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 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:30 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Eleven creative ways to reuse egg crates

Don't throw out your egg crates. You can save money and the environment by reusing them in a creative way!

By Ashley Marcin, Wise Bread 9/27/2016

I don't know about you, but I eat a ton of eggs. We have leftover crates upon leftover crates, and beyond reusing and recycling, I've started repurposing them in fun ways around my house.

1. Seeding Storage

I actually started all our seeds in egg cartons this year. They're the perfect size for germination. When the seedlings are ready for planting, just cut out the individual cups and plant directly into the ground. Of course, if you plan to try this one, use the paper cups versus the styrofoam ones.

2. Recycled Decor

Beautify your place on the cheap with this egg carton wreath. You'll cut flower shapes from the cups and fashion leaves from the cover. Then paint with bright colors and glue to assemble. Just don't hang this wreath outdoors — the moisture will ruin it.

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3. Jewelry Organization

Here's a cool jewelry organization project that might also make a great gift. Cut an egg carton in half and paint it with spray paint. Then fill with jewelry and other knick-knacks. This tutorial instructs you to cut the top off the carton, but I think it would be nice to keep it on.

4. Veggie Storage

Or store your vegetables in stacked egg cartons. This method will keep spoiled foods from leaking anything onto fresh ones. Bonus: If you have anything — like tomatoes — that need ripening in paper bags, they should mature perfectly in the cartons.

5. Scavenger Hunt

Send your kids on a fun scavenger hunt in the backyard. Print out what you want your child to find, stick it on the egg carton, and then hand it off. They can stick found items inside. The author of this activity provides a printout, but your yard might not contain the same stuff (depending on where you live).

6. Sewing Kit

Stow needles, thread, buttons, and more in this egg carton sewing kit. My favorite part is the personalized design. You can decorate it to suit your unique tastes. Or keep it basic. Whatever you do, don't forget the egg-shaped pin cushion.

7. Paint Palette

This egg crate paint palette is pretty easy to put together. Open the crate, squeeze paint inside, and get creative. You can leave some cups open for mixing of colors. Otherwise, when you're done, just let everything dry and use again the next time you want to make art.

8. Gift Wrap

Skip the pricey gift bags and use an egg carton to wrap instead. You can paint and decorate in whatever colors or prints that match your theme. Works wonderfully for small items like soaps, underwear, jewelry, chocolates, and more.

9. Mosquito Smoker

Don't let mosquitoes ruin your next backyard bash. You can smoke them out for free using an egg carton. Simply light one edge on fire and set somewhere safe to burn (like your grill top). Alternatively, you can try this same thing with one of those coffee to-go containers.
10. Bird Feeder

This quick and easy egg carton bird feeder project will please nature enthusiasts. Remove the lid from your egg carton. Then poke holes in each of the four corners. Thread a string through each hold, then gather together and knot. Fill with bird seed and enjoy.
11. Flower Vase

Create a quick centerpiece for your dinner table with this gorgeous egg crate vase. Line the cups with plastic eggs and add a little water. Smaller blooms work best, and I love how the author of this project used broccoli to add texture to her arrangement.

 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:27 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Could mealworms solve our plastic problem?

We might finally have an answer for all those Styrofoam coffee cups that get thrown away.

By Olivia Lowenberg, Staff September 9/27/2016

Researchers at Stanford University have finally figured out a partial answer to the world’s plastics problem: mealworms.

Mealworms, the larvae form of darkling beetles, can apparently subsist on a diet of foamed polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam, with no ill effects to their system, thanks to special bacteria in their guts. This could be very hopeful news in light of the amount of Styrofoam and other petroleum-based plastics we consume: Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam cups every year, and they will not decompose for thousands of years.

"Our findings have opened a new door to solve the global plastic pollution problem," said Dr. Wei-Min Wu, a lead researcher on the study, in a press release.

The scientists fed Styrofoam to a sample population of mealworms, while feeding their control group a normal diet of bran flakes, according to a study by the Stanford University and Beihang University research team in Environmental Science & Technology.

In the lab, 100 mealworms ate between 34 and 39 milligrams of Styrofoam – the weight of a few feathers – per day. The worms converted about half of the Styrofoam into carbon dioxide gas, as they would with any food source, and excreted the rest as biodegraded fragments.

After a month, the Styrofoam-fed mealworms were as healthy as those eating the bran flake diet, said Dr. Wu, and their waste appeared to be safe to use as compost for crops.

"There's a possibility of really important research coming out of bizarre places," said Craig Criddle in the release. Dr. Criddle is a professor of civil and environmental engineering who supervises plastics research by Wu and others at Stanford. "Sometimes, science surprises us. This is a shock."

In 2009, a Taiwanese high-school student named Tseng I-ching discovered the bacteria that enables mealworms to digest Styrofoam safely, but could not identify how the process occurs. 
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In the next leg of their scientific journey, the researchers at Stanford and Beihang will investigate whether mealworms and similar insects can consume polypropylene, microbeads, or bioplastics. In addition, they want to find out how the mealworms' Styrofoam-based diet affects animals further up the food chain.

Dr. Wu and his colleagues are also interested in finding a marine counterpart to the mealworm, to address the nearly 5 trillion tons of plastic floating on the world's oceans.

