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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 1078042 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #1365 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 #1366 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 #1367 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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« Reply #1368 on: Nov 20, 2017, 05:26 AM »

Keystone XL pipeline decision: what's at stake and what comes next?

Nebraska regulators will decide Monday on the last major regulatory hurdle facing the project. Here’s what you need to know

Associated Press and Guardian staff
Monday 20 November 2017 11.00 GMT

Nebraska regulators are expected to decide Monday whether to approve or deny an in-state route for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. It’s the last major regulatory hurdle facing project operator TransCanada Corp.

The Nebraska public service commission’s ruling is on the Nebraska route TransCanada has proposed to complete the $8bn,179-mile pipeline to deliver oil from Alberta, Canada, to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. The proposed Keystone XL route would cross parts of Montana, South Dakota and most of Nebraska to Steele City, Nebraska.

The project has faced a barrage of criticism from environmental activists and some landowners for nearly a decade. A ruling against the company would cast renewed doubt on the proposal and could lead to another drawn-out legal fight.

A vote in favor of the company’s proposed route through Nebraska would give a boost to the long-delayed project, which was rejected by Barack Obama in 2015, citing concerns about carbon pollution. Donald Trump revived it in March, approving a permit.

The Guardian followed the proposed route of the pipeline and talked to opponents and supporters earlier this year in a series of three dispatches.

Here are some things to know about the decision:

What options does the commission have?

The five-member Nebraska public service commission is forbidden by law from factoring pipeline safety or the risk of spills into its decision, because pipeline safety is a federal responsibility. So, it will not take into account a spill of 210,000 gallons of oil on the existing Keystone pipeline in South Dakota announced on Thursday.

The simplest choice is a yes-or-no vote on TransCanada’s “preferred route” through a dozen Nebraska counties. But the commission could include major caveats that would add years to the project’s timetable.

Commissioners could tweak TransCanada’s proposed route, or pick one of the company’s “alternative” routes. Company officials have said their preferred route causes the least amount of disruption.

If the commission denies the request outright, state law gives TransCanada a 60-day window to revise and resubmit its proposal for another review.

“It’s not as simple as a ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ verdict,” said Brian Jorde, an attorney for Nebraska landowners who are fighting the project. No matter what the commission decides, any group that presented arguments at an August hearing could appeal the decision to a state district court. The case would likely end up before the Nebraska supreme court.

What happens after the decision?

The commission’s vote could play a pivotal role in whether TransCanada moves ahead with the pipeline. After years of lobbying for the project, TransCanada acknowledged in a July conference call that executives won’t decide until late November or early December whether to begin construction.

TransCanada spokesman Matthew John reiterated that timeline on Wednesday.

“We’re going through the process with every intention to get this project built,” John said. “But there are factors that we need to work out prior to making that decision,” including regulatory approval in Nebraska.

John said the company also needs to finalize its contracts with shippers that want to use the pipeline. TransCanada has been working to line up long-term contracts for the pipeline, which can carry an estimated 830,000 barrels a day. The company has not announced the results of its open season bidding process, which ended 26 October.

Will there be protests if the commission approves the pipeline?

Opponents in August vowed to stage mass protests against the pipeline if Nebraska regulators approve it, but say they will exhaust legal options first.

Pipeline opponents have lined parts of the proposed route with obstacles, including trees, solar panels, sacred corn from the Ponca tribe of Nebraska and a barn powered by renewable energy. Some opponents may try to physically block construction and have likened their resistance to the activists who protested the Dakota Access pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota.

Despite low oil prices, repeated delays, and entrenched opposition, TransCanada has a strong financial incentive to keep pursuing the pipeline, said Zachary Rogers, a Houston-based analyst for Wood Mackenzie, an energy research and consulting firm.

Rogers said western Canadian producers have been forced to ship their product by train, which is more expensive than a pipeline, and Keystone XL would reduce costs and improve their bottom line.

At the same time, Texas refineries face uncertainty because of political instability in Venezuela, one of their top oil sources, and a slowdown in Mexican production. “Western Canada has been held captive by geography and hasn’t been able to cheaply access the markets,” Rogers said. “Any opportunity for them to get better access will buoy their margins.”

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Safety agency warns of leaks and explosions at nuclear site — as Trump moves to cut their funding

Tribune Media
20 Nov 2017 at 23:26 ET      

 An unfinished $16.8 billion complex to treat chemical and radioactive waste at the Hanford site in Central Washington continues to have problems that risk explosions and radioactive releases from unintended nuclear reactions, according to a Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report.

