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« Reply #15 on: Apr 02, 2018, 05:04 AM »

The heartbreaking life of Somali refugee women in Indonesia – in pictures

Escaping unimaginable atrocities in their home country, the refugees face poverty, hunger and homelessness in Jakarta

Aaron Bunch, Australian Associated Press
Mon 2 Apr 2018 02.59 BST

Click to see all: https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2018/apr/02/the-heartbreaking-life-of-somalia-refugee-women-in-indonesia-in-pictures

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« Reply #16 on: Apr 02, 2018, 05:05 AM »

Costa Rica: Carlos Alvarado wins presidency in vote fought on gay rights

Carlos Alvarado Quesada promises ‘government for everybody’ after run-off where he trounced conservative who threatened to wind back tolerance

Mon 2 Apr 2018 06.14 BST

The centre-left’s Carlos Alvarado Quesada has decisively defeated a conservative Protestant singer in Costa Rica’s presidential runoff election by promising to allow gay marriage, protecting the country’s reputation for tolerance.

A former minister and fiction writer, Alvarado Quesada, 38, had 61% of the vote with results in from 95% of polling stations, a far bigger lead than predicted by opinion polls that foresaw a tight race.

“My commitment is to a government for everybody, in equality and liberty for a more prosperous future,” he told thousands of cheering supporters blowing horns and waving Costa Rica’s red, white and blue flag.

“There is much more that unites us than divides us.”

His rival, Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz, a 43-year-old former TV journalist known for religious dance songs, quickly conceded, sinking to his knees, arms raised, in front of supporters, some of them crying.

“We didn’t win the election,” he said, adding that he had congratulated his opponent in a telephone call and, in another sign of Costa Rica’s cordial politics, promised to help him resolve the country’s problems.

The election had exposed divisions in the Central American tourist destination known for laid-back beach culture and pristine rainforests, but where some rural communities remain socially conservative.

It could also reflect the mood elsewhere in Latin America, where elections are being held this year in several countries that have backed same-sex unions, provoking a conservative reaction.

Alvarado Quesada, until recently a minister in the outgoing government, will be the youngest president in the modern history of Costa Rica when he takes office in May.

Also known for his student prog-rock band, he used the campaign to appeal to his country’s centrist streak. His vice presidential candidate, Epsy Campbell, will be the country’s first Afro-Costa Rican to serve in that role.

Alvarado Muñoz had vowed to restore what he called traditional values by preventing gay marriage and restricting women’s access to abortions.

In the campaign’s final debate, Alvarado Quesada called his opponent’s comments homophobic.

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« Reply #17 on: Apr 02, 2018, 05:07 AM »

Interview: Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Greece is a debtors’ prison’

By Helena Smith in Athens

The maverick former finance minister is in fighting mood as he launches his new party, MeRA25

2 Apr 2018 07.00 BST

Yanis Varoufakis is back. He, of course, would say he never went away, but in Greece’s hurly-burly world of politics his is a name prone to triggering toxic reaction.

Abroad, the shaven-headed economist is feted as the man who took on Europe’s establishment. At home, the former finance minister is seen, on both left and right, as a reckless incarnation of all that was wrong with Greece at the height of its struggle to remain in the eurozone. In Athens and Brussels, his confrontational style is still blamed for the price the debt-stricken country had to pay to be bailed out in the summer of 2015.

Although his resignation now seems a long time ago, the sight of Varoufakis launching his own party in Greece has unleashed emotions that have run the gamut from enthusiasm to anger and disdain. Media reaction has been cool; so, too, has that of politicians. None of which seems to bother him in the least.

“Nobody believes the systemic media in Greece, and they’re all bankrupt,” he told the Observer with typical defiance, days after announcing his new venture in a packed Athens theatre. “To those who say I cost the country, and I’ve heard €30bn, €86bn, €100bn and even €200bn… I say I cost exactly zero. The troika [of creditors] cost Greece two generations and continue to impose cost.”

    Alexis Tsipras and his colleagues… have condemned Greece to debt and bondage for another 30 years

At 57, in his leather bomber jacket and boots, Varoufakis clearly relishes his anti-establishment role and believes the birth of his European Realistic Disobedience Front, AKA MeRA25, is not a moment too late. Greece, almost nine years after the eurozone crisis erupted, is still condemned to being a debtors’ colony, he says. Prime minister Alexis Tsipras, and his once radical leftwing Syriza party, not only gave up the good fight; they signed up to the draconian austerity demands of Germany in exchange for a third bailout that has only exacerbated the nation’s plight. For Varoufakis, it was a huge political – and personal – betrayal.

“I think Tsipras and his colleagues have seriously let themselves down. They are young people, and they have to walk the streets knowing that they have condemned this country to debt bondage for another 30 years,” he says. “I am probably the only one who did what they said they would do.”

Bankruptcy and Greece’s battle to keep it at bay was the force that prompted the academic to go into politics in the first place. On Monday, it was still the force that propelled him on to the stage to announce MeRA25, founded with the express purpose of not only reclaiming democracy but stopping Greece’s inexorable slide into further debt serfdom and insolvency.

In a political landscape that veers from the extreme left to the extreme right, Varoufakis believes there is room for impact. “Our target is the 1 million Greeks who don’t abstain from voting due to apathy but because they are highly politicised. It’s another unique phenomenon in this country.”

Under the party’s programme, on day one banks would be nationalised and proposals advanced to radically reduce Athens’s staggering debt load – at about €320bn or 180% of GDP, by far the highest in the EU. “I wake up, and dream at night, of debt [relief]. It’s like being a prisoner of war. You have to try to escape. Our country is a debtors’ prison.”

Part of the pan-European DiEM25, or Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, that he co-founded two years ago, this new grassroots alliance of leftwingers, progressives, feminists and greens already has a reported 7,000 members.

DiEM25, which is active in seven countries “but spreading fast,” reportedly has more than 100,000 members and the endorsement of the likes of Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky, the radical linguist who via video link on Monday described MeRA25 as “a beacon of hope in a troubled world”.

But does Varoufakis mean trouble for Greece? After all, the new movement has set itself the not inconsiderable goal of dismantling Europe’s “toxic, class-oriented, powerless and discredited” establishment by 2025. At the height of the debt crisis, Varoufakis claimed the austerity measures Athens was being forced to apply were tantamount to “fiscal waterboarding”.

Far from being anti-EU, or in favour of the bloc’s break-up, Varoufakis insists supporters want more of it. “We are radical Europeanists, we are in the EU but against this EU,” he says. “We are not proposing exit or disbandment. We are not recoiling into the bosom of the nation state. We want to see Europe democratised, not disintegrated.”

The self-declared “erratic Marxist” has long argued that without reform, the continent is heading for trouble. Already the bloc has begun to breed monsters. The far right, xenophobia, racism are all in the ascendant. Stuck in its own Great Depression, Greece makes fertile ground for such malaise. “Europe must be saved from itself. If [Golden Dawn] hadn’t been such thugs,” he says referring to the nation’s own neo-Nazi party, “it would be 30%, not 10%, now.”

