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 on: Today at 05:53 AM 
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Donald Trump wants to build a wall – to save his golf course from global warming

On climate change, is Trump uninformed, or playing his voters?

Dana Nuccitelli
Thursday 26 May 2016 11.00 BST

Donald Trump has consistently expressed his conspiratorial and misinformed beliefs that global warming is a hoax.

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
    December 6, 2013

    Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee - I'm in Los Angeles and it's freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!

Trump is also the presumptive Republican Party nominee for president in 2016, and were he elected, would be the leader of the country with the second-highest net carbon pollution in the world. These are frightening thoughts.

However, as reported by Politico, Trump acknowledges the reality and threats posed by human-caused global warming when it comes to protecting his own assets, and in keeping with his affinity for building walls:

    The New York billionaire is applying for permission to erect a coastal protection works to prevent erosion at his seaside golf resort, Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland, in County Clare.

    A permit application for the wall, filed by Trump International Golf Links Ireland and reviewed by POLITICO, explicitly cites global warming and its consequences — increased erosion due to rising sea levels and extreme weather this century — as a chief justification for building the structure.

The permit was filed by an Irish environmental consulting company, so it’s possible that Trump himself denies these scientific realities. However, the consultants are indisputably correct about the threat that global warming and sea level rise pose to this golf course, and to the many other coastal properties owned by Donald Trump.

Is Trump playing his voters for fools?

Trump’s public comments on climate change may reflect a political calculation that the old, white, conservative, American men who comprise his voter base also form the predominant segment of the climate denial movement. Or perhaps Trump is indeed in denial about the science himself, but those who protect his assets, such as this Irish environmental consulting firm, are not.

Trump also has the wealth necessary to blunt some of the impacts of climate change, for example by building sea walls, whereas poorer countries, which will bear the brunt of the consequences of climate denial, do not possess these resources. These poorer countries also contribute the least to the problem, whereas Trump opposes “so-called green energy” technologies like solar and wind power that are critical for wealthy countries to reduce their much higher carbon pollution.

In fact, Trump has fought to prevent the construction of wind farms along the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. Yet despite his misinformed objections that wind energy is too costly, Trump has invested in one of the world’s largest generators of wind power.

The next president of the United States will be tasked with ensuring the country meets its pledge to cut carbon pollution, made during the recent international climate negotiations in Paris. Trump has claimed that at a minimum he will renegotiate the agreement, which would be a disaster if true. However, a clause in the agreement forces signatory nations to wait at least four years before withdrawing, and a renegotiation simply will not happen. Trump’s threats may simply be bluster, since he’s running as the candidate who will make good deals for America, and the Paris climate accords are a “deal” (as Joe Romm put it, “a ridiculously good deal for the United States”) that he can exploit for political gain.
Or is Trump so uninformed as to believe what he says?

Or perhaps Donald Trump believes everything that comes out of his mouth. Social psychologist David Dunning posits that Trump and his supporters may suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect:

    To sum it up, the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task—and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at that task.

Indeed, when it comes to climate change, social science research has shown that American conservatives who express the highest confidence in their opinions about climate science and risks are the most wrong. They’re confident in their denial precisely because they don’t know enough to realize how uninformed they are about climate science. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect. As Dunning wrote for Politico:

    This syndrome may well be the key to the Trump voter—and perhaps even to the man himself. Trump has served up numerous illustrative examples of the effect as he continues his confident audition to be leader of the free world even as he seems to lack crucial information about the job ... some voters, especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognize those gaffes as missteps.

Americans’ relative lack of knowledge about global warming appears to be helping Trump make misinformed, conspiratorial comments about climate change without repercussions in the polls.

A stark contrast

Trump is now the de facto leader of one of America’s two dominant political parties. The other is Hillary Clinton, who understands the threats posed by human-caused global warming and has a detailed plan to address them. She hired John Podesta, a strong advocate for climate action, as her campaign chairman. co-founder Bill McKibben will also help write the Democratic Party’s platform.

