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 on: Jun 24, 2016, 05:47 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Fox hunting group faces investigation over claims of animal cruelty

Former appeal court judge to look into claims that South Herefordshire Hunt used fox cubs to train hounds to kill

Press Association
Thursday 23 June 2016 13.02 BST

An independent investigation has been launched into a fox hunting group amid allegations of animal cruelty.

The investigation, which will be chaired by the former appeal court judge Sir John Chadwick, will look into the South Herefordshire Hunt, where three people have been arrested on suspicion of causing suffering to animals.

It comes after footage was released that animal rights campaigners claim shows evidence of “cubbing”, using fox cubs to train hounds to hunt and kill the animals.

In the footage, filmed by the Hunt Investigation Team supported by the League Against Cruel Sports, an individual can be seen carrying a fox cub into a barn where hounds are kennelled and baying, and later disposing of a dead fox in a wheelie bin.

Three people have been arrested and released on police bail.

The Master of Fox Hounds Association, which regulates and represents hunts around the country, said it had launched the inquiry “into conduct which suggests breaches of the association’s rules at the South Herefordshire Hunt”.

In a statement it said: “The hunt has suspended two members of staff and the kennels are currently closed.

“The South Herefordshire hounds are being looked after by other hunts which are members of the association.

“The inquiry will be chaired by the Rt Hon Sir John Chadwick, a former appeal court judge, and will include Bill Andrewes, an experienced former master and hunt chairman, and Pauline Tolhurst, a practising veterinary surgeon.”

West Mercia police said a 37-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman, both from Hereford, had been arrested in May on suspicion of causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal and had both been released on police bail until August.

In early June, a 37-year-old man from Abergavenny was arrested on suspicion of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal, and has been bailed until August.

Hunting foxes with dogs has been banned for more than a decade, with hunts now allowed to participate in “drag hunting” where an artificial scent is laid for the hounds to track.

But animal rights campaigners claim live fox cubs are being kept and used by hunts to train hounds to kill, or as a ready supply of foxes to hunt.

The chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, Eduardo Goncalves, said: “The hounds won’t naturally kill foxes so they must be taught to do so.” He said the footage appeared to show training techniques used by hunts in the UK.

Click to watch: <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 on: Jun 24, 2016, 05:43 AM 
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Judge rules that states, not US, have authority to govern fracking

A Wyoming district judge has ruled that the court's responsibility is not to determine if fracking is good or bad for the environment but to determine whether the Department of the Interior can legally regulate the practice.

By Simone McCarthy, Staff June 24, 2016   

A US District judge in Cheyenne, Wyo., ruled Tuesday in favor of state sovereignty when it comes to the regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The decision centered on whether the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BML) has the authority to regulate the oil and gas extraction procedure in the state. The ruling marks another strike against President Obama's hopes of controlling fossil fuel mining on a federal level.

US District Judge Scott Skavdahl, who was appointed by Mr. Obama in 2011, said that it was not his court's role to determine whether fracking is a danger to the environment, but rather to determine if Congress had granted the Department of the Interior the authority to regulate it, the Associated Press reports.

In his ruling, he found that Congress has not given that power to the federal agency and that any regulations need to be made by the states themselves.

US Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R) of Wyoming told the AP that the ruling was a victory for states' rights, saying that her state and others already have "careful and efficient regulation of fracturing."

Colorado, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming all oppose the BML's rules. Each of the states, as well as the Utah-based Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray and energy industry groups, filed briefs with Judge Skavdahl arguing for their rights.

The rules proposed by the BML would have required developers to report the ingredients of the chemicals that they used in hydraulic fracturing. These chemicals are used to increase a well's production of oil and gas and can be shot into the ground along with water and sand during the hydraulic fracturing process.

Neal Kirby, a spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said Tuesday he is pleased with Skavdahl's decision, the AP reports.

"BLM did not have the authority to issue its rule in the first place," Kirby told the AP. "Today's decision demonstrates BLM's efforts are not needed and that states are – and have for over 60 years been – in the best position to safely regulate hydraulic fracturing."

Fracking is used at 90 percent of new land-based wells, according to reports last year. And while the Obama administration issued regulations on the practice in 2015, the question of whether the state or federal government would be monitoring and regulating the practice's effect on the environment has a remained topic of contention.

In a decision that seems out of sync with the one that was made in Cheyenne this week, a US District Court in Los Angeles ruled earlier this year that the federal government must stop granting approval for offshore oil fracking in California's Santa Barbara Channel. The ruling ordered that the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement must analyze the environmental impact of fracking before issuing any more licenses, reported Story Hinkley for The Christian Science Monitor.

"Federal law clearly requires our government to analyze these threats. They can't just shrug off that obligation," Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center of Biological Diversity who worked on the lawsuit, told the Monitor in February.

And as courts decide where the regulatory power should lie, the environmental hazards of fracking continue to be debated. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report last year that supported the positions of both environmental groups and the energy industry.

