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 on: Oct 19, 2016, 06:06 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
No longer taken seriously, we're seeing the last gasp of climate denial groups

Anti-climate groups like GWPF try to leech credibility from serious scientific organizations like the Royal Society
Lord Lawson (left) and Dr Benny Peiser, Director, Global Warming Policy Foundation appear before the Science and Technology Committee in Portcullis House, London.

Dana Nuccitelli
Wednesday 19 October 2016 11.00 BST

The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is an anti-climate policy advocacy group in the UK that often releases misleading scientific “reports.” The group also hosts annual lectures, and this year, they booked a room at the Royal Society. Many members of the Royal Society expressed concern that the GWPF would exploit the organization’s credibility, and asked that the event be cancelled.

The Royal Society’s governing council met and decided to allow the event to proceed, for fear that cancellation would give it “an unwarranted higher profile.” As a spokesperson for the Royal Society told DeSmog UK:

    The evidence shows us that the earth is warming and that recent warming is largely caused by human activities. Once that is accepted, there is scope for debate on the policy responses and that is the area that the GWPF claims to be interested in.

    If the GWPF uses this opportunity to misrepresent the scientific evidence it would undermine the legitimacy of its views on policy responses to climate change.

The lecture was delivered by writer Matt Ridley, and predictably, as is the norm for Ridley, the first three-quarters of his talk indeed misrepresented the scientific evidence. While Ridley doesn’t deny the most basic aspects of human-caused global warming, he is a self-prescribed “lukewarmer;” a group that falls into the category of Stage 3 climate denial.

Ridley’s lecture is a 5,600-word Gish Gallop that would require a novel to fully debunk. However, he condensed his main arguments into four key points that are easily refuted:

    Why do I think the risk from global warming is being exaggerated? For four principal reasons.

    1. All environmental predictions of doom always are;
    2. the models have been consistently wrong for more than 30 years;
    3. the best evidence indicates that climate sensitivity is relatively low;
    4. the climate science establishment has a vested interest in alarm.

We’ve solved previous environmental problems, so let’s not solve global warming?

Ridley’s first argument against the dangers of global warming is incredibly ironic. He claims that we have nothing to worry about because previous “environmental predictions of gloom” were wrong. But the reason his cited predictions of danger didn’t come to fruition, in most cases, is because we took action to stop them.

For example, Ridley lists acid rain and cancer-causing pesticides among his purported “exaggerated” environmental concerns. Many pesticides that were widely used in the 20th century are indeed carcinogenic, and their agricultural use was banned under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Acid rain caused by sulfur pollution was also a widespread problem until it was similarly addressed, for example through the Helsinki Protocol and a cap and trade system in the US whose economic benefits have outweighed its costs by a factor of roughly 100.

Proposed solutions to global warming involve international agreements and cap and trade or other pollution pricing systems – the same mechanisms that successfully solved these previous environmental threats. Yet Ridley remarkably uses those threats as examples in his argument against taking similar steps to address the threats posed by climate change. It defies logic.
Climate models have been remarkably accurate

I’ve written a book focused on the accuracy of climate model predictions, and in December I’ll be presenting a talk on the subject at the annual American Geophysical Union conference. In fact, the most recent research shows that climate models are even more accurate than previously thought. So, were I not familiar with Ridley’s long history of misrepresenting climate science, I would have been surprised that climate model accuracy is one of the main premises of his argument against climate concern.

To make his case, Ridley relies on material from a few scientists like John Christy, presented not in peer-reviewed journals, but instead for example in Congressional hearings. Recently, as John Abraham wrote, climate scientists published a paper explaining the errors in those presentations. Models have also accurately predicted other key climate changes, for example in ocean heat content. There is simply no factual basis to Ridley’s argument against climate model accuracy.

Ridley’s climate sensitivity cherry picking

Joanna Haigh, Royal Society fellow and council member, told DeSmog UK of Ridley’s of third key argument:

    Ridley claims not to dispute the science, he then disputes climate sensitivity estimates with selective citations.

This is a nice way of saying that Ridley cherry picks the evidence he prefers and ignores the rest. Cherry picking is one of the five telltale techniques of science denial. Being a self-described “lukewarmer” like Ridley generally means believing that the climate is relatively insensitive to the increased greenhouse effect, and that climate change is therefore of little concern. In his talk, Ridley claimed:

    recent attempts to measure the sensitivity of the climate system to carbon dioxide using real data nearly all find that it is much lower than the models assume.

This claim is nonsense. There have been a few papers suggesting a relatively low climate sensitivity, and several subsequent studies have found those papers to be flawed. There have also been other studies “using real data” – for example, measurements of cloud and humidity changes – suggesting that the Earth’s climate sensitivity to the increased greenhouse effect is relatively high. It’s also important to note that were Ridley right about low climate sensitivity, it would only buy us perhaps a decade or two before the worst climate change consequences hit.

In short, Ridley cherry picks the few papers that support his preferred position, neglects to mention that subsequent research has identified flaws in those studies, and ignores the vast body of research contradicting his beliefs.

Conspiracy theories

Ridley’s fourth key argument, and a theme throughout his talk, exemplifies another telltale sign of science denial – conspiratorial thinking. He accuses climate scientists of having “vested interests,” of delaying publication of their results, of deleting and “mysteriously…adjusting” inconvenient data, and so on. The easiest way to reject inconvenient data and expert conclusions is to declare that they’re somehow biased. It’s not unlike fellow climate contrarian Donald Trump’s claims that the presidential election is rigged against him. Whether it be an election or an argument, if the other side cheated and conspired, then you didn’t really lose.

But there is no conspiracy. Ridley and GWPF want to risk humanity’s future on their belief that climate change isn’t dangerous. The problem is that their belief is premised on misleading, cherry picked, faulty, and conspiratorial arguments. As the Royal Society noted, by misrepresenting the scientific evidence, GWPF undermined the legitimacy of its policy views.

