water into the Pacific was preferable to storing huge quantities of it on site.
But Tepco, the government and nuclear regulators would have to win the support of local fishermen, and the release of even treated water would almost certainly draw a furious response from China and South Korea.
“It’s a very emotional issue,” Klein said. “But Tepco and the government will have to articulate their position to other people. For me, the water issue is more about policy than science.”
Tepco is pinning its hopes on technology that can remove dozens of dangerous radionuclides, apart from tritium, internal exposure to which has been linked to a greater risk of developing cancer.
Klein, however, said tritium does not pose the same threat to heath as bone-settling strontium and caesium, and can be diluted to safe levels before it is released into the sea.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant’s manager, Akira Ono, said the firm had no plans to release contaminated water into the Pacific, but agreed that decommissioning would remain on hold until the problem was solved.
“The most pressing issue for us is the contaminated water, rather than decommissioning,” he said.
“Unless we address this issue the public will not be assured and the evacuees will not be able to return home.
“We are in a positive frame of mind over decommissioning the plant over the next 30 to 40 years, But we have to take utmost care every step of the way because errors can cause a lot of trouble for a lot of people.”
Currently about 400 tonnes of groundwater are streaming into the reactor basements from the hills behind the plant each day. The plant has accumulated about 300,000 tonnes of contaminated water, which is being stored in 1,200 tanks occupying a large swath of the Fukushima Daiichi site.
Eventually Tepco hopes to have enough space to store 800,000 tonnes, but fears are rising that it will run out of space sometime next year because it can’t keep up with the flow of toxic water.
Tepco will be held responsible if other countries become effected as their fishing waters will be massively visited by Japanese fishing boats.
Scientists have identified four new man-made gases that are contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer.
Two of the gases are accumulating at a rate that is causing concern among researchers.
Worries over the growing ozone hole have seen the production of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases restricted since the mid 1980s.
But the precise origin of these new, similar substances remains a mystery, say scientists.
Lying in the atmosphere, between 15 and 30km above the surface of the Earth, the ozone layer plays a critical role in blocking harmful UV rays, which cause cancers in humans and reproductive problems in animals.
Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey were the first to discover a huge “hole” in the ozone over Antarctica in 1985.
The evidence quickly pointed to CFC gases, which were invented in the 1920s, and were widely used in refrigeration and as aerosol propellants in products like hairsprays and deodorants.
Remarkably, global action was rapidly agreed to tackle CFCs and the Montreal Protocol to limit these substances came into being in 1987.
A total global ban on production came into force in 2010.
Now, researchers from the University of East Anglia have discovered evidence of four new gases that can destroy ozone and are getting into the atmosphere from as yet unidentified sources.
Three of the gases are CFCs and one is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), which can also damage ozone.
“Our research has shown four gases that were not around in the atmosphere at all until the 1960s which suggests they are man-made,” said lead researcher Dr Johannes Laube.
The scientists discovered the gases by analysing polar firm, perennial snow pack. Air extracted from this snow is a natural archive of what was in the atmosphere up to 100 years ago.
The researchers also looked at modern air samples, collected at remote Cape Grim in Tasmania.
They estimate that about 74,000 tonnes of these gases have been released into the atmosphere. Two of the gases are accumulating at significant rates.
“The identification of these four new gases is very worrying as they will contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer,” said Dr Laube.
“We don’t know where the new gases are being emitted from and this should be investigated. Possible sources include feedstock chemicals for insecticide production and solvents for cleaning electronic components.”
“What’s more, the three CFCs are being destroyed very slowly in the atmosphere – so even if emissions were to stop immediately, they will still be around for many decades to come,” he added.
Other scientists acknowledged that while the current concentrations of these gases are small and they don’t present an immediate concern, work would have to be done to identify their origin.
“This paper highlights that ozone depletion is not yet yesterday’s story,” said Prof Piers Forster, from the University of Leeds.
“The concentrations found in this study are tiny. Nevertheless, this paper reminds us we need to be vigilant and continually monitor the atmosphere for even small amounts of these gases creeping up, either through accidental or unplanned emissions.
“Of the four species identified, CFC-113a seems the most worrying as there is a very small but growing emission source somewhere, maybe from agricultural insecticides. We should find it and take it out of production.”
