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May 28, 2018, 01:45 AM
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 on: May 22, 2018, 05:10 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Irish abortion vote: 'propagandistic' use of children with Down's syndrome condemned

Father, doctor and pro-choice campaigner accuses anti-abortion lobby of exploiting ‘vulnerable group’ in referendum

Henry McDonald Ireland Correspondent
Tue 22 May 2018 08.27 BST

A doctor, author and father of a son with Down’s syndrome has hit out at Ireland’s anti-abortion lobby for using children with the condition during campaigning for Friday’s referendum.

With only days left before the Irish electorate votes on whether to introduce limited abortion into the state’s hospitals, Dr Chris Kaposy has condemned the “propagandistic use” of children like his son by anti-abortion campaigners.

Kaposy – a bioethicist who has written a book around the ethics of prenatal testing “from a pro-choice, disability-positive perspective” – has accused the opponents of Irish abortion reform of dragging “a vulnerable group into a contentious political debate”.

On Friday, Irish voters will decide whether to repeal the 8th amendment to the country’s constitution, which gives equal right to life to both the foetus and mother from the moment of conception.

The electorate will also be asked, if the 8th is abolished, to enable the Irish parliament to draw up legislation that would legalise abortion in hospitals for pregnancies up to 12 weeks.

Anti-abortion campaigners have claimed in poster ads that repealing the 8th amendment would lead to widespread aborting of foetuses diagnosed with Down’s syndrome.

They have used pictures of children with Down’s syndrome on billboards with the message: “In Britain, 90% of babies with Down’s syndrome are aborted.”

Kaposy’s criticisms echo those of the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who has described the use of images of children with Down’s syndrome in the referendum campaign as wrong.

Referring to his nine-year-old son, Aaron, Kaposy said: “As the father of a child with Down’s syndrome, I am opposed to the propagandistic use of people like my son in attempts to limit reproductive rights, as has happened in the Irish debate, as well as in the legislative actions taken in various American states to outlaw the abortion of foetuses with Down’s syndrome.”

Irish anti-abortion campaign groups have claimed that a Down’s syndrome diagnosis could be used to access a termination under liberalised abortion laws. Kaposy, however, said the proposed reforms would not allow a Down’s syndrome diagnosis to be a reason for an abortion.

“It is difficult to predict,” he said. “In one study from the US, the [average] gestational age at abortion [in cases of Down’s syndrome] was 13 weeks, though there is a trend toward earlier abortion with improved screening tests. Further, Down’s syndrome is not a condition that typically threatens the life of the pregnant woman, nor does it cause serious health risks in pregnancy, not is it a condition that is typically fatal in utero or soon after birth.”

Kaposy, who lectures in bioethics at Memorial University in Canada, said he believed more children with Down’s syndrome should be brought into families like his own.

“People with Down’s syndrome tend to lead flourishing lives. Their families typically thrive. Perhaps more parents would choose children with this condition if they knew these facts. Prospective parents should be empowered to make choices in favour of parenting children with disabilities like Down’s syndrome, rather than being prohibited from choosing against disabilities.”

 on: May 22, 2018, 05:07 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Activist sentenced to five years in prison for promoting Tibetan language

China detained Tashi Wangchuk in 2016 over his campaign to teach the Tibetan language in local schools

Lily Kuo
Tue 22 May 2018 06.33 BST

An activist who campaigned for Tibetan language education has been sentenced to five years in prison in China for “inciting separatism.” Tashi Wangchuk, who has been in jail for more than two years, was found guilty by a court in the western Chinese city of Yushu, according to his lawyers.

Tashi was detained in 2016 after appearing in a New York Times documentary talking about his campaign for Tibetan language in local schools. The video, “A Tibetan’s Journey for Justice,” followed Tashi as he travelled from a Tibetan area of Qinghai province to Beijing where he attempted to file a lawsuit against local officials for contravening China’s constitution, which maintains that all ethnicities in China “have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages”.

“Tashi Wangchuk is a human rights defender and prisoner of conscience who used the media and China’s own legal system in his struggle to preserve Tibetan language, culture and identity,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, East Asia research director at Amnesty International. Tashi’s lawyer Lin Qilei said they would appeal the sentence.

“Today’s verdict is a gross injustice,” he said. “To brand peaceful activism for Tibetan language as ‘inciting separatism’ is beyond absurd.”

