PG&E pleads guilty to manslaughter in 2018 wildfire deaths

June 18, 2020 by  
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Utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) pled guilty this week to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of unlawful fire starting, admitting its faulty power lines began a horrendous 2018  wildfire . Dubbed the Camp Fire, the blaze in question started in Butte County,  California  on November 8, 2018. The fire killed at least 84 people, destroyed about 18,000 buildings and devastated the town of Paradise, making it California’s most destructive wildfire ever. Related: Climate change heightens California’s drought and wildfire risks Butte County Superior Court Judge Michael Deems read out the names of people who’d died in the fire one by one as their photos flashed on a screen. After each charge, PG&E CEO and President Bill Johnson said, “Guilty, your honor.” “Our equipment started that fire,” Johnson admitted. A year-long investigation led by Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey determined that PG&E’s outdated equipment caused the 2018 fire. The brutal grand jury report concluded the  utility  company ignored repeated warnings about old, poorly maintained power lines that failed to adhere to state regulations, showing a “callous disregard” for people’s lives and property. PG&E’s plea is part of an agreement with Butte County prosecutors to avoid further criminal proceedings against the utility company. The plea deal includes pledging billions to improve safety and assist Camp Fire victims and accepting closer oversight. The company will pay $3.5 million in fines and a half million in costs. PG&E will also put $15 million towards water for residents, as the Camp Fire destroyed Miocene Canal, one of the area’s vital water sources. “I am here today on behalf of the 23,000 men and women of PG&E, to accept responsibility for the fire here that took so many lives and changed these communities forever,” Johnson said in a written statement. In January 2019, wildfires drove PG&E to file for bankruptcy. The utility has paid out tens of billions in victim settlements and lost billions more in damaged equipment during 2015, 2017 and 2018 wildfires. PG&E has agreed to skip paying out shareholder dividends for three years, which will save about $4 billion. Ramsey said this is the first time any major utility has been charged with homicide stemming from a reckless fire. Still, he is not satisfied with the fine and thinks PG&E should pay much more for the  deaths  and damage that Camp Fire caused. + NPR Image via Pexels

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PG&E pleads guilty to manslaughter in 2018 wildfire deaths

154 elephants have mysteriously died in Botswana

June 18, 2020 by  
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Botswana wildlife conservation officials are investigating the mysterious death of 154 elephants in just 3 months. Wildlife officers in the country have said that there has been a sudden surge in deaths of elephants in the northwestern part of the country. The deaths are not associated with poaching or poisoning, according to the Regional Wildlife Coordinator, Dimakatso Ntshebe. The carcasses of these animals were found intact, suggesting that they were not killed by poachers. Normally, poachers will kill elephants for their meat or tusks. According to the regional coordinator, preliminary investigations have also ruled out poisoning via humans and anthrax as the possible causes of death. Anthrax was the first suspect on the list of possible causes, as it naturally occurs in the soil and harms wildlife in Botswana. But initial investigations by scientists have ruled out the possibility of anthrax and poisoning. Related: Mass poaching in Botswana leaves behind 90 tuskless elephants These recent deaths are raising alarm considering that elephant populations all over Africa have been under threat from poaching , poisoning and anthrax. Today, Botswana is home to almost one-third of all the elephants on the continent. Due to efforts to protect wildlife in the country, the population of elephants in Botswana has risen to 130,000 in 2020 from just 80,000 in the 1990s. The same can’t be said about other countries with less stringent wildlife laws. The deaths of these elephants in Botswana comes at a time when wildlife conservation efforts have been dealt a big blow in the country. Last year, President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted a 5-year ban on big game hunting, prompting uproar from conservation groups. Although the growing number of elephants in Botswana might seem like a positive move to the rest of the world, it is not much welcomed by the locals. Farmers have raised complaints about the elephants destroying crops; it is such complaints that prompted the president to allow big game poaching again. Besides the mysterious elephant deaths, Botswana still grapples with the problem of poachers. According to the Wildlife Conservation Officers in Botswana, the Okavango Delta alone has lost over 25 elephants to poachers between December 2019 and May 2020. The situation has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, as poachers take advantage due to the lack of safari tourists. The Regional Wildlife Coordinator now says that they are intensifying surveillance in high-risk areas to curb poaching. Samples from the dead elephants are also under scrutiny to determine the exact cause of death so that intervention measures can be taken. Via Reuters and Yale Environment 360 Image via Anja

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154 elephants have mysteriously died in Botswana

Iraq’s biggest dam could collapse at any moment, placing a million people in peril

March 2, 2016 by  
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The birthplace of civilization has struggled through some tough times in recent years. The Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and now the conflict with ISIS have seriously damaged Iraq’s infrastructure and undermined its political stability. As if that wasn’t enough, Iraq may soon face another catastrophe as the country’s biggest dam reaches the end of its life. American officials in Baghdad are warning that Mosul Dam could collapse – and the subsequent flooding could lead to the death or displacement of over one million people. Built in 1984, the Mosul Dam regulates the flow of the Tigris River to supply one million Iraqis with hydroelectric power. The dam is capable of holding three trillion gallons of water, which is key for survival in the desert nation. Mosul Dam was constructed on a base of gypsum, a soft mineral that readily dissolves in water. To combat this steady erosion and maintain the infrastructure, engineers have used a grout cement mix to fill any holes that appear. However, this maintenance routine was interrupted in August 2014 when ISIS forces captured the dam for over a week. The militants did not intentionally damage the dam, but their brief presence nonetheless had long-term consequences. Even after the dam was recaptured, many of the Iraqi workers did not return and regular maintenance was not resumed. Related: The world’s tallest building coming to Iraq will be entirely solar-powered The greatest risk of collapse occurs between late February and mid-May when the Tigris River is at its fullest. State Department officials warn that 500,000 people could be killed while a million more would be homeless. Mosul, a city of two and a half million people, could be under 45 feet of water within four hour of the dam’s collapse – and the water level could eventually rise to 70 feet. Baghdad would have a few days notice to prepare, but the flooding would still be devastating, with water levels of up to 14 feet expected. The Italian government has offered to send troops while the Trevi Group, an Italian company, leads much needed repairs of the dam. As usual, politics is proving to be a roadblock. Noting the glacial pace at which the Iraqi government is dealing with the problem, American officials have urged Iraq to educate its citizens on the threat, so that the worst case scenario might be avoided. Via the New York Times Images via DoD News/Staff Sgt. Brendan Stephens and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library

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Iraq’s biggest dam could collapse at any moment, placing a million people in peril

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