We should be have a climate debate about the best policies to solve the problem. Groups that deny the problem by misrepresenting science only serve to distract from that much-needed debate, and outside of Donald Trump’s Republican Party, they’re no longer being listened to.

 on: Oct 19, 2016, 06:04 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
UN tells Bangladesh to halt mangrove-threatening coal plant

Climate Home: Rampal coal plant poses a ‘serious threat’ to a key ecosystem for Bengal tigers and must be cancelled, says the UN world heritage body

Karl Mathiesen for Climate Home, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Wednesday 19 October 2016 09.51 BST   

The UN’s world heritage body has made an urgent intervention to stop the construction of a coal power station in Bangladesh.

Unesco said the plant could damage the world heritage-listed Sundarbans mangrove forest, which houses up to 450 Bengal tigers.

A fact finding mission, published by Unesco and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Tuesday, found that the proposed site of the Rampal coal power plant, which is 65km north of the Sundarbans world heritage area, would expose the downriver forests to pollution and acid rain.

Ships carrying coal and other material for the plant’s functioning will move through the mangrove reserve, requiring dredging and dumping of 32.1 million cubic metres of river bottom at first and further annual dredging. This threatens the breeding grounds of the endangered Ganges and Irrawaddy river dolphins.

Fresh water supply to the mangroves, already stretched by agriculture, must not be placed under any more stress, the observers said.

Their report concluded that the power station posed “a serious threat to the site”.

“The mission recommends that the Rampal power plant project be cancelled and relocated to a more suitable location,” said a Unesco statement on Tuesday.

The statement also warned Bangladesh that the Sundarbans forest reserve would be considered for possible inscription on the list of world heritage in danger at the next meeting of the World Heritage Committee in 2017. This listing is used as a diplomatic stick for countries seen to be failing their commitment to protect world heritage sites.

The Sundarbans straddle the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers and are one of the world’s largest surviving mangrove forests. These liminal ecosystems are already greatly threatened by rising sea levels which threatens to drown the fragile trees.

Payal Parekh, a programme director at the NGO said there were alternatives available to provide electricity to Bangladeshis.

“Solar panels already provide affordable, reliable energy to 18 million people in the country, and other renewable energy options like wind power can be harnessed instead of condemning the Bangladeshi people to the toxic impacts from the 4.7 million tonnes of coal Rampal is set to burn every year,” she said.

The Rampal station is financed by the Indian government. The Unesco/IUCN team noted that inadequate environmental assessments had been conducted prior to the initial land purchase for the plant.

Also on Tuesday, the Economic Times reported that an Indian-Bangla people’s movement had written to the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, urging him to rethink the development.

“40% of the Sundarbans is in India and any damage to that will have devastating impact on thousands of fishworkers and forest dwellers depending on it, apart from the damage to the natural protection from natural calamities like tsunami and cyclones,” said the All India Union of Forest Working People and National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM).

India’s National Thermal Power Corporation, which owns the proposed plant, has been contacted for comment.

A second coal plant, the Orion power station, is also scheduled for construction near the site. Unesco officials questioned Bangladeshi assertions that the plant had been cancelled, given it remained apparently active on the Orion website.

 on: Oct 19, 2016, 06:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Tasmanian devils developing immune response to contagious face cancer

Breakthrough the first indication the tumour is survivable and confirms research showing marsupials are rapidly evolving in response to the disease

Calla Wahlquist
Wednesday 19 October 2016 06.26 BST

Tasmanian devils have developed a natural immune response to the deadly facial tumour disease, confirming research that suggested the animals were rapidly evolving in response to the overwhelming threat.

Researchers from the University of Tasmania have identified six disease-resistant devils in the same small population since 2009.

It’s a major breakthrough in global efforts to preserve the carrion-eating marsupials and the first indication the deadly facial tumour disease, which kills infected devils within 12 months and has wiped out 90% of the wild devil population since its discovery in 1996, is survivable.

All of the devils that exhibited an immune response were drawn from the same small population in an area called West Pine on the western flank of Cradle Mountain national park.

University of Tasmania researchers, led by biologist Rodrigo Hamede, have returned to the area every three months since 2006, when the disease first reached the north-west, to catch and test devils for signs of devil facial tumour disease (DFTD).

“At some stage we realised that some animals that I was counting with early stages of DFTD, when I was coming back three months later they didn’t have the tumours any more,” Hamede told Guardian Australia.

The apparent immune response was first seen in 2009, in an animal whose tumours grew and shrank and grew again before eventually proving fatal.

After that researchers found about one animal with signs of tumour regression a year. One more later succumbed to the disease but four more survived, with only one of those showing signs of the tumours returning.

All of the devils that showed signs of tumor regression also had antibodies that were not present either in animals that did not have DFTD or had normally progressing DFTD.

The study will now be expanded to other wild devil populations to see if they show the same natural immunity.

Hamede said it was unclear at this stage whether the immune response was hereditary but that if it was he would expect it to spread from a relatively small proportion of the population in a number of generations.

Of those tested in the study, about 10% showed an immune response.

That took between four or five generations to emerge in what Hamede described as an “extremely fast evolution” in response to an “overwhelming threat”.

Hamede said the results did not mean the problem of DFTD was solved, but did mean “extinction in the short term is unlikely, and most likely, in the long term, the devils will be able to recover”.

It points to the same conclusion as a genomic study released earlier this year which found devils had evolved a response to the contagious cancers.

Immunologist Prof Greg Woods, who has been developing a vaccine to fight DFTD, said the results were promising because they showed a correlation between tumour regression and an antibody response.

“What we don’t know is whether the immune response contributed to the tumour regression or whether the tumour regressed and that triggered an immune response – in other words, the tumour started dying and that produced antibodies,” Woods said.

He said the antibody serum extracted from the immune devils would be examined and used to further develop the immunisation program to see if it can produce a more targeted immune response.

Two batches of immunised devils have already been released into the wild in Tasmania and so far none have succumbed to the disease, though a number have become roadkill.