Critics say China’s promotion of Mandarin in Tibet is a deliberate campaign to erase Tibetan culture. Most schools in Tibet use Mandarin as their language of instruction while Tibetan is taught as a subject. Schools are required to use China’s “uniform national curriculum”, which emphasises the history and culture of Han Chinese, China’s dominant ethnic group. Monasteries and private tutors are prohibited from offering Tibetan language classes.

During a four-hour trial in January, in which Tashi pleaded not guilty, prosecutors showed footage from the documentary as evidence the campaigner had deliberately incited separatism by trying to discredit the government’s international image and treatment of ethnic minorities.

Tashi, a former shopkeeper, learned Tibetan in primary school and from his brother, who had studied with a monk. He set out in 2015 to find a Tibetan language school for his niece, travelling across several provinces but was unable to find any.

He said in the New York Times video, “The local government is controlling the actual Tibetan culture, such as the spoken and written language. It looks like development or help on the surface, but actually the goal is to eliminate our culture.”

Tashi told the newspaper that he was not advocating for Tibetan independence.

 on: May 22, 2018, 05:06 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Class act: the great Dalit fightback that started in the schoolroom

A network of free after-school coaching classes for Dalits is just one way that India’s lowest caste is raising its sights

Sunaina Kumar in Uttar Pradesh
Tue 22 May 2018 05.00 BST

When he was 14, Govind Gyan Chand started attending the large school near his village. In the first week, some upper-caste boys took him aside and asked him about his caste. He told them he was Dalit, considered the lowest caste in Indian society. When he left school for the day, the boys were waiting outside, and flogged him. “I don’t know why they did it,” he says. “All I know is the upper caste likes to torture us. I wanted to give up school – somehow I didn’t.”

Now 22, Chand divides his time between classes in college, working, and teaching English and maths to the Dalit children of his village. He is a volunteer for Bhim Pathshala, a network of free after-school coaching classes for Dalit children run by Bhim Army, an organisation that works for the education and rights of Dalits.

Every day, Chand teaches about 20 children between the ages of four and 15 in the courtyard of a temple in Sona village, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, an area that was in the news last year for violent caste riots.

When he signed up to be a teacher for Bhim Pathshala two years ago, Chand had to read up on Dalit icons and the history of oppression of his people. The temple where the after-school classes are held is dedicated to Guru Ravidass, a 14th-century poet and saint revered by Dalits; when Chand arrives, the children call out “Jai Bhim”, a greeting used by Ambedkarites, followers of Dalit icon and social reformer Bhimrao Ambedkar.

He asks the older children about Jyotirao Phule, the 19th-century anti-caste social reformer, and Deepak, 12, replies with easy confidence, “He fought against the caste system.”

“I’m doing this for my community. We have to help each other and knowledge is our only weapon,” says Chand’s friend Siddharth Rajesh Kumar, a college student who also teaches on the project.

Bhim Army, which has emerged as a dominant voice in Dalit politics, burst upon the scene in 2015 in Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh.

The rise of Bhim Army has coincided with the ascent of a new, aggressive form of Dalit politics in India steered by young and dynamic leaders. Bhim Army is led by Chandrashekhar Azad, a young, charismatic Dalit man who achieved notoriety when he put up a signboard outside his village that said “The Great Chamar” – Chamar is used as a pejorative term for “untouchables” – incensing members of the upper caste.

In the last two years, there have been increasing instances of large nationwide protests staged by Dalits. At the same time, cases of violence against the community have increased.

As Bhim Army has grabbed national headlines, its education project for children, which involves an estimated 400 pathshalas (schools) running after-school classes across Uttar Pradesh, has been steadily working to bring change.

Local community members contribute to the costs of running the after-school classes, and the children are provided with stationery and textbooks.

“They were set up to support Dalit children, most of whom cannot access good education and come from families where parents are illiterate and cannot afford private tuition,” says Vinay Ratan Singh, president of Bhim Army.

Bhim Army admits that it is inspired by the right-wing nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which trains its cadre from a young age through a network of schools. Bhim Army hopes the students in these classes will go on to become leaders in their communities and change the situation for Dalits.

The pathshalas also tap into the need for mentoring that Dalit children rarely find. Discrimination begins in the classroom, with studies showing Dalit children are segregated and excluded, forcing them to drop out of school.

“The very idea of going to the countryside and telling Dalit families to focus on educating their children is revolutionary,” says Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit writer and entrepreneur who created a temple to the “Dalit Goddess of English”, to inspire his community to use education as a form of resistance.

