Pipeline Leaks Crude Oil Into Canadian Creek, Any of Four Energy Companies Could Be Responsible
A busted pipeline spilled crude oil into a Strathcona County creek in Alberta, Canada on Saturday. The amount spilled is currently unclear.
The unnamed creek, near 17th Street and Baseline Road, flows directly into the North Saskatchewan River but Alberta Energy Regulator spokesperson Monica Hermary told CBC News that crews managed to contain the leak before it reached the river.
Four Canadian energy companies including Imperial Oil—Exxon Mobil Corp.'s Canadian unit—could be responsible for the spill, Hermary said. The companies—Imperial Oil, Gibson Energy, Inter Pipeline and Pembina Pipeline—have since shut in and de-pressurized their pipelines after the spill was reported and are helping with cleanup.
A team of Imperial Oil workers discovered the leak during routine maintenance. A company spokesperson said the crude oil did not match Imperial Oil products when tested but is leading the response to the incident.
"The current process, in addition to obviously recovering the oil, is determining where the source of the crude is," the spokesperson said. "In other words, who the responsible party is. Then we would transition the recovery efforts to that company."
CBC reported that the spill occurred along a pipeline right-of-way near the boundary between Strathcona County and Sherwood Park, a strip of industrial land where a number of pipelines operate.
Alberta Environment and Parks as well as Environment Canada are involved and overseeing the recovery efforts to ensure safety and environmental requirements are met, CBC reported.
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And the Winners of the Most Prestigious Environmental Award Are ...
The Goldman Environmental Foundation announced today the six recipients of the 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's largest award for grassroots environmental activists.
Awarded annually to environmental heroes from each of the world's six inhabited continental regions, the Goldman Prize recognizes grassroots activists for significant achievement to protect the environment and their communities.
The winners will be awarded the prize at an invitation-only ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the San Francisco Opera House (this event will be live streamed online). A ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC will follow on April 26.
This year's winners are:
Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, Democratic Republic of Congo
Putting his life on the line, Rodrigue Katembo went undercover to document and release information about bribery and corruption in the quest to drill for oil in Virunga National Park, resulting in public outrage that forced the company to withdraw from the project.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Prafulla Samantara, India
An iconic leader of social justice movements in India, Prafulla Samantara led a historic 12-year legal battle that affirmed the indigenous Dongria Kondh's land rights and protected the Niyamgiri Hills from a massive, open-pit aluminum ore mine.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Uroš Macerl, Slovenia
Uroš Macerl, an organic farmer from Slovenia, successfully stopped a cement kiln from co-incinerating petcoke with hazardous industrial waste by rallying legal support from fellow activists and leveraging his status as the only citizen allowed to challenge the plant's permits.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Wendy Bowman, Australia
In the midst of an onslaught of coal development in Australia, octogenarian Wendy Bowman stopped a powerful multinational mining company from taking her family farm and protected her community in Hunter Valley from further pollution and environmental destruction.
Goldman Environmental Prize
mark! Lopez, United States
Born and raised in a family of community activists, mark! Lopez persuaded the state of California to provide comprehensive lead testing and cleanup of East Los Angeles homes contaminated by a battery smelter that had polluted the community for over three decades.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Rodrigo Tot, Guatemala
An indigenous leader in Guatemala's Agua Caliente, Rodrigo Tot led his community to a landmark court decision that ordered the government to issue land titles to the Q'eqchi people and kept environmentally destructive nickel mining from expanding into his community.
on: Today at 04:54 AM
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Shocking Photo Shows Massive Chunk of Ice Towering Over Town
A massive iceberg is towering over a Newfoundland town, as climate change continues to cause dramatic and spectacular events.
The giant iceberg near Ferryland, Canada has created quite a stir and even caused traffic jams as locals stop to take pictures.
Icebergs commonly appear off the coast of Ferryland—in fact, this area called "Iceberg Alley" is famous for iceberg tours that start in May. However, this particular iceberg is unusual for its mammoth size and early appearance.
The Canadian Ice Service classified the iceberg as "large," their second largest category that includes heights of 151-240 feet and lengths of 401-670 feet.
According to Gabrielle McGrath, commander of the United States Coast Guard International Ice Patrol, 616 icebergs have already moved down the North Atlantic this year, while last year, 687 were counted by late September.
"When you look at the iceberg chart, it's truly incredible," Rebecca Acton-Bond, acting superintendent of ice operations with the Canadian Coast Guard, told CBC News.
"Usually, you don't see these numbers until the end of May or June. So the amount of icebergs that we're seeing right now, it really is quite something."
Acton-Bond said that the high number of icebergs is evidence that a major calving event has happened in Greenland. Ice calving is the process of ice chunks breaking loose from the edge of a glacier.
This rare climate event is only one of several reported this month. Scientists discovered a giant waterfall forming in Antarctica and an entire river in Canada's Yukon territory suddenly and unexpectedly changing direction.
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China, India Become Climate Leaders as West Falters
Published: April 24th, 2017
Less than two years after world leaders signed off on a historic United Nations climate treaty in Paris in late 2015, and following three years of record-setting heat worldwide, climate policies are advancing in developing countries but stalling or regressing in richer ones.
In the Western hemisphere, where centuries of polluting fossil fuel use have created comfortable lifestyles, the fight against warming has faltered largely due to the rise of far-right political groups and nationalist movements. As numerous rich countries have foundered, India and China have emerged as global leaders in tackling global warming.
Nowhere is backtracking more apparent than in the U.S., where President Trump is moving swiftly to dismantle environmental protections and reverse President Obama’s push for domestic and global solutions to global warming.
The U.S. isn’t alone in its regression. European lawmakers are balking at far-reaching measures to tackle climate change. Australian climate policy is in tatters. International efforts to slow deforestation in tropical countries are failing.
Click to jump to your region: United States | Canada | EU | Australia | Russia | India | China | Amazon |
Southeast Asia | Congo Basin
While global emissions of heat-trapping pollution appear to be stabilizing, they have not shown any signs of decreasing, which would be necessary to slow climate change. Rising temperatures are worsening floods, storms and wildfires around the world.