MeRA 25 has been working behind the scenes for a year now. Its plan is to contest the European elections in May 2019, although Varoufakis acknowledges Tsipras may elect to call a general election before that. After almost a decade under international surveillance, Athens will exit its third international rescue programme – the biggest sovereign bailout in global financial history – in August.

With his popularity compromised under the weight of enforcing measures he once vehemently opposed, Tsipras may opt to capitalise on the success of finally exiting the programme and economic oversight. “We have travelled the whole country and held rallies in all major towns,” says Varoufakis, adding that politicians are already expressing interest in jumping ship.

Far from being saved, Varoufakis believes Greece’s future has been put on hold. If anything, he argues, it is in for an even tougher time because Europe has elected to tackle its debt problem by taking the “extend and pretend” approach of prolonging repayment timetables and condemning the country to decades of further austerity. More pension cuts and tax hikes loom, legislated by MPs at the behest of the EU and International Monetary Fund.

Short of measures to stop the rot, Varoufakis quips that he sees Greece becoming another Kosovo, “with beautiful beaches, only it’s a protectorate emptied of its young people. Every month 15-20,000 young Greeks leave. Everywhere I go, I meet them.”

At the University of Athens, where he has returned to his old teaching post, students line up to get references for menial jobs, he says. It’s outrageous, he counters, that the government should choose to “celebrate” what it calls an almost seven-point drop in unemployment when the uglier truth is that so many people are leaving the country for wealthier climes.

Up close, Varoufakis is still all swagger and in chipper mood. But whether he can capitalise on Syriza’s losses is far from certain. At the last election – the first he contested as an MP – he won more votes than any other candidate on Syriza’s ticket. These days, Greeks have less appetite for confrontation.

Forever the maverick, Varoufakis announces that he doesn’t really mind. He always has “a book on the boil” and, anyway, he never wanted to be a minister.

“You have no idea what it is like to be on the receiving end of such toxicity,” he says, suddenly looking pained. “For me, personally, the worst thing that could happen is to go back to a parliament that is so distressing, unproductive and boring.”

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« Reply #18 on: Apr 02, 2018, 05:10 AM »

Myanmar parliament elects Suu Kyi loyalist as new president

New Europe

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's parliament on Wednesday elected as the country's new president a longtime loyalist of Aung San Suu Kyi who is expected to carry on his predecessor's practice of deferring to her as her nation's de facto leader.

The election of Win Myint comes as Suu Kyi's civilian government has struggled to implement peace and national reconciliation, with the powerful military still embroiled in combat with ethnic rebels and under heavy international criticism for its brutal counterinsurgency campaign against the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Myanmar's military ruled the country for a half-century during which it was accused of widespread abuses before partially handing power to a civilian government in 2016. It remains in charge of security matters and still faces accusations of rights abuses.

Win Myint, the vice president selected as presidential candidate by the lower house and backed by Suu Kyi's ruling party, received 403 votes from the combined houses. Myint Swe, the vice president with the military's backing, had 211 votes and Henry Van Tio, the vice president selected by the upper house, had 18.

"I will try my best to the greatest degree I have and carry out my civic duties as best I can," the newly elected president told reporters as he left parliament after the vote. Like his predecessor, Htin Kyaw, who retired last week due to ill health, Win Myint, 66, is a longtime Suu Kyi loyalist and a stalwart member of her National League for Democracy party, an affiliation that earned him a brief spell as a political prisoner more than two decades ago under the previous military government.

When Suu Kyi's government was installed in 2016, she explained that she would be "above the president," a situation amenable to both the president and the public. The job of state counsellor was created especially for Suu Kyi because she is constitutionally banned from the presidency. A clause in the 2008 military-drafted constitution bars anyone with a foreign spouse or child from holding the job. It clearly targeted Suu Kyi, whose two sons are British, as was her late husband.

Myanmar's president is elected by a joint sitting of the two houses of parliament from among the country's three vice presidents, representing the lower house, the upper house and the military. Under the constitution, the military holds special privileges in the country's administration, including a 25 percent share of parliamentary seats and the three security portfolios in the Cabinet.

The National League for Democracy's landslide election victory in late 2015 gave it large majorities in both houses. Having been both a member of the NLD's Central Executive Committee and speaker of the lower house for two years shows Win Myint holds the skills to be president, said Win Zaw, a lower house lawmaker from the party.

"We hope that he will do great work as the president, and I am sure he will use his power to do the best he can for the country," he said. Win Myint, who resigned as speaker of the lower house last week, was a successful parliamentary candidate in the 1990 general election, which was invalidated by the military, denying him his seat. He was elected in 2012 and again in 2015.

Born in the Irrawaddy Delta in 1951, Win Myint won his degree in geology in Yangon, only to become a lawyer in the 1980s. His involvement with the NLD began when it was established during the failed anti-military uprising of 1988, which led to his brief stint in prison. In 2010, he became a member of the Central Executive Committee of Suu Kyi's party.

"Win Myint was educated as a lawyer and has been loyal to the party as well," said Aung Shin, a close friend and colleague. "More importantly, he has always worked together with Aung San Suu Kyi and they have mutual trust. I see him as a very reliable person who will be a great president for the country, and people are very optimistic about him."

Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadipa Institute, a policy advocacy group, questioned whether Win Myint's fealty to Suu Kyi was an asset. "To those who are asking, he will be forever Aung San Suu Kyi's henchman," he said. "I don't expect much change in the presidency, unless Win Myint puts the country's interests before Aung San Suu Kyi's and that of the military."

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« Reply #19 on: Apr 02, 2018, 05:15 AM »

Alleged Russian hacker extradited. Will he help Mueller probe?

McClatchy Washington Bureau
4/2/ 2018 at 09:01 ET   

WASHINGTON — The Czech Republic's long-sought decision to surrender custody to the FBI of an alleged Russian hacker signals a potential break in the investigation of Kremlin meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.

The Justice Department announced Friday afternoon Yevgeniy Nikulin's sudden appearance in a San Francisco federal courtroom after an 18-month legal tug-of-war with the Russian government, which made a competing claim to extradite Nikulin.

Nikulin, 30, was arrested in a Prague restaurant on Oct. 5, 2016, and three days later, then-President Barack Obama made his first accusation of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. On Oct. 20, Nikulin was indicted on federal charges of hacking the private user databases of three U.S. internet giants — LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring — and mail accounts tied to Google. The indictment alleges Nikulin used several aliases, including Chinabig01 and itBlackHat.

Nikulin's extradition is expected to lead to intense pressure from U.S. prosecutors for him to agree to a plea deal so that investigators can learn what he knows about the Kremlin's cyberoperations. Still to be learned is whether Nikulin has information that could assist special counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry into whether Donald Trump's presidential campaign colluded in Russia's cyberattacks during the election.

"The FBI will not allow international cyber criminals to operate with impunity," John Bennett, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Francisco office, said in a statement. "Nikulin allegedly targeted three Bay Area companies through cyber-attacks and will now face prosecution in the United States."

