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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 559821 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #4005 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:32 AM »

Switching to organic farming could cut greenhouse gas emissions, study shows

Study also finds that converting conventionally farmed land would not overly harm crop yields or require huge amounts of additional land to feed rising populations

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
Guardian
11/18/2017

Converting land from conventional agriculture to organic production could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the run-off of excess nitrogen from fertilisers, and cut pesticide use. It would also, according to a new report, be feasible to convert large amounts of currently conventionally farmed land without catastrophic harm to crop yields and without needing huge amounts of new land.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that by combining organic production with an increasingly vegetarian diet, ways of cutting food waste, and a return to traditional methods of fixing nitrogen in the soil instead of using fertiliser, the world’s projected 2050 population of more than 9 billion could be fed without vastly increasing the current amount of land under agricultural production.

This is important, as converting other land such as forests, cerrado or peatlands to agricultural use would increase greenhouse gas emissions from the land. The authors found that an increase in organic farming would require big changes in farming systems, such as growing legumes to replenish nitrogen in the soil.

However, other scientists were cautious over endorsing the report’s findings, pointing out that the size of the world’s agricultural systems and their variability, as well as assumptions about future nutritional needs, made generalisations about converting to organic farming difficult to make.

Sir Colin Berry, emeritus professor of pathology at Queen Mary, University of London, said: “As for all models, assumptions have to be made and what weight you attach to which item can greatly change outcomes. The assumption that grassland areas will remain constant is a large one. The wastage issue is important but solutions, not addressed here, to post-harvest- pre-market losses will be difficult without fungicides for grains. Some populations could do with more protein to grow and develop normally, despite the models here requiring less animal protein.”

Les Firbank, professor of sustainable agriculture at Leeds University, said: “One of the question marks about organic farming is that it can’t feed the world. [This paper] concludes organic farming does require more land than conventional methods, but if we manage the demand for food by reducing waste and reducing the amount of crops grown as animal feed, organic farming can feed the world.”

He warned: “These models can only be viewed as a guide: there are many assumptions that may not turn out to be true and all these scenario exercises are restricted by limited knowledge [and] are fairly simplistic compared to real life, but realistic enough to help formulate policy. The core message is valuable and timely: we need to seriously consider how we manage the global demand for food.”

Even without converting to organic production, however, the US, India, China and Russia – four of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters – could turn into some of the biggest absorbers of carbon, through better management of their agricultural land.

A separate new study shows that these countries have the greatest potential for the sequestration of carbon dioxide through changing the way soils are protected, through better farming methods that can also help to preserve declining soil fertility.

Scientists said the potential of using soil as a carbon sink was equivalent to taking between 215m and 400m cars off the road, even if only small changes are made, of a kind which should be achievable on all farms. The study, published on Tuesday in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, and conducted by experts from the Chinese Academy of Science, the Nature Conservancy NGO, and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, found that farming crops differently could make a big contribution to achieving the goals of the Paris agreement on climate change.

Today’s intensive agricultural methods, involving frequent tilling of soils and the excessive use of chemical fertilisers, could be replaced with the revival of older methods such as the increased use of manure, cover cropping, mulching and growing trees next to cropland. However, the role of land management in preventing dangerous levels of climate change has often been overlooked at the talks, where discussions over the burning of fossil fuels have dominated. This is partly because of the urgency of switching away from fossil fuels, and partly because land management is a diffuse and diverse problem spread across the globe from small farmers to agri-industrialists, whereas fossil fuel sources tend to be larger and more monolithic, such as coal-fired power plants.

The results will be presented to delegates at the UN COP23 climate talks in Bonn on Wednesday. Nations at the talks are discussing ways to increase the commitments on emissions reductions made alongside the Paris agreement, and which scientists say are currently inadequate to hold the world to no more than 2C of warming, the binding target under the landmark 2015 accord.


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« Reply #4006 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:35 AM »

Nasa map of Earth's seasons over 20 years highlights climate change

The visualization shows spring coming earlier and the Arctic ice caps receding over time

Associated Press
18 November 2017 03.12 GMT

Nasa has captured 20 years of changing seasons in a striking new global map of planet Earth​.

The data visualization, released this week, shows Earth’s fluctuations as seen from space.

The polar ice caps and snow cover are shown ebbing and flowing with the seasons. The varying ocean shades of blue, green, red and purple depict the abundance – or lack – of undersea life.
Spacewatch: Nasa space telescope faces cuts to reduce costs
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“It’s like watching the Earth breathe. It’s really remarkable,” said Nasa oceanographer Jeremy Werdell, who took part in the project.

Two decades – from September 1997 to this past September – are crunched into two and a half minutes of viewing.

​Werdell said the visualization shows spring coming earlier and autumn lasting longer in the Northern Hemisphere. Also noticeable to him is the Arctic ice caps receding over time – and, though less obvious, the Antarctic, too.

​In the oceans, Werdell was struck by “this hugely productive bloom of biology” that exploded in the Pacific along the equator from 1997 to 1998 – when a water-warming El Nino merged into cooling La Nina. This algae bloom is evident by a line of bright green.

In considerably smaller Lake Erie, more and more contaminating algae blooms are apparent, appearing red and yellow.

All this data can provide resources for policymakers as well as commercial fishermen and many others, according to Werdell.

Programmer Alex Kekesi of Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said it took three months to complete the visualization, using satellite imagery.

​The visualization will continually change, officials said, as computer systems improve, new remote-sensing satellites are launched and more observations are made.


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« Reply #4007 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:45 AM »

The U.S. Is Tackling Global Warming, Even if Trump Isn’t

By MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG and JERRY BROWN
NOV. 18, 2017
NY Times

World leaders have been meeting in Bonn, Germany, since last week to discuss carrying out the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Sadly, though not unexpectedly, the White House and federal agencies have largely been absent from the negotiating table. But American leaders from state capitols, city halls and businesses across the country have shown up in force, and we have delivered a unified message to the world: American society remains committed to our pledge under the agreement.

Over the past two months, Americans have experienced or witnessed raging wildfires and devastating storms, from Santa Rosa, Calif., to San Juan, P.R. Warming seas, along with hotter and drier days, make these storms and fires more intense and destructive. Climate change is not a future threat; it is happening now, and we are paying for it in lost lives and billions of dollars in damage.

The United States has always led the way in confronting global challenges, especially ones that profoundly affect our own country. President Trump’s vow to withdraw from the Paris agreement by 2020 was a troubling abdication of that leadership, and it threatened to send a dangerously wrong message: that we are abandoning the pledge we made in Paris to reduce emissions at least 26 percent by 2025.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Most Americans strongly support the Paris agreement, and thousands of mayors, governors, chief executives and others stepped forward to reaffirm their commitment to it after the president walked away from the accord. Together, these states, cities and businesses constitute more than half of the United States economy and, if they were a separate country, would make up the third-largest economy in the world.

President Trump’s action has had the effect of galvanizing these groups — and many have taken bold actions in recent months.

California just extended its landmark cap-and-trade emissions program through 2030, and has adopted incentives that will help put 1.5 million electric and other zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025. Chicago has proposed an energy rating system for its large buildings to drive down emissions substantially, with $70 million in projected annual savings on utility bills. Companies in a wide variety of industries — from Bloomberg to Wal-Mart — have pledged to procure 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025 or sooner. And broader trends, including falling renewable energy costs and the retirement of additional coal-fired power plants, continue to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and accelerate the decarbonization of the American economy.

Even Oklahoma and Texas — the home states of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Rick Perry, the energy secretary, who both oppose the climate accord — are national leaders in wind power production. Coal is a fading energy source in both states.

Climate progress has historically been driven from the bottom-up, not the top down from Washington. Though Congress failed to pass a cap-and-trade bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 during the Obama administration, the United States has still reduced emissions faster and farther than any other large nation.

In fact, we are already almost halfway to reaching our Paris commitment, thanks largely to consumer preferences and market forces. Half the country’s coal plants have closed or are being phased out while air quality improves and electricity bills fall for American consumers.

In the current political climate, however, there is a risk that nonfederal actions will go unrecognized by the global community. To ensure the world sees the continued commitment of the United States to tackling climate change, and the extent to which local governments and businesses are driving progress, we have introduced an initiative called America’s Pledge, which will document the progress we are making — and the bolder actions we must still take — to meet our Paris commitments.

This week in Bonn, we released a report detailing existing nonfederal climate initiatives and policies across America. The report also identifies major new opportunities for cities, states and businesses to take climate action without the federal government.

For instance, more states can opt in to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon pricing program involving nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to drive down power plants emissions, or California’s independently managed vehicle emissions programs, including its Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate, which nine states have adopted. More cities can adopt greener building codes, policies and programs to reduce electricity waste.

And more businesses can follow the lead of the 43 American supermarket chains that have committed to reducing their emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas used in refrigeration. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Red Bull and Unilever have installed more than 5.5 million air-conditioning units using HFC-free refrigerants worldwide, with nearly 400,000 of those installed in the United States.

