Alaska’s Permafrost, Brazil Mining and Shrinking National Monuments

Featuring this week’s news roundup is the current buzz revolving around U.S. interior secretary’s decision on the shrinking or elimination of national monuments, Brazil’s most recent low blow on the Amazon rainforest and the current state of Alaska’s permafrost.

Alaska’s Permafrost is Thawing

Around 20% of land in the Northern Hemisphere consists of permafrost, a layer of soil ranging from 160 to 490 feet in thickness that has remained below 32ºF (0ºC) for at least more than two years (Clark, D., 2012). Records have shown that the rise in temperature has been twice as fast in the Arctic in comparison to other parts of the world. The sub-Arctic region of Alaska has apparently been no exception (Fountain, H., 2017). In 2016 for instance, Alaskans witnessed a substantial rise in temperature that reached 6.7ºF above average temperatures (Zukowski, D., 2016); especially when it came to the northernmost city of Barrow plus a few other locations (The Alaska Climate Research Center, 2016). 

Now, the thawing of this region’s permafrost threatens not only sea ice, wildlife and habitats; but also coastal native villages which lay at the mercy of rising sea levels (Fountain, H., 2017). Nonetheless, according to scientists, the most worrying aspect of this complex situation is that of the high amount of carbon that is released every time permafrost melts; which is able to trigger worldwide consequences.

It is believed that permafrost around the globe holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does at present moment (Fountain, H., 2017) and so the releasing of this greenhouse gas holds the power to certainly spur a noticeable increase in global temperatures. Another element to take into account are the large reservoirs of methane that are also retained within the permafrost. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas known to be approximately 20 times more effective than carbon when it comes to trapping heat in our planet’s atmosphere.   

Studies have already shown that both the freshwater chemistry and hydrology of the Yukon River have changed over the past years due to melting permafrost; rising its levels of calcium, magnesium and sulfates. Researcher at the Interior Department’s Alaska Climate Center in Anchorage, Ryan Toohey, added that these alterations could eventually change the chemistry of the Arctic Ocean too; where much of the water flowing from the Yukon River ends up after having been pushed by the Bering Sea. This could then lead to changes in the planet’s currents and weather patterns (Clark, D.). 

Brazil Opens Vast Amazons Reserve to Mining

From a lush natural reserve to a mining drain hole. Brazilian president, Michel Temer, has recently replaced protected region Renca (Natural Reserve of Copper and Associates) with a mining go zone; while leaving nine indigenous areas that are located within it allegedly protected and, consequently, allegedly out of harm’s way. The reasons behind the government’s decision of handing in this wonderful and massive Amazonian area, whose size surpasses that of Denmark, to mining companies is that of supposedly improving the country’s wealth, employment and income. Senator Randolfe Rodrigues on the other hand, described this move as “the biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years” (BBC News, 2017).

The process behind mining can be summarized by means of its four main steps; consisting of mineral exploration, mine construction, exploitation and mineral processing, plus mine closure. Each and every single one of these steps poses serious environmental and health risks that are particularly exacerbated when it comes to non-cautious projects lead by irresponsible corporations. These risks include, but are not limited to soil erosion, contamination and reduction of surface and groundwater and air pollution that may affect the heart and lungs of nearby inhabitants (Global Justice Clinic, 2016). 

Brazil’s neighboring country Peru presents a perfect example for understanding the negative implications of mining. Being one that has chosen to build an economy surrounding the extraction of oil, minerals and natural gas; it has at the same time become a stage for continuous social conflict, with indigenous and rural area dwellers being the most affected. Documentary When Two Worlds Collide illustrates the issue perfectly, showing the devastating spillover effects of such activity and the intricacies that often surround these controversial mega projects.

Interior Secretary Proposes Shrinking Four National Monuments

After visiting eight of the twenty seven national monuments in question as well as meeting with business leaders, local officials and members of Native American tribes U.S. interior secretary, Mr. Zinke, has already handed in a draft proposal for the selected 27 national monuments that were to be reviewed for making decisions regarding their reduction or elimination (Turkewitz, J. & Friedman, L.). According to individuals who are acquainted with the plans, one of the monuments that might go through very noticeable changes is Bear Ears; which may be reduced from 1.35 million acres to 160,000. A massive reduction never seen over the course of history. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and two others appear to also be under the Trump administration’s watch (Turkewitz, J. & Friedman, L.). Details revolving around Mr. Zinke’s proposal however are not being disclosed to the public and, judging by the secrecy with which the Trump administration has been managing national environmental matters lately, these will probably not be outspoken until the government has reached a final decision.