 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:25 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Haiti bans plastic bags and styrofoam containers

Haiti's government has announced a ban on importing, manufacturing, and marketing plastic and foam containers as of Oct.1 in an effort to do away with 'rivers of debris' across the country.

By Jacqueline Charles, McClatchy Curtis Morgan, McClatchy September 28, 2012

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Plastic and foam food containers. They're everywhere in this enterprising Caribbean nation, clogging canals, cluttering streets, and choking ocean wildlife.

Now those pesky black plastic bags made of polyethylene and polystyrene foam cups, plates, trays, and other containers that have become as ubiquitous as the vendors who peddle them in street markets are on their way out. Haiti's government has announced a ban on importing, manufacturing, and marketing them as of Oct. 1.

"This is a logical decision and makes sense," Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said. "Importing, manufacturing bio-degradable items will benefit Haiti's short, mid- and long-term environmental interest."
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In Haiti the black plastic bags are the primary mode for transporting items among Haiti's poor who shuffle back and forth to open air street markets on an almost daily basis. They also are a key, but dangerous, ingredient in curbside cooking, helping food cook faster. The bags and containers are then dumped haphazardly into canals, turning them into rivers of debris several feet deep.

Environmental groups have been pushing plastic bag bans both internationally and in the United States for quite some time. The African nation of Rwanda became the first country to ban all plastics in 2008 while Mexico City, Bangladesh, and most recently Toronto are among the largest international cities that have imposed bans.

Argentina also is calling for all supermarkets to eliminate non-biodegradable plastic bags by October 2014.

In the United States, bans have been approved in cities and counties from Maine to Washington. Nearly 50 cities and counties in California alone embrace a celebrity-endorsed ban. In Los Angeles, the largest American city in the country to approve the ban, bags will be phased out at thousands of stores over the next year or so.

Meanwhile, in Florida, a 2009 attempt by the state's Department of Environmental Protection fell flat, thwarted by consumers.

Bill Hickman, who coordinates the anti-bag campaign for The Surfrider Foundation, one of the more active organizations on the issue, said he wasn't aware of any targeted effort in Haiti. He calls the proposal "great news."

Mostly cities and urban counties have adopted the ban, which targets the thin, lightweight plastic bags commonly used at grocery stores and convenience store check-outs. But some of the worst pollution from the bags occurs in poorer undeveloped nations, said Hickman.

"We see a lot of issues in the Third World," he said. "Some of the most shocking photos come from places like Indonesia and Central America. These items are very cheap and easy to litter and there is very little infrastructure to recycle them."

For environmentalists, the biggest problem is that many of the billions of bags used annually commonly end up in the ocean where they and other plastic debris kill countless sea birds, sea turtles and other marine life. The thin bags, which blow away with the slightest winds, also pose problems at landfills and in most cases aren't cost-effective for recycling.

"It's really kind of the tip of the plastic pollution iceberg," Hickman said. "Plastic does not biodegrade. It may (break down in sunlight) over time into smaller pieces, but it persists well past our lifetimes in the environment."

The Haitian crackdown was first announced last month in a presidential decree issued by President Michel Martelly. After initial confusion and public protests because it was assumed that plastic bags used for potable water were also being targeted – for now they are exempt – the crackdown appears to be winning public support.

For weeks, the government has been running TV spots informing the general public about the ban.

"If they tell us not to sell them, we won't," said Christine Resile, 39, a mother of three who began peddling plastic bags last year after losing her $50-a-month housekeeping job in the hills of Port-au-Prince. "We sell them because we don't have any alternatives; not because we love selling them."

Marguerite Etienne, who sells food on a congested curbside in downtown Port-au-Prince, said she's prepared to work with the ban.

"The clients will just have to come with their plates and bowls as they did before we started using the containers," she said, frying plantains and pork on a charcoal stove. To-go foam containers were stacked nearby. "These things litter the country. Haiti wasn't always this dirty," Etienne said.

But getting Haitians to adjust to the changes may be easier said than done. The imported containers, which come mainly from the neighboring Dominican Republic, have become an integral part of daily life. For instance, a day after Tropical Storm Isaac flooded the country last month, Martelly posted photos on his Facebook page showing his wife Sophia Martelly distributing hot meals to children on foam plates.

Environmental activists in Haiti say while they commend the government for being environmentally proactive, they do wonder how Haiti - a country that already struggles to control its porous borders and collect taxes - will police the ban.

"I would like to see it go through but I would also like to see them have a contingency plan if it doesn't," said Sam Bloch of Haiti Communitere, a nongovernmental organization in Port-au-Prince that promotes environmentally friendly projects among Haitians. "There is still plenty of trash in Haiti that is waiting to go into the ocean."

Earlier this year, Haiti Communitere, with the help of 20 women from the Cite Soleil slum, completed the construction of a hurricane and earthquake-resistant house. The tiny house is made from recycled plastic bags and 27,000 foam containers pulled from nearby canals. Bloch said the goal is to build more of the homes for Haiti's poor, with the help of a factory that can turn the containers into "blocks" for faster construction.

Sasha Kramer, a University of Miami professor, who co-founded SOIL, a US nonprofit that turns human waste into compost in Haiti, said it is difficult to imagine how the Haitian government's ban will be implemented.