Together, these actions will strengthen the economy and improve public health, while also helping the United States move faster toward its Paris commitment. Over the next year, we will aggregate and quantify these actions and continue pushing for new efforts to speed up decarbonization.

The Paris agreement succeeded where previous attempts failed because it solicited nationally determined pledges from nations based on local actions already taking place. For the United States to reach its commitment, much more needs to be done. But the world should know: We are not waiting for Washington.

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North Carolina Youth File Climate Petition to Protect Their Futures

Ecowatch
11/18/2017

Tuesday, three teenagers filed a climate change petition for rulemaking with the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission. The petition calls on the commission to reduce North Carolina's CO2 emissions to zero by 2050, in accordance with the best available science.

Youth petitioners argue that the commission has statutory, public trust and constitutional obligations to protect North Carolina's essential natural resources, including the atmosphere, for present and future generations. As detailed in the petition, the proposed rule could create jobs, reduce energy costs and avoid billions in climate damages.

With the support of Our Children's Trust, Alliance for Climate Education and represented by Duke's Environmental Law & Policy Clinic, the petitioners are the latest group of young people from across the country to file legal action seeking science-based action by governments to secure a safe climate and healthy future.

"With a family history of lung disease and a love for hiking, I have personally experienced both the negative health impacts of pollution and the steady destruction of our most important natural resources, our national and state parks, due to climate change and higher CO2 emissions," Arya Pontula, 17-year-old petitioner and Alliance for Climate Education fellow from Raleigh, said.

"I hope this petition pushes our state to take concrete steps to reduce CO2 emissions, thus ensuring cleaner air for all generations. The bottom line is that, when it comes to our health, we have no other choice but to set our differences aside and work towards a common goal for cleaner, breathable air and preservation of our natural resources," Pontula added.

"North Carolina's laws declare that the Environmental Management Commission must protect water and air resources for the benefit of all, not shield polluters through delaying tactics," Ryke Longest, Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic director, said. "It is long past time for the commission to act on the best available science and commit to reducing carbon dioxide emissions to zero in time for the climate to stabilize."

The North Carolina petition is one of many related legal actions supported by Our Children's Trust and brought by youth in several states and countries, including Juliana v. United States, seeking science-based action by governments to secure a safe climate and healthy atmosphere for present and future generations.

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Why I Disrupted Trump's Fossil Fuel Agenda at COP23: A Young Person's First-Hand Account

By Michaela Mujica-Steiner
Ecowatch
11/18/2017

President Donald Trump's fossil fuel agenda was met with disdain Monday evening at COP23. The only official White House event was titled, "The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation." Everyday people from across the world attended it, but they were not there in support of the event, but rather in protest.

As a young person from the United States and a youth delegate with SustainUS, I felt a personal responsibility to hold the United States government accountable for continuing to block progress on the Paris agreement via their ties to a small handful of fossil fuel billionaires. I could feel my palms sweating as I waited in the security line to the get into the event.

I was so nervous, but it helps to know that you're not alone—seven out of ten Americans support urgent climate action and staying in the Paris agreement. Everyday Americans and people from across the globe were standing with me at that very moment. And young people have always been at the forefront of social change movements, pushing the boundaries of what our societies believe is possible. Doing so helps to create space beyond the status quo, which is necessary to advancing the needle in favor of progressive values. By disrupting the status quo, we help to define its boundaries, and by establishing the limits, we determine and set the terms of the debate.

So that's what I set out to do on Monday evening: set the terms of the debate on fossil fuels at COP, disrupt the Trump administration's lies, inspire people back home, and most importantly, stand on the right side of history. I know that I'll remember Monday's action for the rest of my life, and I hope it will forever be a defining point throughout history when the people declared "No More" to being bullied by corporate elites for profit.

We the people stood in our full dignity and power, filling the U.S.-backed event with at least a hundred voices. Midway through our song, I looked back at the administration's baffled faces, as I quickly unfurled a banner that read "We the People" with the words "fossil fuel CEOs" crossed out at the top of it. And even when we were escorted out, we continued to sing a beautiful rendition of "God Bless the USA." Walking out of the event doors into a 200+ crowd, I started to tear up.

I have always looked up to the social movement leaders of the past whose work carries into the present. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi are my heroes. On Monday night, I imagined all the social change makers of the past right by my side as cosmic companions. They've left a legacy, and this generation can follow in their footsteps. Never in my life have I ever considered myself to be a "hero," and that's because, in these dire times, we all have to step up to the plate in being the heroes in this tragic story that is the reality of climate change.

Local action has global implications. When I come back from these talks, I'm getting straight to work back home to ensure that my governor in Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper, does not succumb to the interests of the one percent by increasing hydraulic fracking. Together, we can build local movements that have the strength to create a people's uprising outside of this panel event.

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US cities and companies declare 'we are still in' Paris Agreement despite Trump

Coalition sets up a pavilion at the UN climate change conference which the official US delegation is also attending

Mythili Sampathkumar New York
Independent
11/18/2017

A coalition of US cities, companies, and other groups have pledged to stay committed to the Paris Agreement on climate change, despite President Donald Trump initiating US withdrawal from it.

The accord was signed in December 2015 by nearly 200 countries in an effort to curb carbon emissions and limiting global warming to under 2C.

Called the “We Are Still In” coalition, the group set up a pavilion outside of the official United Nations climate change conference (COP23) venue, where countries - including the US - are meeting for the next few weeks to negotiate how the Paris Agreement will be implemented. 

For a size comparison, the coalition pavilion is a massive 27,000 sq ft (2500 sq meters) while the official US delegation office inside the UN venue is 100 sq meters.

Republicans and Democrats alike make up the “We Are Still In” coalition, which has more than one thousand CEOs, mayors, and governors in the US.

"There is a tradition of non-partisanship for protecting our planet," said James Brainard, Republican mayor of the town of Carmel, Indiana, at an opening event.

"It is unfortunate we have moved away from it,” he noted.

The purpose of the pavilion and its exhibitions is to showcase how Americans - at the sub-national level - are still fighting climate change in spite of the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle Obama-era environmental regulations.

The coalition claims it represents more than 130 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of annual economic output.

Fiji, which is presiding over this year’s UN talks, welcomed the coalition as a "perfect example" of how the Paris accord aims to widen action beyond national governments.

"I am confident that coalitions like yours will scale up because they are noble and inspiring," said Inia Seruiratu, the Fijian minister for agriculture and disaster management.

The private sector has also taken an active role as the US official delegation’s plans at the conference include promoting coal, gas, and fossil fuel use by lower income countries to grow.

But, Director of product advocacy for Ingersoll-Rand Jeff Moe said the company was seeking to halve its greenhouse gas emissions.

The "We Are Still In" pavilion is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Hewlett Foundation and NextGen America.

California Governor Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor and UN special envoy on cities and climate change Michael Bloomberg will speaking at the pavilion later on during the conference.

The US is now the only country withdrawing from the agreement since previous holdouts Syria and Nicaragua announced they would be joining the rest of the world.

Agencies contributed to this report.


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« Reply #4008 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:48 AM »

Global insurance plan aims to defuse potential climate damage 'bombshell'

A scheme unveiled at the UN climate summit aims to help protect 400 million poor people from extreme weather by 2020 - but not everyone is convinced

Damian Carrington in Bonn
11/18/2017
Guardian

“I was wondering if it was a dream,” said Walter Edwin, who sells honey from more than 50 beehives in Dennery on the Caribbean island of St Lucia. He had just received a phone call telling him to go to the bank for an automatic insurance payout following the major hurricane that struck in 2014.

“I used that very same money to get some syrup to look after my bees,” he said. Storms destroy the flowers the bees need for food, and falling branches damage the hives. Edwin is one of millions of people around the world vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather already benefiting from low-cost insurance schemes.

But on Tuesday, leaders at the UN climate change summit in Bonn, Germany, revealed a huge leap in ambition: to help protect 400 million poor and vulnerable people around the world by 2020. The project, called the InsuResilience Global Partnership, aims to provide insurance against the damage increasingly being caused by global warming.

The issue of climate change impacts is perhaps the most sensitive among the 196 parties negotiating in Bonn, with the potential to explode into a row that derails other issues. Developing nations are adamant that rich nations, who they say caused climate change, should pay for the “loss and damage” that results. This year’s series of huge storms and floods across the world has intensified the debate.

The InsuResilience scheme, started in 2015 by the G7, is one response. Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s climate chief, said: “People devastated by recent weather events and communities vulnerable to climatic impacts are looking to the nations meeting in Bonn for an answer. This new, higher ambition initiative represents one shining example of what can be delivered.”

“Instead of only reacting to catastrophes we want to shift to planning, preparing and protecting,” said Thomas Silberhorn, a senior official in the German government, which on Monday announced an additional $125m of funding.

The UK donated £30m in July and so far the $550m raised means 160 million people could be covered by 2020. But the scheme, which has now expanded to involve more nations like Ethiopia and Madagascar, insurers including Allianz, Swiss Re and Munich Re and NGOs like Care International, expects to expand to reach the 400 million target.