“Right now, when you sum the actions of all countries, even under the Paris agreement, it’s insufficient to mitigate dangerous, human-caused climate change,” said Matto Mildenberger, a political scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“Different countries move forward on climate issues with their own rhythm in response to domestic political factors,” Mildenberger said. “It’s naive to think that pro-climate forces will be in power across the world at the same time.”
Here’s a trip around the world, assessing how pro-climate and anti-climate forces are faring in key nations and regions and showing how recent developments are affecting the languishing fight against global warming.
Dire. Trump moving to end climate regulations, research and spending.
No country has turned as sharply as the U.S. Since President Trump’s inauguration, America has gone from being a champion of global climate action to aggressively pushing to end environmental regulations and throatily advocating for fossil fuels. Scott Pruitt, who had been one of the nation’s most fierce opponents of federal environmental regulations, now leads the EPA, the very agency charged with overseeing federal environmental rules.
Trump has moved to eliminate any spending on global climate programs and to roll back any regulations that hamper the fossil fuel sector, which is the main source of greenhouse gas pollution. Many uncertainties over the future of U.S. climate policy remain, including its potential role in United Nations climate talks, and whether supporters of climate action can slow the reversal of national policies.
“The momentum that came out of Paris is still there,” said Harvard economics professor Robert Stavins. “But it has to be admitted that because of the election of Mr. Trump in the U.S., the overall global pace of action is now, and likely will be for the next few years, less than it otherwise would have been.”
Democratic-run states, of which there are just a dozen or so, and environmental groups are fighting Trump’s deregulation drive in public campaigns and in the courts. Trump’s Republican Party has slim majorities in Congress, and some Republican lawmakers have begun voicing support for climate action, making it unlikely that the Clean Air Act will be amended to ease the legal requirement that the federal government must regulate greenhouse gases.
Despite most Americans being supportive of climate action, recent Quinnipiac University polling showed half of Republican voters think Trump should remove climate regulations. It also showed that half of Republican voters think it’s a good idea for Trump to significantly fund research on the environment and climate change.
Concerning. Canada is moving to nationwide carbon pricing but is sending mixed messages on tar sands mining.
Canada flipped in late 2015 from refusing to act meaningfully to slow global warming under conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to becoming an advocate for climate action after liberal Justin Trudeau’s party won the national election. But the prime minister has been sending deeply mixed messages about the future of the country’s heavily polluting tar sands oil industry.
Trudeau has moved to expand programs run by provinces that charge fees on climate pollution into a nationwide system. He has also said that Canada’s highly polluting practice of mining tar sands oil needs to be phased out. Then again, last month Trudeau said during a speech at an energy industry event that tar sands resources “will be developed. Our job is to ensure that this is done responsibly, safely, and sustainably.”
Trudeau released a federal budget last month that includes billions of dollars in spending on clean energy and climate programs, which Mike Wilson, executive director of the Canadian green economy think tank Smart Prosperity Institute, described as “a really positive development.”
“For Canada to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and be economically competitive in a low carbon global economy, we need both a price on carbon and targeted investments and policy directed at stimulating clean innovation,” Wilson said.
Concerning. Key votes loom as opposition and antipathy toward climate action grows.
The European Union was the first wealthy region in the world to take global warming seriously, but it has recently been floundering in its commitment to climate action, distracted by refugee and other crises and rattled by a surge in far-right parties within some of its member states.
Crucial votes by European lawmakers are planned this year, which will shape its plan for fighting climate action from 2020 to 2030. They have already committed to reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 40 percent by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, which is similar but less aggressive to a commitment made by California, one of the world’s leaders in fighting warming.
“I expect that the EU will stick to its objective to reduce emissions in 2030 by 40 percent, but will not go beyond this,” said Louise van Schaik, chief of the sustainability center at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations. “The opposition by Poland, Hungary and others is quite strong at the moment.”
Dire. After dumping its carbon tax, Australia may subsidize a large coal mine.
Australia’s commitment to slowing global warming has fluctuated violently in recent years, and it’s currently near rock bottom among developed countries. With little federal leadership, states have been stepping up to introduce their own climate policies.
One of the first major actions by the country’s conservative party after it won power in 2013 was to dump a carbon tax, which had been helping to slow warming. Since then, the ruling conservative party has replaced hard-right prime minister Tony Abbott with the more moderate Malcolm Turnbull.
The change in leader did little to bolster climate policy. Turnbull has been pushing for federal subsidies for a coal mine near the Great Barrier Reef, which is a major tourist draw and a breeding grounds for commercial fisheries that’s being destroyed by climate change — of which coal power is a major cause.
“There seems no political prospect under the present government for systematic climate policy instruments,” Australian National University professor Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, said. “At the right wing of the conservative government, there are those who would like to see a U.S.-style approach.”
Dire. After declaring climate change a crisis, President Vladimir V. Putin resumes his climate denialism.
Russia is one of the world’s biggest climate polluters, and it continues to rely on fossil fuel sales to Europe and other countries to underpin its economy. It appears to be preparing to ratify the Paris climate agreement, but that means little — Russia’s pledge under the agreement would not require it to take any meaningful steps to slow warming.
In 2015, Putin reversed his long practice of mocking and denying climate science, declaring that climate change “has become one of the gravest challenges humanity is facing.” After Trump won power in the U.S., however, Putin changed his tone again, saying climate change doubters “may not be at all silly” and that warming could boost Russia’s economy.
Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia suspects Putin’s recent remarks were a “signal” to Trump, indicating that “we are the same” on climate and fossil fuel policies.
Positive. State and local governments boosting efforts to deploy clean energy.
India has developed one of the world’s most aggressive plans for installing solar panels, part of an effort by the large but low-income nation to provide electricity to the hundreds of millions of residents who currently lack regular access to it.
India’s ambitious clean power plans rely heavily on finance and aid from developed countries and experts expect they will be jeopardized by shifts in the U.S. and potentially elsewhere away from providing international assistance.
More recently, state governments in India have begun working aggressively to produce clean power and to help their residents adapt to the impacts of climate change. “This is the right approach, as impacts are understood better at local level,” said Harjeet Singh, a New Delhi-based climate policy lead for global nonprofit ActionAid.
