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Jan 29, 2020, 02:44 PM
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« on: Oct 20, 2019, 04:50 AM »

We will be posting in this thread a variety of interesting stories about our environment, cultures around the world, and the current news of the day.
« Last Edit: Nov 02, 2019, 05:22 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: Jan 23, 2020, 04:23 AM »

W.H.O. Warns That Pipeline for New Antibiotics Is Running Dry

In two new reports, the global health agency says only government intervention can fix the broken market for new antimicrobial drugs.

By Andrew Jacobs
NY Times

With the pipeline for new antibiotics slowing to a trickle and bankruptcies driving pharmaceutical companies from the field, the World Health Organization on Friday issued a fresh warning about the global threat of drug resistant infections.

Some 700,000 people die each year because medicines that once cured their conditions are no long effective. Yet the vast majority of the 60 new antimicrobial products in development worldwide are variations on existing therapies, and only a handful target the most dangerous drug-resistant infections, the agency said in a report.

“We urgently need research and development,” said Sarah Paulin, technical officer of Antimicrobial Resistance and Innovation at the W.H.O. and an author of two reports on the subject issued Friday. “We still have a window of opportunity but we need to ensure there is investment now so we don’t run out of options for future generations.”

Without government intervention, the United Nations estimates that resistant infections could kill 10 million people annually by 2050 and prompt an economic slowdown to rival the global financial crisis of 2008.

In the two reports — one that analyzed products being tested on patients and another that looked at therapies in the early stages of development — the W.H.O. cited the grim economic realities that have been shutting down investment in the field by major pharmaceutical companies and strangling the few remaining small companies that have come to dominate development of antimicrobial therapies.

Unlike drugs that treat chronic conditions and are taken for years, antibiotics save lives, but are taken for just a week or two, diminishing their profitability for drugmakers.

The sense of crisis has mounted in recent months as a number of American drug companies with promising new products have gone belly up. Among them are Melinta Therapeutics, which declared bankruptcy three weeks ago after failing to turn a profit on the four antibiotics it has on the market. Two other antibiotic start-ups, Achaogen and Aradigm, also went out of business last year.

Drug company executives, public health experts and advocates for patients — groups often at odds with one another — have been united in urging Washington to enact new policies and programs that would help shore up the finances of ailing antibiotic companies and lure pharmaceutical giants back to the field.

“Without such incentives, I’m worried these innovative companies developing new medicines will struggle to obtain the resources they need to fully develop them and bring these breakthroughs to patients,” said Greg Frank, director of Working to Fight AMR, an advocacy group funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

The outlook isn’t entirely grim. In its report on potential innovative therapies, the W.H.O. identified 252 agents in development that target 12 pathogens the health agency has declared grave threats to humanity. They include multidrug-resistant E. coli, salmonella and the bacteria that cause gonorrhea.

Nearly 80 percent of these products are being developed by drug companies, the vast majority of them in Europe and North America, and they include a number of novel therapies like phages and antimicrobial peptides that offer the possibility of treating infections without a reliance on traditional antibiotics.

“It is very encouraging to see a wide variety of new innovative approaches in the preclinical pipeline,” the study said. “Nonetheless, many scientific challenges are yet to be overcome.”

The report on drugs in the later stages of development was less sanguine. Only eight new antibiotics have been approved since 2017, it said, and most are derivatives of existing drugs. The majority of them do not treat pathogens on the W.H.O.’s list of urgent threats.

Of the 50 new antibiotics being tested in clinical trials, only two are active against the most worrisome class of bugs, called gram negative bacteria, that can prove deadly for newborns, cancer patients and those undergoing elective procedures like hip and knee replacements.

It can take ten years and cost more than $2 billion to develop a new antibiotic and bring it to market, and much of that expense is for the failures along the way. Congress has been considering a bill that would shore up the market for antibiotics but it has yet to advance, despite bipartisan support.

In the meantime, many experts worry that the few remaining start-ups in the field may not survive.

“We can’t have more companies going bankrupt,” said Dr. Helen Boucher, an infectious disease specialist at Tufts Medical Center and a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. “If the pipeline remains this anemic, that’s going to have real implications for our patients.”

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« Reply #2 on: Jan 23, 2020, 04:26 AM »

Make big polluters pay for mass tree planting, officials say

Oil companies and airlines could fund 100m trees a year, says Committee on Climate Change

Damian Carrington Environment editor
Thu 23 Jan 2020 06.00 GMT

The planting of 100m trees a year in the UK to tackle the climate emergency could be paid for by new carbon levies on oil companies and airlines, the government’s official climate adviser has proposed.

The Committee on Climate Change also recommends banning the burning of grouse moors and the sale of peat compost to protect the nation’s bogs, which can store huge amounts of carbon. Voluntary measures have failed, it said.

The CCC’s new report concludes that fundamental changes in land use are needed to cut emissions from farming and get the nation on track to meet its legally binding target of net zero by 2050. It proposes cutting red meat eating by 20%, with the move to more plant-based diets freeing up a fifth of all farmland for new woodland.

The CCC’s plan for slashing emissions from agriculture also requires better management of manure, cutting methane from cattle with better feeds and growing crops that can be burned to produce electricity instead of natural gas.

The plan would cost £1.4bn a year but provide benefits of at least £4bn by cutting global heating and air pollution and improving flood protection and green spaces for people to enjoy. “That, in our assessment, seems like a price very much worth paying,” said Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC.

Lord Deben, chair of the CCC, said: “This is one of the most important reports that we have ever produced because a change in land use is absolutely essential if we’re going to meet [the legal] requirements of reducing to net zero by 2050. It requires immediate government action. We are in a race against time.”

The UK is preparing to leave the European Union and the bloc’s subsidy scheme, which provides £3.3bn a year to farmers based mainly on the area of land owned. The government has pledged that the replacement scheme will pay farmers public money for public goods, such as tree planting.

Other groups have called for radical overhauls of farmland, which occupies 70% of the UK. Rewilding Britain suggests that a quarter of the UK’s land could be restored to nature, while an RSA commission said the true costs of cheap food were the climate crisis and a health crisis. A former chief scientific adviser to the UK government said in December that half of the nation’s farmland needed to be transformed into woodlands and natural habitat.

The most eye-catching part of the CCC’s plan, according to Stark, is the proposal that new levies on fossil fuel suppliers, airlines and other carbon-emitting industries pay for the tree-planting programme. Farmers and landowners would be paid either via annual auctions of contracts to create woodland or from a carbon trading scheme, the CCC said.

The cost would be about £700m a year, Stark said. “You could imagine a world where that was all paid for from a fossil fuel levy, but that is a decision for the Treasury.” Such a system would mean the polluter pays, said Deben, but the aviation industry would still need to keep emissions at 2005 levels.

The National Farmers Union revealed a plan for agriculture to end its net emissions by 2040 in September, a decade earlier than the CCC plan. It requires no cut in meat eating or livestock numbers and no conversion of substantial areas of farmland into forest. It relies heavily on bioenergy crops removing CO2 from the atmosphere, which is then captured and buried after being burned.