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, the economy minister of Fiji, which is running the climate summit, said: “When we had cyclone Winston in 2016, 40,000 houses and 225 schools were devastated. We need to be able to get people back quickly to day-to-day living after disaster strikes. But at the moment only 10% of homes in Fiji are insured.”

Key to the scheme is slashing bureaucratic assessment and claims procedures. With some, like Edwin’s, , which was set up by the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative, the policy pays out simply when weather data passes trigger points. In September, $55m was paid to 10 Caribbean countries within 14 days of hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaking disaster on the islands. The scheme is also active in Zambia, Paraguay and elsewhere.

However, the initiative has been met with suspicion by some delegates in Bonn.

“It pushes the poor people of the poor countries to pay the insurance premiums from their limited resources,” an African diplomat told Climate Home. Julie-Anne Richards of the Climate Justice Program said: “The insurance mechanism is a clever initiative of developed countries to pushing the developing countries to pay for climate risk for which they are not responsible.”

Gebru Jember Endalew, the Ethiopian chair of the 47-strong Least Developed Countries negotiating bloc at the climate talks, pointed out homes have to be resilient to be insurable at all. “When you go for health insurance, they ask you if you are already ill,” he said. “So first we need to address the vulnerability of infrastructure.”

The disagreement about loss and damage could turn ugly, according to Prof John Schellnhuber, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and who has advised both Angela Merkel and the Pope. “Loss and damage could turn into a bombshell,” he said. But he is optimistic this can be avoided and said disputes over damages were moving into lawsuits in the courts.

Silberhorn defended the insurance plan: “It is one tool among many others and it is a very effective tool. It is a different tool to loss and damage.” He said action on cutting emissions and funding adaption must also continue: “Insurance tools do not mean we do not have to change our behaviour.”

Taking action like paying the $8 per month insurance premium has been very important to Edwin, who is in Bonn to tell his story: “If we just stay sitting there our bees are going to suffer. It is a very good thing.”


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« Reply #4009 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:51 AM »

Why China Wants to Lead on Climate, but Clings to Coal (for Now)

By SOMINI SENGUPTA
NOV. 18, 2017
NY Times

UNITED NATIONS — Barely a month ago, in a landmark speech to the Communist Party congress, President Xi Jinping of China promised that his country would take a “driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change.”

But can China really be in the “driving seat” when it is burning so much coal that its carbon emissions are forecast to rise this year?

It may depend on how the country manages a climate agenda laden with contradictions.

For one thing, China, the world’s most populous country and the largest carbon polluter, is well on track to meet the commitments it made under the Paris climate accord — the global agreement designed to curb the worst effects of climate change — which the United States has said it is leaving.

And China didn’t use a United Nations climate conference this week in Bonn, Germany, to promote coal, as the United States did, drawing jeers.

Two years after countries signed a landmark climate agreement in Paris, the world remains far off course from preventing drastic global warming in the decades ahead.

The bar, it turns out, is pretty low.

Energy specialists who follow China said the higher emissions projections, published this week by the Global Carbon Project, were to be expected. After steadily declining over the last three years, they say, China’s industrial emissions are projected to rise this year, reflecting how difficult it is for a country of China’s size and ambition to wean itself from coal.

What they are keenly looking at is the country’s emissions trend over the next couple of years, and whether China steps up its climate ambitions in the face of American retreat.

Experts say China has compelling domestic reasons to get out of coal — eventually. Chinese leaders face acute domestic political pressure to curb air pollution, and so it’s in the government’s interest to phase out coal.

“China’s own domestic air quality interest is very much aligned with its climate commitment,” said Jiang Lin, a China specialist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which conducts research on behalf of the United States Department of Energy. “To reduce air pollution it has to move away from coal. There’s no doubt about that. The question is how fast.”
Climate Change Is Complex. We’ve Got Answers to Your Questions.

We know. Global warming is daunting. So here’s a place to start: 17 often-asked questions with some straightforward answers.

But getting emissions down is not so straightforward, especially for a country of 1.4 billion people. It can be zig-zaggy, with ups and downs year to year, said Alvin Lin, the Beijing-based climate and energy policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a research and advocacy group, and China will most certainly have many more ups and downs. He said he considered this year’s projected rise to be an “anomaly,” reflecting an uptick in economic growth, a boom in energy-intensive construction projects and sparse rains to feed hydroelectric plants, the country’s other main source of power.

All in all, he said, China is on the right track.

“In terms of what the government has done to set direction, set targets, set policies, I think they are doing the right thing,” Alvin Lin said from the United Nations climate conference in Bonn. “We would like to see a straight line down in terms of emissions but as long as you set the right policies and you continue to support those, you will see results in the long term, even though year-to-year you might have blips.”

In any event, China’s climate agenda is not so straightforward.

The country is the world’s largest coal consumer. Even as it is phasing out coal plants at home, it is building coal plants abroad as part of an ambitious “One Belt, One Road” initiative, designed to expand Chinese global influence. At the same time, China has embraced renewables: It is the largest producer of electric cars, and it has proposed to set up what would become the world’s largest carbon market.

Li Shuo, of Greenpeace China, said the projected rise in emissions would not affect China’s overall trajectory toward slowing emissions at home and stepping up diplomatically.

“China can continue to play a leading role in the global climate debate, despite this short-term increase of emissions, which is temporary,” he said.

One thing still lost in the fog of global climate negotiations is whether the Chinese leader really wants to be the global leader on climate. In his speech to the Communist Party conclave in October, Mr. Xi took a swipe at the United States by criticizing what he called “self-isolation.” But he said nothing about how his country would step up to fill the gap.

Mr. Xi has said only that China will stick to its pledges. But even if every country meets its Paris pledges, the planet is expected to heat up 3 degrees Celsius or more. That would not be enough to stave off the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

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« Reply #4010 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:53 AM »

Brazil's oil sale plans prompt fears of global fossil fuel extraction race

Government proposal to give tax relief for offshore oil would increase emissions and contradicts the nation’s progressive stance in Bonn

Jonathan Watts in Bonn
Guardian
11/18/2017

Brazil is planning a fire-sale of its oil resources before shrinking global carbon budgets push down demand and prices, environmental groups have warned.

The focus of concern is a government proposal for up to $300bn in tax relief to companies that develop offshore oilfields that opponents claim would use up 7% of humanity’s emission budget if global warming is to be kept below 2C.

Climate Observatory, WWF, Greenpeace and other groups say the subsidies could spark a get-it-out-of-the-ground race with fossil fuel rivals such as the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Norway and the UK.

The accusations contradict Brazil’s position at this week’s climate talks, where the country’s negotiators have urged the world to be more ambitious in cutting carbon emissions.

“The country is doing the exact opposite – increasing emissions and opening itself up to big oil with billionaire subsidies at a time when the country still tries to recover from its worst recession,” said Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of Climate Observatory.

The pre-salt fields are believed to contain oil and gas equivalent to 176bn barrels of crude, or 74.8bn tonnes of CO2. This is 7% of the carbon budget for 2C and 18% for 1.5C, according to calculations by Climate Observatory

Extraction is already under way, but the administration of Michel Temer, who seized power in an impeachment plot against former president Dilma Rousseff last year, is keen to accelerate the process.

It has proposed a bill – known as MP 795 – that would slash taxes up until 2040 for firms that win auctions to develop the oil fields. The subsidy would give the government one of the lowest revenue shares in the world of each barrel extracted, effectively undercutting the competition.

“This is a terrible signal,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International. “With this bill, Brazil will make the global responsibility to reduce emissions even more difficult than it already is.”

Congress is due to vote on the bill before 15 December. Opposition congressmen say the subsidies for oil are unjust at a time when health and education budgets have been frozen for 20 years and payments for forest protection have been slashed.

The government says the measure is necessary to ensure the success of future auctions which will generate revenue to help an economy that is only slowly emerging from its worst recession in a century. It has earmarked 70.5% of all energy investment until 2026 (pdf) to be spent on fossil fuels.

Brazil’s carbon emissions surged 8.9% last year – the biggest rise since 2008 – largely as a result of increased deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado.

This threatens the lead-by-example role that Brazil’s skilled diplomats have long played at climate talks.

Officials point out that many developing countries are also promoting oil and coal and that in some cases, such as Germany, their emissions are also rising. By comparison, they say, Brazil gets 74% of its energy from renewables (mostly hydropower dams) and that the pace of deforestation slowed by 16% this year after a two-year uptick that pushed the country off course from its climate goals.

The country’s chief climate change negotiator, José Antônio Marcondes, insisted Brazil was doing its part and urged developed nations to pick up the pace by taking action over the next three years.

“If we are to reach the goals set out in Paris, we cannot delay action until 2020. Ambition and actions should not be postponed,” he said. “If we do not meet the deadlines, if things become even harder on the discussions – which we are doing everything to avoid, we must not, we cannot run the risk of repeating Copenhagen when the world failed to agree on action.”

