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« Reply #15 on: Jul 10, 2017, 05:44 AM »

Trump abortion crackdown risks stoking Nigeria's population boom

Cuts to US foreign aid enacted by the US administration mean that supplies of contraception are dwindling in Nigerian family planning clinics

Ruth Maclean in Maiduguri

A Nigerian nurse-midwife allows herself a small smile as she injects a tiny piece of plastic into a young woman’s arm.

In a way, Zainab Malut is doing herself out of a job through this intervention at a family planning clinic in northern Nigeria. The contraceptive implant she persuaded her patient to get will mean she won’t need to deliver the woman’s babies for the next four years. But for the many women she sees each day, it means fewer mouths to feed and a degree of freedom.

A few miles away, at a camp for people who have fled Islamist militants Boko Haram, Gambo Abdul Aziz is trying to convince a recent arrival who has been using traditional contraception – a belt with charms sewn into it – that she should try the pill instead.

Determined as they are to help women access contraception, the midwives of Maiduguri have a tough job. Their clients and their husbands are often suspicious of modern methods; in the wake of Boko Haram, the population of their city, the capital of Borno state, has doubled to 2 million people, and many people commute to work in the aftermath of bomb attacks.

But their task has been made even harder by one man thousands of miles away: Donald Trump.

The American president’s decision to reinstate the Mexico City policy and invoke the Kemp-Kasten amendment, which cut US government funding to organisations deemed to promote abortion, means that Malut’s clinic could run out of supplies, and Abdul Aziz’s may have to close down.

Neither clinic has any link to abortion, but both are supported by the UN’s population fund, UNFPA. Under Barack Obama, the US government was one of the agency’s biggest funders, giving it $69m (£54m) in 2016. Now UNFPA, along with other organisations, has to scramble for cash from elsewhere to keep its programmes going.

The situation in northern Nigeria demonstrates just how many ominous knock-on effects Trump’s move could have. The population is growing so fast that Nigeria looks set to overtake the US to become the third largest country in the world by 2050, a demographic dynamic with huge implications for migration, social stability – and even terrorism.

Nearly 2 million unwanted pregnancies and 10,000 maternal deaths would have been prevented by Marie Stopes International alone, had it got funding for another three years, according to its country head Effiom Effiom. Last year, Marie Stopes estimated that it prevented 240,000 unsafe abortions by helping women in Nigeria control when they get pregnant.

“This is going to be really huge,” Effiom says of the US decision to pull funding. “They’ve been key in strengthening healthcare. It’s their funding that allowed us to reach 500,000 women in the past three years. Who will bridge that gap?” he asks.

The woman on Malut’s medical bed getting her implant, 25-year-old Sakina Sani, has two children, wants two more eventually and intends to put them all through school. She knows from experience that what she can earn selling fried yams will not stretch to educating a big family, such as the one she grew up in – Sani has seven siblings.

“If I had a daughter, I’d only want her to get married after school – at 20, at the earliest,” she says. “She would choose her own husband – I wouldn’t choose him. My daughter should have a choice. What I went through has influenced me. I would not allow my daughter to be subjected to that.”

What Sani went through was forced marriage at the age of 12: something not unusual in Nigeria, where 43% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday. Terrified of her 25-year-old husband, she managed to avoid him for the first two years of marriage. Eventually, though, he had his friends tie her to the bed and raped her so violently that she was admitted to hospital for days.

He later apologised to her and her family, and she forgave him. “But what else could I do?” she says.

She is no longer afraid of him; in fact, he suggested getting the implant, and accompanied her to the clinic, waiting on a wooden bench outside. But she will not allow her own daughters to be sold off for marriage. She is resolute to have only as many children as she can support and put through school.

“Things have to change,” Sani says.

Her implant means she can stick to her resolution for another four years. But after that, she admits that if the clinic had no supplies, she’d be stumped.

“I would just give up. What could I do? I’d have to have more children. All I could do is pray harder for God to help feed them.”

Things will change, but for the worse, according to Effiom.

“It’s going to roll back the clock for us,” he said, pointing out that the cuts threaten to make government targets to increase contraceptive use from 10% in 2013 to 36% in 2018 impossible to achieve.

Some say that the large numbers of children born to Nigerian families even affect the country’s precarious security situation.

The emir of Kano, a highly influential Muslim leader, recently claimed that the neglected children of poor, polygamous men become recruitment fodder for the likes of Boko Haram.

“Those of us in the north have all seen the economic consequences of men who are not capable of maintaining one wife, marrying four,” the emir, who, as a rich man, has four wives, said earlier this year. “They end up producing 20 children, not educating them, leaving them on the streets, and they end up as thugs and terrorists.”

Thoughtlessly having children is something that Malut sees all the time. “Our culture doesn’t like family planning,” she says. “They say that if he wants to, God will stop the babies coming, but then they have 12 or even 20 children.”

While the emir tackles the men, Malut does whatever she can to get contraception to women, including those who fear being seen at her clinic and labelled promiscuous, or of news getting back to their disapproving husbands. Studies have found that men in northern Nigeria often determine whether or not their partners use contraception.

“See, no one can tell it’s there,” she tells Sani, running her patient’s finger over the skin of her arm. “You can feel the bump, but nobody else will have a clue unless they know what to look for.”

She puts the needle in the bin and gets ready to close the clinic, putting her hefty register in her bag to take home, along with some supplies, paid for with US money.

“Women in my area know I’m working on family planning, so they’ll meet me at my house and I’ll give them pills and injectables,” she says. Until they run out, that is.

“Americans have so much. Can’t they help us with this?” she asks.

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« Reply #16 on: Jul 10, 2017, 05:46 AM »

2017: the year we lost control of world population surge?

On the eve of London’s family planning summit, global contraception efforts are faltering – and Trump’s reinstated ‘gag rule’ makes matters worse, say experts

Liz Ford

Global efforts to help millions of women plan their families – and address unsustainable population growth – are falling woefully short, with looming cuts in funding threatening to hamper progress further, campaigners warn.

On the eve of a landmark summit in London called to accelerate family planning progress in 69 of the world’s poorest countries, latest figures show that an eight-year programme to get contraception to more than 100 million women is way off target.

Concerns are mounting, too, that policies introduced by Donald Trump slashing funds for family planning programmes will exacerbate the problem. The US is the largest donor for family planning, allocating $607.5m (£470.4m) this year.

The summit, coinciding with world population day on Tuesday, brings together top officials from more than 50 countries to discuss how to step up flagging family planning efforts.

The target to get modern contraception to 120 million women and girls by 2020 was set five years ago. So far barely 30 million have been reached – nearly 20 million fewer than the plan required at this stage.

The goal was established to bring international attention to an issue that reduces deaths in childbirth, improves women’s economic chances, and also addresses concerns over the growth in the world’s population – forecast to hit 8 billion in 2023 and almost 10 billion by 2050.

The countries predicted to see the largest growth in population by the mid-century are those with some of the highest rates of unmet need for family planning.

Recent UN predictions show that half the projected growth in population between now and 2050 will occur in Africa – a continent with the world’s highest fertility rates and the lowest use of modern contraception. The population of 26 African countries is predicted to at least double by 2050.

Some experts worry that rampant population growth in Africa will not just aggravate the current migration crisis but could play into the hands of terror groups across the Sahel who seek recruits among large, poor families with few options.

At the same time, the international will to address this has taken a heavy blow from some of Trump’s earliest decisions in office. Since January, Trump has announced a cut in all funding for international family planning in his proposed budget, has stopped funding the UN population fund (UNFPA), and has reintroduced the Mexico City policy, or global gag rule, which prevents money from going to overseas organisations whose work touches on abortion.

