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Bolivia’s Wildfires Have Destroyed 5 Million Acres of Unique Forest and Grassland

Wildfires in Bolivia have destroyed nearly five million acres of forest and grassland this year as of August.



Bolivia Wildfires
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(TMU) — Wildfires in Bolivia have destroyed nearly five million acres (two million hectares) of forest and grassland as of August, including in some of the most environmentally sensitive regions of the South American nation, according to officials.

The hardest-hit region has been the Chiquitanía, semi-dry forest lands in the country’s central plains that lies between the Amazon and the Gran Chaco lowland.

The BBC reports that scientists at the College of Biologists in La Paz say it will take 300 years for the local ecosystem and its innumerable native species to regenerate.

Cinthia Asin, the minister of environment for the eastern region of Santa Cruz, has urged President Evo Morales to declare a national disaster to step up firefighting efforts and better channel international aid, as reported by by AFP. But according to an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies document, because the government has “requested assistance” and has made fighting the fires a “current priority,” “an emergency declaration was not issued.”

“Over 2 million hectares have burned in the department of Santa Cruz, we are going almost a month (with the problem) and the country is not yet declared a national disaster,” Asin said.

Asin added that the blazes have destroyed nearly 2.25 million acres or 900,000 hectares of protected areas, especially in the Otuquis and San Matias areas of eastern Bolivia which are among the Andean nation’s richest in diverse flora and fauna. The number is backed in a recent report by conservationist group Friends of Nature Foundation – Bolivia (FAN-BO).

The government has also come under international pressure to declare extraordinary measures to halt the raging fires, which began in May and intensified in August as the Amazon rainforest in neighboring Brazil also burned.

In July, President Morales issued a decree authorizing an increase in controlled burns in the region. While farmers had previously been allowed to burn up to 12 acres (five hectares), they were allowed under the new authorization to burn up to 50 acres (20 hectares). Since then, the fires have allegedly increased, Mongabay reports. The government, however, has blamed high winds and arid conditions. 

Like in Brazil, the intentional burning of forest land in Bolivia is meant to expand the frontier demarcated for the production of cattle and agricultural products, benefitting transnational agribusiness and livestock monopolies as well as some indigenous small farmers from the western highlands. Among the government’s goals behind the July decree was to expand production and infrastructure to increase beef exports to China.

At the time, Morales said:

“We have the duty and mission to boost Bolivia’s economic growth, not only based on non-renewable natural resources but also based on agriculture.”

Pablo Solón, a former Bolivian ambassador to the U.N. under the Morales administration, has squarely placed the blame for the fires on the government, explaining:

“What is happening is not an accident. Five years ago, the vice president challenged agribusinesses to expand the agricultural frontier by one million hectares per year … Now it has reached that figure, not of productive agricultural land but of land devastated by the flames.”

Some officials are blaming shady forces for deliberately keeping the fires burning. Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta said:

“We are certain that the fire is being deliberately provoked: on the one hand by saboteurs, and on the other hand, by farmers and landowners who are starting fire and fail to control them … this is a macabre game, we put out the fire and there are people behind us who are starting it again, so we will not be able to control the fire.”

As a result of the fires, in late August Morales declared “any sale or purchase of lands affected by the fires is now banned,” after a meeting with the Emergency Cabinet, according to TeleSUR.

Morales explained:

“I want to tell you that I have decided to declare an ‘ecological pause’, which means that in areas affected by the fires, land sales are prohibited; on top of that, we’re planning how to prepare for the post-fire era, because we are going to overcome this.”

Over the past weekend, high temperatures and raging winds continued to stoke the historic fires.

On Monday, Amnesty International sent an open letter to President Morales calling on him to rescind the July decree.

María José Veramendi Villa, South America researcher for Amnesty International, said:

“Brazil is not the only country suffering from the terrible forest fires in the Amazon … Instead of making contradictory and baseless public declarations, Bolivian authorities must scientifically and independently investigate the origin of this serious crisis.”

The fire has proven to be a strong challenge to the legitimacy of Morales, whose political party Movement for Socialism–Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (MAS in Spanish) originally had a strongly pro-ecological or “ecosocialist” orientation before softening its stance over the years toward the country’s large agro-industrial sector, including farmers in Santa Cruz.

Morales, who is currently running for a fourth consecutive term, faces a new vote on October 20.

Long-time opponents of Morales’ left-wing government, including a number of Western-backed NGOs and oppositionists, have seized on the fires to push to have him removed from power in the coming election, the Grayzone reports.

Faced with the anger of local opponents and communities for his perceived blame in pushing the development—and subsequent burning—of the forests, he has redoubled his efforts to combat the blaze. Last month, the president hit the brakes on his election campaign to personally fight the fires.

Morales also agreed to hire the famous firefighting U.S. supertanker plane to drop water on the fires and has also accepted help from Russia, who has sent its own large plane to put out the fires from the sky. Morales previously rented a Boeing 747 capable of carrying up to 150,000 liters of water in late August in an attempt to battle the fires.

Throughout the week, Morales has issued a series of tweets stressing how the fires are painful for the Bolivian nation, thanking international aid and the armed forces for their efforts in helping to put out the blazes.

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons |

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Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral



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A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.

Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.

It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.

The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.

Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.

While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.

“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”

“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.

It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.

“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.

The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.

“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.

The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.

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Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History



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For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.

Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.

However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.

Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.

The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.

To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.

The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.

“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”

“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”

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South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash



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What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?

It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.

The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.

The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.

“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”

The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.

Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.

Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.

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