The report, which focused on land-based fracking like the type being used in Wyoming, said that it did not find "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources," reported the Monitor's Sarah Caspari. However, the same report noted instances where water was affected and noted ways that fracking could contaminate water supplies.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

 on: Jun 24, 2016, 05:40 AM 
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CS Monitor

California shutters its last nuclear plant, irking some environmentalists

The plant's operator said Tuesday closing the plant could save costs and further energy-efficiency goals. But some environmentalists are concerned about a resulting rise in CO2 emissions.

By Max Lewontin, Staff June 24, 2016   

The closing of California’s last nuclear power plant, announced in a deal with environmental and labor groups on Tuesday, marks a key milestone, as one of the first states to embrace nuclear power has dramatically increased its focus on renewable energy sources.

Utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which operates the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, said the state’s strong environmental standards, including a requirement that utilities produce 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030, played a key role in its decision.

But for some environmental groups across the country, concerns about a resulting rise in greenhouse gas emissions following the closing of nuclear power plants, which produce almost no carbon emissions, has led to a shift away from aggressively campaigning for their closure.

The Sierra Club, for example, is debating whether to revamp its longtime strict opposition to nuclear power as it campaigns more intensively for the reduction of fossil fuel-producing coal and gas plants.

“We’re actively debating the timeline in which nuclear plants should be decommissioned as we reduce our reliance on coal and gas in the electric sector,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told the Wall Street Journal this month.

With nearly a dozen nuclear reactors either already shut down or set to close in the next few years, the debate about the impact of nuclear power is ramping up just as PG&E announced it would shutter the power plants two nuclear reactors, located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, by 2025.

The deal, which must still be approved by regulators, including California’s Public Utilities Commission, could also cut costs and help resolve longstanding safety concerns about nuclear power.

With the state’s increasing wind and solar production and emphasis on energy efficiency, “there’s just not going to be enough need to have to run your nuclear plant,” PG&E President Tony Earley told reporters on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

But elsewhere, concerns loom about the impact closing nuclear plants can have on carbon emissions. After the Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon closed two years ago, power plants in New England emitted an additional 5 percent more CO2 in 2015 than during the previous year. It was first year-to-year increase since 2010, the Boston Globe reports.

Some environmentalists have even begun actively campaigning to keep nuclear power plants open. In Illinois, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and other groups have formed an unlikely alliance with Exelon, the largest owner of nuclear plants in the US, to reverse a deal to close two nuclear plants in the next two years, the Journal reports.

“It would take many years for the Illinois wind and solar sectors, which together comprise six percent of the state’s current generation, to grow enough to replace nuclear’s output,” a number of prominent environmentalists who oppose the closing of the Clinton and Quad Cities plants wrote in an open letter, saying the closures would lead to further coal and gas plants.

But in California, Diablo Canyon, which produces 9 percent of the state’s energy, has long been controversial and raised safety concerns. Advocates of closing the plants are hoping the changeover could spur even further investment in renewable energy.

In Los Angeles, for example, the police department bought a  fleet of electric patrol cars this month. Under a sweeping law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the state must become twice as energy efficient by 2030.

Proponents say it’s the right decision for the state. “Although nuclear plants don’t produce greenhouse gas, there are good and cost-effective 21st-century alternatives to an energy source from the last century,” wrote the Sacramento Bee’s editorial board.

“Perhaps PG&E should have acted sooner…But the utility is making the right decision by extricating itself and California from reliance on nuclear power. For that it deserves credit.”

 on: Jun 24, 2016, 05:35 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
This tribesman planted a forest in India that’s bigger than Central Park

Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng began planting seedlings in 1979, and the forest has grown so big that it has sheltered tigers and elephants.   

By Arundhati Nath, Contributor June 16, 2016   

Jorhat, India — Jadav “Molai” Payeng, a simple Mising tribesman in India, began planting seedlings on a barren sandbar in Jorhat district in 1979. Some 35 years later, he is credited with single-handedly planting and nurturing a forest that is bigger than Central Park in New York.

Mr. Payeng did not set out with that ambition. Rather, a heart-wrenching sight touched him deeply.

Assam, a state in India’s northeast that includes Jorhat, faces flood damage every year, and 1979 was not an exception. In addition to “devastating floods [washing] onshore a huge heap of garbage,” Payeng says, “hundreds of snakes” also washed up. The snakes died in the excess heat on that sandbar. It was “a piteous sight,” says Payeng, who was 16 at the time.

He visited the elders of the Deori community who lived a few miles away. “I asked the elders if there were any ways to save these poor creatures from dying,” he recalls. They asked him to plant the world’s tallest grass – bamboo. “The shade of the long bamboo plants would help keep the area cool,” he says.

He planted the 50 shoots that he says the village elders gave him. But he didn’t stop, instead planting more shoots every day. Days passed into months and months rolled into years, but still, Payeng did not stop. And he tended to the growing plants without help from anyone.

The forest planted by Payeng is now known as Molai Kathoni – Molai being Payeng’s nickname and kathoni meaning forest in Assamese. The density of the woods makes it hard to believe it has been planted by a human.

Today, Payeng’s work takes on an environmental dimension that goes far beyond saving snakes and has earned him recognition in India and abroad.