"Banning widely used items can only be successful when viable alternatives are available," Kramer said. "Unless this ban goes hand-in-hand with a new product that can replace plastic bags and Styrofoam, it will not be successful, and is likely to heavily impact the poor who rely on these products to sell their goods on the informal market."

In Rwanda, parliament passed the 2008 ban after a four-year sensitization period and after a scientific study showed "an overwhelming negative impact of plastic bags on the environment" and the country's economy, the head of the African nation's environmental management authority said.

Rose Mukankomeje, director general of the Rwandan Environmental Management Authority, said the ban is part of an overall government strategy promoting good hygiene among Rwandans.

"The environmental impact of the plastic bag ban in Rwanda is huge," she said. "Rwanda is today an extraordinarily clean country. Tourism is increasing, which is very good economically for our country."

Still, success didn't come overnight, or with just a law. Campaigns promoting the ban targeted both the public and airline passengers, and the country has put an institution in charge of enforcement. It also has provided alternatives for packaging, and leaders lead by example. Each month everyday Rwandans join leaders in cleaning their respective communities.

"We work very closely with local government institutions, with police and others," Mukankomeje said. She noted that the government also contracts with a private company to help with enforcement.

"We package in bags done in cotton, biodegradable materials like banana, papyrus," she said. "Every country has to check the best option for its people and bring them on board."

Haiti's Environmental Minister Jean Vilmond Hilaire did not respond to questions on what alternatives the Caribbean nation is considering and how it plans to enforce the ban, other than notifying customs agents and importers about what products are banned.

Lamothe, the prime minister, said the crackdown is aimed at protecting Haiti's coastlines, shores and what's left of its mangroves. He acknowledges that the country has "a massive garbage issue" and environmentally toxic material clogs "95 percent of our sewage system, creating mass floods in poor neighborhoods ... that is costing the state more than $50 million a year if we had the means to clean up."

 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:23 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

When will Dunkin' Donuts scrap its Styrofoam cups?

Six years after Dunkin' Donuts declared that replacing its Styrofoam cups is the company's top sustainability priority, efforts appear to have stalled.

By Gretel Kauffman, Staff September 27, 2016

Six years ago, Dunkin' Donuts declared replacing its Styrofoam cups its top sustainability priority.

Fast forward to 2016, and the majority of Dunkin' Donuts restaurants still serve their coffee in cups made of polystyrene. The company is "not prepared to transition fully out of foam at this time," Christine Riley Miller, Dunkin' Brands' senior director of corporate social responsibility, told Business Insider this week.

What happened since the report in 2010 that described its use of foam cups as "the most prominent sustainability issue we must deal with"? The report two years later that said the company hoped to find a more sustainable replacement for its cups within two to three years. An increasing number of fast food chains have, in the meantime, begun to adopt more environmentally friendly practices. But Dunkin' Donuts has not.

In recent years, as awareness of the importance of sustainability grows, a number of municipalities across the country have banned polystyrene foam because of its negative impact on the environment: Its production creates large amounts of greenhouse gas, and its non-recyclable nature means it is the main pollutant of oceans and other water sources, the primary source of urban litter, and can cause wild animals to choke and starve.

In places where foam is banned, Dunkin' Donuts has introduced cups made of a more recyclable plastic known as polypropylene.

The company has described polypropylene as "the best available alternative to foam," currently. But introducing recyclable cups in all restaurants would come with a number of unique challenges.

For one, Ms. Miller says, the recyclable cups are more expensive to manufacture than the current foam cups. Secondly, many Dunkin' Donuts restaurants are franchises, making it difficult for the company to implement widespread sustainability policies.

Nevertheless, other chains with a majority franchise restaurants have been able to make the move from Styrofoam cups to paper ones: McDonalds, which aims to have only 10 percent of its restaurants company-owned by 2017, phased out Styrofoam cups and replaced them with paper cups in 2013.
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McDonalds followed Starbucks, one of Dunkin' Donuts's direct competitors, which has used paper cups since the 1980s, as well as smoothie chain Jamba Juice, which announced in 2012 that it would end its use of foam containers and in 2013 introduced a more environmentally friendly cup.

But paper cups also have their drawbacks compared to foam cups. One study found that only 10 percent of paper food service containers are recycled in major American cities. Furthermore, the cup creates more solid waste.

"It takes two and a half times as much energy to make a paper cup as it does to make a foam cup," wrote Christopher Bonanos for New York Magazine. "Foam cups are also much lighter than paper cups, reducing the amount of fuel needed to ship them to the store and to cart them away as trash. Foam also produces a lot less manufacturing waste, because there are no paper offcuts to discard."

One possible solution to the Styrofoam conundrum, suggests chemist Martin B. Hocking in a study for Science, is simply to find better ways to recycle foam.

"An improved infrastructure," he writes, "is all that is required to make this option a more significant reality and convert this perceived negative aspect of polyfoam use to a positive one."

 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:21 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Pollinators need a cultural ambassador. Are butterflies up for the task?

Some conservationists hope to use the monarch butterfly's signature charisma to rally public support for bees and other less-loved pollinators.   

By Joseph Dussault, Staff September 26, 2016

It’s peak migration season for monarch butterflies, and rural communities are keen to aid them on their journey.