Trump’s policies have left some of the largest providers of reproductive healthcare services in poorer countries struggling for money. The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IFFP) and Marie Stopes International are already reporting the closure of family planning programmes in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The UNFPA, the agency charged with ending maternal deaths and promoting family planning services, is facing a $700m funding gap for contraceptives over the next three years.

“It’s looking dire,” said Katja Iversen, chief executive of Women Deliver. “We see great people stepping up, but in no way in the magnitude that is needed. We’re seeing the largest cohort of adolescents ever … and the needs for contraception will be key for the whole world, not just for them.

“It’s a very important moment for the world to rally around women’s ability to decide their own fertility. In that sense, the family planning summit comes at a very good time.”

Erica Belanger, senior family planning adviser at IPPF, added: “There is a particular crisis in the funding of contraceptive supplies. The actual product is not being funded to meet the growing demand that women and girls have for contraception.”

Beth Schlachter, executive director of FP2020, established after a previous family planning summit in 2012 to work with governments to meet their commitments, said it was very unlikely the US Congress would approve a budget with no money for family planning. But she added: “We remain in a period of incredible uncertainty.

“Funding issues are critical and an ongoing challenge for all of us to confront together. Countries and donors each have a role to play. At the same time, we don’t want to lose momentum in supporting countries to achieve their own goals. We can’t let that uncertainty draw focus from the growing number of country and partner commitments that are driving progress.”

Finance and health ministers and senior officials from the European commission are scheduled to attend Tuesday’s summit, which is hosted by the UK government, the UNFPA and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discussions of the Mexico City policy are not on the agenda, but it is likely to cast a shadow over the meeting. The US is expected to send representatives.

Although not billed as a pledging conference, some new funding commitments are expected to be announced. The UK, the second largest bilateral donor for family planning, is expected to pledge extra money, as is the Gates Foundation. Canadian delegates are likely to use the conference to outline how their country plans to spend the $650m it has earmarked for reproductive health over the next three years.

Melinda Gates said the summit was coming at the right time. “Funding is being squeezed when we need it the most, because the biggest-ever generation of girls is entering adolescence,” she said. “If they are empowered to decide if and when to get pregnant, they can invest in themselves and their families. If they are not empowered, they may well be trapped in the same cycle of poverty as their parents.”

A number of companies are also expected to make announcements, which could include plans to fund family planning services to workers.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the cost of meeting all women’s needs for modern contraception in poorer countries would cost $1.75 per person, per year, and would result in a 75% decline in unintended pregnancies, unplanned births and abortion annually.

Universal access to family planning is included in the sustainable development goals, adopted by 193 countries in 2015.

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« Reply #17 on: Jul 10, 2017, 05:48 AM »

Turks stage largest show of opposition against Erdoğan government in years

Istanbul rally is final stop in 280-mile ‘justice march’ from Ankara protesting against arbitrary arrests and dismissals after coup attempt

Kareem Shaheen and Gözde Hatunoğlu in Istanbul

Hundreds of thousands of Turks took to the streets of Istanbul on Sunday in the largest opposition rally in years, in a serious rebuke to the government’s large-scale crackdown on opponents since last year’s attempted coup.

The rally in the Maltepe parade ground was the final stop in a 280-mile (450km) march from the capital, Ankara, led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s party – the main opposition party – and appeared to draw citizens from across the political spectrum to protest against what they see as widespread injustice and oppression by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“We demand justice,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in a speech minutes after reaching the end of his march. “We demand justice not only for those who gathered here, not only those who support us, but for everyone.”

“Justice is the foundation of the state,” he added. “In present-day Turkey the foundation of the state is at risk.”

The rally is by far the biggest by the opposition seen in Istanbul since the mass May-June 2013 demonstrations against Erdoğan’s rule, sparked by the planned redevelopment of Gezi Park in the city. Istanbul governor Vasip Şahin said 15,000 police officers were providing security at the post-march rally on Sunday.

The “justice march” drew widespread support for its calls for an end to arbitrary arrests and dismissals in the aftermath of the coup. Tens of thousands of people have been detained or fired from jobs in the civil service, academia and media over alleged connections to Fethullah Gülen, an exiled preacher whose movement is widely believed to have orchestrated last year’s putsch.

But the crackdown has gone beyond the alleged perpetrators to target dissidents of all stripes including senior opposition lawmakers. Rights activists have also been arrested, including two top officials at Amnesty International, and Ankara has become the world’s largest jailer of journalists.

Nearly a quarter of the Turkish judiciary has been dismissed or detained in what legal experts say is a systematic effort to reshape the country’s justice system. The president’s victory in a recent referendum that vastly expanded his power will allow him and a parliament controlled by his party to appoint most of the country’s top judges.

“I came from Urfa for justice,” said one attendee at the rally. “For all the oppressed, for workers, for my village, for my neighbourhood.”

Kılıçdaroğlu used his speech to unveil what his aides described as a “justice manifesto” that called for an end to the state of emergency that has been in place since July 2016, protecting the independence of the judiciary, reinstating dissidents who have been unfairly fired from their jobs, and ending the practice of imprisoning journalists.

“We will bring down the wall of fear,” he said. “This last day of our walk for justice is a new beginning, a new first step.”

The rally comes less than a week before the anniversary of the coup attempt, in which 249 people died and 1,400 were wounded, and which was defeated after widespread popular resistance.

The government has planned a series of week-long events including a late-night address by the president to the Grand National Assembly to mark the moment when the parliament was bombed by the coup plotters.

Ordinary citizens, sacked public employees and high-profile figures have joined Kılıçdaroğlu on his march. Novelist Aslı Erdoğan and leading Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk, both released from jail pending trial on various terror-related charges, as well as Yonca Şik, the wife of a prominent journalist currently in prison, were just a few.

The march has drawn the ire of government officials and proxies, who have accused the protesters of supporting terrorism and the coup plotters. The atmosphere at the rally was celebratory and diverse, including leftists, secularists and even religious conservatives.

“This is not about religion for us, but about justice for all of us and for our grandchildren, for progress, for journalists, for our headscarves,” said Bediha, a veiled woman in her 60s who only gave her first name. “There is cruelty in this country and God willing, with this march, it will end.”

Agence France-Presse and Associated Press contributed to this report

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« Reply #18 on: Jul 10, 2017, 05:51 AM »

'Face like thunder': how the mood turned sour at Trump's first G20

Anger at US president rejection of Paris climate accord and clashes over Washington’s stance on trade made for a fractious meeting

Anushka Asthana

It was not all rows and rifts. There were moments of convivial relaxation, such as Friday night’s rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 – the official EU anthem – in Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall. As they listened, Theresa May and her husband, Philip, sat close to Donald and Melania Trump, and not far from the new French power couple, Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron. Afterwards the G20 leaders sat down to turbot, buttered spinach, beef and glazed potato wedges, and a fruit dessert.

But the music night was a rare cultural oasis in the gruelling timetable of the Hamburg G20. The two-day summit, which ended on Saturday, had been pitched as one of the most tense get-togethers of world leaders in many years. It did not disappoint, with America’s president inevitably at the heart of much of the action.

Friday’s much-anticipated head-to-head with Vladimir Putin went well, in the judgment of the White House, with talks extending amicably well beyond two hours. But Trump, according to one western diplomat, sat with arms folded and a “face like thunder” as he listened to China’s President Xi Jinping speak on trade during a working lunch for leaders. Disagreements between the countries on the question of steel dumping have not been resolved by this latest encounter. There was also some bemusement when Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, stood in for the president when, in the words of a subsequent White House statement, he “had to step out”.

As anticipated, the big bone of contention was Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the Paris climate agreement. This was still being argued over throughout Saturday, as leaders entered their final sessions. The outcome was a 19-1 standoff pitting the US against the rest of the world, as a joint summit statement noted the US withdrawal from the agreement, but leaders of the 19 other G20 nations agreed that the accord was “irreversible”.