“Jadav Payeng has played a very important role [in] the conservation of the eco-system of Assam and India’s North-East,” says Palash Ranjan Goswami, secretary-general of Seven Look, a nongovernmental organization based in northeastern India that focuses on the conservation of wildlife. “His activities have motivated upcoming generations to work for the benefit of Mother Nature,” says Mr. Goswami, who made his comments via email.

Payeng studied up to the 10th standard at a school in Jorhat and currently lives in the nearby village of Kokilamukh with his wife and three children. He owns about 50 cows and buffaloes and sells milk for a living. His day starts before dawn when he milks the livestock. By midmorning he starts on his way to the forest.

Clad in a Mising-styled lower garment and a short-sleeved top, he cycles about 1-1/4 miles to Kartik Chapori, then rows his boat to get to the other side of the river. He has to cycle for another three miles to reach the forest.

He makes this trip every day.

The forest has numerous varieties of plants, and among the thousands of trees are “leteku, poniol, gamari, segun, teteli ...” Payeng smiles as he talks about the varieties, which in English include tamarind, teak, jackfruit, silk cotton, mango, mulberry, Indian rosewood, banyan, and custard-apple.
Watering 1,360 acres

As Payeng was cultivating the forest, it was difficult to water the entire area by himself, so he devised a clever but simple solution. “I bought some big earthen pots which could hold five liters [more than a gallon] of water, and made small holes at their bottoms,” he says. He then tightened the holes with hay and “placed the water-filled pots on the ground near the growing saplings.”

This made the water drip slowly, and it was possible to water this 1,360-acre area every day.

The forest has also been home to tigers, rhinoceroses, rabbits, deer, vultures, and other varieties of birds.

During a visit in March, the rustle of leaves swayed by the breeze can be heard along with the sound of the cuckoo bird. Payeng points to the bark of a large tree and says, “Look at these scratch marks – the tiger sharpened its claws here.” When the monsoons come, herds of elephants, as well as deer and rabbits, visit the forest.

Not everyone, however, is a fan of Payeng’s work. Around 2008, a herd of wild elephants destroyed homes in the village of Aruna Chapori. When the residents came to know that Payeng had planted a forest in which the elephants were taking shelter, they grew violent and wanted to destroy the forest.

Payeng strongly objected. “Cut me before you cut down the trees,” he recalls telling them. He asserts that trees have always helped the human race and should be protected to help conserve the environment.

Goswami of Seven Look notes that his organization has worked to help residents understand Payeng’s efforts. “We have tried to provide a helping hand to Jadav by educating the people of the neighborhood. We’ve tried to make them understand the importance of Molai kathoni so that they cooperate and help Mr Payeng in his work,” he says.

Environmental education, Payeng says, should be compulsory starting in primary school. “Every student taking admission in a school should practically plant and nurture two saplings. Only then will they earn their own oxygen,” he says.

Payeng also says that India’s education system should place more importance on the implementation of what is being taught. “Students are reading about global warming and the needs of the environment in books, but they are not doing anything for the environment practically,” he laments.
Honors near and far

Payeng’s work was unknown to the world until Jitu Kalita, a local journalist and wildlife photographer, accidentally discovered him in the forest. He published an article about Payeng’s work in a local newspaper in 2010. Two years later, Payeng was named “Forest Man of India” by Sudhir Kumar Sopory, then vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

In 2013, William Douglas McMaster completed a short documentary on Payeng’s work, titling it “Forest Man.” It won the 2014 Best Documentary prize at the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase in the American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival.

And last year, Payeng was conferred the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award given by the government of India.

“With sheer hard work and perseverance, Jadav has shown the world the power of will of a single human being,” writes Rituraj Phukan, secretary-general of Green Guard Nature Organization, in an email. Green Guard is another conservation NGO based in northeastern India. “He has achieved something that will be hard to emulate and his creation, the forest which now bears his name, will inspire generations to come,” Mr. Phukan adds.

Although Payeng has gained national and international fame, he still seems oblivious to it. He says it is his duty to grow trees. “Nature is nothing other than a form of God Himself. I will continue on my journey to plant trees,” he says.

Payeng now receives donations from abroad. Also, he has employed four people who assist him with planting trees.

“Being a citizen of the country where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment under a banyan tree, isn’t it our responsibility to protect our forests?” he asks. “Humans are said to be the smartest of all life-forms on earth, but it’s the humans who are responsible for the degradation of the environment.”

Payeng isn’t stopping with his forest. Majuli, one of the world’s largest river islands, is situated in the Brahmaputra River. It has been shrinking year after year because of erosion. Payeng wants to plant trees to protect this island and make it a sustainable tourist spot.

He is also undertaking the planting of trees along National Highways 37 and 52 in Dibrugarh and Dhemaji districts in Assam. Those areas “have witnessed massive destruction of forests because of the ongoing Bogibeel bridge project,” he says.

Payeng is confident about his mission.

How to take action

Universal Giving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects are vetted by Universal Giving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause. Below are links to three groups helping animals:

Pandas International works to ensure the preservation and propagation of the endangered giant panda. Take action: Volunteer with panda keepers in China.

Soi Dog Foundation aims to improve the welfare of dogs and cats in Thailand and end animal cruelty. Take action: Provide emergency treatment for a stray cat or street dog.