Al Jazeera’s 101 East joins an annual tribal dolphin hunt in the Solomon Islands and ask whether this ancient practice should be stopped.
In a remote Pacific paradise in the Solomon Islands, a village continues a centuries-old tradition that has sparked outrage around the world. They hunt and kill dolphins, often hundreds at a time.
101 East’s Drew Ambrose is the first television reporter to meet the community of Fanalei since they revived the controversial practice in 2013.
The village tribesmen say they hunt the marine mammals for their meat and teeth to pay for wedding dowries, easing the impact of rising sea levels on crops and livelihoods.
For two years, the Earth Island Institute, an environmental charity, persuaded villagers to stop hunting dolphins by promising direct cash payments and alternative work programmes worth up to $400,000 to Fanalei and two other villages, a huge windfall in the Solomons.
But the deal ended when the Institute alleged that the majority of the funds provided went missing – triggering a massive fallout out between the conservation group and the hunters.
Two of the three villages involved in the deal say that the Earth Island Institute owes them money. The Earth Island Institute says that they did pay, but representatives of the village who live in the capital Honaira did not pass the money onto the villagers.
The feud culminated in the slaughter of 1,600 dolphins last year, with the Earth Island Institute describing the hunt as an act of extortion.
Local conservationists say dolphin hunting may have once been part of the villagers’ traditional culture, but that the animal is now viewed as a money earner in a country considered one of the poorest in the Pacific region.
In the past, dolphins have also been captured and sold to aquariums and marine parks overseas. A healthy dolphin can fetch as much as $100,000.
Some of those dolphins have died from stress in captivity while being transported to destinations as far as Dubai, Singapore and Mexico.
Despite a current ban on the live export of dolphins, some traders say it is a less barbaric and more lucrative trade than killing them in the hunt. But some of the hunters disagree, saying it is better for these ocean-roaming, intelligent mammals to be hunted in the wild than be forced to spend a lifetime in captivity without their pods.
With other tribes considering the possibility of hunting again this year, the government says it may introduce a quota system restricting the number of dolphins hunted and killed.
Even some Fanalei villagers concede that slaughtering them en masse means too many dolphins die, and sometimes the meat simply rots.
Warmer temperatures are causing malaria to spread to higher altitudes, a study suggests.
Researchers have found that people living in the highlands of Africa and South America are at an increased risk of catching the mosquito-borne disease during hotter years.
They believe that temperature rises in the future could result in millions of additional cases in some areas.
The research is published in the journal Science.
Prof Mercedes Pascual, from the University of Michigan in the US, who carried out the research, said: “The impact in terms of increasing the risk of exposure to disease is very large.”
Vulnerable to disease
Areas at higher altitudes have traditionally provided a haven from this devastating disease.
Both the malaria parasite and the mosquito that carries it struggle to cope with the cooler air.
Prof Pascual said: “The risk of the disease decreases with altitude and this is why historically people have settled in these higher regions.”
But the scientists say the disease is entering new regions that had previously been malaria-free.
To investigate, scientists looked at densely populated areas in the highlands of Colombia and Ethiopia, where there are detailed records of both temperature and malaria cases from the 1990s to 2005.
They found that in warmer years, malaria shifted higher into the mountains, while in cooler years it was limited to lower elevations.
“This expansion could in a sense account for a substantial part of the increase of cases we have already observed in these areas,” said Prof Pascual.
The team believes that rising temperatures could cause a further spread.
In Ethiopia, where nearly half of the population live at an altitude of between 1,600m (5,250ft) and 2,400m, the scientists believe there could be many more cases.
“We have estimated that, based on the distribution of malaria with altitude, a 1C rise in temperature could lead to an additional three million cases in under-15-year-olds per year,” said Prof Pascual.
The team believes that because people living in areas that have never been exposed to malaria are particularly vulnerable to the disease, attempts to stop the spread should be focused on areas at the edge of the spread. The disease is easier to control there than at lower altitudes where it has already established.
According to the latest estimates from the World Health Organization, there were about 207 million cases of malaria in 2012 and an estimated 627,000 deaths. Most deaths occur among children living in Africa.