Pages: 1 ... 4 5 [6] 7 8 ... 10
 51 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:53 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Canadian town steams over Nestlé bid to control local spring water well

Activists in Centre Wellington plan to block Ontario pump tests after bottled-water makers overtook community’s attempt to secure long-term water source

Ashifa Kassam in Toronto
AFP
Saturday 24 September 2016 11.00 BST

A small town in Ontario, Canada, has prompted fresh scrutiny of the bottled-water industry after its attempt secure a long-term water supply through the purchase of a well was outbid by the food and drinks multinational Nestlé.

When authorities in Centre Wellington, population of about 30,000, learned that Nestlé had put a bid on a spring water well in their region, they scrambled over the summer to counter with a competing bid. The goal was to safeguard a water supply for the township’s fast-growing population, Kelly Linton, the mayor, told the Guardian. “By 2041, we’ll be closer to 50,000 so protecting our water sources is critical to us.”

Using a numbered company, the municipality submitted what Linton described as an “aggressive bid” for the five-hectare site. “We put in more money than they did and we removed all conditions.” He declined to specify the exact amount of the bid.

An agreement forged with Nestlé after its initial bid, made 18 months earlier, gave the company the right to respond. “They had the opportunity to match our offer and that’s how we lost on that on that one,” said Linton.

The news was met with disappointment in the community. “As you can appreciate we aren’t going to be outbidding Nestlé,” he said. “As a small town we’re using taxpayer dollars, so we have to be good stewards of that.”

Nestlé Canada currently has permits that allow it to extract up to 4.7m litres of water a day from sources in Ontario. On its website, the company noted that its latest acquisition – the well also sought by Centre Wellington – would be a source to supplement other operations in the region, as well as support future business growth.

In a statement to the Guardian, Nestlé Waters Canada said it wasn’t aware that the counter-offer was from the township of Centre Wellington until well after the purchase was made.

Ontario’s ministry of the environment and climate change has yet to approve their application to carry out a pump test, said the company. “Any decision whether to draw from the source will not be made until we have conducted testing, validated by a third party, on the quality and quantity of the water. Nestlé wants to ensure there is no negative impact on the watershed and surrounding ecosystem.”

The company, added the statement, would continue its “ongoing dialogue” with the community of Centre Wellington.

Wellington Water Watchers, a volunteer-run organisation dedicated to the protection of water resources, said it would seek to block the company as it moves forward with its plans. “We are fighting tooth and nail to not allow that pump test to go ahead,” said Mike Nagy of the group.

The water in the well is artisanal spring water, he said, making it particularly valuable to consumers outside of Canada.

The failed bid comes amid growing calls for the Ontario government to reevaluate how it grants permits to the bottled-water industry. Last month, after a severe drought triggered questions about the millions of litres a day of water being sold to bottled-water companies in the province, Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s premier, promised a government review into the practice.

Government policies, she noted, had failed to keep up with the times. “Thirty years ago, we wouldn’t have envisioned an industry that took water and put it in plastic bottles so that people could carry it around,” she said.

On Friday, she reiterated her view that bottled water companies should be considered differently from other industries that use water, such as mining or construction. “I think we have to look very closely at what those companies are paying, what they’re allowed to take, and that’s exactly the work the ministry of environment and climate change is doing right now,” she told reporters.

The province currently charges C$3.71 for every million litres of water, along with a permit fee of up to C$3,000 depending on the risk of environmental impact.

Nagy, whose organisation is calling for an eventual ban on permits for the bottled-water industry, cautioned that price shouldn’t be the only focus of the government’s review. “If I stood on top of an aquifer and threw $100 bills on the ground, it’s not going to create anymore water,” he said. “All the levy and charges in the world will not create more water.”

 52 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:51 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
‘I am Lake Urmia’: a social media campaign takes on the environment in Iran

Lake Urmia’s grim destiny reflects a wider trend of enviromental problems in Iran, including an over-reliance on dams, extreme weather patterns, climatic changes, poor irrigation practices and unregulated use of water

Shirin Hakim and Kaveh Madani for Tehran Bureau
AFP
Friday 23 September 2016 13.46 BST
   
Long tucked away behind the mountains of northwest Iran, Lake Urmia is becoming a national symbol of environmental degradation that is eliciting public sensitivity and awareness. Launched at the end of August, the ‘I am Lake Urmia’ campaign is a grassroots effort to collect a million signatures to push the United Nations to discuss ways to revive this salt lake, which has lost 90% of its surface area since the 1970s.

