Six tonnes of elephant tusks and ivory trinkets were destroyed in a tarmac crusher in the factory city of Dongguan in China on January 6th, 2014. Most of the 33-tonne stockpile of Hong Kong—home to many of the world’s most avid buyers of ivory—as well as those of several European countries will soon meet the same fate. In the past few years ivory has also been destroyed in the United States, Gabon, Kenya and the Philippines.
These scenes lack both the curling smoke and dramatic setting of the vast pyre of tusks burned in Kenya’s Nairobi National Park in 1989. (Most ivory is now destroyed by crushing, rather than burning, to avoid polluting the atmosphere.) But they may prove equally significant in the long fight to stop poaching and save the elephant from extinction. The bonfire near Nairobi was the prelude to a global ban on trade in ivory, a collapse in demand and a lull in poaching that gave the African elephant population time to recover. But in the past five years poaching has picked up again. An estimated 25,000 elephants are killed each year by poachers, many of them linked to organised crime. In some places the species is close to being wiped out…
Links between ivory traffickers and African militias such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, a thuggish band of guerrillas that originated in Uganda, have put the issue on the national-security agenda in America and elsewhere. The result is attention from political heavyweights including Bill and Hillary Clinton; John Kerry, America’s secretary of state; and David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister. African governments have agreed to to beef up park patrols, create anti-poaching police units in the states where elephants roam and strengthen anti-poaching laws. The measures have so far been underfunded. Making them stick would cost an estimated $300m over ten years, much of which it is hoped will come from the rich countries at the conference.
Though campaigners welcome the plan they argue that curbing the supply of ivory is not enough. Since 1989 countries with elephant populations have twice been allowed to sell stockpiled ivory from elephants that died naturally under CITES, a global agreement on international trade in endangered species. Before the second sale, in 2008, conservationists warned that it would revive the market in China, where ivory ornaments have long been prized, and make poaching profitable once more. They were right. The ivory bought by the Chinese government is drip-fed onto the domestic market at a rate of five tonnes a year. That comes nowhere close to meeting demand, estimated at 200 tonnes a year. And the sales have coincided with an explosive increase in poaching.
The ivory trade: Up in smoke, Economist,Feb. 8, 2014, at 60
Human-Centered Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) Leveraged Science & Technology (S&T) Program
The overall RHX (Human Effectiveness Directorate, Anticipate & Influence Behavior Division of the Air Force Research Laboratory) research objective is to develop human-centered S&T that enables the Air Force to more effectively execute the ISR mission… Current ISR systems are ideal for identifying and tracking entities such as aircraft and vehicles but are less capable of identifying and tracking the human. This research will develop technologies to enable the Air Force to identify, locate and track humans of interest within the operational environment….The scope of human-centered ISR research spans the complete range of human performance starting at the individual molecular, cellular, genomic level and progressing to complex human-to-human and human-to-machine interactions. Human-centered ISR reaches across multiple domains (air, space, cyber) and has broad application to other DoD organizations and the Intelligence Community (IC). Human-centered ISR research encompasses three major research areas: (1) human signatures, (2) human trust and interaction and (3) human analyst augmentation. The human signatures research develops technologies to sense and exploit human bio-signatures at both the molecular level and macro (anthropometric) level. The human trust and interaction research develops technologies to improve human-to-human interactions as well as human-to-machine interactions. The human analyst augmentation research develops technologies to enhance analyst performance and to test the efficacy of newly developed technologies within a simulated operational environment.
OBJECTIVE 1: Human Signatures
The objective of the Human Signatures Program is to develop technologies to discover, characterize and transition biological-based signatures (biosignatures) to enable effective human and environmental threat detection, identification and exploitation, and operator performance assessment across a variety of Air Force mission areas. Human signatures research seeks to identify and characterize unique biosignatures that can be exploited to identify, locate and track specific individuals or groups of people possessing certain characteristics of operational interest. Bioignatures range from the micro-level (molecular, cellular, genomic) up to whole body physiological signatures based on anthropometric and biomechanical properties and characteristics.