In November, Americans will face a stark contrast between their choices for the nation’s next president. One option is Donald Trump, who at best is confident in his complete ignorance about climate change, and at worst is selling out the welfare of future generations for personal gain while protecting his own assets. The other option is Hillary Clinton, who for whatever her flaws, acknowledges the reality and threats posed by climate change and has a plan to tackle them.

One of these candidates will soon lead one of the world’s most powerful and largest-polluting countries, just as we’re running out of time to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. This is a choice Americans have to get right.

 on: Today at 05:50 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Anti-fracking campaigners threaten to set up protest camps

Activists consider ‘more confrontational’ action to prevent energy firms drilling for shale gas in Yorkshire and Lancashire

Helen Pidd North of England editor and Nazia Parveen
Wednesday 25 May 2016 17.12 BST

Anti-fracking campaigners are threatening to set up protest camps in Yorkshire and Lancashire to prevent energy companies drilling for shale gas. Fracking firm Third Energy was given permission on Monday to carry out test drilling at a site in Kirby Misperton in Rydale, North Yorkshire, even after 99% of locals voiced their opposition to the application.

The decision prompted fears around the country that other fracking sites would be given the green light. Those fears are particularly acute in Lancashire, seen as the “next frontier” in the fight against the extreme form of energy extraction. Ian Roberts, the chair of Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, which opposes fracking on the Fylde coast in Lancashire, said his group was ready to start “more confrontational” action.

“It’s one thing going to planning meetings, but when it comes to actually moving in equipment, there will be a different kind of action,” he said. “The way things are going, there will be Balcombe-style camps,” he added, referring to the protest camp in the Sussex village that hit the headlines in the summer of 2013.

The group was ready to join locals in Kirby Misperton to fight Third Energy, said Roberts. “We will go over there if they want us. I’ll have to dig out a tent,” he said. On 4 July, an independent inspector is to to report to the government on whether test drilling should be able to take place on two Fylde sites, on Preston New Road, and Roseacre Wood.

Last year, Lancashire county council ignored the advice of its own planning officers by rejecting an application from Cuadrilla. But after Cuadrilla appealed, a public inquiry took place in order for the inspector to make her recommendation to the secretary of state for local government and communities, Greg Clarke. He has the power to overrule the inspector’s recommendations.

Although the fracking application was approved in Kirby Misperton it could still be months before drilling begins. Third Energy will have to meet a number of different planning conditions before the fracking can start, and work may also be delayed if opponents of the plan apply for a judicial review.

If the fracking goes ahead, Third Energy has promised to make a “community benefit” payment of £100,000 to the community in Kirby Misperton.

Roberts warned the energy firms that they had picked on the wrong group of people. “They’ve chosen exactly the wrong people to do battle with: Lancashire and Yorkshire folk are no pushover. There’s a resilience, a tenacity. It’s perhaps no coincidence that a lot of us own terriers,” he said.

Last month, a senior executive from iGas, another fracking firm, predicted problems for the industry in the north-west. But he said he could see a way forward in the south and opportunities for discussion in the east Midlands.

Speaking at the Shale World conference in London, Gary Stringer, the company’s head of sustainability, said: “In the north-west, it’s going to be incredibly difficult. The groups over there are organised, very, very effective in terms of the language that they use to sensationalise absolutely everything.” In January this year, police and bailiffs cleared a protest camp at a potential site in Upton, Cheshire, which had been occupied for 21 months.

Over the years, the government has awarded more than 100 licences to firms in the UK, allowing them to pursue a range of oil and gas exploration activities in certain areas. But before firms can begin fracking, they must also receive planning permission from the relevant local council.

After Lancashire and Yorkshire, Nottingham is probably the next hot spot in the fight against fracking. Last year, the council validated an application by iGas to undertake exploration for shale gas on land off Springs Road, Mission, near Bassetlaw. The application, for the development of a shale gas well site that would involve the drilling of two exploratory shale gas wells, is going through the consultation process.

Dart Energy, a subsidiary of iGas, has also requested planning permission for shale gas exploration at a site on Tinker Lane, near Bassetlaw. This application is in the process of being validated by the council.

 on: Today at 05:48 AM 
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China unveils 'straddling bus' design to beat traffic jams

The concept vehicle is designed to float above the clogged-up streets of some of the country’s biggest cities

Tom Phillips in Beijing
Thursday 26 May 2016 08.54 BST

A Beijing company has unveiled spectacularly futuristic designs for a pollution-busting, elevated bus capable of gliding over the nightmarish mega-jams for which urban China has become notorious.