The “I am Lake Urmia” hashtag (من_دریاچه_ارومیه_هستم#) is slowly trending across social media platforms. Actor Reza Kianian was one of the first to take up the call, using Instagram to ask fellow Iranians to take responsibility for the lake. In his post Kianian stressed, “If we save our lake, we will save ourselves”, reminding Iranians of their social responsibility for creating a more sustainable future. Kianian’s plea has echoed across popular apps like Instagram and on the newly formed “I am Lake Urmia” Telegram channel.

This is not the first effort to bring national and international attention to Lake Urmia. Iranian politicians including President Hassan Rouhani, Iranian parliamentary deputies, and even Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio have made Lake Urmia part of their public advocacy. DiCaprio’s Instagram post on the lake in May resulted in 328,000 likes and made him an overnight superhero among Iranians, illustrating the way social media can help collaboration on topics that defy borders.

Travel to the basin of Lake Urmia and you will find an area facing a high risk of salt storms. The shrinking of the lake has diminished a fragile ecosystem, with the gradual disappearance of native wildlife including the brine shrimp Artemia and migratory birds like flamingos and pelicans.

Such degradation threatens dire economic consequences. A once flourishing tourism industry, where visitors bathed in salty water rather like the Dead Sea, is curtailed. Many people living near the lake fear they may be forced to leave due to eye problems, respiratory diseases and other health problems caused by dust and salt particles blowing in the air.

Twenty years ago, some local farmers referred to the lake as a tumour, viewing the seeping of its uniquely saline water as a threat to their farmlands. Today, their wish is to revitalise this desiccating lake and prevent salt storms that are diminishing soil fertility and threatening their livelihoods. The shift in perspective highlights the co-dependency we all share with our environment, and shows all too clearly the repercussions of environmental neglect.

Iran suffers from “hydraulic mission” syndrome, a state of mind in which a country tries to manipulate domestic water resources to meet demand through short-sighted measures based on technology and large-scale engineering. The dream of human dominance over nature has led to a nightmare of unforeseen consequences, reminding us that we must learn to live in tune with nature to sustain ourselves.

Dams, in particular, have become idolised as symbols of development, political strength and international prowess. One of the main factors contributing to the state of Lake Urmia is the interference in the natural flow of water into the lake by over 50 dams. The damage has been compounded by unregulated withdrawal of water, water-intensive irrigation and the unsustainable use of fertilisers.

President Rouhani made promises about restoring Lake Urmia during his election campaign, and his administration has allocated $5 billion to improve infrastructure and water conservation in the area. Nevertheless, the major proposals under consideration are still structural. While dam construction is now prohibited, the government’s restoration task force has shown interest in transferring water from other river basins, upstream dredging, and connecting inflowing rivers to maximise the inflow. But without policy reforms and institutional changes - including phasing out water intensive crops, conservation methods in irrigation and wider changes in the behaviour of farmers and other water consumers - restoration efforts will be successful only with an unusually wet period in the years to come.

Collaborations with international partners to restore water levels in Lake Urmia are limited but underway. Most notably, the United Nations Development Programme, Iran’s Department of Environment and the Japanese government have established joint projects that involve educating local farmers on sustainable agriculture practices and reducing water consumption through improved efficiency; and supplying improved, safer fertilisers and pesticides. Over the past few months, the lake has shown some signs of recovery, but this is due more to more frequent rainfall rather than the restoration efforts.

Lake Urmia’s grim destiny unfortunately reflects a wider trend. Several bodies of water in Iran (including Gav-Khuni wetland near Isfahan, the Hamoun wetlands near Afghanistan, Bakhtegan lake in Fars province, and the Shadegan wetland and Hour-Al-Azim in Khuzestan, and Hour-Al-Azim) have been heavily impacted or dried up entirely in light of weak infrastructure, over-reliance on dams, extreme weather patterns, climatic changes, poor irrigation practices and unregulated use of water.

In the story of Lake Urmia lie invaluable lessons. Iranians have paid for their unsustainable development and have lost many invaluable ecosystems. On the positive side, however, awareness of our interdependence with nature has been sharpened by air pollution in major cities, dust storms, soil erosion, desertification and land subsidence due to extraction of groundwater.