The board's findings are at odds with a much more optimistic assessment offered by the U.S. Energy Department of the efforts to treat the toxic leftovers of decades of atomic weapons production. In a written statement last February, the Energy Department said major problems previously identified by the safety board had been "resolved," and found that design work could resume on what the department calls a critical pre-treatment plant needed to process highly radioactive waste.

The latest report is more sobering news for a project conceived more than two decades ago whose costs have increased significantly and has had repeated delays because of safety concerns.

The report's release comes at a difficult time for the board. The Trump administration is considering a proposal to downsize or abolish the board, which for nearly 30 years has provided independent oversight of defense nuclear sites across the country. The board's backers say this report — challenging Energy Department assumptions — is more evidence of its vital review role.

"They don't want to hear what the board has to say, but they absolutely need to," said Dirk Dunning, a retired Oregon Department of Energy engineer who worked on Hanford issues for more than 20 years.

The board has been deeply involved in keeping watch over the development of Hanford's waste-treatment complex, the largest of its kind in the world, on which ground was broken in 2002 on 65 acres of the nuclear reservation. The goal is to transform 56 million gallons of chemical and radioactive waste into glass rods that can be safely put into long-term storage. The process requires a hugely complex engineering effort because in part to the wide range of waste materials stored in 177 underground tanks, more than a third of which have leaked over the years.

But safety concerns, including those cited in the latest board report, have plagued the pre-treatment facility for years even as billions of dollars have been budgeted for engineering, labor, equipment and other costs.

"There are all the same issues and they still haven't been addressed," said Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge, a public interest group that has advocated for whistleblowers, workers and accountability during the cleanup.

An Energy Department spokeswoman at Hanford's Office of River Protection said the board's analysis will be taken into consideration when design work resumes. But it still is unclear when that may happen.

The spokeswoman, Yvonne Levardi, said that when the Energy Department determines that a plant problem has been resolved, it doesn't necessarily mean it is fixed but that enough progress has been made to resume design work.

During World War II, Hanford was claimed by the federal government as a secret site for producing plutonium that was used in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Nine reactors would eventually operate at Hanford, with the last one shut down in 1987.

The pre-treatment plant has long been designated as a key part of the cleanup. It will concentrate, and then filter out solid high-level radioactive waste that is some of the most challenging material stored in the tanks.

When completed, the pre-treatment plant is designed to contain more than 100 miles of piping and four huge stainless-steel tanks — each able to hold 375,000 gallons of waste — that will sit behind steel-laced concrete walls that workers cannot access.

The project is being run by Bechtel National, the lead contractor. By 2010, whistleblowers and the federal safety board had raised concerns over the risks of explosions from the buildup of hydrogen gas in the pipes and the potential for radioactive releases from unintended nuclear chain reactions, known as criticality hazards.

The design challenges have prompted a workaround to process what's known as low-activity waste — material containing small concentrations of radionuclides requiring less protection for public health than highly radioactive waste. That work is expected to begin by 2022. But the deadline to open the pre-treatment facility has been pushed until 2036. It is intended to handle all waste, including highly radioactive material, such as spent fuel from nuclear reactors.

Some skeptics question whether the pre-treatment plant will eventually be abandoned in favor of alternative technologies.

"It is a massive project, and a lot of very serious issues have to be worked out before it can operate," said Rick Schapira, a former deputy general counsel for the board. "If they can't be addressed, you have to look to other ways to treat the waste."

But the Energy Department statement released in February called resolution of the pre-treatment plant issues "critically important" to the overall mission. It said that the department had confirmed design, process changes and safety controls to address the potential for criticality and hydrogen buildups in pipes and vessels that posed an explosion risk.

"I could not be prouder of our ... technical and nuclear safety teams for their focus and commitment to resolve these technical issues," Bill Hamel, the assistant project manager for Hanford's waste treatment plant, said in the statement.

The board's review of that work was completed in June, and delivered Oct. 12 to James Owendoff, an acting assistant energy secretary. It is unclear why the board waited more than three months to formally deliver the report. A board spokeswoman did not return a reporter's phone calls seeking comment for this story.

The board report cites 14 remaining problems. They range from a mixing system that may not operate reliably to a "lack of sufficient technical rigor" in safety assumptions required to handle heavy plutonium particles that pose a risk of criticality.

