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Friday Finds: Bye, Bye Great Barrier Reef

UN top scientist predicts coral reefs' demise by end of century
Coral reefs, often called the “rain forests of the oceans” due to their rich biodiversity, have been around for millions of years, but these ecosystems may be experiencing their last century, reports The Independent. Climate change and ocean acidification are the main factors causing coral reefs’ demise, says University of Sydney professor Peter Sale, who studied Australia’s Great Barrier Reef for 20 years. And though humans are no strangers to wiping out species, Sale points out that this will be the first time that we’ve actually eliminated an entire ecosystem, one that is home to 25 percent of the ocean’s marine life. In addition, coral reefs support people, about 275 million in fact, who depend on reef ecosystems for food and livelihood. Even more alarming than losing these beautiful, bio diverse hotspots is the fact that reef disappearance tends to precede wider mass extinctions. Says Sale, "People have been talking about current biodiversity loss as the Holocene mass extinction, meaning that the losses of species that are occurring now are in every way equivalent to the mass extinctions of the past. I think there is every possibility that is what we are seeing."

Report finds BP’s cheapness, greed contributed to oil spill
There are a lot of consequences of being cheap: alienating friends, missing out on amazing experiences, wasting time pilfering through shoddy clothes in bargain bins. But recently, a 16-month investigation found that frugality has a dark side with the conclusion that BP’s efforts to limit costs on its deepwater well in the Gulf of Mexico contributed to a blowout that killed 11 people and tipped off the largest oil spill in U.S. history, reports the Washington Post. The report from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement lists “dozens of mistakes, misapprehensions, risky decisions and failures of communication” that led to the BP disaster. In other words, BP put profits before safety. In a statement released on Wednesday, BP agreed with the report’s conclusions, adding that “the Deepwater Horizon accident was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple parties, including Transocean and Halliburton,” At least BP is generous in sharing the blame. 

Feds downplayed air pollution health threats from Ground Zero
New documents show that federal officials downplayed health threats at Ground Zero, “misrepresenting or concealing information that ultimately might have protected thousands of people from the contaminated air at ground zero,” reports ProPublica. In the days following September 11, 2001, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials, with significant prodding from the White House, told New Yorkers that it was safe to go back to work even before they had completed tests on air quality. Even worse, once pollutants like asbestos and dioxin were found at potentially harmful levels, both agencies downplayed the degree of contamination found. Unfortunately, it’s not just adults that were affected by the toxic dust. The Atlantic reports that more than 25,000 kids inhaled toxic substances on 9/11. Many of them still suffer from health problems like asthma, chronic bronchitis and acid reflux.

Climate change may give you diarrhea
Increased ocean temperatures are causing greater numbers of a bacteria that may give you food poisoning, serious stomach inflammation and blood disease, reports the U.K.’s Daily Mail. Research produced by a collaboration of several European marine institutes found that warmer ocean waters are causing greater numbers of the Vibrio genus of bacteria, which is mostly found in salt water but may be found in freshwater sources. Says the paper’s authors, "Millions of euros in health costs may result from human consumption of contaminated seafood, ingestion of waterborne pathogens, and, to a lesser degree, though direct occupational or recreational exposure to marine disease. Climatic conditions are playing an increasingly important role in the transmission of these diseases."

Mainstream business mag attacks Monsanto’s superweeds
A biotech company like Monsanto probably does little more than bat its genetically modified eye when media outlets like The New York Times report on herbicide-resistant superweeds, which are spawned from the use of the company’s herbicide, RoundUp. But a recent story in Bloomberg Business Week called “Attack of the Superweed” is sure to catch the company’s attention, reports Grist. Readers of “liberal media” outlets and Earthjustice fans are probably already familiar with the many pitfalls of Monsanto’s flagship product, like increased herbicide use, a surge in herbicide-resistant weeds, and the contamination of organic and conventional crops, but the fact that a business press article is reporting on the problem speaks volumes about the direness of the situation. The article even quotes Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at the Organic Center, who says that using older, stronger chemicals to kill the weeds is “akin to putting gasoline on a fire to put it out. It’s a very high-risk gamble for the U.S. biotechnology and pesticide industry to go down this road.” Check out our GMO feature to hear more from Benbrook and Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff about herbicide-resistant plants. And by the way, Bloomberg, thanks for “borrowing” our headline!

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.