Nikulin's extradition happened days after a visit to Prague by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who called for his extradition during his stay. Ryan and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis discussed the case during a meeting Tuesday. Ryan tweeted out thanks late Friday for the action.

Russia and the United States both sought his extradition. Russia's request sought to bring Nikulin back to that country to face minor internet theft charges that many observers felt were cobbled together in order to keep Nikulin from falling into American hands and divulging potentially embarrassing information about Kremlin intelligence operations. Radio Praha reported Friday that the Russian ambassador was not informed of Nikulin's extradition and that the Czech court would explain the basis for its decision on April 3.

The world of cybercrime is a murky one, and experts have long contended that Russia's FSB tolerates it because it is able, when needed, to call in chits and have criminal organizations do its bidding.

"The red flag for me is why the Russians fought so hard to keep him from being extradited," said Nick Akerman, a former Watergate prosecutor. "Why would they care about some low-level hacker?"

Akerman added that Nikulin was "in the right place, at the right time in terms of what the Mueller probe is interested in. ... The fact that the Russians fought so hard makes you wonder (what he knows). You'd certainly expect the Mueller team would want to talk to him."

One of Nikulin's alleged targets was Formspring, a social media site that drew national attention because it was used by disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who employed the now-infamous alias Carlos Danger on that network. Weiner, then the husband of Hillary Clinton's top aide Huma Abedin, has admitted to having sexually explicit online chats on Formspring with a young woman. The revelation became an ongoing embarrassment for the Clinton campaign.

Weiner admitted sexting and online chats that happened in 2012 and into 2013. The indictment against Nikulin alleges his hack of Formspring occurred between June 13 and June 19, 2012. It also alleges that he downloaded to a computer outside the United States the platform's user database — complete with email addresses, names and encrypted passwords.

Since his arrest in the Czech capital, Nikulin appealed his extradition. His appeals reportedly reached their endpoint this week. Nikulin's extradition notches another victory for the FBI, which has managed to nab alleged hackers in cities across the globe.

The FBI office that investigated Nikulin also, last March, built the first-ever criminal cybercase against a Russian state actor. That case involved the hack of Yahoo's network and 500 million of its subscribers. Two of the four defendants were officers of Russia's Federal Security Service, a Russian spy agency known by the letters FSB.

Those defendants are still in Russia, out of the reach of U.S. authorities.

The sudden extradition followed a week of tit-for-tat expulsions of Russian diplomats by the United States and its allies, and Russian retaliation. The expulsions were a response to the nerve-agent poisoning in Great Britain of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, which Prime Minister Theresa May put at the feet of the Russian government.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions hinted at that in a statement Friday about the allegations against Nikulin.

"This is deeply troubling behavior once again emanating from Russia," he said. "We will not tolerate criminal cyber-attacks and will make it a priority to investigate and prosecute these crimes, regardless of the country where they originate."

The big questions on the minds of prosecutors, intelligence officials and cybersecurity experts are just what Nikulin knows and who he might have worked with. The indictment mentions a co-conspirator but no one else has yet been named or charged.

Another looming question is whether Nikulin worked with the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based troll farm tied to Russian intelligence. In February, Mueller brought an indictment accusing 13 Russians, including several intelligence officials, and three companies of roles in sowing chaos and aiding Trump in 2016 election. These Russians sought to spread distrust among voters and in the election results, and they were bankrolled, according to the Mueller indictment, by a businessman friend of Russian leader Vladimir Putin named Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin

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« Reply #20 on: Apr 02, 2018, 05:41 AM »

Israel rejects UN and EU calls for inquiry into Gaza bloodshed

Defence minister says soldiers ‘did what had to be done’ after protests turned violent

Oliver Holmes and Hazem Balousha in Gaza City
2 Apr 2018 17.51 BST

Israel’s defence minister has rejected United Nations and European Union calls for an investigation into the killing of more than a dozen Palestinians by the military during demonstrations on the Gaza frontier.

Gaza’s coastal enclave has been shaken by the bloodiest episode in years after protests advertised as peaceful sit-ins turned violent, with Israeli troops firing rounds of live ammunition at crowds of stone-throwers.

Hospitals in Gaza have recorded hundreds of emergency admissions from the protest, and doctors have said most were for gunshot wounds.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, and the EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, called for independent inquiries into the bloodshed, which left 16 people dead.

But the Israeli defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told Israel’s public radio on Sunday that there will not be an inquiry. “From the standpoint of the [Israeli Defence Force] soldiers, they did what had to be done,” he said. “I think that all of our troops deserve a commendation.”

Israel has accused Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, of using “violent riots to camouflage terror”. It also pointed to an attempted gun attack on Friday against soldiers along the border.

Israeli army spokespeople have said claims by the Gaza health ministry that more than 750 people were wounded by live fire are exaggerated.

At the Gaza Strip’s main Shifa hospital, the digital registry of A&E admissions on Friday, seen by the Guardian, showed that from 8.45am until the end of the day, 275 people from the protest arrived. It did not specify injuries, but doctors said most had gunshot wounds to the legs.

A clerk said a further eight patients were transferred from surrounding clinics to Shifa’s operating theatres. Surgeons said many patients had large exit wounds.

On Sunday a 23-year-old man, Adam Abu Ghanima, said he had just driven to the hospital from a demonstration, which was smaller than Friday’s. His kneecap had been pierced and blood soaked the sheets of the bed where he lay.

He said he had planned to place a Palestinian flag near the frontier. “I was right next to the Israeli soldiers. Before they shot me, they fired warning shots in the air,” he said. But he kept going, he added, “to bring Jerusalem back”.

Another man said he had been shot trying to lift a Palestinian flag that had fallen over on the Gazan side.

Doctors said most of those admitted since Friday had been discharged, but some awaiting surgery lay in beds surrounded by friends and families.

Ibrahim Fathi Hasna, 22, said he and another man who had wire cutters and a Molotov cocktail had managed to cut through a fence at a protest on Saturday to breach an Israeli-controlled area. They were both shot.

Hasna said he crawled back, eyes filled with teargas, until he was hoisted into an ambulance. The other man was hit in the back, he said, and he was unsure of his condition. Asked why he had wanted to cross the fence, he replied: “I just wanted to be there.”

The Great March of Return is a planned six-week demonstration calling for refugees and their descendants to be allowed back to their family homes in Israel. Backed by Hamas and other militant and political Palestinian factions, larger gatherings are expected every Friday, the holy day for Muslims.

Israel did not specify exact orders to troops, but a spokesperson said anyone approaching the “hostile border” was a potential threat. “People coming towards the fence, attempting to penetrate and break into the fence, damaging the infrastructure or using that area as a staging ground could potentially be shot,” said Lt Col Peter Lerner, of the Israel Defense Forces.

On Sunday Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, called Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a “terrorist”. Netanyahu tweeted that the Israeli army “will not be lectured by those who have indiscriminately bombed civilian populations for years”, referring to Turkey.

Gaza has been blockaded for a decade by Israel and Egypt, which tightly control goods and people entering the 140 sq mile area.

