Police in south India accused of mass murder after shooting dead protesters

Eleven people protesting over pollution from a copper plant have been killed by police in Tamil Nadu in south India

Another person has been shot dead during violent protests in south India against a copper plant operated by a British mining giant residents say is polluting the local environment.

Opposition legislators in the state of Tamil Nadu have accused the police of perpetrating mass murder against protesters opposed to the expansion of a copper smelting facility in the port city of Thoothukudi.

Ten people were shot dead and about 80 wounded by police after crowds set fire to vehicles and pelted officers with stones on Tuesday. Another man, identified by Indian media as a 23 -year-old named Kaliappan, was killed in further protests on Wednesday.

The Madras high court ordered a halting to the expansion of the 400,000 -tonne facility in response to the unrest, and ordered authorities to hold public hearings before granting environmental acceptance to the construction.

The smelter, operated by an Indian subsidiary of London-based Vedanta Resources, has been repeatedly shut down over pollution objections and was penalty PS10m in 2013 for violating environmental norms and operating without the consent of the state pollution board.

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Nine pollution protesters killed in India after police open fire- video report

The same year, activists allege a gas leak from the plant left hundreds with inhaling difficulties, nausea and throat infections.

Residents and environmentalists have been protesting for the past three months against plans to doubled the capacity of the copper plant that they say is polluting the air and fisheries around the site.

Sterlite Copper, the Indian subsidiary that owns the plant, says the facility operates” within all the specified parameters” and blamed the unrest on” nefarious components “.

Outrage over the security forces killings grew on Wednesday, and was fuelled by a video indicating a plainclothes police officer boarding a bus and firing his rifle at protesters. A voice could be heard in the background telling:” At least one should die .”

MK Stalin, leader of the main Tamil Nadu opposition party, the DMK, said police were guilty of atrocities.

” Mass assassination of innocent people ,” he tweeted on Wednesday.” Who ordered the police firing on protesters? Why were automatic weapons used to disperse the crowd and under what law is this permitted ?”

Rahul Gandhi, the national leader of the opposition Congress party, has called the deaths” a brutal instance of state-sponsored terrorism “.” These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice ,” he said.

P Mahendran, superintendent of Thoothukudi district police, said 18 policemen were also wounded in the clashes.” The situation is tense but under control today ,” he told.” The postmortem on the bodies is being conducted and they will be handed over to families today .”

The plant, about 375 miles( 600 km) south of Tamil Nadu’s state capital Chennai, is currently shut as the company awaits a licence to expand the site.

The protesters had set ablaze the local administrator’s office after they were denied permission to hold a rally at the plant.

Police said efforts to disperse the crowd of many thousands of with a baton charge and teargas volleys failed before authorities use live ammunition.

Tamil Nadu chief minister, Edappadi K Palaniswami, ordered the judicial inquiry into the shootings but defended the police.

” The police had to take action under unavoidable circumstances to protect public life and property as the protesters resorted to repeated violence ,” he said.

The families of each victim would be offered 1 million rupees( PS11, 000) compensation, he added.

A spokeswoman for Vedanta Resources said it had witnessed the deaths at the protest” with great sorrow and regret “.” The company is working with the relevant authorities to ensure the safety of our employees, facilities and the surrounding community ,” she said.

Tamil Nadu is one of India’s most prosperous and industrialised nations but, as elsewhere in the country, environmental regulations are routinely breached and poorly policed.

Thoothukudi was also the site of violent protests in 2012 over a nuclear power plant in neighbouring Kudankulam district that left person or persons dead.

Agence France-Press contributed to this report

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Our laws make slaves of nature. Its not just humans who need rights | Mari Margil

For decades our laws have been a licence to destroy the environment. Now, from the Amazon to Australia, the tide is turning, says the campaigner Mari Margil

The Amazon rainforest is often called the earth’s lungs, and generates 20% of the world’s oxygen. Yet in the past half-century nearly a fifth of it has been cut down. The felling and burning of millions of trees is releasing massive amounts of carbon, in turn depleting the Amazon’s capacity to be one of the world’s largest carbon sinks– the natural systems that suck up and store carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere.

Recently, 25 infants brought a lawsuit to objective the deforestation and its devastating impacts on the environment and their own wellbeing. The case induced its route to Colombia’s supreme court, which issued its decision last month. While deforestation is hardly a new issue in this region, the court’s response to the lawsuit surely was. Commenting that environmental degradation- not only in the Amazon but worldwide- is so significant that it threatens” human existence”, the court declared the Colombian Amazon a” subject of rights “.

In 1972 the law professor Christopher Stone published a seminal article, Should Trees Have Standing ?~ ATAGEND, that explored the possibility of recognising the legal rights of nature. He described how women and slaves have all along been been treated as rightless in statute, and suggested that just as they had eventually attained rights, so trees and other nonhuman living thing should also do so.

illegal
The poisoned scenery left left by an illegal goldmine in the Amazon forest. Photo: Mario Tama/ Getty Images

Today, environmental laws govern the human use and demolition of nature. They legalise fracking, drilling, and even dynamiting the tops off mountains to mine coal. The repercussions are proving catastrophic: the die-off crisis of the world’s coral reefs, accelerating species extinction, climate change. Finally, though, this is changing. In 2006 the first statute recognising the legal rights of nature was enacted in the borough of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, in the United States. The community sought to prevent dredging sludge laden with PCBs( polychlorinated biphenyl ) being dumped in an deserted coalmine. The organisation I work for, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, helped the council draft the law, transforming nature from being rightless to possessing rights to exist and flourish. It was the first such law in the world. Communities across more than 10 US countries have now followed suit, including New Hampshire, Colorado and Pittsburgh.