Lalita lives in Sona village. Her daughter Ritika never misses a class in the pathshala andsince starting there is doing better in her normal school classes as well. Ritika says that while she feels scared of asking questions to the teachers in school, it is easier to ask Chand, whom she calls bhaiya (older brother).

“We are labourers, but we want her to study and have a different life,” says Lalita.

 on: May 22, 2018, 05:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

China aims to land on far side of moon via launch of 'Magpie Bridge' satellite

Relay station will eventually let teams on the ground talk to a lunar probe that China plans to launch this year in world-first mission

Lily Kuo in Hong Kong
Mon 21 May 2018 07.05 BST

China is one step closer to being the first country to land on the far side of the moon.

At 5.28am on Monday, the Queqiao relay satellite was launched from Sichuan province, according to Chinese state media. With Queqiao in place, China will be able to send a lunar probe to the side of the moon that never faces the Earth. No space programme has ever reached that part of the lunar surface because of communications difficulties.

In a few days Queqiao will enter the moon’s orbit, about 455,000km (282,000 miles) from Earth. Queqiao – which means “Magpie Bridge” and comes from a Chinese folk story in which an arc formed by birds reunites two lovers separated by the heavens – will then act as a bridge between ground stations and the lunar probe.

China plans to send its lunar lander and rover, Chang’e 4, to the far side of the moon by the end of this year. The lunar probe will carry seeds for growing potatoes and arabidopsis, a flowering plant related to cabbage, for a “lunar mini biosphere” experiment.

“The launch is a key step for China to realise its goal of being the first country to send a probe to soft-land and probe the far side of the moon,” said Zhang Lihua, manager of the relay satellite project, according to state news agency Xinhua.

A four-minute video of the assembling of the rocket and satellite, accompanied by dramatic background music, was posted by state media outlets on social media on Monday. “My country is awesome,” one internet user wrote on Weibo. “Our conquest is the sea of stars.”

For the past decade, China has embarked on a space programme aimed largely at catching up to space powers such as the US and Russia. In 2013, China became the third country to make a soft landing on the moon.

Chinese space officials aim to attempt a human landing in 15 years. The China National Space Administration released a video in April showcasing its planned outpost, a “lunar palace” on the far side of the moon, with cabins for scientists.

Queqiao will also carry a radio antennae that researchers will use to study the early universe, what astronomers call the “cosmic dark ages” after the big bang and before the first stars in the universe were formed.

Being in the shadow of the moon blocks electromagnetic interference from Earth, offering a better view of radio signals in the universe and enabling researchers to “listen” to the cosmos, according to Liu Tongjie, deputy director of China’s Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center.

• This article was amended on 22 May 2018 because an earlier version referred to the “dark side” of the moon, rather than the “far side”.

 on: May 22, 2018, 04:59 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

A Single Discarded Fishing Net Can Keep Killing for Centuries

By Jason Bittel

Divers off the coast of the Cayman Islands last month came face to face with a ghoulish sight: a gigantic mass of abandoned fishing gear and its catch. The monstrous net, as wide and deep as the Hollywood sign is tall, drifted just below the water's surface with tendrils that teemed with hundreds of dead and dying fish and sharks.

The divers attempted to cut some of the trapped souls from the tangled mess of netting and buoys, but most of them were already lost. Many more had been dead for so long, the divers said, that it was impossible to tell what species they were. The men tried to haul the massive net back to shore but said it was much too heavy for their boat to tow. So this marine blob is still out there.

It's not alone. In fact, this knot of ruin is completely unremarkable in the context of the global "ghost gear" crisis. A new report from the international nonprofit World Animal Protection (WAP) estimates that at least 700,000 tons of new ghost gear enter the sea each year. Once it's there, the flotsam can harm all kinds of sea life, including turtles, penguins, sea lions, dolphins, whales and diving shorebirds. The report found that 45 percent of all the marine mammals listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species have been killed or harmed by abandoned fishing gear.

"It's not shocking to me," said Charles Grisafi, the Florida and Caribbean regional coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program. "These nets are huge. You can see gill nets out there over two miles long."

Two. Miles. Long.

Ocean plastic has garnered lots of attention in recent years (as it should), but fishing gear makes up a huge chunk of that problematic plastic. Unlike plastic bottles, drinking straws and grocery bags, this gear was designed for one purpose: catching and killing sea life. And it continues to do so long after the anglers who deployed it return to shore.

Ghost gear masses like the Caribbean discovery are essentially giant fish traps that perpetually re-bait themselves. The trapped animals attract predators and scavengers who then become ensnared themselves. After death, their rotting carcasses draw in still more victims and the cycle goes on and on, basically forever.