The demonstrations in Gaza appeared to be split in two, with women and children staying hundreds of metres from the perimeter fence, protesting in a festival-like atmosphere. Groups of mostly young men headed closer to throw rocks and light bottles of petrol. There have been no reports of Israeli casualties.

Israel said 10 of the dead belonged to Hamas. Hamas said five members of its armed wing who participated in the protest were killed.

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« Reply #21 on: Apr 02, 2018, 05:43 AM »

Anger in India as lowest caste protests Supreme Court order

New Europe

NEW DELHI  — Violence erupted in several parts of northern and central India on Monday as thousands of dalits, members of Hinduism's lowest caste, protested an order from the country's top court that they say dilutes legal safeguards put in place for their marginalized community.

Caste prejudice is endemic in Hindu-majority India, even though the constitution outlaws the practice and has made it a crime punishable by up to a year in prison. The law also states that anyone accused of a caste-related crime could face immediate arrest. However, last month the Supreme Court ruled that in order to prevent misuse of the law, government officers accused of flouting it can be arrested only after their supervisors sign off on an inquiry.

Dalit groups say that the law is already poorly enforced with abysmally low conviction rates and that the top court's order dilutes it further. Several groups called for a nationwide protest on Monday demanding that the top court review its order.

As protests spread across the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, India's law minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, told reporters that the federal government would petition the court seeking a review.

The dalits are lowest in Hinduism's caste hierarchy and for centuries were marginalized and forced to perform only certain jobs considered menial by other castes. These included skinning dead animal carcasses and cleaning toilets. They were not allowed into temples or permitted to study religious texts.

Independent India's constitution, which came into effect in 1950, outlawed the practice of discriminating on the basis of caste. Over the years, stringent laws were put into place to deter the practice. But caste-based discrimination continues even though it's less visible in modern India.

Last week, news reports said a dalit man was hacked to death by upper caste villagers because he owned and rode a horse, long considered a status symbol in rural India. Dalit schoolchildren routinely complain of being mistreated in schools and colleges.

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« Reply #22 on: Apr 03, 2018, 04:16 AM »

Evolve or die: Why our ancestors learned to be social more than 320,000 years ago

Los Angeles Times
4/3/ 2018 at 07:21 ET  

New discoveries in eastern Africa suggest that human behaviors like symbolic thought and the creation of extended social networks were established at least 320,000 years ago — tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

The work, published as a trio of papers Thursday in Science, sheds new light on the often murky story of when our ancestors first started acting like humans, and why, experts said.

"What we are seeing is a complex set of developments that may represent new ways of surviving in an unpredictable environment," said Rick Potts, a paleoanthropologist and director of the Smithsonian's Human Origins program. "It is a package we didn't know occurred so early, and right at the root of our species."

For more than 30 years, Potts has led excavations in southern Kenya at a site known as the Olorgesailie Basin, which was occupied by hominids for more than 1 million years.

The 50-square-mile area has yielded a sequence of stone tools that date back as far as 1.2 million years, allowing researchers to see how human technology and behavior has changed over time.

The authors found that for roughly 700,000 years, from 1.2 million to 499,000 years ago, the hominids who populated this basin relied almost entirely on one simple, all-purpose stone tool known as a hand ax. It was generally between 4 and 10 inches long, shaped like a teardrop and chipped all the way around.

Anthropologists believe this basic hand ax was used for a variety of purposes, including cutting through joints of large animals, chopping down trees and digging in the ground for roots, tubers or water.

"It was very successful for a long period of time when fluctuations in the environment were somewhat modest," Potts said. "Then all hell broke loose."

Geological evidence from the site indicates that around 499,000 years ago, the region experienced tremendous upheaval. Volcanic activity increased, and new faults developed in Earth's crust. This led to earthquakes that destroyed the ancient lake basin and pushed it up out of the ground. Because of this, there is a gap in the archaeological record of about 180,000 years when no new sediments were laid down at the site.

Over time, however, wind and rain caused river channels to form in what once was the lake basin, and eventually new sediment layers began to form. These processes led to a more recent set of archaeological data that starts about 320,000 years ago and continues until 3,000 years ago.

When Potts and his colleagues began excavating the newer material from the river channels, they found that hominid behavior at the Olorgesailie Basin had changed completely between the time the lake sedimentation ended and the river sedimentation began.

For example, the hand axes had been replaced by smaller, more sophisticated tools that could be attached to sticks and hurled through the air. In addition, the team found that some of the obsidian rock used to make the new tools came from 25 to 30 miles away. In the older sediments, nearly all the material used to create tools originated within 5 miles of the site.

Alison Brooks, a paleoanthropologist and Paleolithic archaeologist at George Washington University who contributed to the new work, said it is unlikely that hunter and gatherer societies of that time period would have been able to travel such great distances to procure materials for their weapons.

Instead, the discovery of the transported obsidian suggests that as early as 320,000 years ago, hominids had established social networks that allowed them to exchange gifts with groups from more distant lands, she said. In addition, these relationships could have been strong enough for individuals to turn to their neighbors in times of need.

"Social networks are an extremely important part of early human societies," Brooks said. "Pastoralists can store food or add cattle to their herds, but for hunter-gatherers, the only way to save for a rainy day is to have friends in distant places."

The researchers also found evidence that these socially connected hominids were making pigments from rocks, which implies they were sophisticated enough to be capable of symbolic thought. This might have made communication between disparate groups easier.

The authors suggest these new behaviors were not the inevitable result of evolution, but rather a response to massive geological and climate changes that began about 500,000 years ago. Indeed, the fossil record from the site indicates that between 499,000 and 320,000 years ago, 85 percent of the region's animals became extinct and were replaced by new lineages and entirely new species.

"That may seem peripheral, but to us, it was pretty central," Potts said. "It meant that it wasn't just the humans changing — there was a very big evolutionary picture going on."

Potts believes that the new suite of human behaviors observed after the 320,000-year mark emerged as a way to cope in an environment that had become less predictable.

Perhaps the only way to make a successful living in this more challenging landscape was for our ancestors to learn to make better tools, create extended networks of friends and learn to communicate with them, he said.

In other words: Evolve or die.

"There are those who rose to the challenge, but there were likely many more who didn't," Potts said. "Our family tree is littered with dead branches and ways of life that no longer exist."

Michael Petraglia, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany who was not involved in the research, said the new work offers an important window into the habitats and behaviors of hominids at a critical time in human evolution.

"This has been a murky and poorly known period," he said. "It is very rare to have well-dated stone tools in association with animal remains and environmental information."

Martin Ziegler, a paleoclimatologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, agreed.

"In particular, the dating of these archaeological records appears to be of very high quality," he said. "This is extremely important, since a good chronology is the basis for any evaluation of potential links between human evolutionary events and climate or environmental change."

But while anthropologists applauded the work, they also lamented the gaping 180,000-year break in the Olorgesailie Basin's timeline.