After the decision to grant legal rights to nature in Pennsylvania, representatives of my organisation satisfied Ecuador’s constituent assembly in 2008, which was elected to draft a new constitution. We discussed the rights of nature, and why communities all over the world find themselves unable to protect nature under statutes that authorise its exploitation. The assembly’s chairperson, Alberto Acosta, told us:” Nature is a slave .”

However, that year Ecuador enshrined the rights of nature- or Pachamama ( Mother Earth)- in its constitution, the first country to do so. Since then Bolivia has put in place a Law of Mother Earth. Tribunals in India and Colombia have similarly ruled that ecosystems possess rights. In Mexico, Pakistan, Australia and other countries, rights-of-nature frameworks are being proposed and enacted.

Colombia’s supreme court was asked to consider the climate-change impacts of Amazon deforestation in the lawsuit that led to its groundbreaking ruling. Similarly, in Nepal the US-based Center for Economic and Social Development is working to advance rights to safeguard against climate change. The Himalayas- known as the world’s third pole- are experiencing warming faster than any other mountain range on earth. With the melting of ice and snowfall, a Sherpa told us,” the mountains are turning black “. But now a constitutional amendment has been developed that would, if adopted, recognise the rights of the Himalayas to a climate system free from global-warming pollution. It would for the first time offer a platform for Nepal to hold major climate polluters accountable for transgressing the rights of the mountains.

Law today divides the world into two categories: people, capable of having rights; and property, unable to possess rights. While “were not receiving” universally agreed upon definition of” legal person”, it is generally understood to mean an entity capable of bearing rights and duties. The problem that the rights-of-nature movement is now encountering is that this definition is predictably problematic when it comes to rivers, woods or nature more broadly.

In 2017, for example, the country high court in Uttarakhand, India, ruled that in order to protect the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, they should be considered legal persons with” all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person “. In a subsequent appeal to India’s supreme court, the nation government asked whether, if the rivers inundate, leading to the death of every human being, a lawsuit could be filed for damages. Could the Uttarakhand chief secretary of state, named by the court as one of several officials in loco parentis , be liable on the river’s behalf? In this case, the supreme court decided not.

Can we hold a river accountable for flooding, or a woodland for burning? Of course not. Yet existing legal systems force us to think of nature in terms of human concerns rather than what concerns nature. With the past three years the warmest in recorded history, and as we face what has been called the sixth great extinction, lawmakers and judges appear increasingly to agree that it is time to secure the highest form of legal protection for nature, through the recognition of rights.

To make progress in this area, “were supposed to” break free from legal strictures that were never intended to apply to nature, such as legal personhood, and establish a new structure that addresses what nature wants. Perhaps we can call this framework legal naturehood. A recent symposium at Tulane Law School, in New Orleans , brought together academics, lawyers and activists to develop a set of guidelines for recognising and enforcing legal rights of nature, known as the rights-of-nature principles.

These define the basic rights that nature requires, including rights to existence, regeneration and restoration. Further, they call for monetary damages derived from violations of these rights to be used solely to protect and restore nature to its pre-damaged country. In addition, they outline a means for nature to defend its own rights- like children unable to speak for themselves in court- by being the named” real party in interest” in administrative and court proceedings. The principles build on laws and judicial decisions that have begun to accumulate in this new region of law, laying the groundwork for what legal naturehood could look like.

As daily headlines tell us how we are tearing holes in the very fabric of life on globe, it is time to make a fundamental shift in how we govern ourselves towards nature- before, as Colombia’s supreme court wrote, it’s too late.

* Mari Margil is associate director of the US-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

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Republicans have so corrupted EPA, Americans can only save it in the voting booth | Dana Nuccitelli

Dana Nuccitelli: The Republican Party values polluter wealth over public health

Like Donald Trump and the rest of his government, Scott Pruitt has been caught up in so many scandals that it becomes impossible to focus on any single act of corruption. It’s difficult to focus on the damage Pruitt is doing to the environment and public health when apparently every day there’s a new scandal related to his illegal $43,000 phone booth, or utilize of Safe Water Drinking Act funds to give two staffers a total of $85,000 in creates( and lying about it ), or his sweetheart bargain on a condo rental from a lobbyist’s spouse( and lying about having met with that lobbyist ), or wasting taxpayer funds on first class air travel and military planes, and a nearly$ 3m per year security detail, and bulletproof automobile seat covers, and a bulletproof desk, and so on.

Lisa Friedman (@ LFFriedman)

Number of federal investigations conducted by Scott Pruitt has now risen to 11. Reps. Beyer& Lieu tell EPA inspector general will take up an inquiry into the $50 -a-night condo rental from the wife of an energy lobbyist.

April 27, 2018

But while Pruitt’s unprecedented corruption is staggering and would have resulted in his firing long ago in any other presidential administration, the damage Pruitt is doing to public and environmental health is a much greater scandal yet. As George W. Bush’s former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman wrote in the scathing explanation for why TIME included Pruitt as one of its 100 more influential people this year,

If his actions continue in the same direction, during Pruitt’s term at the EPA the environment will be threatened instead of protected, and human health endangered instead of preserved, all with no long-term benefit to the economy .