In the midwestern United States, the annual monarch migration is something of a cultural event. In Oklahoma, conservationists and students organize an educational – but festive – butterfly send-off. And from Nebraska to Texas, residents plant milkweed so that the winged travelers can lay eggs along the way.

Not all insects are so fortunate. Many other pollinators lack the cultural charisma which has made butterflies so popular with humans – you’re unlikely to find any pollen wasp festivals in the US, or any other country for that matter. But some experts say butterfly star-power could actually help those maligned bugs, even as it draws attention away from them.

Could the monarch butterfly be the cultural ambassador all besieged pollinators need?

Generally speaking, North American pollinators face many of the same environmental challenges. Agricultural land use has degraded habitats, and studies show that neonicotinoid pesticides have caused considerable damage to both bee and butterfly populations. Climate change has also been linked to shrinking geographic range for many pollinator species. And pollinators play a key role in human food production. 

But only butterflies have been able to inspire almost universal support.

“I’ve worked with butterflies for a long time, and there’s nothing people like better than a good butterfly restoration story,” Travis Longcore, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California, tells The Christian Science Monitor. “There’s the iconography and the storytelling that centers around butterflies. They’re symbols in culture.”

Charisma is a major factor in how we perceive non-human animals. Psychologically, we’re always looking for connections – familiar patterns on a butterfly wing, metamorphosis as a symbol of resurrection – and when we find them, we tend to form a bond.

“Humans like to relate to animals,” Meredith Gore, a conservation social scientist at Michigan State University, tells the Monitor. “If they’re primates or mammals, if they nurse their young, if they have forward-facing eyes… those are all physiological characteristics that make it easier for us to identify with them and behave in ways that you might call ‘pro-environmental.’”

Monarchs have a lot of characteristics that make them charismatic. They flutter, rather than buzz, and they often display vibrant colors. People often see butterflies in their own backyards, and tend to associate them with flowers and their own homes.

Bees, while brightly colored, are faster moving, and aren’t quite as visually distinctive as butterflies. The average person can’t distinguish between species, because many of them look the same. That’s why bees are commonly confused with more aggressive wasps and hornets.

“You really have to catch them, and in some cases look under a microscope, to see the differences between species,” Tom Oliver, a landscape ecologist with the University of Reading in England, tells the Monitor. “That makes it hard to engage citizen scientists, as it were, who don’t necessarily have the time or equipment to look under the microscope at individuals.”

More obscure pollinators, such as bee flies and moths, have an even tougher time mustering public support. And since many pollinators are stinging insects, people generally feel less, well, warmly about them.

“When you start talking about the importance of the wasp and stuff like that, you run up against a bigger wall,” says Dr. Longcore, who is also science director of the Los Angeles-based Urban Wildlands Group. “But who ever said ‘no’ to helping out the butterflies?”

Many invertebrate conservationists argue that this dissonance is a problem. As we rally around pandas and tigers, we tend to neglect more important species which might not be considered “cute.”

Given the choice of motivating people around charismatic animals or not motivating people at all, Longcore would “take the motivation any day.” But conservation need not be an all-or-nothing game, at least in the case of bees and butterflies.

Monarch butterflies, experts say, can fulfill an important role in protecting other pollinators. As a so-called “flagship species,” they can draw public support and funding for broader environmental problems.

“Flagship species, like pandas and tigers, tend to be the big and beautiful creatures,” Dr. Oliver says. “But even though they’re just one species or a group of species, they can mobilize effort in terms of conservation. You could argue that butterflies might be like the pandas or the tigers of the insect world.”

Modern conservationists say that the link between organisms in an ecosystem may be even stronger than previously thought. In some cases, they find that the protection of one “umbrella species” can trickle down to benefit others in that same habitat. In recent years, conservationists have gravitated toward the idea of landscape conservation, which focuses on preserving entire habitats rather than single species.

“So monarchs may be a species that brings attention to a whole suite of issues, conservation problems and potential solutions,” Dr. Gore says.

 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:19 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Ivory on wings: Poachers threaten Southeast Asia's 'laughing' bird

The helmeted hornbill is sought for a reddish protrusion on its beak that is similar to ivory. As elephant populations have dwindled, poachers have increasingly turned to the peculiar bird.

By Christopher Torchia, Associated Press September 26, 2016

JOHANNESBURG — Some call it "ivory on wings," part of the bill of a critically endangered bird in Southeast Asia that is sought by poachers and carved into ornaments for illegal sale to Chinese buyers.

The helmeted hornbill isn't getting as much attention as the beleaguered African elephant at a global wildlife conference this week in South Africa. But the killing of elephants by the tens of thousands for their tusks is intertwined with a surge in the slaughter of the rare bird whose beak part is a coveted substitute for ivory.

"It's all part of the rising demand for ivory," said Richard Thomas, spokesman for TRAFFIC, a conservation group based in Britain.

Poaching of the helmeted hornbill has soared since around 2010, particularly in Indonesia. The timing roughly coincides with an increase in elephant poaching that has caused a sharp drop in elephant populations. Last year, the helmeted hornbill was designated as critically endangered on an international "red list" of threatened species.