Greenheart Travel is an international exchange organization that provides cultural immersion programs to change lives and advance careers. Take action: Volunteer with a stray dog rescue project in Thailand.

 on: Jun 24, 2016, 05:32 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Millions of dead trees pose massive wildfire risk. What can be done?

The Forest Service spent 56 percent of its budget last year on firefighting, compared to 16 percent in 1995. 

By Ben Rosen, Staff June 23, 2016   

Because of a historic five-year drought, warmer temperatures, and beetle infestation, 66 million trees have died in California since 2010, increasing the risk for disastrous wildfires, the US Forest Service said Wednesday.

In its announcement, the Forest Service demanded Congress allocate more money for firefighting so it doesn’t have to.

“Unless Congress acts now to address how we pay for firefighting, the Forest Service will not have the resources necessary to address the forest die-off and restore our forests,” said Tom Vilsack, secretary of the Department of Agriculture, the parent agency of the Forest Service, in a statement Wednesday.

“Forcing the Forest Service to pay for massive wildfire disasters out of its pre-existing fixed budget instead of from an emergency fund like all other natural disasters means there is not enough money left to do the very work that would help restore these high mortality areas. We must fund wildfire suppression like other natural disasters in the country."

The Forest Service spent 56 percent of its budget last year on fire management, compared to 16 percent in 1995. The Forest Service said 2015 was the most expensive fire season in its history, costing them more than $2.6 billion, according to The Sacramento Bee.

The Forest Service expects the combination of drought and bark-eating beetles to ravage more trees near California’s Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe in the near future. As natural disaster attributed to climate change intensifies, the Forest Service’s plea to Congress underscores a question the federal government has wrestled of late: Who is responsible (and should pay for) forest and wildlife management?

As firefighters contend with several early season wildfires across California, the Forest Service said it has found 26 million dead trees across 760,000 acres in the southern portion of the Eastern Sierra since October 2015. This is in addition to the 40 million trees it estimates died there from 2010 and late 2015. There are an estimated 3.9 billion trees in California.

The prevalent death of trees, in particular the death of pines and fires, is a straightforward story. The five-year drought and warmer temperatures have stressed the trees, even though California experienced historic rains this winter. The needles of drought-stricken pines weakened, leaving them incapable of secreting the sticky resin they need to fight off bark beetle infestations. Mild winters don’t kill off as many insects. Bugs burrow beneath bark and into the tree’s soft innards, which larvae feed on.

Officials expect more trees to die in the near future, and the rampant mortality to reach the northern Sierras.

"Tree dies-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that puts property and lives at risk," said Mr. Vilsack, in his statement.

For years, the Forest Service has asked that fire management be funded like other natural disasters. Last year, a bipartisan coalition supported legislation that would have prevented the Forest Service from “cannablizing” its budget to fight wildfires, wrote Ryan Sabalow for The Sacramento Bee. But lawmakers couldn’t agree on how much logging should be allowed in national forests.

Fire suppression isn’t the only wildlife management service. At Yosemite National Park alone, more than half a billion dollars worth of repairs have been neglected, reports David Iaconangelo for The Christian Science Monitor.

Meanwhile, President Obama has overtaken former President Theodore Roosevelt, protecting 256 million acres of public land and water under the federal Antiquities Act, the Monitor’s Josh Kenworthy reported.

However, more national parks, forests, and monuments comes with a price, one the Forest Service has said it pays for, drawing away from its ability to manage forests and plant trees

 on: Jun 24, 2016, 05:29 AM 
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CS Monitor

One year later, how a Pope's message on climate has resonated

Catholics worldwide are showing a new zeal for combating climate change since Pope Francis highlighted the issue in 2015, experts say.   

By Cristina Maza, Staff writer June 24, 2016   

For Catholics around the world, climate change as a heightened priority – and many are taking action in the wake of efforts by Pope Francis to focus on environmental stewardship.

It’s a story that runs counter to popular perception, which holds that religious people do not believe in climate change – or believe that it falls outside the realm of human control.

In truth, people of faith have played important roles in environmental causes for generations. Yet, at the same time, polls find that devout Americans are generally less likely to be concerned about global warming than their nonreligious peers. 

But among Catholics this may be starting to change. In the year since Pope Francis released his encyclical, Laudato Si, imploring his followers and fellow believers to care for the earth and its creatures, observers say more and more Roman Catholics are beginning to view climate change as a moral issue in which caring for the earth and caring for the poor intersect.

Environmentalism among Catholics wasn’t absent before, but now it’s running higher than in years. 

“What helped to connect the dots between the Catholic faith and the environment was, of course, the encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Si,” says Tomás Inua, the Boston-based co-founder and coordinator of an international network of over 300 Catholic organizations engaged in protecting the environment and fighting climate change. “That was the big moment that really galvanized a lot of momentum in the Catholic community.”

Action from Brazil to India

The group, the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) was founded in 2015 just a few months before the encyclical’s release. Since then it has organized about 40,000 Catholics from around the world to participate in a march demanding that world leaders take action during the Paris climate negotiations.

