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 on: Jul 01, 2015, 09:17 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Good egg: rare specimen discovered after 100 years in a drawer

When curator Alan Knox came across a rare egg in a museum drawer he just had to figure out its story
Jerdon's courser egg

Henry Nicholls
1 July 2015 07.04 BST

Name: ABDUZ: 70169
Species: Rhinoptilus bitorquatus
Dates: 1917
Claim to fame: The only known egg of Jerdon’s courser
Where now: Zoology Museum, University of Aberdeen

Alan Knox was checking museum’s store room for insects when he found the egg. There, in an uncatalogued drawer of oological specimens, was a label that caught his eye.   

Amongst ornithologists, this plover-like bird from southern India has an almost mythological status. We know of its existence from just a handful of specimens, the first collected by British zoologist Thomas Jerdon in around 1844. For most of the 20th century, it was assumed extinct. Then, in January 1986, a trapper spotted a live courser near the town of Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh, managed to catch it and kept it alive until Bharat Bhushan, an ornithologist at the Bombay Natural History Society, arrived to confirm its identity.

When Knox chanced upon this egg in the stores of the Zoology Museum at the University of Aberdeen in 2008, he quickly ran some background checks. As far as he could tell, there was no formal description of a Jerdon’s courser egg anywhere and not a single other specimen on record. This egg – if it was what it claimed to be – was one of a kind.

But what if the person that penned the label was mistaken? What if the egg did not belong to Jerdon’s courser but to some other bird? “How do you actually identify something nobody has ever seen before?” wrote Knox in a University of Aberdeen magazine.

The answer was DNA. There are just five preserved skins of Jerdon’s courser that survive and two of them are in the ornithological collection at the Natural History Museum, Tring. A colleague Stuart Piertney took scrapings from the membrane lining the inside the mystery egg and shavings from a toe-pad from one of the two courser skins. “The sequences obtained from the egg and the toe-pad were identical, indicating that they had come from the same species,” wrote Knox and Piertney in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society.

So how did an egg of so rare a species wend its way to Aberdeen? Knox worked hard to figure this out and wrote it up in Archives of Natural History last year. The egg appears to have been collected in around 1917 by Ernest Gilbert Meaton, a vet working at the Kolar Gold Fields to the east of Bangalore. Meaton sold his collection (including the courser egg) to George Falconer Rose (an engineer-cum-entrepreneur in Calcutta), who gifted the eggs to his alma mater Aberdeen Grammar School, which passed them on to the Zoology Museum of the University of Aberdeen in around 1978.

Jerdon’s courser is “critically endangered” on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. The egg went on display in the Zoology Museum in Aberdeen for a time but has been returned to the safety of storage.

“What other treasures await discovery in our outstanding local museums?” wrote Knox and Piertney.

 on: Jul 01, 2015, 09:12 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Yellow-breasted buntings 'being eaten to extinction by China'

Birds once abundant in Europe and Asia could share the same fate as passenger pigeon as they are killed in millions for food

Agence France-Presse
7/1/ 2015 09.33 BST

A bird that was once one of the most abundant in Europe and Asia is being hunted to near extinction because of Chinese eating habits, according to a study published on Tuesday.

The population of the yellow-breasted bunting (Emberiza aureola) has plunged by 90% since 1980, all but disappearing from eastern Europe, Japan and large parts of Russia, said the study, published in the Conservation Biology journal.

Following initial population declines, China in 1997 banned the hunting of the species, known in the country as the “rice bird”.

However, millions of these birds, along with other songbirds, were still being killed for food and sold on the black market as late as 2013, said the study.

It said consumption of these birds has increased as a result of economic growth and prosperity in east Asia, with an estimate in 2001 claiming 1m buntings were consumed in China’s southern Guangdong province alone.

The birds breed north of the Himalayas and spend their winters in warmer southeast Asia, passing through eastern China where they have been hunted for more than 2,000 years, according to the conservation group BirdLife International.

At their wintering grounds, they gather in huge flocks at night-time roosts, making them easy prey for trappers using nets, the group said.

The songbird, which nests on the ground in open scrubs, is distinctive for its yellow underparts.

The paper in Conservation Biology drew parallels between the migratory bird and the North American passenger pigeon, which became extinct in 1914 due to industrial-scale hunting.

“The magnitude and speed of the decline is unprecedented among birds distributed over such a large area, with the exception of the passenger pigeon,” the paper’s lead author, Dr Johannes Kamp from the University of Munster, said in a statement released by BirdLife International.