Iran may now be reaching a tipping point. With the better understanding of our interconnectivity worldwide today, preserving the environment is a collective goal that everyone irrespective of age, race, or background can share. No matter where we are, or who we are, we can’t save ourselves if we don’t care for our environment. We are all Lake Urmia.

Shirin Hakim is a doctoral researcher at the Centre for Environmental Policy of Imperial College, London, working on environmental issues in Iran. Kaveh Madani is a water management expert and reader of systems analysis and policy at the Centre for Environmental Policy of Imperial College, London

 53 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:48 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Existing coal, oil and gas fields will blow carbon budget – study

Expansion of fossil fuel extraction amounts to ‘climate denial’, says thinktank Oil Change International, but observers argue some additional oil and gas could be safe. Climate Home reports

Karl Mathiesen for Climate Home, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Guardian
Friday 23 September 2016 13.53 BST

The world’s working coal mines and oil and gas fields contain enough carbon to push the world beyond the threshold for catastrophic climate change, according to a report released on Thursday.

If all the existing fuel were to be burned, projects currently operating or under construction could be expected to release 942Gt CO2, said the report by US-based thinktank Oil Change International (OCI).

This exceeds the carbon limits that would most likely warm the world 1.5C and even over 2C above the pre-industrial average. These were limits agreed at last year’s climate conference in Paris.

It has been established for some time that the enormous unworked reserves claimed by fossil fuel companies contain vastly too much carbon to ever be burned safely. But OCI said that this was the first time an analysis had been done of how much greenhouse gas is stored in projects already working or under construction.

Founder of 350.org and climate campaign Bill McKibben said the report “change[d] our understanding of where we stand. Profoundly”.

It means that even if not a single new coal mine, oil or gas field were opened up, the carbon budget would be at risk, said OCI’s executive director Stephen Kretzmann.

Projected investment in new extraction sites and infrastructure over the next 20 years adds up to a staggering US$14tn, the report found.

“Continued expansion of the fossil fuel industry is now quite clearly and quantifiably climate denial,” said Kretzmann.

The OCI report said existing oil and gas fields alone would exceed the carbon budget for 1.5C – which is a limit some small island states say would finish them and scientists believe would wipe out most coral reefs.

James Leaton, research director at the Carbon Tracker thinktank which did much to popularise the concept of “unburnable carbon”, said research by Carbon Tracker in 2015 showed coal demand was declining so quickly that current reserves would be enough. But the picture was less clear for oil and gas.

“There is clearly no need for new coal mines to be developed if we are to stay within a 2C carbon budget,” said Leaton. “Because oil and gas production declines over time in any particular well, this may fall faster than the level of oil and gas demand in [a 2C scenario], in which case some new production would be needed. Depending on how much carbon budget you allocate to each fossil fuel, and the speed of the energy transition assumed, the window for new oil and gas will also start to close.”

In the UK, the government has committed to opening its shale gas resources to fracking. Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said: “This report needs to look more deeply into the use of gas in a modern energy mix, looking at areas such as reformation of methane into hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, particularly for heating systems and potentially transport. The simple fact is that the best way to combat climate change is to remove coal ASAP and to do that you need to replace much of the coal capacity with gas.”

The OCI report did not take into account carbon capture and storage (CCS), which it argued is still at an “uncertain” stage of development. The International Energy Agency reported last week that CCS, which is fitted to emissions sources to trap carbon, was being rolled out at a rate of just one project every year.

Study author Greg Muttitt said it was imperative for governments to focus on shutting down new mines and fields before a sod was turned.

“Once an extraction operation is underway, it creates an incentive to continue so as to recoup investment and create profit, ensuring the product – the fossil fuels – are extracted and burned. These incentives are powerful, and the industry will do whatever it takes to protect their investments and keep drilling,” he said.

    — Bill McKibben (@billmckibben)
    September 22, 2016

    There is new carbon math coming tomorrow that will change our understanding of where we stand. Profoundly.

Ben Caldecott, director of the Sustainable Finance Programme at the University of Oxford Smith School said: “One direct implication of meeting climate targets are stranded upstream fossil fuel assets. These stranded assets need to be managed, particularly in terms of the communities that could be negatively impacted. Policymakers need to proactively manage these impacts to ensure a ‘just transition’.”