Plans for the so-called Transit Explore Bus or TEB were showcased earlier this month at a technology expo in the Chinese capital.

The “straddling bus”, which owes more to Blade Runner than China’s car-clogged highways, is supported by two legs that run along rails laid along the roadside.

Those legs allow the TEB’s giant frame to glide high above the gridlock at speeds of up to 60km per hour. Equally, vehicles that are less than two metres high will be able to drive freely underneath the bus, even when it is stationary.

“The biggest advantage is that the bus will save lots of road space,” Song Youzhou, the project’s chief engineer, told Xinhua, China’s official news agency.

Song claimed his buses, capable of transporting up to 1,400 commuters, could be produced for 20% of the price of an underground train and rolled out far more quickly since the supporting infrastructure was relatively simple.

One TEB could replace 40 conventional buses, he said.

A prototype will reportedly be deployed on the streets of Qinhuangdao, a coastal city about 300km east of Beijing, this summer.

The project has been greeted with anticipation in China, where traffic jams have grown as the country overtook the United States to become the largest car market on earth in 2009.

Last year alone 21.1 million passenger cars were sold here.

However, excitement over the innovation was tempered by the fact that a virtually identical contraption was unveiled at the same expo in 2010 without catching on.

Its designer? A Chinese engineer by the name of Song Youzhou.

 on: Today at 05:46 AM 
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Australia's dirtiest power station may be closed or sold, French owner says

Engie tells French senate committee that it plans to withdraw from coal-fired power generation and is looking at possible shutdown of Victoria’s Hazelwood power station

Melissa Davey and Reuters
Thursday 26 May 2016 00.04 BST

The Hazelwood coal-fired power plant in Victoria may be closed or sold by its owner, French utility Engie, as part of its move away from operating any coal-fired plants, the company said on Wednesday.

Engie’s chief executive, Isabelle Kocher, told a French senate committee on Wednesday that the utility planned a gradual withdrawal from coal-fired power generation in the coming years and that following the sale announced earlier this year of two plants in Indonesia and India the share of coal in its energy mix would fall to about 10% from 15%.

“For the Hazelwood plant, we are studying all possible scenarios, including closure, or a sale if the state of Victoria tells us that it cannot meet power-generating needs without this plant,” Kocher said.

Environmental organisations say the plant – which has a generating capacity of 1.5 gigawatts, accounting for 5.4% of Australia’s electricity supplies – is one of the most polluting power stations in the world.

Hazelwood, close to Melbourne, is supplied with lignite coal from an adjacent open-cut mine, which burned uncontrollably for weeks in early 2014.

Engie’s Australian unit was charged in court in February with failing to provide a safe workplace and ensure public safety over the fire.

Engie (formerly GDF Suez) acquired a majority stake in Hazelwood when it bought UK utility International Power in 2012 and currently owns 72% with Japanese group Mitsui & Co holding 28%.

Environment Victoria campaigns manager, Dr Nicholas Aberle, said it was time for the Victorian government and Engie to work together on a timetable for the phase-out of Hazelwood.

“Victoria currently has an over-supplied electricity market,” he said. The Australian Energy Market Operator estimates we have 2000 MW more generating capacity than we need.

“Hazelwood is 1600 MW. The incumbent coal-burning power stations are blocking investment in renewable energy in Victoria. Its time they started making way so that Victoria can benefit from the jobs and investment that will come with new renewable energy projects.

“Burning brown coal is 50% of Victoria’s climate pollution, and we need to urgently cut this pollution if we’re going avoid the worst of global warming.”

In its recent state budget, the Victorian government provided $40m in to start diversifying the Latrobe Valley economy.

“The transition from coal to renewable energy is inevitable, but we need to speed it up, at the same time as looking after the workers and communities who have been so important to powering the state,” Aberle said.

Engie will also review its remaining coal plants one by one and close those with the most outdated technology.

