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Jul 23, 2017, 10:37 AM
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 on: Jul 22, 2017, 06:20 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
The week in wildlife – in pictures

A pod of pilot whales, nesting storks and a clan of hyenas are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world

Compiled by Eric Hilaire
22 July 2017 14.00 BST

Click to see all: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/jul/21/the-week-in-wildlife-in-pictures

 on: Jul 22, 2017, 06:14 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Hear, boy? Pet translators will be on sale soon, Amazon says

Retailer backs futurologist’s claim that devices conversing in canine will be available in, ruffly speaking, a decade

Sarah Butler and Hannah Devlin
Saturday 22 July 2017 08.00 BST

Imagine talking to a tiger, chatting to a cheetah, as Dr Doolittle once sang – what a neat achievement that would be. Well, Amazon has revealed that the animal-loving doctor’s ambition might not be entirely fantasy.

Pet translators that can turn woofs into words and make sense of miaows, might really be on the horizon, according to a report backed by the internet retailer.

Futurologist William Higham of Next Big Thing, who co-authored the report for Amazon, says he believes devices that can talk dog could be less than 10 years away.

“Innovative products that succeed are based around a genuine and major consumer needs. The amount of money now spent on pets – they are becoming fur babies to so many people – means there is huge consumer demand for this. Somebody is going to put this together,” he says.

Higham pointed to the work being done by Con Slobodchikoff, professor emeritus at the department of biological sciences at Northern Arizona University, who has spent 30 years studying the behaviour of prairie dogs, which are actually not dogs at all but north American rodents.

The author of Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals used AI software to help analyse prairie dog calls, finding they had “a sophisticated communication system that has all the aspects of language”.

“They have words for different species of predator and can describe the colour of clothes of a human, or the coat of coyotes or dogs.,” Slobodchikoff says.

He is now so convinced that other animals use similarly decipherable language that he is attempting to raise money to develop a cat and dog translation device.

Slobodchikoff says: “So many people would dearly love to talk to their dog or cat or at least find out what they are trying to communicate. A lot of people talk to their dogs and share their innermost secrets. With cats I’m not sure what they’d have to say. A lot of times it might just be “you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone”.

During the past few years, advances in the field of machine learning have led to dramatic improvements in automatic speech recognition and translation. Algorithms learn to interpret language by training on huge datasets rather than being pre-programmed with a set of inflexible rules.

But Juliane Kaminski, a psychologist at Portsmouth University who works on interactions between humans and dogs, is less optimistic that we will soon be able to decipher barks and bow-wows – mainly because she does not think that the way a dog woofs can be viewed as a language. “We would not describe dogs’ forms of communication as language in the scientific sense,” she says. But: “They do give out rudimentary signals of what they want and how they’re feeling.”

For instance, she says, a right-sided tail wag is positive while a wag to the left not so positive. “That’s something humans might not so easily pick up on,” said Kaminski – although a translation device might have difficulty spotting that, too.

Dogs’ barks, she says, are also context specific. They give out different yaps and yowls during play, aggression, when they are missing their owner and so on, but even people who have never owned a dog are fairly good at decoding these utterances.

Kaminski says a translation device might make things easier for people who lack intuition or young children who misinterpret signals “sometimes quite significantly.”.

One study, for instance, found that when young children were shown a picture of a dog with menacingly bared teeth, they concluded that the dog was “happy” and “smiling” and that they would like to hug it. An interpretation device might be able to warn of danger.

Amazon already sells one device that transfers a human voice into miaows using samples from 25 cats (One review says “the cat seems puzzled”). And the Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery, a small Scandinavian research lab led by artists and marketeers, attempted to develop a dog translation device called No More Woof a few years ago. The project was put “on pause” according to co-founder Per Cromwell when they realised the scale of the challenge.

The gadget, which looked like a Madonna-style headset, supposedly measured brain activity to help communicate what the dog was thinking via a speaker on their collar. “It needed more research,” admits Cromwell who has gone on to instead develop bicycle-powered mobile coffee stalls.

Tomas Mazetti, who was also involved in the project, said: “It was extremely limited. It could tell you the dog was tired or angry. But you can kind of see that anyway.”

 on: Jul 22, 2017, 06:12 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Disturbing proximity of a red kite's nest

Comins Coch, Aberystwyth I was looking forward to seeing the ramshackle structure for myself. Then the anxiety began

John Gilbey
Saturday 22 July 2017 05.30 BST

A month or so ago, a friend casually mentioned that they thought red kites were starting to nest near their house. Very near, in fact; actually in the garden. Even in the hills beyond Tregaron, where kites wheel and dive in such abundance as to be almost unworthy of comment, having a nest within view of your kitchen window is unusual.