Delegates are discussing protections for elephants, helmeted hornbills, and other vulnerable wildlife at a meeting in Johannesburg of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. The 12-day meeting of the United Nations group, which regulates wildlife trade, ends Oct. 5.

The helmeted hornbill is a bird of lore, featuring in an ancient belief that it sits by a river between life and death. Its feathers have been used in traditional ceremonies. During breeding, the female is sealed into a nest, relying on the male to provide food.

The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.

In a CITES document, Indonesia asked for more collaboration among law enforcement agencies from countries where helmeted hornbills live, as well as "end market" nations – a reference primarily to China.

China, the world's main ivory consumer, has already said it plans to close its domestic ivory market.

A large lump on top of the beak of the helmeted hornbill is made of keratin, a protein also found in rhino horn and other animal and human parts. It has a red tinge and is softer than elephant ivory, making it an attractive material for carvers who have fashioned belt buckles, snuff boxes, pendants, and images of Chinese deities from it over many centuries.

The upper part of the bill, also known as a casque, is solid, unlike the hollow casques of other hornbill species. Its price on the illegal market is higher than that of elephant ivory. A casque weighs up to 350 grams (0.7 pounds); the average weight of an elephant tusk is five kilograms (11 pounds), though a big male's tusk can weigh 10 times as much.

While there are several varieties of hornbills, the helmeted hornbill is of particular interest to carvers because its casque is not completely hollow or spongy like its cousins, University of Sussex doctoral researcher Daniel J. Ingram explained in The Conversation in 2015:

    This bird has a long history of being hunted by humans. Traditionally, the casque is harvested in low numbers for tribal medicine, for instance by the Orang Asli people in Malaysia where it is carved into rings and used to detect poison.

    These days, by far the largest demand comes from China, where hornbill ivory can fetch up to five times as much as true ivory on the black market, costing around US$4-8 per gram, or up to US$1,000 for a single casque. Dating back to the Ming dynasty, the Chinese have used hornbill ivory to make decorative carvings and beads, which serve as luxury products to display wealth. It is also ground up and sold for traditional medicine. There is also a smaller trade in hornbill feathers, adding to the pressure on the species.

At least 2,170 heads and bill parts of helmeted hornbills were confiscated from the illegal trade in Indonesia and China between 2012 and 2014, TRAFFIC said.

Investigators found helmeted hornbill products being sold openly in Laos, a major transit point for wildlife traffickers that borders China, according to a TRAFFIC report released this month. Sale locations included a luxury hotel and convention center in central Vientiane, the capital, it said.

Indonesia said it has arrested more than 20 people in the helmeted hornbill trade and sentenced most of them. Penalties include up to five years in jail and a heavy fine.

On Saturday, rangers in Indonesia's Gunung Leuser National Park arrested a suspected helmeted hornbill poacher with a rifle and silencer, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS, a group based in New York. The suspect had just entered the forest and did not have any bird parts.

"This species needs to be on people's radars," said Elizabeth Bennett, vice president of species conservation at WCS.

Illegal logging in Indonesia is shrinking the habitat of the helmeted hornbill. Conservationists fear poachers will focus on the Malaysian population once supply dries up in Indonesia.

 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:17 AM 
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CS Monitor

Global efforts against ivory kingpins still falling short, say experts

Poaching syndicates moved hundreds of thousands of pounds of elephant ivory in 2015, say experts, and the illegal trade 'has remained fairly constant at unacceptably high levels' since 2010.

By Christopher Torchia, Associated Press September 27, 2016

JOHANNESBURG — Poaching syndicates shipped large amounts of African elephant ivory last year despite global calls to dismantle the trafficking networks that often collude with corrupt officials, conservationists said as an international wildlife conference opened Saturday in South Africa.

The illegal ivory trade "has remained fairly constant at unacceptably high levels" since 2010, and in 2015 there was a "continuing upward trend" in the seizure of larger shipments of more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds), according to a document released by organizers. The transfer of big amounts of ivory indicates the key role of organized crime in poaching, the document said.

The plight of elephants dominated the discussion on the first day of the 12-day Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, conference. Rhinos, sharks, pangolins, helmeted hornbills, and other threatened species are also on the agenda at the meeting, which regulates trade in wild animals and plants with the aim of ensuring their survival.

Last held in Bangkok in 2013, this year's CITES conference ends Oct. 5. The UN group has 183 member countries and can recommend suspending trade with countries that don't enforce its guidelines.

Wildlife trafficking generates billions of dollars a year globally, say experts. Interpol, which has a delegation at the conference, will discuss crime, corruption, and the illegal financial flows of poaching.

Many delegates at the conference in Johannesburg are likely to push to tighten the international ban on the ivory trade, as well as close domestic ivory markets. Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, however, favor the sale of their ivory stockpiles, saying the money can be funneled back into conservation operations.

The world's main ivory consumer, China, has said it plans to close its domestic ivory market. The United States has announced a near-total ban on the domestic sale of African elephant ivory.

Ivory has been used for centuries to make carvings, jewelry, furniture, piano keys, and other items. Many conservationists say criminal syndicates launder illegal supplies through legal markets that permit the sale of antique ivory pieces or ivory exempted from a 1989 international trade ban.