The report expands on a call made by former Kiribati president Anote Tong last year to stop opening new coal mines. China, the US and Indonesia, the world’s largest, third- and fifth-largest coal producers, have banned any new coal mines. In the US, the moratorium is only on public land.

But in Australia’s Galilee basin, there are nine proposed coal mines with a total lifetime emissions of 24Gt CO2. This includes the massive Adani Carmichael mine, which the Australian government has approved. The Australian Department of Environment would not comment on whether it had assessed the impact of the Carmichael mine on the global carbon budget.

 54 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:46 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Dutch parliament votes to close down country's coal industry

Non-binding vote for 55% cut in CO2 emissions will require closure of remaining five plants and ensure country meets its Paris climate commitments

Arthur Neslen
AFP
Friday 23 September 2016 13.55 BST

The Dutch parliament has voted for a 55% cut in CO2 emissions by 2030, which would require the closure of all the country’s coal-fired power plants.

The unexpected vote on Thursday night by 77 to 72 would bring the Netherlands clearly into line with the Paris climate agreement, with some of the most ambitious climate policies in Europe.

It is not binding on the government, but the Liberal and Labour parties say they will now push for speedy implementation of the motion.

Five Dutch coal-fired power stations were closed last year but the country still has another five plants in operation. Three of these came online in 2015, and have been blamed for a 5% rise in the country’s emissions last year.

The Dutch Liberal MP and vice president of the parliament, Stientje van Veldhoven, told the Guardian: “Closing down big coal plants – even if they were recently opened – is by far the most cost effective way to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement, and all countries will need to take such far-reaching measures. We cannot continue to use coal as the cheapest source of energy when it is the most expensive from a climate perspective.”

A court in the Netherlands last year ordered prime minister Mark Rutte’s government to cut its emissions by a quarter by 2020, citing the severity of the global warming threat which the Netherlands has recognised in international treaties.

Dennis van Berkel, legal counsel for Urgenda, the group which brought the case, described the vote as “an enormous leap for climate policy in the Netherlands”. The vote also calls for a 25% emissions cut by 2020.

The country’s centre-right coalition government is pursuing a twin-track response of appealing the ruling to the country’s higher court, while preparing a climate package for early November.

This could include limited coal plant closures, more funding for projects involving renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, and geothermal heating.

Some environmentalists fear that the final package will involve a coalition deal that renders the parliamentary vote obsolete. The issue has been a divisive one in the Netherlands, with the Labour party, a coalition partner in Rutte’s government, backing the opposition in yesterday’s vote.

The Dutch environment ministry was not immediately available to comment on the vote. However, the economic minister Henk Kamp spoke out earlier this month against any mothballing of the three new plants built by EOn, RWE and Engie.

“They are the cleanest (coal plants) in Europe,” he said. “We’d be crazy if we shut them.”

In March, the Netherlands will elect a new government, with Geert Wilders’ far-right, populist and anti-immigrant Freedom Party leading many opinion polls. Wilders has previously spoken dismissively of “the sinister green-windmill subsidy complex”.

Willem Wiskerke, a spokesman for Greenpeace Netherlands said: “He is a climate denier like Donald Trump, nothing more, nothing less, a rightwing, fact-free populist who denies the climate crisis and will not put any effort into solving it.”

While yesterday’s coal-crushing vote is not formally binding, van Veldhoven said she was optimistic that quick action to force a decision this autumn would tip the government’s hand, before next year’s elections.

“It is our clear political statement so this is what they must do,” she said. “It is a motion, not a law, so there is some room for manoeuvre. But having one coalition partner support it is always a good guarantee that an adopted motion will be enforced.”

Following passage of any new law, EU Emissions Trading System permits would also have to be reduced, to prevent a freak surplus lowering the price of carbon allowances, van Veldhoven said.

The parliamentary vote follows a recent report by the consultancy CE Delft, which found that the cheapest way to meet the Netherlands’ climate commitments would be to close one or two new coal stations. The paper, which was commissioned by Eneco, a Dutch green power company, estimated this would cost the average household €30 (£26) a year, but save them €80 a year on energy bills.

However, the Dutch government’s economic ministry has tallied the bill for closing all of the country’s coal plants by 2020 at €7bn. While this would have little effect on energy security and cut Holland’s emissions by 31%, the CO2 savings would fall to just 9% due to a rise in coal-produced power imports, the report said.