“High levels of hunting also appear to be responsible for the declines we are seeing in yellow-breasted bunting.”

Yellow-breasted buntings have since 2013 been classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as an “endangered” species due to rapid population decline from trapping outside their breeding grounds.

“To reverse these declines we need to better educate people of the consequences of eating wildlife. We also need a better and more efficient reporting system for law enforcement,” said BirdLife International’s senior conservation officer Simba Chan.

 on: Jul 01, 2015, 09:09 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Greater sage-grouse sounds the alarm over shrinking habitat in US

Moves to protect this revered American bird could also safeguard the future for more than 350 native species

Abi Hayward
7/1/ 2015 08.30 BST

It might look like a glorified chicken, but the greater sage-grouse is a bird of stature. Revered by native Americans and feasted upon by pioneers, this once abundant bird still draws a crowd with its elaborate mating dance, involving a flashy display of the male’s chest sacs. But while these plucky birds can fight off other males, fighting off their own demise is another matter.

Between 2007 and 2013, the number of breeding males fell by more than half to just 48,641 across 11 states, with their sagebrush habitat diminished by wildfire and human activity. And it’s not just the grouse that suffer: more than 350 species of plant and animal rely on the same habitat. “We can think of sage-grouse as the canary in the coalmine for our sagebrush ecosystem,” says Jack Connelly, a sage-grouse expert formerly with the Idaho department of fish and game. “If we’re able to successfully conserve sage-grouse, we are paving the way for conservation of many other species.”

In the 90s, Connelly and his colleagues were among the first to raise the alarm that greater sage-grouse were imperilled and lobbyists began petitioning the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list sage-grouse as an endangered species. In September, the service will determine whether sage-grouse will indeed be listed.

In the meantime, conservation plans are ruffling feathers. Last month the Bureau of Land Management, which manages over 60% of sagebrush habitat in the US, announced plans to save the grouse with proposals including a limit on mining and ranching activities, plus restrictions on oil, gas and renewable energy development.

It’s a hard bargain to strike, but conservationists are cautiously optimistic. “It looks like they’ve made some pretty significant improvements [on the last plans], so we’re hopeful” says Connelly, “but it’s too early to say whether these plans will do the job.”

Click to watch:

 on: Jul 01, 2015, 07:30 AM 
Started by Gonzalo - Last post by Gonzalo
In my prior post I referred to the brain circuits that mediate attachment processes, according to Panksepp. I referred also to the dyadic attunement of the child's brain with the mother's brain, serving as the means through which emotional regulation naturally occurs and imprints the neuronal functioning in the developing child's brain. This latter idea rather than Panksepp's, comes from other authors such as Allan Schore. I'm posting a link to an article by Judith and Allan Schore, called: "Modern Attachment Theory: The Central Role of Affect Regulation in Development and Treatment".

The perspective of Schore is very interesting because it is centered around the role of emotional dyadic regulation in the development of the right brain. This is different than other authors with more cognitive approaches who rather consider the importance of the left brain, and pre-frontal structures in serving to 'control' emotional states triggered at lower brain areas. Schore in turn is focused on how the right hemisphere provides a basis for the sense of Self, and how this sense of self is dependent on early experience.

The article says"The dyadic implicit processing of these nonverbal attachment communications are the product of the operations of the infant’s right hemisphere interacting with the mother’s right hemisphere. Attachment experiences are thus imprinted in an internal working model that encodes strategies of affect regulation that act at implicit nonconscious levels (...)  In a study of hemispheric lateralization of
avoidant attachment, Cohen and Shaver ( 2004 ) conclude ‘‘Emotional negativity and withdrawal motivation have been connected in psychophysiological studies with the right frontal lobe of the brain’’, and that avoidant individuals show ‘‘a right hemisphere advantage for processing negative emotion and attachment-related words’’

Here's the link:

God Bless, Gonzalo

 on: Jul 01, 2015, 07:06 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Brazil announces massive reforestation and renewable energy plan with US

President Dilma Rousseff pledged to restore 12m hectares of deforested land and increase renewable energy use by 2030 as part of climate partnership with US

Suzanne Goldenberg, Dan Roberts and agencies
Tuesday 30 June 2015 17.17 BST

Barack Obama and Dilma Rousseff put climate change at the top of their agenda at their bilateral meeting on Tuesday, with the US and Brazil agreeing to obtain up to 20% of their electricity from renewable power by 2030.

Brazil also committed to restoring up to 12m hectares of forest – an area about the size of England or Pennsylvania – in another attempt to reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change.