Tasmanian devil milk could kill golden staph and other antibiotic-resistant bugs

Research shows milk from devils could kill superbugs and combat the facial tumour that has killed 80% of their population

Calla Wahlquist
Tuesday 18 October 2016 07.34 BST

Milk from Tasmanian devils could kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria like golden staph and potentially combat the deadly facial tumour disease that has killed 80% of the wild devil population in the past 20 years.

According to research led by Sydney University PhD student Emma Peel, milk produced by the marsupials contains antimicrobial peptides called cathelicidins which had been tested as being effective against a number of pathogens, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or golden staph.

“These peptides are killing superbugs, so there is potential for future development into antibiotics,” Peel told the ABC.

“That is the next step for our research, to see if these peptides have anti-cancer potential, if they are killing superbugs maybe they could kill the facial tumour.”

Peel said the tests were done with artificial peptides made by extracting the cathelicidin sequence from the devil’s genome.

The artificial peptides also tested as between three and six times more effective against some fungal infections than anti-fungal medication.

Milking the famously aggressive animals was a process to be undertaken “very, very carefully and with a lots of safety gear,” Peel said.

Androo Kelly, owner and director of Trowunna Wildlife park in northern Tasmania, which has bred 16 generations of devils, said it could be done but “I don’t think you would set up a dairy”.

He tried his hand at milking devils in the 1990s for an earlier series of research by University of Tasmania associate professor Menna Jones.

“The devils that we have, we have mothers with young that are also used to being handled, so it’s a simple thing that when the mothers are lactating you just squeeze the milk out,” he said. “It was more of a once off, it would not be a common practice.”

Kelly said the research answered the longstanding question of why young devils did not contract the highly contagious devil facial tumour disease from infected mothers. It also explained how the immature young, which are born at just 3mm long and mature in the pouch, survive without a mature immune system.

“I really believed that the solution to the devils disease was something within them … this is only further supporting that,” he said.

Devil facial tumour disease was first reported in 1996 and spread to cover 95% of Tasmania, prompting an international breeding program to save the animal.

Recent research found the carrion-eating marsupials had already evolved a degree of resistance to the disease, which is caused by two of only four strains of viral cancer to be found in the wild.

Researchers in Hobart have also developed a vaccine and begun releasing vaccinated devils into areas believed to be free of the disease.

 on: Oct 19, 2016, 05:59 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Priya
Thank you so much for the encouraging word, Rad😊 Now I'm attempting to see the chart again with this corrected perspective.

 on: Oct 19, 2016, 05:57 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Pedals the bear, known for walking on hind legs, apparently killed by hunters

Body of bear with Pedals’ markings taken to weigh station by hunter, wildlife officials say, in New Jersey’s first sanctioned bow and arrow hunt in decades

Oliver Milman in New York
Tuesday 18 October 2016 17.07 BST

Pedals, a famed black bear who wandered around New Jersey on two legs like a human, appears to have been killed in the state’s first sanctioned bow and arrow hunt in four decades.

Wildlife officials said the body of a 333lb bear with Pedals’ markings and known paw injuries was taken to a weigh station by a hunter near Rockaway in New Jersey’s rural north. Anti-hunt activists said they were certain that Pedals was one of the 562 bears shot by bows and muzzle-loading guns in the six-day hunt, the first of its kind in more than 40 years.

Pedals gained internet fame through a series of videos taken of his exploits over the past two years. The bear was filmed walking around various houses, upright on its hind legs. Despite injuries to his front paws that caused his unusual gait, Pedals had apparently adapted and was surviving well in the wild.

“We wanted Pedals to go to a sanctuary to live the rest of his life without the threat of a hunt looming over him because someone wanted to pop him off because he was an internet sensation,” said Angi Metler, director of the Bear Education and Resource Program.

“The hunters were gunning for it. It’s disturbing that someone would go and do this. If you don’t get upset about this, there’s something wrong with you.”

A spokesman for the New Jersey division of fish and wildlife said there was no conclusive way of identifying Pedals as he wasn’t tagged. But he added that the chest markings and injured paws “appear to be consistent with the bear seen walking upright on several videos taken from north Jersey residents over the past two years”.

New Jersey has allowed the bear hunts to help create a “sustainable” bear population amid increased interactions between bears and humans, who have built homes on their traditional habitat. Officials say there are about 3,000 bears in the state, with New Jersey having the highest density of black bears per square mile of any state.

“While many have developed an emotional attachment to the upright bear, it is important to recognize that all black bears are wildlife,” said the fish and wildlife spokesman. “They are not pets. They are capable of doing damage, even in a compromised state.”

The state’s position has been backed by hunters who say they are helping maintain a balanced ecosystem. But anti-hunt activists are outraged and have found some support politically, with state representative Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat, putting forward a bill that would ban bear hunting for five years while non-lethal alternatives are explored.

This legislation has little chance of success given the support Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor and erstwhile presidential candidate, has given bear hunting.

“This is definitely Christie’s bear hunt,” said Metler. “Three previous governors saw through the malarkey of this bear hunting. When we get a new governor, we hope to stop the bear hunt for good.”

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

 on: Oct 19, 2016, 05:51 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Many animals seem to kill themselves, but it is not suicide

Do dogs, whales, horses and other animals intend to end their lives?
by Melissa Hogenboom

In 1845 a curious story appeared in the Illustrated London News.

A black dog, described as "fine, handsome and valuable" was reported to "throw himself into the water" in an attempted suicide. His legs and feet were in "perfect stillness" – highly unusual for a dog in a river.

Even stranger, after he was dragged out he "again hastened to the water and tried to sink again…"

Eventually the handsome dog succeeded in his apparent suicidal mission and died. 

    He cited 21 apparent animal suicides, including a dolphin who let himself be captured

According to the Victorian press, this dog was far from alone in attempting such a fate. Shortly afterwards, two other cases appeared in the popular press: a duck drowned on purpose, and a cat hanged herself on a branch after her kittens had died.

But what was the truth of these incidences?