Deben praised the NFU plan as a remarkable change. “NFU president, Minette Batters, has done a very significant job. But the truth is she hasn’t been able to include anything about diet and reduction in the number of animals”, both of which the CCC deem essential.

Stark said cutting the UK’s “scandalous” level of food waste by 20% was vital. Better food labelling and separate food waste collections would help, as well as linking charges for household recycling to the quantity of food waste, the CCC said.

The 20% cut in red meat and dairy consumption proposed by the CCC is much lower than other recent analyses which have indicated 80-90% reductions are needed. “It is some way short of the 80% or so reduction that’s recommended by the public health guidelines for red meat,” said Stark. The CCC focused only on the emissions cuts needed to bring UK greenhouse gas emissions to zero, he said, and not health or other pollution that livestock cause.

“There is no doubt we need a major transformation in farming and land use to tackle both climate and nature emergencies,” said Vicki Hird of the Sustain alliance, who welcomed much of the report. But she said the ambition on cutting meat consumption was low and warned that technology that could capture CO2 from bioenergy crops was untested in the UK.

Sandra Bell, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The way land is used and abused has been a big contributor to climate breakdown and loss of wildlife, and this is why it needs to change.” However she said the CCC’s woodland creation target needed to be twice as high.

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« Reply #3 on: Jan 23, 2020, 04:28 AM »

World’s consumption of materials hits record 100bn tonnes a year

Unsustainable use of resources is wrecking the planet but recycling is falling, report finds

Damian Carrington Environment editor
23 Jan 2020 12.08 GMT

The amount of material consumed by humanity has passed 100bn tonnes every year, a report has revealed, but the proportion being recycled is falling.

The climate and wildlife emergencies are driven by the unsustainable extraction of fossil fuels, metals, building materials and trees. The report’s authors warn that treating the world’s resources as limitless is leading towards global disaster.

The materials used by the global economy have quadrupled since 1970, far faster than the population, which has doubled. In the last two years, consumption has jumped by more than 8% but the reuse of resources has fallen from 9.1% to 8.6%.

The report, by the Circle Economy thinktank, was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos. It shows that, on average, every person on Earth uses more than 13 tonnes of materials per year. But the report also found that some nations are making steps towards circular economies in which renewable energy underpins systems where waste and pollution are reduced to zero.

“We risk global disaster if we continue to treat the world’s resources as if they are limitless,” said Harald Friedl, the chief executive of Circle Economy. “Governments must urgently adopt circular economy solutions if we want to achieve a high quality of life for close to 10bn people by mid-century without destabilising critical planetary processes.”

Marc de Wit, the report’s lead author, said: “We are still fuelling our growth in population and affluence by the extraction of virgin materials. We can’t do this indefinitely – our hunger for virgin material needs to be halted.”

The report found that 100.6bn tonnes of materials were consumed in 2017, the latest year for which data is available. Half of the total is sand, clay, gravel and cement used for building, along with the other minerals quarried to produce fertiliser. Coal, oil and gas make up 15% and metal ores 10%. The final quarter are the plants and trees used for food and fuel.

The lion’s share of the materials – 40% – is turned into housing. Other major categories include food, transport, healthcare, communications, and consumer goods such as clothes and furniture.

Almost a third of the annual materials remain in use after a year, such as buildings and vehicles. But 15% is emitted into the atmosphere as climate-heating gases and nearly a quarter is discarded into the environment, such as plastic in waterways and oceans. A third of the materials is treated as waste, mostly going to landfill and mining spoil heaps. Just 8.6% is recycled.

“This report sparks an alarm for all governments,” said Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s environment minister. “We need to deploy all the policies to really catalyse this transformation [to a circular economy].”

Cristianne Close of the conservation group WWF said: “The circular economy provides a framework for reducing our impacts, protecting ecosystems and living within the means of one planet.”

The report said increasing recycling can make economies more competitive, improve living conditions and help to meet emissions targets and avoid deforestation. It reported that 13 European countries have adopted circular economy roadmaps, including France, Germany and Spain, and that Colombia became the first Latin American country to launch a similar policy in 2019.

China’s ban on waste imports aims to encourage domestic recycling, the report said, but has also stimulated the development of circular economy strategies in Australia and other countries which previously exported their waste to China.

Janez Potočnik, a former European environment commissioner and the co-chair of the UN Environment Programme international resource panel, said the world needed to learn to do more with less and replace ownership with sharing, as is increasingly being seen with cars.

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« Reply #4 on: Jan 23, 2020, 04:30 AM »

Millions at risk after toxins found in Harare water supply, study finds

Unpublished report claims water from contaminated reservoir leaves 3 million in Zimbabwe’s capital at risk of disease

Nyasha Chingono in Harare
23 Jan 2020 07.00 GMT

Water being pumped to millions of residents in Zimbabwe’s capital city came from reservoirs contaminated by dangerous toxins, according to a report seen by the Guardian.

A study conducted by South African company Nanotech Water Solutions concluded that the health of 3 million Harare residents may be endangered by the provision of water containing toxins that can cause liver and central nervous system diseases.

The study, conducted last year, has been seen by the Guardian but has not been made public.

“The primary objective of the trial was to demonstrate the oxidative capacity of chlorine dioxide on the plant’s incoming and inherent algae … and its associated toxins, pathogenic (disease-causing) micro-organisms and other micro-contaminants,” said the report.

Oxidation is a chemical treatment process designed to remove organic and inorganic materials in water. The removal of algae and associated toxins, especially hepatotoxins (toxins that affect the liver) and neurotoxins (toxins that affect the central nervous system), is crucial to the production of safe drinking water.

The toxins, said the report, are found in the algae at Harare’s major water reservoirs, including the Chivero and Manyame lakes. The foul smell and brownish colour of water in Harare are associated with a plethora of algal species, the researchers added.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, harmful algae produce dangerous toxins in fresh or marine water. The agency warns people to keep away from from water that is green, scummy or smells bad.

News of the report has enraged local people, said Precious Shumba, founder and coordinator of the Harare Residents’ Trust.

“Residents have complained numerous times about the strong stench coming out of the water that the city of Harare is delivering to ratepayers,” she said.

“The water has visible impurities, which creates doubts and insecurities among consumers.”

Shumba said residents were living in fear of contracting diseases as a result of the dirty water, and no longer trusted the city’s supply.

“There is fear of falling sick with cholera, typhoid and other deadly diseases which might be caused by these dirty particles in the city water. The city has always defended the quality of their water, claiming that the particles are harmless, but no one really takes them seriously on this,” Shumba said.

Harare’s mayor, Herbert Gomba, has defended the city’s water quality, insisting it remains safe to drink.

“It’s safe, according to reports from our quality team,” he said.

“I am sure you are aware we are facing forex challenges and that the infrastructure is old and was never meant for the huge population we now serve. Again, we are owed a lot by our people, money which can be used to do more work if we are paid by all who consumed our water. We are working hard to pump more water through refurbishment of the infrastructure.”

Harare city council spends $3m (£2.3m) every month on chemicals intended to purify the water.