On the boundary of the property, the crook of a sycamore tree provided an apparently suitable spot for the pair to set up home; occasional bulletins told of the progress, albeit slow and halting, of nest building. It seemed the birds were in no great hurry – limiting their activity to the odd twig or two each day – but eventually they had assembled a slightly ramshackle structure that managed to support the weight of a sitting bird.

I was looking forward to taking up the invitation to drop in for tea and have a look for myself. Then the anxiety began. These are “schedule 1” birds under the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act, meaning that a red kite has year-round protection against disturbance, especially “while it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young”. Could the arrival of an extra person at a quiet rural dwelling constitute “disturbance”? When I caught myself looking at adverts for telephoto lenses I realised I was on uncertain moral ground, and decided not to take up the offer.

The most recent news was disappointing. The red kites had abandoned the nest – and, more worryingly, one of the pair was no longer visible in the area. Hopefully, this had just been a test-run by newly paired youngsters and they will return next year for another attempt; but I was left with the shadow of how I would feel if the birds had left after I had been to visit.

Not without regret, I’ve concluded that the only sensible place to watch these magnificent birds is where they are truly free to roam.


The Red Kite Rises

Aberystwyth: In 1977 one female bird was identified as the source for all UK kites, but today it is a rare success story in British conservation

Jim Perrin
Friday 20 July 2012 21.00 BST

In the sunlit garden of a friend, the air suddenly filled with red kites, circling above our heads, peering into the small space we occupied. We counted seven of them. A century ago this would have been near enough the entire British population. A century and a half before that, Thomas Pennant recorded kites breeding at Gray's Inn. With the enclosure acts, the growth of "sporting" estates led to the red kite being sacrificed to psychopathic pleasures of the gentry.

In 1977 one female bird was identified as the source for all UK kites, so small was the breeding stock. Today the red kite is a rare success story in British nature conservation. Twenty years ago Spanish birds were introduced into the Chilterns – 500 breeding pairs are there now. In Wales, from having "survived as a beleaguered remnant in a remote part" (in the words of ornithologist Leslie Brown), it's an everyday sight in the hills. I've even seen one scavenging between stalls at Machynlleth's weekly market – a sight that would have delighted the late Bill Condry, a Guardian Country diarist and champion of the red kite. It was commonplace in Jacobean London, where the bird was the capital's most important agent of sanitation.

I saw my first red kite on an autumn day 50 years ago from hills above the headwaters of the Tywi, before spruce plantations raked to ashes the flaming bracken-ridges of Elenydd – fire-tints all around me, and overhead too, the fire-tint in feathers spread wide against the sun.

I remember the visionary thrill of that occasion, and the indolent, faintly tremulous grace as they wheeled and glided in slow circles. Kites are leisurely birds, too easy prey for the gamekeeper's gun, too susceptible as carrion-feeders to his poisoned bait. Perhaps they're not our loveliest raptor – a male hen-harrier is surely that, and a peregrine is swifter and more certain in its flight (the one species threatened, the other again in decline). But to see one is still a gift.

 on: Jul 22, 2017, 06:09 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Irish farmers to create seaweed eating 'supercows' in bid to fight climate change

Change of diet could reduce methane emissions by 99%, researchers claim

Harry Cockburn

Could seaweed eating supercows help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save the world from climate change?

Irish farmers hope so and have welcomed the opportunity to investigate a 2016 study that claims feeding cows small amounts of seaweed along with their normal diet of grass can reduce methane emissions by up to 99 per cent.

The study, by a team of researchers at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, found in live trials with sheep that recorded methane levels fell between 50 - 70 per cent when they ate a diet including 2 per cent seaweed.

According to the Irish Times, the Irish Farmers’ Association has welcomed the study and said the research provides the opportunity to continue to build on Ireland’s “sustainable grass-based model of food production”.

Thomas Cooney, the association’s environment chairman, called on Irish scientists “to immediately investigate the potential for this research in an Irish agriculture context, and in the context of the opportunity that may exist for indigenous seaweed production”.

Irish politician Michael Fitzmaurice who represents Roscommon–South Leitrim, also called for further research into the implications for Ireland.

Speaking to Irish farming publication AgriLand this week, Mr Fitzmaurice said: “I would like to see this research being carried out here; there are huge possibilities with regard to the seaweed industry in Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should look into this further.

He added: "We are an island nation with plenty of coastline and if we can develop and improve our seaweed industry it could be a big bonus for our economy – more analysis into this exciting new research must take place as soon as possible.”