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The number of Africa's savannah elephants dropped by about 30 percent from 2007 to 2014, to 352,000, because of poaching, according to a recent study. Elephant populations in Tanzania and Mozambique were among the hardest hit.

Tom Milliken, a co-author of the document released at the CITES meeting, said that every year sees about 50 seizures of more than 1,000 pounds of ivory, with some reaching 8,000 pounds. Such big shipments indicate the involvement of organized criminal groups, said Milliken, an expert with the TRAFFIC conservation organization.

"Nobody is really uncovering their identities and making arrests and prosecuting the people who are really behind this," he said, adding that poaching syndicates view occasional ivory seizures as a form of "taxation" on their lucrative activity.

Some governments have the capacity to target ivory syndicates in the same way they prosecute drug kingpins, but are sometimes "more comfortable" going after low-level operatives rather than well-connected ringleaders, said Susan Lieberman of the Wildlife Conservation Society, a New York-based group.

"There's a lot of corruption," she said.

 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:06 AM 
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CS Monitor

Geysers on Europa: Why icy plumes on Jupiter's moon thrill scientists

NASA's announcement about 'surprising evidence of activity that may be related to the presence of a subsurface ocean on Europa' reinforces previous research, making the Jupiter moon a strong candidate in the hunt for alien life.

By Eva Botkin-Kowacki, Staff writer September 26, 2016

Scientists may have just taken one tiny step forward in the hunt for alien life – and it may be in our own cosmic backyard.

Europa, Jupiter's icy moon, is a strong candidate for finding extraterrestrial life. Under its frozen exterior, the moon has a vast subsurface ocean that might be conducive to life as we know it. And now scientists may have found an easier way to investigate Europa's habitability.

Giant water plumes appear to be spewing from the southern polar region on Europa in new Hubble images, released during a NASA press conference Monday.

"If plumes exist, this is an exciting finding as it potentially gives easier access to the ocean below and would allow us to search for signs of life in the ocean of Europa without needing to drill through miles of ice," William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, who led the research, said in the press conference.

A robotic rover, similar to the ones NASA sent to Mars, might land on the icy surface to sample what it can from Europa's subsurface ocean.  That could reveal signs of life or at least information about the chemicals in the moon's water. A plume would make such an investigation easier.

But the presence of a plume could also mean scientists could conduct the same investigation without landing on Europa's surface.

And such an investigation has already been done elsewhere in the solar system. NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sampled icy plumes spewing from Saturn's icy moon Enceladus and found that its subsurface ocean is surprisingly salty and contains organic molecules.

"It opens a portal to the ocean," says Jonathan Lunine, director of the Cornell University Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science who was not part of the study, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor. Although the same information can be derived in other ways without the presence of a plume, he says, "If there is a plume, or there are plumes, it provides a more direct way to get at the ocean with a flyby spacecraft."

This isn't the first time scientists have spotted evidence of such icy geysers on Europa. In 2012, a team independently spotted what seemed to be water plumes spouting from the same southern region on the moon.

But that doesn't reduce the excitement for scientists, Dr. Lunine says. "Hubble is really being pushed to its limit to be able to detect whatever material this is," he says. "The more times you detect it, the more confidence you have that it is what you think it is," in this case, a plume of water vapor.

"The discovery of water geysers on Europa – and geysers by the way that are much more prolific than at Enceladus – means that we have high-priority astrobiology target that is much closer than Saturn and within reach of solar-powered missions," Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., told The Christian Science Monitor in 2013. "If we're looking for life in the solar system, Europa has an ocean on the inside, it's spewing liquid water out, meaning there's a heat source. I don't know how loud Europa has to shout at us to pay attention."

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope snapped the new images of Europa by looking at the moon's silhouette against Jupiter.

"The atmosphere of an extrasolar planet blocks some of the starlight that is behind it," explained Dr. Sparks in a NASA press release. "If there is a thin atmosphere around Europa, it has the potential to block some of the light of Jupiter, and we could see it as a silhouette. And so we were looking for absorption features around the limb of Europa as it transited the smooth face of Jupiter."

It has long been known that Europa has a vast ocean beneath its icy surface. Some models have liquid water sloshing throughout the moon's subsurface, in an ocean perhaps 10 times as deep as Earth's.

Given Europa's distance from the sun, the presence of liquid water on a frigid moon (minus 260 to minus 370 degrees F. on its surface) might seem unusual. But scientists point to gravity to explain the mysterious ocean world. Jupiter's tidal forces cause the moon to flex as it orbits the planet. As it's pulled, friction and heat are produced, preventing the liquid water from freezing, they hypothesize.

Those same forces might be behind geysers spewing out into space from the moon's subsurface ocean.

In the hopes of taking a better look at Europa to examine whether it is habitable – or already inhabited – NASA's 2016 budget includes $175 million specifically for a lander mission to Jupiter's ocean moon. NASA is already planning a 2022 launch for a mission to Europa.

If scientists are able to detect life on Europa, Enceladus, or Titan (another Saturn moon that intrigues alien-hunting scientists), it could reveal clues into just how readily life can emerge, Lunine says. If life has arisen elsewhere in our own solar system, he says, it probably is a common occurrence throughout the cosmos.

Click to watch:


Why NASA is so interested in Jupiter's frozen moon

On Monday, NASA plans to discuss 'surprising' new activity from Jupiter's ice-covered satellite, Europa – our solar system's primary candidate for harboring potential life.