The White House said the initiatives were part of a new US-Brazil climate partnership, loosely modelled on the historic US-China agreement reached during Obama’s visit to Beijing last November, intended to build momentum for a global deal to fight climate change in Paris at the end of the year.

“Following progress during my trips to China and India, this shows that the world’s major economies can begin to transcend some of the old divides and work together to confront the common challenge that we face,” said Obama at a joint press conference with his Brazilian counterpart.

Rousseff also heralded the agreement as a highlight of her trip, claiming it would help progress towards a global emissions reductions agreement at upcoming talks in Paris.

“Climate change is one of the central challenges of the 21st century,” she said. “And we have one important objective, which is, number one, to ensure that the energy mix in our two countries will have a substantial share of renewable sources of energy.

“As countries that are as vast as continents, we have this very important greenhouse gas emissions target,” added Rousseff. “We attach a great deal of importance to reducing [deforestation].. and we also wish to turn the page and engage in a clear-cut reforestation-oriented policy.”

The pledge will require the US to triple its production of wind and solar power and other renewable energies. Brazil will need to double its production of clean energy. The figures do not include hydro power.

“This is a big deal,” Brian Deese, the White House climate adviser, told a call with reporters.

He said putting climate change at the centre of the US-Brazil relationship would help drive action on the issue. “We are shining a spotlight on the issues and elevating the conversation around them,” he said.

Rich and poor countries alike have been putting forth their commitments, known as nationally determined contributions, to reduce emissions as part of the treaty, which world leaders hope to finalise later this year in Paris.

Brazil also plans to expand renewable energy sources other than hydropower to between 28% and 33% of its total energy mix by 2030.

And in the electricity sector, the US and Brazil jointly announced intentions to increase their share of renewable, non-hydropower sources to 20% by 2030. Deese said boosting renewables that high in the US would be dependent on controversial power plant emission limits that the Obama administration has proposed.

“We believe that this is an ambitious target, but one that is actually achievable and will create new low-cost opportunities for the American economy,” Deese said. “To achieve it, we’re going to have to continue to hit our marks in implementing the regulations we’ve identified to date.”

The US has already announced its full commitment to the climate treaty: a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of up to 28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. But a key sticking point in the climate treaty has been whether developing countries like Brazil will be willing to make substantial contributions. Poorer nations have balked, arguing that industrialised nations that have polluted more historically bear more of the responsibility for curbing climate change.

The announcement comes on the second day of Rousseff’s visit to Washington, where she met with Obama in the Oval Office on Tuesday morning.

In their visit, Obama and Rousseff have been working to show they have moved beyond tensions sparked by the revelation nearly two years ago that the US was spying on Rousseff. She cancelled a planned state visit in response. Officials in both countries say neither leader is interested in rehashing the spying issues this week and instead want to focus on ways to deepen cooperation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

 on: Jul 01, 2015, 06:13 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Mumbai's endangered Parsis fight to preserve the city's greenest space

When the tree-lined enclave of Dadar was threatened by the arrival of street hawkers, Mumbai’s proud Parsi community staged its first protest in living memory. Now the plan has been withdrawn, to the relief of many in the city

Bachi Karkaria in Mumbai
Monday 29 June 2015 09.34 BST
The Parsi colony in Mumbai’s Dadar neighbourhood is unique. It is the world’s largest concentration of Parsis, now down to its last 80,000 despite the community’s wealth and education.

Locally, this central urban enclave is everything that this great Indian city is not: low-rise, languorous, its 25 acres embracing 14 gardens, its roads lined with pavements and 30 species of tree including the rare mahogany and ebony. Bird-call triumphs over traffic-honk. Most exceptionally, it is untouched by Mumbai’s signature slums.

But this year, the placid colony has been in a roil. On a blistering Sunday in April, for the first time in memory, the Parsis marched in protest. Too sophisticated to shout slogans, they walked to the statue of the colony’s founder, Mancherji Joshi. Leading them was his granddaughter, Zarine Engineer, veteran of many a battle to preserve the colony’s pristine heritage.

The object of their cool fury wasn’t the carts dispensing aloe vera juice to the walkers, yoga practitioners, the laughter-club members who descend on the colony’s huge greens, nor the dubious “beautification” by local councillors driven more by kickbacks than aesthetics. The real and present danger was the Street Vendors’ Act 2014, bringing in Mumbai’s No 1 enemy: hawkers.