We know that animals can suffer from mental health issues in the same way humans do: in particular they feel stress and get depressed, factors contributing to the act of suicide in humans. We also know that behaviours once thought to be uniquely human have now been found in other animals.

But is suicide among them? Do animals really, knowingly attempt suicide?

It is not a new question: the ancient Greeks considered it too. Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle cited a stallion that threw himself into an abyss after it became apparent that, like Oedipus, he had unknowingly mated with his own mother.

In the 2nd Century AD, the Greek scholar Claudius Aelian devoted an entire book to the subject. He cited 21 apparent animal suicides, including a dolphin who let himself be captured, several instances of hounds starving to death following the passing of their owners, and an eagle that "sacrificed itself by combustion on the pyre of its dead master".

    A wild stag, rather than be overtaken by its pursuers, will fall into the jaws of an awful death

Just like the "handsome dog" that drowned, the idea of animal suicide remained a popular topic among 19th-Century Victorians. One psychiatrist, William Lauder Lindsay, attributed "suicidal melancholia" to animals of this disposition, describing how they could be "literally goaded into fury and mania" before a suicide.

At the time, these ideas were seized upon by animal rights groups, such as the UK-based Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Animal activists sought to humanise animal emotions, explains medical historian Duncan Wilson, of the University of Manchester, UK, who looked into historical cases of references to animal suicide in a 2014 research paper.

They did so, he says, to show animals "shared the capacity for self-reflection and intent, which included intent to kill themselves out of grief or rage.”

For example, in the 1875 edition of the RSPCA journal Animal World, the cover depicted a stag jumping to a suicidal death. The accompanying editorial stated that "a wild stag, rather than be overtaken by its pursuers, will fall into the jaws of an awful death".

However, as medicine advanced in the 20th Century the human attitude to suicide became more clinical, and these type of "heroic portrays" of suicidal animals dwindled.

    Such stories should not fool us

Instead, the focus shifted onto suicide affecting larger populations, often as a result of social pressure, says Wilson. Suicide became more of a social malady. Take the examples of the lemmings who apparently march towards cliffs and throw themselves off, or mass whale strandings.

But Wilson did not seek to answer whether animals really do attempt suicide. Instead, his work revealed that changing attitudes to human suicide were reflected in our stories about animals.

However, another researcher wanted to answer the question head on.

Such stories should not fool us, according to Antonio Preti, a psychiatrist at the University of Cagliari in Italy, who scoured the scientific literature on animal suicide.

He looked at about 1,000 studies published over 40 years, and found no evidence of an animal knowingly attempting suicide in the wild. Cases such as those in Aelian's book are "anthropomorphic fables", he says.

Researchers now know that the mass deaths of lemmings are an unfortunate consequence of a dense population of creatures emigrating together at the same time.

In cases where a pet dies following its master's death, this can be explained by the disruption of a social tie, says Preti. The animal does not make a conscious decision to die; instead, the animal was so used to its master that it no longer accepts food from another individual.

"To think it died from suicide like a person after the death of a spouse is just a projection of a style of romantic human interpretation."

This example points to the one important fact. Stress can change the behaviour of an animal in a way that can threaten its life.

This happened at SeaWorld's Tenerife park in May 2016.

A video went viral of a wild-born orca in one of SeaWorld's parks that appeared to beach herself on the side of the tank for about ten minutes. Dozens of articles appeared stating she had attempted suicide.

    The vast majority of cases are down to human intervention in some way

We know that orcas behave differently in captivity than in the wild, which is unsurprising given that a tank is a fraction of the size of the ocean. Unnatural environments have been known to stress captive orcas, triggering repetitive behaviours such as rubbing the side of their tanks and grinding their teeth.

When it comes down to it, says Barbara King of the College of William & Mary in Virginia, US, it is important to understand just how deeply these animals experience emotions. This can in turn inform us about what causes them to act in self-destructive ways.

"To my knowledge the vast majority of cases are down to human intervention in some way, whether the result of poaching or confinement," says King, who has written extensively about animal grief and suicide.

Many other animals kept in traumatic conditions also experience conditions similar to stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

    It can be seen as a reflection of an animal trying to escape its imprisonment

A captive bear at a Chinese bear farm was reported to have smothered her son and then killed herself. This followed an extremely painful injection of a catheter into the bear cub's abdomen to extract bile, which is sometimes used in Chinese medicine. Newspaper reports suggested she had killed herself and her son to prevent more years of torture.

This is more likely another example of unnatural behaviour triggered by stress and being housed in an artificial environment for a prolonged period of time. It can also be seen as a reflection of "an animal trying to escape its imprisonment," says Preti.

Other animals often cited as attempting suicide are whales that strand in the wild.

It remains unclear why whales strand. One idea is that standings can be caused by a sick individual seeking the safety of shallower water. Because whales form social groups, others follow and strand also. This idea is now called the "sick leader hypothesis". But it is not considered suicide.

An even more subtle cause of what may appear to be self-destructive behaviour can also be easily explained. There are certain parasites that infect the minds of their hosts, causing mind-altering behaviours that help the parasites thrive. The host often dies in the process.

For example, the parasite Toxoplasma gondii infects mice and switches off their innate fear of cats. If the cat eats the mouse, the parasite reproduces. A 2013 study found that a T. gondii infection permanently deletes this fear, even after the parasite has been exterminated.

Similarly, a parasitic fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis can control the minds of ants, turning them into zombies. It steers the insects to their deaths in locations where the fungus can thrive.

Lastly, mother spiders let their young eat them. Though they die in the process, this sacrifice is not suicide, but rather an extreme act of parental care. The mother spiders provide their own bodies as a vital first nutritious meal that ensures their offspring's survival.

To say such behaviour does not constitute suicide requires a definition of what does. Suicide is commonly defined as "the action of killing oneself intentionally".

We know that some animals kill themselves. The question is whether they intend to. The mother spider, for example, may behave this way to primarily provide food, not die. The mother bear may have acted unnaturally due to stress, not with the intent of killing her and her cub.

    Planning a suicide requires a detailed understanding about our place in the world

Some experts believe this question is impossible to answer.