By Joseph Dussault, Staff September 26, 2016

On Monday, NASA will share new revelations about Europa: It won’t be aliens, the agency says, but it will be “surprising.”

In a press teleconference, NASA is slated to discuss images of Jupiter’s ice-covered moon captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. In recent years, Europa has been a major focus of the agency’s interplanetary research.

Why is NASA so interested in this humble moon? Because it’s our solar system’s primary candidate for harboring potential life, thanks to the hidden ocean beneath its frozen surface.

"If we've learned anything about life on Earth, it's that where you find the liquid water, you generally find life," NASA astrobiologist Kevin Hand explained in a 2014 Jet Propulsion Laboratory video. "So what if I told you that there is an ocean out there, beyond Earth? An ocean in our solar system, that has been in existence for billions of years?"

Europa’s vast ocean might very well dwarf our own. According to some models, water could cover the planet’s entire subsurface. The ocean itself could be 10 times as deep as Earth’s, with up to three times the total water content.

But how did such an ocean come to exist on this frigid moon? Just thank gravity. As Europa orbits Jupiter, tidal forces cause the moon to flex. Those contractions create friction and heat, which keep the liquid water from freezing. The same forces could even give rise to hydrothermal vents, which may provide chemical nutrients and energy for potential life.

"We used to think that in order for a world to be habitable, you had to be just at the right distance from the sun, or whatever your star was," said Dr. Hand, a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Here's where Europa is a real game changer.”

But to determine the moon’s viability, scientists must determine its actual chemical makeup. In May, a NASA modelling study found that Europa could produce Earth-like ratios of hydrogen and oxygen – a necessary combination for life as we know it.

The Monitor’s Corey Fedde reported:

    Oxygen is the easy part of the equation. Europa is close enough to Jupiter to be 'bathed' in radiation.... The radiation is able to split apart the molecules in the ice abundant on the surface of the moon and produce oxidants, oxygen, and other chemical compounds capable of reacting with hydrogen. The oxidants could then be carried by the surface into the ocean below.

On Earth, hydrogen and many other chemicals necessary for life as we know it were produced by volcanic activity. Since there are no known volcanoes on Europa, researchers needed to find a different hydrogen source – in this case, a small chemical reaction called serpentinization, which occurs when saltwater and rock make contact.

As cracks in the moon’s crust opened over time, they could expose fresh rock and produce more hydrogen. In the end, researchers found that Europa may produce a 10-1 oxygen-hydrogen ratio, which is close to Earth’s own ratio.

Of course, even if there is life on Europa, there’s still the question of getting there.

Of NASA’s 2016 budget of $19.2 billion, Congress allocated $175 million specifically for the “Jupiter Europa clipper mission.” The craft would include an orbiter and a “soft lander,” which would be lowered to the moon’s surface via rocket-powered sky crane. 

The Monitor’s Jeff Ward-Bailey reported:

    Once on the surface of Europa, the lander would use small saw blades to collect ice samples from several inches below the surface. If it can reach a crevasse, it could use other instruments in its payload to learn about the composition of the ocean beneath – and, possibly, about microbes living there.

 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

200-year-old pub found under Manchester, England

by Brett Smith
Red Orbit

In the course of conducting an archaeological survey for a new construction project, researchers in downtown Manchester, England have discovered the 200-year-old remains of a forgotten pub called the Astley Arms, complete with intact bottles of brandy.

Archaeologists had been brought in as part of the planning process for a proposed 13-story building in city center. The excavators found the hidden pub and the remains of several domiciles. Among the remains, archeologists found bottles of booze and personalized ceramic dishes bearing the landlord’s name.

Construction crews working the site said they are shocked to uncover the buildings dating back to the early 1800s when Manchester was still a humble commercial hub.

“A lot of bottles have been found, maybe around 20. And three or four of them are full of brandy,” James Alderson, site developer of Mulbury City which is carrying out the build, told the Manchester Evening News. “We opened the cork on a few and you can still smell it.

“It’s amazing knowing there’s so much history at this site and it’s really exciting,” he added. “I never expected this kind of thing to be found but we are really fascinated by it all.

“Part of Manchester’s vast history is being captured in these findings which is really interesting,” Alderson said. “It really takes you back to the time when they would have been outside of the pub drinking.”

According to the Manchester paper, the Astley Arms pub was rebranded the Paganini Tavern in 1840. In the 1850s, the name reverted to the Astley Arms. It stayed open until 1928 as a Cornbrook house. The building was partly rebuilt in 1986, but later razed.

Aidan Turner, the senior archaeologist at the site, said he was excited to connect the discovery to people living today.

“We found pottery and bottle from the Astley Arms which actually has the name of the proprietor Thomas Evans, and the name of the pub written on it, so it must have been a commissioned piece for the pub,” he said. "It’s brilliant because you can suddenly connect it to the local people in the area. We looked online about his family history and one of his descendants now lives in Texas.”

 on: Sep 27, 2016, 04:59 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Big win for NASA: Congress mandates a mission to Mars

by Chuck Bednar
Red Orbit

The US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee has passed a bipartisan bill that authorizes spending for a manned mission to Mars, but there’s a caveat: NASA must launch said mission within the next 25 years, the first time such a trip has been mandated by law.

