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Jun 20, 2018, 02:38 PM
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 on: Jun 18, 2018, 04:42 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Asiatic cheetahs on the brink of extinction with only 50 left alive

With UN funds being cut this month, conservationists call for last-ditch effort to save animal which clings on only in Iran

Robin McKie

6/18/2018 21.00 GMT

Conservationists have warned that the Asiatic cheetah is on the threshold of extinction following a UN decision to pull funding from conservation efforts to protect it.

Fewer than 50 of the critically endangered carnivores are thought to be left in the wild – all of them in Iran – and scientists fear that without urgent intervention there is little chance of saving one of the planet’s most distinctive and graceful hunters.

“Lack of funding means extinction for the Asiatic cheetah, I’m afraid,” the Iranian conservationist Jamshid Parchizadeh said. “Iran has already suffered from the loss of the Asiatic lion and the Caspian tiger. Now we are about to see the Asiatic cheetah go extinct as well.”

The Asiatic cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus venaticus, is slightly smaller and paler than its African cousin. It has a fawn-coloured coat with black spots on its head and neck, and distinctive black “tear marks” running from the corner of each eye down the side of its nose.

Cheetahs – both African and Asian – are the fastest land animals on Earth, using their speed to bring down antelope, gazelle and other moderately large prey. Asiatic cheetahs were once widespread across the continent but were eradicated in India, where they were hunted for sport. The spread of farming also greatly reduced numbers in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Eventually the animal was wiped out in all the nations of Asia to which it was once native – with the exception of a few areas of Iran. Conservationists have battled to keep numbers stable in these areas. They have faced severe problems, however.

“There have been all sorts of threats to the Asiatic cheetah,” said the conservation biologist Sam Williams of the University of Venda, in South Africa, who is an expert on large carnivores. “For example, they are hunted and killed by local herders – of sheep and goats – because cheetahs will occasionally kill and eat one of their animals.”

In some cases, farmers hunt cheetahs with dogs. Alternatively, they may use traps. In addition, the animals are known to roam over considerable areas of Iran and cross highways, where they are run over. Dozens have been killed despite signs being erected along the sides of roads, highlighting the risk. The opening up of new mining operations has also restricted their territories.

In recent years several measures have been introduced to help raise awareness of the cheetah’s plight. In 2014, the Iranian national football team announced that their World Cup and Asian Cup kits would be printed with pictures of the Asiatic cheetah. In addition, a crowdfunding conservation project was set up, and this year 31 August was declared national Cheetah Day.

Despite this, the animal’s decline has continued. “There were three main protected areas in which we used to find cheetahs,” said Urs Breitenmoser, of the Cat Specialist Group, based in Bern, Switzerland. “There are now none left in the western area, at Kavir, while in the southern region the animals are too thinly spread for enough to meet and breed. Only in the north, around Touran and Miandasht, are there any signs that there are enough cheetahs to maintain a population.”

Implementing measures to protect these last vestiges of cheetah territory has proved extremely difficult. “Iran has faced heavy international economic sanctions since 1980, and international agencies have been encountering a lot of problems transferring money into the country for many years,” said Williams. “The crucial point is that that money could have been used for the implementation of conservation strategies.”

This problem has been compounded by cuts made by the Iranian government to the budget of its department of the environment, which has responsibility for protecting the country’s threatened animals. Fortunately, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was able to support the Asiatic cheetah conservation project, because as a UN agency it was able to get money into Iran relatively easily. “Its aid was crucial,” said Williams.

But now that last piece of support has disappeared because the agency has had to make major cuts in its budgets. Last month Anne Marie Carlsen, the programme’s deputy resident representative in Iran, announced that the organisation would not be extending its support for the cheetah project after December and said that Iran should now run the project single-handedly.

A UNDP spokesman told the Observer that the agency had committed around $800,000 to the cheetah project over the past few years. “The conservation of the Asiatic cheetah project was established in 2001 to save it from extinction. As a result of the project, we now have a better understanding of how many Asiatic cheetah are left and have increased the number of protected areas where they live. We have got the communities involved in the project.

“The second phase of the project, which commenced in 2009, is scheduled to end December 2017. Unfortunately, due to budget challenges, UNDP is unable to extend the project beyond this time.”

Parchizadeh and Williams, in a joint letter to the journal Nature this month, warn that without the agency’s support, there is little hope for the Asiatic cheetah. “Management of the project will now fall mainly to Iran’s department of the environment, the head of which has declared the cheetah ‘doomed to extinction’ on the basis of its declining numbers since 2001. We urge Iran’s government not to give up on cheetah conservation,” they write.

This point was endorsed by Breitenmoser. “We need to give as much support as we can to Iran. Every other country in which the Asiatic cheetah once roamed allowed it to disappear. Iran managed to save it – until now. So we need to get international agencies to get help to the country’s conservationists as soon as possible.

“The alternative is straightforward. Unless something is done within the next couple of years, it will not be possible to save the Asiatic cheetah. It is now five minutes to midnight for the species. Soon it will be midnight – and extinction.”

Asia and Africa

Compared with its Asiatic cousin, the African cheetah – the most widespread subspecies of cheetah - is in relatively good health. It still faces major problems, however.

It is reckoned that there are around 7,000 in the wild and, according to the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, its status is classified as “vulnerable”.

Many scientists and conservationists believe this categorisation is in fact incorrect and that the pressures placed on the animal mean its status should be rated as endangered.

In some regions, young cheetahs are caught and sold as pets, and the animal is hunted by farmers, who see it as a threat to livestock. It is estimated that its population plummeted by more than 90% during the 20th century.

