Dry, polluted, plagued by rats – the crisis in China’s greatest river: The waters of the Yangtze have fallen to their lowest levels since 1866, disrupting drinking supplies, stranding ships and posing a threat to some of the world’s most endangered species. Asia’s longest river is losing volume as a result of a prolonged dry spell, the state media warned yesterday, predicting hefty economic losses and a possible plague of rats on nearby farmland. News of the drought – which is likely to worsen pollution in the river – comes amid dire reports about the impact of rapid economic growth on China’s environment. The government also revealed yesterday that the country’s most prosperous province, Guangdong, has just had its worst year of smog since the Communist party took power in 1949, while 56,000 square miles of coastline waters failed to meet environmental standards. Guardian

To protect fragile coasts, Spain issues a moratorium on building: Rampant development has turned much of Spain’s Mediterranean coast into concrete jungles. Now, the country’s environment ministry is determined to fight back, taking on the unchecked and frequently illegal construction that has threatened to overwhelm Spain’s shores – causing erosion rates of up to 1 meter per year. Yet because development and the tourism it attracts have brought tremendous prosperity to Spain, the government’s new plan represents a gauntlet thrown down for a brewing battle between environment and economy. Christian Science Monitor 

Biofuels protectionism trumps climate concerns: Despite world concerns about global warming and the impact of biofuel production on food prices, policy makers have done little to boost international trade of cheaper and more environmentally friendly fuels for consumers, experts said. Import tariffs and trade barriers have prevented, for example, an increase in cane-based ethanol exports from Brazil, the world’s most competitive producer of the biofuel. Shipments are actually expected to be lower in 2008 than last year. In Europe, biodiesel producers have been hit by an increase in U.S. imports, which benefit from subsidies if they are blended with mineral diesel. To counterattack, the EU bloc may impose countervailing duties, industry leaders said. Reuters

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Is the greening of business for real?: There is one and only one social responsibility of business,” economist Milton Friedman wrote in the New York Times Magazine in 1970, “to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” Such thinking defined the stereotypical us-against-them tension between businesspeople and environmentalists for decades. Corporations rolled along, crushing any person, place, or endangered frog standing in the way of quarterly returns, while groups like the Sierra Club tried to put on the brakes, lobbying state and federal governments for regulation and educating consumers about business excesses. AlterNet

Global warming will diminish fish catch in the Bering sea: One half of the fish caught in the U.S. annually—and almost a third worldwide—come from the Bering Sea. Yet, this vast resource is increasingly threatened by climate change. A recent study, published in Marine Ecology Progress Series, showed that global warming will greatly affect the Bering Sea’s phytoplankton, the cornerstone of the sea’s rich ecosystem. “It’s all a good start that people get worried about melting ice and rising sea levels. But we’re now driving a comprehensive change in the way Earth’s ecosystem works—and some of these changes don’t bode well for its future,” said marine ecologist Dave Hutchins, whose former student at the University of Delaware, Clinton Hare, led the research in the Bering Sea. Monga Bay

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Peter Fray
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