The Australian study was originally based on the experience of a Canadian farmer who realised that his cattle that ate washed up seaweed were healthier and produced “rip roaring heats” with longer mating cycles than those that did not.

Canadian researchers Rob Kinley and Alan Fredeen subsequently proved the findings in 2014, and also suggested the cattle produced significantly less methane.

The pair then teamed up with Professor of Aquaculture Rocky De Nys in Australia to expand the study which was a collaborative effort including the Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

The research team tested how 20 species of seaweed reacted with bacteria found in cows’ stomachs. They found that one species of red algae called Asparagopsis Taxiformis was particularly effective in reducing cows’ methane emissions and if it made up just 2 per cent of the animal’s diet, it could reduce emissions by 99 per cent.

A single cow releases between 70 and 120 kg of methane a year. The greenhouse gas is thought to be 25 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide over a one hundred year period.

 on: Jul 22, 2017, 06:05 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
New sex robots with 'frigid' settings allow men to simulate rape


A survey published by UK innovation company Nesta last June, found that over a quarter of young people surveyed would happily date a robot

 According to the company's website, if you touch the 'Frigid Farrah model in a 'private area, more than likely, she will not be to appreciative of your advance.'

It seems a new frontier has been reached in the fast-paced world of Artificial Intelligence, but as fast as technology is able to advance, it can still be reproached for moral retrogression.

This has been the subject of debate after the recent advertisement of ‘Roxxxy TrueCompanion’, a robot you can buy and simulate raping with a simple switch in setting.

One of the programmable personalities for the robot is ‘Frigid Farrah’, described as “reserved and shy” on the True Companion company website. Like ‘Wild Wendy’ and ‘S & M Susan’ whose characteristics are self-ascribed, the website says that for Frigid Farrah, if you touch her “in a private area, more than likely, she will not be to appreciative of your advance.”

In the website's description, the model lacks an attempt to reproduce consent in the real world and the company say that their robots “allow everyone to realise their most private sexual dreams."
Another programmed personality that has been heavily criticised is that of ‘Young Yoko’ who is described by the website as: “oh so young (barely 18) and waiting for you to teach her.”

Roxxxy is the 9th version of the company’s sex robots after they developed their first ‘Trudy’ in the 1990s and the trade in sex robots has already caught on. The New York Times reports that a California-based company ‘Abyss Creations’ annually ships up to 600 hyper-realistic sex dolls worldwide.

A new report from the Foundation for Responsible Robotics also warns of the numerous ethical implications in our sexual future with robots.

"We found that there were a bunch of companies making these and beginning to ship orders and we thought that we should really look at it," said co-author of the report and AI Professor Noel Sharkey addressing journalists on Tuesday.

A survey published by UK innovation company Nesta last June, found that over a quarter of young people surveyed would happily date a robot.

Prof Sharkey launched the Foundation 18 months ago in order to explore controversial areas such as the questions surrounding how robots can impact sex crimes.

"Some people say it's better they rape robots than rape real people. There are other people saying this would just encourage rapists more,” Prof Sharkey explained.

"Robots don't have any kind of emotion themselves. People bond with robots but it's very one way. You're loving an artefact that can't love you back and that's what's sad about it,” Prof Sharkey added.

Laura Bates, campaigner and founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, condemned the Frigid Farrah product in the New York Times writing: “rape is not an act of sexual passion. It is a violent crime.”

“We should no more be encouraging rapists to find a supposedly safe outlet for it than we should facilitate murderers by giving them realistic, blood-spurting dummies to stab,” Ms Bates added.

The True Companion robots raise the issue of the repercussions of normalising sexual crime. In Ms Bate's view, the company's products muddy and worsen the still much-misunderstood area of consent.

A representative from True Companion told The Independent: "We absolutely agree with Laura Bates...Roxxxy is simply not programmed to participate in a rape scenario and the fact that she is, is pure conjecture on the part of others."

"You would not immediately passionately kiss a person that you just met on your first date. Likewise, Frigid Farrah would also tell you that she just met you if you try to 'move' too quickly," the company's representative said.

"Rape simply isn't an interaction that Roxxxy supports, nor is it something that our customers are requesting," the representative added.

By contrast, Ms Bates wrote: “Their creators are selling far more than an inanimate sex aid. They are effectively reproducing real women, complete with everything, except autonomy."

 on: Jul 22, 2017, 06:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

A 10-year-old Indian girl was raped and impregnated. A court denied her an abortion

By Derek Hawkins
Wa Post

    Court in India denies 10-year-old rape victim an abortion after she was allegedly impregnated by her uncle https://t.co/3akOl8P30K pic.twitter.com/ZPo0Y2S5Ww

    — CBS News (@CBSNews) July 20, 2017

A court in India on Tuesday ordered a 10-year-old girl whose parents say she was raped and impregnated by her uncle to carry her fetus to term, ruling she is too young and her pregnancy too advanced to have an abortion.