Macron, the French president, set the increasingly robust tone, snapping at one point that the whole world knew it was a mistake for the US to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Sources said tensions ran particularly high between French and US officials, who also clashed over an attempt by Trump’s team to insert a clause into the final communique saying the US would support other countries in accessing clean “fossil fuels”. At one point talks broke up for two hours while the US and France argued over the climate section, according to a source.

In the final hours of the two-day session, Macron asked May and the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to step out of a working session with Trump to discuss climate change. “There was concern that not being able to agree the language on Paris could hold up the whole summit communique,” said a diplomatic source.

May – who was on a mission to woo the US president on behalf of Brexit Britain – exerted her own pressure on Trump over free trade, insisting that the G20 must reject protectionism if it is to help raise citizens’ living standards.

In a separate session on the same subject, Macron pulled out his mobile phone and tried to lecture his US counterpart about the fact that trade is a multilateral issue, not a two-way street, arguing that the device might have been built in the US, but with Chinese parts. Sources said Trump had stepped out of the room during the key sessions, and Macron had quipped that the US president was never there when he wanted to address him.

One G20 veteran, Tom Bernes, who has held senior positions at the IMF and in the Canadian government, said leaders and officials usually arrived at the summits in a “collaborative spirit”.

“Sometimes you had a difficult brief, but there was a sense of collaboration,” said Bernes, who is a fellow of the Centre for International Governance Innovation. “But this time there is the America-first philosophy. Trump’s attitude is: ‘It is my way or the highway.’”

His comments underlined the impression that the US president was a somewhat isolated figure during the deliberations in Hamburg.

Many of the most difficult conversations took place in a nondescript room near the leaders’ hall, where each country sent its appointed sherpa to negotiate the G20 communique wording. Their discussions stretched until 3am on the final night, amid clashes over trade and climate change. As tensions rose, dinners were cancelled and replaced with ham sandwiches and espresso. One source said the US had come to the table “very late and very aggressively – fighting on all fronts”.

One source said UK officials had acted as go-betweens during the disagreement between the US and China over alleged over-production of steel, a running sore in talks. At one point there had been a “30-minute row whether something should be ‘noted’ or ‘acknowledged”.

For May, wins were seen as getting action on disruption of terrorism-financing into the communique, and collaborating with the EU team on free trade. For the prime minister, this G20 meeting was all about signalling a desire to reach beyond the shores of the EU after Brexit, with trade at the centre of bilaterals with India’s Narendra Modi, Japan’s Shinzō Abe, Xi, and – of course – Trump.

May’s 50-minute session with the US president was judged a success by British aides, with May reportedly delighted by Trump’s suggestion that a post-Brexit trade deal could be drummed up “very, very quickly”. In a longer-than-expected meeting with a “very good atmosphere”, May did not raise the US president’s demeaning comments about the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, nor Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate deal, despite signalling in advance that she would.

However, an official later confirmed that May had raised America’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement as the pair continued to talk one-on-one at the G20 working session on Africa.

The German host, Angela Merkel, had prioritised the building of a partnership with African countries aimed at building up economies in order to reduce dependence on aid and address the migration crisis. Charities and campaigners remained unimpressed with the largely rhetorical outcome.

Friederike Röder, G20 director of the charity, said it was the right approach but the leaders had fallen short. “The African population is going to double by 2050 – in less than 50 years more young people in Africa than in all G20 countries, including China and India,” she said.

“We need action on education, employment and empowerment. We need a partnership to tackle the root causes of enforced migration.

“We fear this G20 won’t deliver on the ambition. They called for a partnership but then didn’t turn up for the deal making.”

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« Reply #19 on: Jul 10, 2017, 05:53 AM »

The G20 proves it. Because of Donald Trump, the world no longer looks to America for leadership

The US President was out of step with almost everyone and didn't seem to care

Andrew Buncombe

Donald Trump paused briefly as he and the First Lady reached the top of the steps of Air Force One, gave a quick wave, and was on his way. At 6.05pm, he was heading back to the US, leaving the other members of the G20 disgruntled and defiant, but almost certainly glad he was out of there.

Until recently, the world looked to the US for leadership at such international forums. But in the six months since Trump entered the White House, that has all changed.

Now, on issues ranging from trade to climate change, on how to deal with problems such as Ukraine, the US has turned its back on the considered consensus. Even on subjects such as Article Five of Nato’s charter - the part that relates to mutual defence - Trump looks nothing less than wobbly.

    A perfect metaphor of the United States right now. pic.twitter.com/hyotCHn4Zu
    — shauna (@goldengateblond) July 7, 2017

The headlines at the end of the G20 were bad enough. The US was utterly alone on the issue of climate change, where the 19 other members agreed to push ahead with the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the US refused. The US’s position was noted in the official communiqué issued at the conclusion of the meeting.

“Wherever there is no consensus that can be achieved, disagreement has to be made clear,” said Angela Merkel, the German host, not hiding her disappointment. “Unfortunately, and I deplore this, the United States of America left the climate agreement.”

On trade, language was reinserted to commit the members to condemn protectionism, something that had been done after Trump had raised the prospects of tariffs, especially for steel.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who vowed to host another climate summit in December and to continue to push Trump to join, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying: “Our world has never been so divided.”

Yet that was just the official, written record of what happened. Observers in Hamburg said people were struck by the US delegation’s unwillingness to take a leadership role.

During a meeting on climate change, Trump left for his bilateral with Vladimir Putin, while if a picture was worth a thousand words, the photograph of Ivanka Trump sitting in for her father at a meeting with world leaders, was that image.

“The two major issues for the meeting were trade and climate change. It was recognised the US was not going to change its position,” Thomas Bernes of Ontario’s Centre for International Governance and a former IMF official, told The Independent, speaking from Hamburg.

“The countries will not be looking to the US for leadership - they will be looking to Trudeau, Macron and Merkel. From everyone, I’ve been speaking to, they don’t think this is going to change.”

Trump may seek to claim some success, namely the ceasefire he and Vladimir Putin discussed during their two hour meeting, though there are already questions being asked about how that ceasefire will be enforced and how long it will stick.

Likewise, before he left, Trump spoke with the leaders of China and Japan and said that “something” had to be done about the threat of North Korea, which recently test-fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile. There were no details on what that “something” might be.

We shouldn’t be surprised by anyone of this. Trump famously said he was “elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris”. There will be others nations that like the idea of a less forward-leading, isolationist America. It will allow them to advance their ideas, their influence.

But at a time when there are so many pressing facing the planet, the indifference, and sometimes hostility, of the world’s only superpower, is not positive. Unfortunately, we'd better get used to it.

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« Reply #20 on: Jul 10, 2017, 06:02 AM »

Donald Trump Jr met Russian lawyer after promise of information on Hillary Clinton

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya said she had information that individuals connected to Russia were supporting Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr says


Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, agreed to meet with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the 2016 campaign after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, the New York Times reported on Sunday, citing three advisers to the White House.

Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also attended the meeting, the Times reported.

The Times quoted a statement from Donald Trump Jr in which he acknowledged meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

“After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms Clinton,” the Times quoted Donald Trump Jr as saying. Clinton was the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.

“Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

Donald Trump was “not aware of and did not attend” the meeting, a spokesman for his legal team said.

Veselnitskaya, whose clients reportedly include Russian state-owned businesses and a senior government official’s son, said in a statement on Saturday that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed. She had “never acted on behalf of the Russian government” and “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government”, according to the Times.

Allegations of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia have cast a shadow over Trump’s first five months in office, distracting from attempts by his fellow Republicans in Congress to overhaul the US healthcare and tax systems.