Just as we have long underestimated animal cognition, we cannot yet read an animal's mind. "I'm not convinced [animal suicide] is a question science can answer," says King. "We can look at their visible behaviour as we do with grief, but we cannot look at what amounts to harm that comes to an animal and assess whether it's intended or not intended."

But others disagree. They say some people intend to kill themselves, while animals do not, due to differences in cognitive ability. The key difference, they say, is our ability to think far into the future. 

Many animals can plan ahead. Some birds cache food to eat later while bonobos and orangutans save tools for future use. Arguably, this does not require abstract thought about what it means to be alive.

Planning a suicide requires a detailed understanding about our place in the world, and an ability to imagine ourselves as no longer present. This requires imagination.

"Humans have a capacity to imagine scenarios, reflect on them, and embed them into larger narratives," says Thomas Suddendorf, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia.

    If animals denied the risks of death as many humans do, zebras might knowingly graze near lions

"There appears to be something fundamentally distinct about human mental time travel when compared to the capacities of our closest-surviving animal relatives."

This ability comes at a price. "We worry about many things we can do little about, and we can experience persistent anxiety about things that may never eventuate," says Suddendorf.

Most of us overcome these worries. We have an in-built optimism bias, which gives us a rosier view of the future, but this is not the case for those with depression, for whom the future often appears very bleak.

"Clinical psychologists are beginning to recognise and disentangle the important roles aspects of foresight play in our mental health," says Suddendorf.

Depressed people truly appreciate reality, agrees Ajit Varki of the University of California, San Diego, US, who has written extensively about human uniqueness and our ability to deny death.

    We are the only animal able to understand and cope with our own mortality

"One of the realities is that you are going to die." The rest of us have an amazing ability to ignore this eventuality, which Varki dubs "an evolutionary quirk".

"We need that denial," he says. "Otherwise we might curl up and do nothing." Instead, some us engage in reckless activities such as climbing dangerous mountains, driving cars too fast and taking mind-altering drugs.

Varki therefore proposes that all cases of apparent animal suicide can be explained by other means.

Animals mourn, recognise their dead and fear dead bodies, for instance. But they do not fear death "as an actuality".

"It's a fear of dangerous situations that potentially lead to death," says Varki.

Thinking of it this way makes more sense. If animals denied the risks of death as many humans do, zebras might knowingly graze near lions, fish swim alongside crocodiles, and mice stare into the eyes of snakes.

If they were self-aware to the extent we are, they might also stop defending their territories or foraging for food. They have an appropriate in-built response to fear for good reason: it keeps them alive.

We are the only animal able to understand and cope with our own mortality, Varki argues, precisely because we are such optimistic creatures with a sophisticated level of self-awareness.

"What is suicide?" asks Varki. "It is inducing your own mortality, but how can you induce it if you don't know you have mortality? It's [therefore] quite logical that suicide should be uniquely human."

 on: Oct 19, 2016, 05:43 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The forgotten people of the Arctic

Barrow, Alaska is the northernmost town in the United States. This small whaling community is on the front line of climate change

By Adam Popescu

There is no more evocative image of the Arctic than the polar bear. We all know it as the symbol of our thirst for fossil fuels. As the sea ice melts and nanook's habitat disappears, the world cries "save the polar bear". But hardly anyone says "save the local people".

That is because Arctic communities are largely faceless. They are small, isolated and underrepresented. Outsiders know more about northern wildlife than the people living side-by-side with it.

The irony is locals are facing the same problems as their wilder neighbours, but no one seems to care.

Nowhere is that feeling so haunting as in the town of Barrow, the northernmost community in the United States. 330 miles (530km) north of the Arctic Circle and about 1,000 miles (1,600km) south of the North Pole, the town's 4,500 residents are hemmed in on all sides by ocean and tundra. The only access is by airplane or snowmobile. Barrow is a world unto itself.

In May 2016, I spent almost two weeks in Barrow. Temperatures there regularly hover below zero. From November through January, the Sun does not rise. The rest of the year, it is like perpetual twilight as the Sun never really sets. The days merge and melt together. To me, it felt like there was no time, no before or after, forever now.

The big unspoken worry in the north is that large deposits of chemical pollutants are trapped within the ice.

For decades that was not a problem. But now rising temperatures are causing the ice to melt faster than ever. The area of summer sea ice has shrunk by 10% per decade since 1979, and in May 2016 the ice extent was the smallest in 38 years.

    While levels of older banned contaminants are dropping, modern pollutants are rising

That means trapped chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are escaping and infecting animals like seals, the prey of choice for everything from polar bears to people.

Many of these chemicals have been banned for decades. They have been confined deep in the ice all this time and are perfectly preserved, like the sap-stuck mosquitos in Jurassic Park.

A study published in 2015 followed subsistence hunts from 1987 to 2007 and found significant amounts of PCBs in the internal organs and blubber of locally-harvested seals. The researchers concluded that, while levels of older banned contaminants are dropping, modern pollutants are rising.

That is problematic, because native Alaskans' diets are largely comprised of seal.

Arctic peoples still eat marine mammal meat because it is high in essential minerals and vitamins, which they would struggle to get any other way.

    With so many people consuming potentially contaminated meat, surely there is a risk of sickness?

Alaska's North Slope Borough stretches over 88,000 square miles (227,920 sq km) and is home to around 10,000 people, living in eight remote communities. You cannot grow anything here, and grocery shopping is difficult.

In Barrow, the North Slope Borough's capital, there is one supermarket: the cavernous AC Value Center. Thanks to high shipping costs, everything here is marked up heavily: twice, sometimes three times the cost down south. A gallon of milk sets you back $10, condiments like ketchup and mayonnaise are about $7, and avocado is almost $5 a piece.

This helps explain why so many Iñupiaq eat what they hunt. Seals are so abundant, you often spot a dead one in someone's front yard, literally on ice until it is time to skin and eat it.

But with so many people consuming potentially contaminated meat, surely there is a risk of sickness?

