On October 23, the European Parliament voted to reject new subsidies to expand saltwater fishing fleets in the European Union. The Parliament approved an $8.9 billion (6.5 billion Euro) budget to finance the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy for seven years. The budget includes improved funding for research on fish stocks and enforcement of conservation measures, provisions sought by environmental groups. However, the Parliament approved funding to subsidize the purchase of new engines for existing vessels, which may slow the shrinking of Europe’s fishing fleet, which is believed to be two to three times larger than sustainable levels. David Jolly, European Parliament Rejects New Subsidies for Fishing Fleets, New York Times, Oct. 23, 2013.
Drought is now blamed for the cataclysmic collapse of Bronze Age civilization in the Middle East during the years 1250-1100 B.C. A study published on October 21 in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaelogy of Tel Aviv University examined ancient pollen grains from the years between 3,500-500 B.C. The grains were extracted from sediment laying 65 feet underneath the bed of the Sea of Galilee and at Wadi Zeelum on the western margins of the Dead Sea. High resolution analysis of the grains of fossilized pollen showed a sharp decline in the growth of trees and other vegetation believed to be caused by sharp declines in precipitation. Isabel Kershner, Pollen Study Points to Drought as Culprit in Bronze Age Mystery, N.Y. Times, Oct. 23, 2013, at A11.
Chinese authorities pursued emergency measures to combat extreme air pollution that has engulfed the northeastern town of Harbin, a city of 11 million people. As levels of particulates in the ambient air reached more than forty times concentrations considered safe, roadblocks were established to check vehicle tailpipe emissions and officials went into the surrounding countryside to force farmers to stop burning cornstalks. Schools were closed and flights were suspended at the Harbin airport. On October 24 China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) announced that it was sending inspection teams to Harbin and other cities across the country to ensure compliance with environmental regulations. Edward Wong, Response to a City’s Smog Points to a Change in Chinese Attitude, New York Times, Oct. 25, 2013, at A12.
Russian authorities have dropped piracy charges, which carried 15-year prison terms, against Greenpeace activists who were seized while protesting offshore oil drilling in the Barents Sea. The activists now have been charged with hooliganism, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term. In response to the new charges Greenpeace stated that the activists “are no more hooligans than they were pirates.” Vladimir Chuprov, a representative of Greenpeace Russia stated that the Russian government’s action “represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest.” Paul Sonne, Russia Lessens Activists’ Charges, Wall St. J., Oct. 24, 2013, at A18. On October 23 Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced that it would not attend an arbitration hearing by the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea in Hamburg that had been sought by the government of the Netherlands in an effort to win release of the seized Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise.
On Tuesday October 22 I attended the Environmental Law Institute’s annual award dinner at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington. This event has become what ELI proudly describes as the year’s largest gathering of environmental lawyers. As always, it was great to see so many of my former students at the event. This year’s award winners were former Secretary of State George P. Shultz and philanthropist Thomas F. Steyer. Together they led the successful, bipartisan campaign to defeat Proposition 23, a voter initiative that would have repealed California’s statewide program to control greenhouse gas emissions. Shultz, who is 93 years old, appeared by videotape and spoke about his long history of involvement in environmental efforts including the creation of EPA in 1970 and the ratification of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. He indicated his support for measures to internalize the true costs of carbon and expressed optimism about the future direction of environmental policy. In his acceptance speech Steyer stressed the importance of building bipartisan coalitions even in the face of current political polarization. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) introduced Steyer and also expressed optimism about the future, noting that EPA is in most capable hands with Gina McCarthy as administrator and that public backlash is mounting against anti-environmental extremists.