The Kremlin has denied US intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Moscow tried to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, using such means as hacking into the emails of senior Democrats. Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion, and has said contradictory things about whether he believes Russia was responsible.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, which is conducting one of the current congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the election and its possible links to the Trump team, said on Sunday his committee was willing to call Trump’s son, Kushner and Manafort, to answer questions about the meeting with Veselnitskaya.

“It certainly raises questions for a variety of reasons,” said Schiff.

Reuters contributed to this report


‘There’s a truth they don’t want revealed’: Ex-prosecutor explains gaps in Trump admin Russia stories

David Ferguson
Raw Story
09 Jul 2017 at 20:14 ET                   

Former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton David Gergen and former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin told CNN on Sunday that the suspicious actions and outrageous lies of President Donald Trump’s administration can really only add up to one thing.

“We don’t know whether there were violations of the law. we don’t know, you know, there’s a lot,” said Gergen. “The legal significance is still to be determined, but there’s no doubt that this is deeply troubling.”

Gergen went on to say that with the White House and Donald Trump Jr. telling conflicting stories, “I just can’t remember a time when a White House has been so unable — and a legal team has been so unable — to get their story straight and to come forward with straight facts and defend themselves. I mean, it’s just the incompetence that goes into this is also quite stunning.”

Zeldin said it’s not so much that the White House can’t get its story straight, it’s that they don’t want to. Having conflicting narratives makes it even harder to get at the truth.

“To David’s point,” said Zeldin, “of the White House being unable to get its act together. As a lawyer, I think of it as an unwillingness to get its act together… Why I say it in those terms is it implies that there’s something that they are trying to hide, that there’s a truth that they don’t want revealed.”

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6qsRYoqiq8

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« Reply #21 on: Jul 11, 2017, 04:23 AM »

This Woman Just Figured Out How to Control Sperm with Her Brain


Transdisciplinary artist Ani Liu spoke to us about her project as commentary on the state of reproductive rights today.

For transdisciplinary artist Ani Liu, working in science and technology has provided a way for her to explore the intersection between research, culture, and implications of emerging technologies. Currently completing her Master's degree at MIT Media Lab, most of Liu's work involves what she calls "speculative storytelling."

Liu has long reflected on the role of the female body in the history of politics and patriarchal control. But two particular moments especially hit home for her: last October, when she heard Trump's now notorious leaked recording in which he advocates for sexually assaulting a woman; and in January, when Trump signed an executive action that reinstated the global gag rule, which forbids foreign NGOs that receive US funding from so much as speaking about abortion. These moments in succession, she said, led her to investigate the interwoven forces that shape our perceptions of gender and how they create a biased illusion of normality. This culminated in her recent project, "Mind Controlled Sperm: Women of STEAM Grabs Back."

Liu's project is a piece of performance art in which she dons an EEG machine (a brain-computer interface which measures the electric activity generated by thoughts) to direct the movement of sperm along an XY axis. Using a process called galvanotaxis, in which movement of single-cell organisms and other cells are influenced by an electric field, sperm—which Liu collected from her husband—swim towards the positive electrode at about 12 volts per centimeter on a circuit under a microscope. By changing the charge back and forth, the sperm swim left and right; this activity is then projected into a room, which Liu captures on video.

Liu, who personally designed the circuit, was originally inspired by scientists who were already using the process with paramecia, a common, single-celled organism, for "biotic games." "Art can be a lot like science," Liu said. "You can have a hypothesis and want to know something about the world, and you just keep iterating and experimenting until it comes out."

The opening to Liu's video reads, "A body is not a body. It has become an object of political control." We spoke to Liu about the inspiration to use her brain to control spermatazoa, or "something inherently and symbolical male," as well as what her project aims to highlight about the state of reproductive rights and women's autonomy today. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

BROADLY: What was the inspiration behind this project?

Ani Liu: There was that viral video of Donald Trump being caught on camera saying, "grab them by the pussy"—you know, "when you're famous you can do anything." I've re-listened to this many times because it makes me so angry and really amps me up to make my work. I think a big part of this is having him on film saying something so chauvinist and totally women-objectifying and still being elected president—beyond all the terrible executive orders that will deeply impact women's health — it's also him as a symbol, as a man who uses women in this way.

So part of the inspiration behind this project as an artist, as someone who works in the cultural domain, was: How do you switch over the metaphors and the cultural landscape that men and women operate in, and how do you call to light the absurdities of power and bodies in politics?

The piece seems a bit more quiet and introspective than the work of someone like Barbara Kruger, who you name as an inspiration for the project. Was this intentional?

The materiality of the project itself was so charged already—to use semen in a project that has to do with feminism—so there was a decision to keep the aesthetics very lab-like, almost sterile. I also worked with a musician, Wendy Eisenberg, to create music for the project. So there's that juxtaposition between this very clean, contextless aesthetic, and then something very embodied, through her voice.

As an artist and researcher approaching this topic, everything to do with women's rights and feminism is already so charged, and I really wanted to use an aesthetic and communication that was more—I think "objective" is the wrong word—but something that speaks to the neutrality of science and information. And I think the music will bring the embodiment and emotion back into it.

Visually, the project doesn't specifically name Trump or make reference towards the executive order or international NGOs affected. What message do you hope to convey with this project?
The project itself is weird and interesting and sci-fi-ish: A woman is using her brain to control the movement of sperm. Biologically speaking, there is almost a determinism: Sperm always move towards the chemical signatures of eggs—that's just biology. In our cultural landscape, sperm is always used as a material semiotic—in pornography, for instance—to indicate dominance.

Part of my interest in combining art and science and having this lab aesthetic is to question what's possible: to combine both and to present something that seems impossible. I'm hoping that it can be metaphor for what we can question in our social landscape as well.

I wanted to keep [the message of this project] kind of broad because it doesn't just represent the problems with the Trump presidency as it relates to women. I think there's a lot of patriarchal governments everywhere in the world, and I wanted to speak a little more broadly than to this moment in time.

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« Reply #22 on: Jul 11, 2017, 04:25 AM »

Through citizen science projects, anyone can be a scientist

Science isn’t just for scientists. Every day, citizens help further research, too.

Eva Botkin-Kowacki
CS Monitor 

July 11, 2017 —Andrew Grey doesn’t fit most people’s vision of an astronomer. He works in a garage, not in a lab or university, yet the Australian mechanic discovered a star system hiding in data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

Mr. Grey is one of millions of citizen scientists helping researchers to expand collective understanding. Ordinary people of all ages and backgrounds have been contributing to science for centuries on a small scale, but advances in technology have brought a higher level of democratization to science.

“This is a collaborative endeavor that anyone could get involved in,” says Chris Lintott, an Oxford University astrophysicist and cofounder of Zooniverse, a platform that hosts dozens of citizen science projects. Citizen scientists can contribute to breakthroughs in almost any field, from ecology to astrophysics.

As long as pattern recognition is involved, there are no limits to what can become a citizen science project, Dr. Lintott says. Anyone can identify patterns in images, graphs, or even seemingly boring data after a short tutorial, he says. Machine learning allows computers to do some pattern recognition. But humans, particularly amateur scientists, get distracted, Lintott says. And that’s good, he says, because distracted people notice the unusual things in a data set.

And citizen science doesn’t have to be directed by a scientist, says Sheila Jasanoff, director of the Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard University. “Citizens generating knowledge in places where official organs have failed them” can also be citizen scientists, she says. That’s what happened in Flint, Mich., when a local mother initiated drinking water tests that prompted a broader investigation of lead levels.

Citizen-powered research is as old as scientific inquiry. For centuries before science became professionalized, regular people looked for patterns in the world around them. Despite a wealth of sophisticated equipment and computer models, scientists still welcome help from everyday people.

As a professional scientist himself, Lintott says, “people think that we’re intelligent, but science is easy and we need your help.”