In recent months Engie had already closed the equivalent of 1.6 gigawatts worth of coal-fired plants in Europe, notably in Belgium and Britain, Kocher said.

She said a second option would be to convert some of its remaining coal-fired plants to burning biomass, which is deemed to be a renewable fuel.

She said that in developing countries like Indonesia which still rely heavily on coal and where Engie has efficient coal plants, it would sell rather than close these plants.

“Nearly half of the world’s power is still produced by coal, it will take years to reduce that,” she said.

The World Coal Association estimates that coal currently fuels about 41% of global electricity production.

Kocher, appointed earlier this month, wants to focus the utility on renewable energy, grids and energy services.

 on: Today at 05:45 AM 
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ExxonMobil CEO: ending oil production 'not acceptable for humanity'

Shareholders win vote that could support board candidates concerned about climate as Rex Tillerson faces turbulent annual meeting

Rupert Neate in Dallas
Wednesday 25 May 2016 20.25 BST

Rex Tillerson, the boss of oil giant ExxonMobil, said cutting oil production was “not acceptable for humanity” as he fought off shareholders’ and activists’ attempts to force the company to fully acknowledge the impact of climate change on the environment and Exxon’s future profits.

During a long and fractious annual meeting in Dallas on Wednesday, Tillerson, who serves as Exxon’s chairman and chief executive, beat back several proposals to force the company to take more action on climate change.

However, dissident shareholders won a vote that could make it easier for them to propose board candidates concerned about climate change and remove incumbent directors.

Tillerson said Exxon had invested $7bn in green technology, but the science and technology had not yet achieved the breakthroughs needed to compete with fossil fuels. “Until we have those, just saying ‘turn the taps off’ is not acceptable to humanity,” he said. “The world is going to have to continue using fossil fuels, whether they like it or not.”

Tillerson’s presentation at the meeting showed that Exxon believes oil and gas will still provide about 60% of the world’s energy demands by 2040, even if countries adopt climate change proposals agreed in Paris last year.

His comments came after investors urged Exxon, the world’s largest oil company, with a market value of $374bn (£254bn), to reduce carbon extraction or at least warn investors about how global governmental action against climate change could affect the viability of its fossil fuel assets.

More than 38% of Exxon’s investors rebelled against the company by voting for a proposal that would have required the company to publish an annual study of how its profits may be affected by public climate change policies, following the Paris climate agreement, to limit the global temperature rise to less than 2C (3.6F).

A similar vote at Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting, also held on Wednesday, showed 41% support from Chevron investors that cast ballots.

Edward Mason, head of responsible investment for the Church of England, who proposed the resolution, said he was delighted at the “very significant shareholder revolt on climate change”.

“Considering the scale of this vote, we urge Exxon to sit down urgently with its investors to agree the reporting it will provide on the risk that climate change policy poses to its business. Following the Paris agreement, the time for climate risk reporting has well and truly arrived and the investor call for it is clear. It will not go away.”

Mason, who helps manage £6.7bn of assets for the Church Commissioners for England, said it wasn’t just the environment that was at risk, but also the billions of dollars invested in Exxon, if it does not adapt quickly to a changing world. “The financial risks of not acting are very real,” he said.

Exxon had tried to block the resolution from being heard at its meeting, but the US Securities and Exchange Commission regulator ruled that it must include the resolution among Wednesday’s votes.

“Given the significant resources Exxon spent fighting this proposal, such a strong vote is a real rebuke to company management,” said Andrew Logan, director of oil and gas for Ceres, a coalition of sustainable investment groups. “Investors have sent a clear message that meaningful 2 degree stress testing is the new normal, and companies like Exxon and Chevron can no longer act as if nothing has changed.”

Tillerson, who was paid $23.4m last year, also suffered an investor backlash over his current position as both chairman and CEO. Some 38.8% of investors voted for a resolution asking that the company appoint an independent chairman when Tillerson stands down. He is due to retire before his 65th birthday, in March 2017.

Natasha Lamb, director of equity research and shareholder engagement for Arjuna Capital, who proposed one of the motions, said: “While the business plan of extracting as much carbon as possible was a winner last century, it will destroy value this century, and already has.”