Even when protected inside game parks, cheetahs face a struggle to survive. They can be bullied into the margins by lions, which are far stronger both in body and number.

 on: Jun 18, 2018, 04:39 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Faecal transplants ‘could save endangered koala’

Team of researchers changes microbes in koalas’ guts in order to improve type of food they consume

Robin McKie, Observer science editor
18 Jun 2018 19.26 BST

Scientists believe they have found a new weapon in the battle to save endangered species: faecal transplants. They say that by transferring faeces from the gut of one animal to another they could boost the health and viability of endangered creatures. In particular, they believe the prospects of saving the koala could be boosted this way.

The idea of using faecal transplants as conservation weapons was highlighted this month at the American Society for Microbiology meeting in Atlanta, where scientists outlined experiments in which they used the technique to change microbes in the guts of koalas.

Microbes play a key role in digesting fibres in the animal’s diet of eucalyptus leaves – which come in two main varieties: manna gum and messmate.

“Messmate is clearly inferior to manna gum: it has less protein and more tannins,” said the project leader, Ben Moore of Western Sydney University.

However, some koalas eat only messmate and others only manna gum. Few eat both – and that is because manna-gum-eating koalas have different bacteria in their guts from those that ate messmate.

This raised the crucial question: could scientists change the microbes in a koala’s gut so that they could change the type of eucalyptus that the animal could consume? The answer was to carry out transplants of bacteria from the faeces of one set of koalas into the group that had different eucalyptus diets.

“We succeeded,” Moore told the Observer. The team found it was able to alter the koala’s gut bacteria from one type to the other.

The development is crucial because it should help the preservation not just of koalas – by aiding their ability to digest different types of eucalyptus – but should also help other endangered creatures. As the journal Nature reported, other researchers at the conference outlined work – again involving making changes in gut microbes – that could boost the fertility of southern white rhinoceros which do not reproduce well in captivity, a problem that is linked to their diets, it was found.

 on: Jun 18, 2018, 04:37 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
The Miniature Donkey Therapy Meet-up: Video

For the Love of Donkeys

By Andy Newman
NY Times

A miniature donkey can change your life. Ten of them can change it a lot.

Steve Stiert was explaining this the other day to two dozen people who had gathered at Donkey Park, otherwise known as his backyard, in Ulster Park, N.Y., two hours north of New York City.

“Donkeys in my opinion are the most misunderstood and underappreciated of man’s domesticated animals,” Mr. Stiert said. “They’re very kind animals, sweet, thoughtful. Their nature helps us get more back in touch with a calm state of mind and a simple way of life.”

Click to watch: <iframe title="New York Times Video - Embed Player" width="480" height="321" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" allowfullscreen="true" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" id="nyt_video_player" src="https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000004624119"></iframe>

Human guests, some seated on hay bales, nodded appreciatively. Three-foot-tall donkeys milled among them, nibbling on the hay bales.

Mr. Stiert’s sidekick, Flint, a gray-dun 4-year-old, approached a woman in a pink T-shirt. She made a kissy face. Flint responded by resting his head on her shoulder.

“What Flint is doing there is a hug,” Mr. Stiert explained. “In the wild, the mother will put her neck over the foal to keep them close.”

Five years ago, Mr. Stiert was a software engineer at IBM. A bunch of things happened — divorce, a layoff, a sort of reckoning. Now, at 57, he says, “Every day is donkey day.”

He takes his long-eared charges to nursing homes and schools for the disabled through a nonprofit arm of Donkey Park. He also leads the Hudson Valley Donkey Walkers, a group organized through the networking site Meetup, that has amassed over 400 (human) members who attend events like this one.

On this day, the guests included Brittany Hill, who has been living with leukemia for 11 years, and an extremely shy man who by the end of the afternoon would speak of the confidence that walking a donkey had given him.

Ms. Hill, 26, said she kept returning because donkeys “don’t judge.”

“They understand, even though they don’t talk,” she said.

Indeed, anyone expecting a miniature-donkey meet-up to be some kind of braying contest was in for a surprise. “Their instinct is to ponder things,” Mr. Stiert said.

“They are very independent-minded,” he added. “They will come when they want to come. Watch this: Flint. Flint!” Flint looked up from his bale for a second, annoyed, then resumed eating.

Mr. Stiert got into donkeys in 2012 after his daughter, then a pre-veterinary student, told him she was joining a donkey club. He started watching donkey videos and was smitten. His first was Indy Anna, white with gray spots. Then came the brothers Romper and Stomper. Indy Anna begat Dakota, who at 27 inches tall is considered a micro-mini.

“People told me, ‘If you’re having a midlife crisis, get a sports car or a boat — you can sell those later,’” Mr. Stiert said. “I was like, ‘No, I love these animals.’”

His herd now includes a former sheep guard at the farm of the celebrity decorator Sheila Bridges, a champion coon jumper (coon jumping is kind of like a standing high jump for donkeys), two standard donkeys and a zebra-donkey hybrid named Stripes.

(Before you run out to shop for donkeys yourself, make sure they’re legal in your town. They are not in New York City, for instance, where the Health Code bans “all odd-toed ungulates” — hoofed animals — other than domesticated horses, “including, but not limited to, zebra, rhinoceros and tapir.”)

Mr. Stiert had intended to use his donkeys mainly as therapy animals for nursing-home residents and people with disabilities, but he found “that people just leading average lives have really benefited from the donkeys too.”

He and the donkeys have made many friends through Meetup. “A lot of the people you get on Meetup are going through transitions in their lives,” he said, “and they’re looking for something to do to keep themselves exploring.”

For all their surprising virtues, donkeys can be a little stubborn. As the donkey walkers turned down a lane and approached a railroad crossing, Bob Holstrom, a seasoned member of the meet-up, offered a prediction. “Cocoa doesn’t cross the tracks,” he said. “She’s going to stop.”