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« Reply #23 on: Jul 11, 2017, 04:35 AM »

Murder most foul: polluted Indian river reported dead despite 'living entity' status

After the Yamuna river, a tributary to the Ganges, was granted the accolade, it made sense for activists to tell police that somebody had killed it

Michael Safi in Delhi

One morning in late March, Brij Khandelwal called the Agra police to report an attempted murder.

Days before, the high court in India’s Uttarakhand state had issued a landmark judgment declaring the Yamuna river – and another of India’s holiest waterways, the Ganges – “living entities”.

Khandelwal, an activist, followed the logic. “Scientifically speaking, the Yamuna is ecologically dead,” he says. His police report named a series of government officials he wanted charged with attempted poisoning. “If the river is dead, someone has to be responsible for killing it.”

In the 16th century, Babur, the first Mughal emperor, described the waters of the Yamuna as “better than nectar”. One of his successors built India’s most famous monument, the Taj Mahal, on its banks. For the first 250 miles (400km) of its life, starting in the lower Himalayas, the river glistens blue and teems with life. And then it reaches Delhi.

In India’s crowded capital, the entire Yamuna is siphoned off for human and industrial use, and replenished with toxic chemicals and sewage from more than 20 drains. Those who enter the water emerge caked in dark, glutinous sludge. For vast stretches only the most resilient bacteria survive.

The waterway that has sustained civilisation in Delhi for at least 3,000 years – and the sole source of water for more than 60 million Indians today – has in the past decades become one of the dirtiest rivers on the planet.

    Until the 1960s, the river was much better quality.
    Himanshu Thakkar, engineer

“We have water records which show that, until the 1960s, the river was much better quality,” says Himanshu Thakkar, an engineer who coordinates the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, a network of rights groups. “There was much greater biodiversity. Fish were still being caught.”

What happened next mirrors a larger Indian story, particularly since the country’s markets were unshackled in the early 1990s: one of runaway economic growth fuelled by vast, unchecked migration into cities; and the metastasising of polluting industries that have soiled many of India’s waterways and made its air the most toxic in the world.

Click to watch: <iframe src="https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/world/video/2017/jul/07/yamuna-india-most-polluted-river-video" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

In Delhi, the population has doubled since 1991. More than a quarter of its residents – up to 5 million people – live in illegal or unplanned settlements, their waste flowing directly into open sewers. Twenty-two drains gush industrial effluent into the river, while the streams and rivulets that are supposed to feed in rainwater have long since been eroded or choked off by rubbish.

“We decreased the freshwater supply, and increased the polluted water supply,” says Thakkar. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to predict what would happen.”

The damage is most stark at Wazirabad, just inside the Delhi borders, where the river meets a barrage and comes to a sudden halt. On the other side, a major drain dumps nearly 500m gallons of sewage into the riverbed each day. Dissolved oxygen levels in the water drop from about 13mg per litre to zero.

Animal life cannot survive in these conditions, but human life on the riverbank is ceaseless: men and women immerse themselves in rituals, bathe, and scrub hard at clothing and sheets.

Some, like Sikander Sheikh, make their living off the pollution. The Bengali, who says he is 95, operates a tiny float on the river, lifting refuse from the surface that he sells on the weekend for a few dozen rupees. “I can’t do any other work,” he says. “To do agricultural work, you need eyes. Mine are weak. In this work, I slowly float around all day looking for what I can sell.”

He lives on the banks of the river, in a hut he built himself, adorned with bric-a-brac fished from the water. Bouts of illness are frequent. “I’ll go to the doctor, I’ll take medicines and then I’ll get better and again, I’ll come back and work.”

Further up the Yamuna, near the city of Agra, residents in Patti Pachgai village complain of an epidemic of bone deformities and fluoride poisoning. “The doctor has told me it’s the water,” says Tan Singh, who became ill five years ago and never recovered. “I can’t breathe much. When I inhale I feel stiff, my ribs ache. I can’t sit, move around, nothing,” the 40-year-old says.

A 2015 study showed towns within 2km (1.25 miles) of the Yamuna all showed at least four times the permissible level of fluoride in the water. Officials blame the millions of gallons of untreated sewage pumped into the Yamuna, which they say is seeping into groundwater. “The doctor has said to stop drinking this water and has suggested we buy bottles of filtered water,” Singh says. “Every time, how can we buy and drink it? It’s too expensive.”

In Mathura, another town along the river, thousands of Hindu devotees gather each year to mark the day they believe the goddess Yamuna appeared on earth.

    If you bathe in the Yamuna you will not go to hell.
    Hindu priest

They bathe in the river and drink from it, the ecstasy obvious on many faces. Few are dissuaded by the sight of the water. “Yes, the Yamuna is polluted, but it has the power to liberate us,” says one priest. “If you bathe in the Yamuna you will not go to hell.”

Jasminbhai travelled from Mumbai for the occasion. “There’s no dirty water in the Yamuna,” he insists. “People who believe that, I would say they are lying.”

India’s supreme court heard in February that 2,000 crore rupees (£240m) had been spent on cleaning the river since 1985. “Delhi doesn’t have a lack of money,” says Thakkar. “It also has the highest sewage capacity treatment in the country. Nor is there a lack of attention from either political, judicial, or media quarters.”

The problem, he says, is that time and money are being invested in a dysfunctional system. Twenty state and federal government bodies squabble for control over different elements of the river. Ironically, for all that official attention, basic governance structures are still inadequate.

A plan to clean India’s largest river, the Ganges, spearheaded by the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, is similarly foundering for lack of effective governance.

“If you install new sewage treatment plants, you also need a system in place to ensure they will function,” Thakkar says.

He wants an independent board to oversee the river, one that can question officials and constantly review the clean-up. “At the moment, nobody really knows how the treatment plants function. And if they don’t function, there are no corrective measures. Nothing happens.”

The decision to grant living entity status to the river this year was met with fanfare, but will do little to improve its state, says Ritwick Dutta, a Delhi-based environmental lawyer.

The court granted the Yamuna certain rights, but gave legal guardianship to senior members of the state bureaucracy. Dutta says that represents a clear conflict of interest. “If a hydropower project comes up for consideration, whose side will the bureaucrat take? The river’s or the government’s?

“It’s got symbolic value,” he says of the decision. “But in reality, it may not mean much.”

Soon, it may mean nothing at all: on Friday, India’s supreme court suspended the decision to grant the Yamuna and Ganges living status. The Uttarakhand state government wants the decision scrapped altogether, arguing that legal rights for river makes it unclear who is liable for damages from floods, among other issues. A full hearing on the matter is pending.

The latest plan to clean the Yamuna, hatched two years ago by the Delhi government, does contain something novel. Rather than simply building more sewage plants, the scheme aims to reactivate the riverbank, including by building bike paths, low-cost housing, schools and parks.

It is the brainchild of a team lead by Pankaj Vir Gupta, a professor of architecture at the University of Virginia, who sees in the Yamuna’s dark reflection a deeper malaise, originating in India’s colonial past.

“One hundred years ago, the Yamuna was the front facade of the Mughal city of Delhi,” he says. “It was the face of significant monuments like Humayun’s tomb, the Red Fort. It was the mirror to the city.

“Even as recently as 50 years ago, there were carts on the river,” he says. “There was active participation by the people of Delhi, who went fishing, boating, and for recreational walks.”

Gupta says the problem started with the British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, who in the 1920s designed New Delhi, the city’s southern quarter, a European-inspired capital of wide boulevards, manicured gardens and stately government buildings.

The Yamuna, a temperamental waterway that subsides in the dry season, before swelling dramatically during the monsoon, did not fit the British planners’ rigidly ordered worldview, he says. “Anything that was informal, ecologically, was not really part of the imperial plan for British India.”