The Guardian was banned from reporting from inside the meeting, and instead listened to proceedings via webcast. “We are denying your request because of the Guardian’s lack of objectivity on climate change reporting, demonstrated by its partnership with anti-oil and gas activists and its campaign against companies that provide energy necessary for modern life, including newspapers,” a spokesman said.

 on: Today at 05:39 AM 
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Jon Stewart Rescues Starving Pony Who Was Shot 100 Times With a Paintball Gun

Veronica Chavez
Green Planet
May 26, 2016 206 Comments

When Jon Stewart retired from the Daily Show, many of us grew sad, thinking the comedian’s presence would slowly fade from the media until we no longer heard of the funny newscaster. Thankfully, this has not proven to be the case. In fact, Stewart seems to be in the news every other week, and almost always because he’s doing something incredibly awesome for animals! This week, the lucky animal is Lily, a once-emaciated pony that was found abandoned and covered in paintball markings, and will now have a new home thanks to the kind Stewart family!

The white mare, who was found at an auction stable in March, had been shot more than 100 times at a close range with paintballs. The cruel act left the poor girl partially blind and wounded. Thankfully, after just two months, justice has been served! This past Friday, the Rhode Island man prosecutors say abandoned Lily was found guilty of cruelty charges and fined nearly $15,000.

But the good news didn’t stop there. Shortly after Lily’s former caretaker was charged, Kelly Smith of Omega Horse Rescue shared some more big news. Lily was getting adopted by Jon Stewart! Lily, who has been recovering at a Pennsylvania veterinary center, along with her friend Anita, will spend the rest of their lives at Jon and Tracey Stewart’s farm sanctuary.

While it can get disheartening to constantly hear news of animals ending up in the wrong people’s hands, the Stewart family sure knows how to even out the playing field and restore your faith in humanity. We’re glad Lily will never have to deal with another traumatic experience like this again and is now in good hands!

 on: Today at 05:33 AM 
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How Arizona’s Efforts to Protect Salt River Wild Horses Can Do More Harm Than Good

Michael Harris and Andrea Gelfuso, Friends of Animals
Green Planet
May 26, 2016

On May 12, 2016, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed into law House Bill 2340, which seeks to assert state control over the famed Salt River wild horses. Several commentators, including one in a post on One Green Planet, assert that his move by Arizona is a victory for the horses. There is no doubt that the Salt River horses, like many wild horse herds throughout the western United States are being mismanaged by federal agencies. Indeed, just last year the U.S. Forest Service announced its intent to remove all the Salt River horses from the Tonto National Forest outside of Phoenix. Transferring the Salt River wild horses from federal to state management, however, is not the best means of providing lasting protection to these particular animals, and it can seriously undermine efforts to reform federal protections for all wild horses.

Holes in the Bill

As an initial matter, proponents of HB2340 like to point to the fact that the new law makes it a crime to harass or kill the Salt River horses. But these acts are already illegal under the Free-roaming, Wild Horses and Burro Act (WHBA). This federal law, passed in 1971, provides the most stringent protections available for protecting wild horses. The WHBA also prohibits their removal and killing, except in limited circumstances by federal officials.

Nothing in HB 2340 replicates such protections. To the contrary, the new Arizona law has the potential to undermine the WHBA it three significant ways. First, the law actually gives two Arizona agencies — the state Department of Agriculture and the Maricopa County Sheriff — the authority to decide when to remove or slaughter these animals. These two agencies are not in the business of protecting wildlife, and, frankly, are often responsible for destroying it. In any case, HB 2340 places no limits or restrictions on these agencies’ authority to manage the horses as they see fit.

Second, HB2340 could make it impossible for advocates to utilize the courts to protect these animals if the State decided to remove them in the future. Currently, under the WHBA, advocates have the right to turn to a federal judge where the Forest Service has failed to comply with the WHBA or other federal laws when making a decision regarding wild horse management. Indeed, last year the advocacy group Friends of Animals challenged the Forest Service’s decision to remove the Salt River horses in court, a move that eventually resulted in the decision to leave them alone by the federal agency. Removing this avenue of legal recourse would be a huge mistake, making any decision by the state to do away with the herd simply unreviewable by a judge.