"Unfortunately, there is a large chronological gap between 500,000 years ago and 320,000 years ago," Petraglia said. "We need to know more about this period of time, and that can only come through investigations of other sites."

Shannon McPheron, a Paleolithic anthropologist also at Max Planck, put it this way: "Papers like these now increase the importance of finding additional sites that can speak to changes in environment, biology and behavior just prior to this."

The study authors are also hopeful that future discoveries will fill in these holes.

"What we are dealing with here is a larger question," Brooks said. "Did we become human gradually, or did we become human suddenly? We don't know because so far, we don't have the piece in the middle."

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« Reply #23 on: Apr 03, 2018, 04:43 AM »

Madagascar's vanilla wars: prized spice drives death and deforestation

As the price of pods has soared so has violence – and forest defenders are increasingly risking their lives to protect precious wildlife habitat from being felled for profit

Jonathan Watts in Anjahana

The vanilla thieves of Anjahana were so confident of their power to intimidate farmers they provided advance warning of raids. “We are coming tonight,” they would write in a note pushed under doors in this remote coastal village in Madagascar. “Prepare what we want.”

But they either undervalued their target commodity or overestimated the meekness of their victims. After one assault too many at the turn of the year, a crowd rounded up five alleged gangsters, dragged them into the village square and then set about the bloody task of mob justice.

“They hacked and stabbed them to death with machetes and harpoons,” said a vanilla farmer, who was among the crowd of onlookers. “I think it’s good. The police did nothing. Now the gangsters will be afraid of stealing from us. We have our own guard now. The young men of the community make patrols at night.”

These extrajudicial killings – confirmed to the Guardian by a local priest – have gone unsolved and under-reported internationally until now. But environmental defenders say they highlight how the surging price of vanilla on global markets is connected to village crime and forest destruction.

Madagascar is the world’s primary supplier of pods used to flavour ice cream, cakes and chocolate. Despite its notoriously bland reputation, a more-than-tenfold surge in the value of the spice over the past five years has aroused dangerous passions.

Crop thefts have been reported in most of the key growing regions and there have been dozens of murders. Some communities have called for protection from armed police. Others – as in Anjahana – have taken matters into their own hands.

From the capital Antananarivo, it takes a plane, a ferry, a gondola and two motorbike rides to reach this picturesque village. On the way, forest defender Clovis Razafimalala explains how the vanilla violence is a product of poorly regulated global markets, corrupt local politicians and a flood of cash from illegal rosewood trades to China.

Clovis, as he is known, has risked life and liberty to expose these connections. A co-founder of the environmental watchdog group Coalition Lampogno, he revealed how rosewood is trafficked through Maroantsetra port with the connivance of local businessmen supported by powerful national politicians. None of them were punished, but Clovis was accused of instigating public unrest and spent the next 10 months in prison. Thanks to an international outcry by Amnesty and other human rights groups, he was released last September, but his five-year sentence has only been suspended. He has reported threats and an arson attack on his home – a sign of the powerful forces he faces.

Rosewood has become the world’s most trafficked wildlife commodity, with sales from Madagascar alone worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Almost all of it is illegal and destined for China, where the hard wood is prized for furniture. In 2014, a single shipment of 30,000 logs was intercepted in Singapore en route from the island.

Authorisation for the contraband shipment – one of the biggest seizures in the history of Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) – had come from senior government officials, according to documents presented to court.

Since then, the trade has slowed. But Clovis says the gangs that previously felled and sold rosewood are now using their networks to sell endangered wildlife and laundering money through the vanilla industry. “It’s all the same people who profit,” he says.

Many share his views.

“It’s a fact that vanilla is being used to launder money made illegally from rosewood sales,” said Harisoa Ravaomanalina, a specialist in wood anatomy at the University of Antananarivo. “A big mafia is behind this and they’re close to our government.”

Vanilla prices have been rising due to increasing demand for natural flavouring in wealthy nations, cyclones that disrupted production, and crime.

But industry expert Serge Rajaobelina believes 5-10% of the price rise may be due to speculation by rosewood traders. “They had cash in their pockets and they saw the value of vanilla going up so they bought up stocks. This created a shortage, and so the price went higher.”

Rajaobelina runs Fanamby, an NGO that works with thousands of grassroots farmers to produce sustainable, traceable vanilla. He urged international buyers not to punish farmers, many of whom are from poor communities, but to look more closely at where products are sourced.

In the near future, he expects crime will drive up the price. “Farmers are afraid so they are harvesting early. That means the vanilla bubble is going to get bigger because there is high demand, low quality and low production.”

Vanilla is adding to deforestation pressures. At Masoala national park – which is one of Madagascar’s best protected forests and home to many endangered species of lemur – visitors can hear the sound of chainsaws and see recently felled trees. In one area just inside the park boundary sign, a small clearing has been opened for the cultivation of vanilla.

Locals say they can sell a kilogram for 1,500,000 ariary (£360), more than 10 times the price of a few years ago. With the extra income, they are building more and bigger homes using timber from the forest.

The change is evident at Marafototra, a village on the edge of the park. One local, who gives only his first names Jean Victor, said he has doubled the area under cultivation, although he insists his fields are all outside the boundaries of the protected area. “Everyone in the village is doing it. We’re all building new homes,” he says.

Forest defenders say the tree cutting is done stealthily to avoid detection by satellites. But the degradation is worsening as a steady influx of people arrives into the periphery of the protected area. Former park ranger Armand Marozafy, who now works with Lampogno, blames the authorities.

“Vanilla is now driving deforestation because the price is so high,” he says. “People have seen how the government ignored the law and destroyed the forest to sell rosewood. So they now feel they can do the same for vanilla. It’s a new problem with roots in the old problem.”

Marozafy spent five months in prison in 2015 - ostensibly for defamation - after he denounced illegal logging. Human rights groups say such criminalisation of critics is more common than in the past. Journalist Fernando Cello was charged with defamation after he reported on an illegal sapphire mine. Raymond Mandiny came under similar legal pressure after he challenged a rare earth project in the north-western town of Ambanja. Last October, an environmental campaigner called Raleva was given a two-year sentence after he questioned the permits for a gold mine.

The problem is not just high demand for commodities such as vanilla, rosewood, and minerals, but a lack of will to tackle corruption and promote accountability, according to Ndranto Razakamanarina, the president of the Alliance Voahary Gasy, a conservation group that aims to build a network of environmental defenders.

“In Madagascar today, there is no democracy. It is the critics not the culprits who are prosecuted,” he said. Similar sentiments explain why some feel driven to take justice into their own hands.

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« Reply #24 on: Apr 03, 2018, 04:45 AM »

Underwater melting of Antarctic ice far greater than thought, study finds

The base of the ice around the south pole shrank by 1,463 square kilometres between 2010 and 2016

Jonathan Watts
3 Apr 2018 17.18 BST

Hidden underwater melt-off in the Antarctic is doubling every 20 years and could soon overtake Greenland to become the biggest source of sea-level rise, according to the first complete underwater map of the world’s largest body of ice.