Scott Pruitt is terrible at his chore

Lately it’s been difficult to remember that EPA’s mission is supposed to be” to protect human health and the environment .” As Christine Todd Whitman alluded, Scott Pruitt has done everything in his power to instead endanger public and environmental health. He’s loosened a litany of regulations to allow more air and water and carbon pollution.

Last week, Pruitt enforced a new policy that stimulates it much more difficult for EPA to use science to create regulations that would protect public health. It’s a policy straight out of the tobacco playbook. In fact, junk science blogger Steve Milloy, who first advocated for this policy change while working for the tobacco industry before shifting to the fossil fuel industry’s payroll, called Pruitt’s announcement” one of my proudest accomplishments .” As Milloy told the New Yorker,

I do have a bias. I’m all for the coal industry, the fossil fuel industry. Wealth is what makes people happy , not pristine air, which you’ll never get .

Wealth over health – it’s a perfect summing-up of today’s GOP platform. Quite simply, considering scientific proof in crafting regulations does not favor the tobacco or fossil fuel industries, and so they have long sought to curtail its use. In Pruitt, polluters have finally determined an friend who’s willing to stifle science in order to maximize their profits.

And the day after he testified that EPA was ” not at present “~ ATAGEND planning to revoke California’s ability to set its own vehicle emissions criteria, EPA announced a plan to do exactly that. That will trigger a legal combat between EPA and California that won’t make automakers happy, but doubtless will please the fossil fuel industry. Fortunately, legal expert guess Pruitt’s plan is” legally indefensible .” That would be par for the course for Pruitt, who’s been so eager to roll back environmental protections that his plans often don’t hold up in court.

Republicans in Congress don’t care

Few Republican in power have called for Pruitt to resign. That’s because, as Oliver Milman wrote for the Guardian, despite Pruitt’s unprecedented level of corruption, they support his” deregulation agenda .” At last week’s congressional hearing, Rep. David McKinley( R-WV) summed up the GOP stance perfectly 😛 TAGEND

People in the fossil fuel industry could see the deterioration. There is some hope we are seeing the economy are beginning to rebound, thanks to you and the administration taking this fight on .

That’s a clear admission that under Pruitt, the EPA now values polluters’ profits over American lives, and congressional Republicans approve. They’re willing to prop up the fossil fuel industry by sacrificing public and environmental health for the sake of polluters’ short-term profits.

Trump reportedly refuses to fire Pruitt because the right-wing base supports him, although nobody else does- Pruitt’s dismal 29% approval rating is even lower than Trump’s. However, were Pruitt fired, he would be replaced by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, who every Senate Republican voted to confirm as his deputy earlier this month. Before becoming a coal lobbyist, Wheeler worked for the Senate’s resulting climate denier James Inhofe( R-OK) for 14 years. He’s from the same mould as Scott Pruitt, whose main qualification for leading the EPA was his history of suing the agency 14 hours, and for whom every Senate Republican save Susan Collins( R-ME) voted to corroborate.

Want to be healthy? Don’t referendum Republican

In short, while firing Pruitt would address one of the Trump administration’s many ethical catastrophes, it would not address the more important scandal of putting an individual who opposes environmental protection in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency. As Robert Redford set it,

Pruitt should be replaced by a principled leader who will do what the EPA was intended to do: protect America from men such as Pruitt .

But that’s not going to happen as long as Republicans are in charge, because GOP leaders value polluter profits over public and environmental health, as they proved by nominating and corroborating both Pruitt and Wheeler.

For Americans who disagree with those priorities, the only recourse is to make their predilections known in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

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Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

The breakthrough, spurred by the discovery of plastic-eating bugs at a Japanese dump, could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinkings bottles- by collision. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.

The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a trash dump in Japan. Scientists have now uncovered the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests presented they had unknowingly attained the molecule even better at breaking down the PET( polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles.” What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock ,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research.” It’s great and a real seeing .”

The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic- far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speed up the pace even further and become a viable large-scale process.

” What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic ,” told McGeehan.” It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment .”

About 1m plastic bottles are sold each minute around the globe and, with just 14% recycled, many end up in the oceans where they have polluted even the remotest proportions, harming marine life and potentially people who eat seafood.” It is unbelievably resistant to degradation. Some of those images are horrific ,” said McGeehan.” It is one of these wonder materials that has been made a little bit too well .”

However, currently even those bottles that are recycled can only be was transformed into opaque fibers for garb or carpets. The new enzyme indicates a route to recycle clear plastic bottles back into clear plastic bottles, which could slash the need to produce new plastic.

” You are always up against the fact that petroleum is inexpensive, so virgin PET is cheap ,” told McGeehan.” It is so easy for manufacturers to generate more of that stuff, rather than even to continue efforts to recycle. But I believe there is a public driver here: perception is changing so much that companies are starting to look at how they can properly recycle these .”

The new research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, began by determining the exact structure of the enzyme produced by the Japanese bug. The team used the Diamond Light Source, near Oxford, UK, an intense beam of X-rays that is 10 bn hours brighter than the sun and can reveal individual atoms.

The structure of the enzyme looked very similar to one evolved by many bacteria to break down cutin, a natural polymer used as a protective coating by plants. But when the team manipulated the enzyme to investigate this connection, they accidentally improved its ability to eat PET.

” It is a modest improvement- 20% better- but that is not the point ,” said McGeehan.” It’s incredible because it am saying that the enzyme is not yet optimised. It devotes us scope to use all the technology being implemented in other enzyme development for years and years and make a super-fast enzyme .”