Poorer residents like Joyce Mutseyami, 40, who lives in the sleepy Harare suburb of Kambuzuma, are particularly affected by the crisis as they cannot afford to buy still water. Gone are the days when she felt she could drink straight from the tap.

This week, residents had no water for three days. Mutseyami was among many dashing out to their shared backyard taps, waiting in line to collect a bucketload of the muddy liquid that gives off a foul smell and a brownish froth. It was a typical scene in a city that is often without running water for long periods.

“I don’t have a choice [other] than to drink this water. I boil it before consumption because my children may contract diseases,” Mutseyami said.

“One day we will all wake up sick because you are never assured, even if you boil the water, that it is safe. We have petitioned the council before and even took samples of the water, but nothing has been done. It’s getting worse.”

With a baby strapped on her back, Talent Mupemhi, 30, waits impatiently for her turn to fetch water from a local borehole. She has no trust in the local tap water. Yet it was the use of unsafe boreholes and wells that probably led to Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak in 2018.

Water brawls often erupt when people who dare to skip the line are caught by angry residents. Some even take advantage of the residents’ desperation to charge for borehole water.

Mupemhi has waited for two hours. She does this every day.

“I endure long queues every day to fetch water because I have no choice, tap water is unsafe. I only use it for washing,” said Muphemhi.

“I was once hospitalised after drinking tap water, it is dirty and has a foul smell. Surely people are dying slowly because they do not know what this water contains. There is sewage flowing around, slipping into drinking water. Do you think we are safe?”

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« Reply #5 on: Jan 23, 2020, 04:32 AM »

Propaganda and sexism prove powerful contraceptives for Chinese women

China’s push for more births fails to convince a generation of only-children

Emma Graham-Harrison
Fri 17 Jan 2020 18.18 GMT

China’s government has been trying to manage a public U-turn on one of its biggest, longest running and most powerful policy and propaganda campaigns for several years now, urging a generation of only-children – born under its one-child policy – that they should have more babies themselves.

But the posters, public information campaigns and official exhortations appear to have had almost no discernible effect. Beijing on Friday reported its lowest birthrate since the founding of Communist China over seven decades ago.

Neighbouring Japan’s own struggles to tackle an ageing population and falling births were also thrown into relief this week when the young environment minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, announced he would be taking two weeks of paternity leave.

Spread over three months, it might not seem like a radical proposition, but he will be the first cabinet minister ever to take time off to help care for a newborn.

There are vast differences in political and social systems between the two countries. But for women with any kind of career ambitions – and men who might like to spend more time with their families – there are painful similarities.

Few women hold positions of political power either in Beijing or Tokyo, and workplace culture is often stacked against women, particularly those who hope to combine a career with motherhood.

Japan is starting to make the link between parents’ – and women’s – choices and the country’s birthrate, though it may have a very long way to go yet. The chief cabinet secretary said he hoped Koizumi’s decision would have a positive impact on attitudes.

As the scion of a powerful political family, married to a television celebrity, who has been named as a potential future premier, his move was widely scrutinised.

In China, however, there has been little public recognition of incentives for young people, particularly women, to have small families or none at all.

The bureaucrats who laid out the one-child policy didn’t seem to have really grappled with the possibility that demographic changes might not be easily reversible, said Mei Fong, author of One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment.

“The whole policy was drafted by missile scientists. It was based around mechanical systems, where you set a target then adjust accordingly. Women’s bodies were treated like engines, you set inputs and expect to get a certain output,” she said.

“The architect of the whole (one-child) project acknowledged many years ago that an ageing population could eventually lead to problems, but just said ‘that can be adjusted’. As if women’s bodies can just be treated like levers, moved up and down.”

Single daughters have grown up in a system that taught whole families that limiting family size was a path to happiness, prosperity and social mobility.

Now they work in an environment where women are penalised for their gender even before their first day on the job. Pregnancy and motherhood bring another level of discrimination for many.

That combination of deeply sexist constraints and years of propaganda have proven powerfully effective as contraceptives for many women.

A government that is very good at coercion – forcing abortions or heavy fines on those who broke the laws – struggles with inducements, or indeed with stepping away from the idea of social engineering.

Its push for a higher birthrate is within highly constricted boundaries. The government wants more babies, but only the ones that it considers the right kind of babies, born into a traditional marriage of a man and a woman.

Single mothers face fines or obstacles to accessing social services for their children. One woman has been suing just for the right to freeze her eggs. With same-sex marriage not legal, gay and lesbian couples struggle to become parents.

In the name of “ethnic equality”, the government also recently reduced the number of children ethnic minority couples are allowed, which used to be higher than for the majority Han.

“Urban educated working women are the ones who are going to suffer the most, they are the ones seen as the ideal birth vehicles for China’s future, the handmaidens,” said Fong. “They face all kinds of pressure from families, from society, to reproduce.”

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« Reply #6 on: Jan 23, 2020, 04:48 AM »

Coronavirus: panic and anger in Wuhan as China orders city into lockdown

Supermarket shelves are empty and face masks have sold out as residents of city at the centre of the deadly virus hoard supplies and retreat inside

Lily Kuo in Beijing
Thu 23 Jan 2020 05.45 GMT

A sense of panic has spread in the central Chinese city of Wuhan as the city of 11 million was put on lockdown in an attempt to quarantine a deadly virus believed to have originated there.

On Thursday, authorities banned all transport links from the sprawling city, suspending buses, the subway system, ferries and shutting the airport and train stations to outgoing passengers.

Nearby Huanggang also suspended its public bus and railway system from the end of Thursday.

In Wuhan, supermarket shelves were empty and local markets sold out of produce as residents hoarded supplies and isolated themselves at home. Petrol stations were overwhelmed as drivers stocked up on fuel, exacerbated by rumours that reserves had run out. Local residents said pharmacies had sold out of face masks.

Few pedestrians were on the street and families cancelled plans to get together for the Chinese New Year holiday. Special police forces were seen patrolling railway stations. Residents and all government workers are now required to wear face masks while in public spaces.

“When I saw the news when I woke up, I felt like I was going to go crazy. This is a little too late now. The government’s measures are not enough,” said Xiao, 26, a primary school teacher in Wuhan, who asked not to give her full name.

Some residents posted photos of their newly bought supplies of instant noodles and snacks on social media. “No more going out ... so I won’t get sick,” wrote one internet user on Weibo, adding: “Hope Wuhan can get some support soon.”

Others said the elevators in their apartment complexes were being disinfected, and that most of their friends and relatives in the city were also planning on staying in as much as possible.

The blockade comes as at least 571 people have been infected with the coronavirus, from the same family of viruses that gave rise to Sars. It has now reached almost all of the country’s provinces, as well as the US, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand and Hong Kong. Chinese authorities said on Thursday that 95 patients were in critical condition.

Hong Kong officials announced on Thursday they would turn two holiday camps, including a former military barracks, into quarantine zones for people who may have come into contact with carriers of the Wuhan virus.