“State governments as well as several local authorities are currently developing or implementing their plans,” Singh said. “A large part of money to carry the actions out will come from the national and sub-national governments, but international finance is also needed to boost these efforts.”
Positive. China views climate action as an economic opportunity.
China releases more heat-trapping carbon dioxide every year than any other country — a consequence of its large size and its role as a global manufacturing hub. Factories shifted away from the U.S. and other developed countries to China in recent decades to take advantage of its lax environmental laws and low wages.
China’s leaders have been toiling in recent years to reverse the policies that allowed wanton pollution of the water and the air, including greenhouse gas pollution. That shift has amplified recently as China has come to view clean technology as a major potential driver of its economy.
China aims to create 13 million clean energy jobs by 2020. In 2015 it overtook the U.S. as the largest market for electric vehicles. The country is delivering on its Paris climate goals far more quickly than it had anticipated, prompting some onlookers to speculate that it may boost its pledge during the years ahead.
“China is seeing climate change as an opportunity,” said Ranping Song, an expert on climate policies in developing countries with the nonprofit World Resources Institute. “China would be in a good position to boost its climate pledge, if the economic transition goes as planned.”
Concerning. Deforestation accelerated in 2015 and 2016 following a decade of gains.
After a decade of success by Brazil in slowing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, largely by preventing the conversion of forest into agricultural land for beef and soy, the country reported spikes in forest loss in 2015 and again 2016.
Amazon deforestation increased by about a quarter in 2015 compared with 2014, and them jumped by more than that amount in 2016.
Rachael Petersen of the World Resources Institute described the recent rise in Amazonian deforestation as “disturbing,” possibly caused by lax law enforcement of illegal logging and other factors. But she said it’s too soon to know if it was the start of a long-term trend or just a fluke. “The long-term trend is that it’s still downward.”
In nearby Paraguay, which shares a national border with Brazil and is home to a dryer type of tropical forest that’s not considered a part of the Amazon, Peterson described recent deforestation as “apocalyptic.”
Dire. The global hunger for palm oil is causing rampant deforestation in Indonesia.
Natural forests continue to be burned and cleared at astonishing rates to grow palms that produce palm oil in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. Land is also being cleared for timber throughout the region and to produce rubber in countries that include Cambodia.
This is despite a pledge by Indonesia to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a third by 2030. The country is one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluters, largely because of deforestation. It’s also despite efforts by Unilever, Nestle, Mars and other global corporations to remove palm oil produced through deforestation from their supply chains.
Dire. Deforestation is accelerating in Africa’s biggest tropical rainforest.
Deforestation has long been a major problem in the swampy Congo Basin in Africa, which traverses a number of poor countries and is home to one of the world’s greatest expanses of carbon-storing tropical forest. Timber is being harvested and trees are being cleared for mines, plantations and grazing.
The problem has recently been getting much worse, with “vast” new logging hotspots identified in an analysis of satellite images published in February in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Researchers found that the rate of deforestation more than doubled in the Democratic Republic of Congo 2011 and 2014.
“There are billions of tons of carbon locked up in those forests,” said Simon Counsell, executive director of the nonprofit Rainforest Foundation UK. “The threats are escalating.”
Norway and other countries have been committing hundreds of millions of dollars to help slow deforestation in the Congo, although the work has been criticized by Counsell’s group and other nonprofits for allowing and promoting commercial logging — something the international financiers regard as potentially sustainable.
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Pollution From Canada’s Oil Sands May Be Underreported
Bobby Magill gill
Published: April 24th, 2017
Canadian scientists have found that the standard way of tallying air and climate pollution from Alberta’s oil sands vastly understates pollution levels there — by as much as 4.5 times, according to a Canadian government study published Monday.
The study shows that air samples collected using aircraft may be a more accurate way to tally air and climate pollution from oil and gas production than using industry estimates.
Accurate accounting of the oil and gas industry’s pollution is critical for scientists to understand how fossil fuel production affects the climate and to find ways to cut the pollution to address air quality and climate change, said Allen Robinson, director of the EPA-funded Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions at Carnegie Mellon University, who is unaffiliated with the study.
Both the U.S. and Canadian governments rely on energy companies’ self-reported emissions estimates in order to count all the pollution from oil and gas operations. Few actual pollution measurements are taken.
If official tallies underestimate the actual emissions, climate models will likewise underestimate the extent to which fossil fuel pollution is contributing to climate change, Robinson said. The Canadian research shows that the energy industry has been underreporting its emissions and it highlights the challenges the industry faces in accurately estimating emissions from very complex equipment.
Scientists in both the U.S. and Canada have found that measuring greenhouse gases and other kinds of air pollution using satellites or air samples gathered from airplanes paints a vastly different picture of fossil fuel emissions than those reported by government environmental agencies.
For example, research using satellite data found a previously undetected hotspot of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — over oil and gas fields in northwest New Mexico. Most leaking methane from oil and gas fields isn’t included in EPA emissions estimates.
Another study, conducted by Harvard University researchers, used air samples gathered from towers and airplanes to show that methane emissions from various sources in southern states are five times higher than EPA estimates.
The Canadian research team measured emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in the air above oil sands operations in Alberta. VOCs, most of which are not greenhouse gases, have an indirect effect on the climate. They produce ozone, which is a greenhouse gas and can harm human health.
Ozone can allow methane to linger longer in the atmosphere than it would under normal conditions. The longer methane, which has about 86 times the power of carbon dioxide to warm the globe over the span of 20 years, remains in the atmosphere the more it helps to warm the climate.
Study lead author Shao-Meng Li, a senior research scientist for Environment and Climate Change Canada, said VOC pollution from the oil sands, which are among the most polluting forms of fossil fuels on earth, comes from many different industrial sources. Companies may be unaware of some small leaks that together may add up to a large amount of pollution.
The team found that VOC emissions rates from oil sands production were between 2 and 4.5 times the levels companies reported, depending on the location.
Companies report estimates of their emissions based on how much pollution leakage is expected from their oil and gas equipment. It’s technologically difficult to determine emission rates from some oil and gas facilities and equipment, especially in the oil sands, Li said.