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Therefore welcomed Australia’s plastic beach- video

Industrial enzymes are widely used in, for example, washing powders and biofuel production, They have been made to work up to 1,000 hours faster in a few years, the same timescale McGeehan envisages for the plastic-eating enzyme. A patent has been filed on the specific mutant enzyme by the Portsmouth researchers and those from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

One possible improvement being explored is to transplanting the mutant enzyme into an” extremophile bacteria” that they are able survive temperatures above 70 C, at which point PET changes from a glassy to a viscous state, stimulating it likely to degraded 10 -1 00 periods faster.

Earlier work had shown that some fungis can break down PET plastic, which attains up about 20% of global plastic production. But bacteria are far easier to harness for industrial uses.

Other types of plastic could be broken down by bacteria currently evolving in the environment, McGeehan said:” People are now searching vigorously for those working .” PET sinks in seawater but some scientists have conjectured that plastic-eating glitches might one day be sprayed on the huge plastic garbage patches in the oceans to clean them up.

” I suppose[ the new research] is very exciting work, indicating there is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society’s growing trash problem ,” told Oliver Jones, a chemist at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and not part of the research team.

” Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in big quantities by microorganisms ,” he said.” There is still a way to go before you could recycle large amounts of plastic with enzymes, and reducing the amount of plastic produced in the first place might, perhaps, be preferable.[ But] this is certainly a step in a positive direction .”

Prof Adisa Azapagic, at the University of Manchester in the UK, concurred the enzyme could be helpful but added:” A full life-cycle assessment would be needed to ensure the technology does not solve one environmental problem- trash- at the expense of others, including additional greenhouse gas emissions .”

* This article was revised on 17 April 2018 to make clear that PET becomes viscous above 70 C. Its melting point is above 250 C.

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‘Plastic is literally everywhere’: the epidemic attacking Australia’s oceans

It never breaks down and goes away, say scientists struggling to understand the impact of widespread pollution

While heading down the Brisbane river, Jim Hinds once pulled aboard a drunken half-naked man only seconds from” going down for the last period “.

But on this day, like most other days for Hinds, it’s back to the horribly predictable as he launches his barge into the Nerang river on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Instantly you see it.

Decaying plastic bags hanging from the branches of mangroves like dripping flesh; slicks of plastic water bottles and food containers waiting ashore for the liberation of the next rising tide; the misnamed “disposable” plastic and styrofoam drinking beakers; and other plastic paraphernalia in the different stages of disintegration.

” Everyone knows littering’s wrong- that’s not a secret. But it’s just nonsensical ,” tells Jim. His son Patrick, 21, has jumped ashore to pick up a vinyl football ball and about a dozen soft drinks bottles.

Hinds works for Queensland environmental conservation group Healthy Land and Water. His chore is to travel the coastal waterways and pick up rubbish- he’ll often have one of his two sons with him. His father also used to do the job.

In recent years, he has been grabbing about 10,000 items a month.” Consistently we’re getting plastic bottles- there are so many of them ,” Jim says.

Rubbish
Rubbish strewn on Chilli beach in Queensland. Photo: Tangaroa Blue Foundation

Hinds is working at the coalface of an epidemic of plastic pollution which, Guardian Australia has procured, is attacking Australia’s beaches, waterways and oceans, and the animals that live there.

From the most remote wilderness idylls to city coastlines, scientists and citizens have collected and documented millions of pieces of plastic debris.

Out at sea, expeditions skimming ocean waters, circumnavigating the continent, help find concentrations of plastics as high as 9,000 pieces for every square kilometre.

Sediment taken from the bottom of estuaries operating through busy Australian township contains tiny microplastic pieces and scientists find the same thing when they analyse samples of the ocean floor hundreds of kilometres offshore.

” Plastic is everywhere, all of the time ,” tells Dr Denise Hardesty, a principal research scientist at CSIRO.” It is in the air, the wind, the water and the clay and we find it in as many places as we seem .”

In late 2012 and 2013, Hardesty experienced a series of “gut-wrenching” research trips by floatplane to some of the most remote parts of Australia- the west coast of Tasmania and the Kimberley region in Western Australia.

” These places are pristine … quote, unquote ,” she says.” You stroll on to these beaches and no matter where you are there’s junk and it’s so confronting. Everywhere you go, you see it .”

Hardesty is helping to lead a global CSIRO project to understand how and why plastics are escaping the legitimate waste and recycling streams and where and how they travel. Her team’s tackling trips to so-called pristine beaches were part of a study published in late 2016 that had eventually counted litter at 175 coastal sites around the continent.

About three of every four items documented were plastic and the study concluded a key cause was, simply, littering.” In general, most of the junk is coming from us ,” Hardesty tells.

Tangaroa
Tangaroa Blue volunteers retrieving ghost nets at a beach in Mapoon, Queensland. Photograph: Tangaroa Blue Foundation

The scientific literature is awash with research documenting plastics of all sizes in every environment that’s been studied- from the deep ocean to both the Arctic and Antarctic.

Microplastic is the term used to describe any piece of plastic less than 5mm broad – it’s mostly the broken-apart remnants of straw, fishing nets and all manner of other plastic items, creating trillions of tiny pieces.

Dr Jennifer Lavers, a marine biologist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, has expended the past 15 years analyse the impacts of plastics.