So far, 17 people have died since the virus was detected in late December, all of them in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital. Many of the deaths occurred in Wuhan, where a seafood market selling wild animals is the suspected source of the virus. Scientists believe it likely jumped from an animal to a human and is now transmissible from one person to another, and could mutate further.

“It’s truly an extraordinary development. You have a city of 10 million people being shut down,” said Dali Yang, a professor of political science focusing on China at the University of Chicago. “In many ways the local leadership and the population are definitely not prepared. This is truly an emergency for them.”

On Thursday, some residents raced to leave Wuhan before the de-facto quarantine was put into effect at 10am, lining up at the airport and at train stations. Local authorities, announcing the emergency measure at around 2am on Thursday, said citizens would be notified later when the restrictions were lifted.

Anxiety has been exacerbated by reports that sick patients are being turned away from hospitals without enough room. “Infected people could be right beside you and you wouldn’t know. That is what is scarier,” said Xiao, who has not left home since 19 January.

Wuhan’s disease prevention and control centre released a statement on Thursday asking residents not to panic and not to stockpile. “At the present time, Wuhan’s reserves of food, medicine and other supplies are all enough,” it said.

Authorities have made an effort to update citizens regularly on the situation and state media have attempted to frame the current shutdown as a battle being waged by the people of Wuhan for the good of the country. The state-run People’s Daily posted on Weibo: “Come on Wuhan, let us win this disease prevention war together!”

But residents are wary of the information provided by their government, which in recent weeks repeatedly said the virus was not serious and was still “controllable”.

“I am a bit panicked because before the government said it wasn’t serious so no one thought it was a big deal,” said Wang Ying, 26, a government worker who described going out amid large crowds on New Year’s Eve, despite the virus being detected then.

“Then this morning, Wuhan was suddenly sealed off. I think the government’s early warnings were not enough.”

Others criticised local authorities, who held a Chinese New Year banquet of 40,000 people days before authorities announced that the virus could be transmitted between humans.

“It’s been a month since the first case was discovered and only now do they think of closing the city? This Wuhan emergency response is a little slow, right???” one internet user wrote on Weibo:

As posts circulated online that food prices had gone up in Wuhan, internet users called for government intervention. One said: “The government needs to address this. If things become too expensive, people will definitely panic and when people feel unsafe, terrible things happen. Right now people are fighting over supplies, soon they may just be fighting.”

Additional reporting by Lillian Yang

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« Reply #7 on: Jan 23, 2020, 04:50 AM »

UN's top court orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya from genocide

Momentous pronouncement at Hague rejects Aung San Suu Kyi’s defence of her country’s military

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent
Thu 23 Jan 2020 10.12 GMT

Myanmar has been ordered by the United Nations’ highest court to prevent genocidal violence against its Rohingya Muslim minority and preserve evidence of past attacks.

In a momentous and unanimous decision, the international court of justice (ICJ) in The Hague ordered Myanmar to carry out emergency, “provisional” measures, intervening in the country’s domestic affairs by instructing the government of Aung San Suu Kyi to respect the requirements of the 1948 genocide convention.

Declaring there was prima facie evidence of breaches of the convention, the court found the estimated 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar were “extremely vulnerable” to violence at the hands of the military.

The ruling amounts to a rejection of Aung San Suu Kyi’s defence of her country against accusations of systematic human rights abuses and war crimes during a three-day hearing at the ICJ last month.

The case was brought by the Gambia, a predominantly Muslim west African state that alleges Myanmar has breached the genocide convention, which was enacted after the Holocaust.

Thursday’s ruling dealt only with Gambia’s request for so-called preliminary measures, the equivalent of a restraining order for states. It gave no indication of the court’s final decision, which could take years to reach.

In a unanimous ruling by a panel of 17 judges, the court said Myanmar must take all steps within its power to prevent serious harm to Rohingya, and report back within four months.

Gambia’s attorney general and justice minister, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, told the court in December: “Another genocide is unfolding right before our eyes yet we do nothing to stop it. This is a stain on our collective conscience. It’s not only the state of Myanmar that is on trial here, it’s our collective humanity that is being put on trial.”

The complaint is one of the first attempts to use the international justice system to help the estimated 730,000 Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar after army clearance operations in Rakhine state during 2017.

Lawyers for the Gambia had called on the ICJ to impose protective provisional measures to prevent further killings and destruction in Myanmar. The case was heard by a panel of 17 international judges, including one each nominated by Myanmar and the Gambia.

Six of Myanmar’s most senior army officers have been accused of genocide by a UN fact-finding mission and recommended for criminal prosecution.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to attend the court in person astounded human rights groups. Once an international icon representing peaceful defiance of military dictatorship, the 74-year-old has seen her reputation plummet as she repeatedly defended her country’s army in the aftermath of the Rohingya exodus.

She urged ICJ judges to dismiss allegations that Myanmar committed genocide and instead allow the country’s court martial system to deal with any human rights abuses.

A Myanmar government-appointed panel, the Independent Commission of Enquiry, said on Monday it had found no evidence of genocide. Rohingya leaders have branded the report a “whitewash”.

The ICJ only hears cases brought by one state against another. It has jurisdiction to hear complaints of breaches of the genocide convention even if the aggrieved state is not directly affected by violence or refugees.

The court can use its legal powers to impose provisional measures on member states in relation to their obligations under the convention.

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« Reply #8 on: Jan 23, 2020, 04:54 AM »

Croatian corruption starts with cheating at school, says president

Dishonesty pervades society, says outgoing leader, as pupils who cheat are treated as heroes

Daniel Boffey in Zagreb
23 Jan 2020 05.00 GMT

Corruption is embedded in Croatian society at school where children who cheat in tests are celebrated as “heroes”, the country’s president has said.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who is leaving her position in February following an election loss, said corrupt practices could be found throughout Croatian society but began in the classroom.

Those who did well were routinely described as “eager beavers”, the president told reporters at a press conference in Zagreb, while “those who have prepared so as to cheat on the test are heroes”.

“This is where corruption starts, on the children,” Grabar-Kitarović said. “They look for ways how to get around the system – and it is not contained to politics. It is much better than it used to be. But it is not just politics.”

Last month the former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader, within whose government Grabar-Kitarović was a minister, was sentenced to six years in jail, after being found guilty of taking a €10m (£8.5m) bribe in exchange for giving a Croat oil firm a large stake in a newly privatised energy company.

Grabar-Kitarović said she had been cut out of major government decisions during her time in Sanader’s administration and as a result had no idea of his personal corruption.

But the outgoing president, a fellow member of Sanader’s centre-right Croat Democratic Union party, admitted that even the daily customs of her country encouraged a culture of kickbacks.

Grabar-Kitarović said: “Most often we are not even aware of what corruption is.

“When you go to see a doctor everybody expects you to bring at least flowers, chocolates and things like that – it is customary.

“My mother was in hospital recently and my friends were asking me, why didn’t you bring anything because the nurses expect that …

“I said, ‘I am not going to participate in this kind of corruption.’ I will bring a basket for Christmas, a little Christmas gift, but that is it.

“For me the bright light is the young people who have left Croatia and going abroad to different countries that they will come back and bring different ethics and ways of working life with them. And that way we will profit.”

