'Ranger Ranger' Series : Resurrecting Paper Tigers

[This story is part of a national reporting series in India titled 'Ranger Ranger' funded by my Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship. For more information log on to : http://mukha.co/ranger-ranger

 

A crescent moon lights up a rickety jeep as it swirls around a dark forest, the wind whistling tunes of a cursed queen and her kingdom. It is past midnight. Ghostly shambles of rock fortresses loom by, an icy presence veiling the only humans visible to a jackal’s eye.

Janeshwar Singh, a strappy young officer in uniform, looks up in the rearview mirror to address his entourage. 

“The Bhangarh Fort lies in the boundary of Sariska Tiger Reserve,” he snickers. “You must know that it is said to be haunted.”

Singh, 34, is the ‘Ranger Saab’ in charge of the Ajabgarh range in Sariska (STR). Well nestled in the Aravalli hills, covering an area of about 1200 square kilometers that transforms from scrubland to deep valleys and dry deciduous forests, Sariska in Alwar, Rajasthan, is a haven for the big cat. But that has not always been the case.

Twelve years ago, poachers had wiped Sariska clean of tigers.

In 2004, 16-18 tigers were recorded on paper by the Rajasthan forest department. However, there were strong reports that not only were there no tigers to be seen but also there was no evidence of their presence such as pug marks, scat or scratches on trees. 

In 2005, forest officials and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) declared an "emergency tiger census" in Sariska and the Central Bureau of Investigation, India's intelligence agency, conducted a probe into what had turned into an international scandal. After a two-month investigation, they finally declared that Sariska did not have any tigers left. Several poaching cases were filed and Sansar Chand, considered India’s deadliest tiger trafficker, was tailed and arrested in New Delhi. 

Read the full story here

Sea Level Rise Collaboration : Japan is growing an island

(This story is part of a big collaboration between the Energy and Environment fellows at Columbia and investigative groups in Germany and France. To view the data visualization that leads the project, please click here)

 

In the Philippine sea an island, which has enormous strategic importance for Japan, is slowly sinking. Scientists are trying to grow baby coral on the rock to save it – and spending millions of dollars on the experiment.

 

A thousand miles off the coast of south Tokyo, two tiny outcrops gasp for breath in a swallowing ocean. Breaking waves form an oval ring around the crests, the sputtering remains of Japan’s farthest reach in the Philippine Sea.

The Japanese have named the boulders Okinotorishima, or the ‘distant bird island’. Formed by an isolated submerged reef, it is the country’s southernmost point, one that provides an exclusive 160,000-square mile claim to these highly lucrative and strategic waters.

Okinotorishima provides more ocean dominion than the entire archipelago of Japan, but international recognition of the claim remains elusive. Countries such as China and Korea argue that only two rocks are visible at high tide, and therefore not a habitable island that can command its nation’s claim to the seas.

And as ocean levels rise, Japan’s claim is becoming increasingly untenable. Projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicate that sea levels could rise as much as 98 centimeters by the end of this century.

 

Read more here

Hakai Magazine : Refuge for the Ridgway’s Rail

Inventive island homes are helping this endangered bird keep its head above water.

For hours, Cory Overton has been wading through a vast expanse of orange marsh in Oakland, California, straining to pick out a distinctive call over the sound of his boots sticking in the muck. Spotting a quill next to what looks like a tiki hut for a gnome, he stops and waits. A shrill cackle carries over the wind—kek-kek-kek.

Inching closer to inspect the source of the cry, Overton finally spots it: a tangerine bill, a cinnamon-hued breast, and long, scrawny legs—the chicken-sized bird known as the Ridgway’s rail.

From California to western Mexico and into Arizona and Nevada, habitat destruction is causing the population of Ridgway’s rails to plummet. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species in the 1970s. Its numbers now rest in the low thousands, though its slow slide toward extinction continues. The rail has managed to hold on in places, such as the fragmented salt marshes of San Francisco Bay. But now, sea level rise is threatening to strip the bird of what little land it has left.

Read more here : https://www.hakaimagazine.com/article-short/refuge-ridgways-rail

 

Guardian series : Obama's dirty secret: the fossil fuel projects the US littered around the world

Through the Export-Import Bank, the Obama administration has spent nearly $34bn on dirty energy plants in countries from India to Australia to South Africa.

 

Seemingly little connects a community in India plagued by toxic water, a looming air pollution crisis in South Africa and a new fracking boom that is pockmarking Australia. And yet there is a common thread: American taxpayer money.

Through the US Export-Import Bank, Barack Obama’s administration has spent nearly $34bn supporting 70 fossil fuel projects around the world, work by Columbia Journalism School’s Energy and Environment Reporting Project and the Guardian has revealed.

This unprecedented backing of oil, coal and gas projects is an unexpected footnote to Obama’s own climate change legacy. The president has called global warming “terrifying” and helped broker the world’s first proper agreement to tackle it, yet his administration has poured money into developments that will push the planet even closer to climate disaster.

For people living next to US-funded mines and power stations the impacts are even more starkly immediate.

Guardian and Columbia reporters have spent time at American-backed projects in India, South Africa and Australia to document the sickness, upheavals and environmental harm that come with huge dirty fuel developments.

In India, we heard complaints about coal ash blowing into villages, contaminated water and respiratory and stomach problems, all linked to a project that has had more than $650m in backing from the Obama administration.

In South Africa, another huge project is set to exacerbate existing air pollution problems, deforestation and water shortages. And in Australia, an enormous US-backed gas development is linked to a glut of fracking activity that has divided communities and brought a new wave of industrialization next to the cherished Great Barrier Reef.

While Obama can claim the US is the world’s leader on climate change – at least until Donald Trump enters the White House – it is also clear that it has become a major funder of fossil fuels that are having a serious impact upon people’s lives. This is the unexpected story of how Obama’s legacy is playing out overseas.

 

Read more : https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/01/obama-fossil-fuels-us-export-import-bank-energy-projects

Guardian series : How Obama's climate change legacy is weakened by US investment in dirty fuel

(Contributing writer to this headlining data piece, as part of an investigative series)

Exclusive: an agency inside the Obama administration poured billions into fossil fuel projects that will lead to global carbon emissions on a damaging scale

President Barack Obama has staked his legacy on the environment, positioning his administration as the most progressive on climate change in US history.

However, an obscure agency within his own administration has quietly spoiled his record by helping fund a steady outpouring of new overseas fossil fuel emissions – effectively erasing gains expected from his headline clean power plan or fuel efficiency standards.

Since January 2009, the US Export-Import Bank has signed almost $34bn worth of low-interest loans and guarantees to companies and foreign governments to build, expand and promote fossil fuel projects abroad.

That’s about three times more financing than the taxpayer-backed bank provided during George W Bush’s two terms, and almost twice the amount financed with loans and guarantees under the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Bill Clinton – combined.

The bank, which operates within Obama’s administration, provides US exporters with financing to sell goods and services overseas. Bank officials say it supports US jobs and fills a financing gap by allowing companies to access funding when private lenders will not.

Since 2009, it has financed 70 fossil fuel projects. When they are all completed and operating at full capacity, the bank estimates they will push 164m metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year – about the same output as the 95 currently operating coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma.

Read more : https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/30/us-fossil-fuel-investment-obama-climate-change-legacy