Washington state's Department of Ecology also monitors Hanford.

Dan McDonald, a state project manager, had not seen the latest report until a reporter sent it to him. He did not dispute the board's findings but said that he feels that significant progress has been made toward resolving the problems at the pre-treatment plant.

"Nothing in this report is new business for me," McDonald said.

The Hanford report is the kind of tough-edged review that has long characterized the board's work. But the board now faces critics, some from within its own ranks, who call for an end to these independent reviews.

In a June 29 letter to the Office of Management and Budget, safety board chairman Sean Sullivan called the board "a relic of the Cold War-era defense establishment" that is no longer needed by an Energy Department that has developed its own internal regulation. News of the letter was first reported last month by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative organization based in Washington, D.C.

Sullivan is one of five board members who serve five-year terms. They are backed by a professional staff of more than 100 able to dive into the formidable challenges of the federal nuclear-weapons sites.

The board members are appointed by the president, with no more than three members of any one party able to serve at the same time. President Barack Obama named Sullivan — a Republican attorney and retired Navy submarine officer — to the board in 2012. President Donald Trump appointed him chairman in January.

The board has no regulatory powers to require the Energy Department to take action. But its reports are made public and the Energy Department is required to respond to the panel's formal recommendations.

The board also has provided an important forum for whistleblowers when they found that Energy Department and contractors ignored their concerns.

In 2011, the board — in response to whistleblower allegations — released a harsh assessment of a "failed safety culture" at the Hanford waste-treatment complex. The board found that technical objections were "discouraged, if not opposed or rejected without review." This had a "substantial probability" of jeopardizing the project mission, the report found.

Schapira, the former board deputy general counsel, participated in the Hanford whistleblower investigation. He said that report was an important document that led to a broader review of the Energy Department's safety culture at other nuclear sites.

Schapira, who retired from the board in 2013, said it also triggered a "buzz saw of opposition" from contractors who have pushed Congress to revise the board statutes. Those critics now appear to have an ally in Sullivan who, in keeping with Trump's goal of downsizing the executive branch, suggested that the board be shut down, folded into the Energy Department or reduced in size.

"It's a pretty shocking letter," Schapira said, referring to the June letter. "One could construe from it that he was appointed to undo the board."

The board also is facing pressure from the Energy Department to change how it does business.

In an Oct. 13 meeting with board members, Energy Department Undersecretary Frank Klotz recommended ending public disclosure of weekly and monthly accounts of safety issues at federal facilities, according to a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The center reported that board members briefly circulated a proposal to accommodate Klotz's request, and then dropped it from consideration.

Schapira, who stays in touch with former colleagues, said professional staff members are frustrated by what they view as the politicalization of the board and the increasing difficulty of addressing technical problems that some board members don't want to hear about.

"A number of them are very demoralized," Schapira said.    

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Trump Administration Seeks Two-Year Delay on Pesticide Assessments Following Industry Request

Ecowatch
11/20/2017

The Trump administration filed a motion before a federal judge requesting two more years to complete an assessment on the risks of three common pesticides on endangered species.

The pesticides in question—chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon—are three organophosphate insecticides known to harm the vast majority of the nearly 1,800 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act, according to an extensive federal study.

Notably, the Associated Press reported, the administration's motion comes after chlorpyrifos-maker Dow Chemical Co. and two other organophosphate manufacturers asked the government to ignore the findings of the aforementioned study.

"It's appallingly clear that the pesticide industry is now essentially running Trump's EPA," said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "This disturbing request shows that [EPA administrator Scott] Pruitt and Trump are more interested in protecting the profits of their corporate buddies than the hundreds of endangered species threatened by these deadly pesticides."

If the request is granted, it would modify a 2014 legal agreement secured by the Center for Biological Diversity that required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess the pesticides' harms by the end of 2017.

According to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity:


"Under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure its actions do not jeopardize endangered species or harm their habitats.

Despite this clear mandate, the EPA has essentially ignored the plight of endangered species injured and killed by pesticides. Only after the Center's 2014 legal victory did the agency agree to comply with this long-standing requirement.

Unless the court approves the new delay request, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries services will use those assessments to develop common-sense measures to reduce the pesticides' harm to endangered species—for example by limiting spraying in their habitat—by the end of the year."