The girl, who has not been identified, is six months pregnant and sought medical attention after her maternal uncle allegedly raped her several times, CBS News reported.

The district court in the northern city of Chandigarh based its decision on an opinion by a panel of doctors from the city’s Government Medical College and Hospital, where the girl was examined, according to the hospital’s medical superintendent.

“If you abort then the risk to life is greater,” the superintendent told The Washington Post in a brief phone interview Wednesday.

A 1970s law in India known as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act bars abortions beyond 20 weeks, though courts have made exceptions if the fetus is not viable or if the mother’s life is at risk.

According to CBS, the hospital’s eight-member panel determined that the fetus was viable and could survive even if it was delivered immediately. CBS quoted an unnamed senior doctor on the panel who said abortion was “not an option at this stage.”

The hospital told the Times of India on Tuesday: “The victim is six months pregnant, as revealed by her ultrasound reports. We have submitted our medical advice to the court regarding termination of the foetus.”

The girl’s parents found out their daughter was pregnant after she complained of stomach pains, according to the Indian Express. She later reportedly told her mother that her uncle had raped her a half-dozen times when he visited the family home. The uncle was arrested, and the parents petitioned the court for an abortion, the Indian Express reported.

Doctors say it is biologically possible for a girl to become pregnant as soon as she begins ovulating, although rare for a 10 year old. By and large, medical experts agree that carrying and delivering a baby at age 15 or younger can come with life-threatening complications, including anemia, high blood pressure and hemorrhaging.

On top of that, pelvic bones do not fully develop until women reach their late teens. Before that point vaginal births and full-term pregnancies are dangerous, and even Caesarean sections present significant risks, they say. Such problems, along with complications from unsafe abortions, were the top cause of death among female adolescents in 2015, according to the World Health Organization.

Umesh Jindal, a gynecologist from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, said she has never encountered a pregnant patient as young as the girl in Chandigarh. Her youngest, she said, was 13.

“If legal permission is granted treating it as an exceptional case, it’s better to terminate the pregnancy,” Jindal told the Times of India.

Puneet Bedi, a Delhi-based gynecologist, told the Indian news site the Quint that the psychological effects of giving birth at such a young age would outweigh the risk of abortion.

“An abortion needs to be done immediately,” Bedi said. “Yes, there are risks and abortion at this stage is tough, but for the girl who is still developing, the scars will be many.”

In a strikingly similar case earlier this year, a court in the northern Indian state of Haryana permitted a 10-year-old girl who was 21 weeks pregnant to have an abortion, as the New York Times reported. The girl’s mother called a women’s help line and reported that her daughter became pregnant after being repeatedly raped by her stepfather, described as a day laborer in his early 20s, according to the Times.

Local authorities later petitioned the court to determine whether the girl should be granted an exception under the country’s abortion law. A doctor from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Rohtak, India, told the Times that the girl would “face psychological trauma” if the pregnancy were allowed to proceed.

In 2015, Indian authorities allowed a 14-year-old rape victim to end her pregnancy at 25 weeks, as the Indian Express reported.

The Chandigarh girl’s case comes at a time when India’s government has struggled to address growing public outcry over rape and violence against women. The number of reported rapes in the country has steadily risen in the past decade, to what some have called crisis levels.

The problem received a surge of attention in 2012 after a 23-year-old woman was gang raped and beaten to death by a group of men on a private bus in New Delhi, in an incident that sparked international horror and outrage. The government responded by toughening its rape law and speeding up prosecutions of rape cases, as The Post’s Annie Gowen has reported, but convictions are uncommon and women often face victim shaming, fear of retaliation and other obstacles in reporting rapes to authorities.

India has the world’s largest population of sexually abused children, with a child under age 10 raped every 13 hours, as the BBC reported in May. More than 10,000 children were raped in the country in 2015. In most cases, the abusers are relatives or family friends, according to the BBC.

 on: Jul 22, 2017, 05:58 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Island v megacity: the Cairo islanders fighting violent state evictions

Warraq has become a battleground as Egyptian authorities demolish houses in what locals fear will be a glossy transformation of their island

Ruth Michaelson on Warraq Island

Heba Nagaa Otmorsi was at work when a relative called to say her house had been demolished. That day she had boarded a ferry from Cairo’s Warraq Island to the mainland, unaware her home was under threat.