They also mobilized almost 1 million Catholics to sign a petition asking world leaders to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees C below pre-industrial levels.  Then in May 2016, around 30 Catholic organizations joined an amicus brief in support of President Obama’s clean power plan.

These collective efforts are echoed by initiatives that local organizations are pursuing in many nations.

In Brazil, Catholic groups have been instrumental in fighting logging and deforestation. In India, too, churches and parishes across the country launched projects in the spirit of Laudato Si. To mark Earth Day in April, the Catholic non-profit organization Caritas initiated a tree planting campaign in the Karachi region, planting thousands of trees to help beat the region’s extreme heat. Church organizations also run campaigns to cut down on waste, promote organic farming, and start transitioning towards the adoption of solar power.

Likewise, GCCM released its own eco-parish guide, which it distributes to Catholic churches around the world that are aiming to reduce their carbon footprint. The guide provides instructions on how Catholic churches can reduce emissions by adopting a low carbon lifestyle, advocate for climate justice, and care for populations harmed by climate change.

“The actions were totally unprecedented because Catholics pretty much were overwhelmingly passive on the climate issue before,” says Mr. Inua in a telephone interview. “Mobilizing nearly 1 million Catholics for climate justice last year, that would have been absolutely impossible without the encyclical, there was no way we could have achieved anything nearly as close to that.”

A shift in opinion

In 2015, on the eve of the release of Pope Francis’s encyclical, research showed that Catholics in the United States were divided over global warming. Their differences mirrored the partisan divide found among much of the population, with around 80 percent of Catholic Democrats claiming there is solid evidence that the Earth is warming, and only half of Catholic Republicans claiming the same. Meanwhile, around 60 percent of Catholic Democrats said that global warming is a serious, man-made problem, while just a quarter of Catholic Republicans agreed.

But over the past year, perceptions began to shift. Just 6 months after the release of Laudato Si, the percentage of American Catholics who thought climate change is a moral issue jumped from 34 percent to 42 percent, according to a study conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Meanwhile, a study released by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America found that Catholic Republicans who read Laudato Si were 10 percent more likely to agree that human activities are responsible for climate change. 

Lonnie Ellis, associate director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, a US-based climate advocacy group that formed in 2006, agrees that things have changed over the past year.

“We were doing this before Pope Francis made it cool, and it’s been a great 10 years. But in the last year Pope Francis just elevated our work immensely and we’ve been able to do some really big things,” says Mr. Ellis.

The group now has around 205 “creation care teams”, or groups that meet to promote environmental education and discuss a faith-based approach to caring for the earth, working around the country.

It’s not that concern about climate change is absent among people of other faiths. For example, although Evangelical Christians show up as among the least concerned about climate change, in one recent poll fully 59 percent say that human actions are behind the rise in greenhouse gases versus 67 of the US public overall.

And like other religious and nonreligious groups, Evangelicals are are far more likely to call climate change a “very” or “somewhat” important issue than to say it’s only “a little” or “not” important, according to the recent study by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

The poll found, however, that Catholics are more likely to be concerned about climate change than any other US Christian group.

A deep-rooted tradition

The name of the encyclical, Laudato Si (“praise be”), is taken from a line in St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Creatures, a religious text that extolled the virtues of nature. Born in 1182, St. Francis of Assisi is considered the Catholic Church’s foremost ecologist.

But some historians point to 1971 as the year when the environmental tenets of Catholicism began to make a comeback. That was when Pope Paul VI published a letter called Octogesima Adveniens, or “a call to action.”

“Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation,” he wrote.

Not long after, Pope John Paul II, elected to the papacy in 1978, told the United Nations that, “the Church’s commitment to the conservation and improvement of our environment is linked to a command of God.” He also called for moral solidarity on the environment between industrialized and developing nations.

These calls for environmental justice were then absorbed by other parts of the Catholic leadership, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). All this gave added legitimacy to local church leaders who wanted environmental conservation to count among the Catholic church’s central teachings.

Bolivia speech

Despite this rich history, including Pope Benedict XVI ordering solar panels for the Vatican’s roof, experts say no Catholic leader has placed been so urgent and radical on the issue of ecology as Pope Francis.

During a speech last year at the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia, the Pope called for an immediate change to the way the world economy is run. 

“Today, the scientific community realizes what the poor have long told us: harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem,” he said.

“Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change.”

While many Catholics were unaware of the church’s stance on the environment prior to the current Pope’s vocal advocacy, experts say that changed dramatically over the last year.
Distrust of 'liberal agenda'

Bill Patenaude, an engineer with the state of Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management and a member of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, said the idea of ecological protection is now sinking in among people who were traditionally climate-change skeptics.

“Environmental issues and climate change have been spearheaded by the political left for a long time, and there is a lot of distrust,” says Mr Patenaude, adding that the issues supported by the political left are often in conflict with the positions of American Catholics. “I think some climate skeptics are reacting to the liberal agenda, not so much to what the science is showing and what people are experiencing. But I think there is a trend of people putting that aside.”

In developing countries with a large Catholic population, the faith-based connection between social justice and environmentalism was already evident to many, experts say. That’s because people see the effects that extreme weather conditions and natural disasters linked to climate change have on the poor.