It was exactly the sort of stirring and positive argument that has enabled Brazil to push past negotiations forward and bridge the gap between rich and poor countries. However, when asked about proposals back home for fossil fuel subsides, he was far less assured.

“We are of course following the legislative discussions around any possible fiscal measures. However, it should not be overlooked that we adopted in the Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets that are among the most ambitious in the world – across both developed and developing countries – and these targets are on top of the dramatic reductions already achieved,” he said.


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« Reply #4011 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:54 AM »

Climate change will determine humanity's destiny, says Angela Merkel

German chancellor, UN secretary general, Emmanuel Macron and others urge world’s leaders to succeed in their negotiations in Bonn

Damian Carrington in Bonn
Guardian
11/18/2017

“Climate change is an issue determining our destiny as mankind – it will determine the wellbeing of all of us,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has told the world’s nations gathered at a climate summit.

The delegates heard a series of strong political messages on Wednesday, urging them to use the final two days of the summit to complete important work on putting the landmark 2015 Paris deal into action. Without this, the world faces a devastating 3C or more of global warming.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, told the conference in Bonn of his visit to the Caribbean after this year’s hurricanes.

“The catastrophic damage of climate change is upon us and when the frontline is devastated, the whole army is lost” he said, railing against the $825bn invested in fossil fuels in 2016. “We must stop making bets on an unsustainable future.”

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, who has been among the most vocal critics of Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris deal, got the loudest applause when he committed France and European partners to filling the funding gap for the UN’s climate science panel, left by the US withdrawal. “They will not miss a single euro,” he said.

Macron also emphasised the global importance of tackling global warming, saying: “The fight against climate change is by far the most significant struggle of our times.” He also addressed the issue that underpins most disputes at the global negotiations: the responsibility of rich nations that caused climate change to pay for the solution and compensate for the damage: “Climate change adds further injustice to an already unfair world.”

President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, representing African nations, said the need for faster action was urgent: “The fire is right under our feet. That is why I am expressing the extreme concern of Africa in light of the increase of disasters related to climate change. Africa suffers the loss and damage on a daily basis.”

“It is now time for the developed countries to live up to their responsibilities,” said Baron Waqa, president of Nauru and representing small island states. “Lack of resources is the problem.”

The talks in Bonn have progressed reasonably smoothly, without the drama and walkouts of previous summits. But one issue has flared up – whether rich nations are doing enough before 2020 to cut their emissions and to help poorer nations cope with the impacts of global warming.

It has been forced to the top of the agenda by the devastating floods and hurricanes seen around the world this year – as well as the meeting being run by the vulnerable island nation of Fiji. Negotiators agreed a deal on this on Wednesday, involving new stock takes of action in 2018 and 2019 and on progress towards the $100bn a year in climate funding that rich nations have promised to deliver by 2020.

The divisive issue of “loss and damage” – compensation for poor nations for the climate change damage – has been defused for now, with an expert meeting to address concerns next year. Progress has been made in drawing up the draft rules for implementing the Paris agreement, an essential step ahead of agreeing them in 2018.

Merkel, Guterres and Macron were almost upstaged by the first speech of the high-level session, given by 12-year-old Timoci Naulusala from Fiji, without any hint of nerves. Referring to the impact of Cyclone Winston in 2016, he said: “My home, my school, sources of food, money, water, were totally destroyed. My once beautiful village, which I called home, is a barren waste. Climate change is real, not a dream.”

Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s prime minister and president of the summit, said: “We are not simply negotiating words on a page, but we are representing all our people and the places they call home.”

Merkel, who as an environment minister chaired the first climate summit 23 years ago, has been under pressure this week to phase out Germany’s large coal-fired power stations, which are likely to bust Germany’s climate targets.

“We still use a lot of coal, particularly lignite,” she said, acknowledging the issue is controversial, but she said jobs had to be taken into account too. She added that progress was expected in the next few days as she settles the terms of a new governing coalition with the Green and Liberal parties.

However, Prof John Schellnhuber, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and who has advised both Merkel and the pope, said the 20,000 German jobs in coal would be lost to mechanisation in any case, and were a small number compared to the 600,000 created in the wider economy each year.

Macron set out unusual detail for a head of state in his speech, saying France would close all its coal power plants by 2021 and would ban all new exploration for fossil fuel in its territories. He also said France would fund interconnectors and energy storage technology to spread renewable energy around Europe and work to push the cost of CO2 emissions to €30 a tonne, which would end the viability coal and drive out gas.


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« Reply #4012 on: Nov 18, 2017, 06:04 AM »

'Maybe the smog can bring us together': toxic air chokes Pakistan and India

With Lahore suffering from air pollution almost equal to that enveloping Delhi, joint action to tackle the problem is urgently needed, say environmentalists

Nosheen Abbas in Islamabad
Guardian
18 November 2017 05.00 GMT

Parts of Pakistan have been enveloped by deadly smog in recent weeks, with the city of Lahore suffering almost as badly as the Indian capital Delhi.

Pictures and video that show Lahore looking like an apocalyptic landscape have left people in shock. Some residents have said they can’t see beyond their outstretched arm.

According to the app Airvisual and a Twitter user going by the handle @Lahoresmog, the air quality index, which measures the level of PM 2.5 pollutants in the air, has been set at “hazardous” over the past week, making a modest improvement in recent days.

Flights have been cancelled, schools have shut and major traffic jams and accidents have gridlocked the streets.

At its peak, Lahore’s levels of PM 2.5, the particles most damaging to health, were more than 30 times the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) safe limit. Environmentalists say air pollution is getting worse every year. According to WHO figures, in Pakistan during 2012, nearly 60,000 people died because of PM2.5 particles in the atmosphere.

The causes of the air pollution are a combination of vehicle and industrial emissions, construction, seasonal dust, and crop burning. Analysts say because the causes and consequences of air pollution are not limited to a single nation state, it is time for cooperation between India and Pakistan to address the issue.

Shafqat Kakakhel, a former ambassador and deputy executive director of the UN Environment Programme, agrees.

“Both countries are now using wood for fuel and there is also bad quality of fuel in vehicles. The situation in India is definitely different because industrialisation in Punjab and Haryana is heavier than it is on our side. Their emissions come from the use of coal, we use gas – so basically the scale of pollution is much worse there.”

Abid Suleri, executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, reiterated that the smog problem should be viewed as a cross-regional challenge. “This year [the smog] started a bit early, which shows the intensity of the problem. It is getting policymakers’ attention, but they seem clueless on how to handle it.

“Smog is a symptom. We need to introduce clean fuel, and renew efforts of reforestation: not only planting but taking care of saplings too. Also, by enforcing existing laws to control vehicular and industrial emissions.”

He added that authorities need to look at banning the burning of crop residue and solid waste, “but then there must be an alternative to dispose of solid waste. Countries in the region should talk to each other to learn what worked and what did not work in controlling the smog.”

One doctor in Delhi said pollution there was worse than smoking 50 cigarettes a day.

But joint action would be difficult given the volatile political relationship between India and Pakistan. “There is no forum that can be taken with India. Bilateral talks have stalled, but the fact is that we have so many transboundary environmental issues,” said Kakakhel.

Kakakhel believes this is an imperative issue that will deteriorate over the years if it is not taken seriously by both countries. “It is going to be worse next year. There will be more vehicles, wood and cow dung will be burned.

“Political leadership needs to wake up to this. Maybe the smog can bring us together.”


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« Reply #4013 on: Nov 18, 2017, 06:06 AM »

‘Planet at a crossroads’: climate summit makes progress but leaves much to do

The UN negotiations in Bonn lay the groundwork for implementing the landmark Paris deal, but tough decisions lay ahead

Damian Carrington in Bonn
18 November 2017 16.54 GMT
Guardian

The world’s nations were confident they were making important progress in turning continued political commitment into real world action, as the global climate change summit in Bonn was drawing to a close on Friday.

The UN talks were tasked with the vital, if unglamorous, task of converting the unprecedented global agreement sealed in Paris in 2015 from a symbolic moment into a set of rules by which nations can combine to defeat global warming. Currently, the world is on track for at least 3C of global warming – a catastrophic outcome that would lead to severe impacts around the world.

The importance of the task was emphasised by Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s prime minister and president of the summit: “We are not simply negotiating words on a page, but we are representing all our people and the places they call home.”

The Paris rulebook, which must be finalised by the end of 2018, now has a skeleton: a set of headings relating to how action on emissions is reported and monitored. Nations have also fleshed this out with suggested detailed texts, but these are often contradictory and will need to be resolved next year. “The worst outcome would have been to end up with empty pages, but that is not going to happen,” said a German negotiator.

One issue that did flare up during talks was the action being taken by rich nations before the Paris deal kicks in in 2020. Developing nations argued not enough is being done and, with the UN climate negotiations running largely on trust, the issue became unexpectedly serious before being defused by commitments to a “stocktake” of action in 2018 and 2019.

The final hours of the negotiations were held up by a technical row over climate funding from rich nations, always a sensitive topic. Poorer and vulnerable nations want donor countries to set out in advance how much they will provide and when, so recipient nations can plan their climate action. Rich nations claim they are not unwilling, but that making promises on behalf of future governments is legally complex.