The paper illustrates how company-reported pollution data needs validation with actual pollution samples.
Eric Kort, a climate and space sciences engineering professor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, said the research highlights how difficult it is for emissions to be accurately counted because it’s difficult to for companies to find leaks in their equipment.
“This has particular resonance with methane, where emissions have proven challenging to accurately estimate with inventories,” said Kort, who is unaffiliated with the study.
Li said methane, which is also a VOC, was not included in the paper’s results. His team is working on a separate analysis of oil sands greenhouse gas emissions.
on: Today at 04:46 AM
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The Fingerprints of Global Warming on Extreme Weather
April 24th, 2017
When climate scientists examine whether the warming of the Earth has made extreme weather events such as heatwaves or downpours more likely, they generally do it on a case-by-case basis. But a group led by Stanford climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh has aimed to develop a more global, comprehensive approach to investigating how climate change has impacted such extremes.
With a new framework they developed, Diffenbaugh’s team found that heat records were made both more likely and more severe for about 80 percent of the area of the globe with good observational data. For precipitation records, that percentage was about half.
The team also examined a few particular events, finding, for example, that warming was clearly linked to the record-low summer Arctic sea ice extent of 2012.
Given the findings of previous so-called attribution studies as well as long-term warming trends, those results aren’t surprising, but they do show how much human-caused global warming has affected weather extremes already, the study authors and outside experts said.
And while several outside researchers quibbled with some aspects of the study, they said it provided a new tool that could help researchers more easily and uniformly probe what ingredients of a particular extreme event exhibit a climate change signal.
“The overall message — that changes in extremes worldwide can be attributed to human-induced climate change — is not new, but this paper adds another piece of relevant evidence to bolster that conclusion,” Peter Stott, a UK Met Office climatologist who conducted the 2003 study that kicked off the attribution sub-field, said in an email.
The idea behind extreme event attribution studies is to gain a better handle on how warming is changing the risk of different types of extreme weather in different areas. Because extremes have some of the biggest impacts on people, infrastructure and the economy, understanding how those risks are changing can help government officials and businesses better plan for the future.
Most of these studies, though, are generally case studies of specific events, often ones that happen in scientists’ backyards. While informative, they lead to what scientists call “selection bias,” meaning they aren’t taking in the full scope of how warming is affecting extreme weather.
Diffenbaugh and his colleagues, who have done several attribution case studies, particularly on the California drought, sought to get a broader view by using existing attribution methods to look at particular climate measures across a broader swath of the planet. These included the hottest day, hottest month, driest year and the wettest five-day period.
The results, detailed Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that heat records in 80 percent of the study area were more likely affected by climate change than not, Diffenbaugh said.
This suggests that the world is not quite at the point where every single record-setting heat event has a discernable climate change influence, “but we are getting close,” he said.
For both the driest year and wettest five-day period, “about half the area exhibits an influence of global warming, and that is substantial,” even though it is less than for heat, Diffenbaugh said.
The higher percentage for extreme heat makes sense given the clearer line between warming and temperature; that extreme heat events are expected to occur more often and be more severe is one of the more robust outcomes of warming.
On the other hand, “precipitation is just a noisier quantity,” making it harder to pick out the climate change signal in some areas, Adam Sobel, a Columbia University climate scientist who wasn’t involved in the study, said in an email.
But that “doesn't mean the influence isn't there — all we can say is that it hasn't clearly risen above the noise, but the noise is large so it is reasonable to expect that it will emerge in time,” he said.
The biggest influence from climate change was seen on heat and dry extremes in the tropics, “a combination that poses real risks for vulnerable communities and ecosystems,” Diffenbaugh said in a statement.
Sydneysiders take refuge from sweltering conditions alongside apartments at Sydney's North Cronulla
The downside to the approach the team used is that the measures they used aren’t always the most relevant for the actual impacts on the ground, which is what people most care about and what attribution case studies try to address, Friederike Otto, of Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute, said. Otto, who works with Climate Central’s own real-time attribution effort, also would’ve liked to see the study use more than one climate model.
While the new approach is useful “to gain confidence in real-time attribution,” allowing teams to place what they find in a larger context, “it doesn’t replace the actual attribution study in any way,” she said.
Diffenbaugh agreed and said that the team is working to develop ways to use their approach to look at the climate influence on particular impacts, such as the relationship between high temperatures and crop yields or coral bleaching.
He also said that his team’s framework can better help scientists look at how climate change is impacting the various ingredients that combine to cause extreme events, rather than focusing on just one aspect as many have to-date. For example, they found that warming had made a certain atmospheric pattern that led to a deadly heatwave in Russia in 2010 more common and more severe.
Conversely, while previous studies showed that changes in such atmospheric patterns made a major downpour and flooding event in Boulder, Colo., in 2013 less likely, the warming and moistening of the atmosphere would increase its likelihood.
The hope is that the framework is a step toward doing more real-time attribution studies and making analyses more consistent from study to study. Stott, who is working on a similar effort, said that this study does help move things in that direction.
This approach is “one brick in the wall and there are a lot of really smart people working hard on different aspects of this,” Diffenbaugh said. “We’re building a strong foundation for being able to ask these questions and answer them in a scientifically valid way.”
on: Today at 04:42 AM
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Could this rather esurient caterpillar help stem the plastic deluge?
European researchers have discovered a species of caterpillar capable of eating a common form of plastic. What lessons can nature teach us about cleaning up the nearly indestructible pollutant?
April 24, 2017 —Despite living just six or seven weeks, they may be able to take down an enemy that lingers for centuries.
The lowly caterpillar Galleria mellonella, also known as the wax worm, can digest a type of plastic commonly found in packaging, according to a paper published Monday in Current Biology. The finding continues a string of recently discovered plastic-eating organisms that has some scientists hoping nature might share some of its tricks and help us rid the environment of the alien materials.
The discovery was a true eureka moment. When scientist and amateur beekeeper Federica Bertocchini found pesky caterpillars crawling over her homegrown honeycombs, she plucked them off and imprisoned them in the membrane of a plastic bag.