Three steps later, Cocoa came to a halt. The walkers held out treats, stroked her back, called out gentle encouragement. Cocoa held her ground.

But sometimes stubbornness can be a good thing. One day in 2012, two of Mr. Stiert’s donkeys visited the dementia ward of Golden Hill nursing home, up the road in Kingston. There was a man in the ward with end-stage Alzheimer’s who no longer recognized his family, said Cindy Berryann, the former activities director. “He just stared, or sat with his eyes closed.”

One donkey, Flame, kept trying to approach the man, Mr. Stiert said. Her handler tried to move her to someone more responsive. Flame resisted.

And then, to the staff’s amazement, the man turned toward Flame, Ms. Berryann said. As Flame got closer, he reached out and touched her. “He saw something and felt something with the donkey.”

 on: Jun 18, 2018, 04:33 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Asteroids and Adversaries: Challenging What NASA Knows About Space Rocks

Two years ago, NASA dismissed and mocked an amateur’s criticisms of its asteroids database. Now Nathan Myhrvold is back, and his papers have passed peer review.

By Kenneth Chang
June 18, 2018

Thousands of asteroids are passing through Earth’s neighborhood all the time. Although the odds of a direct hit on the planet any time soon are slim, even a small asteroid the size of a house could explode with as much energy as an atomic bomb.

So scientists at NASA are charged with scanning the skies for such dangerous space rocks. If one were on a collision course with our planet, information about how big it is and what it’s made of would be essential for deflecting it, or calculating the destruction if it hits.

For the last couple of years, Nathan P. Myhrvold, a former chief technologist at Microsoft with a physics doctorate from Princeton, has roiled the small, congenial community of asteroid scientists by saying they know less than they think about these near-Earth objects. He argues that a trove of data from NASA they rely on is flawed and unreliable.

Since 2011, a NASA project known as Neowise has cataloged the sizes and reflectivity of 158,000 asteroids, and it claimed that its diameter estimates were often within 10 percent of the actual size. Dr. Myhrvold said the uncertainties were much greater, largely because NASA researchers were using data from a satellite designed for observing distant objects, not nearby asteroids. “The science is terrible,” he said.

Now his arguments have been published in Icarus, one of planetary science’s most prestigious journals.

“I’ve gotten people to agree I was right,” Dr. Myhrvold said.

When Dr. Myhrvold first revealed his research in 2016, NASA said that it had not been through scientific peer review. Two years later, the agency is still defending the results of the mission.

“The Neowise team stands by its data and scientific findings that have been published in several peer-reviewed journal articles,” the agency said in a statement. “NASA is confident the processes and analyses performed by the Neowise team are valid, as verified by independent researchers.”

In an email, Edward L. Wright, a University of California, Los Angeles scientist who served as the principal investigator for the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, the mission that Neowise grew out of, disputed some technical aspects of Dr. Myhrvold’s paper. He said one section about the error analysis was “a waste of paper.”

He did not respond to further emails.

Dr. Myhrvold’s findings pose a challenge to a proposed NASA asteroid-finding mission called Neocam, short for Near-Earth Object Camera, which would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars. A congressional committee that controls NASA’s purse strings just included $10 million more in a budget bill for the development of Neocam.

The same scientist, Amy Mainzer of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is the principal investigator for both Neowise and Neocam. NASA said she was unavailable for comment.

At least one scientist at NASA found merit in Dr. Myhrvold’s pursuit. David Morrison, a planetary scientist at the space agency’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. said of the scientific issues raised in the papers: “For the most part, I think Myhrvold is correct.”

“I do think it’s valuable for someone, a smart outsider, to go in and analyze data that are important,” said Dr. Morrison, who is not involved with Dr. Myhrvold’s research or Neowise. “That has to help science. That cannot be a bad thing.”

‘Dumb things’ in the data

The squabble revolves around data collected by NASA’s WISE spacecraft, which scanned the skies beginning in 2009, taking pictures of hundreds of millions of distant galaxies and stars.

Asteroids were also whizzing through WISE’s field of view, and the Neowise project was established to analyze them.

By looking at heat radiated by asteroids, it is possible to estimate an asteroid’s size and the reflectivity of its surface. The Neowise data is by the far the largest collection, and hundreds of scientific papers have cited those findings.

When Dr. Myhrvold made his initial claims, the Neowise scientists made fun of a few errors like an equation that mixed up radius and diameter.

“It is too bad Myhrvold doesn’t have Google’s bug-finding bounty policy,” Dr. Wright told Scientific American. “If he did, I’d be rich.”

Dr. Mainzer also said at the time, “We believe at this point it’s best to allow the process of peer review — the foundation of the scientific process — to move forward.”

Dr. Myhrvold has followed an eclectic career since leaving Microsoft nearly two decades ago. He has gained renown for a six-volume cookbook called “Modernist Cuisine,” and he has been scorned for the work of his company, Intellectual Ventures, which buys patents and collects licensing fees. He is also an avid digger of dinosaur fossils, with a number of published paleontology papers.

Earlier this year, Icarus published Dr. Myhrvold’s first paper on how reflected sunlight affects measurements of asteroids at the shorter infrared wavelengths measured by WISE. It has now accepted and posted a second paper last month containing Dr. Myhrvold’s criticisms of the NASA asteroid data.

Among them is the case of the copied numbers.

The Neowise researchers’ model was calibrated with diameters for about a hundred asteroids that have been measured by radar, visiting spacecraft or when an asteroid passed in front of a distant star.

When the scientists reported their findings, they did not include the estimates produced by their models, which would have given a sense of how good the model is. Instead they included the earlier measurements.