In 2015 Lavers travelled to one of the most remote places on countries around the world– the uninhabited Henderson Island in the middle of the Pacific- to find this world heritage-listed coral atoll’s beaches strewn with an estimated 37 m pieces of plastic weighing about 17 tonnes– the equivalent of less than two seconds of global plastic production.

Just one washed-up angling net, barely a decade old, was disintegrating into trillions of plastic fibres that gave the surround sand a lucid green splash.

” You can’t prepare yourself for moments like that ,” she says.

Northern Australia is a known hotspot for these so-called ” ghost nets” that are left to haunt the lives of marine animals. One project, GhostNets Australia, has collected more than 13,000 nets since 2004. A study analysed 9,000 nets found in the north of Australia and estimated that they alone had probably caught between 4,866 and 14,600 turtles.

” Nowhere is safe, and plastic is literally everywhere ,” tells Lavers.” No locating and no species is likely to remain immune for any period of time. It is ubiquitous. We are literally drowning in this stuff .”

Plastic tsunami

Chilli beach is a two-hour drive north from the Aboriginal community of Lockhart River , north of Cairns in Kutini-Payamu national park.

Heidi Taylor, the founder of charity Tangaroa Blue, takes a squad of volunteers, school children and traditional proprietors up to the area each year to clear the beach. In 2013 the first year different groups did a full “clean sweep” of the 7km-long beach, they collected 5.5 tonnes of material.

” But for every one full item, there was probably 100 fragments that were scattered- like colourful confetti through the sand ,” Taylor tells.” Every hour you went to pick something up, it would disintegrate in your hands because it had been there for decades .”

In five years, different groups went from grabbing 5.5 tonnes a visit to only 2.3 tonnes. But in 2017, they assembled seven tonnes, probably thanks to hurricanes in the Pacific pushing older material on to Australia’s shores.

There is an Aboriginal community at Mapoon , north of Weipa on the west of Cape York. Their 14 km beach is another regular location for Tangaroa Blue’s work.

In recent years, an Indonesian government crackdown on illegal angling in the Arafura Sea has watched a drop in the number of ghost nets making the beach.

But in 2017, the group was shocked when they arrived to find 10,601 plastic beverage bottles from a 7km stretch- and most of them were the popular Indonesian brand Danone Aqua.

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Welcome to Australia’s plastic beach- video

” Plastic is one of the most useful materials we have ever made. Our problem is not with plastic as training materials but what we utilize it for. We construct so many things that don’t involve the longevity that plastic has- we don’t need a straw that we will use to sip one drinking that will stay in the environment eternally ,” Taylor says.

As well as running beach cleanup, Tangaroa Blue has coordinated data from cleanups run by other groups around Australia since 2004.

The data encompass 2,460 different sites with more than 878 tonnes of material removed over 14 years , and it presents about three-quarters of what is collected is plastic. For comparison, that’s about the same weight as 535 Holden utes. The database has just recorded its 10 millionth piece of debris.

So, while the evidence for the ubiquity of plastics is clear, Lavers tells much less is known about the impact of this tsunami of plastics on the habitats and species that are taking it in.” When it comes to wildlife our knowledge is constrained to individual level impacts ,” she says.

Even though reports of single whales with stomachs filled with plastic bags and ropes are unbelievably graphic and distressing, Lavers says” the scientific question becomes … so what ?”

Understanding the impact of the ingestion of plastics on whole animal populations and habitats is now a major scientific challenge.” Is plastic either now, or likely to be, a driver of population decline for any devoted species ,” she asks.

” The answer to that question is almost invariably’ we don’t know .’ It isn’t that the plastic doesn’t have the capacity to do that, but it is very difficult to document .”

She says while it’s easier to observe the impact of plastic on a species in a laboratory environment, it is much more difficult to tease apart its impact in the real world when species are already being hit by other impacts such as climate change, coastal developments, disease or overfishing.” We are in a big data gap ,” she says.

In 2013 Lavers published a journal paper looking at Australian flesh-footed shearwater birds. She found they were likely more contaminated by plastic than any other known marine vertebrate studied anywhere else in the world.

But Lavers also hypothesised the plastic ingestion could be cutting the survival rates of chicks by about 11% annually.

” The smaller the piece of plastic, the more species devour it. Everything that’s tiny is at the base of the food web, so it’s not just albatross and sperm whales, you literally have microplastics and nanoplastics being feed by sea cucumbers, corals, clams and muscles, zooplankton and krill- right at the very base of the food web. You have all levels of the food web infiltrated. And where the plastics run, the chemicals follow .”

A
A dissected flesh-footed shearwater bird taken from Lord Howe Island in 2017, with plastic pieces from its belly arranged beside it. Photograph: Jennifer Lavers

According to Lavers, research has found that plastics act as a vehicle to transport toxins and metals such as leading, cadmium and arsenic into the tissues of animals.

Her own studies, and those of other scientists, have shown that such metals can be transferred from the plastics feed by animals into their tissues. Toxic chemicals have also been found to leaching into the tissues of animals via the plastics they have eaten.

” We should not simply wait for or demand more data before we can make a decision ,” she tells.” We should default to the likely outcome. If danger is possible, we should heed the warning and do something to prevent it .”

Policy answer

Campaigners have had some success in persuading governments to introduce receptacle deposit schemes where plastics can be recycled for money. South Australians have been returning plastics and other items since 1977.