But a short while later she returned to a shocking scene. The worms had made a jailbreak, leaving behind nothing but holes in a shopping bag that could have otherwise far outlived both her and the critters.
"There was only one explanation: the worms had made the holes and had escaped. This project began there and then," explained the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) scientist in a press release.
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A battery of tests confirmed Dr. Bertocchini’s assumption. The caterpillars were indeed digesting, not just tearing, the polyethylene, a batch of 100 gobbling up 92 milligrams of the stuff in half a day, “which really is very fast," according to Bertocchini.
Collectively we produce hundreds of millions of tons of plastic yearly, of which polyethylene makes up about 40 percent. Perhaps 8 million of those tons end up in the ocean, where they break down into omnipresent shards now making their way as far as the Arctic. What large-scale effects this environmental newcomer could have is completely unknown.
“We don’t know what the damages are of having pieces of plastic in the ocean. I think it’s an uninvited guest,” says Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution senior scientist and ocean pollution researcher Christopher Reddy, who was not involved in the research.
While plastics belong to the same class of large molecules as cotton, fingernails, and wood, their durability makes them tough targets for the little organisms who break down everything else. After all, no one wants a pen that rots.
“We’re designing chemicals and we’re designing products because of their stability. We’re a victim of our own success,” says Dr. Reddy in a phone interview.
But most plastics are made from carbon-rich fossil fuels, a potent source of energy, and one that the wax worm can handle. The adult moth lays eggs in beeswax, which features carbon-carbon bonds much like those found in polyethylene. Bertocchini’s team speculates that the pupae’s plastic-chomping superpower may spring from their ability to digest the wax as they develop.
With this discovery, the caterpillars join a roster of plastic-fighting organisms including last year’s Ideonella sakaiensis bacteria and 2011’s Amazonian fungus, bolstering hopes that nature will show us efficient ways to get rid of our waste.
“Given the fast rate of biodegradation reported here, these findings have potential for significant biotechnological applications,“ the team wrote in their paper.
But real hurdles stand between these iron-gutted organisms and a plastic-free planet, not the least of which is getting them to do our bidding and pick plastic over other, possibly tastier, foods.
“When it comes to microbial breakdown, it’s like asking teenagers to clean their rooms on the weekend,” explains Reddy. “They may do it, they may not do it. They may do a little. They may do the easiest way first.”
Nature tends to takes the path of least resistance, which might lead a handful of very hungry caterpillars to chew their way to freedom. However, scaling up that lab-bench behavior into a plastic processing factory poses many challenges.
“You have to then start thinking about how quickly can you grow a biomass of fungi that could do this. How do you manage bioreactors? How do you corral a bunch of worms to go and eat the plastic?” Reddy wonders.
Even at the “fast rate” of 184 milligrams per day, it would take the 100-worm posse nearly 15 years to dispose of one kilogram of plastic. And we dump about eight billion kilograms into the oceans each year.
Although assembling a bio-army of caterpillars, fungi, and bacteria to munch down our plastic surplus directly may not be a likely solution, scientists suggest we could borrow some inspiration from our creepy-crawly friends.
“If you can recognize that these worms have a tool in their toolbox... perhaps we can insert it into another organism that could be more manageable,” says Reddy.
Bertocchini suspects that tool might be a powerful enzyme, a large molecule that helps along chemical reactions. "We still don’t know the details of how this biodegradation occurs, but there is a possibility that an enzyme is responsible. The next step is to detect, isolate, and produce this enzyme in vitro on an industrial scale," she said.
As for how bio-engineers could pull off that production, paper co-author Paolo Bombelli has an idea. "If we express the enzyme (or enzymes) in E. coli we might be able to produce them in large quantities for a reasonably low cost," he writes in an email, describing a process similar to the one used to manufacture insulin.
The team of Japanese researchers who isolated the I. sakaiensis bacteria last year took a similar tack, finding two enzymes (which they dubbed PETase and MHETase) capable of breaking up the long chains of plastic molecules found in water bottles. Next they aim to ”enhance the activity level and stability of these newly discovered microbial enzymes.”
Dr. Bombelli, a plant biochemistry professor at Cambridge University, suspects studying the wax worm will yield a new plastic-attacking enzyme.
Even if application proves impractical, Reddy welcomes the chance to learn from the ultimate professor, at least on the level of pure research.
“Frankly, it’s exciting science,” says Reddy. “Nature is the best chemist, and we have to celebrate that.”
on: Today at 04:39 AM
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Why predicting the future is more than just horseplay
The science of prediction lies at the heart of the modern world, but attempts to forecast even the most straightforward systems often confound scientists, while complex systems sometimes reveal themselves to surprisingly predictable.
Daniel B. Larremore
Santa Fe Institute
University of Colorado Boulder and Santa Fe Institute
April 24, 2017 —Three years out of a PhD in physics in 1953, John Kelly Jr. published a breakthrough paper about insider information in horse racing in an unlikely place: the Bell Labs Technical Journal. By the time it was in print, the paper's title had been scrubbed of its references to gambling – the AT&T executives didn't care for Bell Labs to be so directly associated with horse racing – but the content remained. Dr. Kelly had not just cracked the mathematics underlying a type of gambling, but he had also revealed deeper patterns about the nature of prediction.
When the odds posted by the track are different from the odds determined using insider information, Kelly's formula explains how to take those differences and place the best bets possible, mathematically speaking. The formula is powerful in its simplicity. It tells us to put money on every horse for which we have an informational or statistical edge, and then calculates exactly what fraction of our bankroll to bet on each horse, depending on the strength of that edge.
While this basic idea had long been known – the larger the difference in the track odds and the real odds, the bigger the opportunity for the gambler – Kelly quietly revolutionized the practice of prediction by writing down the optimal exchange rate between knowing something that others do not and the benefits of that knowledge.
Today, racetracks are less popular, but the principles remain the same. Asymmetries in the power to statistically predict the future are the bread and butter of finance around the world, for example. But predictions underpin more than financial markets alone.
Prediction is the decoder ring of the modern world, touching everything from healthcare, car insurance, politics, and terrorism, to sports, scientific discovery, and even the ride-hailing apps that are disrupting the taxi industry. In the age of bigger data and better algorithms, however, researchers are discovering straightforward systems that appear to be fundamentally unpredictable, as well as complicated systems whose behavior is surprisingly predictable.