Most families had been asleep when government forces arrived early in the morning in armoured cars. “It was our neighbours who rescued the children,” says Otmorsi. “The government said [residents] had Molotov [cocktails] and weapons. They arrested anyone who confronted them.”

Almost overnight, Warraq Island went from a lush if impoverished oasis in the centre of the Nile river to the site of a fierce battle between residents and the local Giza authorities over plans to build a new bridge – and potentially remodel the entire island itself.

The clashes last weekend left one 23-year-old protester dead and a further 19 injured after police fired tear gas to disperse huge crowds protesting against the government’s incursion.

    We don’t want compensation. We want our houses to be rebuilt
    Heba Nagaa Otmorsi

The island, a teardrop-shaped verdant sprawl of fields, unpaved roads and squat redbrick houses, is home to roughly 90,000 people and connects to the rest of the capital by ferries, transporting residents to the nearby districts of Warraq or Shobra al Kheima on the banks of the Nile.

The new bridge will ostensibly form part of the Rod El Farrag project, designed to connect parts of central Cairo to its outlying suburbs. Yet two proposals previously submitted show that the government has considered a far larger transformation for Warraq Island, with the bridge simply the first stage of a plan to treat the land as prime real estate.

Egyptian architectural firm Cube Consultants submitted a “conceptual masterplan” proposal to the General Organisation for Physical Planning in 2010 to transform Warraq Island into “Horus Island”, complete with glossy towers, wide boulevards and a marina. The project was considered as part of Cairo 2050, a sweeping transformation plan by the former regime of Hosni Mubarak that was criticised for its potential to make millions of the city’s poorest residents homeless.

While Cairo 2050 faded into the dust with the end of the Mubarak regime in 2011, plans to radically reinvent central Cairo continue to have the ear of the Egyptian authorities. A second proposal submitted in March 2013 from Singaporean architectural firm RSP was also considered, but never came to fruition. Its vision saw Warraq Island boast a glass skyscraper, a glistening glass pyramid, and manicured riverside walkways.

After news reports of tension on Warraq Island emerged, RSP reportedly removed its design for the island from its website. It later told reporters that “the company is no longer related to the project, after the design was completed at the request of a customer”. The company has not responded to a request for comment.

A further 150 demolitions are still planned on Warraq Island, according to local newspaper Al Shorouk. Explanations from the Egyptian authorities range from claims of a lack of proper sanitation to suggestions that the island is in fact a nature reserve. However, in local reports following Sunday’s protests, the prime minister, Sherif Ismail, repeated the accusation that residents are squatting illegally on state-owned land.

Otmorsi and neighbouring families are now sleeping on blankets salvaged from their demolished houses, taking shelter under the jutting grey concrete beams of the unfinished bridge.

At first, fellow resident Hanaa Abdel Aad says the islanders were thrilled that a lifeline to the city was being built. “When they started building [it], local residents helped them. We brought the construction workers tea and water.” But support quickly faded when the government began demolishing their homes, she says.

For Warraq Island residents, the bridge now symbolises a threat to the whole island, the first step in a plan to transform it into an opulent but exclusive residential area.

“We don’t want compensation. We want our houses to be rebuilt,” insists Otmorsi. Like all of the families now living underneath the bridge, she brandishes a collection of documents that she says prove ownership of the house she bought in 2004. Her sister, who declined to be named, pointed to a stamp from Egypt’s ministry of justice on her housing contract. “So what’s this then?” she asks.

Demolishing the homes of impoverished Cairo residents to make way for redevelopment plans is not new. Further down the Nile, the Maspero Triangle redevelopment project could displace 41,000 local residents to make way for a collection of high-rises and glossy buildings designed by Norman Foster. Residents have reportedly been promised replacement housing in Egypt’s desert suburbs, but say this is an unworkable solution that would cast them far away from their jobs and families.

Elsewhere, the Nile City Towers development shimmers as it overlooks the surrounding Bulaq neighbourhood, welcoming visitors to a five-star hotel, a cinema and a mall that few of the working-class residents can access. In 2012, the towers were attacked by locals, resulting in one death.

“They want to remove us, so a rich investor can come to build skyscrapers and malls,” said one island resident, who declined to be named for fear of government reprisals. “If you want to develop this place, shouldn’t you provide us with better services? Or should you remove us? I don’t want you to develop my house, I am fine with its status. Just get me water and electricity. And let me be.”

The deputy Giza governor, Alaa al-Haras, who oversees Waraq Island, told local news outlets that the authorities will meet with residents to discuss the situation, but reportedly warned that “just because we will meet, doesn’t mean that we’re scared, or that we won’t proceed [with the demolition]”. When contacted by the Guardian, Al-Haras declined to comment.