Unlike past iterations of the city, New Delhi was built without the Yamuna at its centre. “That started the unravelling of the relationship between city and river,” Gupta says. It took something that was central to the livelihood and cultural and ritual experience of the citizenry and made it into a negative space.

“You could argue the pollution problem is really a perception problem. The minute you remove something, ontologically, from the centre of the city, its meaningfulness and significance goes away.”

Thakkar suspects the river’s condition will need to worsen before it improves. “Look at the Thames of London,” he says. “It was dirty until the smell of the river reached parliament and the politicians couldn’t bear the stink.

“We have not yet reached the stage where the stink of the Yamuna has reached parliament. Possibly it never will – it’s an air-conditioned environment. But if it manages to reach even the parliament’s gates, then finally we might see something.”


Nine-year-old sues Indian government over climate change inaction

Ridhima Pandey, daughter of green activist, urges ministers to reduce emissions to limit impact on younger generations


A nine-year-old girl has filed a lawsuit against the Indian government for failing to take action on climate change, warning that young people will pay the price for the country’s inaction.

In the petition filed with the National Green Tribunal, a special court for environment-related cases, Ridhima Pandey said the government had failed to implement its environment laws.

“As a young person [Ridhima] is part of a class that amongst all Indians is most vulnerable to changes in climate, yet are not part of the decision making process,” the 52-page petition reads. It calls on the tribunal to direct the government “to take effective, science-based action to reduce and minimise the adverse impacts of climate change”.

Speaking to the Independent in the UK, Ridhima said: “My government has failed to take steps to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing extreme climate conditions. This will impact both me and future generations.

“My country has huge potential to reduce the use of fossil fuels, and because of the government’s inaction I approached the National Green Tribunal.”

India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the Central Pollution Control Board have been asked to respond within two weeks.

India has four of the 10 worst cities in the world in terms of air pollution. Together, India and China accounted for more than half the total number of global deaths attributable to air pollution in 2015, according to a recent study.

Greenpeace released a report in January estimating that nearly 1.2 million Indians die each year owing to high concentrations of airborne pollutants such as dust, mould spores, arsenic, lead, nickel and the carcinogen chromium.

At the time, India’s environment minister declared the report inconclusive, adding: “There is no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct correlation-ship of death exclusively with air pollution.”

Despite several laws to protect India’s forests, clean up its rivers and improve air quality, critics are concerned that implementation is poor and economic growth often takes precedence over the environment.

Flash floods and landslides in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, where Ridhima lives, killed hundreds of people and left tens of thousands homeless in 2013.

The devastation affected Ridhima, the daughter of an environmental activist, according to Rahul Choudhary, a lawyer representing her. “For someone so young, she is very aware of the issue of climate change and she is very concerned about how it will impact her in future,” he said.

“She wanted to do something that can have a meaningful effect, and we suggested she could file a petition against the government.”

India is taking some action on air quality. As a signatory to the Paris agreement on climate change, it is committed to ensuring that at least 40% of its electricity is generated from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030.

In her petition, Ridhima asks the court to order the government to assess industrial projects for climate-related issues, prepare a “carbon budget” to limit carbon dioxide emissions, and create a national climate recovery plan.

“That a young girl is doing so much to draw the government’s attention is something. We hope the case puts some pressure on the government to act,” said Choudhary.

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« Reply #24 on: Jul 11, 2017, 04:43 AM »

Earth's sixth mass extinction event under way, scientists warn

Researchers talk of ‘biological annihilation’ as study reveals billions of populations of animals have been lost in recent decades

Damian Carrington Environment editor
Monday 10 July 2017 20.00 BST

A “biological annihilation” of wildlife in recent decades means a sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history is under way and is more severe than previously feared, according to research.

Scientists analysed both common and rare species and found billions of regional or local populations have been lost. They blame human overpopulation and overconsumption for the crisis and warn that it threatens the survival of human civilisation, with just a short window of time in which to act.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, eschews the normally sober tone of scientific papers and calls the massive loss of wildlife a “biological annihilation” that represents a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation”.

Prof Gerardo Ceballos, at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, who led the work, said: “The situation has become so bad it would not be ethical not to use strong language.”

Previous studies have shown species are becoming extinct at a significantly faster rate than for millions of years before, but even so extinctions remain relatively rare giving the impression of a gradual loss of biodiversity. The new work instead takes a broader view, assessing many common species which are losing populations all over the world as their ranges shrink, but remain present elsewhere.

The scientists found that a third of the thousands of species losing populations are not currently considered endangered and that up to 50% of all individual animals have been lost in recent decades. Detailed data is available for land mammals, and almost half of these have lost 80% of their range in the last century. The scientists found billions of populations of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians have been lost all over the planet, leading them to say a sixth mass extinction has already progressed further than was thought.

Billions of animals have been lost as their habitats have become smaller with each passing year.

The scientists conclude: “The resulting biological annihilation obviously will have serious ecological, economic and social consequences. Humanity will eventually pay a very high price for the decimation of the only assemblage of life that we know of in the universe.”

They say, while action to halt the decline remains possible, the prospects do not look good: “All signs point to ever more powerful assaults on biodiversity in the next two decades, painting a dismal picture of the future of life, including human life.”

Wildlife is dying out due to habitat destruction, overhunting, toxic pollution, invasion by alien species and climate change. But the ultimate cause of all of these factors is “human overpopulation and continued population growth, and overconsumption, especially by the rich”, say the scientists, who include Prof Paul Ehrlich, at Stanford University in the US, whose 1968 book The Population Bomb is a seminal, if controversial, work.

“The serious warning in our paper needs to be heeded because civilisation depends utterly on the plants, animals, and microorganisms of Earth that supply it with essential ecosystem services ranging from crop pollination and protection to supplying food from the sea and maintaining a livable climate,” Ehrlich told the Guardian. Other ecosystem services include clean air and water.

“The time to act is very short,” he said. “It will, sadly, take a long time to humanely begin the population shrinkage required if civilisation is to long survive, but much could be done on the consumption front and with ‘band aids’ – wildlife reserves, diversity protection laws – in the meantime.” Ceballos said an international institution was needed to fund global wildlife conservation.

The research analysed data on 27,500 species of land vertebrates from the IUCN and found the ranges of a third have shrunk in recent decades. Many of these are common species and Ceballos gave an example from close to home: “We used to have swallows nesting every year in my home near Mexico city – but for the last 10 years there are none.”

The researchers also point to the “emblematic” case of the lion: “The lion was historically distributed over most of Africa, southern Europe, and the Middle East, all the way to northwestern India. [Now] the vast majority of lion populations are gone.”

Historically lions lived across Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, all the way up to Northwestern India. Today their habitat has been reduced to a few tiny pockets of the original area.

Prof Stuart Pimm, at Duke University in the US and not involved in the new work, said the overall conclusion is correct, but he disagrees that a sixth mass extinction is already under way: “It is something that hasn’t happened yet – we are on the edge of it.”

Pimm also said there were important caveats that result from the broad-brush approach used. “Should we be concerned about the loss of species across large areas – absolutely – but this is a fairly crude way of showing that,” he said. “There are parts of the world where there are massive losses, but equally there are parts of the world where there is remarkable progress. It is pretty harsh on countries like South Africa which is doing a good job of protecting lions.”

Robin Freeman, at the Zoological Society of London, UK, said: “While looking at things on aggregate is interesting, the real interesting nitty gritty comes in the details. What are the drivers that cause the declines in particular areas?”

Freeman was part of the team that produced a 2014 analysis of 3000 species that indicated that 50% of individual animals have been lost since 1970, which tallies with the new work but was based on different IUCN data. He agreed strong language is needed: “We need people to be aware of the catastrophic declines we are seeing. I do think there is a place for that within the [new] paper, although it’s a fine line to draw.”