Progress in raising the importance of gender, indigenous peoples and agriculture in tackling climate change was made. But NGOs criticised slow progress in delivering previous funding promises. Raijeli Nicole, from Oxfam, said: “For the most part, rich countries showed up to Bonn empty-handed.”

Coal – the dirtiest fossil fuel – has had a high profile at the summit, with the US administration’s only official side-event controversially promoting “clean coal”. But the overwhelming momentum has been against the fuel, with a new coalition of countries pledging a complete phaseout. This happened outside the negotiations, a significant move, according to Camilla Born at thinktank E3G: “We have had the Paris agreement living in the real world.”

Poland, which is heavily dependent on coal, is hosting the next UN climate summit in a year’s time and has frequently held up climate action in the EU. But on Friday, apparently under heavy EU pressure, it ended its hold-out against passing a climate commitment called the Doha amendment which sets in law pre-2020 climate action.

Germany, however, has been unable to commit to phasing out its huge coal industry, because Angela Merkel’s talks to form a new coalition have run over time. Nonetheless, Barbara Hendricks, the out-going German environment minister, said on Friday: “The phasing out of coal makes sense environmentally and economically.” She was certain the new government would act, she said.

US president Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris deal has had little impact at the talks, according to negotiators, who say US officials have been neutral and not blocked anything. Gebru Jember Endalew, the Ethiopian chair of the 47-strong Least Developed Countries negotiating bloc, said: “Unlike immigration, you cannot protect your country from climate change by building a wall.” Other big powers, such as China and India, have not used the US move to try to gain extra advantage but remain constructive players, insiders say.

Last minute hitches in closing the Bonn summit remain possible but are not expected by the delegates. Instead the attention now moves to 2018 and the tougher, final decisions that need to be made then.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who as Peru’s environment minister ran the 2014 climate talks and is now at WWF, said: “The planet is at a crossroads. The decisions we make today set the foundation for 2018 and beyond. Countries must increase their ambition to put us on a path to a 1.5C future.”

“The Poland summit [in 2018] will be tough,” he said. “We expect to make progress, but it is not going to be easy.”

Laurence Tubiana, France’s climate ambassador during the Paris deal and now at the European Climate Foundation, said: “There is no time to rest on our laurels, we are not on track. If we are serious about tackling climate change, everyone will need to step up and put forward ambitious climate commitments between now and 2020.”

******************

Climate summit goes slow and steady but King Coal looms

Little drama in Bonn other than some star turns and a pantomime villain. All eyes are now on Poland, the next summit host

Damian Carrington in Bonn
Guardian
11/18/2017

For an issue that often seems to lurch from crisis to catastrophe, the steady but vital progress at the UN’s global climate change talks in Bonn was reassuring. But there remains a very long way to go before the world gets on track to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming.

There was little drama as the diplomatic sherpas trekked up the mountain of turning the political triumph of the 2015 Paris agreement into a technical reality, with a rulebook that would allow countries to start ramping up action. They got about as far as expected in turning the conceptual into the textual, but no further.

But that is not to say there were no star turns. Timoci Naulusala, a 12-year-old Fijian boy, gave a passionate yet nerveless account of the destruction of his village by Cyclone Winston in 2016 to the gathered heads of state and ministers. “Climate change is real, not a dream,” he said.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, turned on the charisma and heartened the gathered nations with a pledge to replace the US funding dumped by Donald Trump for the UN’s climate science body.

The Trump administration, which wants the US to be the only country in the world not in the Paris deal, was the pantomime villain, but only succeeded in uniting the 195 other nations against it. The sole US event brought an executive from Peabody, the US coal company with a long history of funding climate denial, to argue for “clean coal”. A protest song and walkout from most of the audience followed and for the rest of the summit, the US delegation was irrelevant.

But the large coalition of US cities and states backing climate action – which as a group represents the third-largest economy in the world – stole the American show, with the California governor, Jerry Brown, popping up everywhere, pumping up the crowds.

The multi-nation pledge to phase out coal use was the political high point, but the dragging on of the coalition talks in Germany prevented Angela Merkel from potentially joining the party. The politics is key: UN climate talks run on consensus, with no votes, so trust and momentum are vital and were preserved in Bonn.

But the summit was like a dress rehearsal for next year, when the Paris rulebook has to be finalised and poorer and vulnerable nations will demand much more action and funding from the rich countries they blame for climate change. Further gatherings in Paris in December and California next year will also help prepare the stage for the 2018 UN climate summit.

That will be in Silesia, a heartland of Europe’s King Coal, Poland, which has already started feeling the international pressure to clean up its act. If that summit achieves its goals – accelerating carbon cuts – then the curtain will have been raised on the clean, green 21st century, against a backdrop of the mines and power plants of the 20th century.


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« Reply #4014 on: Nov 18, 2017, 06:12 AM »

‘We lost a great leader’: Berta Cáceres still inspires as murder case takes fresh twist

As friends and followers of the late Honduran activist continue her battle for indigenous land rights, their cause has been boosted by a damning legal report

Liz Ford in Río Blanco
Guardian
11/18/2017

María Santos Domínguez heard about the death of her good friend Berta Cáceres on the radio. She had just given birth to her youngest daughter, so she wasn’t with Cáceres the week she was murdered.

“It was a double blow because we were very close, we worked together in the communities,” said Santos Domínguez, a coordinator for the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Copinh), the organisation Cáceres co-founded 24 years ago to stop the state selling off the country’s ancestral lands to multinational companies.

“It was a personal blow, and we knew we had lost a great leader – a leader who had been recognised internationally.”

Cáceres, who won the Goldman environmental prize for her work with Copinh, was gunned down in her home in the early hours of 3 March 2016. She had led the protest against the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam in Río Blanco, western Honduras. Gustavo Castro Soto, a Mexican environmental activist, was injured in the attack.

Eight men have been charged with the murder of Cáceres, who was under state protection at the time after receiving numerous death threats. Two of the accused worked at the company leading the construction of the dam, Desarrollos Energéticos SA.

Cáceres’ family and supporters have always suspected the involvement of state officials in her killing. Last year, a Guardian investigation revealed the existence of leaked court documents linking the planning of the murder to military intelligence specialists connected with the country’s US–trained special forces.

Earlier this month, a report published by an expert group of lawyers concluded that senior managers in the company allegedly had a hand in her murder. The company has always denied any involvement. In response to the report, it said the company had never been involved in any violence and that information in the report had been taken out of context and “does not reflect reality”. The report was intended to create problems in the run up to the country’s elections later this month, it added.

An independent group set up to investigate corruption in Honduras under the auspices of the Organisation of American States is scrutinising allegations of corruption in the award of contracts for the dam project.

Since Cáceres’ death, Domínguez, 43, has joined other members of the Lenca indigenous community for regular meetings among the oak trees of the lush, mountainous region of Río Blanco. Together, they say prayers and light candles in memory of their lost friend. It is also where they gather to find strength for the twin challenge of fighting the dam project and striving to ensure Cáceres’ killers are brought to justice.

While years of protests have brought construction to a halt, and resulted in funders discontinuing their support, the licence for the dam on the sacred Gualcarque river has not been withdrawn. The warehouses that stand empty along the road offer an ominous reminder that the project remains alive.

Santos Domínguez helped set up a road blockade when trucks were first spotted trundling along the narrow, winding lanes of Río Blanco towards the planned site for the dam on 1 April 2013. The community has said it was not consulted – a legal requirement – before the company was granted the licence.

“We saw the machinery coming in the distance. We’d said we didn’t allow it to come in the community, but they wanted to build a dam so didn’t listen,” she said. “I was not afraid, I was angry. I thought, ‘This is my land and my home.’”

But Santos Domínguez paid a high price for her actions. In the violence that followed when the police arrived to break up the protest, her brother was killed. She lost a finger and sustained cuts to her head from a machete. Her husband lost an eye. She is now wanted by the police and had to flee her home for a time for fear of being arrested – or made to disappear. She says harassment has got worse since Cáceres was murdered. She has had to keep her children off school after they had rocks thrown at them – by people “who know I was in Copinh” – while walking to class.

Rosalina Domínguez Madrid, who is in charge of Copinh’s finances, has also experienced harassment since Cáceres’ death. “People have been asking for me by name. Unknown people, but we are assuming it’s people paid by the company,” she said.

“There have been a lot of threats, and the life of one of my sons has been threatened. [It] must be people coming for me, to do the same thing to me as they did to Berta. When I go somewhere I don’t tell people where I’m going. I travel underground. I don’t really feel safe.”

Domínguez Madrid said that Cáceres’ death threw the international spotlight on the battle for land rights in Honduras – the deadliest place to be an environmental activist, according to the organisation Global Witness. More than 120 activists have been murdered for trying to protect the land or environment since the country’s 2009 coup. Copinh member Tomás García was murdered just months before Cáceres, and most attacks have gone unpunished.