Other astronomers agreed that the Neowise scientists were not clear about what numbers they were reporting.

“They did some kind of dumb things,” said Alan W. Harris, a retired NASA asteroid expert who was one of the reviewers of Dr. Myhrvold’s second paper.

Dr. Myhrvold has accused the Neowise scientists of going into a NASA archive of planetary results, changing some of the copied numbers and deleting others without giving notice.

“They went back and rewrote history,” he said. “What it shows is even this far in, they’re still lying. They haven’t come clean.”

Dr. Harris said he did not see nefarious behavior by the Neowise scientists, but agreed, “That’s still weird.”

Dr. Myhrvold also contends that Neowise set up arbitrary rules for deciding which data to keep and disregard and that they did not describe their methods in enough detail for other scientists to replicate.
Rancor and replication

The tussle has spilled from scientific journals and conferences into contentious letters from lawyers. Dr. Myhrvold has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for information and algorithms that he said would be needed to properly check the Neowise findings.

Dr. Myhrvold said NASA and Congress should put planning for the proposed Neocam spacecraft on hold, because it could suffer from the same shortfalls as Neowise. “Why does it get to avoid further scrutiny and just get money directly from Congress?” he asked.

He also said a ground-based observatory, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, already under construction, will accomplish much of Neocam’s mission.

In his email, Dr. Wright said Dr. Myhrvold had taken an “adversarial approach.” Dr. Myhrvold, in turn, noted Dr. Wright’s earlier disparaging comments.

This rancor perplexes other asteroid researchers.

“It’s a strange story,” Dr. Morrison said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this in my field.”

The editors of Icarus now anticipate a rebuttal by Dr. Mainzer after she initially passed on an invitation several months ago to write one.

In June, NASA put out a news release about a different paper, also accepted by Icarus, by a team of European scientists. They used a more sophisticated method to calculate the sizes of more than 100 asteroids and the results largely matched the Neowise estimates.

But the analysis was limited to asteroids with the most reliable long-wavelength infrared measurements by WISE, a tiny fraction of the 158,000 that Neowise had analyzed.

 on: Jun 18, 2018, 04:30 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
'Eating Animals' Drives Home Where Our Food Really Comes From


It started with a call from actress and animal rights activist Natalie Portman to author Jonathan Safran Foer. The latter had recently taken a break from novel-writing to publish 2009's New York Times best-selling treatise Eating Animals—an in-depth discussion of what it means to eat animals in an industrialized world, with all attendant environmental and ethical concerns. The two planned a meeting in Foer's Brooklyn backyard, and also invited documentary director Christopher Dillon Quinn (God Grew Tired of Us) over. The idea was to figure out how to turn Foer's sprawling, memoiristic book into a documentary that would ignite mainstream conversations around our food systems.

The fruit of that discussion is now open in select theaters. Narrated by Portman, Eating Animals begins with the simple question about how much we really know about the food on our plates. The film succinctly traces the history of farming from its small-scale, agrarian roots to the rise of large-scale industrialized farming—which incidentally started in 1923, when Delaware housewife Celia Steele accidentally ordered 500 rather than 50 chicks and experimented with keeping them inside and maximizing their productivity, thus creating the first "broiler house." This planted the seed that resulted in today's proliferation of industrial livestock operations, through which huge agribusinesses pit contracted farmers against one another to produce ever more Chicken McNuggets, KFC and cheap grocery meat. The film follows several farmers—including a factory farmer running one such operation (which he describes as a "treadmill of debt"), a rancher who raises heritage turkeys, an Iowan raising the healthy hogs that end up on conscientious foodies' plates and others. All sources are united in their desire to bring farming back to its roots in the American heritage, and away from its polluting, health-endangering and increasingly inhumane state. Early on in the film, Portman, quoting Foer's writing, states that whereas farmers used to profit by working in concert with nature, Big Ag's goal is to calculate "how close to destruction we can keep the environment without losing it altogether."

Watch the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-z4Mpql6Ls

Eating Animals isn't necessarily out to expose the cruelty that feeds so much of American life; in fact, much of its content is devoted to pastoral footage of happy animals that are beloved by their farmers and granted great pre-slaughter lives. Yes, other footage does reveal massive stacks of chickens in battery cages, the Pepto-Bismol pink fecal hog lagoons of North Carolina, and the many antibiotic-doused animals that have been bioengineered to grow obese and lame during their few weeks of existence. "They've calculated how close to death we can keep an animal without killing it," Portman intones. However, Eating Animals doesn't offer what so many activists and whistleblowers already have: a blow-by-blow account of the horrors of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or what happens inside slaughterhouses.

That's because this film isn't presenting the horrors of industrialized farming as news, per se, but rather urging audiences to consider what they already know to be true. Eating Animals conveys a great deal of compassion for the farmers themselves, many of whom would not be able to survive today's economy if not for being the pawns of mega corporations like Tyson and Smithfield. It also reveals the ways in which lawmakers funded by Big Ag have passed statutes that institutionalize the cycle of producing and consuming cheap, factory-farmed meat.

That said, pro-vegetarian propaganda this film is not. While Portman is a vegan and Foer, a credited producer, is vegetarian, Quinn is a omnivore, which the others saw as an asset. After all, Eating Animals doesn't posit that consuming meat is intrinsically bad, but rather that the circumstances surrounding it—environmental degradation, increased use of antibiotics, "ag gag" laws, and animal-tending practices developed to be as cost-efficient as possible—are becoming overwhelmingly urgent. Americans are consuming more meat than we were when Foer published the book; what's more, our animal product-intensive eating habits are proliferating throughout the world. As the global population is expected to balloon to nine billion in the next 50 years, industrial farming—which already accounts for 50 billion animals raised for food—is only poised to further explode.