Exploitation of biosignatures also requires development of (1) sensors designed to detect and collect biosignatures; (2) analytics and informatics to process, analyze, fuse and utilize biosignature sensor data; (3) end user systems that integrate biosignatures into the layered sensor network and provide analysis, visualization, and prediction tools to exploit biosignature data.
OBJECTIVE 2: Human Trust and Interaction
The Human Trust and Interaction Program conducts research examining human-to-human interactions and human-to-machine interactions with the focus on developing technological solutions to enhance ISR capabilities and human performance assessments. Research is divided into two major areas: (1) human insight and trust and (2) human language technologies. The objectives of the Human Interaction and Trust Program are broken down into three subareas. These are: (1) Trust and Suspicion; (2) Trust in Automation; and (3) Social Signature Exploitation. Trust and Suspicion research focuses on the recognition of suspicious activities in the cyberspace realm. The needs include the full gamut of open source data including social media to the more traditional intelligence sources. Trust in Automation is driven by human-machine teams and how humans relate to technology. A key need in this area is the establishment of trust between human operators and the machines/software they are teamed with to complete their mission. Finally, the Social Signature Exploitation theme focuses on recognizing behavior indicators that are based on social and cultural factors to assess and predict military relevant events. The need includes the use of open and closed data resources to assist decision making on the use of force or non-physical actions.
Excerpt from Human-Centered Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) Leveraged Science & Technology (S&T) Program, Solicitation Number: BAA-HPW-RHX-2014-0001, Agency: Department of the Air Force, Office: Air Force Materiel Command, Location: AFRL/RQK – WPAFB, available online
Unusually high levels of radioactive particles were found at an underground nuclear waste site in New Mexico on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2014 in what a spokesman said looked like the first real alarm since the plant opened in 1999. U.S. officials were testing for radiation in air samples at the site where radioactive waste, such as plutonium used in defense research and nuclear weapon making, is dumped half a mile below ground in an ancient salt formation.
“They (air monitors) have alarmed in the past as a false positive because of malfunctions, or because of fluctuations in levels of radon (a naturally occurring radioactive gas),” Department of Energy spokesman Roger Nelson said. “But I believe it’s safe to say we’ve never seen a level like we are seeing. We just don’t know if it’s a real event, but it looks like one,” he said. It was not yet clear what caused the air-monitoring system to indicate that radioactive particles were present at unsafe levels, Nelson said.
No one was underground at the Department of Energy Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, in New Mexico’s south east, when the alarm went off at 11:30 p.m. MST on Friday, and none of the 139 employees working above ground at the facility was exposed to radioactive contaminants, he said. Workers were asked to shelter where they were until the end of their shifts and were allowed to leave the facility at 5 p.m. local time on Saturday, Nelson said. No air exchange with the surface was occurring after the ventilation system automatically switched to filtration, he said…A different part of the site was evacuated this month after a truck used to haul salt caught fire. Several workers suffered smoke inhalation, an agency statement said.
Possible radiation leak at New Mexico military nuclear waste site, Reuters, Feb. 16, 2014
Fukushima prefectural authorities have asked the Environment Ministry to reduce from three to two the number of sites it plans for the temporary storage of radioactive debris generated by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster. Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato on Feb. 12 submitted a request to Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Takumi Nemoto, the minister in charge of post-quake reconstruction, asking them not to build a storage facility in the town of Naraha so that its residents can return home earlier. Based on the request, Ishihara said the Environment Ministry will review the initial plan to erect facilities in Naraha, as well as the towns of Okuma and Futaba.
The central government intended to construct intermediate storage facilities in the three towns, all in Fukushima Prefecture, that are capable of storing 13.1 million, 12.4 million and 2.5 million cubic meters of debris, respectively. The smallest of the sites was to be built in Naraha.
However, Sato argued in his request that if collected debris were burned to reduce its volume, the two larger sites could accommodate all the waste. The governor also proposed that the ministry build a plant to process the ash from debris with radioactive values at 100,000 becquerels per kilogram or lower in Naraha instead…Elsewhere though, many other municipalities in the prefecture have urged the prefectural government to quickly facilitate the building of those facilities because radioactive soil and other associated waste generated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster are filling up temporary storage sites throughout the prefecture. The Environment Ministry estimates that 1.6 million cubic meters of debris was stored across Fukushima Prefecture as of the end of last October.