We do not know for sure, says Jessica Reiner, a research chemist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland and a co-author of the PCB study.

The problem is a lack of evidence. Because Barrow is so isolated, and there are so few people here, there is as yet no smoking-gun research.

    During my visit to Barrow I found signs of a problem everywhere

Reiner says her study should be treated with caution, because some of her most PCB-laden samples came from seal blubber. "I assume people eat meat over blubber," she says.

However, a few minutes at an Arctic dining table suggests otherwise. When game is harvested here, all of it is consumed. That includes seal blubber, which produces an oil that is a prized commodity. Alaskans dip meats in seal oil to make them more palatable.

One piece of circumstantial evidence comes from a 2015 study of polar bears in Greenland. The researchers found an apparent link between high pollutant levels and alterations in the bears' brain chemistry. It is conceivable that the same process affects people.

Certainly, during my visit to Barrow I found signs of a problem everywhere.

Fliers were strewn around in community centres, restaurants and the library. They advertised meetings sponsored by the borough's Health Center, organised to tackle mental health issues and "an epidemic of domestic violence, sexual assault, and substance abuse".

    Alaskans would be deeply reluctant to change their diets

At any rate, people are asking the question.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, a non-profit organisation based in Anchorage, has been tracking toxicity in subsistence foods since 2014. They have found parasites like toxoplasmosis that cause birth defects in about 10% of sampled caribou, and in 50% of harbour seals harvested by native communities – including some from the North Slope Borough.

The trouble is, even if scientists did definitely establish a link between eating PCB-laced seal products and illness, Alaskans would be deeply reluctant to change their diets.

Alaskans are by nature individualists, Arctic Alaskans even more so. Their habits have been established by thousands of years of tradition.

    Bowhead whales have the largest mouth of any known animal

What's more, the combination of limited store-bought options and an abundance of available game means that harvested meat is integral to locals' diet. About 44 million pounds of wild foods are taken annually, according to Alaska's Division of Subsistence. That is about 375 pounds per person.

A sizeable fraction of this meat comes from a different source. One that, unlike the seals, may well pose minimal risks to health.

But this meat has different problems associated with it. In the wider world it is deeply controversial, because it comes from bowhead whales. And the threat of climate change may mean it will soon be much harder to obtain.

Bowhead whales are the pinnacle of subsistence hunting in Alaska. The second largest living animals after blue whales, they can grow to almost 60 feet long and weigh over 70 tonnes. They have the largest mouth of any known animal.

Alaskans hunt bowheads twice a year, in spring and fall, going out in the same sealskin boats they have used for centuries. The hunt is part of the rhythm of the seasons. It gives meaning to people's lives, and food to last them through lean winters.

    The captain doesn't derive anything but prestige

Everyone in the north is associated with the hunt one way or another. During the hunting season, people on land keep their CB radios on at all times, listening for updates from the whalers.

It is easy to demonise from afar, but the Alaskan bowhead hunt is a long way from large-scale commercial whaling. Biologists say it takes less than 1% of the total population. It is legal, sanctioned by both the federal government and the International Whaling Commission.

It is also not about killing for sport, and no money changes hands. "The captain doesn't derive anything but prestige," says Barrow's mayor, Mike Aamodt.

What's more, the costs run to tens of thousands of dollars for the fuel, oil, and food for the ship's crew and the work is dangerous. "Whale captains can even deduct it on their IRS form, for their expenses for outfitting the boat," Aamodt says.

When people first started telling me about the bowhead hunt, my head was filled with questions. But the more I asked, the more locals bristled. They do not trust journalists.

    Anthropologists tell us the whole society structure, everything was organised around this hunt

In 1988, a media circus descended on Barrow when three grey whales became stuck in the ice, triggering a desperate rescue operation. Aamodt and his son, who was eight years old, were interviewed on-camera. "My son commented 'this is a waste of time'," says Aamodt. "'It's a waste of time and we should just kill the whale, bring it up, and cut it up and pass it out,' he said. I have letters from people that said my family should be cut up."

Aamodt, a former whaler himself, tells stories of whale captains burned by journalists who helicoptered in and sensationalised their culture. The list of culprits includes The New York Times, LA Times and National Geographic: all outlets with sterling reputations.

In a meeting with Aamodt and senior staff from the North Slope Borough's Department of Wildlife Management, I learned that everyone in the room had had a bad experience with the press. "That's why I'm hesitant to direct media to anybody," Aamodt goes on.

Craig George, the borough's senior whale biologist, says whaling has shaped everything about the Barrow community, going back centuries.

    The only way to get close to bowhead whales is to shadow whaling crews

"Anthropologists tell us the whole society structure, everything was organised around this hunt," he says. "It had to be. The probability of one of the same captains getting a whale each year was low, so it had to be shared. Then you had fuel for the year, food for the year, you had light, you had heat. You had transportation for dog teams. All this."

George belongs to the third generation of a biologist family, the Craigheads. They are famous for their work with grizzly bears and have dominated National Geographic covers for decades. George came north, in part, to make his name doing something slightly different. His nickname is umingmaq, or "musk ox" – literally, "one with the beard" – because of his flowing facial hair.

While George is a scientist, counter-intuitively he is also intimately connected to the men hunting the species he studies. The only way to get close to bowhead whales is to shadow whaling crews, because their culture is so closely intertwined with the whales' movements. Every time a whale is taken, George and his colleagues are called on site to collect data.

George says the hunt is closely monitored by his department, and the bowheads are more numerous now than they were in the time of commercial whaling. "The population is going up dramatically," he says. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists them as "least concern".

    There is no movie theatre, no mall, no alcohol sold in stores, and nothing to do

His work has also shown that, unlike seals, bowheads do not pick up many contaminants like PCBs. This is because they feed lower on the food chain, a good sign for both the whales and the community that depends on them.

For these reasons, George respects the local approach to whaling, and the customs that have grown up around it.