The Associated Press pointed out that this move "is the latest example of the Trump administration seeking to block or delay environmental rules at the behest of the industry."

Dow contributed $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee. President Trump also named Dow CEO Andrew Liveris head of his American Manufacturing Council and received the president's ceremonial pen used to sign the executive order aimed at eliminating regulations that he claims are damaging to the U.S. economy.

In March, according to records obtained by the Associated Press, Pruitt met with Liveris for about 30 minutes at a Houston hotel. Later that month, Pruitt announced that he would no longer pursue a ban on chlorpyrifos from being used on food, ignoring his agency's own review that even small amounts of the pesticide could impact fetus and infant brain development.

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Popular Diestel Turkey Sold at Whole Foods Tests Positive for FDA-Prohibited Drugs

Ecowatch
11/20/2017

Diestel Turkey, sold by Whole Foods and other retailers at premium prices, says on its website that its "animals are never given hormones, antibiotics or growth stimulants."

But Diestel Turkey samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest otherwise, leading consumers to wonder: Can these companies be trusted?

According to testing conducted under the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) National Residue Program, samples of Diestel Turkey products tested positive for numerous drug and antibiotic residues.

One of those drugs, chloramphenicol, is strictly prohibited by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in food production because it's known to have "severe toxic effects in humans including bone marrow suppression or aplastic anemia in susceptible individuals."

According to an amended complaint filed Nov. 13, against Diestel Turkey Ranch, the FSIS inspected Diestel turkeys on four dates in 2015 and 2016, and reported, in addition to chloramphenicol, residues of antibiotics important for human use, veterinary antibiotics, a hormone and other pharmaceuticals.

Animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) brought the action against the privately held Sonora, California, turkey producer in the Superior Court of California. DxE is suing Diestel for falsely advertising its turkey products as hormone- and antibiotic-free, and for deceiving consumers about how the company's birds are raised and treated.

According to the lawsuit, Diestel turkey products tested by the USDA were positive for residues of:

• Ketamine, a narcotic. The Drug Enforcement Agency describes ketamine as "a dissociative anesthetic that has some hallucinogenic effects." Ketamine's street names include Special K, Cat Tranquilizer, and Cat Valium, the latter two referencing its veterinary uses, and it is commonly referred to as a club drug because it is used illegally at dance clubs and raves. The FDA has not approved the use of ketamine in poultry.

• Amikacin, an antibiotic for human use that the FDA considers important for humans

• Spectinomycin, also an antibiotic for human use

• Hygromycin, an antibiotic for veterinary use

• Ipronidazole, also a veterinary pharmaceutical

• Melengestrol acetate, also known as MGA, a synthetic hormone

• Sulfanitran, an antibacterial drug feed additive

Kim Richman of Richman Law Group, which represents DxE, said that to the best of his knowledge, the USDA did not test any certified organic Diestel Turkey samples. "Since organic meat goes through a certification process, the end product is not tested. It appears that the National Residue Program samples only non-organic meat and poultry," Richman said.

This isn't the first time some of these drugs, including chloramphenicol and ketamine, have been found in poultry. As reported by Bloomberg on June 22, the Organic Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety sued Sanderson Farms, the third largest poultry producer in the U.S., for advertising its chicken as "100% natural" even though USDA testing reported finding drug residues in Sanderson chicken samples.

Consumers aren't pleased to learn that factory farm poultry brands mislead them. But they aren't necessarily surprised either.

But it's a whole different story when the brands they thought they could trust turn out to be making false claims, too.

Are Diestel and Whole Foods misleading consumers?

Producers like Diestel, and retailers like Whole Foods, know consumers are willing to pay a premium for hormone-free, antibiotic-free turkeys from farms that have high animal-welfare standards.

But what happens when companies make claims that don't live up to consumer expectations?

Diestel Turkey claims its birds live idyllic lives. On its website, the company says:

"All of our whole-body Diestel turkeys are raised under our strict standards. We support our turkeys with a healthy environment, fresh mountain water, and the clean air from the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Our feed never contains fillers, our birds are never given growth stimulants or antibiotics, and we never make compromises when it comes to the quality of the feed."

Whole Foods gives Diestel Turkey its 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating standard, a rating intended to differentiate factory farm meat from pasture-raised. The rating not only sets high standards for "the comfort, physical safety and health of the animals," but also prohibits the use of hormones and antibiotics.