 55 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:44 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Panda falls from tree before being ambushed in Chinese reserve – video

Guardian
9/24/2016

A panda falls from a tree before having its sticks stolen by other pandas at Wolong Giant Panda Nature reserve in Sichuan on Tuesday. The footage, posted on China Central Television’s Facebook page, shows the panda falling after a branch snaps, narrowly missing the other pandas. Looking dazed after its fall, the panda then tries to fight off a playful ambush from the others

Click to watch: https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/sep/22/panda-falls-from-tree-before-being-ambushed-in-chinese-reserve-video

 56 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:41 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Wildlife trade summit is a 'do or die' moment for endangered animals

Conservationists urge countries to give imperilled species the highest level of protection at the global Cites summit opening on Saturday to prevent them becoming extinct in the wild

Damian Carrington
AFP
Friday 23 September 2016 16.25 BST

A global wildlife summit opening on Saturday is a “do or die” moment for endangered animals around the world, say conservationists, from iconic species such as elephants and lions to lesser known, but equally troubled, creatures such as devil rays and the psychedelic rock gecko.

The summit in Johannesburg brings together 181 nations to crack down on wildlife trafficking, currently a $20bn-a-year criminal enterprise, and to ensure the legal trade in food, skins, pets and traditional remedies does not threaten the survival of species. The member nations of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) will vote on proposals to toughen or loosen trade bans and regulations for over 500 species.

A total trade ban is being sought for pangolins, an exotic scaled creature, which is now the world’s most trafficked mammal, while more protection for sharks, parrots and frogs are also on the table. The most controversial proposals are for elephants: some southern African nations want to overturn the ban on selling ivory while a rival proposal from 29 other African countries aims to make protections even tougher.

Pangolins: the world's most illegally traded mammal – in pictures: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2015/mar/16/pangolins-worlds-most-illegally-traded-mammal-in-pictures

“With so many of our wild animal and plant species facing serious threats from rapacious poaching and commercial trade, this Cites meeting represents a ‘do or die’ moment,” said Teresa Telecky, wildlife director of the Humane Society International. “Either countries do the right thing and give these imperilled species the highest level of protection possible against unsustainable exploitation, or we risk seeing them die out altogether in the wild.”

The proposals are based on scientific evidence, but national political agendas loom large too. “The stakes are high for so many species and we must make certain that sound science and the precautionary principle are deciding factors and not short-term political or economic interests,” said Azzedine Downes, president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Others are concerned that high-profile rows over the elephant proposals, which could all fail to pass, will distract from work on enforcement to end the scourge of poaching. Over 140,000 of Africa’s savannah elephants were killed for their ivory between 2007 and 2014, wiping out almost a third of their population. Elephants are still being killed every 15 minutes on average.

Nations where poaching, trafficking or illegal sales take place should have submitted action plans but Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon and Nigeria have not, and could face sanctions on all their wildlife-related trade.

“We are concerned that the summit is likely to be a rerun of the old pattern, with proposals and counter-proposals on legal international ivory trade diverting attention from the real issues,” said WWF in statement. Swaziland has also proposed to legalise the sale of horn from rhino, whose populations have plummeted, but will face fierce opposition.

The species being evaluated for protection at Cites span the land, ocean and skies. African lions ought to get the strongest protection, according to scientists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) while Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International, said the big cat’s survival was at stake: “It is clear that we are at risk of being the generation that allowed a magnificent species to disappear from the wild.”

Pangolins, whose scales are sold in China and Vietnam as a supposed medicine, could also get stronger protection. More than a million have been taken from the wild in the past decade, according to WildAid, decimating Asian populations. As a result, poaching has also ramped up in Africa and in June over 11 tonnes of pangolin scales were seized in Hong Kong in just two shipments from Africa. “We could very soon see this amazing species disappear, if the unsustainable trade continues,” says Mark Hofberg, IFAW’s pangolin expert.

In the seas, stricter protection is on the table for silky and thresher sharks, both heavily hit by the fin trade, and for devil rays, whose gills are sold in China. “Devil rays grow very slowly and produce just one pup about every two years, making them intrinsically susceptible to overfishing,” said Sebastián Pardo, at Simon Fraser University in Canada.

The nautilus could also get its first trade protections, as it is being overfished for its beautiful shells which are used for jewellery and ornaments. Many turtle species are eaten in Asia and have suffered heavily as a result, and flapshell and softshell turtle proposals will be voted on during the two-week summit.