This is not hyperbole. The plastics that make up most of the nets in the oceans today take around 600 years to break apart. One old gill net found wedged between rocks off the coast of the San Juan Islands reportedly sat atop a pile of marine bird and mammal bones that was three feet deep.

For larger animals like whales, entanglements don't always bring a quick death. They instead confer a life sentence of towing around a heavy aquatic ball and chain, the health effects of which scientists are only beginning to understand. (Spoiler alert: It ain't good.) And as with other ocean pollution, some animals eat ghost gear, as evidenced by necropsies of 22 sperm whales stranded in the North Sea. Of all the nonfood items in their guts, 78 percent was fishing gear, including, in one case, a plastic fishing net that was more than 42 feet long.

Forty-two. Feet. Long.

There are numerous paths by which this waste winds up in the water, said Elizabeth Hogan, WAP's U.S. oceans and wildlife campaign manager. Gear can malfunction and detach, nets can get stuck on reefs or other objects and never resurface, and, yes, some fishermen simply discard nets and traps out of convenience or as a way to cover their tracks when they're fishing illegally. The largest contributor to ghost gear, though, is the weather. "I would say [that's] the primary reason for gear loss," says Hogan, "and who can argue with bad weather?"

World Animal Protection's Elizabeth Hogan on a beach survey and cleanup in Hawaii.
World Animal Protection / Rachel Ceretto

It's not as if most fishermen want to lose their gear, after all. When a series of storms ravaged the British Isles in the winter of 2013–2014, some crab fishermen lost upwards of $35,000 worth of gear when conditions forced them to abandon their strings of pots.

Whatever the excuse, something needs to be done about it—and this is where Grisafi and Hogan share some optimism. As tagging gear with GPS devices becomes easier and more affordable, Hogan said it will help enormously in the fight against new ghost gear. Similarly, Grisafi points to technology advancements that can help make gear less lethal once it's lost. These include making fishing nets more biodegradable in general or incorporating biodegradable panels into traps so they no longer continue to catch and kill ad infinitum. Simple tweaks to existing gear, such as adding cull-rings that allow smaller crabs to escape a pot, can also make a big difference.

But there are still miles and miles of drifting killers out there. The NOAA Marine Debris Program finances removal projects so big, they run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Projects range from collecting derelict crab pots in the waters off New Jersey to floating traps that catch litter on Maryland's Anacostia River to removing an 83-foot shipwreck off the Northern Mariana Islands that's damaging coral habitat.

"We're just getting started, honestly," Grisafi said.

That's why his outlook is positive. Because we've only just begun to address this problem, the only way to go is up.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

 on: May 22, 2018, 04:56 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Rangers find 109,217 snares in a single park in Cambodia

Snares – either metal or rope – are indiscriminately killing wildlife across Southeast Asia, from elephants to mouse deer. The problem has become so bad that scientists are referring to protected areas in the region as “empty forests.”

Jeremy Hance
Tue 22 May 2018 08.43 BST

A simple break cable for motorbikes can kill a tiger, a bear, even a young elephant in Southeast Asia. Local hunters use these ubiquitous wires to create snares – indiscriminate forest bombs – that are crippling and killing Southeast Asia’s most charismatic species and many lesser-known animals as well. A fact from a new paper in Biodiversity Conservation highlights the scale of this epidemic: in Cambodia’s Southern Cardamom National Park rangers with the Wildlife Alliance removed 109,217 snares over just six years.

“Some forests in Vietnam don’t have any mammals left larger than squirrels,” Thomas Gray, the lead author of the new paper and the Science Director for Wildlife Alliance, said. “Given how diverse these forests formally were this must be having substantial impacts on ecosystem services and the [forest’s] entire biodiversity.”

According to Gray, the snaring crisis is worst in Vietnam and Laos, but is increasing in Cambodia – where he works – as well as Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand. In some places – even protected areas – it is so bad that scientists talk of “empty forests” where hunters have literally stripped the ecosystem of all medium-to-large animals.

“In Vietnam and Laos drift-fences are constructed to funnel animals into areas which are snared,” Gray said.

Killed animals aren’t necessarily going to feed local families, either, but are usually headed to large markets in cities to feed Asia’s growing middle and upper classes.

And snares are ruthless mutilators and killers: rangers routinely find animals dead in them, often rotted before the hunters return.Gray says that while snares are usually set to catch “ungulates” – hoofed animals like deer and wild pigs – they, in fact, hit any animal large enough to be caught.