    The new municipal commissioner realises the folly of destroying those rare enclaves still spared the clutter of hawkers

Licences had been issued for 544 street stalls here and in the adjacent Matunga Hindu colony (as sylvan, if less homogeneous). The allotment showed scant regard for the community’s fire temple and schools, which continue to replenish communal bonds.

The Street Vendors’ Act was prompted by the constitutional right to livelihood, but it would have spelled the death of the unique colony. The hawkers – and their illegal brethren who would inevitably follow – would have strangled the streets with clutter, garbage and raucous cries, pushing schoolchildren and the enclave’s predominantly ageing residents perilously off the pavements.

The protest, taken up by civic and heritage activists, spread to other wards which were to be similarly “hawker-fied”. The outrage found a fortuitous ally in the wider condemnation of the latest, and manifestly absurd Mumbai Development Plan – a planning blueprint up to the year 2034 which threatened to develop the city’s remaining green zones. Under this combined onslaught, the plan was kept in abeyance. Then, last week, it was completely withdrawn: a new municipal commissioner has taken over, who realises the folly of destroying those rare enclaves still spared the clutter of hawkers.

This is paradise rescued for the thousands of Mumbaikars who draw on these green lungs. For the Dadar colony’s Parsis, it is inheritance regained. The brutalisation of their genteel space would have been the last nail in a coffin, already filled with paranoid hurt. This once-distinguished community, having created much of colonial Bombay’s glory, has been been pushed to the margins. The hawker invasion was seen as a denial of their last little acre.

Roll back more than a century to another Mumbai development plan: the Bombay City Improvement Trust’s Dadar-Matunga-Wadala-Sion scheme of 1899-1900, which was the first planned decongestion of the plague-afflicted town centre. A total of 440 acres of marsh and forest were developed to relocate 145,000 people in a residential, commercial and institutional mix. Buildings limited to three storeys, airy parks, sanitation and street layout were all blueprinted.

Mancherji Joshi, an engineer working for the improvement trust, persuaded its elders to wrest 25 acres for the Parsis of Bombay. The purpose-formed Parsee Central Association Cooperative Housing Society was given a 999-year lease of 103 plots, with certain covenants restricting their use to Parsi Zoroastrians alone.

Initially, only the intrepid were ready to leave their traditional comfort zones in Bombay’s southern Fort area: “Live in that faraway jungle? Has our brain gone to pasture?” But new infrastructure soon eroded this resistance: an arterial road from the central Crawford Market, a tramway extension, and a new bridge connecting the Great Indian Peninsular Railways’ central and western lines.

In 1924, Kaikobad Tarapore came to live in one of the first three new buildings. In 2014, his grandson Zubin turned a flaking outhouse into the charming Cafe 792, an outlet for 17 local Parsi home-caterers and croissant and cake-makers. He sits shooting the breeze with his two partners, pretty Jahan and the swashbuckling Danish (not pronounced as in the pastry, but “Daanish”). Ava Mobedjina – creator of a storeyed macaroon torte – drops by, as do other colony-ites.

    Initially, only the intrepid were ready to leave their traditional comfort zones in Bombay’s southern Fort area

The Dadar flyover. Bombay’s 1899-1900 decongestion plan provided a blueprint for generous street layouts, low-rise buildings and spacious parks.

They joke with the Parsis’ characteristic corny humour, and discuss jazzercise, bicycles, which of the colony’s youngsters are an “item”, or whose cousin is visiting from Australia, Canada or New Zealand. They no longer hang out on the iron railings of the Five Gardens because “now there’s too much riff-raff”. Prompted, they talk of the trees they clambered on to pluck mulberry, the juicy white and purple “jaamun” and, of course, mangoes. “Remember how that show-off Fali had to be rescued by the fire brigade?”

Dinaz, fair and willowy like so many of this once-Persian race, came from “outside” to marry colony-boy Hosi Wadia, over 40 years ago. “DPC [Dadar Parsi Colony] is an extended family. Generations have lived, celebrated and grieved together here”, she said. “In the early years, if I screamed ‘thief’ in the tranquility of the afternoon, a dozen young men would appear in a trice still in their pyjamas and sadras [the Zoroastrian’s ritualistic muslin vest] and thrash the daylights out of the fellow.”

Charles Correa wanted to design a better Mumbai – but the city let him down

As this island city’s real estate turned into a goldmine, by the 1980s several of the colony’s buildings began to be “redeveloped” with the addition of new floors. When these were sold to outsiders who were ready, willing and able to pay bigger bucks, the old Parsee Central Association fought and finally won a six-year legal battle to retain DPC’s monoculture in 2006. Such communal exclusion may be anachronistic, but it was a psychological boost for a once-lionised community now in its winter of discontent.