The most recent Eurobarometer survey found that a majority of Croatians feel affected by corruption in their daily lives (59%). The country has the largest proportion out of all EU member states of respondents (16%) reporting to have been personally exposed to corruption.

Grabar-Kitarović lost the presidential election to the centre-left candidate Zoran Milanović at the beginning of January, a few days after the country had assumed the rotating presidency of the EU.

A former prime minister from the Social Democrat party, Milanović has promised to move the country on from its wartime past.

Grabar-Kitarović, who attracted international attention during Croatia’s run to the World Cup final in Russia in 2018 by dancing in front of Vladimir Putin when her country’s team beat Russia, told reporters she was left feeling “bullied” by much of the domestic media attention she had received during her time in office.

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« Reply #9 on: Jan 23, 2020, 05:07 AM »

'Our future is not assured': Schiff issues stark warning at impeachment trial

    Impeachment manager describes moment of historic national crisis
    After rejecting fresh witnesses, Republicans say they heard nothing new
    Some senators exit chamber despite trial rules

Lauren Gambino in Washington and Tom McCarthy in New York
Thu 23 Jan 2020 02.52 GMT

Striving to make himself heard across partisan lines, the lead impeachment prosecutor filled his opening argument against Donald Trump on the Senate floor on Wednesday with invitations, warnings and appeals designed to win Republican backing for a substantial trial.

Using flowing evocations of constitutional history, the global promise of US democracy, and the stakes should it all be allowed to slip, Democrat Adam Schiff framed his story of Trump’s wrongdoing as a national crisis demanding a non-partisan remedy.

“I don’t think the impeachment power is a relic. If it is a relic, I wonder how much longer our republic can succeed,” said Schiff. “If we don’t stand up to this peril today, we will write the history of our decline with our own hand.”

But ahead of the trial’s second full day, Republicans signaled no newfound curiosity about the case against Trump, who was impeached last month for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in connection with an alleged scheme to pressure Ukraine into announcing investigations of his political rival Joe Biden.

Republicans complained on Wednesday that the trial had not revealed any new evidence against the president. Less than 24 hours earlier, those same senators had voted four consecutive times against hearing from new witnesses.

“I didn’t hear anything new today,” said Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

“I haven’t heard any evidence in there that the president’s done anything wrong,” said Josh Hawley of Missouri.

With the parties so firmly ensconced in unique echo chambers, four months into the impeachment process, the likelihood that one argument – or one piece of evidence, or snippet of testimony – would find a way through the partisan barrier seemed small.

Schiff and his fellow impeachment managers would need to persuade about 20 Republican senators to achieve their stated goal of removing Trump from office. But a much more modest number – three or four Republicans – would be enough for Democrats to call witnesses to the floor who might change the course of the proceedings.

“You are left with no choice but to demand to hear from each witness with firsthand knowledge” of Trump’s pressure campaign, Schiff said. “A fair trial requires nothing less.”

The historic weight attending the trial, only the third of its kind in US history, was visible with the presence in the room of John Roberts, the chief justice of the US supreme court, and two tables of legal teams cramming the Senate well.

The formality of the tableau was broken just once before a dinner break when a protester raised an incoherent cry in the balcony about abortion and Jesus Christ, to be quickly ushered out. “The Senate will be in order,” Roberts said, banging his gavel. “The sergeant-at-arms will restore order in the gallery.”

Just after 1pm, Schiff stepped to a lectern between the tables to narrate the story of Trump’s wrongdoing. The managers would lay out their case in stages, he said, describing the details of “Trump’s corrupt scheme” in narrative form, with a factual chronology and video of past witness testimony, to move thereafter to a description of the constitutional framework for impeachment.

At a break in the trial, the minority leader, Chuck Schumer, called Schiff’s performance “a tour de force”.

“I think a good number of my Republican colleagues for the first time heard the argument against the president – powerfully, succinctly and completely– and I hope that can begin to change minds,” Schumer said.

Polling released on Wednesday by the Pew Research Center indicated public backing for the Democratic call for witnesses and found that 70% of respondents said Trump “definitely or probably acted unethically” while 51% said Trump “should be removed from office”.

“We’re trying this case over two juries,” Schiff said. “The Senate and the American people.”

But with the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, having succeeded the night before in winning approval for a speedy trial, the prosecutors have limited time in which to plant seeds of doubt in Republican minds about the conduct of the president.

And the managers’ audience, visibly frustrated at the long hours of the trial, appeared at times to be on the verge of mild mutiny, openly flouting rules requiring them to remain at their desks and instead circulating in a cloakroom off the Senate floor. They drew no rebuke from Roberts.

In a recurring rhetorical trope, Schiff highlighted the evidence missing from the case owing to Trump’s decision to defy subpoenas and block testimony, which prompted the obstruction of Congress charge.

Describing a memo the US diplomat Bill Taylor wrote to the state department after military aid to Ukraine was suspended, Schiff said: “Would you like me to read that to you right now? I would like to read that to you. But I don’t have it.”

On records of concerns filed by national security officials with in-house lawyers, Schiff said: “Would you like me to read you that record? I would like to read you that record. It’s there for the asking.

“If you keep getting told to go talk to the lawyers,” Schiff quipped, “there’s a problem.”

The seven House managers selected to present the articles of impeachment have about 16 remaining hours spread over two days to present their case to convict and remove Trump from office. Then the president’s team has its opportunity to rebut the charges. Trump is not expected to appear at his own trial and the Republican-controlled Senate is forecast to acquit the president.

Some moderate Republican senators have expressed discomfort with rushing the proceedings, but none voted with Democrats on several motions on Tuesday that would have cleared the way for new witnesses and testimony.

Ahead of the opening arguments, the White House yielded an opportunity to force a vote in the chamber on dismissing the charges against the president. Republican senators said there was not enough support among their caucus to bypass a trial.

McConnell was forced to make last-minute changes after moderate Republicans expressed dissatisfaction.

On Wednesday, Schiff warned that democracy was on the line. “Our future is not assured,” he said.

“A fair trial, with impartial consideration of all of the evidence against the president, is how we keep our republic.”


Carl Bernstein: There are 7-9 ‘wobbly’ Republicans who want witnesses but Mitch McConnell is trying to block them

Raw Story
By Sarah K. Burris

In a CNN panel discussion Wednesday, notorious Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein revealed that there are seven to nine Republican senators who are wavering after the compelling argument that the House has provided for the impeachment. The problem, however, is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is refusing to allow any break from the party line.

“I think this is a hugely damaging narrative that was laid out today, and that Mitch McConnell understands, and has understood for a while that this hugely damaging narrative was going to affect his members,” said Bernstein. “And that his strategy — I’ve talked to some Republicans about this — #MidnightMitch is to wear out his own members so that they don’t vote for more witnesses because there are six, seven, eight, nine wobbly Republicans.”

Bernstein explained that these are not necessarily senators that want to acquit President Donald Trump, but they don’t like what Trump did.