In early 2013, the liquor giants Coca-Cola Amatil, Lion Nathan and Schweppes successfully opposed the Northern Territory’s then-new container deposit strategy in the courts. The government changed the rules but reintroduced the strategy, which has been running since August 2013.

The New South Wales scheme has been running since December 2017, while the Australian Capital Territory’s scheme is due to start at the end of June 2018. Queensland tells its scheme will be published in November 2018 and in Western Australia, a program will start in 2019. Tasmania and Victoria have no concrete plans.

These schemes do work. A CSIRO analyze in Australia and the US looked at the numbers of drinks receptacles found in coastal areas where receptacle deposit laws were in place. The analyze found that by financially incentivising members of the public to recycle, there were about 40% fewer plastic drinkings receptacles recorded in litter surveys.

Plastic
Plastic draping plants in the Torres Strait. Photo: Tangaroa Blue Foundation

Bans on single-use plastic bags will roll out this year in Victoria, WA and Queensland, joining existing prohibits in NT, SA, the ACT and Tasmania.

There is a lot of evidence that these schemes have a significant impact on litter ,” Hardesty says.” Cash for receptacles works ,” she tells.” But what I keep coming back to is the thought that all the stuff we find out there was once in a person’s hand. That means you can make a change .”

Lavers agrees that the bans are welcome but tells governments have been far too slow to introduce schemes that have been shown to work.

” If we want change and we want the quantity of plastics going into the ocean to go down, then the rate of change in our society needs to outstrip the rate of plastics going into the ocean ,” she tells.” And right now we are not even close .”

While the new legislation is likely to slow down the wave of plastic pollution hitting Australia’s coastal waters, there’s little that could be done about the mountains of plastic that’s already out there.” I don’t think going out there and cleaning it all up is a super viable proposition ,” she says.

Both Lavers and Hardesty think what’s needed is a societal switching in how communities and industries use and recycle plastics.

” Plastic never actually go forth … where is this magical mystic place we call’ away ‘,” asks Lavers.” We know plastics take anywhere between 100 and 10,000 years to break up … and I don’t use the term’ break down ‘. It never breaks down and goes away .”

Back on the Nerang river and the collect bin on Jim Hinds’s boat is full with plastic strips, balls, suitcases, bottles and food wrappers. He is feeling philosophical but not hopeless.

” I think people are careless ,” he tells.” I don’t think there are a lot of scoundrels.

” I always hope that it’s generational- that the next generation will be better than ours. I guess that’s the great hope .”

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Saving the albatross: ‘The war is against plastic and they are casualties on the frontline’

Following his shocking photographs of dead albatross chicks and the diet of plastic that killed them, Chris Jordans new movie is a call to action to repair our broken relationship with planet Earth

We are living in a plastic age and the solutions may seem glaringly obvious, so why aren’t all 7.6 billion of us already doing things differently? Shocking statistics don’t insure effective change. So what’s the alternative? American photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan believes the focus should be on forcing people to have a stronger emotional engagement with the problems plastic causes. His famous photographs of dead albatross chicks and the colourful plastic they have ingested serve as a blunt reminder that the planet is in a state of emergency.

While constructing his feature-length cinema Albatross, Jordan considered Picasso’s approach:” The role of the artist is to respect you, help you connect more profoundly, and then leave it up to you to decide how to behave .”

Most nature documentaries dedicate their final few minutes to hopeful solutions, but Jordan avoids this. He simply glistens a light on the crisis facing the huge colonies of Laysan albatrosses on the remote Pacific island of Midway.” There’s something so archetypal about these legendary birds and assuring bright colours of ocean plastic against dead sterility is a powerful symbol for our human culture right now. We’re in a state of emotional bankruptcy ,” says Jordan.

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Jordan inspects the plastic ingested by a chick in Albatross. Photo: Chris Jordan

” This material lasts eternally, yet we throw it away after a single employ. But it’s not as simple as inspiring individuals to make small changes. We have to acknowledge that individuals cannot make a difference ,” Jordan says.” When 100 million people decide to do something differently, THAT is when real change happens .”

Jordan first visited Midway in September 2009, when the albatrosses were soaring above the waves, far out to sea- all he saw for two weeks were tens of thousands of dead chicks.” It was devastating and depressing and I questioned how to get to a place of hope from there .” When he acknowledged that this eerily silent scene was part of a much bigger narrative, he resolved to return to Midway and was greeted by” a deafening cacophony of a million animals singing and dancing all day and all night “.

Jordan is fascinated with these majestic birds. With no natural predators on Midway, Laysan albatrosses demonstrate no fear of humans, so his footage offer an authentic bird’s-eye opinion:” Albatrosses are so mysterious because they haven’t been on our radar. They live in places humen simply don’t go- yet when we appear closely, they are unbelievably magnificent ,” he says.

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‘ It’s unbelievable what these birds can fit in their esophagus’ … Photograph: Chris Jordan

Albatross is slow-paced, poignant and poetic. Lying somewhere between arthouse cinema and narrative documentary, it was eight years in the making; Jordan expended 94 days on Midway over the course of eight visits. His lens lingers on moments of natural beauty, tuning into their behaviour and losing way of day. Midway is a tiny outpost in the middle of the world’s largest ocean, 2,000 miles from the nearest continent and halfway between North America and Asia.” Midway’s name also describes the place that humanity sees itself, midway to its own extermination. But at the halfway phase, everything can change- at half-time, a football coach-and-four tells his team that the game is not over yet .”