Deen Sharp, who works at the Centre for Advanced Urban Research, said the situation on the island demonstrates how, “like many states around the world, the Egyptian government is focused on constructing its cities around the needs of financial capital and the powerful rather than those of its citizens”.

One week on, the residents of Warraq Island are continuing to protest, a rare confrontation between citizens and the Egyptian state since unauthorised street protests were banned in November 2013. “The people know for sure that there will be a stab in the back from the government. We hear the officials saying that they will continue the demolition no matter what,” said Mahmoud Mohamed, a student who lives on Warraq Island.

For Otmorsi, there is nothing left to lose now that she and her entire extended family of 18 are homeless. “Is this what [President Abdel-Fatah] al-Sisi wants? What will happen to our kids? We accepted the rising prices, and the oppression…” she said, her speech trailing off as she wonders what will come next for the island.

 on: Jul 22, 2017, 05:54 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

The Energy 202: Pruitt accused by watchdog of breaking law by bashing Paris deal

By Dino Grandoni July 21 at 9:33 AM
Wa Post

A Democratic watchdog group is accusing President Trump's top environmental law enforcer of misusing funds to rail against the Paris climate agreement.

In a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) sent Thursday, the American Democracy Legal Fund said Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, one of the Trump administration's most outspoken critics of the climate deal, violated an obscure grassroots-lobbying law called the Antideficiency Act, which bars federal agencies from spending federal money before it has been appropriated by Congress (or in excess of such funds).

Current law prohibits federal employees from lobbying members of the public to support or oppose legislation before Congress. The watchdog group zeroed in on a meeting Pruitt had in April with the National Mining Association, a lobbying group in Washington for the mining industry, in which Pruitt reportedly "bashed" the Paris deal, according to media reports at the time.

"Pruitt’s staff also urged lawmakers and conservative groups to publicly criticize the agreement, sources familiar with the issue told Politico, which had the effect of increasing public pressure on Trump," Politico reported of the April meeting.

The problem, according to the complaint: By that point, some members of Congress had introduced Paris-related pieces of legislation — mostly bills either reaffirming or denouncing the agreement that went nowhere as President Trump weighed whether to withdraw the United States from the agreement, which he ultimately announced he would do in June.

“Scott Pruitt misused the taxpayer money that funds the EPA and the powers of his office with his illegal lobbying activities," Brad Woodhouse, a former communications director for the Democratic National Committee who heads ADLF, said in a statement.

Legal experts who reviewed ADLF's claims say some of them hold water. The issues raised in the letter "will likely, in my view, be taken seriously by the comptroller general and his staff," said Howell E. Jackson, a law professor and expert on federal budget policy at Harvard, referring to GAO head Gene L. Dodaro.

That law also entangled the EPA under President Obama.

In 2015, GAO ruled the EPA under Pruitt's predecessor, Gina McCarthy, broke the law by using appropriations to conduct indirect lobbying in support of the Obama administration's controversial "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) rule, designed to greatly expand the number of waterways under the jurisdiction of federal clean-water laws. The EPA launched a social-media campaign to counter opposition to the water rule from the farming and construction industries, along with their Republican allies in Congress representing rural constituencies.

"If he did it," Jeffrey Lubbers, an administrative law professor at American University said of Pruitt and his meeting with the mining group, "it seems like it's of the same piece as what EPA was being charged with in the WOTUS rulemaking."

The ADLF also alleged the EPA administrator broke another prohibition against "covert propaganda" that requires federal employees to clearly identify themselves when disseminating information to the public. The watchdog group said that in the many media interviews Pruitt gave criticizing the Paris deal as the Trump administration formulated its official position, he failed to make clear "whether Pruitt spoke on behalf of the EPA or himself."

"Pruitt makes it very fuzzy whether he’s talking just for himself or whether he’s expressing EPA policy," said Charles Tiefer, who teaches law at the University of Baltimore.

"I myself at the time heard him speaking in the media and I wasn't sure if he was speaking for himself or the EPA," Tiefer added. "I was baffled and I’m a law professor."

Tiefer said Pruitt, as EPA administrator, is continuing to act like a national campaigner against Obama-era regulations that he was as Oklahoma attorney general, despite the new constraints placed on him as a federal employee.

But Lubbers, at American University, said it is difficult to see what is furtive about the broadcast television and radio interviews Pruitt has given.

"When you're appointed the head of the EPA, you're always the head of EPA," Lubbers said. "So it was pretty clear he was speaking as the head of EPA. So I don't see any covertness in his speech. So that part of it just strikes me as really far-fetched."