The USDA testing suggests that Diestel is deceiving consumers about the use of antibiotics and other drugs on its farms. A nine-month investigation of Diestel Turkey Ranch by DxE suggests Diestel also deceives consumers not only about the use of antibiotics and hormones, but also about how the turkeys it sells are treated before being slaughtered for meat.

On its website, Diestel says:

"We pay close attention to the health of our birds by spending time with them in the fields, observing their behaviors, and making sure they have the best environment possible."

But according to the complaint DxE filed against Diestel, the turkey producer bases those claims on one "picture-perfect" farm as its "poster child" farm—but raises most of its turkeys elsewhere, under industrial factory farm conditions.

And that picture-perfect farm is rated Step 5, even though most turkeys do not enjoy those Step 5 conditions.

In reality, DxE's investigation found that the vast majority of the turkeys sold by Diestel are raised under very different conditions than those portrayed by the Diestel website. According to the complaint, the DxE investigation found:

• turkeys raised in overcrowded barns

• turkeys found languishing or dead

• turkeys suffering from excessive confinement

• turkeys trapped in feces that covered much of the barn floor, up to one-half foot deep

• turkeys suffering from swollen-shut eyes, swollen nostrils, open wounds, and/or bruises

• turkeys missing large patches of feathers as a result of pecking one another and/or defeathering from extreme stress

• turkeys routinely subject to debeaking and/or beak-trimming

• turkeys laboring to breathe in an enclosed barn environment dense with ammonia and particles of dried feces and feathers

• as many as seven percent of birds in a barn dying in a single week

What's a consumer to do? We've put together this Holiday Turkey Buying Guide that steers consumers in the direction of reliable sources of honestly marketed turkeys.

And as always, we recommend consumers take advertising and marketing claims with a grain of salt, until those claims can be verified by a third party.

In the meantime, we're asking consumers to ask Whole Foods to stop selling Diestel Turkey products.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.

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

North Carolina Youth File Climate Petition to Protect Their Futures

Ecowatch
11/20/2017

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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« Reply #1369 on: Nov 20, 2017, 05:45 AM »


Puerto Rico Gov. to Bolster Island's Electric Grid With Renewables as Lights Go Out Again

Ecowatch
11/20/2017

Just this Wednesday morning, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello sent out a tweet boasting about the island finally reaching a 50 percent power threshold after Hurricane Maria wiped out the electric grid 56 days ago.

"Then 'boom' (a witness reported) the lights went out," tweeted CBS News reporter David Begnaud, who has been extensively reporting on the U.S. territory's recovery efforts. "Timing could not be worse."

The outage was due to a failure of the Cambalache Manatee 230KV line, according to Puerto Rico's electric power authority (PREPA), the same major transmission line that failed last week and left the grid working at only 18 percent.

Puerto Rico's power generation has dipped back to 48 percent and is another reminder of the island's painstaking efforts to rebuild after the Category 4 hurricane struck on Sept. 20.

Now, Gov. Rossello is seeking to transform Puerto Rico's fragile power system with help from good ol' renewable energy.

The governor told a Senate panel on Tuesday that the territory should boost its use of wind and solar electricity to provide for as much as 25 percent of the island's electricity, Bloomberg reported.

"We certainly see a collaboration with the private sector," Rossello said.

Business leaders and clean energy advocates such as Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson have said that renewables could be a solution to regions wrecked by damaging hurricanes. Branson, who rode out Hurricane Irma on his private island in the Caribbean, is working with global leaders including the International Monetary Fund to help rebuild the Caribbean islands, according to the report.

Last month, Tesla was praised for quietly sending hundreds of its solar-paired battery packs to help Puerto Rico deal with widespread power loss. The company is working on "many solar + storage" projects on the island.

As EcoWatch reported, one of Tesla's projects was restoring electricity to a children's hospital with its solar panels and Powerpack commercial energy storage batteries. The beauty of such a set-up is that the hospital can generate power when the sun is shining and reserve it for later use when the sun is not out or, say, to help recover from a destructive natural disaster like a hurricane. It was because of solar power that a 40-acre plant farm in Barranquitas in central Puerto Rico was able to slowly rebuild in Maria's wake.

Rebuilding the island will not be cheap. Case in point: Rossello has asked Congress for a whopping $94.4 billion to help Puerto Rico "build back better" after Maria.

Puerto Rico, which has suffered from the largest and longest blackout in American history, has long grappled with electricity problems.