In Barrow, there are only eight restaurants and three convenience stores. There is no movie theatre, no mall, no alcohol sold in stores, and nothing to do. This is why subsistence whaling is so vital.

But this lifestyle, even though it may seem sustainable, is under threat. The biggest problem facing Barrow, and indeed the entire Arctic, is the warming climate. This one issue could overwhelm everything else.

For Barrow climate change means coastal erosion, punishing waves, and severe annual storms, a trifecta many say could literally wipe it off the map.

    As long as they have whales to hunt, they will never leave

As the ice melts, the distance between the shore and the ice pack grows, creating a "fetch". This sends monster waves smashing into the coast, and the constant battering eats away at the earth itself. At the same time, the warmer temperatures are melting the permafrost.

As a result, the land is physically shifting and deteriorating. In some places, as much as 66ft (20m) of coast is lost every year.

Nevertheless, tradition seems to trump everything else here. As long as they have whales to hunt, the people of Barrow will never leave.

But they are on the horns of a dilemma. Aamodt says the only way to keep the North Slope alive is to move towns inland, away from the erosion. But that would imperil the whale hunt.

In order to take the bowheads, whaling crews need to live, camp and hunt by the shore. That means permanent settlement on the coast. Bowheads regularly swim close to shore ice, a behaviour many here describe as whales "giving themselves" in tribute.

    Once the sea ice is gone the whales could leave the area altogether

But as the ice diminishes, it becomes harder to get those whales before they move to open water. Worse, once hunters snag a whale, pulling it ashore becomes even more challenging when there is no ice to go out on.

Ironically, the breakup of the ice might actually be good for bowheads, according to a 2015 study by George and his colleagues. The retreating ice allows more light to penetrate the ocean, which means more plankton and crustaceans for the whales to eat.

In theory, this could mean the community can safely harvest more whales – but not if the retreating ice and eroding land prevents them from reaching the animals.

Alternatively, once the sea ice is gone the whales could leave the area altogether. If they do, it could have an even worse impact than the most severe climate change. After all, what is a whaling community without whales?

Arctic towns can look and feel eerie. The front yards are littered with wrecked trucks, ice-frozen shacks, antlers, polar bear skins and bowhead bones. To the uninitiated, it can look like a scene straight out of a horror film.

But Barrow only looks like this because locals do not have garages, and never know what they might need. When there is no Home Depot or Autozone to zip to, having a spare part sitting in your yard can be a godsend.

As soon as you understand the reasons, it stops being sinister and starts being simple common sense.

Scientists have been coming to study here from around the world, ever since the US Navy built a base in the 1960s, and they will keep coming as long as there is a town to host them.

But while the local flora and fauna receive international headlines, local people rarely get a mention. Wracked by unemployment, alcoholism, tragic incidents and a misunderstood lifestyle, it is not clear what future they have at civilisation's edge.

If they cannot hunt the animals they have relied on for generations, and if harvesting them makes them sick, it may not even matter if the ice eventually melts. By then it will be too late, and we will only read about this culture in history books.

The feeling of timelessness brought on by the midnight Sun is an illusion. Time does exist in the Arctic. But it is an hourglass, one that is down to the last few grains.

 on: Oct 19, 2016, 05:36 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

New source of jobs for India's rural women (hint: it's in your shampoo)

Growing seaweed rich in valuable chemicals — predicted to be worth $7 billion by 2018 — is emerging as a source of employment for rural women in India.

By Shilpi Chhotray, YES! Magazine 10/19/2016

Among the rocky beaches, mudflats, and lagoons that line the southeastern tip of India, it’s not unusual to see a group of women working together around a bamboo raft. These women are tending to young seaweed plants that, in just a month's time, will grow to five times their current size. One raft's harvest of seaweed is worth more than a fisherman’s daily pay.

People are used to seeing seaweed in miso soup or wrapped around a sushi roll. But many don't realize that the real drivers of the seaweed industry are byproducts extracted from the plants. These include substances known as alginates, agar, and carrageenan, which give a soft, jellylike consistency to products like skin care lotions, fertilizers, toothpastes, ice cream, soymilk, and fruit jellies.

Analysts predict that the seaweed extract business will reach $7 billion by 2018.

That impressive figure is especially interesting because fishing—the traditional industry of rural coastal India—has not been a welcoming place for women. Fishing requires a great deal of capital and long hours at sea—that's a problem for women responsible for household tasks including taking care of children, collecting drinking water, and gathering firewood.

But women often play a large role in seaweed farming, which in many cases is the only source of cash income available to them and the first paid work they've ever had. Seaweed farming works well for women in places like rural India because it doesn't require a lot of money or expensive equipment to make it work, and requires women to be away from home for no more than 4 to 6 hours of the day.

Typically, a group of six to 10 women will grow a crop of seaweed in six weeks. The majority of the work is done on land, where women work together stringing small young plants through ropes, which are then tied to sections of bamboo that form a raft. When the assembly is complete, the women move the rafts into shallow water. Women will typically plant and harvest one raft a day. Both fresh and dried seaweed is sold to seaweed-processing companies at a fixed rate determined by the farmers themselves at the beginning of each year.

During a recent trip to India, I witnessed this process firsthand. Many women in coastal villages have turned to seaweed farming, bringing them economic opportunities while contributing to their families' income—not an easy thing to do in a male-dominated society.

And this is not just any income. Women earners are more likely than males to save their money or spend it on their families, according to government officials and seaweed industry insiders.

Since the 1960s, agricultural crops cultivated by farmers in hard-to-reach villages in India have tended to go through a number of intermediaries, or “middlemen,” before getting to the market. Historically, farmers have struggled with middlemen taking advantage of their role and pocketing more than their fair share of earnings.

If rural women are benefiting from the seaweed industry, what's happening to make sure that money is secure? The answer, at least in India, is quite a lot.

Engaging in contract farming ensures the entirety of a farmer’s harvest will be sold directly to a company at a prearranged price, without going through middlemen. According to a recent report by the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 5,000 rural poor from a single southeastern district alone engage in farming, transporting, and selling seaweed through contract farming.