“Because snares are cheap and easy to make they are set in phenomenal numbers,” Gray said.

His paper cites that rangers have removed 75,295 snares over five years from two adjacent parks in Vietnam – Hue and Quang Nam Saola Reserves – set up to keep the saola from extinction.

Only discovered in 1992, the saola is one of the rarest large mammals on Earth – and out-of-control snaring could very well lead to its extinction.

Other parks – such as adjacent Srepok and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuaries in Cambodia, Seima Wildlife Sanctuary also in Cambodia, and Nam Et–Phou Louey National Protected Area in Laos – have seen far fewer snares removed, less than 10,000 each. But, according to Gray, this isn’t because these parks have fewer snares hiding under bushes and trees – far from it – but that rangers in Southern Cardamom National Park as well as Hue and Quang Nam Saola Reserves are far better trained at finding the cable bombs.

“If other similarly sized protected areas had as much law enforcement effort they would remove similar levels of snares,” he said.

Still, he adds, research shows that even the best ranger teams are probably only capable of finding about a third of the snares that are actually set, meaning potentially hundreds of thousands of animals are at risk in every park in the region.

‘Lucky’ animals may escape a snare, but are often left crippled for life: having chewed through or yanked off one of their feet. Camera traps in the region capture various animals – bears, otters and wild dogs known as dholes – somehow making do with a missing foot. Several Sumatran rhinos – one of the most endangered mammals in the world – have been found with snare wounds over recent decades, including wounds so bad that they have stumps instead of hooves.

“Here in Cambodia we have evidence…of elephants with snare injuries on their trunks,” said Gray. “Often such individuals are very thin suggesting they have difficulties feeding.”

Rescued animals are sometime brought to various wildlife rehabilitation centres where they may survive – but can remain a heavy financial burden for local NGOs.

If the world’s current mass extinction crisis had a head it would be Southeast Asia: the region has “more threatened species than any other comparable continental area,” according to Gray’s paper.

Rampant deforestation – Indonesia has the highest forest loss rate in the world – combined with a wildlife trade targeting everything from top predators to tiny turtles has left Southeast Asia’s wildernesses staggered. Compared even to Africa – which is facing a militarized poaching network – Southeast Asia’s big animals are battered, beleaguered and in nearly all cases hanging by a thread. The snaring epidemic, though not as openly discussed, is a major player in this ongoing destruction, which ecologists have come to term “defaunation.”

While having well-trained teams to remove snares is essential, it’s still not tackling the root of the problem, according to Gray.

“There is a need to strengthen legislation making it illegal to carry materials which could be used to make snares in protected areas. Given these material include rope this is tricky. But in Cambodia we are getting traction with this,” he said, adding that many people who set snares are actually in the forest to collect mushrooms or rattan and don’t even intend to return to the site.

“Some are set because people are simply bored.”

While it’s illegal to set snares in protected areas, it’s difficult to police. It’s easier for rangers to catch people carrying guns or traveling with hunting dogs than to know if people simply walking the forest may have easily–hidden snares in their packs or pockets.

In the longer term, however, what’s most required is what Gray calls “behavior change.” If wildlife – including not just mammals, but birds and reptiles too – is to have a real chance in Southeast Asia, the trade in animal parts for luxury meat and traditional medicine has to stop.

Gray believes changing society here is very possible, pointing to campaigns in the region to convince people to wear helmets, use condoms, and set up mosquito nets.

“But conservation has been late to employ this tactic,” he said. “I am convinced that such an approach is required for changing attitudes and culture in Asia regarding wildlife.”

If more isn’t done, all of the region’s forests could one day be “empty.”

 on: May 22, 2018, 04:49 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
The ethics of wearing feathers: it's not just live-plucking that's a problem

They are fluttering down catwalks and even appeared at the royal wedding, but for some activists all feathers are stolen property – whether or not they involve cruelty

Scarlett Conlon
22 May 2018 15.56 BST

The red carpet has been a hotbed of sartorial protest this year, with influential people opting to express their politics through their wardrobe. But as many celebrities scramble for the moral high ground, some controversial guests have slipped under the radar. They go by a few names – marabou, ostrich, peacock – and accompanied Angelina Jolie to the Critics’ Choice awards, Lupita Nyong’o to the Cannes film festival and Katy Perry to the Met Gala.

Yes, feathers are suddenly everywhere again – not only in the wardrobes of glossy style icons, but also on embellished fascinators (as worn by the Duchess of Cornwall at the royal wedding) and in a sizeable proportion of the nation’s pillows, parkas and duvets. Yet, in some quarters, there is a growing discomfort with them.