As Peter Fox-Penne wrote for the Conversation, "Almost half its generation was from old, very expensive oil-fired plants, resulting in prices about 22 cents per kilowatt hour, among the highest in the U.S. The island has several solar photovoltaic farms but gets about 46 percent of its power from oil and only about 3 percent from solar."

In recent weeks, PREPA has been mired in controversy over its highly criticized $300 million no-bid contract with Whitefish Energy, a tiny Montana energy firm tasked to restore the island's power. That contract has since been canceled and is under FBI investigation.


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« Reply #1370 on: Nov 20, 2017, 05:50 AM »


Join 24 Hours of Reality: Be the Voice of Reality on December 4-5

Ecowatch
11/20/2017

Twenty-four hours of inspiring stories of regular people taking their future into their hands and taking action on climate.

Twenty-four hours of eye-opening conversations with the business innovators, government leaders, scientists, community voices and more leading the fight for solutions all around the planet. Names like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, California Gov. Jerry Brown and World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.

Twenty-four hours of electrifying musical performances from some of the great names of pop music and fresh new voices. Artists like Annie Lennox, Belinda Carlisle, Billy Bragg, Ellie Goulding, Iggy Pop, Jason Mraz, Maná, Nile Rodgers, Rag'n'Bone Man and Young Paris.

Twenty-four hours of inspiration for all of us to be the voice of reality and millions to speak up for the planet we want.

On Dec. 4-5, we're presenting the global broadcast event, 24 Hours of Reality: Be the Voice of Reality, hosted by former Vice President Al Gore, streaming live at 24hoursofreality.org and presented locally by television partners around the world.

For 24 hours, we'll travel around the Earth, telling stories of real people making a real difference for the climate. We'll talk to some of the most interesting and intriguing leaders in every sector of business, activism, policy and more who are changing how we create energy, power our economies, and live our everyday lives, everywhere from New York to New Delhi. Along the way, we'll see stirring performances from today's most dynamic musicians.

Most important, we'll show a world moving forward to a clean energy future. And we'll show you how you can help.

If you're ready to make a difference and join millions worldwide in speaking up as the voice of reality, join us on December 4-5. Visit 24hoursofreality.org for the full lineup and program details.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hT754kLf9Oo

To stay updated on this click here: https://www.climaterealityproject.org/24-hours-reminder


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« Reply #1371 on: Nov 20, 2017, 05:52 AM »


One Simple Trick to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

By Anna Scott
Ecowatch
11/20/2017

Want to save the planet? Are you, like me, a young professional struggling to reduce your carbon footprint? Then join me in taking the train to your next professional conference.

Most of my low-carbon lifestyle is admittedly enforced on me by my student budget. I have no kids, bicycle to work and share a house with roommates. What dominates my carbon footprint is the flights I take—I'll be hitting frequent flyer status this year thanks to traveling for conferences, talks and workshops (not to mention those flights to see my family during the holidays—even being unmarried doesn't get me out of visiting in-laws overseas). This is a bittersweet moment for a climate scientist—my professional success gives me an opportunity to impact the world with my science, but is hurting the planet and leaving future generations with a mess that will outlive me.

There's no silver bullet to fixing climate change, but I think scientists and science enthusiasts can start with ourselves.

Every year, together with 25,000 of my closest climate and Earth science buddies, I attend the American Geophysical Union meeting. (You may have heard about it last year on NPR).

Prof. Lawrence Plug calculated that the 2003 meeting generated more than 12,000 tons of CO2. Since then, the meeting has more than doubled in size, suggesting that the carbon footprint is upwards of 25,000 tons of CO2 from flights alone.

Prominent scientists like Katherine Hayhoe have suggested that we shift to teleconferencing instead. I think this is great for small meetings of folks who already know each other, or for prominent scientists like Dr. Hayhoe, who have an established publication record and name recognition.

For the little folks like myself though, meetings offer tremendous opportunities to connect with colleagues at other institutions, meet potential collaborators, and scout new job opportunities. The "serendipitous interaction" that meetings allow is similar to the design principles that tech firms like Google enact when designing their public spaces. This fall alone, I've filled a shoebox with business cards from colleagues working on similar problems, potential collaborators working in similar fields, and, most lucratively, established scientists who have news of post-doctoral fellowships and job opportunities.

This last point may be especially critical for minority scientists, who may lack the social networks needed to get jobs.