The next threat has retreated with the shelving of the hawker licences. But for how long can this urban idyll remain? Its ethnic and architectural signature, profligate open spaces and suspension in time are all unreal in a multicultural, overcrowded 21st-century city.

While a major celebration of Parsi culture in New Delhi has just been announced for next March, Mumbai’s desperate population is eyeing the Dadar colony greedily. The Parsis’ numbers are tumbling (the birth-death ratio has plummeted to 1:7). Their last bastion in Dadar is in double jeopardy: from external seizure and the siege within.

 on: Jul 01, 2015, 06:06 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Church of England divests from Soco oil firm over Virunga operations

CoE sells £1.6m stake, citing ethical concerns over UK firm’s controversial plans to drill in the Congo national park that’s a last stronghold for endangered mountain gorillas

Adam Vaughan
Wednesday 1 July 2015 05.00 BST

The Church of England (CoE) has sold its stake in a British oil and gas company over allegations of bribery, corruption and human rights abuses and what it said was the company’s failure to unequivocally rule out drilling for oil in Africa’s oldest national park.

London-listed Soco International has been criticised in the past two years by conservationists including WWF and Sir David Attenborough for its attempt to drill in Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is a world heritage site and home to around half the world’s mountain gorillas.

The church was sufficiently alarmed by the allegations that it asked the company to conduct an independent public inquiry into them, but at its recent AGM Soco refused to publish the scope or outcome of the inquiry.

That prompted the Church Commissioners, which manage the CoE’s £6.7bn investment fund, to divest their entire £1.6m holding from Soco in what they called a “last resort”. The stake was sold on Friday.

The divestment is only the third time in five years that the church has divested from a company on ethical grounds. In 2012 it sold its shares in News Corporation in protest at phone-hacking and in 2010 it sold its holdings in Vedanta Resources over human rights concerns linked with the company’s mining operations India.

“We have called time because without the changes we sought this is not a sustainable or ethical investment for church funds,” said Edward Mason, head of responsible investment at the Church Commissioners. “We take engagement with companies very seriously. In this instance Soco has not responded positively or sincerely to the concerns we raised.”

Adam Matthews of the church’s ethical investment advisory group said they started engaging with Soco over their concerns in 2013, and intensely since late 2014 after a Congolese military official linked to the company was apparently filmed offering a bribe to opponents, and a park ranger was assaulted by soldiers after trying to stop Soco erecting a mast in the park.

“These are really serious events. There’s no evidence it was directly committed by the company, but it was associated with its activities,” said Mason. “It was the human rights, bribery and corruption angles which really concerned us. It was [until recently] a FTSE350 company, it’s a significant British company.”

The church outlined four main areas of concern: the failure to publish an independent inquiry into the human rights abuse allegations or adopt best practice environmental and social standards; concerns over the independence of the board and chairman; and a failure to explicitly rule out future drilling if the park’s boundaries changed.

Soco reached an agreement last summer with WWF to rule out exploration within the park, but critics have since raised concerns that the company has not ruled out exploration if the boundary changes. The DRC’s prime minister has said he wants to allow oil exploration in the park and has said, “Soco had brought the issue of the boundary to the government’s attention.”

Any boundary changes to Virunga national park are likely to spark a strong response from Unesco, which says exploitation of oil is incompatible with the world heritage site status and declassifying parts of the park to allow drilling would be “a major modification”.

Since its agreement with WWF last summer, Soco has repeatedly said it would not drill within the park and is not lobbying for boundary changes. In March, it said it no longer had any personnel in block V, the area around Lake Edward where it has a license to explore and where it undertook seismic tests in 2014. “After providing the DRC government with interpretation of the seismic results, Soco will have no further involvement in the block,” it said.

But Matthews said that the company’s position on future boundary changes is ambiguous: “We still feel there’s that element of doubt in the statements they’ve made.”

He added: “We were seeking assurances that in absolutely no circumstances could there by any consideration given to them going back into the park under different boundaries,” and such assurances had not been forthcoming, he said.