Jordan muses that albatrosses- with a brain the size of a walnut- experience the passageway of time more slowly than we do. He films their bonding ritual in slow motion, focusing on the dedication between males and females. These bonds last a lifetime, sometimes more than 60 years. Wisdom, the world’s oldest tagged bird, is 67 and still successfully breeding: an amazing accomplishment, considering that so many chicks succumb of dehydration and malnourishment, overheating or storm exposure.

” They are loving, sensitive and graceful- when you look at any creature this closely, it becomes amazing ,” tells Jordan, who believes we would fall in love with any animal if we only stopped to look at them with a similar childlike sense of awe. After five months, the fluffball chicks develop into comic, goofy-footed fledglings ready to take flight and begin their first 10,000 mile-long feeding craze over the open ocean. But some fail to take to the skies and the resulting demises are often slow and painful.

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Jordan focuses on the bonds that last a lifetime … a scene from Albatross.
Photograph: Chris Jordan

The odds are clearly stacked against the birds but it’s difficult to assess the exact impacts of such widespread plastic pollution. According to Beth Flint, a biologist at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the biggest threats to Midway’s albatrosses are rising sea levels, increased cyclones and temperature changes. Yet plastic is found in every single albatross bolus or regurgitated mass of squid noses that chicks render. Scientists working across the north-western Hawaiian islands also found that more than 97% of dead Laysan albatross chicks- and more than 89% dead adult birds- contained plastic in their stomachs, so high incidence is undeniable.

Although his cinema highlightings the ubiquity of plastic, Jordan insists Albatross isn’t strictly about plastic pollution; it’s about our broken relationship with planet Ground.” This is a grief ritual. My intent is to help viewers reconnect on a universal level with living beings ,” tells Jordan, whose mother succumbed of pancreatic cancer while he was making the cinema.” Grief happens when we are losing love and it liberates us to feel it fully and therefore we can arrive home back to our core state of wisdom. Here , nothing stands in our style .”

Twelve years ago, ex-BBC wildlife camerawoman Rebecca Hosking filmed the pioneering Message in the Waves, a conservation documentary about surfers and scientists trying to protect Hawaii’s wildlife. In 2007, she campaigned to build Modbury in Devon the UK’s first ever plastic bag-free town after she returned from filming these same albatrosses. The anti-plastics movement has made progress since then but Hosking says there is still a long way to go:” Some might argue that traditional natural history movies constructed since the 1970 s haven’t worked- they haven’t triggered a revolution or dramatic change. Perhaps we need something more emotive to shock us into action .”

Hosking recollects strolling through the albatross colonies, assuring dead chicks on the ground:” Midway was a US naval air station and now it feels like a postwar battlefield, with dead albatrosses juxtaposed against old military houses. Now, the war is against plastic and albatrosses are the casualties on the frontline .”

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‘Plastic, plastic, plastic’: British diver films sea of rubbish off Bali

Video posted on YouTube shows water densely strewn with food wrappers, cups and sachets as tropical fish dart in and out

A British diver has captured shocking images of himself swimming through a sea of plastic rubbish off the coast of the Indonesian tourist resort of Bali.

A short video posted by diver Rich Horner on his social media account and on YouTube shows the water densely strewn with plastic garbage and yellowing food wrappers, the occasional tropical fish darting through the deluge.

The footage was shot at a dive site called Manta Point, a clean station for the large rays on the island of Nusa Penida, about 20 km from the popular Indonesian holiday island of Bali.

In a Facebook post on 3 March Horner writes how the ocean currents had carried in a” lovely gift” of jellyfish and plankton, and also knolls and knolls of plastic.

” Plastic purses, plastic bottles, plastic cups, plastic sheets, plastic buckets, plastic sachets, plastic straws, plastic baskets, plastic bags, more plastic bags, plastic, plastic ,” he says,” So much plastic !”

The video proves Horner swimming through the mess for several minutes and also how the waste coagulated on the surface, mixing in with some organic matter to kind a slick of floating rubbish.

Manta Point is regularly frequented by numerous manta rays that visit the site to get cleaned of parasites by smaller fish, but the video proves just one lone manta in the background.

” Surprise, amaze, there weren’t many mantas there at the clean station today …” notes Horner,” They mostly decided not to bother .”

Rubbish has been inundating Bali for several months now, washing over principally from the neighbouring island of Java during the annual rainy, or “trash” season.

The plastic deluge also ends up in unsightly mounds on Bali’s beaches, frightening tourists and environmentalists alike.

Indonesia renders about 130,000 tons of plastic and solid garbage every day, with about half of that reaching landfill sites, according to the Bali-based, Rivers, Oceans, Lakes and Ecology( ROLE) Foundation.

The rest is either illegally burned or dumped in Indonesia’s rivers and oceans.

With poor government planning and low levels of awareness about garbage and recycling, Indonesia is now the second-largest plastic polluter in the world after China.

Several weeks ago thousands across Bali took part in a mass clean up, in attempt to rid the island’s beaches, rivers and jungles of trash, and raise awareness about the harmful impacts of junk.

Rich Horner said that while divers regularly assure” a few clouds of plastic” in the rainy season, the slick he identified is the worst yet.

Divers returned to the site the next day, he reports, by which time the slick had already moved on,” continuing on its journey, off into the Indian Ocean “.

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Blue-sky thinking: how China’s crackdown on pollution is paying off

Clear skies above Beijing again but some anxiety the problem is just being pushed elsewhere

The photographs on display at Wu Di’s Beijing studio imagine China and Beijing at their dystopian worst.