In the letter, Woodhouse's group asked GAO to investigate Pruitt. But that office, the top auditing institution in the federal government, only launches probes at the request of members of Congress or other federal agencies, meaning an elected official will have to echo ADLF's concerns before the GAO acts.

"We don’t act on requests from outside parties," Chuck Young, a GAO spokesperson, said.

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

 on: Jul 22, 2017, 05:51 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
How can scientists engineer a cooler earth?

21 Jul 2017 at 09:38 ET   

As part of the Paris Agreement in 2015, nearly 200 world leaders agreed to curb greenhouse gas emissions and strive to keep temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid dangerous and irreversible climate change by the end of the century.

At present, climate scientists regard warming of two degrees above pre-industrial levels as the threshold for global warming. After this point, extreme weather will become more likely—increasing the risks of storms, droughts and a rise in sea levels. Consequences include food and water scarcity, and increased migration as parts of the planet become uninhabitable.

If global emissions continue on their current trajectory, some scientists estimate we will surpass the two degree limit by 2050. And with Donald Trump poised to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, the chance of achieving the target set out looks even less likely.

Over recent decades, scientists from across the globe have been discussing the potential of geoengineering—the deliberate manipulation of the environment that could, in theory, cool the planet and help stabilize the climate.

There are main two types of geoengineering. The first involves removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it. This is already being done on an industrial scale, but is  not effective enough at the moment to cope with the huge levels of emissions. The other type, solar radiation management, is more radical—an attempt to reduce the amount of sunlight absorbed by the planet by reflecting it away.

Many ways of doing this have been proposed. One of the most widely discussed (and riskiest) involves the injection of reflective aerosols into the upper atmosphere. This plan is based on the cooling effect of volcanoes—sulfur dioxide emitted in an eruption causes the formation of droplets of sulfuric acid. This reflects the sunlight away, creating a cooling effect. But this plan could also go very wrong. The sulfuric acid could strip away the ozone layer, leaving Earth completely exposed to the sun’s radiation.

Geostorm...click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuOlYPSEzSc

In an article published in the journal Science, Ulrike Lohmann and Blaž Gasparini, from the ETH Zurich, Switzerland, discuss a variation of this idea: the thinning of cirrus clouds to target the longwave radiation coming from Earth.

Cirrus clouds are thin and wispy clouds that form at high altitudes and do not reflect much solar radiation back into space, creating a greenhouse effect. The higher the altitude at which they form, the larger the warming effect on the climate. And in a warmer climate, cirrus clouds form at higher altitudes.

So what if we got rid of them? These clouds could be thinned out—leading to a reduction in their warming effect—by seeding them with aerosol particles like sulfuric or nitric acid, which act as “ice nucleating particles” or INPs. If these are injected into the level of the atmosphere where cirrus clouds form, the way they form would be altered, resulting in thinner clouds that have less of a warming effect.

“The maximum cirrus seeding potential would be achieved by removing all cirrus clouds,” they write. “If cirrus thinning works, it should be preferred over methods that target changes in solar radiation, such as stratospheric aerosol injections, because cirrus thinning would counteract greenhouse gas warming more directly.”

But Lohmann and Gasparini warn that the plan comes with major drawbacks. It could, they say, lead to even more cirrus clouds being formed, exacerbating global warming in the process.

“Unintended cirrus formation is especially pronounced if the seeded INPs start to nucleate ice at very low relative humidities… If cirrus seeding is not done carefully, the effect could be additional warming rather than the intended cooling. If done carefully, the negative radiative effect from cirrus seeding should be stronger in a warmer climate, in which the overall radiative effect of cirrus clouds will be larger.”

Because of the dangers, the scientists say any plan to thin cirrus clouds should be limited to specific times and places, where it would be most effective. “Contrary to solar radiation management methods, cirrus seeding is more effective at high than at low latitudes. A small-scale deployment of cirrus seeding could therefore be envisioned—for instance, in the Arctic to avoid further melting of Arctic sea ice,” they say, but add that there are many questions that need to be answered before cirrus thinning can be further explored.

“It is also important to remember that, like solar radiation management, cirrus thinning cannot prevent the CO2 increase in the atmosphere and the resulting ocean acidification,” they conclude. “For the time being, cirrus cloud thinning should be viewed as a thought experiment that is helping to understand cirrus cloud–formation mechanisms.”

 on: Jul 22, 2017, 05:47 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Protecting our children from climate change might take more than just cutting emissions

Popular Science
22 Jul 2017 at 07:14 ET 

Rarely is a negative seen as a positive. But a new study in the journal Earth System Dynamics argues that negative emissions might be our only hope.