Finally, HB2340 would also set dangerous precedent nationally. Many other states would also like to see the transfer of wild horses on public lands from federal to state officials. Often their stated motive is not to protect the horses, but to destroy them. For instance, the governors of Wyoming and Nevada are demanding the removal of all wild horses under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management in their states. Both may now see Arizona’s new law as a solution to do it themselves.
What You Can Do

Luckily, HB2340 can still be defeated. Under its terms, the law will not go into effect until the State reaches agreement on certain issues with the Forest Service. There is still time to write the Forest Service and tell them that HB2340 is not in the best interest of wild horses anywhere.

While not easy, the real solution to protect wild horses, whether the Salt River herd or any other in the west, is stronger implementation and enforcement of the WHBA. The goal needs to be the establishment of true zones on public lands where these animals can be free from exploitation and protected from special interests who want to see them gone.

 on: Today at 05:27 AM 
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Beavers released into Devon river in bid to boost gene pool

Male and female set free as part of five-year trial to monitor the impact of England’s only wild population of the mammals

Press Association
Thursday 26 May 2016 06.01 BST
A new pair of beavers has been released into a river in Devon to boost the genetic diversity of England’s only wild population of the mammals.

The male and female were set free on the river Otter as part of a five-year trial monitoring the impact of Eurasian beavers, a species hunted to extinction hundreds of years ago in the UK, on the surrounding landscape, wildlife and economy.

Beavers have been living wild on the river Otter for up to a decade but faced being re-homed in captivity after evidence emerged that they were successfully breeding.

Plans for a monitoring trial were put forward by Devon Wildlife Trust, with the backing of local people, and were given the green light by government agency Natural England, subject to the adults being temporarily captured for disease testing.

Genetic screening of the captured adults - which were re-released last year – revealed they were all closely related, and a decision was taken to introduce a new pair to increase the gene pool and boost the number of breeding animals.

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Peter Burgess said the results had shown it was likely there was one mother potentially breeding with her offspring.

There were also concerns that with just two breeding pairs, if one or more of the females died, there would be a declining population.

For the release the new beavers, both around two years old, were carried in separate crates through a boggy field down to the riverbank, where the team of wildlife experts had constructed two lodges for them in a quiet spot under willow trees.

The crates were pushed up against the entrance to the lodges and the beavers were moved in with a bit of encouragement, before the team sealed up the manmade homes and retreated to watch what was going on inside via infrared cameras.

The female set about trying to dig her way out, while the male settled down with some apple and willow provided as food.

A little while later, after some concerns about what would happen if the female got out of her lodge and was able to corner the male in his, both were opened up and the beavers were left to explore their new habitat.

Burgess said the beavers, which had been bred in captivity in Devon, appeared to take to their new situation “perfectly well”.

“It’s the perfect site. It’s absolutely stunning from a wildlife perspective, it’s got everything the beaver needs: it’s quiet, out of the way, right on the edge of the river, they’ve got food. It’s a piece of the river Otter that’s ideal for the animals,” he said.

Wildlife experts back the return of beavers, which manage the landscape by coppicing trees and building dams, because of the benefits for flood prevention, water quality and wildlife, but farmers are among those who have raised concerns over their impact.

Harry Barton, chief executive of Devon Wildlife Trust, described the release as a “fantastic next step” in the project.

“The result of this, we hope, is they thrive, they get on with each other and breed, and then in the longer term the progeny we hope this pair have will meet with their distant relatives downstream and there’s a next generation more genetically diverse.

“It’s very exciting,” he said.

If the male does not hit it off with the female, it is not a problem as they can head downstream on the river Otter, where they will encounter other members of the population of around 11 beavers, and potentially breed with them.

 on: Today at 05:20 AM 
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CS Monitor

Did scientists just settle the debate over supermassive black holes?

Italian astronomers argue black holes are born from the collapse of giant gas clouds, not stars.
By Lonnie Shekhtman, Staff May 25, 2016   

Black holes may be born even bigger than we thought.