In the air, African grey parrots, which are extraordinary vocal mimics, may get the highest level of protection. Scientists estimate that two to three million African greys were captured from the wild between 1975 and 2013, and despite successful captive breeding, populations have decreased by between 50% and 90% and in some places they are locally extinct.

There are many proposals for better protection for reptiles and amphibians. “A lot of lizards and frogs are traded illegally,” said John Scanlon, secretary general of Cites. “They are being taken primarily for the illegal pet trade, and primarily to Europe. We need to get this under control, as these animals are also a critical part of the ecosystem.”

The psychedelic rock gecko, found only in Vietnam, is in line for better protection along with others including the Hong Kong warty newt and both the tomato frog and the false tomato frog.

Cites, which began in 1975, is increasingly regulating the timber trade too and could introduce protection for the entire genus of rosewood species. The market for luxury furniture made from the wood has exploded in recent years, with the rosewood trade soaring by 65 times between 2005 and 2014, and is now worth over $2bn a year.

Some species are already protected, but remain prone to illegal logging. With Asian rosewood numbers crashing, the focus of loggers has increasingly moved to Africa and central America, where they “capitalise on unstable situations in fragile states, moving swiftly from country to country creating devastating ‘boom-and-bust cycles’,” according the Forest Trends group.

A minority of the Cites proposals are to loosen restrictions on the international trade in species that have recovered from previously precarious positions. The total bans protecting the peregrine falcon and the Cape mountain zebra may be lifted.

“The recovery of species like the peregrine falcon shows that Cites can work and that populations can bounce back thanks to trade bans and conservation efforts,” said Ginette Hemley, head of WWF’s delegation to Cites. “If the world takes decisive action in Johannesburg, we can look forward to more success stories in the future.”

Scanlon said: “We have made significant progress since the last Cites summit in 2013, politically, financially and technically. More governments are taking action and increasing the penalties for wildlife crime, which can be seen as low-risk for criminal and terrorist groups.

“This is not purely about wildlife, it’s also about the impact on local people and communities, security and on national economies,” he said. “We haven’t got there yet but, if we persist, we will win.”

 57 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:37 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Red squirrels with a taste for antlers

Strathnairn, Highlands A squirrel at one of the wooden boxes suddenly darted along the branch and started gnawing away at the antler

Ray Collier
AFP
Saturday 24 September 2016 05.30 BST
 
For our first 29 years in this house we didn’t see a single red squirrel in the garden, but since May this year they have become daily visitors. The wooden feeder boxes on the apple trees have been a big attraction, and watching the squirrels push up the lids with their heads and reach in to get the peanuts can often be amusing.

However, some of them persist in visiting a wire feeder that was put out for birds, despite the difficulty of getting the nuts out. When the squirrels are at the feeders, I have noticed that a couple of mallard immediately head over to the bottom of the tree, to pick up any nuts or fragments they might let drop.

Someone in the strath told me that they had seen squirrels gnaw discarded deer antlers. On the Isle of Rum I had observed red deer, both stags and hinds, doing this to get calcium and other minerals – but squirrels? That intrigued me. So I took a red deer antler from my collection and tied it to the apple tree between the two feeders.

Nothing happened for a few weeks until, one September morning, a squirrel at one of the wooden boxes suddenly darted along the branch and started gnawing away at the antler. Since then, I have seen two different squirrels getting their mineral “fix” there.

The apples on this tree are still small and green looking but, given the way the blackbirds have been attacking the ones that fell off in the high winds, they are clearly ripe enough for them. Last week, to my surprise, I saw a squirrel pull an apple off a branch and disappear with it.

I am now experimenting with larger apples split in two and pinned near the antler. Hopefully, the squirrels will take to them, as it means that once this tree’s crop has gone over we can buy some and put in their place. A red squirrel larder of peanuts, antler and apples.

 58 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:34 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Could ants be the solution to antibiotic crisis?

Bacterial defences of fungus-farming ants could help in medical battle against superbugs
Leaf-cutter ants

Robin McKie Science editor
AFP
Saturday 24 September 2016 12.17 BST

Scientists have pinpointed a promising new source of antibiotics: ants. They have found that some species – including leaf-cutter ants from the Amazon – use bacteria to defend their nests against invading fungi and microbes.