Or “want either to make some kind of statement that they don’t like what the president has done, that they think it is deplorable, disgusting, really have been affected by what they’re hearing,” he explained. “The question is, though, whether or not they will go for witnesses.”


Conservative senator hints impeachment trial may be moving Republicans: GOP caucus has ‘learned a lot’

Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

Senate Republicans are learning a great deal during the impeachment trial, according to one conservative senator.

Nicholas Fandos spoke with Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) during a break in the trial.

Kennedy is one of Trump’s biggest defenders, even though he ran for Lousiana attorney general, state Treasurer, and U.S. Senate as a Democrat, before switching parties.

Kennedy acknowledged that Republican senators were not familiar with the case.
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“I’ve learned a lot. Everybody has. Senators didn’t know the case,” Kennedy admitted. “They really didn’t.”

The former law school professor claims he has now read through the written briefs twice.

“We didn’t stay glued to the television. We haven’t read the transcripts,” he explained.

“Those of you who have sat through a trial before know that there are peaks and valleys. A trial is a narrative. It’s a story and to really evaluate the consequences of the story you have to get the story,” he added.

    Kennedy adds: "Those of you who have sat through a trial before know that there are peaks and valleys. A trial is a narrative. It's a story and to really evaluate the consequences of the story you have to get the story."

    — Nicholas Fandos (@npfandos) January 23, 2020


Mitch McConnell just gave Democrats a huge gift — by publicly tainting any acquittal of Trump: columnist

Raw Story
By Matthew Chapman

It seems all but inevitable that the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump will end with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) mustering the votes to block conviction, no matter what the evidence says and no matter whether Democrats successfully bring in new witnesses and documents.

But McConnell has already handed a victory to Democrats in one key aspect, wrote columnist E. J. Dionne for the Washington Post. His handling of the trial has removed any possibility that impeachment will bolster the president’s approval — and emboldened Democrats to take their case to the American people as hard as they can. Indeed, wrote Dionne, Democrats “owe a debt” to McConnell.

“Recall that when Democrats were debating whether to impeach President Trump last year, those opposed to the move argued there was no chance that Senate Republicans would remove him from office, committed as they are to marching off any cliff toward which the president directs them,” wrote Dionne. The fear was that Trump would inevitably tout acquittal in the Senate as vindication. He’d say that impeachment was, to use a word invoked over and over by his hapless lawyer Pat Cipollone on the Senate floor (because he had little of substance to say), ‘ridiculous.’ But … by working with Trump to rig the trial by admitting as little evidence as possible, McConnell robbed the proceeding of any legitimacy as a fair adjudication of Trump’s behavior.”

“Instead of being able to claim that Trump was ‘cleared’ by a searching and serious process, Republican senators will now be on the defensive for their complicity in the Trump coverup,” continued Dionne. “Thanks to assertions by Trump’s lawyers that he did absolutely nothing wrong, an acquittal vote, as The Post editorialized, ‘would confirm to Mr. Trump that he is free to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election and to withhold congressionally appropriated aid to induce such interference. Is that the position that Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.), among others, want to embrace as they run for reelection this fall? Good luck with that.”

“When he was asked about the GOP’s behavior on impeachment on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ on Wednesday, Biden offered his verdict with quiet sadness. ‘I think it’s one of the things they’re going to regret,’ he said, ‘when their grandchildren read in history books what they did,'” concluded Dionne. “And many of them may regret it sooner than that, when voters cast their ballots in November.”


Former senator reveals to Maddow how one brave Democrat can reveal key document in impeachment trial

Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

Near the end of Wednesday’s impeachment trial, Chief Justice John Roberts announced that an agreement had been made to allow senators to read supplemental testimony from Vice President Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams.

The document will remain classified, despite claims that there is no classified material in the document, only evidence that is damning to the president.

“In terms of this document potentially being improperly classified, which is something that has been raised in writing by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and raised on the floor of the Senate tonight by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA),” MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow noted. “Obviously, it was the vice president’s office that said it was classified, they are getting publicly criticized for that. If it has been improperly classified and it should be something that the public can see, who adjudicates that?”

“Well, it’s complicated. Ultimately a court does if it gets to that,” said former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). “You can’t classify things just to keep them out of the public eye, there has to be a rational basis for the classification. And ultimately it would be a matter for the judges.”

The former lawmaker noted another dynamic.

A single Democratic senator could make the decision to read the document into the record or summarize it, on the Senate floor.

In theory, the senator would be protected from prosecution by the constitution’s speech and debate clause.

As McCaskill noted, the decision flips the burden of proof, making the administration prove that the document should have been classified.

Following today’s impeachment trial, all 47 Senate Democrats were allowed to view the document in a secure room. Under McCaskill’s theory, it would only take bravery from a single member to reveal if the Trump administration and Pence are unproperly classifying documents to cover-up wrongdoing.


Adam Schiff trapped the GOP — by challenging them to refute documents Trump is blocking: Attorney

Raw Story
By Matthew Chapman

In a thread on Twitter, The Nation justice correspondent Elie Mystal broke down the ingenious argument that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) used to trap the GOP with President Donald Trump’s own obstruction — by laying out the case against Trump that witnesses said were in documents the president is blocking, and then challenging them to compel Trump to produce those documents if they don’t believe the evidence.

    Bad faith actors like @LindseyGrahamSC will not care, but what @RepAdamSchiff is doing here is brilliant. He's referencing docs he doesn't have, reminding the Senate that they can demand those docs, and then explaining what *other witnesses under oath* have said about those docs.

    — Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) January 23, 2020

    This BLOW US the entire GOP "second hand information" argument. The information is NOT second hand, it's first hand from people who saw the docs. If you don't trust them, if you'd like to verify their recollections, SUBPOENA THE DOCUMENTS!#ImpeachmentTrial

    — Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) January 23, 2020

    Again, Republicans don't seem to care about logic, or intellectual consistency. But this is pretty airtight.
    "I'd like to read it to you, but I can't, so I'll tell you what those who saw them said. If that's not enough, issue a subpoena."

    — Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) January 23, 2020

    Schiff did it again: "I'd like to read it to you, but I can't… Because President Trump has refused to release those records."

    I so agree that there's an aspect here that isn't even for *right now*, it's for 100 years from now when people are explaining late republic America.

    — Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) January 23, 2020

    "In any fair trial in America you would want to see contemporaneous notes…. I don't know what those notes say. Maybe they say no quid pro quo, maybe they say it was a perfect call."
    — Wherein @RepAdamSchiff directly trolls @realDonaldTrump

    — Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) January 23, 2020


GOP senators only have three options for Trump’s impeachment trial: conservative Naval War College professor

Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

Naval War College Prof. Tom Nichols broke down the only three ways Republican senators will come off if they vote against removing President Donald Trump from office following the Senate’s impeachment trial.

Nichols, an undefeated five-time “Jeopardy!” champion, praised House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) for his success in prosecuting the commander-in-chief.

As one of America’s top Russia experts, Nichols has been closely following the proceedings, and concluded that the political perception of the trial was incredibly damning for Republicans.