The fashion industry has a celebrated history with feathers. They were one of Coco Chanel’s favourite motifs, frequently used as embellishments in her collections, as well as those of her contemporaries Cristóbal Balenciaga, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. The late Alexander McQueen was inspired by the feather – “its colours, its graphics, its weightlessness and its engineering” – and used it elaborately in his designs.

Fastforward a decade, to the recent spring/summer 2018 fashion shows, and feathers fluttered down the catwalks of fashion houses including Saint Laurent, Maison Margiela and Moschino, making them a high street trend right about now.

This pervasiveness goes some way to explaining why feathers have not rung the same alarm bells in the public consciousness as animal products such as fur and exotic skins. “Opinion polls show that the overwhelming majority of Brits would never dream of wearing real fur – because most have a clear idea by now of the ways in which animals suffer on fur farms and when caught in steel-jaw traps in the wild,” says Yvonne Taylor, the director of corporate projects at Peta. “However, many shoppers are still unaware of the cruelty inherent in the down and feather industries.” Peta claims that “workers in China – the source of 80% of the world’s down – forcefully restrain geese and rip their feathers out as they struggle and scream”. The organisation recently made headlines when it accused Canada Goose of mistreating the geese in its supply chain (an allegation that was denied by the outerwear brand).

However, activists have been trying to highlight the negative impact of feathers for years – in 1890s Boston, socialites Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna Hall staged tea parties to try to persuade their rich friends to stop buying hats with real plumage.

So, can feathers ever be ethical? Clearly, live-plucking is not, given the distress the process causes to the animals, but what if you source feathers from the owner of a peacock that sheds its train once a year after mating season? The law on picking up feathers, designed to protect wild birds, is complex. “Finding and collecting feathers that have fallen from birds in nature sounds nice – but it isn’t a viable business model to supply designers with the volume of feathers they demand,” says Taylor. “Peta has found that whenever parts of animals are used in the fashion industry, corners are cut and abuse is commonplace.”

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 prohibits the unethical sourcing of various animals, while the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna compels signatories to ensure that the trade of wild animals does not threaten their survival. However, Peta – and a number of other animal-welfare groups – argue that it is impossible to track feathers back to their source because the physical products all look the same. As Taylor says: “There’s simply no fail-safe way to ensure that ducks, geese, chickens, ostriches and emus haven’t suffered for feather items.”

But some retailers claim they can – including the British department store John Lewis, which sells a number of feather products, including coats and duvets. Its policy on bird and animal welfare and ethical sourcing says it can account for each stage of its own-brand production line, which uses only feathers that are a by-product of the food chain. It has set a 2020 target for its suppliers to meet the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) – which prohibits force-feeding and the removal of feathers from live birds and audits each stage in a retailer’s supply chain to ensure that down and feathers come as a by-product from healthy animals – or Downpass 2017, which has similar requirements. Some fashion brands, including H&M, The North Face, Levi’s, Sorel and Lululemon, already comply with the RDS.

The milliner Stephen Jones, who uses barn-fowl feathers (chicken, duck, turkey, goose, grouse, pheasant and ostrich) in his elaborate headpieces “to heighten movement, delicacy or to create dynamic line”, says he has always abided by the guidelines on the exploitation of feathers laid down in 1905 by the US non-profit conservation group the Audubon Society. He believes using feathers “is not the same as using exotic skins or fur, because the feathers that are used in millinery are a byproduct of food production,” beyond which it is “a personal point of view; whether you are carnivore, vegetarian, vegan”. He is, however, open to alternatives. “I make feathers out of tulle, plastics and other materials,” he says.

Many others employ artisans to make feathers from mass-farmed poultry look like the plumes of exotic creatures. Art curator Karen Van Godtsenhoven, who staged one of the most famous celebrations of feathers, Birds of Paradise: Plumes & Feathers, at the fashion museum MoMu in Antwerp in 2014, cites Paris-based Lemaire. She says the 137-year-old atelier, which supplies Chanel to this day, “can make a chicken feather look like it was plucked from a bird of paradise”.

So, where can we go from here? Peta suggests that designers make vegan alternatives to animal products from recycled and sustainable materials, just as British designer Stella McCartney does for leather, but in an ideal world it wants all retailers to follow the lead of Topshop, Sweaty Betty and Asos by banning feathers from their products.