In short, I'm not switching to virtual anytime soon, mostly because I can't see it paying off (yet—Katherine Hayhoe et al, if you're reading this, hire me!). But I still need to reduce my carbon footprint.

My solution? Replace one conference travel flight with a train ride. Repeat every year. Last year, I took Amtrak's California Zephyr from San Francisco to Chicago back from AGU's fall meeting and crossed the Rockies next to a geophysicist explaining plate tectonics and identifying rocks.

The year before, I returned from New Orleans and wrote my thesis proposal while rolling through bayous, swamps and pine forests of the Southeast.

(Don't think you have time for this? I spent the trip writing a paper, now published in PLOS-ONE. Amtrak seats all come with electrical outlets and seatback trays that function terrificly as desks).

Is this a practical solution for everybody? Nope, and I won't pretend that it is. Your time might be better spent with your kids, or volunteering in your community, or maybe you want to drive instead- I don't know your life. Train infrastructure is lacking in the U.S., and delays are common as Amtrak doesn't own the tracks and must give way to commercial freight. But I maintain my hope that increased demand for train travel can spur future investment, sending a market signal that young people want to travel this way.

This year, I'll be taking the train to AGU's fall meeting in New Orleans from Washington DC.

I estimate that I'll be saving about one ton of CO2 equivalent (calculation included radiative forcing). If you're headed that way, I invite you to join me, tell your friends or even just reflect on the possibility that low carbon alternatives to flying exist. We can't fix everything. But if we all do our little part, we can accomplish something. And something is always better than nothing.

Anna Scott is a PhD student in the Earth and Planetary Science Department at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins.


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« Reply #1372 on: Nov 20, 2017, 05:54 AM »

Cities and regions must come together on climate change to protect wildlife

Karl-Heinz Lambertz, leader of the EU's local and regional politicians, calls for the UK and other nations to step up their collaboration on climate action

Karl-Heinz Lambertz
Independent
11/20/2017
   
What the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union will look like after March 2019 remains murky. We know that, after Brexit, British policymakers will no longer sit at the same table with their counterparts to debate the grand principles and fine print of policies that affect the world's largest market. We know that some of the ties that bind the UK to continental Europe will remain – trade – but we do not know whether those ties will remain as strong. As the president of the EU's assembly for local and regional politicians, I know one area where relations must remain as strong and hopefully stronger: efforts between cities and regions to limit climate change.

This is one of the greatest threats of our time that needs bold commitment from everyone. We know we aren't doing enough. A few days before the international climate talks in Bonn, which began on 6 November and end on 17 November, the United Nations released figures that showed that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose more sharply in 2016 than in any previous year. We know that even after the Paris Agreement backed by nearly all governments the efforts are not enough to stop temperatures rising by 2.7oC.

Cities and regions across the globe, including in the European Union and the United States, have been stepping up to the challenge. The European Committee of the Regions, local and regional leaders from the UK and the rest of the EU, are calling for the member states to be more ambitious) to cut emissions by 50% by 2030, not 40%), end subsidies to fossil-fuel businesses, and invest even more into sustainable development for local authorities (from the emissions-trading system). On the ground, European cities and regions are cutting their emissions and, in the process, are often making our air cleaner, transport more sustainable, our buildings more energy efficient, and restoring biodiversity. In the UK, Kirklees is a champion, with projects such as solar panels on council houses.

In the United States, cities, states and businesses are bypassing the national agenda and promised in July – through America's Pledge – to make sure that the US meets the obligations then-President Obama made in Paris in 2015, regardless of Donald Trump.

Unilateral climate action by cities and regions is now a truly global phenomenon. This is bottom-up climate diplomacy, and cities are leading by example. In 2008 EU local and regional governments signed up to a Covenant in which they voluntarily chose to exceed the EU's then target to cut 1990 levels of greenhouse-gas emissions by 20% by 2020. It exceeded expectations, cutting emissions by nearly 30%. This level of ambition led to a new 40% emission target being set, a testament that when national governments set the bar high, cities and regions go higher.

Twelve months ago the initiative was extended, to become the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, with Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, joining the EU as a financial supporter. It now has nearly 7,500 communities and has become the largest coalition on earth united in the fight against climate change.