Over the past eight years, the government has received a flurry of licence applications for hydroelectric, mining and agribusinesses projects. At the same time, there has been a crackdown on human rights.

Many more activists say they have been threatened with violence, or have faced intimidation and even sexual assault by police, members of the military or those paid to keep activists out of the way. Women, who have been at the centre of the protests in Río Blanco, face the added threats of abuse from their own families and communities, as machismo culture often relegates women to the sole role of homemaker.

Last month two Nobel peace laureates – Tawakkol Karman and Shirin Ebadi – visited Río Blanco to offer their support to the community and add their voices to the calls for justice for Cáceres.

Beside an altar of flowers and photos of Cáceres, Karman, who won the Nobel prize in 2011 for her peace-building work in Yemen, told the crowd of women, men and children of all ages: “We are here to support all those who are struggling to defend human rights … Berta was a victim of those who didn’t respect those rights. We want to see justice brought to all those responsible for her murder. Those criminals must face the justice system and they should be in jail.”

Ebadi added: “My message to the world from here is they have murdered an activist who struggled to protect the environment, and there has not been justice in her case.”

Santos Domínguez knows that peace for the Lenca in Río Blanco will not come until those who authorised Cáceres’ murder are behind bars and the land rights for her people are recognised.

“Because we are poor they think we don’t know anything … But they are wrong because we are organised and we can protect ourselves from them,” she said.

“They murdered Berta and they thought that, with her dead, we would not continue – but we showed them we can.”

    Liz Ford travelled to Honduras with the Nobel Women’s Initiative


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« Reply #4015 on: Nov 18, 2017, 06:16 AM »

'Rape is a rampant issue'; taboo drama Verna battles the censors in Pakistan

Rejected for its ‘edgy content’, Shoaib Mansoor’s timely revenge thriller has finally made it into cinemas after a public backlash. Is the country’s film industry ready for change?

Alia Waheed
Guardian
11/18/2017

In recent years, Pakistan has seen a huge resurgence of its film industry, which has emerged from the shadow of Bollywood to find its own identity, one at the forefront of the battle between a growing conservatism in the country and an emboldened youth hungry for change. There’s a notable trend towards female-led narratives, which are not only setting new standards in storytelling, but also challenging taboos around the treatment of women in society.

The battle to get the voices and experiences of women on screen achieved a much-needed victory this week when the Pakistani censor board backed down over a decision to ban a new film about the injustices faced by rape victims in the country – a development that shows that Pakistan might be ready for change both on screen and off.

Verna, which stars popular actor Mahira Khan, was originally denied a certificate by the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) because of its “mature themes” and “edgy content”. This caused an outcry among women’s rights campaigners, who accused board members of censoring women’s voices and putting their heads in the sand at a time when, says Gulalai Ismail from the campaigning NGO Aware Girls, “rape is a rampant issue in Pakistan” and “movies like Verna are crucial in moving society forward.”

Soon the ban had inspired a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #UnbanVerna, which emerged as Pakistan’s own #MeToo movement. High-profile supporters of the film included xXx: Return of Xander Cage star Deepika Padukone, who is facing a similar backlash over her latest Bollywood film, Padmavati, based on a 16th-century poem about a mythical Indian queen.

Just hours before Verna was due for release, the censor board cleared it for viewing. The publicity around the ban meant that most cinemas were sold out before the decision had been made – something unheard of for a home production, many of which are usually dwarfed by the latest Marvel adaptation or Bollywood blockbuster.

The film is a stylised thriller drawing on elements of film noir and Japanese cinema, with a plot that falls somewhere between the 1998 Jodie Foster drama The Accused and the revenge horror Audition. Khan plays Sara, a teacher who is abducted while out on an anniversary trip with her husband, then held captive and raped for three days. After failing to get any redress from the justice system, Sara takes matters into her own hands.

    It’s not just about sex or rape, it is about one person having power over another and how people misuse that power
    Mahira Khan

However, despite its genre flourishes, the film also holds a mirror up to society’s shortcomings in its attitude to rape, and the failure of the justice system to protect victims: in one telling scene, a female doctor makes Sara wait for her forensic examination until after lunch, then tells her between mouthfuls that the chances of her getting justice are negligible.

“It is ultimately a revenge film about a girl seeking justice,” says Khan. “The character is not how society would envisage a rape victim to be. She is strong, very urban, educated and feisty. This is a woman who doesn’t feel sorry for herself. It was a very challenging role to play as we didn’t want the audience to feel sorry for her, but to root for her, while at the same time acknowledging that what she went through was horrific.

“We wanted to show how the honour of a woman is connected to everyone except herself. Her honour belongs to the man of the house, her parents, her country, everyone apart from her, yet she is responsible for it. In our culture, when a woman is raped, we say she was robbed of her honour. If a woman is raped, she has not been robbed of her honour, it is the rapist who has for doing such a crime. The film reflects the gender and power dynamics this hypocrisy creates.”

The lifting of the ban has been a major breakthrough for an industry that has suffered decades of decline, caught in a vicious circle of under-investment and censorship perpetuated by the sudden swerve towards religious conservatism under General Zia in the 1970s. In the last 15 years, however, the film scene has undergone something of a resurgence, with a new generation of directors keen to establish a cinematic identity distinct from that of Bollywood.

Heading this cultural revival has been Verna director Shoaib Mansoor, whose first two films, Bol, about a religious family with a transgender daughter, and Khuda Ke Liye, which deals with the repercussions of 9/11 on the Pakistani diaspora, were well received on the international festival circuit. While Khan welcomes the decision to allow her latest film to be shown, she says she hopes the CBFC will start to take a more liberal stance on future films in order to encourage the industry to thrive.

    Mahira Khan (@TheMahiraKhan)

    Thank you to all those who supported #verna - the people, the media, those at the censor board.. thank you so much! 🙏🏼🙏🏼 Hoping for Punjab to clear Verna today as well.
    November 17, 2017

“The medium of art is to express different aspects of the human experience, so why try to stifle [it]?” she says. “The industry is finally coming into its own, so it’s important for this film to be seen, because if it can change even the mindset of one person, this can be enough to start a change in society.”

The surge of support for Verna is particularly pertinent in the light of the #MeToo campaign, which has seen a growing confidence among women to speak out on these issues. “#MeToo was very important,” Khan says. “It shows that it takes just one brave person to speak out and that gives strength to another person and another person, and creates a domino effect and creates a movement.

“It is a similar message in the film. It’s not just about sex or rape, it is about one person having power over another and how people misuse that power – and the only way to break the dynamics of power is when you are brave enough to speak up about it.”

Click to watch trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqup82jtx8Q


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« Reply #4016 on: Nov 18, 2017, 06:30 AM »

Trump's Panama tower used for money-laundering by condo owners, reports say

Trump Ocean Club drew people accused of corruption and future president benefited from laundered funds, reports say

Rory Carroll
Guardian
Saturday 18 November 2017 07.00 GMT

The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower soars over Panama City bay, a 70-storey skyscraper shaped like a sail. Donald Trump’s first international hotel venture, it opened in 2011, a mix of condominiums, hotel rooms and a casino.

As one of the tallest structures in Latin America, it was a bold and lucrative expression of the Trump brand, earning him as much as $13.9m in management fees and royalties in the last three years.

By day it glints in the tropical sunshine, an apparently shining testament to the US president’s business savvy.

But a curious thing happens at night. Many of the lights stay off. The restaurants are near deserted; the corridors silent. The skyscraper appears to be largely empty – a dark tower.

Many of those who bought the condos, it turns out, did so not to live there but allegedly to launder illicit money – Russian gangster money, drug cartel money, people-smuggling money.

A joint Reuters-NBC News investigation published on Friday alongside a report by the non-profit Global Witness said the skyscraper with Trump’s name had ties to international organised crime.

The reports detailed how the future president gave the project to his daughter Ivanka as a “baby” effort to gain real estate experience, and said it ended up drawing a cast of characters accused of fraud, corruption and kidnapping.

Trump may not have intended to facilitate criminal activity but the Panama tower “aligned” his financial interests with crooks, said Global Witness. “Trump seems to have done little to nothing to prevent this. What is clear is that proceeds from Colombian cartels’ narcotics trafficking were laundered through the Trump Ocean Club and that Donald Trump was one of the beneficiaries.”

There is no evidence that the Trump Organization or members of the Trump family broke the law or knew of the criminal backgrounds of some of the tower’s brokers, buyers and investors.

The White House and Ivanka Trump referred requests for comment to the Trump Organization, which issued a statement distancing itself from the tower.

“The Trump Organization was not the owner, developer or seller of the Trump Ocean Club Panama project. Because of its limited role, the company was not responsible for the financing of the project and had no involvement in the sale of units or the retention of any real estate brokers.”

The story may endure. The president won last year’s election on the promise of draining corruption in Washington and building a wall to keep out drugs and undesirable immigrants. Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating Russian influence in the election, is looking at Trump’s business dealings.

Trump lent his name but did not exert management control over the tower’s construction and was under no direct legal obligation to conduct due diligence on other people involved.