Led by James Hansen—the so-called father of climate change awareness—along with researchers from around the globe, the study says that it’s not enough to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. If we want to avoid saddling young people with the worst impacts of climate change, and a climate debt of 576 trillion dollars, we have to work to get some of those excess greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are thought to be the driving force behind manmade climate change. When we burn fossil fuels like coal, for instance, we send these emissions up into the atmosphere. There, they actually help trap the sun's heat inside, cooking us like a dog in a hot car and leading to all sorts of ice melts and weather pattern changes. Climate scientists agree that we must lower these emissions as swiftly as possible to avoid the worst possible outcomes down the road. One recent report suggested that we have just three years to set emission-curbing provisions in motion before it's too late.

But this new paper argues that it's not enough to stop adding to the problem—we have to actively chip away at it, too. For the sake of future generations, the study suggests, we should take steps to reduce the level of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere from its present level of 400 parts per million, to 350 parts per million. The researchers estimate that if we began reducing CO2 emissions in 2021 at a rate of six percent per year, we would also need to remove 150 gigatonnes—the equivalent of one and a half-times the mass of all of the oil produced since 1850—out of the atmosphere by 2100. Two-thirds of the carbon, they estimate, could be removed through better agricultural and forestry practices.

Hansen and his colleagues drew conclusions in part based on geological data related to the Eemian era. The Eemian was a warm period sandwiched between two ice ages that ended roughly 115,000 years ago. Our era (the Holocene) began about 11,700 years ago, and is cooler than the Eemian. The issue, say the researchers, is that the targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement—which would have us keep warming at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temps—still leads to an altered climate. At 2C above pre-industrial levels, we're left with a climate that looks more Eemian than Holocene.

Some climate deniers have criticized drawing parallels to the Eemian, because there are some differences between the climate then and the climate now. Hansen acknowledges that each interglacial period is different, so it’s important to look at each one individually.

"Yes, sea level change appears to have been complicated, being a few meters above today for most of the Eemian, then rising late in the interglacial to 6-9 meters [roughly 20-30 feet] above today," said Hansen to PopSci over email. "But an Earth 2C warmer than pre-industrial is surely dangerous.”

In a 2015 study in the journal Science, researchers led by Andrea Dutton of the University of Florida compared our current level of warming to previous periods when the Earth was just as warm. The results were not comforting. In each of those periods sea level rose at least six meters, equivalent to 20 feet. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration has a sea level mapper that lets us see what would happen to the United States under various sea level scenarios. It maxes out at six feet.

The paper was developed, in part, as the scientific justification for Our Children’s Trust lawsuit (Juliana et al. vs. United States) of which Hansen is a plaintiff, against the federal government. The lawsuit, launched by 21 youth plaintiffs in 2015, alleges that by not acting on climate change the federal government has failed to secure the public trust. It’s a duty that they argue was codified into law in the 1892 U.S. Supreme Court case Illinois Central Railroad v. Illinois. The ruling affirmed the state’s duty to prevent substantial impairment of a trust consisting of, “lands, waters, materials, and privileges.”

The research put forward in the report doesn’t necessarily break new ground. Climate scientists already know that the Earth is warming at an alarming rate and that if swift action isn’t taken, the results will be catastrophic. What it does is synthesize the data in a way that can be more readily understood by non-scientists. This most recent paper reaches a hefty 40 pages, practically a book in a world where scientific research papers can be as short as three pages and usually max out around 15.

The paper is so long, in part, because it devotes a significant amount of time to explaining the information. The study lays out how the temperature data point towards a warming. It also goes into details about the feedback loops—how past a certain point, climate warming becomes self-reinforcing. Unlike most scientific papers, which presume a certain level of knowledge of the field, this study is a contained document. You could read it with no preparation and walk away with a broader understanding of climate change—and the data used to show that climate change is both real and caused by human behavior.

Earlier this year, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stated, “over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of [climate] warming.” In response to that (false) statement, researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Seattle issued a study that analyzed existing satellite data to reiterate that regardless of what Pruitt may claim, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that temperatures are leveling off.

Some might say that the foray of climate scientists into the broader public sphere is a sign of the growing politicization of science. Others might argue that it’s a sign that the data has grown so conclusive, and the consequences so dire, that researchers increasingly feel compelled to speak. Neither position changes the fact that NOAA released its climate data earlier this week. The first six months of 2017 are the second hottest since record keeping began more than a century ago. First place, as you probably know, goes to 2016.

It's more important than ever that humans band together to kick greenhouse gas emissions to the curb. Find out what you can do personally here: http://www.popsci.com/how-to-stop-climate-change?dom=icopyright&src=syn

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