Emmanuel de Merode, the Belgian director of Virunga national park, said: “We share the deep concern shown by the Church of England that Soco International has failed to adequately investigate these allegations internally. Given the very serious nature of the allegations it is incumbent on all relevant jurisdictions, including the UK, to ensure appropriate action is taken”.

 on: Jul 01, 2015, 06:04 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Coal giant exploited Ebola crisis for corporate gain, say health experts

Public health experts outraged after world’s largest privately-held coal company, Peabody Energy, promotes its product in the fight against Ebola in Africa as part of a PR campaign to rebrand the fossil fuel as a solution to global poverty
Suzanne Goldenberg
July 1 2015 10.36 BST

Public health experts involved in the response to the Ebola crisis have condemned what they described as a ludicrous, insulting and opportunistic attempt to exploit the disease for corporate gain by the world’s largest privately-held coal company.

As part of a PR offensive to rebrand coal as a “21st-century fuel” that can help solve global poverty, it has emerged that at the height of Ebola’s impact in Africa, Peabody Energy promoted its product as an answer to Africa’s devastating public health crisis.

Greg Boyce, the chief executive of Peabody, a US-based multinational with mining interests around the world, included a slide on Ebola and energy in a presentation to a coal industry conference in September last year. The slide suggested that more energy would have spurred the distribution of a hypothetical Ebola vaccine – citing as supporting evidence a University of Pennsylvania infectious disease expert.

The World Health Organisation believes nearly 27,000 people contracted Ebola in an outbreak of the virus in West Africa last year, and more than 11,000 died – although the international agency believes that is probably an underestimate.

Public health experts who were involved in fighting the spread of Ebola were outraged at Peabody’s suggestion that expanding energy access with coal generation could have hindered the spread of Ebola and helped with the distribution of a vaccine – especially as there is no approved vaccine against the disease.

Meanwhile, the medical expert cited by Peabody to support its claims told the Guardian he had never heard of the company – and that it had got his name wrong.

“There is no apparent merit or evidence to support such a thesis,” said Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University’s National Centre for Disaster Preparedness, and an adviser to the White House on the US response to Ebola. “Peabody has very specific and explicit corporate goals. I think this is a pretty far fetched leap from a global crisis to try to justify the existence of a company that is interested in producing and selling coal.”

Redlener added: “I think it’s an opportunistic attempt and somewhat desperate to relate corporate self-interest to a massive public health crisis.”

Skip Burkle, a senior fellow of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative at the university’s school of public health, said Peabody’s claims were “absolutely ludicrous”. “We are talking about public health infrastructure,” he said. “Energy is just one piece of it. There are so many other factors that have to come together.”

He went on: “The coal industry is going down but there are other answers to this and it is not to dump it in Africa. It is just an insult to the population.”

Peabody denied it was using the Ebola crisis for its own gain. “Mr Boyce was simply noting that a lack of electricity dramatically impaired the ability to fight Ebola in key nations that have little energy access and where hospitals rely on generators for power,” Vic Svec, the company’s senior vice-president for global investor and corporate relations told the Guardian.

The doctor whose comments were used to justify Peabody’s claims was relatively sanguine. “I know nothing about the coal industry,” Harvey Rubin, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania said.

The truth behind Peabody's campaign to rebrand coal as a poverty cure

He did say he intended to contact the company to correct his name – which was wrong on the power point.

Boyce had claimed in the power point that electricity shortages had hampered the fight against Ebola.

“Lack of electricity impairs ability to fight crises like Ebola,” the headline to Boyce’s powerpoint said.

It went on to quote Rubin – misidentified as Harry not Harvey – on the importance to public vaccination efforts of a reliable electricity supply.

“Let’s say someone does develop an Ebola vaccine. Distributing a vaccine would require continuous chain refrigeration,” Rubin said.

But he told the Guardian he was “agnostic” on the issue of power sources. He said there were already sufficient supplies of electricity in Africa for effective distribution of vaccines by using existing cell phone towers. “We can piggyback on those towers,” he said.

The Ebola claims surfaced amid growing pressure on Peabody Energy from the downturn in coal and a global anti-apartheid style fossil fuel divestment campaign.

Over the last two years, over 200 institutions and major investors have committed to selling off their stocks of oil, coal and gas, on the grounds that much of the world’s reserves of fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change. Some institutions – such as Stanford University – have committed only to dumping coal, while hanging on to oil and gas holdings.

The Guardian supports the fossil fuel divestment movement, and through its Keep it in the Ground campaign has called on two of the world’s biggest charities, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest from fossil fuels. The Gates Foundations’s Asset Trust has a $1.6m holding in Peabody according to the most recently available information. The Wellcome Trust does not have a direct investment in the company.