Naked, expectant moms stare out from the walls, their bellies uncovered but their faces hidden behind green gas masks.

Worshippers prostrate themselves around the Ming dynasty Temple of Heaven, desperately petitioning the smog-choked skies for a breath of fresh air.

But while the interior of Wu’s atelier offers a desolate panorama of China’s pollution crisis, outside, a different, brighter side to the country is, for once, on indicate.

Beijing’s skies, so often noxious and smoggy, are a perfect and mystifying cerulean blue.

” It’s 26 today ,” said Wu, a visual artist and documentary photographer, checking his smartphone’s pollution app to confirm the uncommonly low levels of PM2. 5, an airborne particulate links between lung cancer, asthma and heart disease.

” In the past, we made fund first and could only talk about the environment subsequently. But it’s clear the government has changed its mind ,” he said.” We can see everything is starting to move in the right direction .”

During the creation of the nightmarish airpocalypses portrayed in Wu’s artwork, pollution levels might have been 20 or even 30 times higher.” Beijing was like a giant airport smoking room that day. It was an epic haze ,” he recalled, pointing to an image staged in October 2013 in which a girl appears to inhale oxygen through a tube connected to two heart-shaped balloons.

Times, though, appear to be changing.

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Wu says he became an artist after he saw foreign athletes wearing facemasks at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Photo: Tom Phillips for the Guardian

Traditionally, wintertime is Beijing’s smoggiest season, as coal burning ramps up to keep millions of residents warm. But the skies over China’s capital have been almost inconceivably clear of late, thanks partly to a government crackdown on the use of the fossil fuel.

Beijing enjoyed a record 226 days of “good” air quality last year and suffered 23 heavily polluted days, compared with 58 in 2013, state media announced last month. The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, greeted the recovery with the incredulous headline:” How did Beijing become one of China’s top cities for air quality ?”

Hu Xijin, the editor of the party-controlled Global Times, tweeted alongside a photograph of Beijing’s azure-framed CCTV headquarters:” Isn’t it good to have a ruling party that can honour its promise ?”

Lauri Myllyvirta, a Greenpeace campaigner, said China’s leaders could rightly claim credit for attaining Beijing blue again, temporarily at least, even if favourable weather conditions had played a major role in the exceptionally good spell.

Since last year, thousands of environmental inspectors have fanned out across the industrial belt around the capital as part of an aggressive clampdown on coal employ. Heavily polluting vehicles, mills and construction sites have also been targeted.” There is clear evidence the measures ran ,” said Myllyvirta, who said overall PM2. 5 levels in Beijing had fallen by 40% from their peak in 2012 -2 013.

But he voiced a note of caution. Median PM2. 5 levels in Beijing remained 65% above the national standard and more than five times World Health Organization guidelines last year. A recent bout of severe smog highlighted the fight ahead.

There are also fears that the crackdown around Beijing is forcing polluting industries to migrate south to regions such as the Yangtze river delta around Shanghai, where smog levels are rising.” The’ war on pollution’ is far from over … few people harbour illusions ,” Myllyvirta said.” But there is also no reason for cynicism as there’s clear evidence the measures ran .”

Wu, 41, abandoned his job as an executive to become an environmentally engaged artist a decade ago, shocked into a career change by images of foreign athletes wearing facemasks at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Ten years on, and with the skies over his adoptive home starting to clear, he said he is glad his artwork and photographs, some of which have featured in Greenpeace anti-pollution campaigns, have played a role in increasing public awareness.

” I want to produce work that they are able pushing society and the administration has stimulate the positive developments ….[ and] the most effective way to push the administration has make changes is through public opinion ,” he said.” It demonstrates my work isn’t a waste of time … It shows the power of art .”

Wu worries, however, that change may have come too fast. He was among those left shivering when environmental inspectors began destroying coal-fired heaters late last year as part of a push to switch to natural gas or electric heating systems.” It’s only four degrees in here … I is also difficult to ran ,” he complained, touring his studio in a thick brown coat.

” I agree with the government that we need lucid waters and lush mountains but … the measures should be more gentle and more human. I can cope with the low temperature, but what about the elderly? What about children ?”

In one nearby region, primary school students reportedly suffered frostbite and were forced to study outdoors in the sunshine after their radiators stopped running.

Wu is also concerned about the environmental damage still being inflicted on less visible regions, where pollution crises have not received the same level of media attention as Beijing’s toxic skies. For one installation, he asked 12 volunteer “disciples” to recreate one of Leonardo da Vinci’s frescos, The Last Supper , in a derelict mill.” The message is that because of pollution, mankind’s last supper could come at any time because of pollution .”

Overall, however, Wu believes China is on the right way.” We should admit the government is trying to do the right thing and we need to recognise that it takes time … to deal with environmental issues ,” he said.

If China’s war on smog robbed him of his principal inspiration, he is unperturbed.” There’s no lack of problems to inspire artists in China ,” he joked.” Some western artists are jealous of that .”

Additional reporting by Wang Xueying

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Vietnam jails activist for 14 years for livestreaming pollution march

Hoang Duc Binh had posted footage on Facebook of fishermen protesting following a huge chemical spill from a steel plant

Ozone layer not recovering over populated areas, scientists warn

While the hole over Antarctica has been closing, the protective ozone is thinning at the lower latitudes, where the sunlight is stronger and billions of people live