Citing human overpopulation as the root cause of environmental problems has long been controversial, and Ehrlich’s 1968 statement that hundreds of millions of people would die of starvation in the 1970s did not come to pass, partly due to new high-yielding crops that Ehrlich himself had noted as possible.

Ehrlich has acknowledged “flaws” in The Population Bomb but said it had been successful in its central aim – alerting people to global environmental issues and the the role of human population in them. His message remains blunt today: “Show me a scientist who claims there is no population problem and I’ll show you an idiot.”
Earth’s five previous mass extinctions

End-Ordovician, 443 million years ago

A severe ice age led to sea level falling by 100m, wiping out 60-70% of all species which were prominently ocean dwellers at the time. Then soon after the ice melted leaving the oceans starved of oxygen.

Late Devonian, c 360 million years ago

A messy prolonged climate change event, again hitting life in shallow seas very hard, killing 70% of species including almost all corals.

Permian-Triassic, c 250 million years ago

The big one – more than 95% of species perished, including trilobites and giant insects – strongly linked to massive volcanic eruptions in Siberia that caused a savage episode of global warming.

Triassic-Jurassic, c 200 million years ago

Three-quarters of species were lost, again most likely due to another huge outburst of volcanism. It left the Earth clear for dinosaurs to flourish.

Cretaceous-Tertiary, 65 million years ago

An giant asteroid impact on Mexico, just after large volcanic eruptions in what is now India, saw the end of the dinosaurs and ammonites. Mammals, and eventually humans, took advantage.

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« Reply #25 on: Jul 11, 2017, 04:52 AM »

Coal-fired plants top polluters in Europe?


HELSINKI (AP) — Coal-fired power stations are responsible for the most pollution in Europe, with Britain among the top polluters, the European Union says. The European Environment Agency said in a report late Sunday that half of the plants responsible for the largest releases of air and water pollution were in Britain, with a total of 14. Germany was second with seven, followed by France and Poland, each with five.

The agency reviewed emissions data from 35,000 industrial plants in 2015 — the latest available data — including power stations, petrochemical refineries and metal processing units from the 28 members of the European Union, and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Serbia.

It said that "good progress is being made by the EU toward its climate and energy policy objectives for 2020 and 2030." However, it noted that coal remains the most used fuel in large combustion plants — power plants, refineries, large chemical plants and steelworks — despite a decreasing amount being used over recent years, and a threefold increase in biomass use between 2004 and 2015.

Coal is still responsible for the largest releases of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the environment, although some plants have significantly improved their environmental performance over recent years, releasing fewer emissions into the environment.

The worst in 2015 were the Belchatow power plant in Poland, which released the highest amounts of the three pollutants, while the Drax power station in Britain, Jaenschwalde in Germany, and Kozienice in Poland were listed as top polluting plants for each of the three pollutants.

This story has been corrected to show that the name of the agency is the European Environment Agency.

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« Reply #26 on: Jul 11, 2017, 05:00 AM »

World's Most Effective Environmental Treaty Turns 30

By David Doniger and Alex Hillbrand

This is a big year for the Montreal Protocol—the 30th anniversary of the world's most successful environmental protection agreement.

Every country on Earth is a party to this treaty, which has prevented catastrophic destruction of the ozone layer that protects us from the sun's dangerous ultraviolet radiation. Phasing out ozone-destroying chemicals has also provided a huge climate protection side-benefit, because many of those chemicals are also powerful heat-trapping agents. Countries took climate protection a step farther by adopting the Kigali Amendment to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in October 2016.

Representatives of the parties, industry and nongovernmental organizations are gathered this week in Bangkok. Topping the agenda are steps to complete the accelerated phase-out of the last generation of ozone-depleting chemicals—the hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)—agreed in 2007, by negotiating the next three year "replenishment" of funding to assist developing countries in meeting their reduction commitments. Countries are also discussing the role of the Montreal Protocol in supporting energy efficiency improvements as a co-benefit of transitioning to environmentally friendly refrigerants in air conditioners and refrigeration.

The funding branch of the Montreal Protocol, the Multilateral Fund (MLF), covers the agreed incremental costs that developing countries incur to meet their obligations under the Protocol. Every three years, countries agree to replenish the MLF to support country programs to help convert from old to new substances and from old to new product designs. This week, negotiations will begin for the period 2018-2020, ultimately leading to an agreed replenishment level at the Meeting of the Parties in November 2017.

The bulk of the MLF's activity in the next three-year period will focus on the phase-out of HCFCs. It will also include funding for countries to avoid transitioning to HFCs with high climate-warming power (global warming potential or GWP) by leapfrogging straight from ozone-depleting chemicals to low-GWP alternatives. This will help avoid the buildup of HFC-using equipment that must later be replaced . Funding over the next three years will also include money for important preliminary HFC-related activities. Eligible HFC-specific initial activities have been under discussion since last October and were recently agreed by the MLF's governing Executive Committee (ExCom).

Last week, the ExCom agreed that the MLF will fund a list of initial "enabling activities" (i.e., activities that precede preparation of national implementation plans) to support the phasedown of HFCs, including supporting country actions for early Kigali Amendment ratification, work on institutional arrangements and licensing systems, data reporting on HFC production and consumption, and more.

In addition, the committee agreed to fund a limited number of HFC phase-down investment projects not tied to any country plan to phase down HFCs. These pilot-type projects will help the MLF determine typical costs for HFC conversions, and will aid ExCom as it writes guidelines for how much funding should be made available for HFC phase-down activities. These projects will offer leadership companies in developing countries a great opportunity to start phasing down HFCs early, with financial support from the Protocol.

Countries also requested a study on the most cost-effective ways to destroy HFC-23, a super-potent by-product of HCFC-22 production, with a GWP 14,800 times that of carbon dioxide. The first major commitment of developing countries under the Kigali Amendment is mandatory destruction of HFC-23 starting Jan. 1, 2020. Better understating the costs will help the MLF allocate funds for the required destruction. Key issues surrounding funding eligibility, however, will not be addressed by this study.

While the vast majority of the funding for the 2018-2020 replenishment will be devoted to the HCFC phase-out, these three ExCom decisions begin to build the framework for implementing the Kigali Amendment and will guide parties to provide additional funding for preliminary HFC-related activities. The Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP), which advises the parties on the replenishment, will now be able to add HFC-related activities to its replenishment report, which provides advice to the parties on funding.

The TEAP's final report will be done in advance of the Meeting of the Parties in November 2017, at which the total funding for the replenishment will be agreed. A robust funding package for the 2018-2020 replenishment will help developing countries complete the HCFC phase-out and start the HFC phase-down ahead of schedule. To fulfill the promise of the Kigali Amendment, it will be important for funding countries to provide ample support to allow countries to leapfrog HFCs whenever possible and, in addition, to begin setting the stage for the full phasedown of HFCs in the years to come.

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« Reply #27 on: Jul 11, 2017, 05:04 AM »

Al Gore: We Don't Need Trump to Meet Paris Climate Goals

By Andy Rowell

Donald Trump is so "isolated" on climate change that the U.S. will meet or even exceed its Paris agreement emission targets without him, according to former Vice President Al Gore.

Speaking in Australia to promote his latest film on the subject, An Inconvenient Sequel, Gore said:

He has isolated himself … The country as a whole is going to meet the commitments of the Paris agreement, regardless of what Donald Trump says or does."

Trump's increasing irrelevance was clear to see at the weekend's G20 summit. If you read the press reports, the word that keeps popping up is "isolated," the same words that Al Gore used.

As one seasoned political reporter from Australia noted, "We learned that Donald Trump has pressed fast-forward on the decline of the United States as a global leader. He managed to isolate his nation, to confuse and alienate his allies and to diminish America."