But in much of the industrialized world, the connections weren’t as apparent. The effort by Pope Francis has opened up new conversations, says  Mr. Ellis of the Catholic Climate Covenant in the US.

“Even in corners that you wouldn’t expect, like in the Rust Belt, people are talking about it,” Ellis says. “It’s been phenomenal in the last year, we have to turn down a lot of talks being planned around the country on Laudato Si.”

'A hopeful vision'

“The poor and vulnerable are disproportionately impacted by disaster,” adds Maria Vorel, Catholic Charities USA’s senior vice president for disaster operations, during a conference call with reporters to mark the one-year anniversary of the encyclical. “Laudato Si crystallizes the realities of disasters in the US. Pope Francis called on all to look at our impact on the environment and the interaction of the environment on people, especially the vulnerable.” 

Meanwhile, a plethora of small Catholic groups are working around the country to assist vulnerable populations in poor regions such as the Appalachian Mountains as they grapple with the effects of climate change and environmental degradation.

Ultimately, many Catholics say that the Pope’s message has resonated so widely because of its emphasis on unity and its contrast with the often gloomy narrative surrounding climate change.

“There is a hopeful vision,” says Ellis. “The advocacy, not only does it change the system as a whole, but it helps pull us all in to meet this challenge together.”

 on: Jun 24, 2016, 05:25 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Why gravitational waves matter

For the second time, the LIGO laser interferometer detected spacetime ripples, heralding 'a new era in astronomy.'

By Calla Cofield, Staff Writer June 23, 2016   \

There was big news in astrophysics this week: An experiment detected ripples in space-time, known as gravitational waves, created by two black holes colliding in space 1.4 billion light-years from Earth.

That certainly sounds … complicated. But what's the big deal, exactly? Why are scientists so excited about this new discovery? What does it tell them about the universe? Let's break it down.

What's so cool about gravitational waves?

The first significant thing about LIGO's direct detection of gravitational waves is that it happened at all.
Recommended: Could you pass Astronomy 101? Take the quiz!

But first, let's back up a bit and talk about Albert Einstein. He was a smart guy — he figured out a lot of really subtle stuff about the universe, including that space is not a fixed, rigid backdrop, like a stage on which cosmic events play out. Instead, Einstein showed that space is flexible and influenced by the objects and events within it. Very massive objects create curves in space, kind of like the way a bowling ball curves a mattress when placed on top of it.

(Einstein also showed that space and time are intimately linked — both are threads in the universal fabric that he called space-time. We'll gloss over this relationship for the sake of brevity.)

So what does this have to do with gravitational waves? If a massive object can curve space-time, then moving a massive object can create ripples in space-time. Think of a canoe moving across a lake, sending ripples across the surface of the water; or a mallet striking a drum, creating vibrations on the surface.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, better known as LIGO, was the first experiment ever to directly detect these ripples in space-time, so it's the first direct physical evidence that they actually exist. Its first detection came in September 2015, 100 years after Einstein first predicted their existence. It's also been 40 years since people started working on the early incantations of the technology that LIGO uses to detect gravitational waves.

So these ripples in space-time confirm Einstein's theory (although it had already been shown to be fairly airtight). Gravitational waves are an extreme illustration of general relativity; in the past, those extreme examples existed only on paper, in the theoretical world. Data can always help scientists learn more about the universe, and if Einstein's theory needs to be adjusted (to make it compatible with quantum mechanics, for example), it's possible LIGO could find where. (LIGO's executive director said he's doubtful that LIGO will find these kinds of cracks or lose ends in Einstein's theory, but it is a possibility.)

But wait — there's more.

Black hole hunters

The LIGO discoveries have "launched a new era in astronomy," according to a statement from Northwestern University, where scientists are studying the gravitational waves to try to understand the black holes that created them. Other sources with LIGO have also talked about a "new era" or "new field of astrophysics," or have noted that LIGO is opening "a new window" to the universe.

That's a big claim. So how is LIGO driving this revolution?

Think of it this way: If every observatory and telescope in the history of humanity allowed people to "see" the universe, LIGO is now allowing us to "hear" it. And no one has ever heard the universe in this way before. Imagine what it would be like to suddenly gain not just a new view of the world around you, but the ability to detect an entirely different kind of information.

Just about every observatory or telescope that is studying the universe collects light — or, in some cases, other particles. Light comes in many flavors, such as X-rays, gamma-rays, visible light and radio waves. Different objects radiate different wavelengths of light. For example, your body produces enough heat to radiate infrared light, but it would take something as hot as an electric stove to radiate optical light. Looking at the universe in different wavelengths of lightreveals different objects and processes, and sometimes, it reveals things that are hidden for other reasons.

OK, but what if you want to look for an object that doesn't radiate light?

Black holes are called black holes because they have such a strong gravitational pull that even light can't get away from them. As a result, they're typically represented in images and illustrations as big, black spheres in space — they don't emit light, and they don't radiate light.

There are other ways to "see" black holes. For example, sometimes material around the black hole radiates light, and that can at least reveal the silhouette of one of these monsters. It's also possible to detect a black hole via its gravitational influence on stuff around it. (This is also how scientists detect dark matter, more mysterious stuff that makes up a big part of the universe.)