This film offers an objective look not only at the debate over eating animals, but also discusses ways in which we can sustainably raise animals and avoid the inherent problems of factory farming. It also brings in Temple Grandin to discuss some positive changes the industry has made. To learn more about the years-long process of creating this complex, unsettling, and absorbing film, Sierra called up director Christopher Dillon Quinn.

Sierra: The film seems to be only loosely based on Foer's 2009 book. Can you talk about that adaptation process?

Quinn: During that first meeting with Jonathan and Natalie, I made it clear that I wanted to, as Jonathan did in the book, create a personal case for why food matters from a family standpoint. We decided not to go down the same road Jonathan had in the book, which started with family stories about his grandmother, but I still wanted to follow subjects very closely, so that through their eyes, you start to see the bigger picture. The part of the book that probably captivated me most were the many open letters from farmers themselves, where Foer just let them say what they wanted. I sought to expand those narratives. So we followed subjects like one such farmer from the book, Frank Reese, the Kansas rancher raising heritage turkey breeds that have been around for centuries. It was fascinating to follow these farmers and see the contrast, because by and large, the chicken we eat today has been hybridized by genetic companies to become broad-breasted birds designed that can create as much white meat as possible, and whose bodies are compromised in such a way that they start to break down in just a couple of weeks.

Who was your intended audience?

We wanted to cast a wide net, but it's hard because a lot of people don't want to look under the hood and really think about where their meat, dairy, and eggs come from. We didn't want to wag the finger and tell people not to eat meat, but rather to portray the food industry from as many angles as possible so that anyone could watch it and find value in it. It's why audiences see how the contract farmers are under the thumb of a very large, vertically integrated system that holds many in debt their whole lives—it's not just the animals suffering. And of course, there's nothing else on the planet that causes more environmental degradation than raising animals for our food, so that's pertinent to absolutely everyone. Everybody knows something's wrong with our food system and that compromises are made, so hopefully this film offers a way to ultimately make some choices.

What was the most difficult part of making this film?

It forces you to adapt and change, and nobody likes that—I certainly didn't! I've opted out of commodity meat altogether, but I was at an event recently honoring Frank Reese and I was happy to eat his bird when it was put on my plate. The other was the visceral reaction I had to really seeing where my milk, my butter, my cheese come from. But the film is really meant to help facilitate those difficult conversations around whether you want to support a system that takes so much from our environment and society, and gives so little back. With the world's population set to explode, this is kind of the most pressing thing we have to address—we don't have enough water or resources to keep feeding people like this—and I so I like to think this film could be a starting point for a conversation that could result in real change.

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

 on: Jun 18, 2018, 04:28 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Taking Your First Steps Into Local Climate Action


Yes, yes—it can feel daunting. The climate crisis is more urgent than it's ever been. Some days we feel like we're making good progress, when we hear of countries powered by 100 percent renewable energy or a big commitment to take on fossil fuel corporations from a city like New York. But other days, it's a heavy burden knowing there's so much more that needs to be done to unseat the fossil fuel industry and move to a just, Fossil Free, renewably-powered world.

Last weekend, we saw how national and international leadership keeps failing to meaningfully address the problem. While the Paris agreement rightly acknowledged how much damage we'll see in a 2-degree warmer world, it's not clear that process is going to be enough to stop it from happening.

So people are trying something new. The We Are Still In coalition in the U.S. unites local governments, businesses, civil society and non-state actors to work together and overcome limited national means. In the international C40 Cities network, mayors of iconic cities around the globe are pushing for fossil fuel divestment. Gov. Jerry Brown of California is hosting a summit in San Francisco in September to bypass the national and "take ambition to the next level." And of course, grassroots movements, from Kenya to the Philippines to Brazil, are securing important wins.

All these local efforts—and so many others of varying form and size across the globe—give us hope. People power is keeping us in the game. By speaking truth to power and working tirelessly in our communities and with local governments, we can create the change we want to see. We're not falling for empty words. We know the solutions are simple: ambitious and just renewable commitments, "no" to all new fossil fuel projects, and an end to finance for the fossil fuel industry.

So, don't get discouraged. Here's what you can do right now for an injection of hope:

1. Start or Join a Fossil Free Group Near You

Often, we only catch the headlines—but behind the scenes, groups of people are learning together how to effect real change in their communities with targeted, local campaigns. Start here—and check out some of the amazing tools and the network of groups already out there to help you get started.

2. Join or Organize a Local Rise for Climate Action Where You Live on September 8

Ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, the climate movement is gearing up for a huge day of action. With 3 months still to go, 100 actions around the world are already organized—but we know we can scale it to more than 1,000. This is a chance to get creative and come together with friends and your community: All you need to know is here.

3. Spread the Word About #RiseforClimate on Social Media

Don't underestimate the power of keeping the conversation going, sharing personal stories and amplifying other inspiring voices from around the world. Find sample graphics, video, text and lots more to help you spread the word here. And if you're in California, join the in-person mass mobilization.

 on: Jun 18, 2018, 04:26 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

World Vegetable Harvests Threatened by Environmental Changes


Climate change is boxing us into a dietary corner. Research last month suggested that avoiding meat and dairy was the best thing an individual could do to reduce their ecological footprint, but now scientists predict that rising global temperatures and other changes could make vegetable and legume alternatives harder to come by.

The new study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was the first to consider the impacts of climate change on the harvest of non-staple vegetables and legumes. It found that if no action is taken, environmental changes predicted for the second half of the 21st century could reduce vegetable and legume yields by around one-third.