Warming waters have caused the base of ice near the ocean floor around the south pole to shrink by 1,463 square kilometres – an area the size of Greater London – between 2010 and 2016, according to the new study published in Nature Geoscience.

The research by the UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds suggests climate change is affecting the Antarctic more than previously believed and is likely to prompt global projections of sea-level rise to be revised upward.

Until recently, the Antarctic was seen as relatively stable. Viewed from above, the extent of land and sea ice in the far south has not changed as dramatically as in the far north.

But the new study found even a small increase in temperature has been enough to cause a loss of five metres every year from the bottom edge of the ice sheet, some of which is more than 2km underwater.

“What’s happening is that Antarctica is being melted away at its base. We can’t see it, because it’s happening below the sea surface,” said Professor Andrew Shepherd, one of the authors of the paper. “The changes mean that very soon the sea-level contribution from Antarctica could outstrip that from Greenland.”

The study measures the Antarctic’s “grounding line” – the bottommost edge of the ice sheet across 16,000km of coastline. This is done by using elevation data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 and applying Archimedes’s principle of buoyancy, which relates the thickness of floating ice to the height of its surface.

The greatest declines were seen in west Antarctica. At eight of the ice sheet’s 65 biggest glaciers, the speed of retreat was more than five times the rate of deglaciation since the last ice age. Even in east Antarctica, where some scientists – and many climate deniers – had previously believed ice might be increasing based on surface area, glaciers were at best stable and at worst in retreat when underwater ice was taken into account.

“It should give people more cause for concern,” said Shepherd. “Now that we have mapped the whole edge of the ice sheet, it rules out any chance that parts of Antarctica are advancing. We see retreat in more places and stasis elsewhere. The net effect is that the ice sheet overall is retreating. People can’t say ‘you’ve left a stone unturned’. We’ve looked everywhere now.”

The results could prompt an upward revision of sea-level rise projections. 10 years ago, the main driver was Greenland. More recently, the Antarctic’s estimated contribution has been raised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But its forecasts were based on measurements from the two main west Antarctic glaciers – Thwaites and Pine Island – a sample that provides an overly narrow and conservative view of what is happening when compared with the new research.

The study’s lead author, Hannes Konrad, said there was now clear evidence that the underwater glacial retreat is happening across the ice sheet.

“This retreat has had a huge impact on inland glaciers,” he said, “because releasing them from the sea bed removes friction, causing them to speed up and contribute to global sea level rise.”

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« Reply #25 on: Apr 03, 2018, 04:47 AM »

When nature says 'Enough!': the river that appeared overnight in Argentina

A new watercourse is playing havoc with farmland and roads and even threatening a city – but also highlights the potential cost of the country’s dependence on soya beans

Uki Goñi in Villa Mercedes
3 Apr 2018 07.00 BST

The Argentinian river that appeared suddenly in 2015 – aerial video

After a night of heavy rainfall, Ana Risatti woke to an ominous roar outside her home. Mistaking the noise for a continuation of the night’s downpour, she stepped outside to look.

“I nearly fainted when I saw what it really was,” said Risatti, 71. Instead of falling from the sky, the water she heard was rushing down a deep gully it had carved overnight just beyond the wire fence around her home.

The sudden appearance of a network of new rivers in Argentina’s central province of San Luis has puzzled scientists, worried environmentalists and disheartened farmers. It has also raised urgent questions over the environmental cost of Argentina’s dependence on soya beans, its main export crop.

“The roar was terrifying,” said Risatti, remembering that morning three years ago. “The land had opened up like a canyon. Water was pushing through as far as I could see. Huge mounds of earth, grass and trees were being carried along the water surface.”

The ravine that carved its way so dramatically across Risatti’s farm that night has by now grown 15-miles (25km) long. At its deepest point, it measures more than 60 metres wide and 25 metres deep.

The largest of several new water courses, the Río Nuevo (New river) runs through Cuenca del Morro, a groundwater basin with a mild incline covering 373,000 hectares (nearly 1,500 sq miles) of flatlands in the province of San Luis.

Until the early 1990s, the Morro basin was a patchwork of water-absorbing forests and grasslands, but they are mostly gone, replaced by maize and soya beans.

Argentina’s transformation into a soya bean powerhouse has resulted in widespread deforestation to make way for the crop, which now covers of 60% of the country’s arable land. Some 2.4m hectares of native forest have been lost in the last 10 years, according to Greenpeace.

Esteban Jobbágy, an environmental expert at the University of San Luis, said the sudden appearance of new rivers was due to the convergence of three factors: “Number one, we have been going through rainy years in the recent past – climate has been changing. Next, the nature of the soils that we have here, which are quite unstable. And third, the fact that this watershed is hosting a lot of agriculture for the first time.”

Argentina is the world’s third largest soya bean producing nation, after the US and Brazil, and accounts for 18% of global production. In 2016, combined exports of soya beans, soya meal and soya bean oil made up 31% of the country’s total exports.

“Argentina is a banana republic where soya bean is the new banana,” says Jobbágy. “Without soya bean our farms couldn’t survive – and the country couldn’t survive either.
argentina river

But unlike the deep-rooted forest it has replaced – which absorbed large amounts of groundwater all year round – soya bean has short roots and grows only a few months of the year.

This has caused the aquifer beneath the Morro basin to rise, and increased the speed of the subterranean flow – in turn triggering the collapse of the area’s permeable soil.

Around 2008, farmers started to report the appearance of shallow run-off channels, but in the last five years, the pace of the erosion quickened dramatically – and those streams have become deep trenches.

Climbing down the side of one of the new gullies, Jobbágy claws at the cliff wall and a clod of soil dissolves in his hand. “It’s basically dust,” he says.

“When it gets soaked, it becomes really unstable, and what looks like a solid becomes a liquid. So this humble river moves a lot of sediment despite the relatively gentle incline,” Jobbágy explains.

That leads to a second problem for farmers: sometimes entire fields downstream can disappear overnight when rivers dump layers of sediment up to a metre (3ft) thick.

Alberto Panza, a 41-year-old cattle rancher, is one of the few holdouts refusing to lease his land to the giant soya-bean conglomerates that have largely replaced Argentina’s small farmers.

Driving his battered pick-up truck along a dirt road, Panza remarks on how deserted the land looks today: no longer are there any gauchos – Argentina’s cowboys – riding bareback through the fields. Farmhouses have been demolished to open up additional land to lease to soya producers.

“Many farmers now live in the city,” says Panza. “It’s easier to move out and lease your land to a company than to farm it yourself.”

Arriving at his ranch, Panza walks into what can only be described as a Martian landscape. In the middle of a field, a giant canyon more than 60 metres wide and 25 metres deep drops abruptly away, a deceptively slow current of water at the bottom.

Panza’s farm was cut in two by the canyon. “This used to be totally flat pasture land,” he says. A tall electricity pole lies on its side on the river bed, its cables still attached to poles standing on the other side.

Because the river keeps changing course, Panza has been unable to build a bridge or a path through the waters to reach the other side of his land.