But for the black holes detected by LIGO, and most black holes between 10 and 100 times the mass of the sun, scientists with LIGO say it's unlikely that these techniques will work. That's because there's no material around these black holes; it gets flung away as the black holes circle around each other. That means these black holes are invisible — except to a gravitational-wave detector.

Plus, a purist will tell you that all of those above methods are indirect. If someone wants information created directly by the black hole, then gravitational waves are it.

So LIGO can see things that no other observatory can, and that's a big reason why people are calling this the beginning of a new era of astrophysics. LIGO will spot many other objects, including exploding stars (supernovas) and mergers between neutron stars, or the nuggets of leftover star explosions that are just slightly not dense enough to become black holes.

But there will also be great discoveries when LIGO works with light-based telescopes and observatories. Those instruments can "see" the universe, and LIGO can "hear" it — and they're best when used together, just as movies are best when they are both seen and heard or food is best when both tasted and smelled. "Multimessenger astronomy" refers to the combination of different kinds of astronomical information, such as light and gravitational waves. It's a new chapter in astrophysics, and LIGO has just given it a big boost.

LIGO's black holes

To get a taste of what kind of information gravitational waves can provide, take a look at LIGO's two detections. The first signal, detected in September 2015, was created by two black holes that had masses 29 and 36 times that of the sun, respectively. They created a new black hole with a mass just shy of their combined masses. (Some of the mass was lost as energy in the merger.) The second detection was also created by two black holes that had masses 7.5 and 14 times that of the sun, respectively.

The mass of a black hole provides some insight into how it formed. All four of these black holes were likely born from single, massive stars. Those stars burned brightly, but then ran out of fuel and collapsed on themselves, crunching matter into such an incredibly small space that the density of the remaining object cannot be clearly described by modern physics.

But the specifics of each star's living situation can vary, according to Vicky Kalogera, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University and a member of the LIGO Collaboration.

The smaller black holes detected by LIGO probably formed from stars that lived close together, stayed together after death and eventually spiraled toward each other and merged. Contrast that with black holes that are close to 20 times the mass of the sun, which likely formed ingreat clusters of stars (a "mosh pit" of stars, as the statement from Northwestern University described it).

How many black holes form in clusters, and how many form outside clusters? How many black hole mergers take place in the universe each day? How big do these black holes get? Can they reveal any new information about the monster black holes at the centers of galaxies, which have masses that range from millions to billions of times the mass of the sun?

These are questions that scientists now have a better shot at answering because they can detect black hole mergers directly, and quickly figure out the exact masses of those black holes.

Just the beginning

LIGO detected two confirmed black hole mergers in its first science run, which lasted about six months. Currently, LIGO is operating at only about 40 percent of the sensitivity it was designed to achieve. Gradual improvements by the LIGO team will slowly drive that percentage up, and with each bump in sensitivity, LIGO is expected to detect more and more objects. According to David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory, if the detector is 25 percent more sensitive in its next run (which starts in September), the LIGO Collaboration can expect six to eight detections, instead of two.

Meanwhile, a companion gravitational-wave detector is scheduled to go online in Italy in January, and there are plans to have detectors in Japan and India in the future. A space-based experiment is laying the groundwork for space-based gravitational-wave detectors. And a collaboration of scientists is working on measuring gravitational waves by studying pulsars, or neutron stars that radiate beams of radio waves.

LIGO's discovery means a lot of things to the astrophysics community; it might actually be the beginning of a new era.

 on: Jun 24, 2016, 05:22 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

What's causing this Arctic snow to turn pink?

Scientists say that an Arctic phenomenon that turns snow pink is due to a chemical reaction that occurs when sunlight hits algae in the snow.

By Christina Beck, Staff June 24, 2016   

The Arctic conjures up images of white snow, ice, and polar bears. But this month, the Arctic landscape looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, with landscapes of pink snow.

What caused this strawberry hue? Was it an Arctic accident? Or polar pranksters? Neither, according to a new study published Wednesday by a team of scientists in England and Germany in the journal Nature Communications. 

Instead, the pink coloring is caused by algae, which creates an effect that can actually worsen climate change.

While this phenomenon has significant implications for the worldwide struggles with climate change, it is not a new discovery. As long ago as 1818, explorers such as British Admiral Sir John Ross noted that snow sometimes took on a pinkish hue at high altitudes.

Nineteenth-century explorers thought that the color might come from meteoric iron deposits, but modern scientists know that it comes from a kind of algae, Chlamydomonas nivalis, which, while normally green, turns red when hit by the sun.

Until recently, the pink snow remained a relatively unstudied phenomenon. The international team of researchers who published this week's study, however, were determined to change that.

To better understand what the snow could mean for the Arctic environment, researchers studied snow samples from 16 glaciers in four countries, including Sweden, Greenland, Iceland, and Norway.

What they discovered all came down to a property called albedo, or the proportion of light reflected by a surface.

Dark colored objects absorb more light, explaining why darker painted houses feel hotter in the summer time, or why it might be unpleasant to wear black T-shirts in July. The lower an object's albedo number, the more light (and consequently heat) it absorbs.