But Arthur Middlemiss, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan and a former head of JP Morgan’s global anti-corruption program, told Reuters that since Panama was “perceived to be highly corrupt”, anyone engaged in business there should conduct due diligence on business collaborators. If they did not, he said, there was a potential risk in US law of being liable for turning a blind eye to wrongdoing.

Trump wanted to use the Panama project as a “baby” for Ivanka, Roger Khafif, a Panamian developer who pitched the deal to Trump in 2005, told Reuters.

She helped kickstart the project a year later by selecting a Brazilian former car salesman, Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, as a lead broker to sell units. He promised quick sales at high prices. Ventura’s firm, Homes Real Estate Investment & Services, delivered, selling 350 to 400 units, about $100m worth of property, he told Reuters and NBC.

He met Ivanka numerous times, met her brothers Eric and Donald Jr, and met the future president once, at a celebratory event in 2008 at Mar-a-Lago, the family’s Florida estate.

A year later, however, Ventura was arrested in Panama for real estate fraud, unrelated to the Trump project, and fled on bail.

Now a fugitive, the 43-year-old spoke from an undisclosed European city wearing a disguise.

Ventura said some of his brokers and clients who traded units in the Trump Ocean Club were connected to the Russian mafia and other organised crime groups.

He said he sold seven to 10 units to David Murcia Guzmán, a disgraced entrepreneur who is currently in US custody awaiting extradition to Colombia after being convicted by a US federal court of laundering money for drug cartels, including through real estate.

Ventura said he sold about half the units to Russian-speaking brokers, including Arkady Vodovozov, who, according to court files cited by Reuters, was convicted of kidnapping in Israel, and Igor Anapolskiy, who, according to Ukrainian court documents cited by Global Witness, was convicted in 2014 of forging travel documents.

Another was Stanislav Kavalenka, who, according to Ontario court documents, was charged in Canada with “compelling” and “procuring” women to engage in prostitution. The case was later withdrawn.

Many buyers remained unidentified because many units were bought and sold through anonymous shell companies. Ventura said he set up hundreds of such corporations, charging roughly $1,000 each.

“I had some customers with questionable backgrounds,” he said. “Nobody ever asked me. Banks never asked. Developer didn’t ask and (the) Trump Organization didn’t ask. Nobody ask: ‘Who are the customers, where did the money come from?’ No, nobody ask.”

Mauricio Ceballos, a former financial crimes prosecutor in Panama who investigated Ventura, told NBC the skyscraper was a “vehicle for money laundering”.

Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, played down Ventura’s connections with the Trumps, telling Reuters they did not remember meeting him, and that such contacts would have been “meaningless” and just one of hundreds of public appearances they make each year.

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These Russian oligarchs are making Donald Trump rich

Newsweek
18 Nov 2017 at 17:35 ET    

During the many government investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 presidential elections, President Donald Trump has insisted he doesn’t have business dealings with Russia.

“I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia,” the president said in February.

But that doesn’t mean that Russians are investing in Trump. In fact, at least 63 Russian elites and oligarchs have invested around $100 million into Trump-brand real estate in southern Florida, a Reuters investigation revealed. In the Florida resort town of Sunny Isles Beach, an area with the highest number of Russian-born residents in the U.S., the Trump brand has six residential towers.

Some of the individuals investing in these towers have ties to the Russian political establishment, and their identities could shed light on the complex web of business dealings that connect Trump to Russia.

Alexander Yuzvik

Yuzvik was previously a senior executive at Spetstroi, a Russian state-owned company that oversees construction for military facilities. The firm has been involved in development projects for Russian intelligence services and the Russian military.

Alexey Ustaev

Ustaev is the founder and president of the St. Petersburg-based investment bank Viking. Ustaev has received a plethora of awards for his work, including one for being the “best leader of Russia," and an award from the Russian Sports Ministry for his charitable work.

Oleg Misevra

Misevra is a wealthy coal magnate and former traffic police commander who has repeatedly earned personal praise and support from Vladimir Putin for his work. In 2002, he was accused by a business rival of murder, blackmail, and slander.

Vadim Valeryevich Gataullin

Gataullin is a local politician from the semi-autonomous Russian Republic of Bashkortostan, an oil-producing region near the Ural Mountains. He was also a deputy in the regional parliament from 2013 until 2015.

Pavel Uglanov

Uglanov is a businessman who served as a deputy minister for industry and energy in the regional government of Saratov from 2010 to 2011. Uglanov once posted a picture of himself on Facebook with the head of a Russian motorcycle gang that was sanctioned by the U.S. government for its role in Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

All of the men own apartments in Trump buildings that cost over $1 million, and most did not declare these assets in Russia, the Reuters investigation found. All of the financial dealings investigated appear to be legal, and none of the buyers is on lists of individuals sanctioned by the U.S. government.

Some analysts suggest that it is not unusual for individuals from unstable countries such as Russia and China to invest in U.S. real estate.

“It is no secret that a lot of Russians, because of unstable situation in Russia, were looking to get their money out of Russia to more stable jurisdictions, including the United States,” Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Newsweek. “People invest in Trump assets because of its reputation and brand.”

Still, it’s possible there are other investors whose dealings are not entirely appropriate. The Reuters investigation found that a third of the owners of Trump real estate in the area are Limited Liability Companies, which are permitted to hide the identities of their owners.

Like Florida, New York City was also a haven for buyers seeking to land luxury real estate deals using Limited Liability Companies. In 2015, New York imposed new disclosure requirements for shell companies buying or selling property in the city.

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Jared Kushner didn’t disclose contact with a Russian mafia ‘godfather’ to Congress: report

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
17 Nov 2017 at 18:17 ET     

President Donald Trump’s aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner failed to disclose to Congress an event invitation by an alleged Russian mobster and ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to three sources close to the invitation who spoke to NBC News, Russian banker Aleksander Torshin extended an invitation via email to then-candidate Trump to attend an event related to the National Rifle Association convention in Kentucky in March 2016.

“The email also suggests Torshin was seeking to meet with a high-level Trump campaign official during the convention, and that he may have had a message for Trump from Putin,” the report’s sources claim. Kushner “rebuffed the request after receiving a lengthy email exchange about it.”

The report also notes that Spanish anti-corruption officials consider Torshin a “godfather” of the Russia mob, though the banker denies the claims.

************

‘Can we get real for a moment?’: Watch CNN’s Bolduan epic scolding of Trump for ducking his sex scandals

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
18 Nov 2017 at 11:46 ET                  

Kicking off her CNN program Friday afternoon, host Kate Bolduan launched a broadside at President Donald Trump for commenting on a woman’s sexual abuse accusation against Democratic Sen. Al Franken (MN) while avoiding addressing the more than a dozen women who have accused him of sexual abuse.

Sharing clips of Trump bragging about grabbing women by the “p*ssy” and calling his accusers liars before bluntly proclaiming, “all of these liars will be sued after the election is over,” the CNN host dryly retorted: “Those lawsuits never happened.”

And then Bolduan was off with an epic smack-down of Trump — directed specifically to the president.

“So can we get real for a moment?” Bolduan began. “This is no longer a ‘can you believe the president said that?’ kind of a moment. This has officially become a, ‘the president doesn’t get to do this moment.'”

“He doesn’t get to question Al Franken and stay silent on Roy Moore and no one should allow it,” she continued. “It’s playing politics with a discussion that should rise above that. So no, Mr. President, join the full conversation going on around you, or, if you don’t — you don’t get to be part of any of it.”

“Is the concern over there really about being dragged into the topic of sexual harassment and assault once again?” she pointedly asked.”Too bad, that should have been considered when you responded to your accusers and should have been considered before your campaign brought Bill Clinton’s accusers to one of the presidential debates.”

“So too bad. You don’t get to pick and choose when this issue matters and when it doesn’t, you just don’t,” she concluded.

Watch the video via CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOz0Q4knN3A


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« Reply #4017 on: Nov 19, 2017, 10:31 AM »

Our view: Alabama voters must reject Roy Moore; we endorse Doug Jones for U.S. Senate

There is only one candidate left in this race who has proven worthy of the task of representing Alabama. He is Doug Jones.

AL.com Editorial Board
By AL.com Editorial Board
on November 19, 2017

This election is a turning point for women in Alabama. A chance to make their voices heard in a state that has silenced them for too long.

The accusations against Roy Moore have been horrifying, but not shocking.

Every day new allegations arise that illustrate a pattern of a man in his 30s strutting through town like the cock of the walk, courting and preying on young women and girls. And though Roy Moore has denied the accusations of these women, his own platform and record is hostile to so many Alabamians.

Unlike the national party, the Alabama Republican establishment has chosen to stand by him, attacking and belittling the brave women who have come forward.

As a news organization, we have independently investigated stories of several Alabama woman who have spoken to us and the Washington Post about the abuse they say they suffered at the hands of Roy Moore decades ago.