Chemicals excreted by the bacteria as part of this fight have been shown to have particularly powerful antibiotic effects and researchers are now preparing to test them in animals to determine their potential as medicines for humans.

Doctors say new antibiotics are urgently needed as superbug resistance to standard antimicrobial agents spreads. More than 700,000 people globally now die of drug-resistant infections each year, it is estimated – and some health officials say this figure could be even higher.

Last week, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the first general assembly meeting on drug-resistant bacteria, said antimicrobial resistance was now a fundamental threat to global health.

This was reiterated by Professor Cameron Currie of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, one of the scientists involved in the ant research.

“Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem,” he said last week. “However, pinpointing new antibiotics using the standard technique of sampling soil for bacteria is tricky. On average, only one in a million strains proves promising. By contrast, we have uncovered a promising strain of bacteria for every 15 strains we have sampled from an ant’s nest.”

Only a very specific group of ants are proving useful in this work, however. These are species that farm fungi in tropical regions in North and South America.

“These ants forage for plant material, which they bring back to their nests and feed to a fungus,” said Professor Jon Clardy of Harvard Medical School. “The fungus breaks down the plant material and the ants feed on the fungus.”

The strategy evolved around 15 million years ago, and has proved highly successful. There are now more than 200 ant species that farm fungi. Most fungus-farming ants simply forage for bits of old leaf or grass on the ground, however. A few, like leaf-cutter ants, cut leaves from trees and bring them back in pieces to their nest. “Plants are hard to digest, but fungi are good decomposers and break down plant material so ants can feed easily,” said Ethan Van Arnam, also of Harvard Medical School.

However, scientists have recently discovered that these nests are sometimes attacked by hostile fungi. “They kill off both the nest and its farmed fungus,” said Clardy. “In turn, ants have developed defences revealed as white patches on their bodies. They look as if they had been dipped in powdered sugar. These patches are made of bacteria which the ant stores on its body. Crucially, these bacteria produce powerful antibiotic and antifungal agents.”

In this way, ants nurture bacteria which in turn make antifungal and antibacterial agents that defend nests. More to the point, these bacteria are similar to the ones used by pharmaceutical companies to make antibiotics. A typical example is Apterostigma ants, whose bacterial strains have been isolated in Panama and brought back to Harvard by Van Arnam. Many show promising antibiotic activity, he told the Observer.

“The ants don’t always win,” added Clardy. “You occasionally come across nests that have been overcome by invading fungi. But it is clear ants and their bacteria put up a very good fight, one that has been going on for millions of years. The result has been the production of some very interesting antibiotics.”

Clardy said foreign bacteria also attacked the ant’s microbe defences. “The bacteria in the nests get a really good deal. They are protected and fed by ants. Other strains of bacteria want to take over that comfortable niche. It is the bacterial equivalent of Game of Thrones. Everyone is trying to kill off everyone else and get to the top. The result has been the development of some very powerful antibiotic weapons. These are the end products of an arms race that has been going on for 15 million years. Our trick is to isolate the best of these weapons and use them to make new antibiotics for humans.”

 59 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:33 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Could ants be the solution to antibiotic crisis?

Bacterial defences of fungus-farming ants could help in medical battle against superbugs
Leaf-cutter ants

Robin McKie Science editor
AFP
Saturday 24 September 2016 12.17 BST

Scientists have pinpointed a promising new source of antibiotics: ants. They have found that some species – including leaf-cutter ants from the Amazon – use bacteria to defend their nests against invading fungi and microbes.

Chemicals excreted by the bacteria as part of this fight have been shown to have particularly powerful antibiotic effects and researchers are now preparing to test them in animals to determine their potential as medicines for humans.

Doctors say new antibiotics are urgently needed as superbug resistance to standard antimicrobial agents spreads. More than 700,000 people globally now die of drug-resistant infections each year, it is estimated – and some health officials say this figure could be even higher.

Last week, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the first general assembly meeting on drug-resistant bacteria, said antimicrobial resistance was now a fundamental threat to global health.

This was reiterated by Professor Cameron Currie of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, one of the scientists involved in the ant research.

“Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem,” he said last week. “However, pinpointing new antibiotics using the standard technique of sampling soil for bacteria is tricky. On average, only one in a million strains proves promising. By contrast, we have uncovered a promising strain of bacteria for every 15 strains we have sampled from an ant’s nest.”