With less than one third of the Morro basin left covered in forest or grasslands – and nearly half devoted to soya and maize – the government of San Luis has finally stepped in to try to save the basin from becoming a river delta.

The government reacted after the new water courses started threatening the outskirts of the city of Villa Mercedes and two major roads that carry much of the international overland trade between Argentina and neighbouring Brazil.

At the San Luis office of the National Institute for Agricultural Technology (Inta), three scientists – Claudio Sáenz, Juan Cruz Colazo and Mario Galván – have been studying the Morro basin for the last 10 years.

Partly due to their efforts, the province passed an emergency law in 2016 obliging landowners to preserve 5% of their farms as forest or pasture and to plant water-consuming winter crops when their land is not being used for soya bean.

“The government tells us that so far about 60% of the farmers in the basin have made a commitment to meet these obligations,” says Galván.

“But this just a grain of sand,” cautions Sáenz.

The loss of small farmers has compounded the problem: the agri-conglomerates have little incentive to rotate crops or preserve the sustainability of the soil, he said.

“If a plot becomes unusable, they simply move on to lease in another area, leaving the owners to deal with the problem. It’s a system that not only erodes the soil, it also erodes the agricultural know-how of the landowners.”

Jobbágy spends much of his time on the field, measuring the flow of the new rivers, trying to chart their ever-changing courses and developing links with the few remaining farmers.

“Many landowners now have a very volatile link with their land,” he says. “With the demolition of so many farmhouses, the soul of the land is being lost. As long as the system works, all is fine. But when nature rears up and says: ‘Enough!’, it becomes a very difficult situation to reverse.”

    This story was published with the support of the European Forest Institute and Lookout Station – the EFI’s new initiative connecting journalism and science around the topic of climate change

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« Reply #26 on: Apr 03, 2018, 04:51 AM »

Appeals Court Affirms Order to Spill More Water Over Dams to Help Salmon Survive


The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with almost a dozen conservation and fishing organizations, the Nez Perce Tribe and the State of Oregon in their efforts to improve wild salmon and steelhead survival as the fish migrate to the Pacific Ocean.

Almost a year ago, in April 2017, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon ruled that federal dam managers on the Columbia and Snake Rivers have to meet higher spill requirements in the spring when baby salmon are migrating to the ocean—meaning they must allow more water to flow over the dams between April and mid-June, to help facilitate safe passage for young salmon.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) appealed that ruling. On Monday, a three-judge Appeals Court panel rejected that appeal and affirmed the increased spill levels, saying that:

"The district court properly concluded that the listed species remain in a 'precarious' state, and that they will remain in such a state without further conservation efforts beyond those included in the 2014 BiOp.

. . .

Significant evidence from decades of studies shows that spill volumes higher than those proposed in the 2014 BiOp will lead to higher survival rates for outmigrating [juvenile salmon]."

The new spill operations will begin Tuesday at some dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, bringing much needed protections for baby salmon migrating down river now.

"After more than 20 years of federal failure, salmon are in desperate need of help now," said Todd True, Earthjustice attorney representing conservation, fishing and clean energy advocates in the case. "The measures the court upheld will give salmon a fighting chance while the federal government catches up to the scale and urgency of what the law requires to protect these fish from extinction."

"Today's decision is just the most recent of many court orders that try to ensure federal river-management agencies in the Columbia Basin protect and restore wild salmon," said Tom France, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, the lead plaintiff in the case that prompted the NMFS appeal. "All these decisions have been clear—the status quo isn't working and the fish deserve better. The time is now for federal agencies to follow the law."

The ruling reinforces Judge Simon's order for increased 2018 spill levels, set to begin April 3 for dams on the Snake River and April 10 for dams on the Columbia River.

"We're very happy that the court recognized the obvious benefits to salmon of running the river like a river should, with increased flows over the spillway that help get young salmon past the turbines and out to sea safely," said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "It's tragic that the federal agencies are still ignoring their own science in fighting spill at every step of the way."

The federal agencies point out that more water spilled over the dams means less is being used to generate electricity. Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, sees that as a false alarm, since the Northwest power grid is often faced with a surplus, especially in the spring months. She also sees the economic impact of fewer fish on communities and small businesses across the Northwest.

"Fewer fish could be a nail in the coffin for more iconic Northwest fishing brands," Hamilton said. "I know of companies trying to decide whether this is their last year in existence—brands that fishermen would recognize and recommend. We need hope, not more despair. And at the spill level the court required—and that has now been affirmed on appeal—we are going to see larger adult salmon returns."

"Today's order is a victory for endangered salmon, starving orcas, and everyone that depends on the power of the legal system to stand up to big government," added Giulia Good Stefani, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council's Marine Mammal Protection Project. "The court of appeals upheld a carefully reasoned, fact-based trial court decision to increase the amount of water over the dams this spring."

This year marks the fourth time since 2005 that increased spill has been mandated by the district court.

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« Reply #27 on: Apr 03, 2018, 04:53 AM »

Half a Degree of Warming Makes a Big Difference to Global Food Security, Study Finds


A study published Monday indicates that it makes a big difference to global food security whether signatories to the Paris agreement are able to keep global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, or allow it to rise a full two degrees.

The study, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, focused on how different warming scenarios would impact food security in 122 developing countries. The research team, led by the University of Exeter with participation from the Rossby Center in Sweden, Cranfield University, the Technical University of Crete, the Met Office, and the European Commission, found that limiting warming to 1.5°C would lead to relatively less food insecurity in 76 percent of the countries studied. Two degrees of warming would cause unprecedented levels of food insecurity in four countries: Oman, Bangladesh, Mauritania and Yemen.

To assess food insecurity, the researchers examined how climate change is projected to increase either drought or rainfall in various regions.

"Such weather extremes can increase vulnerability to food insecurity," study author and University of Exeter professor Richard Betts said in a university press release.

To obtain their results, the researchers used a new atmospheric circulation model based on sea ice and sea-surface temperatures.

In addition to its projections on global food security, the study also has important implications for regional river systems.

The study found that the flow of the Ganges could more than double if warming increases by two degrees. Floods that last more than four days are expected to increase in India and Bangladesh especially.

On the other extreme, the flow of the Amazon could decrease by 25 percent in a two-degree-warmer world.

Wet weather will increase globally, though Asia will be more impacted by extreme rainfall, and South America and Africa will be more impacted by drought.

The study also found that a 0.5°C temperature difference overall could lead to much higher temperature differences in some regions. For example, a 2°C increase in global temperature would lead to maximum daily temperatures five degrees higher in parts of Europe, while 1.5°C of global temperature rise would only increase maximum temperatures by three to four degrees in the same area.

This isn't the first study to indicate the impact that an extra five degrees of warming could have on the earth. A study published in Nature Climate Change in 2017 focused on the difference half a degree can make by looking at extensive climate changes in the past half-century when average temperatures rose by one degree.

However, if we want to limit warming to 1.5°C, we have to act quickly. A draft of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change paper said that meeting the target was "extremely unlikely" unless we make a radical shift away from fossil fuels by 2040, DW reported in January.