The reporter, Chris Uhlmann, also observed that Trump was "an uneasy, lonely, awkward figure at this gathering and you got the strong sense that some of the leaders are trying to find the best way to work around him."

"Donald Trump was left isolated at the end of a fractious G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, after every other world leader signed up to a declaration that the Paris climate agreement was irreversible following an unprecedented standoff," noted the Guardian.

Andrew Light, a senior climate change adviser at the State Department under President Obama, added, "This is a clear indication that the U.S. has isolated itself on climate change once again, and is falling back while all other major economies step up and compete in the clean energy marketplace created by the Paris agreement estimated to be worth over 20 trillion dollars."

Much to Trump's dismay, the other G19 nations forged ahead without him on climate. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who hosted the summit, said "I am gratified to note that the other 19 members of the G20 feel the Paris agreement is irreversible."

Merkel added: "Wherever there is no consensus that can be achieved, disagreement has to be made clear. "Unfortunately—and I deplore this—the United States of America left the climate agreement."

President Macron from France said that there would be another summit in Paris in December to mark the two-year anniversary of the original Paris agreement and to continue the push for concerted international action on climate.

You can bet that "isolated" Trump will not be there. As he flew back to Washington after the summit, you know that the real climate action in the U.S. is happening at the state and local level.

As Al Gore said, "There is a distinction between Donald Trump and the United States of America, especially on the climate issue. The country as a whole is moving forward, the progress cannot be stopped." The president is irrelevant

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« Reply #28 on: Jul 11, 2017, 05:08 AM »

Scientists Solve Climate Hiatus 'Puzzle of the Century': So Now What?

By Tim Radford

Two U.S. scientists have solved the hypothetical puzzle of the century: how to explain the reported climate "hiatus" and reconcile two different ways of predicting the global temperature by 2100.

They say they now know why computer simulations and the forecasts made by a study of the historical record don't seem to agree.

The good news is that scholarly conflict may have been resolved. The bad news is that, if carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are permitted to double, then the average global temperatures could reach 4.5°C by the century's end, or even up to 6°C.

The debate may seem entirely academic, if only because 197 nations of the world undertook to contain global warming to "well below" 2°C by the end of the century by drastically reducing the consumption of fossil fuels.

Not enough

But collectively, the national plans so far proposed do not look likely to meet this target, and the U.S. has threatened to withdraw from the undertaking anyway. So there remains a "what-if" case to settle a long-standing conflict.

And the conflict is this: examine the earth's climate over millions of years, and reconstruct greenhouse gas levels, and you get a prediction that says if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—for most of human history it has been 280 parts per million—doubles, then the average global temperatures will rise by between 1.5°C and 4.5°C. Use computer simulations, and you get much the same result.

But when you examine the results of temperature measurements taken since the thermometer was invented, and extrapolate, the answer is a bit different: 1°C to 3°C.

A new study in the journal Science Advances proposes a simple solution: the predictions based on recent historical evidence do not take into account all the natural cycles of long-term warming and cooling. Factor those in, and the circle can be squared.

Apparent pause

Research like this offers a glimpse of science in action. Scientists are never happy when prediction and observation don't match. For years, they have worried away at what has become known as the "so-called hiatus" or apparent pause in the rate of global warming in the first dozen or so years of this century.

In fact the world continued to warm, but the rate of warming was significantly slower than that measured in the last two decades of the 20th century.

Some argued that the world had warmed, but all the heat had gone into the oceans. Others argued that any apparent slowdown could only be fleeting and global warming would accelerate again. Yet a third school maintained that the pause was entirely illusory, and that even if there was a pause it would have no effect on long-term predictions.

These competing explanations were in themselves evidence that the mismatch of data and prediction bothered the climate boffins.

Avoiding extremes

For much the same reason, researchers have tried to find what might be called the extreme hypothetical limits to climate change: for instance, could carbon dioxide levels fall so low the planet would entirely freeze? (The answer is, so far, no).

Could the greenhouse gas levels get so high that the oceans could boil dry? The answer is, in theory yes: the earth could become up to 60°C hotter than it is now, and uninhabitable, but mercifully, only in theory.

So the outcome of the latest study is an academic confirmation that different patterns and rates of warming play into the big picture. Land, for instance, warms faster than ocean. Most of the land surface of the planet is in the northern hemisphere. So there is a good reason why global warming is, or seems, uneven.

"The historical pattern of warming is that most of the warming has occurred over land, in particular over the northern hemisphere," said Cristian Proistosescu, who made the study at Harvard University.

"This pattern of warming is known as the fast mode—you put CO2 in the atmosphere and very quickly after that, the land in the northern hemisphere is going to warm."

But the warming of the Southern Ocean, swirling around Antarctica, and the Eastern Equatorial Pacific proceed at a different pace, and with changes in cloud cover which complicate the calculations. So Proistosescu and his co-author worked on the mathematics necessary to resolve their little local difficulty.

"The models simulate a warming pattern like today's, but indicate that strong feedbacks kick in when the Southern Ocean and Eastern Equatorial Pacific eventually warm, leading to higher overall temperatures than would simply be extrapolated from the warming seen to date," said Peter Huybers, an earth and planetary scientist at Harvard, and the other author.

The message is that the slow mode matters, but only in the long term. What can be measured now, and recently, does not necessarily indicate how things will end up eight decades on.

"Historical observations give us a lot of insight into how climate changes and are an important test of our climate models," said Huybers, "but there is no perfect analogue for the changes that are coming."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

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« Reply #29 on: Jul 11, 2017, 05:10 AM »

19 Aquariums Pledge to Fight Plastic Pollution, Ban Single-Use Plastic Bags and Straws


A collaboration of aquariums across the U.S. have launched a campaign Monday to reduce ocean and freshwater plastic pollution.

Notably, as of today, all 19 aquariums that belong to the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) have "eliminated" plastic straws and single-use carryout plastic bags at their facilities.

Some of the biggest aquariums in the country are part of the ACP's "In Our Hands" effort, including the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Boston's New England Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. The 19 aquariums of the ACP span 16 states and count 20 million visitors each year.

Other anti-plastic goals of the In Our Hands campaign include:

    Significantly reduce or eliminate plastic beverage bottles by December 2020
    Showcase innovative alternatives to single-use plastic in their facilities (such as reusable bags, paper straws, reusable water bottles and water refilling stations)

More than 8 million tons of plastic enters our oceans each year, causing extensive damage to marine life. Freshwater sources such as lakes and rivers have also seen significant levels of plastic trash.

"Approximately 22 million pounds of plastic flows into the Great Lakes each year—in Lake Michigan alone, it is equivalent to 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools filled with bottles," said Shedd Aquarium President and CEO Dr. Bridget Coughlin. "Small actions can turn into big solutions, and we believe the 24 million people in the United States who rely on this beautiful, massive resource for their drinking water, jobs and livelihoods want to be part of that wave of change. We look forward to working together in these commitments."

A major part of the effort is to encourage aquarium vendors and visitors to reduce their plastic footprint.

"As leaders in aquatic conservation, aquariums are expected to walk their talk, and that's exactly what this partnership is meant to do," said National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli. "We are uniquely qualified to set an example for others—in reducing our plastic footprint, encouraging sustainable operating practices, and inspiring hope in a public that is hungry to be part of the solution. We're right where we should be."

The aquariums will also continue pushing for policy changes at the local, state and national level to reduce the flow of plastic pollution into our waters. For instance, in 2016, Monterey Bay Aquarium urged Californians to vote yes on Proposition 67 to uphold the state's ban on single-use plastic carryout bags.

"By using our voice with visitors our and in our communities, our collective buying power and our relationships with our vendors, we can make a big difference on a pressing issue that threatens the health of wildlife in the ocean, lakes and rivers," said Monterey's Executive Director Julie Packard. "The solution to plastic pollution is in our hands."

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