Only a very specific group of ants are proving useful in this work, however. These are species that farm fungi in tropical regions in North and South America.

“These ants forage for plant material, which they bring back to their nests and feed to a fungus,” said Professor Jon Clardy of Harvard Medical School. “The fungus breaks down the plant material and the ants feed on the fungus.”

The strategy evolved around 15 million years ago, and has proved highly successful. There are now more than 200 ant species that farm fungi. Most fungus-farming ants simply forage for bits of old leaf or grass on the ground, however. A few, like leaf-cutter ants, cut leaves from trees and bring them back in pieces to their nest. “Plants are hard to digest, but fungi are good decomposers and break down plant material so ants can feed easily,” said Ethan Van Arnam, also of Harvard Medical School.

However, scientists have recently discovered that these nests are sometimes attacked by hostile fungi. “They kill off both the nest and its farmed fungus,” said Clardy. “In turn, ants have developed defences revealed as white patches on their bodies. They look as if they had been dipped in powdered sugar. These patches are made of bacteria which the ant stores on its body. Crucially, these bacteria produce powerful antibiotic and antifungal agents.”

In this way, ants nurture bacteria which in turn make antifungal and antibacterial agents that defend nests. More to the point, these bacteria are similar to the ones used by pharmaceutical companies to make antibiotics. A typical example is Apterostigma ants, whose bacterial strains have been isolated in Panama and brought back to Harvard by Van Arnam. Many show promising antibiotic activity, he told the Observer.

“The ants don’t always win,” added Clardy. “You occasionally come across nests that have been overcome by invading fungi. But it is clear ants and their bacteria put up a very good fight, one that has been going on for millions of years. The result has been the production of some very interesting antibiotics.”

Clardy said foreign bacteria also attacked the ant’s microbe defences. “The bacteria in the nests get a really good deal. They are protected and fed by ants. Other strains of bacteria want to take over that comfortable niche. It is the bacterial equivalent of Game of Thrones. Everyone is trying to kill off everyone else and get to the top. The result has been the development of some very powerful antibiotic weapons. These are the end products of an arms race that has been going on for 15 million years. Our trick is to isolate the best of these weapons and use them to make new antibiotics for humans.”

 60 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:25 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
NASA set to reveal ‘surprising’ activity on Jupiter moon Europa

Agence France-Presse
23 Sep 2016 at 22:29 ET       

There’s something going on beneath the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. But what?

NASA teased a “surprising” announcement for Monday, based on Hubble Space Telescope images of the celestial body, which many experts believe could contain a subsurface ocean, even possibly some form of life.

The US space agency has already proclaimed that Europa has “strong evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its crust and which could host conditions favorable for life.”

At Monday’s announcement, “astronomers will present results from a unique Europa observing campaign that resulted in surprising evidence of activity that may be related to the presence of a subsurface ocean,” it said in a statement.

The announcement will be made at a news conference at 2 pm (1800 GMT) Monday featuring Paul Hertz, NASA’s director of astrophysics, and William Sparks, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

NASA announced last year that it intends to send a robotic spacecraft, equipped with a suite of scientific instruments, to circle Europa in the 2020s.

In 2012, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope “observed water vapor above the south polar region of Europa,” suggesting water plumes may be erupting from the moon, the space agency said.

If those plumes are confirmed, and if they are found to originate from a subsurface ocean, scientists hope the spacecraft could study their chemical makeup, revealing characteristics of the water without having to drill through ice.

Jupiter, nicknamed the king of the solar system, is surrounded by more than 50 moons.

Last year, data from the Hubble Space Telescope confirmed that Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede, has an underground ocean that contains more water than Earth’s, broadening the hunt for places in the solar system where life might be able to exist.

In the case of Ganymede, aurorae — displays of light in the atmosphere — glimpsed by the Hubble Space Telescope allowed scientists to confirm the long-suspected subsurface saltwater there.

Because aurorae are controlled by a moon or planet’s magnetic field, observing changes in their behavior can lead to better understanding of what exists under the surface.

The solar system’s largest planet, Jupiter is the fifth from the Sun.

NASA’s $1.1 billion Juno spacecraft successfully slipped into orbit around the planet in July on a 20-month mission to learn more about how the gas giant formed, and to probe the origins of the solar system.

Pages: 1 ... 4 5 [6] 7 8 ... 10
Video