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« Reply #28 on: Apr 03, 2018, 04:57 AM »

Melting Permafrost Emits More Methane Than Scientists Thought

By Alex Kirby

Methane emissions are the source of the greenhouse gas which, after carbon dioxide, probably causes climatologists more sleepless nights than any of the other gases. And now it appears they have quite a lot more to bother them than they had realized.

Methane is reckoned to be at least 30 times more powerful than CO2 at warming the earth, with some estimates putting its potency much higher still. The good news, research has suggested, is that there is far less methane than CO2 in the atmosphere to worry about.

The bad news, announced by an international research team, is that previous calculations may have been seriously wrong, and that thawing permafrost is likely to be producing appreciably more methane than anyone had thought.

The researchers were headed by Christian Knoblauch of the Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN) at the University of Hamburg, Germany. Their findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, make it possible to predict better how much of this significant gas may be released by the thawing of the Arctic permafrost.

Methane and carbon dioxide are both produced in thawing permafrost as dead animal and plant remains decompose. But methane is formed only in the absence of oxygen. Until now, scientists had also thought that more greenhouse gases were formed when the ground was dry and well aerated—in other words, when oxygen was available.

So they did not expect much methane to be produced by the thawing permafrost. What Dr. Knoblauch and his colleagues have now shown is that water-saturated permafrost soils without oxygen can be twice as harmful to the climate as dry soils—which means the role of methane has been greatly underestimated.

They have, for what they say is the first time, measured in the laboratory the long-term production of methane in thawing permafrost. The team had to wait for three years before their roughly forty-thousand-year-old samples from the Siberian Arctic finally produced methane.

They observed the permafrost for a total of seven years and found that, without oxygen, equal amounts of methane and CO2 were produced.

Gigaton Estimate

A co-author of their report, Susanne Liebner, from the Helmholtz Center Potsdam – GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences, said: "By combining process-based and molecular-microbiological methods, our study shows for the first time that the methane-forming micro-organisms in the thawing permafrost have significant influence on the greenhouse gas budget."

The team used the new data to improve a computer model that estimates how much greenhouse gas is produced in permafrost in the long term—and they compiled a first forecast: the permafrost soils of northern Europe, northern Asia and North America, they say, could produce up to one gigaton (one billion tons) of methane, and 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide, by 2100.

Earlier studies have expressed concern about the interplay between permafrost and global warming, and this latest research will be exhaustively scrutinized as other teams try to corroborate, modify or contradict it. That is how science works. And there are certainly uncertainties that need resolving.

For example, how deep will the soil actually have thawed by the end of the century? Will it be wet or dry? What is certain, the team concludes, is that the new data will enable more accurate predictions to be made about the impacts of thawing permafrost on the climate.

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« Reply #29 on: Apr 03, 2018, 05:02 AM »

Afghan woman shot in face builds new life in Canada after US rejection

Shakila Zareen, 23, lost much of her face after being shot by her husband but, after multiple surgeries and seeing her hopes of resettlement dashed, she has a new home in Vancouver

Ashifa Kassam in Toronto and Sune Engel Rasmussen
Tue 3 Apr 2018 09.00 BST

When she arrived at her new home in Vancouver, Shakila Zareen placed a photo of herself – dressed in yellow with dangling earrings and a matching necklace – next to her bed.

The image reminded her of life before she was forced into marriage, before she had to flee Afghanistan fearing for her life. Most importantly, it captured her as she was before her husband aimed a hunting gun at her face and pulled the trigger.

“The photo is a nostalgic memory of who I was,” said the 23-year-old. “Now I look at myself, my eye is not there, my cheek is not there, my lips are not there, but I have this picture.”

After the United States abruptly retracted its offer to settle her as a refugee, she is now starting a new life in Canada. But her ordeal began years earlier; she was 17 years old when her brother-in-law – a strongman with links to the Taliban in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan province – descended on her family home with a 20-man entourage, intent on marrying her off to a cousin 14 years her senior.

Zareen protested. But her family, already reeling from an illness that had left her father bedridden, was powerless to stop the marriage.

The abuse began on her wedding night, Zareen said through a translator, and rarely let up. “He began to beat me and rape me.”

Desperate for help, she turned to the police. “They just said, ‘he hasn’t cut your nose or your lips or your ears or anything like that, so there’s nothing we can do,’” she said. “I felt completely hopeless. They took away any hope that something could be done.”

Defeated, Zareen went to her mother’s house. Her husband – tipped off about her visit to police earlier in the day – arrived that night, scaling the walls of her family’s compound with two other men. In the darkness Zareen glimpsed a rifle in his hand. “As soon as we came face to face, he shot me.”

She woke up the next morning in a Kabul hospital, having miraculously survived the shooting as well as a gruelling 260-mile journey along mountainous roads. Pain coursed through her body and she initially thought it was a bad dream. Then she slowly traced her fingers over her bandaged face, realising that half of it was missing. “I wondered what I had done to deserve such inhumane treatment,” she said.

The Indian government flew her to Delhi and paid for nine reconstructive surgeries over three years. The surgeries took a toll, and at one point, doctors warned her mother that she would not survive.

Despite being more than 600 miles away, her brother-in-law continued to harass her. “He was saying, ‘We’re going to come after you, we’re going to kill you, your mom and sister.’”

Speaking to the Guardian last year, Zareen’s brother-in-law claimed she had shot herself. Her husband, who was held in jail for 10 months following the shooting, ignored multiple interview requests from the Guardian.

Terrified at the prospect of returning to Afghanistan, she applied for asylum through the UN. In 2016, she was conditionally accepted for resettlement in the US and began dreaming of a new life far from her abusive husband.

The plans she conjured in her head were short-lived; one year later she was told the US had rescinded its offer due to “security-related” reasons. “I couldn’t believe it. I cried all the way home,” she said. “The message made me so sick I had to go to the hospital.”

Some speculated, paradoxically, that the US may have retracted her acceptance over her brother-in-law and husband’s connections to the Taliban. The idea incensed Zareen.

“These are the same bad people that hurt me. The same people that hurt me and shot me and took away so much of my life. It’s because of them that I’m here, so why I am I being singled out?” The same concerns might have prompted Sweden’s rejection of her application, she added.

It took months before Zareen’s hopes would again be lifted, this time after Canada agreed to accept her as a refugee. In January, she arrived in the Vancouver area with her mother and one of her sisters.

Soon after, she put her new home to the test, peeling off the bandage she had publicly worn over her left eye since the shooting. “I thought people would harass me or stop me or stare at me,” she said. “But nobody even bothered me.” After years of trying to hide her injury, she felt as though she had finally found a place where she could focus on rebuilding her life.

Her new life is still laced with fear; while she feels safe, she worries that her brother-in-law and husband will one day find her in Canada.

But she refuses to lie low, drawing inspiration from the photo of herself on her nightstand and the tumultuous journey she has been on since it was taken. “I was strong then because I always fought back and I always stood up for myself. But I’m stronger now,” she said. “So I’m not going to be silent.”

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