A new analysis of telescope data by astrophysicists at a university in Pisa, Italy supports theories that the most massive black holes astronomers know of, which could be billions of times more massive than the sun, are actually born big – as a result of the collapse of a giant gas cloud, rather than a star. 

"There is a lot of controversy over which path these black holes take," explained Andrea Ferrara, an astrophysicist at Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, in an announcement.

If his team's findings are right, they could help explain how supermassive black holes, the mysterious energy vortices thought to lie at the heart of most large galaxies, formed within a billion years of the birth of the universe 13.8 billion years ago.

This theory presents a contrast to widely accepted models of black holes growing over time by pulling in gas from their surroundings and by mergers of smaller “stellar-mass” black holes, which form by the collapse of massive stars.

"Our work suggests ... black holes start big and grow at the normal rate, rather than starting small and growing at a very fast rate," he said.

The authors argue that the gravitational monsters that swallow matter, gas, and even light could not have grown to their monstrous size in the short amount of time – by cosmic standards – they took to form.

Ferrara and his colleagues will report their findings in the upcoming issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

They combed data and images collected by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Spitzer Space Telescope to identify what appear to be black hole “seeds,” or baby black holes. They matched the images with their own modeling that predicted the type of light massive black hole seeds should emit.

Two objects met their requirements, emitting the infrared and X-ray signals they expected to see left over in the universe as remnants of massive black hole seeds formed billions of years ago, rather than the much smaller stellar-mass black hole seeds.

Both of the potential seeds were about 100,000 times the mass of our sun, the researchers calculated, and they formed less than 1 billion years after the Big Bang, as reports. This size and age indicated to the Italian team that, at least in the early universe, supermassive black holes started out large, simply with the collapse of giant gas clouds.

Though more research is needed before these findings make their way into astronomy textbooks, the new research is really promising, says Priyamvada Natarajan, a black hole expert who teaches astronomy and physics at Yale University.

“This is super exciting,” Prof. Natarajan told The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. “It’s an old theoretical idea, but it’s the first observational hint that we might be able to pick out the first black holes that formed from massive seeds,” she said.

Theoretical physicists, including Natarajan’s team, had already suggested that supermassive black holes start as large seeds formed by the collapse of giant gas clouds in a series of papers between 2006 and 2008, but nobody had looked at data from telescopes to back this up.

Other astronomers are more skeptical.

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, points out that the observational data presented in the study could be interpreted in other ways.

“They are putting a lot of weight on the mere detection of X-rays from these objects,” Dr. McDowell wrote in an e-mail to the Monitor. “It's interesting, but, you know what Carl Sagan said about extraordinary claims and extraordinary evidence,” he wrote.

The next opportunity to study these seeds and the new model in more detail will be after the 2018 launch of NASA’s next-generation James Webb Space Telescope, which will detect faint light from more distant and smaller black holes.

 on: Today at 05:18 AM 
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CS Monitor

World Turtle Day: How are the reptiles faring?

This week sees the annual celebration of turtles. The challenges these creatures face are daunting, but there is much being done to boost their chances of survival.

By Jason Thomson, Staff May 25, 2016   
Turtles were given their chance to shine Monday, when the world celebrated World Turtle Day.

Now in its 16th year, this annual event provides a moment to ponder these oft-forgotten creatures, to raise awareness of the myriad threats to their continued survival, and to champion their conservation.

While the challenges are many and varied, with almost all species of sea turtle classified as endangered, there is also a multitude of organizations across the globe seeking to address the dangers, partnering with state, federal, and international agencies, and promoting public education.

“We felt that warm fuzzy animals always got a lot of love while turtles (and tortoises) are at the bottom of the totem pole for both attention and donations,” explains Susan Tellem, founder of World Turtle Day, in an email to The Christian Science Monitor.

“After all, they outlived the dinosaurs and are in danger of disappearing from habitat destruction, the cruel pet trade, and live food markets worldwide,” adds Ms. Tellem.

Habitat destruction is “one of the biggest threats to wildlife generally in the United States,” as Collette Adkins, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, tells the Monitor in a phone interview. With regard to turtles and terrapins, one of the most invasive aspects of this is habitat fragmentation, not least by the road system that carves up the country, resulting in significant levels of roadkill as the reptiles struggle to waddle across the asphalt.