“Schiff is laying out a narrative that is so clear – and undeniable, because it is rooted in a huge amount of documents and testimony – that the President’s defenders only have the choice now of looking complicit, stupid, or immoral (or all three) in rejecting it,” he wrote.

    Schiff is laying out a narrative that is so clear – and undeniable, because it is rooted in a huge amount of documents and testimony – that the President’s defenders only have the choice now of looking complicit, stupid, or immoral (or all three) in rejecting it.

    — Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) January 23, 2020

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« Reply #10 on: Jan 23, 2020, 06:26 AM »

MSNBC’s Morning Joe busts Trump for admitting — again — to obstruction of justice

on January 23, 2020
Raw Story
By Travis Gettys

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough thumped President Donald Trump for blurting out additional proof that he’s obstructing justice.

The president boasted from Davos, Switzerland, that his administration was withholding documents from impeachment investigators, and the “Morning Joe” host was astonished.

“You have made the Democrats’ point,” Scarborough said, laughing. “You have shown why 57 (percent), 58 percent of Americans believe you have obstructed the investigation into your own impeachment, because you just admitted, ‘We got it all, and we’re keeping it from the investigators.'”

“That would be called obstruction of justice in courts,” he added. “That’s obstruction of Congress here and obstructing his own impeachment investigation, and he just may not be smart enough to realize that’s something he keeps inside his head.”
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Co-host Mika Brzezinski agreed.

“That was bad,” she said. “You know, on Sunday, (Rep.) Adam Schiff suggested the administration was withholding documents. On Wednesday, President Trump said, pretty much, yep.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNdN8BXf90A&feature=emb_title


Republican officials attacking Trump’s impeachment appear stumped when asked a simple question

on January 23, 2020
By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

A group of Republican attorneys general sent a letter on Wednesday pleading with the Senate to reject the impeachment articles of President Donald Trump sent by the House.

They argued that both the articles of impeachment are “legally flawed and factually insufficient, as well as inherently destructive of separation of powers, the Senate should explicitly reject them to protect both the institution of the Presidency and the Constitution.”

They continued:
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    This partisan political effort undermines the democratic process, both now and in the future. The House unilaterally re-writes the constitution, without the people’s consent to amend it. It weaponizes a process that should only be initiated in exceedingly rare circumstances and never for partisan purposes. This purely partisan attack on President Trump will damage democracy in America in the worst possible way: it will forever weaken the separation of powers–the very edifice upon which our democracy stands.

A group of Democratic attorneys general replied to the letter, saying: “The people in these states deserve more than politicking and pandering from their state Attorneys General—and that’s clearly all this was.”

And when the Republicans were faced with a simple question at a press conference from Courthouse News reporter Adam Klasfeld about the upcoming Senate trial, which most Republicans hope to keep short and free from any witness testimony, the Republican officials were stumped.

“You’ve all prosecuted a lot of cases,” he said. “Have you ever prosecuted a case without witness testimony or discovery of evidence?”

At that question, all seven officials froze, apparently unsure of who should answer.

Eventually, one of them stood forward and criticized the Democrats for having a “fishing expedition” and not meeting the evidentiary standards. But he never answered the question, which goes to the central matter of why there should be testimony in the Senate trial, regardless of what the House did. Of course, Democrats do believe they met the standard necessary to impeach the president; they want more evidence and testimony because they’re clearly aware that Republican senators haven’t been convinced to vote to remove the president, and they want to make the case as clearly and thoroughly to the American people as possible.


‘This is bad news for Trump’: Morning Joe drops bombshell on president over blowback from impeachment trial

on January 23, 2020
Raw Story
By Tom Boggioni

Referring to a new poll that shows Donald Trump is losing to virtually every Democrat who is running for their party’s presidential nomination, the panel on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” suggested the president may survive impeachment but not the 2020 election.

“Why don’t we see what the American people are thinking about these proceeding, because when you listen to Republicans, they will tell you that this has just been — that Nancy Pelosi mishandled this, Adam Schiff mishandled it,” host Scarborough began. “That the American people are angry and this is going to help Donald Trump and help the Republicans so much. Poll after poll after poll shows that to be a lie.”

Pointing out that the numbers show the American public want the president ousted from the Oval Office the MSNBC host explained, “All of those numbers are proving that this impeachment and the truth coming with it, the proceedings, are hurting the president. Now [there is] direct evidence how it’s hurting him in head-to-head matchups where Democrats appear to be breezing past Donald Trump now.”
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After listing off various Democratic candidates whose numbers are rising past Trump in the polls, Scrabourg added, “I hear Trumpists on TV, read Trumpists in the paper and on Twitter. They’re all whistling past the graveyard suggesting that this impeachment proceeding could not be going better for Donald Trump, and yet the American people in poll after poll suggest just the opposite is true. This is bad news for Donald Trump.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cc1eyp1YCHU&feature=emb_title

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« Reply #11 on: Jan 24, 2020, 04:14 AM »

Scientists found ancient never-before-seen viruses locked in a glacier

Mike Wehner

You can find a lot of interesting things if you start digging around in ice that’s been frozen for thousands and thousands of years. For scientists working in China, 15,000-year-old glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau provided a glimpse into the not-so-distant history of viruses, including some entirely new viruses that were previously unknown to science.

Upon examining ice core samples taken from the glacier, researchers were able to identify over two dozen viruses that nobody has ever seen. If this sounds a bit like the start of a made-for-Netflix sci-fi horror movie to you, you’re not alone.

After taking the ice core samples, the scientists slowly melted away the exterior of the ice so as to ensure there was no contamination in their testing. Samples were then studied for the presence of microorganisms, and the researchers found a total of 33 types of viruses, with a whopping 28 of those being entirely new to science.

As LiveScience reports, the research is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that as ancient glaciers around the world melt (often with the help of a warming planet), it’s these kinds of viruses that may be waking up for the first time in modern human history.

That might sound a little scary on the surface, but it’s worth remembering that not all viruses pose a serious threat (or any threat at all) to humans. Generally speaking, the discoveries of these new (old) viruses is more interesting from a historical perspective than anything else. So, no, a virus unlocked from a glacier probably isn’t going to wipe out humanity… probably.

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« Reply #12 on: Jan 24, 2020, 04:16 AM »

‘Biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen’: Trump guts safeguards for US streams and wetlands

on January 24, 2020
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

“This all-out assault on basic safeguards will send our country back to the days when corporate polluters could dump whatever sludge or slime they wished into the streams and wetlands that often connect to the water we drink.”

The Trump administration is set to continue its corporate friendly assault on U.S. environmental regulations Thursday by finalizing a rule that will allow companies, landowners, and property developers—including golf course owners like the president—to dump pesticides and other pollutants directly into many of the nation’s streams and wetlands, potentially threatening the drinking water of millions of Americans.

“This will be the biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen,” Blan Holman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.
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The new measure will roll back Obama-era “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) regulations aimed at ensuring wetlands and streams are protected under the 1972 Clean Water Act, which the Trump Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly targeted despite the president’s professed desire for the U.S. to have the “cleanest water” in the world.