According to USA Today and the Daily Mail, the budget allots $19.5 billion for the 2017 fiscal year to cover the costs of preparing for a crewed mission to the Red Planet, including continued development of Commercial Crew Program spacecraft designed to launch from US soil and the creation of an advanced space suit designed to better protect Mars mission personnel.

The bill also sets forth the goal of having an uncrewed SLS mission by 2018 and a crewed one by 2021. It would also support the full use of the International Space Station through 2024 (and possibly through 2028); require NASA to improve the monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment of adverse health effects related to space travel, and require the agency to provide regular updates on the progress of its asteroid relocation and sample collection mission.

“Fifty-five years after President Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon, the Senate is challenging NASA to put humans on Mars,” said Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, the ranking Democrat on the Committee. “The priorities that we’ve laid out for NASA in this bill mark the beginning of a new era of American spaceflight.”

Spending bill seeking stability against shifting political winds

According to USA Today, the bill – which authorizes a total of $4.5 billion for exploration, $5 billion for space operations and $5.4 billion for science projects – is also viewed as a safeguard against any possible attempt by the next president to undo the planned projects, in much the way that President Obama canceled a planned return to the moon upon taking office.

The newspaper notes that some members of Congress were bothered that the President failed to consult with them before officially terminating the Constellation program, an initiative launched in 2005 that intended to send an astronaut back to the moon by 2020. The proposed mission was scrapped in 2011 due to the reported need for a substantial increase in funding.

“We have seen in the past the importance of stability and predictability in NASA and space exploration, (and) that whenever one has a change in administration, we have seen the chaos that can be caused by the cancellation of major programs,” explained Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who chairs the panel. “The impact in terms of jobs lost, the impact in terms of money wasted has been significant.”

The funding bill also looks to allow for better opportunities for aerospace companies to conduct business in Low Earth Orbit, according to the Daily Mail. A recent NASA report highlighting the projects in the work reveals that, in addition to the creation of spacecraft capsules, companies are developing new habitation modules for use in Low Earth Orbit, as well as around the moon.


SpaceX test fires rocket engine that could propel humans to Mars

Elon Musk tweeted photos of the test firing of the Raptor 'interplanetary transport engine,' as he prepares to deliver a speech at the International Astronautical Conference on making humanity a 'multiplanetary species.'

By Jason Thomson, Staff September 26, 2016

In the latest step toward making humanity a “multiplanetary species,” SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said Sunday that his company has successfully tested its groundbreaking Raptor engine.

SpaceX has an ambitious schedule, seeking to send a manned mission to Mars by 2025, five years earlier than NASA, and, eventually, to colonize the Red Planet. Mr. Musk is due to flesh out some of the details surrounding these aspirations Tuesday, when he is to deliver a speech to the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

    SpaceX propulsion just achieved first firing of the Raptor interplanetary transport engine
    — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 26, 2016

At the heart of Musk’s plans lies the Raptor engine. Its mission statement is to serve spaceships with several times more power than the Merlin I engines designed to propel the company’s Falcon craft into low Earth orbit. In so doing, it will provide the muscle to drive SpaceX’s heavy-duty Mars Colonial Transport ships toward the Red Planet.

Recommended: Man and Mars through history:

The Raptor represents something of a departure from SpaceX's typical design ethos, as it relies on a a mix of liquid methane and liquid oxygen, as opposed to the simpler kerosene and oxygen mix used by the Merlin family of engines. But, unlike kerosene, liquid methane and oxygen can in principle be sourced in situ, using the water and carbon dioxide present on Mars.

As photos of the Raptor test have circulated, one aspect of the fiery images that has sparked some curiosity is the appearance of “Mach diamonds,” or “shock diamonds,” a series of diamond-shaped waves of energy visible to the naked eye.

These products of physics and thermodynamics are seen not only in the exhaust plumes of rockets blasting off from Earth and aircraft pounding through the sound barrier, but also erupting volcanoes and active artillery pieces.

Originally discovered by renowned Austrian scientist and philosopher Ernst Mach, they are formed when a gas exits a nozzle at supersonic speeds, at a different pressure than the surrounding atmosphere, as Fraser Cain explains for Universe Today.

But leaving such phenomena aside, another crucial aspect of Musk’s forthcoming speech and his teaser pictures is to move beyond the recent explosion of one of his company’s Falcon 9 rockets during a test firing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida – and perhaps to divert media attention from the explosion, as well.

It may not be so easy to relegate that incident to the history books, however, as critics of SpaceX cite it as a consequence of the company trying to do “too much, too fast,” wondering whether the punishing timetable for its exploration of Mars could suffer similar setbacks.

Certainly, the obstacles to be overcome before the colonization of Mars can make the leap from science fiction to reality are legion, but SpaceX – and other private firms working on similar agendas – hold one significant advantage over the likes of NASA: they are less subject to the whims of political influence.

"For NASA, the vision is determined by the government," Ram Jakhu, the director of the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University, in Montreal, told The Christian Science Monitor last week. "Why did the US go to the moon? Because there was a kind of political challenge from the Soviet Union. The United States' vision is political, economic, and strategic."

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