The seriousness of these incidents, including one involving a 14-year-old child, cannot be overstated. Nor can the growing number of accusations -- from the women who were at the receiving end of unwanted adult male overtures as teens, to those who say they were physically assaulted --  be parsed with talk of statutes of limitations or whether proof has been recorded on a stone tablet. In the American system, proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a consideration for the courtroom, not the ballot box. It is our job as voters to look closely at the candidates and make up our own minds.

Do not let this conversation be muddled. This election has become a referendum on whether we will accept this kind of behavior from our leaders.

Alabamians have never cared about what the rest of country thinks of them. And we do not expect all the handwringing from national pundits, conservative or liberal, to make much of a difference. This election isn't about what a late-night comedian may think of Alabama or whether Sean Hannity can sell advertisements; it's not about Saturday Night Live or Mitch McConnell. It's not about Breitbart or National Democrats. It is about the moral values of the people of Alabama.

Do not make your voting decision based on who it will affect on a national stage. Vote based on who it will affect in your hometown.

We each know someone in our lives who is a survivor of sexual assault or child abuse. Many of us are still searching for the words needed to tell our own stories and some may never find that voice. This election is about them.   

How can we look our neighbors, our parishioners, our colleagues, our partners, or our children in the eyes and tell them they are worth less than ensuring one political party keeps a Senate seat?  How can we expect young Alabamians to have faith in their government or their church, when its leaders equivocate on matters as clear cut as sexual abuse?

A vote for Roy Moore sends the worst kind of message to Alabamians struggling with abuse: "if you ever do tell your story, Alabama won't believe you."

Or, worse, we'll believe you but we just won't care.

To be clear: it's not only his record on women and children that disqualifies Moore. If we vote for Roy Moore, Alabama will also show that we don't care about you if you're gay or Muslim or Catholic. If you're an atheist or an immigrant. We'll show each other that we only care about Roy Moore's definition of Alabama. And that there's not room for the rest of us.   

Roy Moore says he has faith in the Alabama voters. But apparently only a select few.

This utter disregard for people unlike himself, his pathological fixation on sex, and the steps he's taken to actively diminish other people's freedoms, is more than enough to have disqualified him from this office long before these women stepped into the public eye.

So what now?

Alabamians opposed to Roy Moore have three options on election day: stay home, write in a candidate, or vote for Doug Jones.

As a news organization, we could never advise voters to stay home. Low turnout in the Republican primary contributed to Roy Moore winning a spot on the ballot. Elections matter. And from soldiers overseas to Civil Rights foot soldiers at home, too many people have risked their lives to secure that privilege for Alabamians. And given what's at stake in this election, we urge you to register by November 27.

If your conscience tells you that you cannot vote for either man, write in a candidate that shares your convictions. While we believe that state Republicans response to the allegations brought against Roy Moore has cast a permanent shadow on many others - particularly GOP Chairwoman Terry Lathan who has threatened any Republican who speaks out - there are good options in the Republican Party.

However, we endorse the third option: Doug Jones.

Despite what you may have heard, Doug Jones is a moderate Democrat and a strong candidate for all Alabamians. As the son of a steel family, he understands the concerns facing working class families as factories close and jobs disappear. He's been an active member of Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham. He has built a platform around issues that will define Alabama: job creation, small business development, child healthcare, criminal justice reform and, perhaps most needed of all, compromise.

By bringing justice to four little girls killed at Birmingham's 16th Baptist Church, Jones helped Alabama move forward from the sins of our past. But unlike some national Democrats, he isn't interested in shaming Alabama voters because of their history. As a Red State Democrat, we expect Jones would have a larger seat at the table crafting policy in the Senate. Neither Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor Minority Leader Chuck Schumer would be able to take Jones' vote for granted (for relevant examples look to West Virginia's Joe Manchin, Montana's Jon Tester or North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp). That would put Jones in a strong position to work with Sen. Shelby to secure policies that benefit Alabamians.

While Jones is a vocal Christian, despite Moore's claims to be the sole Christian in politics, we know his pro-choice stance may be a deal breaker for some Alabamians, but his stance only advocates the law as it is currently written. After a year of complete control of the White House, the Senate and the House, we are skeptical that this Congress plans to pass any relevant legislation on abortion. Jones' commitment to affordable healthcare for women and children will improve the lives of Alabama's families, and, for us, his pro-choice stance is not disqualifying.

What is disqualifying is the conduct of Roy Moore against women and children. It was disqualifying for his party leaders. It was disqualifying for Alabama's senior senator. And it should be disqualifying for his state party.

By the various misdeeds, miscalculations and mistakes of its voters and leaders, Alabama has left itself with few options. Alabamians must show themselves to be people of principle, reject Roy Moore and all that he stands for.

There is only one candidate left in this race who has proven worthy of the task of representing Alabama. He is Doug Jones.

The voters must make their voices heard.


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« Reply #4018 on: Nov 20, 2017, 05:22 AM »

Germany bans ‘smartwatches’ for kids — and tells parents to smash the ones they already have

David Ferguson
Raw Story
20 Nov 2017 at 21:22 ET                   

The German government agency that regulates telecommunications — “Bundesnetzagentur” aka the Federal Network Agency — has banned the sale of children’s “smartwatches” in the country and urged parents to smash the ones they already own.

According to the BBC, the agency has identified multiple brands of smartwatch aimed at kids between the ages of 5 and 13 that send data back and forth without encryption, making them vulnerable to hacking and spying attempts.

“Via an app, parents can use such children’s watches to listen unnoticed to the child’s environment and they are to be regarded as an unauthorised transmitting system,” said Jochen Homann, president of the Federal Network Agency.

“According to our research, parents’ watches are also used to listen to teachers in the classroom,” Jochen continued.

“Poorly secured smart devices often allow for privacy invasion,” said Pen Test Partners security expert Ken Munro. “That is really concerning when it comes to kids’ GPS tracking watches – the very watches that are supposed to help keep them safe.”

“There is a shocking lack of regulation of the ‘internet of things’, which allows lax manufacturers to sell us dangerously insecure smart products,” Munro said. “Using privacy regulation to ban such devices is a game-changer, stopping these manufacturers playing fast and loose with our kids’ security.”

So-called smartwatches contain a SIM card and limited telephonic abilities. The devices are set up and controlled by an app that parents control.

“It meant that strangers, using basic hacking techniques, could track children as they moved or make a child appear to be in a completely different location,” the BBC explained.

The German government has also banned a model of talking doll for the same reason.

According to Endgadget, “Devices and apps geared towards kids have become a focus of concern when it comes to protecting children’s privacy. In 2015, VTech, a maker of a number of kid’s toys, was hacked, exposing some 6.4 million customers’ data as well as children’s photos and chat logs. The manufacturer of an internet-connected teddy bear also mismanaged its customers’ data, making it easily accessible online.”


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« Reply #4019 on: Nov 20, 2017, 05:24 AM »

Scientists predict strong earthquakes will double in 2018 as Earth’s rotation slows

International Business Times
20 Nov 2017 at 20:02 ET 

A team of scientists presented a research paper to the Geological Society of America, revealing some ground shaking information. The paper has warned that there could be a big increase in numbers of devastating earthquakes  around the world next year caused by the slowing down of the Earth's rotation.

The research was conducted and presented by Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana in Missoula at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. They found that variations in the speed of the Earth's rotation could set off intense seismic activity, particularly in the tropical-equatorial regions where the population density is very high.

Any change is the Earth’s rotation speed is minuscule. It is affected by a factor of milliseconds and the changes in the length of day and night cannot be perceived, only calculated. But these small changes set off a seismic rumble that can release vast amounts of underground energy.

"The correlation between the Earth's rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year," Bilham was quoted in a report by The Guardian.

"The rotation of the Earth does change slightly – by a millisecond a day sometimes – and that can be measured very accurately by atomic clocks," noted Bilham.

The two scientists studied all the major earthquakes that registered a magnitude of 7 and above since 1900 to have a wide data-set. They identified a very visible pattern when the data for the whole century was laid out. There seemed to be visible spikes in seismic activity marked by an increase in the number of a large earthquake. Five such spikes were identified and during this period 25 to 30 large earthquakes were experienced every year.

"In these periods, there were 25 to 30 intense earthquakes a year," he said. The other periods identified only averaged 15 quakes a year, Bilham was quoted in the report.

The team was able to draw parallels to other data that could potentially affect seismic activity and found that these five spikes happened during periods when the Earth's rotation decreased in speed slightly.

The slow rotation periods came within five-year stretches. The team found that when the Earth's rotation slowed down over the last century it was followed by periods of massive earthquakes. "The Earth is offering us a five-year heads-up on future earthquakes," said Bilham.

The scary reality is that we are at the end of one of the five-year slowdowns.

"we should see a significant increase in numbers of severe earthquakes. We have had it easy this year. So far we have only had about six severe earthquakes. We could easily have 20 a year starting in 2018."

This means that areas around the equator should be on high alert for a spike in seismic activity. Earthquakes can be devastating in densely populated areas. The team says that there is no way to pinpoint the location of an earthquake. It is also unclear why the speed of rotation causes more seismic activity.     


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