Water pollution is also a problem, with toxins seeping into waterways from agriculture and industry.

Another threat is predation by animals thriving thanks to humans, “human-subsidized species,” as described by Rebecca Shoer of Mass Audubon’s Sea Turtle Rescue Team, in a phone interview with the Monitor. These are often species that are natural turtle-egg hunters, such as foxes and raccoons, but as people encroach ever further into wild habitat, the predator populations explode, and the turtles suffer.

There are some challenges that beset the marine environment specifically. For example, many sea turtles meet their demise as fishery bycatch. They also struggle to lay their eggs as nesting beaches suffer degradation, either through sea-level rise or trash left by sunbathers – or, indeed, by coastal constructions such as seawalls.

And then there is marine debris, especially plastic, blown off land and into the oceans.

“Leatherbacks, for example, have an especially hard time with plastic bags, mistaking them for jelly-fish,” Becca Gelwicks of the Sea Turtle Conservancy tells the Monitor in a phone interview. “They can get caught up in the stomach, and the turtle will die.”

Even plastic straws are hazardous. If such an item happens to be drifting amid a group of jelly-fish, as the leatherback is “sucking up its prey like a vacuum cleaner,” there really is no way for the turtle to differentiate, and the straw will be hoovered up along with everything else.

As Tellem, founder of World Turtle Day, highlighted, there is one other major contributor to the turtles’ travails: overexploitation by humans, either for the pet trade or for meat.

This is one of the areas that the Center for Biological Diversity is most actively addressing. They are working to have the most vulnerable species in the United States listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“Many are heading toward that status,” Ms. Adkins tells the Monitor, “and once that happens, then lots of protections kick in.”

Any violation of the Act can result in a fine of up to $50,000 or prison time of up to a year – or both. Adkins says these consequences are effective deterrents, and the listing of turtles under these provisions effectively “shuts down turtle traders.”

For turtles heavily targeted by the international trade, the Center works to have them listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). At the other end of the scale, the Center petitions state governments and legislatures to regulate turtle harvests.

Within the last three years, they have seen success in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, and although there are 11 states that “still allow unlimited commercial trapping of at least one species of turtle,” even the act of petitioning can often spur action that will eventually obviate the need for a species to be listed as endangered.

For example, $5.5 million was released only last week through the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s State Wildlife Grants program, aimed at protecting “imperiled species.”

Climate change is one further challenge, not least for the marine species. By way of illustration, Ms. Shoer of Mass Audubon speaks of sea turtles migrating up into the Gulf of Maine, just off the northeast coast of the United States. As they try to return south at the end of the season, they find themselves trapped by the “hook” of Cape Cod.

“As the water cools, they go into a kind of a coma,” explains Shoer. “We have 300 rescue volunteers who go out onto the beaches, at a time of year when nobody wants to be on the beach.”

This behavior is unusual. The turtles rarely came this far north, Shoer giving a figure of 10 to 15 annually in the 1980s, now risen to 600.

Their habits have changed due to warmer oceans, “sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine [having] increased faster than 99% of the global ocean” over the past decade.

Warmer temperatures have another effect on turtles, shown to change the ratio of female to male hatchlings – “hot chicks, cool dudes,” as Shoer puts it.

But Mass Audubon is taking action, alongside its intrepid rescue parties braving the shores in the depth of winter. They also implement beach patrols during nesting season to protect the eggs from poachers, sometimes installing protective cages. Other organizations even go so far as to remove eggs from the beach, incubating them in a lab.

There are also steps that every one of us can take, if we would help the turtles. We can buy shrimp and fish that are TED-approved (sourced from fisheries that use Turtle Excluder Devices), take reusable bags to the grocery store, even write to our local statesmen to highlight the turtles’ plight.

“These actions really can make a difference,” says Ms. Gelwicks of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, “even if you’re living in landlocked parts of the United States or Europe.”

And for those still unsure as to whether these animals deserve protection, turtle advocates suggest checking out this video from the back of a sea turtle, shot from a GoPro attached by the World Wildlife Fund and partners.

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