Then again, this sort of thing is the norm when studying what researchers call complex systems, systems with many interacting elements whose collective behavior defies expectations based on their component parts. There may be simple patterns that organize seemingly chaotic events, but complicated limits to prediction in rather simple systems. Finding the organizing patterns and challenging the limits to prediction are at the core of complex systems research.
Systems that involve people can be particularly surprising, because human agency would seem to make accurate prediction impossible. After all, if an equation predicts that a stock trader or public official will take a particular course of action, that person can simply take a different course, rendering the prediction immediately wrong.
And while predicting what an individual might do is sometimes next to impossible, as we’ve seen throughout this series in The Christian Science Monitor, complex social systems can exhibit highly predictable behavior at large scales. For instance, no driver wants to get stuck in a traffic jam, but because of the choices each driver makes independently and the constraints of rush-hour travel, traffic jams emerge despite efforts to avoid them. Understanding the conditions under which they appear is fairly straightforward, even if no individual driver can predict which specific decisions will lead to a traffic jam.
Finding predictable patterns that emerge from the complicated interactions of many individual parts is the norm when studying complex systems. Detecting these organizing patterns and outlining the limits of their predictability lies at the core of complexity science.
Deep patterns in war and violence
When an apple falls from a tree, everyone knows what happens next. We know from the application of the scientific method – that is, from observation, then explanation, then prediction, and finally verification – that gravity causes the apple to move toward the ground at a specific and constant rate of acceleration. Gravity and falling are so predictable that NASA engineers can hurl a satellite one hundred million miles across the solar system at Mars and still predict with an accuracy of a dozen feet where it will enter the atmosphere of the Red Planet.
Human affairs are far messier. Take organized violence. Acts of terrorism can seem to occur at random places and times, and wars can erupt from causes as varied as internal political uprisings to territorial disputes. War and terrorism are archetypal chaos.
And yet, both wars and terrorism follow the same predictable mathematical pattern. In the early 20th century, the English polymath Lewis Fry Richardson began looking at statistical regularities in the sizes of wars, measured by the number of deaths they produce.
He discovered that wars follow nearly the same pattern as earthquakes. That is, just as the famous Gutenberg-Richter Law (on which the Richter Scale is based) allows us to predict how many earthquakes of magnitude 3 or 4 or 6 will occur in California this year, Richardson’s Law allows us to predict how many wars will occur over the next 30 years that kill 10,000 or 50,000 or any other number of people.
Richardson’s Law does not let us go beyond broad forecasts. It provides little help in predicting which countries will go to war, over what, and how large any particular war will be. Likewise, seismologists still struggle to predict precisely when or where any particular earthquake might occur or how large it might be.
In 1960, Dr. Richardson speculated that the statistical law that governs wars would hold for other types of violence, such as homicides or mass murders. Recent work suggests that he was not far off the mark. The same mathematical pattern as in the Gutenberg-Richter Law also appears in the sizes of terrorist attacks worldwide, and may even hold for the mass shootings that have become disturbingly common in recent years.
Although these statistical regularities have improved our ability to estimate the broad brushstrokes of events, we still can't predict the precise details of the next mass murder.
Because we lack systematic data on the precise stresses and energy build-ups in different parts of the Earth’s crust, we cannot predict earthquakes. Similarly, the contingencies of human behavior make prediction that much harder within complex social systems, such as the ones that generate wars and terrorist attacks. We are far from having complete data. But even if we did have it, we would not know what any particular person would do. We can predict patterns only at the global scale.
Certainty and serendipity
Predicting the progress of science itself also runs aground on hard limits to accurate prediction. In 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson discovered the cosmic microwave background, the noise left over from the early universe. They received a Nobel Prize in 1978 for their discovery that confirmed the Big Bang theory.
But Penzias and Wilson weren’t even looking for the cosmic microwave background when they stumbled upon it. They were trying to detect radio waves bouncing off of satellites that were carried to high altitudes by balloons. They kept getting a strange noise from their receiver. They tried to remove the noise by reorienting their antenna, by experimenting both day and night, and by clearing away a family of pigeons nesting in the antenna. But the noise remained. Only after eliminating all of the alternative possibilities did they realize that, in fact, no radio source on Earth or even within our galaxy that could explain their anomalous readings.
Drs. Penzias and Wilson had stumbled upon the echo of the Big Bang. Who could have predicted that? Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 not through the deliberate and predictable processes of the conventional scientific method, but by accident. CRISPR-Cas9, the wonder protein that enables scientists to edit a gene inside a living organism, was discovered by scientists studying an obscure aspect of certain bacteria.
You might think we scientists would be better at predicting discoveries. After all, scientists help choose which scientific projects receive support from tax payers, which young researchers get hired to run their own labs, and which scientific papers survive peer review. Each of these choices is a kind of prediction that the scientific community depends on.
But the biggest discoveries are often the hardest to predict. We don't see them coming because they reorganize how we thought the world worked. Big discoveries are valuable precisely because they are fresh and new, whereas predictions are always based on historical patterns.
Predicting that the future will be like the past, that accomplished scientists will continue doing good science, or that a hot area of research will continue to produce new ideas, is easy and natural. But it is also boring and shortsighted and therefore unlikely to hit upon truly unexpected ideas. Making those big leaps forward, the ones that change the way we understand the world around us almost always require a gamble with no guaranteed payout.
When predictability is boring
People like predictability. Predictability keeps us safe, ensuring that your car’s airbag will deploy 99 percent of the time. Predictability allows us to anticipate and plan, and so homes in California must be built to withstand earthquakes. And predictability helps us avoid natural disasters, which is why we invest millions of dollars every year to operate weather satellites.
It may come as a surprise then, that in some systems, we actually seek to make things less predictable.
Professional basketball, it turns out, is one of these systems. Although millions of fans may feel otherwise, physicists and mathematicians have shown that the ups and downs of lead sizes over the course of a game are highly unpredictable. So unpredictable, in fact, that the outcome of most games is only slightly less predictable than guessing whether there will be more heads than tails when flipping 100 coins.