"Vegetables and legumes are vital components of a healthy, balanced and sustainable diet and nutritional guidelines consistently advise people to incorporate more vegetables and legumes into their diet. Our new analysis suggests, however, that this advice conflicts with the potential impacts of environmental changes that will decrease the availability of these important crops unless action is taken," study lead author Dr. Pauline Scheelbeek of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said in a LSHTM press release.

While the potential impact of climate change on staple crops has been studied in depth, all that was known about its impact on non-staple vegetables was that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might increase yields.

To get a more complete picture, researchers examined every experimental study published since 1975 on the impact of various environmental changes on vegetable and legume yield and nutritional content in 40 countries.

Based on the data, the researchers estimated how changes predicted for the mid-to-late 21st century, such as increased carbon dioxide levels, increased ozone levels, decreased water availability, increased water salinity and increased temperatures, would impact yields and nutrition.

Impacts on nutrition were mixed, but researchers found worrying changes in the potential yields of these healthy foods. While they found that an increase in carbon dioxide of 250 parts per million would increase vegetable and legume yields by an average of 22 percent, this was counteracted by the impact of other changes. A 25 percent increase in ozone would decrease yields by 8.9 percent, a 50 percent increase in water scarcity would decrease yields by 34.7 percent, a 25 percent increase in salinity would decrease yields by 2.3 percent and a four degree Celsius increase in temperature in warmer regions like Southern Europe, Africa and South Asia would decrease yields there by 31.5 percent.

Senior study author and LSHTM Professor Alan Dangour said the results were a call to action for governments, agricultural workers and public health officials.

"Our analysis suggests that if we take a 'business as usual' approach, environmental changes will substantially reduce the global availability of these important foods. Urgent action needs to be taken, including working to support the agriculture sector to increase its resilience to environmental changes and this must be a priority for governments across the world," Dangour said in the release.

"But our study also identifies the broader policy relevance of environmental change. Vegetables and legumes are essential constituents of healthy diets and so efforts to ensure that their global availability is not threatened by predicted environmental changes must also be high on the global public health agenda," he said.

 on: Jun 18, 2018, 04:24 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

'We burned the forest': the indigenous Chileans fighting loggers with arson

Chile’s Mapuche people are resorting to increasingly radical tactics to reclaim their ancestral land from exploitive industries

Mat Youkee in Temuco
18 Jun 2018 08.01 BST

It is late autumn in southern Chile, and in the region of Araucanía, the leaves have turned copper and gold. But on the road to the mist-shrouded town of Lumaco, the hills are covered with rows of charred pines.

“We burned these forests as an act of legitimate resistance against the extractive industries that have oppressed the Mapuche people,” says Hector Llaitul. “If we make their business unprofitable they move on, allowing us to recover our devastated lands and rebuild our world.”

This year has already turned out to have been a particularly combustible one in a decade of rising attacks by indigenous Mapuche activists against the Chilean state and big business. Over several few days in April, crops were burned, roads were blocked and 16 forestry vehicles were set ablaze outside of the regional capital, Temuco.

Such actions have become more and more common. According to statistics published by a local business association, there were 43 attacks in the region in 2017, mainly arson attacks against logging firms.

“Anyone who hasn’t been in the Chilean forest doesn’t know this planet,” wrote Pablo Neruda, who grew up in the region – and whose verse was inspired by its wild landscapes, and the indomitable spirit of its native people who were only conquered after Chilean military campaigns in the late 19th century.

Today, however, much of the west of the region would be unrecognizable to Chile’s finest poet. In the last 50 years, monoculture pine and eucalyptus plantations have replaced the biodiversity of the original forests.

Meanwhile, Mapuche groups have become increasingly aggressive in their efforts to reclaim ancestral lands and gain political autonomy. Llaitul is a spokesman for the Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM), an anti-capitalist organization that uses direct action and sabotage tactics.

The group has also demanded the release of the shaman Celestino Cordova, who was convicted in February 2014 for an arson attack on a farmhouse north of Temuco that resulted in the deaths of an elderly couple, Werner Luchsinger and Vivianne Mackay.

Cordova began a hunger strike in January after officials denied his request to complete a religious ceremony outside of the prison. He temporarily suspended the strike in April to negotiate.

“The government practices and respects Catholicism but it discriminates against Mapuche spiritual beliefs,” he said from a hospital bed, guarded by police officers. “The Mapuche have been impoverished spiritually, culturally and economically by Chile. I’m willing to sacrifice my life for my people.”

    Today, however, much of the west of the region would be unrecognizable to Chile’s finest poet

But Cordova’s conviction in the high-profile Luchsinger-Mackay case has made it tougher to win public sympathy for his cause, said Nicolas Rojas Pedemonte, a professor at Alberto Hurtado University in Santiago and author of a new book on the Mapuche conflict.

“That case was an inflection point for the conflict,” he said. “It was the first fatal attack, it turned Chilean media against the Mapuche and was used by the state as a Trojan horse for a repressive response.”

Police presence has since been heavily increased in Araucanía leading to the militarization of the region and increasingly indiscriminate targeting of indigenous people, according to Rojas.

In January 2017, charges against several Mapuche – including Llaitul – were dropped after it was revealed that police had used manipulated WhatsApp messages as evidence in arson cases. “I don’t even use WhatsApp,” says Llaitul, brandishing a tiny Nokia.

The Luchsinger-Mackay case was also the first sign of a split in Mapuche activist ranks. A new more radical group – know as the Weichan Auka Mapu (the Struggle of the Rebel Territory, WAM) – emerged, adopting an explicitly anti-Chilean stance and the tactic of burning churches – most recently during the Pope’s January visit to the region.

Llaitul says the CAM rejects the targeting of individuals and that direct action against forestry projects is the first stage towards reclaiming the land for Mapuche settlements.