Conclusion

Although at first glance it seems as if there is nothing we can do to help solve these problems, there are actually some immediate and powerful actions we can employ as citizens of this country and as citizens of the world. For example, let’s support renewable energies whether we do it by buying relevant products, by simply sharing innovative technology or by demanding accessible renewable energy products to businesses. This is one of the most effective ways to begin driving our society and economy towards sustainability; even if the central government is reluctant about this. Let’s limit or entirely stop purchasing products that heavily rely on mining. Computers, tablets and cellphones for instance are a few of the products which largely depend on mining and whose purchasing can be limited. Repair your gadgets as much as possible, rather than buying a new one. When purchasing a new device becomes extremely necessary make sure to give away your old device to someone who can either reuse or recycle its parts. Always ask yourself if it is really necessary to buy that next product which contains iron, copper, gold or platinum. Lastly, just like Mohandas K. Gandhi said: “be the change you want to see in the world”. The only thing we really have control of is of our own thoughts, words and actions; and this will always be enough to meaningfully change the whole world.    

Other important stories

Chile Rejects Iron Mine to Protect Penguins http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-41007462

China Just Exceeded its 2020 Target for Solar Installations https://futurism.com/china-just-exceeded-its-2020-target-for-solar-installations/

Trump and Pruitt Making America Polluted Again https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/opinion/trump-pruitt-polluted-climate-.html

Sources

BBC News “Brazil Opens a Vast Amazon Reserve to Mining” (2017) Latin America and the Caribbean. BBC News, 24 August 2017. Web. 27 August 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-41033228 

Buzzsumo.com “Environment” (2017) Most shared. Buzzsumo, 27 August 2017. Web. 27 August 2017. https://app.buzzsumo.com/research/most-shared?type=articles&result_type=total&num_days=7&general_article&infographic&video&guest_post&giveaway&interview&q=environment&page=1

Clark, D. “What is Permafrost and How does it Relate to Climate Change?” (2012) Climate Change. The Guardian, 5 March 2012. Web. 27 August 2017.  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/mar/05/permafrost-climate-carbon-emissions

Fountain, H. “Alaska’s Permafrost is Thawing” (2017) Climate. The New York Times, 23 August 2017. Web. 27 August 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/23/climate/alaska-permafrost-thawing.html

Global Justice Clinic “Human Rights Impact of Gold Mining in Haiti” (2016) NYU School of Law. http://chrgj.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/haiti_3.pdf

Hill, D. “What is Peru’s Biggest Environmental Conflict Right Now?” (2015) Environment. The Guardian, 8 June 2015. Web. 27 August 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/andes-to-the-amazon/2015/jun/08/tia-maria-perus-biggest-environmental-conflict-right-now

Sarmiento Barletti, J.P. “When Two Worlds Collide: Peruvian Protest Documentary Shows Flipside of Economic Growth” (2016) Culture & Arts. The Conversation, 14 September 2016. Web. 27 August 2017. http://theconversation.com/when-two-worlds-collide-peruvian-protest-documentary-shows-flipside-of-economic-growth-64986

The Alaska Climate Research Center “Temperature Changes in Alaska” (2016) Climate trends. The Alaska Climate Research Center. 2016. Web. 27 August 2017. http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/ClimTrends/Change/TempChange.html

Turkewitz, J. & Friedman, L. “Interior Secretary Proposes Shrinking Four National Monuments” (2017) U.S. The New York Times, 24 August 2017. Web. 27 August 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/24/us/bears-ears-utah-monument.html

Ullrich, C. “Permafrost: Introduction” (2007) GeoPedia: The research behind the stories. National Geographic. December 20017. Web. 27 August 2017. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/geopedia/Permafrost

Zukowski, D. “Alaska Sees ‘Astounding’ Rise in Temperature as ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ Planned for Arctic” (2016) Climate. EcoWatch, 15 November 2016. Web. 27 August 2017. https://www.ecowatch.com/alaska-record-temperature-2094322291.html