Of course, you can improve your predictions about how a game will evolve if you know something about the teams, with separate calculations for offensive and defensive strengths, star players, coaching acumen, injuries, and the like. Even so, modeling how a game evolves by flipping coins will do a good job of predicting the outcomes of games over a whole season.
This dramatic unpredictability is puzzling. After all, professional athletes spend enormous energy honing their skills, and teams win or lose depending on how well their players play. To make this less puzzling, let's consider the spectators.
The fans love exciting games. Huge blowouts are no fun. Team sports are best when their ups and downs, and ultimately their outcomes, are as random as possible. A great game is one in which the teams are evenly matched and they battle valiantly We love it when an underdog manages an upset victory in the nick of time. In other words, we crave limited predictability in our sports.
In the early 1950s, basketball had become a boring game to watch. When one team opened up a lead, the game turned into keep-away, allowing the leading team to effectively freeze the score. There was no randomness, no level playing field, no promise of an exciting finish. Once a team gained a good lead, spectators might as well have headed for the car.
That’s why Danny Biasone, owner of the Syracuse Nationals, advocated for and eventually won the introduction of the 24-second shot clock in the 54’-55’ season. The shot clock, which requires a team to make a shot within 24 seconds of gaining possession of the ball, unfreezes the score and infuses a greater degree of randomness into every game from beginning to end. In other words, in sports, we crave unpredictability so much that when a game becomes too predictable, we happily change the rules to make it more uncertain.
Unpredictability is an essential ingredient in any form of entertainment. A horror movie isn’t fun without surprising frights, the best jokes always turn on an unexpected element, and love stories are appealing because it seems impossible that the two people will ever get together, yet they do so against all odds.
In team sports and entertainment, then, the limits to prediction are at the core of our interest. Unpredictability keeps us on the edges of our seats and can delight us or break our hearts. The same limits are the source of the gambler’s love of sports, and the dream that one person’s insider information can somehow be translated into a statistical edge at the bookies’ desk.
The future of prediction
Ben Mezrich’s book Bringing Down the House tells an exciting but fictionalized story of the MIT Blackjack Team. But in the 1990s, the real MIT Blackjack team did go to Las Vegas. Armed with statistics, they turned their edge into cash and walked away with fortunes.
They weren’t the first. The threads of their ideas reach back through history. In the late 1970s, a team from Santa Cruz built miniaturized computers, which they hid in their shoes and used to predict the clattering fate of the roulette wheel. Like the MIT students who would come after them, their predictions weren’t perfect, but they knew that any statistical edge could be turned into winnings.
Earlier still, Ed Thorpe’s victories over blackjack in the mid-1960s were the product of carefully exploiting the differences between good and bad prediction. He wrote the book on counting cards in blackjack, and started a hedge fund. By 1988, Dr. Thorpe’s personal investments had grown at an annualized rate of 20 percent per year for over 28 years.
Thorpe’s story begins earlier too. He built the world’s first wearable computer with Claude Shannon, a scientist at Bell Labs who fathered the age of computers with information theory. In 1961, two decades before the Santa Cruz students, Thorpe and Shannon built enough of a statistical advantage to beat Nevada’s roulette wheels. Claude Shannon worked at Bell Labs with none other than John Kelly Jr.
Kelly never gambled himself, but his formulas taught each of the players who followed how to convert prediction into earnings. In 1953 he quantified the fundamental value of prediction by equating an information edge with earnings and used the horses at the racetrack to illustrate his points. Although most of us have never heard of Kelly, today we use his ideas when making predictions about every part of our complex society.
When the stakes of prediction are high and the unexpected occurs, it’s tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater and fire the statisticians for the surprises they told us were unlikely. We would, of course, be unwise to do so.
In spite of its limits, the future of prediction has never looked brighter. Those who walk away from statistical predictions are leaving money on the table. Eventually, in the long run, they’ll be on the losing side of people willing to read John Kelly’s work.
Daniel B. Larremore is an Omidyar Postdoctoral Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute. His research focuses on developing methods of networks, dynamical systems, and statistical inference to solve problems in social and biological systems.
on: Today at 04:34 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Study links diet soft drinks with stroke and dementia
by Chuck Bednar
The notion that diet soft drinks are healthier alternatives to sugary beverages took another hit last week, as a study published Thursday in the American Heart Association journal Stroke linked the artificially-sweetened products with an increased risk of both stroke and dementia.
Led by Matthew Pase, a senior research fellow from the Boston University School of Medicine’s department of neurology, the team responsible for the new study found that regular consumption of diet sodas were associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia – though they were not able to establish causation.
No such correlation was found between the adverse health conditions and sugar-sweetened soda, they added, but people who drank at least one diet soda per day were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia, Pase and his fellow researchers explained in a press release.
As Bloomberg noted, the artificial sweeteners typically used in diet soft drinks have previously been linked to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease – though, as in the current study, there is no evidence that the sweeteners are directly responsible for those health issues. Similarly, Pase’s team urges using caution when attempting to interpret the results of their new study.
“We have little data on the health effects of diet drinks,” he told CNN, “and this is problematic because diet drinks are popular amongst the general population. More research is needed to study the health effects of diet drinks so that consumers can make informed choices concerning their health.”
Reasons for possible association remain unknown, say authors
Pase and his colleagues looked at the data for 2,888 adults older than 45, and 1,484 adults older than 60 who participated in the Framingham Heart Study, a project of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Boston University. The younger group was measured for stroke, and the older group was measured for Alzheimer’s and dementia, according to CNN.
They monitored the number of sugary drinks and artificially-sweetened beverages members of each group consumed between 1991 and 2001, then compared that data to the number of people who experienced a stroke or dementia over the next 10 years. Those drinking one diet soda each day were nearly three times more likely to have a stroke or be diagnosed with dementia.
“It was somewhat surprising that diet soda consumption led to these outcomes,” Pase said in a statement, adding that while previous research has found a link between diet soda consumption and stroke, the association with dementia was not previously known to science. Furthermore, he told CNN that he was surprised that no such link was found involving sugary soft drinks, as they have been linked to other adverse health effects in previous studies.