Short of that, in the same way that the world has woken up to the ethical implications of fast fashion, retailers need to provide production-chain transparency, winning trust with specific policies that inform shoppers that their feathers have been responsibly sourced.

For campaigners such as Taylor, however, this approach will never be enough. In her view, “all feathers are stolen property” – no matter how they were sourced.

 on: May 22, 2018, 04:46 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
US proposes end of grizzly-baiting ban in Alaska’s national preserves

22 May 2018 at 06:19 ET                   

The Trump administration has proposed rescinding Obama-era rules barring sport hunters from using bait to lure and kill grizzly bears in Alaska’s national preserves, as is allowed in other parts of the state, the National Park Service said on Monday.

The plan, pushed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and assailed by environmentalists as inhumane, would give state wildlife managers the discretion to decide what kinds of bear-hunting methods are permitted across 20 million acres (8 million hectares) of national preserve lands in Alaska.

Alaska in 2005 began allowing grizzly-baiting for the first time since statehood as part of a predator-control program to boost populations of big-game animals popular with hunters such as moose in the state’s vast interior.

 The practice of using anything from stale doughnuts and lard to honey-drenched dog food to attract grizzlies into the open for hunters to more easily shoot them was banned in Alaska’s preserves in 2015 by the Park Service under then-President Barack Obama.

The agency determined then that bear-baiting was biologically unsound, potentially unsafe and “inconsistent with federal law authorizing sport hunting in national preserves in Alaska.”

The 2015 rule also prohibited sport hunters, for similar reasons, from using artificial lighting to enter black bear dens as a way of surprising adult animals and their cubs inside, and barred the trapping of gray wolves during their denning season.

The Zinke proposal would likewise lift those restrictions to allow the state Department of Fish and Game to set hunting and trapping rules as its deems appropriate within national preserves, according to Park Service spokesman Peter Christian.

Grizzly bears are believed to number about 30,000 throughout Alaska, while an estimated 100,000 black bears roam the state, according to Fish and Game data.

Alaska officials have said that increased killing of predators such as grizzlies was necessary to increase opportunities for successful hunting of moose and other game creatures favored by sportsmen.

Environmental groups denounced the proposal as unethical and cruel, and said the hunting and trapping practices at issue are also disruptive to the natural predator-prey dynamic.

 “The Department of Interior under Secretary Zinke is enabling Alaska’s war on bears and wolves in national preserves,” said Jim Adams of the National Parks Conservation Association.

Veteran hunting guide Thor Stacey, director of government affairs for the Alaska Professional Hunter Association, said his group strongly backs the move to abolish existing restrictions.

“This was a case of the federal government overstepping and trying to usurp the state’s authority to manage its wildlife,” Stacey said.

The proposed rule change, to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, marks the latest Obama-era environmental regulation that the Republican administration of his successor, President Donald Trump, had sought to roll back since taking office in January 2017.

Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Pinedale, Wyoming; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Sandra Maler

 on: May 22, 2018, 04:43 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study

Groundbreaking assessment of all life on Earth reveals humanity’s surprisingly tiny part in it as well as our disproportionate impact

Damian Carrington Environment editor
22 May 2018 20.00 BST

Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet.

The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds.

The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.

Another surprise is that the teeming life revealed in the oceans by the recent BBC television series Blue Planet II turns out to represent just 1% of all biomass. The vast majority of life is land-based and a large chunk – an eighth – is bacteria buried deep below the surface.

“I was shocked to find there wasn’t already a comprehensive, holistic estimate of all the different components of biomass,” said Prof Ron Milo, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth,” he said, adding that he now chooses to eat less meat due to the huge environmental impact of livestock.

The transformation of the planet by human activity has led scientists to the brink of declaring a new geological era – the Anthropocene. One suggested marker for this change are the bones of the domestic chicken, now ubiquitous across the globe.

The new work reveals that farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.

“It is pretty staggering,” said Milo. “In wildlife films, we see flocks of birds, of every kind, in vast amounts, and then when we did the analysis we found there are [far] more domesticated birds.”

The destruction of wild habitat for farming, logging and development has resulted in the start of what many scientists consider the sixth mass extinction of life to occur in the Earth’s four billion year history. About half the Earth’s animals are thought to have been lost in the last 50 years.

But comparison of the new estimates with those for the time before humans became farmers and the industrial revolution began reveal the full extent of the huge decline. Just one-sixth of wild mammals, from mice to elephants, remain, surprising even the scientists. In the oceans, three centuries of whaling has left just a fifth of marine mammals in the oceans.