"Imagine wearing black instead of a white T-shirt in the sun. It feels much hotter," wrote Stefanie Lutz, one of the study's authors, in an email to The New York Times. "It is the same for the snow: More heat means more melting."

With its darker color, the Arctic algae decreases the albedo of glacial snow significantly. Scientists say that, on average, the presence of the red algae decreased the snow's albedo by 13 percent.

That might not sound like a lot, but it could have a significant impact on future studies of climate change, in which scientists say researchers must measure the albedo of Arctic snow.

"Our results point out that the 'bio-albedo' effect is important," said Dr. Lutz in a statement, "and has to be considered in future climate models."

Scientists like Lutz are also concerned that the rosy snow could create a problematic cycle, in which algae darkens the snow, which leads to melting and runoff, which leads to more algae growth, and so on.

Already, scientists take other albedo lowering phenomenon, such as the creation of black carbon by forest fires, into account when creating climate models, reports The New York Times.

This discovery is particularly disconcerting as the Arctic enters what looks to be another record-breaking year for Arctic ice melt.

 on: Jun 24, 2016, 05:19 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
June 24, 2016

Gene editing tool CRISPR gets clearance for human trials

by Brett Smith
Red Orbit

The genetic editing tool known as CRISPR has been described as a game changer, and in response to the groundbreaking results is has produced; the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has approved it for the first human clinical trial.

The approved trial is focused on improving cancer treatments that use the patient’s own immune cells to fight off the disease.

“Cell therapies [for cancer] are so promising but the majority of people who get these therapies have a disease that relapses,” lead researcher Edward Stadtmauer, a physician at the University of Pennsylvania, told Nature News.

Using gene editing for immune system treatment

Designed to more see if CRISPR is safe for use in humans, the trial will involve using CRISPR to make edited T-cells from the immune systems of 18 patients with melanoma, sarcoma or myeloma.

One change will place a gene for a protein designed to recognize cancer cells and teach the T cells to target them. A second genetic change will eliminate a normal T-cell protein that may restrict the initial edit. A third edit will take out the gene for a protein that recognizes the T cells as immune cells and stop the cancer cells from shutting them down. The scientists will then place the edited cells into the same patient from which they originally came.

“Last year’s excitement over CRISPR was in anticipation of this,” said Dean Anthony Lee, a member of the NIH’s Recombinant DNA Research Advisory Committee (RAC), which reviewed the proposal.

CRISPR has garnered most interest due to its simplicity. However, the T-cell trial will not be the first test of the effectiveness of using gene editing to battle diseases.

In 2014, a trial used another gene-editing system known as zinc-finger nuclease. This trial took blood from 12 individuals with HIV and eliminated the gene that encodes a protein on T cells that is attacked by the virus. The team said they hoped that this would stop infection of the cells. The outcomes were encouraging, and the process is now being used in clinical trials for many other applications.

Despite the fact that CRISPR is easier to use than other means and better at editing numerous genes at once, a major challenge will be overcoming CRISPR's inclination for ‘off-target’ edits. These are situations involving the unintentional edits to the genome. In spite of precautions, the immune system could still assault the edited cells, trial researchers said.

 on: Jun 24, 2016, 05:17 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
June 23, 2016

The universe is ‘crowded’ with black holes, study finds

by Brett Smith
Red Orbit

A new study has found there are areas of the universe that are littered with black holes, and these massive objects are merging all the time.

Published in the journal Nature, the new study projected numerous black hole collisions that produce gravity waves, like the ones recently observed by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO).

"The universe isn't the same everywhere," study author Richard O'Shaughnessy, an astrophysicist from the Rochester Institute of Technology, said in a news release. "Some places produce many more binary black holes than others. Our study takes these differences into careful account."

Finding new areas of the universe

Immense stars fold into themselves to become black holes, like the pair LIGO found, are extremely uncommon, O’Shaughnessy said. They are less developed, “more primitive stars,” that appear in unique configurations in the universe. These stars are from the early universe and contain more pure hydrogen, which makes them massive. Conversely, younger generations of stars have eaten the remains of their forerunners containing heavy elements, which capped their growth.

“Because LIGO is so much more sensitive to these heavy black holes, these regions of pristine gas that make heavy black holes are extremely important,” O’Shaughnessy said. “These rare regions act like factories for building identifiable pairs of black holes.”

The new study found that enormous black holes rotate in a steady way, with orbits that stay in the same plane. The simulation indicates the alignment of these significant black holes is immune to the small kick that comes after the stars’ core collapse. The identical kick can knock the positioning of smaller black holes and bump their orbital plane.

O’Shaughnessy compared calculations in the study to a laboratory that could be used for evaluating future prospects in gravitational wave astronomy. Other gravitational wave scientists are now using the simulation in their own research as well.

“We’ve already seen that we can learn a lot about Einstein’s theory and massive stars, just from this one event,” O’Shaughnessy said. “LIGO is not going to see 1,000 black holes like these each year, but many of them will be even better and more exciting because we will have a better instrument—better glasses to view them with and better techniques.”

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