The authors noted that they did not differentiate between different types of sweeteners as part of their research, nor did they account for other possible sources of the sugar replacement (coffee or sugar-free desserts). While there have been various hypotheses attempting to explain the possible link between these products and adverse health effects, Pase said that more research is needed to “figure out the underlying mechanisms.”
on: Apr 24, 2017, 10:29 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Shitstain Trump’s AP Interview Reveals Our Unhinged and Unintelligible Commander-in-Chief
By Hrafnkell Haraldsson on Mon, Apr 24th, 2017 at 7:59 am
Not counting lies, an unprecedented sixteen (!) times AP couldn't figure out what the heck Donald Trump was saying in a one-on-one interview
As Donald Trump approaches his 100th day with an approval rating lower than any in American presidential history since 1945, he continued to replay the election results via twitter (yes, the election he lost) while making 16 unintelligible remarks in a lie-filled Associated Press interview.
Toronto Star fact-checker Daniel Dale admitted “I’ve never seen this: the AP has to deem some of Trump’s comments ‘unintelligible’ even though it was a one-on-one Oval Office interview.” By the way, Dale called this interview as “bonkers” as any other Trump interview: https://apnews.com/c810d7de280a47e88848b0ac74690c83
Trump made at least 15 "unintelligible" comments in his Associated Press interview, the AP transcript says. pic.twitter.com/1T7bXud0jJ
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) April 23, 2017
As actor/director and political activist Rob Reiner put it,
If you want to scare the crap out of yourself,read DT's AP interview. That that incomprehensible,moronic liar is POTUS is beyond disturbing
— Rob Reiner (@robreiner) April 24, 2017
It isn’t that Trump is guilty of doublespeak, or at least, not intentionally. Let’s put it this way: He’s a liar, but he makes up for it by not knowing what he’s talking about – and add to that an inability to put whatever he is talking about into language other human beings can comprehend.
In short, what we get from Donald Trump – assuming we can even understand what he is saying – is absolutely without value, and according to Dale, who agrees with Reiner, by the way, it’s not entirely on Trump:
Media still hasn't figured out how to communicate that the president is lying, rambling, being un[in]telligible, admitting massive ignorance.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) April 23, 2017
As one example, as ABC News put it, Trump’s interview “showed he was not completely familiar with what he had promised in that ‘contract’ with voters.” In other words, he lied. ABC News could have just said so, but for whatever reason, chose not to.
I don’t know, honestly, what’s so hard to figure out about “how to communicate” that Trump is lying rather than excusing his lie by saying he’s “not completely familiar” with his own words.
With language like this, we’ve reached what science calls a “tipping point”: a sort of absurdity point of no return.
Although a case could be made that Trump is not completely familiar with reality, it would be a willful ignorance he would then lie about it and excuse the lie with his patented “a lot” of people say and promise us proof “very soon” that he would never provide.
Meanwhile, all around the world, people were marching with signs in defense of facts. Yes. People – more people than showed up to welcome Trump into the White House – had to march to defend the very idea of facts and the scientific underpinnings of our universe.
And this is our so-called president. The leader of the most powerful nation on earth. A president whose very language, even if you can weave through the lies, and therefore the ideas behind it is unintelligible.
Maps once showed the areas in which monsters were thought to dwell in as Terra Incognita, or “Unknown land.” That is what now ought to be emblazoned on every map over the White House. We just don’t know, because Trump himself doesn’t know. And ignorance, not the unknown, is the real monster.
Keep waving those signs. Holy symbols were once thought to ward off evil, but in the Trump era it is not holy symbols we must cling to but to but facts. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, in a demon-haunted world, it is science that is a candle in the dark.
Don’t let our unintelligible president blow those candles out.
You just said you did’: AP busts Shitstain Trump for lying about watching CNN two minutes after he admitted it
23 Apr 2017 at 16:10 ET
In a interview with the Associated Press that was published over the weekend, President Donald Trump refused to condemn WikiLeaks and repeatedly contradicted himself.
Speaking to Trump from the Oval Office, AP asked the president to reflect on his first 100 days in office.
On foreign policy, Trump recalled that he had “one of the best chemistries” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and he took credit for NATO’s fight against terrorism.
Trump, however, argued that people should not hold him to the promises he made in his 100-day plan, and then falsely claimed that he had gone above and beyond the plan by selecting Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
AP: So in terms of the 100-day plan that you did put out during the campaign, do you feel, though, that people should hold you accountable to this in terms of judging success?
TRUMP: No, because much of the foundation’s been laid. Things came up. I’ll give you an example. I didn’t put Supreme Court judge on the 100 (day) plan, and I got a Supreme Court judge.
AP: I think it’s on there.
TRUMP: I don’t know. …
AP: “Begin the process of selecting.” You actually exceeded on this one. This says, “Begin the process of selecting a replacement.”
TRUMP: That’s the biggest thing I’ve done.
Trump was hesitant to criticize WikiLeaks or its founder, Jullian Assange, for publishing stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee. Instead, he asserted the DNC was at fault for allowing the information to be hacked.
“When Wikileaks came out, all I was just saying is, ‘Well, look at all this information here, this is pretty good stuff,'” Trump explained, adding that he did not “support or unsupport” Assange.
Trump asserted that the DNC data would not have been stolen and published by WikiLeaks “if [the DNC] had the proper defensive devices on their internet, you know, equipment.”
The president also said that he had stopped paying attention to the mainstream media — and then contradicted himself.
TRUMP: OK. The one thing I’ve learned to do that I never thought I had the ability to do. I don’t watch CNN anymore.
AP: You just said you did.
TRUMP: No. No, I, if I’m passing it, what did I just say (inaudible)?
AP: You just said —
TRUMP: Where? Where?
AP: Two minutes ago.
“When I see it’s such false reporting and such bad reporting and false reporting that I’ve developed an ability that I never thought I had,” Trump insisted. “I don’t watch things that are unpleasant. I just don’t watch them.”
“I don’t watch CNN anymore. I don’t watch MSNBC anymore. I don’t watch [negative] things, and I never thought I had that ability. I always thought I’d watch.”