“It is definitely striking, our disproportionate place on Earth,” said Milo. “When I do a puzzle with my daughters, there is usually an elephant next to a giraffe next to a rhino. But if I was trying to give them a more realistic sense of the world, it would be a cow next to a cow next to a cow and then a chicken.”

Despite humanity’s supremacy, in weight terms Homo sapiens is puny. Viruses alone have a combined weight three times that of humans, as do worms. Fish are 12 times greater than people and fungi 200 times as large.

But our impact on the natural world remains immense, said Milo, particularly in what we choose to eat: “Our dietary choices have a vast effect on the habitats of animals, plants and other organisms.”

“I would hope people would take this [work] as part of their world view of how they consume,” he said. ”I have not become vegetarian, but I do take the environmental impact into my decision making, so it helps me think, do I want to choose beef or poultry or use tofu instead?”

The researchers calculated the biomass estimates using data from hundreds of studies, which often used modern techniques, such as satellite remote sensing that can scan great areas, and gene sequencing that can unravel the myriad organisms in the microscopic world.

They started by assessing the biomass of a class of organisms and then they determined which environments such life could live in across the world to create a global total. They used carbon as the key measure and found all life contains 550bn tonnes of the element. The researchers acknowledge that substantial uncertainties remain in particular estimates, especially for bacteria deep underground, but say the work presents a useful overview.

Paul Falkowski, at Rutgers University in the US and not part of the research team, said: “The study is, to my knowledge, the first comprehensive analysis of the biomass distribution of all organisms – including viruses – on Earth.”

“There are two major takeaways from this paper,” he said. “First, humans are extremely efficient in exploiting natural resources. Humans have culled, and in some cases eradicated, wild mammals for food or pleasure in virtually all continents. Second, the biomass of terrestrial plants overwhelmingly dominates on a global scale – and most of that biomass is in the form of wood.”

 on: May 22, 2018, 04:38 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Sweden distributes 'be prepared for war' leaflet to all 4.8m homes

Defence pamphlet shows how population can prepare in event of attack and contribute to country’s ‘total defence’

Jon Henley European affairs correspondent
22 May 2018 13.36 BST

The Swedish government has begun sending all 4.8m of the country’s households a public information leaflet telling the population, for the first time in more than half a century, what to do in the event of a war.

Om krisen eller kriget kommer (If crisis or war comes) explains how people can secure basic needs such as food, water and heat, what warning signals mean, where to find bomb shelters and how to contribute to Sweden’s “total defence”.

The 20-page pamphlet, illustrated with pictures of sirens, warplanes and families fleeing their homes, also prepares the population for dangers such as cyber and terror attacks and climate change, and includes a page on identifying fake news.

“Although Sweden is safer than many other countries, there are still threats to our security and independence,” the brochure says. “If you are prepared, you are contributing to improving the ability of the country to cope with a major strain.”

Similar leaflets were first distributed in neutral Sweden in 1943, at the height of the second world war. Updates were issued regularly to the general public until 1961, and then to local and national government officials until 1991.

“Society is vulnerable, so we need to prepare ourselves as individuals,” said Dan Eliasson of the Swedish civil contingencies agency, which is in charge of the project. “There’s also an information deficit in terms of concrete advice, which we aim to provide.”

The publication comes as the debate on security – and the possibility of joining Nato – has intensified in Sweden in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and recent incursions into Swedish airspace and territorial waters by Russian planes and submarines.

The country has begun reversing military spending cuts and last year staged its biggest military exercises in nearly a quarter of a century, as well as voting to reintroduce conscription and unveiling joint plans with Denmark to counter Russian cyber-attacks and disinformation.

The leaflet advises people to think about how to cope if there was no heating, food became difficult to buy, prepare and store, there was no water in the taps or toilet, and cash machines, mobile phones and the internet stopped working.

It advises checking the source of all information, warning that “states and organisations are already trying to influence our values and how we act ... and reduce reduce our resilience and willingness to defend ourselves”.

A detailed page of “home preparedness tips” advises the population to stock up on water bottles, warm clothing and sleeping bags, and “non-perishable food that can be prepared quickly, requires little water or can be eaten without preparation”.

In the event of armed conflict, it says, “everyone is obliged to contribute and everyone is needed” for Sweden’s “total defence”: anyone between 16 and 70 “can be called to assist in the event of the threat of war and war”.

Sweden has not been at war with another country for more than 200 years. If it is attacked, the leaflet says, “we will never give up. All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false.”

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