“This puts drinking water for millions of Americans at risk of contamination from unregulated pollution.”
—Blan Holman, Southern Environmental Law Center

“This puts drinking water for millions of Americans at risk of contamination from unregulated pollution,” said Holman. “This is not just undoing the Obama rule. This is stripping away protections that were put in place in the ’70s and ’80s that Americans have relied on for their health.”

As the New York Times reported late Wednesday, the Trump rule “will remove federal protections from more than half the nation’s wetlands, and hundreds of thousands of small waterways.” The measure, which one environmental group dubbed President Donald Trump’s “Dirty Water Rule,” is expected to be fully implemented in the coming weeks.

“His administration had completed the first step of [the WOTUS regulation’s] demise in September with the rule’s repeal,” the Times noted. “His replacement on Thursday will complete the process, not only rolling back 2015 rules that guaranteed protections under the 1972 Clean Water Act to certain wetlands and streams that run intermittently or run temporarily underground, but also relieves landowners of the need to seek permits that the Environmental Protection Agency had considered on a case-by-case basis before the Obama rule.”

Trump and EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, touted the rule at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Texas on Sunday. But while the White House—and the Times—framed the measure as a “victory for farmers,” critics argued the rule will largely benefit big agribusiness and fossil fuel companies, which will soon have even more leeway to pollute U.S. waterways with impunity.

The American Gas Association, a trade group representing more than 200 natural gas companies, swiftly hailed the rule as an industry victory.

Janette Brimmer, an attorney in the Northwest regional office of climate group Earthjustice, said in a statement that the rule further shows “President Trump’s administration wants to make our waters burn again.”

“This all-out assault on basic safeguards,” warned Brimmer, “will send our country back to the days when corporate polluters could dump whatever sludge or slime they wished into the streams and wetlands that often connect to the water we drink.”

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« Reply #13 on: Jan 24, 2020, 04:18 AM »

Pyrenees glaciers ‘doomed’, experts warn

on January 24, 2020
By Agence France-Presse

Glaciers nestled in the lofty crags of the Pyrenees mountains separating France and Spain could disappear within 30 years as temperatures rise, upending ecosystems while putting local economies at risk, scientists say.

“We can’t set a precise date but the Pyrenees glaciers are doomed,” Pierre Rene, a glaciologist with the region’s Moraine glacier study association, told AFP.

He estimates the end will come by 2050, based on the group’s measurements of nine of the 15 glaciers on the French side over the past 18 years.

The United Nations has said the past decade has been the hottest on record and warned that persistent greenhouse gas emissions were expected to push average global temperatures even higher, leading to retreating ice cover, rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather.

It also confirmed that 2019 was the second hottest year on record, after 2016.

Surveys, core samples and GPS tracking of the Pyrenees glaciers all point to the same conclusions already noted at glaciers in the Alps and elsewhere: Warmer and drier winters appear to be inexorably shrinking and thinning the ice fields.

The total surface area of the nine glaciers tracked by Moraine now stands at 79 hectares (195 acres) compared with 140 hectares just 17 years ago, Rene said.

That is just a small fraction of the 450 hectares they covered in the middle of the 19th century — and the pace of decline is accelerating.

Since 2002, the nine glaciers have lost 3.6 hectares every year, the equivalent of five soccer pitches, Moraine says in its report on the 2019 season.

Last year was no exception, with the bottom edge of five glaciers tracked by Moraine retreating by 8.1 metres (27 feet) on average last summer, up from 7.9 metres recorded in previous years, it said.

– ‘Wiped off the map’ –

Scientists also warn of the hit to high-altitude ecosystems and biodiversity, with consequences that will ripple well beyond the mountainous zones.

Glaciers and the cold rivers they feed harbour bacteria and fungi that have adapted to the harsh conditions, including the near-absence of light, said Sophie Cauvy-Fraunie, a researcher at the INRAE agricultural and environmental institute.

Microscopic algae also provides a first link in the food chain of glacier environments, sustaining glacial fleas and other insects.

As temperatures rise and more ground is exposed as the glaciers retreat, the landscape will become vulnerable to colonisation from plants and animals that currently can survive only at lower altitudes.

“If native species in the Pyrenees depend on glacial influences, you can imagine that they are going to be wiped off the map,” Cauvy-Fraunie said.

The regional OPCC climate observatory estimated in a 2018 report that average maximum temperatures across the Pyrenees could rise by 1.4 to 3.3 degrees Celsius (2.5 to 4 Fahrenheit) by the middle of this century.

The increase has been even more dramatic at higher altitudes, where shrinking glaciers are seen as a harbinger of dire consequences across the range.

On the 2,870-metre (9,416-foot) Midi de Bigorre peak above the La Mongie ski resort — favoured by French President Emmanuel Macron — the average temperature has risen by 1.7 degrees since 1880, compared with a global average of 0.85 degrees, Moraine says.

– Tourism affected –

That could spell disaster for the roughly three dozen ski resorts on both the French and Spanish sides, as well as the popular stations in Andorra.

Already this year, around half of French resorts had to push back their scheduled openings before the Christmas holidays because of warm winds sweeping up from the south.

That came after a 2018-2019 season that saw the lowest snowfalls since regular measurements began 22 years earlier, according to the Meteo France weather service.

It took a heavy toll on tourism as lift ticket sales and hotel reservations plunged, with many skiers heading to higher slopes in the French Alps.

Already several glaciers have been reduced to little more than year-round snow packs, which will also impact the summer tourist season.

Rene said climbers will lose their “stepladders” for ascents to the highest peaks, “making their routes to the top more difficult”.

And for hikers at lower elevations, the retreat will destabilise the newly exposed slopes, heightening the risk of rock falls or even avalanches.

© 2020 AFP

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« Reply #14 on: Jan 24, 2020, 04:20 AM »

China moves to phase out single-use plastics

Plastic bags to be banned in all major cities by end of 2020, says state planner

24 Jan 2020 11.43 GMT

China is stepping up restrictions on the production, sale and use of single-use plastic products, according to the state planner, as it seeks to tackle one of the country’s biggest environmental problems.

Vast amounts of untreated plastic waste are buried in landfills or dumped in rivers. The United Nations has identified single-use plastics as one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges.

The national development and reform commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, which issued the policy, said plastic bags would be banned in all of China’s major cities by the end of 2020 and banned in all cities and towns in 2022. Markets selling fresh produce will be exempt from the ban until 2025.

Other items such as plastic utensils from takeaway food outlets and plastic courier packages will also be phased out.

By end of this year, the restaurant industry will be banned from using single-use straws. By 2025, towns and cities across China must reduce the consumption of single-use plastic items in the restaurant industry by 30%.

Some regions and sectors will also face restrictions on the production and sale of plastic products, although it is not yet clear which geographical areas.

China also banned the import of all plastic waste, and the use of medical plastic waste in the production of plastic.

The production and sale of plastic bags less than 0.025mm thick will be banned, as will plastic film less than 0.01mm thick for agricultural use.

China is already boosting recycling rates and is building dozens of “comprehensive resource utilisation” bases to ensure more products are reused as part of its war on waste.

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