On a former timber reserve overlooking Lumaco, his vision is being put into action. The logging firm, Arauco, abandoned the project following repeated arson attacks and today, in a small clearing, a dozen young men and women are hammering timbers together on the construction of a house in the woods.

A Mapuche red, blue and green flag flaps from the apex.

“When we recover lands we plant crops, breed animals and reconstruct our cultural world,” says Llaitul. “We will build houses but our first priority is a spiritual centre, the rewe.”

The rightwing government of the current president, Sebastián Piñera, has a different vistion for the future of Araucanía, the region with the worst poverty and unemployment rates in the country.

Ministers visited Temuco in April to finalize plans for a major growth plan for the region, focusing on tourism, agriculture and energy investments and training programs to allow the 150,000 hectares of land turned over to Mapuche groups in recent years to return to production.

The plan, to be launched in August, is also expected to increase the purchase of private lands by the national indigenous development agency.

“People in Araucanía are calling out for peace and development. Over the years so much investment has been turned away due to security fears,” says Luis Mayol, the Santiago-appointed administrator of Araucanía. “Piñera won 63% of the vote in this region – the Mapuche people want growth like everyone else. However, there is a small number of terrorists with radical ideologies and the resources to generate fear.”

While the development plan aims to win the support of Araucanías indigenous groups, accompanying amendments to the anti-terrorism law aim to make it easier to convict arsonists under terrorism charges.

“Our current legislation is quite useless: too many violent acts are being processed as regular crimes,” says Mayol. “We need to bring our definition of terrorism in line with those of countries such as the UK and Spain. For me, the systematic burning of trucks and churches are terrorist acts.”

Back at the reclaimed timber plantation, Llaitul remains defiant as two young Mapuche lift roof rafters into place on the new construction. “When there was no Mapuche struggle, the government did nothing for us” he says. “We’re not asking for palliative measures or integration, we want territory and autonomy for the Mapuche nation.”

 on: Jun 18, 2018, 04:21 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

People in Manchester 'exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution'

Report finds life expectancy in region reduced by average of six months due to pollution

Matthew Taylor
18 Jun 2018 00.01 BST

Dangerous levels of air pollution are having a devastating impact on the health of people living in Greater Manchester and costing the regional economy £1bn every year, according to a new study.

The report found that toxic air is reducing life expectancy in the region by an average six months and, over the next century, estimates “1.6 million life years” will be lost unless action is taken.

The report by IPPR North comes ahead of a national air pollution conference being held in Salford on Thursday.

The thinktank’s director, Sarah Longlands, said the “human cost of the air pollution crisis” in the city could not be overstated.

“People’s lives are being cut short, our children’s health is being put at risk and this is before you even consider the £1bn annual economic burden that poor quality air places on the local economy.

“For too long, the debate on air pollution has been focused on London. But now for the first time, we understand the full extent of the problem in Greater Manchester. We simply cannot allow this to continue.”

The study says the Manchester region faces a similar air pollution challenge – caused principally by transport emissions – to London where the mayor Sadiq Khan recently outlined plans for an extended ultra low emissions zone. But it concludes Manchester has neither the powers nor the strategy to tackle the issue.

The report found:

    Central Manchester has the highest rate of emergency hospital admissions for asthma in England, more than double the national average. North Manchester comes in second place.
    Manchester council ranks as the second worst in England for PM10 particulate pollution, which is linked to conditions such as lung cancer and asthma.
    Hotspots for dangerous air quality include Manchester’s Oxford Road, which exceeded legal limits 90 times during 2016.

It also found that the region has one of the worst polluting bus fleets in the UK, with 20% of the fleet made up of the most polluting vehicles, compared with just 10% in London. Only 15 buses are entirely electric, compared with more than 500 in London.

The report calls on Greater Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham – who will address Thursday’s conference, to take urgent action and for the national government to give the city the powers and funds necessary to tackle air pollution.

Alison Cook, policy director at the British Lung Foundation, said the report showed Manchester was one of the most polluted places in the UK.

“This report provides more detail on the health impact of air pollution on the city than we’ve had before,” she said. “Ambitious and concrete measures from the mayor and central government must now follow, such as rolling out charging zones in the most polluted areas.”

ClientEarth, which has successfully taken the government to court three times over its lack of action on air pollution said the study would make “worrying reading” for people in the city.

“While the UK government continues to drag its feet over its legal and moral duty to meet legal limits of air pollution in the shortest time possible, it is essential that local and regional leaders, including the mayor of Greater Manchester, do everything they can to protect people’s right to breathe clean air.”

Burnham said the report set out in “stark terms” the level of threat air pollution poses to health in Greater Manchester.

He said a range of measures were already in place or being planned, but added: “We also need a comprehensive national strategy to support our local work – backed by substantial, up-front investment from the government – so that we can all work together to tackle this serious problem that is affecting us all.”

 on: Jun 18, 2018, 04:17 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

My daughter and I paddled 22 miles, picking up plastic. Here’s what we found

In a weekend scouring the Salcombe estuary, we found everything from bottles to a toy dolphin. The pollution in our waters is ubiquitous – and devastating

Anna Turns

One My Little Pony, two crabbing buckets, five balloons, six balls, seven straws, nine shoes, a dozen coffee cups, 20 carrier bags, 205 plastic bottles and lids, polystyrene and a huge amount of rope. That is just a fraction of what my six-year-old daughter, Ella, and I collected over the course of two days last weekend, as we paddleboarded around the Salcombe-Kingsbridge estuary in south Devon, scouring the foreshores of every creek and cove for 22 miles.