Their efforts are supported by private investors, industries, NGOs, and financial institutions like the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development and the National Fisheries Development Board. The Indian government has also been proactive in encouraging environmentally sound and socially responsible seaweed farming.

On the private industry side, the company AquAgri Processing has helped lead the effort to provide rural women with seaweed growing contracts. AquAgri was created when its current managing director, Abhiram Seth, left PepsiCo—which had initiated the contract farming model for seaweed farming in India in 2000—and started his own company in 2008. Currently, women comprise 75 percent of AquAgri's workforce.

AquAgri also works directly with farmers to make sure the money it pays out goes into local hands and helps to build long-term livelihood. Through its "Growers Investment Program," the company deducts, saves, and matches 5 percent of each seaweed worker's pay. This is especially helpful for farmers during the monsoon season, when for three months the seas are too unpredictable for farming.

Policymakers around the developing world are often stumped when asked how to ensure that rural women have access to income. As the demand for seaweed-based products increases, they might consider learning from what India has done with this industry.

• Shilpi Chhotray wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Shilpi is a consultant at Future 500, a global nonprofit organization specializing in stakeholder engagement and building bridges between parties at odds–corporations and NGOs, the political right and left, and others—to advance systemic solutions to environmental problem

 on: Oct 19, 2016, 05:33 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Clean cookstoves in Mozambique lure big investors

CleanStar Mozambique is a combined effort among a mix of institutions centered around replacing traditional charcoal cooking stoves with stoves fueled by sustainably produced bio-ethanol.

By Erin Butler, Global Envision 10/19/2016

When it comes to investing in a clean cookstoves project, Triple Pundit reports that maybe there's no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen.

Cooked up in 2010, CleanStar Mozambique is a combined effort among a mix of investors, financial and research institutions, and NGOs, including CleanStar Ventures, Novozymes, ICM, Zoe Enterprises, Dometic, Impact Carbon, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The project:

"Simultaneously addresses the issues of deforestation, land degradation, hunger, poverty, indoor pollution and carbon emissions, on a small scale, all through a for-profit business structure. The program ... is centered around the replacement of traditional charcoal cooking stoves with alcohol-fired stoves that can be fueled by sustainably produced bio-ethanol."

Triple Pundit reports that the Soros Economic Development Fund and Industrialization Fund for Developing Countries funding "will allow CleanStar and its partners to now focus fully on implementation, rather than the time-consuming process of fundraising.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that Soros’ $6 million investment:

"Will give it a 19% stake in the $20 million project... The project has also received a $3 million investment from the Denmark-backed Industrialization Fund for Developing Countries, while Danish industrial enzymes company Novozymes has provided $1 million and a number of loans. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is also assisting with the selling of carbon credits."

CleanStar seems to be making a huge impact on Mozambique in a number of challenging arenas, but implications for other cities in Africa are exciting if the project is implemented successfully:

"They expect that their retail fuel distribution infrastructure will reach 80,000 customers in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, by 2014. This looks to be the next chapter in a great story. With a $10 billion market for charcoal-based cooking across the rapidly-urbanizing continent, CleanStar’s business model is likely to be feasible in over 40 major African cities."

 on: Oct 19, 2016, 05:29 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Darfur cookstove project brings economic, health benefits

Ten thousand efficient cookstoves are being delivered to communities in Darfur, saving more than 300,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions over 10 years and bringing other benefits, such as a lower cost for fuel and less smoky homes.

By Megan Rowling, Thomson Reuters Foundation 10/19/2016

London — An efficient cookstoves project in Darfur has been issued with Sudan’s first-ever carbon credits, in an effort to boost climate finance reaching poorer countries.

The Gold Standard, a major certification body for carbon offsets, said the project – started in 2007 by Carbon Clear, a UK-based carbon management firm, and development agency Practical Action – will allow families in North Darfur to replace their traditional wood and charcoal fires with modern, energy-efficient, and cleaner-burning LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) cookstoves.       

Ten thousand cookstoves are being delivered to communities in El Fasher, which will save more than 300,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions over 10 years, the Gold Standard said. The stoves are also expected to bring social, economic, and health benefits, such as less smoky homes. 

People in El Fasher, a large town, usually buy charcoal and wood from vendors called zaribas, often on a daily basis. Using charcoal costs a household around £20 ($33.50) per month, while using LPG costs roughly £7 ($11.70) per month. But the initial cost of the stove and the LPG canister can put families off switching.

This barrier to uptake is being overcome through a micro-loan scheme operated by local womens' associations and funded by carbon finance, according to Carbon Clear.

The carbon credits for the project in Darfur – which has suffered years of conflict between government-backed militia and rebels from the vast west Sudanese state – are also the first to be issued using new rules developed for verifying projects in conflict zones and refugee camps, work that has been partly funded by the German government.

The Gold Standard said it has been working on approaches to increase the flow of carbon finance to the world's poorest countries, where prohibitive implementation costs have made micro-scale projects that cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions unviable.

"It is essential that carbon finance reaches poorer countries, regions, and communities – and it must deliver both climate and development outcomes," Gold Standard CEO Adrian Rimmer said in a statement, adding that the new rules would help drive finance into "thousands more" such projects.

The organization said it has also changed its procedures to cut implementation costs for small community projects and has launched a formal "Sustainable Development Accreditation Scheme." 

Since then, 12 multi-technology, multi-country programs across Asia, Africa, and Latin America have been submitted to The Gold Standard for approval, and the first of these are due to issue carbon credits later this year.

Mark Chadwick, CEO of Carbon Clear, said the pioneering carbon finance project in Sudan "demonstrates how businesses can successfully reduce GHG emissions and make a positive contribution to communities."

The Gold Standard was established in 2003 by WWF and has more than 80 NGO partners worldwide. It enables individuals, corporations, and governments to buy carbon credits against verified emission reductions and sustainable-development outcomes, and has channeled billions of euros into 1,000 low-carbon development projects over the past 10 years, it said.   

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