Peabody views the fossil fuel divestment campaign as “misguided and symbolic”. But in the past it has suggested that divestment could have an impact on the business. “The impact of such efforts [fossil fuel divestment campaigns] may adversely affect the demand for and price of securities issued by us, and impact our access to the capital and financial markets,” wrote Peabody in its 2014 annual filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Svec though, denied that the campaign represented a threat to the company’s bottom line. “Fossil fuels comprise more than 80% of all energy use globally, and these fuels will continue to be with us for centuries.”

But the fossil fuel divestment movement has intensified Peabody’s campaign to rebrand coal. It is the dirtiest of fossil fuels which contributes heavily to climate change and causes large numbers of deaths because of pollution produced when burning it.

But in a power point presentation, prepared for the managers of the world’s richest sovereign wealth fund, the Norwegian government pension fund in June last year, Peabody executives argued that coal was positioned to be the fastest-growing fuel of the 21st century.

At the time, the fund had 64m NOK (£5.5m) in Peabody, down from 1.2bn NOK in 2010.

Peabody Energy’s discussion of Africa’s Ebola crisis was perfectly proper | Letter

In the meeting, Peabody argued that “21st-century coal” was positioned to be the main driver of digital expansion, and of urbanisation of developing countries. It also said access to coal was the cure for global poverty.

The effort did not work. As of 31 December, the Norwegian government pension fund had dumped all shares of Peabody and other US coal companies, according to Urgewald, a German NGO which monitors the fossil fuel divestment campaign.

“So they were obviously not convinced by Peabody’s presentation,” said Heffa Schuecking, a campaigner for Urgewald.

    This article was amended on 20 May. It originally stated that the Wellcome Trust does “not appear to have” a direct investment in Peabody. It has been amended to make clear that Wellcome does not have a direct investment.

 on: Jul 01, 2015, 06:00 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
The UK must be at the centre of the fight to limit climate change

If Britain fails to meet its own ambitions on climate change, we lose opportunities for increased food production, new jobs, and new growth areas

Lord Deben and Lord Krebs
Tuesday 30 June 2015 09.59 BST
In November, representatives from 196 countries will meet in Paris to try to agree a deal to prevent dangerous increases in global temperatures.

Efforts to date aim to begin the “peaceful divorce” between greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth: no longer do the two need to go together. Last year was the first year where the world economy grew but greenhouse gas emissions did not. We wait to see if this is an indication of a broader trend or a blip.

What is clear, though, is that the UK must play a key role on the international stage to help global efforts to tackle climate change.

In previous international gatherings, the UK could point to its world-leading climate change legislation: its system of carbon budgets and processes for assessing the risks from climate change and putting in place measures to adapt. That is no longer enough. Over 70 other countries now have similar legislation and, more importantly, the UK’s legal framework only encourages ambition from others if it is backed up by robust action.

Everything you need to know about the Paris climate summit and UN talks

Of course, some action has been taken, often following recommendations from the two committees that we chair. The UK has better flood defences, a more appropriate mixture of ways to generate electricity, greener transport, new and more resilient infrastructure and millions of homes benefiting from improved insulation and the lower energy costs that go with it.

But it’s not all positive. While the UK has made progress in reducing its emissions, much more needs to be done. We are not on track to meet our carbon budgets in the 2020s, and important risks that will arise in the future from climate change have not been fully addressed. If the UK is to be taken seriously in its ambition to deliver progress at a global level, urgent steps are required.

On Tuesday, our committees present their first joint report to the new parliament detailing where action is needed most. The government has a unique opportunity with the beginning of a new parliamentary term coinciding with the coming international discussions. It is a chance to think strategically about how to tackle one of the defining issues of our time.

We want to see government clarify its ambition for emissions reduction from electricity through the 2020s. This crucial step is needed to allow investors to plan with confidence at least 10 years ahead in line with their investment cycles. It should help unlock £100bn of investment in low- carbon electricity generation.

There is also an opportunity to decrease energy bills. While there has been some improvement in the energy efficiency of our homes and buildings, our report shows a need for further dramatic improvement if we are to meet our long-term emissions targets. The good news is that action in this area could save consumers £100 annually by 2020 in reduced electricity and heating bills and remove a million homes from fuel poverty at the same time.

There are also significant opportunities for motorists to save money from improved government policies, while also reducing the UK’s carbon footprint. Electric vehicles are currently expensive, but their costs are falling, and more models are coming to market. Supporting electric vehicle roll-out now opens up the potential for future savings in fuel costs, while also tackling the health problems related to air pollution.