Excerpt, Fukushima seeks limit on radioactive waste disposal sites, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, Feb. 13, 2014
Madagascar’s government has agreed to sell forest-related carbon credits to Microsoft and Zurich’s zoo, which will help protect the Makira National Park, in the first sale of state-owned REDD+ credits in Africa, according to the group that manages the park. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), an international charity headquartered in New York City, said the revenues from selling carbon credits generated by avoided deforestation in Makira will finance the conservation of one of Madagascar’s most pristine rainforest ecosystems, while supporting the livelihoods of local people.
The funds will be used by the government for activities under its Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation “plus” conservation (REDD+) programme, and by WCS to manage Makira park. But the largest share – half of the proceeds – will go to support local communities in areas around Makira for education, health and other projects, WCS said.
The Makira forest, which spans nearly 400,000 hectares (over 1,500 square miles), is home to an estimated 1 percent of the world’s biodiversity, including 20 lemur species, hundreds of species of birds, and thousands of plant varieties, some unique to the location. The forests also provide clean water to over 250,000 people in the surrounding landscape.
Jonathan Shopley, managing director of The CarbonNeutral Company, which handled the purchase for Microsoft, said its clients are increasingly looking for opportunities to manage the entire environmental impact of their organisation, driven by the need to make their supply chains more resilient…In Madagascar, burning for agricultural land and extraction of wood for household energy leads to around 36,000 hectares (139 square miles) of natural forest being lost each year, WCS said.
BY MEGAN ROWLIN, Madagascar: Microsoft Buys Carbon Credits From Madagascar Rainforest, AllAfrica.com, Feb. 13, 2014
The Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi has slammed Anglo Dutch oil giant, Shell for the way and manner it handles oil spill in the country, especially in the oil and gas rich Niger Delta region. He said the response of the foremost oil firm to oil spillages in the country fell short of international standards and practices. The helmsman of Nigeria’s apex maritime regulatory authority spoke against the backdrop of the Bonga oil spill incident which wreaked havoc in many communities in the Niger Delta region in 2011.
The National Assembly had last week through the House of Representatives Committee on Environment, organised a public hearing over the incident. Recounting NIMASA’s experience during the incident, Akpobolokemi said that the oil giant tried as much as possible to frustrate the agency’s attempts to move to the site of the spill. As a stop gap measure, he explained that the agency provided some relief material to some of the communities affected by the spill. Akpobolokemi flayed Shell for it poor response and nonchalant attitude towards spill incidents in the Niger Delta area and called for an immediate stop to this.
Said he: “The kind of impunity Shell and its allies have demonstrated so far in the Niger Delta area in the past must stop if the future of the people of Nigeria and the environment are to be protected,” adding that in other countries when spills like this occur, the first thing is remuneration, attention to the affected communities and finding ways of reducing the sufferings of the people and restoring the ecosystem, which Shell has failed to do. “Shell fell short of all these criteria and of course it is sad that it is only in Nigeria that we can witness this degree of impunity.
“We in NIMASA see this as a serious infraction to our laws, communities and the damage done to the communities and the ecosystem can be seen as genocide. When a similar spill occurred in the gulf of Mexico, Shell was alive to its responsibilities, they were made to pay compensation to the affected communities but today in Nigeria, any spill that occur, a claim of sabotage or third party claims are the order of the day.” He said NIMASA had made presentations before the House Committee on Environment, asking SNEPCO to pay compensation, not an administrative fee, to the communities totalling $6.5 billion.
“The response from Shell was evasive and do not suggest that it is a company that is alive to its responsibility. It believes that the culture of impunity can continue to go on, thereby playing with our legal system. May we use this opportunity to correct the wrong that has been done to the Nigerian environment because of the callousness of this company and we stand by our position that compensation must be paid to the communities.
“What we expect Shell to do is to come to the negotiating table and discuss with the affected communities on the means of payment so that the communities can get back their natural eco-system”.
John Iwori, Bonga Oil Spill: NIMASA Slams Shell, http://www.thisdaylive.com/, Feb. 14, 2014