Within seconds of setting off from South Sands beach by the mouth of the estuary, we spotted a clear plastic carrier bag floating in the shallows. Marine wildlife could easily have mistaken it for a jellyfish. Ella grabbed it with a litter picker as we paddled past.

Generally, the popular sandy beaches were fairly clear of rubbish. It was further up into the estuary where we were caught by surprise. Tucked under the overhanging treeline, out of sight of tourists, we found a tranche of litter tangled in seaweed: a wheel, a wooden ladder, piping, broken glass and a stranded plastic toy dolphin. There were thousands of short strands of rope and layer upon layer of multicoloured bottle tops and shotgun cartridges among the sand and the seaweed at West Charleton, driven here by prevailing winds. Every time Ella picked up a cotton bud, I thought of Justin Hofman’s striking shot of an Indonesian seahorse swimming along, its tail wrapped around one.

We set out on the paddle to raise awareness about microplastics, highlight hotspots in the estuary and involve local schools and community groups in beach cleanups. More than 150 people got involved, including 30 of Ella’s classmates, who met us in their school uniforms for a mucky beach clean at the end of Batson Creek.

Each year, more than 8m tonnes of plastic enters our seas. It has been estimated that 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1m seabirds die annually as a result of entanglement or suffocation caused by plastic debris – think of the pilot whale in Thailand that died earlier this month after swallowing 80 plastic bags, or the Laysan albatross chicks on Midway Island fed regurgitated plastic by their well-meaning parents, their stomachs filling up with items as big as inkjet cartridges. About 60% of plastic is single-use, thrown away after being useful for only a few moments. In the past 10 years, humans have produced more plastic than during the previous century.

My family and I love being by the sea in Salcombe, boating, swimming, building sandcastles and exploring the creeks. The estuary is classified as a local nature reserve and it sits within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Without a river feeding into it – the naturally sheltered harbour is a tidal inlet filled by many small streams – Salcombe is technically a “ria”, or drowned valley.

In the sandy shallows, the eelgrass beds are a hotspot for breeding seahorses, while dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks swim close by in the summer months and grey seals bob about in the quieter winter months. Twice a day, at low tide, the nutrient-rich exposed mudflats become a haven for wading birds such as the curlew, with its distinctive curved bill, little egrets, which nest in the trees along the water’s edge, and shelducks, which burrow in disused rabbit holes up the creeks. Beneath the surface, rocks and pontoons teem with life – bright-red beadlet anemones, corals, sponges and fish, scallops and spider crabs – and North Sands and South Sands are rockpooling paradises on a low spring tide.

But plastic pollution is ubiquitous. Microplastics have been discovered in one-third of UK-landed fish, in mussels sampled from around the British coast, in sea salt and tap water – even in bottled drinking water. Plastic has been found in deep-sea trenches and Arctic ice sheets. Personally, the madness truly hit home when I found a sealed plastic packet of smoked salmon floating in Salcombe estuary a few years ago.

I became increasingly concerned by the fragments of plastic and polystyrene we would find caught up in the seaweed along the tideline, but this journey began properly last summer, when I came across Kids Against Plastic, a national movement set up by two sisters. “It’s an environmental disaster that we’re all growing up experiencing,” says 14-year-old Amy Meek. Ella Meek, 12, explains the “Plastic Clever” mindset: “We aren’t forcing people to be plastic free; that’s almost impossible. That’s why we want people to be Plastic Clever: a simpler, easier and more effective way of using less plastic. It involves cutting out unnecessary plastic, avoiding the big four polluters – plastic cups and lids, straws, bottles and carrier bags – and choosing reusables instead.”

Millions of these plastic items are used fleetingly, but stay in our environment for centuries. By providing alternatives to throwaway plastic items and encouraging customers to commit to reusable options, cafes, hotels, restaurants and pubs can achieve Plastic Clever status.

Like the Meek sisters, we felt overwhelmed at the sheer scale of plastic pollution and felt compelled to try to improve things on our home patch by cutting down on disposable plastics at source. Our hope is to encourage the 90 or so businesses in Salcombe to adopt the Plastic Clever mindset and put the area on the map for the best possible reason – as a leading example of successful and effective ecotourism.

Wherever you live in the UK, you are never more than 70 miles from the coast. We are all connected to the ocean via our rivers, waterways and canals, so we share a responsibility to stop this flow of plastic into the sea. Plastic is not inherently bad, but our throwaway use of it, driven by a widespread, commercially driven thirst for consumption, is not sustainable.

This message was echoed in the plastic we found repeatedly along our 22-mile paddle and in the conversations we had with fellow paddlers. Stand-up paddleboard champion Marie Buchanan was shocked by the scale of the plastic pollution we saw at West Charleton marsh, halfway up the estuary between Salcombe and Kingsbridge. Buchanan trains every day on these waters, but normally she speeds past the beaches: “It felt very different to paddle slowly with a different purpose and I was amazed by how much rope and plastic litter has accumulated along the tideline here, among the seaweed. Before now, I just hadn’t stopped to notice.” Beach cleanups may not be the solution, but the experiences they offer are eye-opening and transformative.

While we found huge, old pontoons full of polystyrene in need of proper disposal, condoms and a sanitary towel on our journey, we also saw a cuttlefish swim past, goslings poking their fluffy heads above the reeds, comb jellies floating beneath the surface and a wise-looking grey heron take flight. Our paddle-and-pick mission enabled us to get a snapshot of the whole estuary and it was a privilege to spend two days exploring with Ella, taking time to slow down and notice the sunlight shining through the seaweed. This place is special – and we want to keep it this way.

Anna and Ella will host a screening of the documentary A Plastic Ocean on 19 June at Cliff House, Salcombe. Visit beplasticclever.co.uk/salcombe and follow SalcombePlasticClever on Facebook for more information.

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