Electric cars could cut oil imports 40% by 2030, says study

In fact, the impacts of climate change pose significant risks to health, particularly when it comes to heat. The government urgently needs to promote measures to prevent homes and buildings overheating during hotter summers. Take hospitals, for example. Internal temperatures often exceed 30C when it’s only 22C outside, making sleep, and recovery from illness, more difficult.

Climate change will also lead to more UK homes falling into high flood risk categories, where mortgages and flood insurance may become problematic. We’re urging the government to help people protect their homes and limit new development in at-risk areas rather than needlessly spending public money subsidising the costs of flood insurance.

There may also be benefits to the UK, for instance in increased food production, but only if the key natural capital, soil and water, is properly managed, and the current plans for doing this fully implemented.

If the UK fails to meet its own ambitions on climate change, the dangers are clear: stop-start investment leading to increased costs to us all and lost opportunities for increased food production, for new jobs and new areas of growth.

The government has until October to respond to our report. As negotiations intensify in the lead up to the Paris conference, it is only with ambitious domestic climate policies that the UK’s international credibility can be assured. Actions speak louder than words.

 on: Jul 01, 2015, 05:58 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
China makes carbon pledge ahead of Paris climate change summit

China submits carbon-curbing plan to UN ahead of Paris climate change summit, saying it will ‘work hard’ to peak emissions earlier than 2030 target

Jennifer Duggan in Shanghai
Tuesday 30 June 2015 14.26 BST

China will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 60-65% from 2005 levels under a plan submitted to the United Nations ahead of crucial climate change talks in Paris later this year.

The pledge has been eagerly awaited as the country is the world’s largest carbon emitter.

China said it would increase the share of non-fossil fuels as part of its primary energy consumption to about 20% by 2030, and peak emissions by around the same point, though it would “work hard” to do so earlier.

The figures are contained in a document submitted to the United Nations ahead of the next round of UN climate talks in Paris. All countries are expected to submit their national pledges to reduce carbon emissions beyond 2020, also known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC).

China plans to increase its installed capacity of wind power to 200GW and solar power to around 100 gigawatts (GW), up from 95.81GW and 28GW today, respectively. It will also increase its use of natural gas which is expected to make up more than 10% of its primary energy consumption by 2020.

According to estimates by E3G, a European-based environmental thinktank, China’s plan will see it install as much low-carbon energy as the entire US electricity system capacity to date.

China’s pledge largely reflects commitments it made in November last year as part of an agreement struck with the US.

Li Shuo, senior climate and energy policy officer with Greenpeace, said he believes the figures announced are floor figures and that China is definitely capable of over-achieving.

He said it reflects the actions that are being taken domestically as China attempts to reduce its toxic levels of air pollution that are a result of its rapid coal-based economic growth. China’s premier Li Keqiang has previously “declared war” on pollution, describing it as a “blight” on people’s quality of life.

Coal consumption still accounts for around 66% of China’s energy consumption. Last year, China’s cabinet announced a plan to cap coal consumption by 2020 at a level of 4.2bn tonnes and for coal to make up no more than 62% of the primary energy mix by the same year.

Changhua Wu, China director of the Climate Group said China’s INDC is a “positive boost” to the international climate change process. “China’s effort to align its domestic growth agenda and global climate change agenda is a leading example of how a fundamental shift is needed to grow the economy differently,” she said.

In its document submitted to the UN, China said the outcomes of the negotiations in Paris “should take into account differentiated historical responsibilities”, a reference to the fact developed countries have put more carbon into the atmosphere over time than developing countries.

However, according to the Climate Group, due to China’s massive economic development and taking into account emissions from 1990 to now, the country has almost caught up with the US’s total historical emissions.

China’s pledge is expected to give an important boost to efforts to reach a global deal on reducing emissions beyond 2020 in Paris, which UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon warned on Monday were moving at a snail’s pace.

Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid’s senior climate change adviser, said China’s pledge is a “huge step”. Ahead of the talks in Copenhagen in 2009, China and the US were criticised for holding back progress, and “now China is leading the way. It shows that China is starting to do its bit. This is a new era for climate politics,” said Adow.

However, it is not likely that the pledges that have been submitted, including China’s, are sufficient to keep global temperatures rises below the internationally-agreed target of 2C, according to Li Shuo.

“We think the collective ambition of what has been putting on the table, in particular major emitters (EU, China, US) are not sufficient to help us maintain below 2C,” said Li. “Now it is the task of the political process all the way to Paris to ensure we have a robust agreement by the end of this year to enhance action further.”

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