British local and regional authorities communities are not prominent members of this bottom-up effort. At the moment, 38 are signatories. It might be unrealistic to expect them to be leaders – English local authorities, for example, have less authority over funds than Italian, Spanish, German or Belgian communities – but they are missing an opportunity. Cities and regions are helped to draw up 'sustainable action plans' by the European Commission, which in turn makes it easier for them to get funding from public and private sources.

This is just one way in which EU communities are working together to limit climate action. They know they have civic and global obligations, they know the EU is pushing hard for a transformation to a greener economy, and they are already seeing the benefits in new jobs and better lives. For us, the collective effort to prevent catastrophic climate change will matter much more than the political barriers erected by Brexit.

Karl-Heinz Lambertz is the president of the European Committee of the Regions. It has a consultative role in the EU's decision-making. He is also Senator of the German-Speaking Community in Belgium.


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« Reply #1373 on: Nov 20, 2017, 05:57 AM »

World's biggest investment fund considers ditching fossil fuels

Norway has built up vast wealth from oil, now it could dump $40bn of shares in international giants such as Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell

Sveinung Sleire
Independent
11/20/2017
   
Norway, which relies on oil and gas for about a fifth of economic output, would be less vulnerable to declining crude prices without its fund investing in the industry, the central bank said on Thursday Reuters

The $1 trillion fund that Norway has amassed pumping oil and gas over the past two decades wants out of petroleum stocks. 

Norway, which relies on oil and gas for about a fifth of economic output, would be less vulnerable to declining crude prices without its fund investing in the industry, the central bank said on Thursday. The divestment would mark the second major step in scrubbing the world’s biggest wealth fund of climate risk, after it sold most of its coal stocks.

“Our perspective here is to spread the risks for the state’s wealth,” Egil Matsen, the deputy central bank governor overseeing the fund, said in an interview in Oslo. “We can do that better by not adding oil-price risk.”
   
The plan would entail the fund, which controls about 1.5 per cent of global stocks, dumping as much as $40bn of shares in international giants such as Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell. The Finance Ministry said it will study the proposal and decide what to do in “fall of 2018” at the earliest.

Big Oil is under pressure, read more here

While the fund says the plan isn’t based on any particular view about the future of oil prices or the industry as a whole, it will likely add to pressure on producers already struggling with the growth of renewable energy supplies. The Stoxx Europe 600 Oil and Gas index reversed gains after the announcement, sliding 0.3 percent as of 3:47 p.m. in London.

Built on the income that western Europe’s largest energy supplier has generated for more than 20 years, the fund’s investment decisions are guided by ethical rules encompassing human rights, some weapons production, the environment and tobacco. Norway’s fossil-fuel investments are coming under increasing scrutiny from a public that aims to be a climate leader without jeopardizing one of the world’s highest standards of living.

The fund has doubled in value over the past five years and was just given the go-ahead to boost its stock holdings to 70 per cent of its portfolio from 60 per cent to help drive returns.  The government, which also controls Statoil ASA and offshore oil and gas fields, was forced to withdrew cash from the fund for the first time last year to meet spending commitments after oil prices dropped.

Matsen said “now is a good time” for the proposal because otherwise the new 70 per cent threshold will result in the fund buying even more oil and gas shares because it tracks indexes that include such stocks. The fund has a small amount of leeway to make individual investments and wants to keep oil and gas in its “investment universe,” he said.

The fund said it doesn’t expect returns or market risk to be affected “appreciably” by its proposal, emphasizing that cutting exposure to the energy industry would allow it to crank up investments in other sectors. Finance Minister Siv Jensen said the government will give the plan careful thought.

“This must be thoroughly assessed, I am not prepared to conclude in advance,” said Nikolai Astrup, leader of the finance committee representing the ruling Conservatives. “It’s important that the fund is managed in a way that’s predictable and long-term.”

But environmental groups praised the plan. “The world is changing fast, and it’s very risky to put too many eggs in the same basket,” said Marius Holm, the leader of the Zero Emission Resource Organisation. Sony Kapoor, a former adviser to Norway’s government, said the plan is “a belated victory for common sense over the powerful oil and gas lobby in Norway,” calling on the fund to now boosts its “green” investments at least tenfold. 

The recommendation also received backing from the Conservative-led government’s support parties, the Christian Democrats and Liberals. The Labour Party, the biggest opposition group, said it would like to study the proposal before making a decision.

“The government is responsible for the Norwegian economy as a whole and must take a broad and comprehensive approach to this issue,” Jensen said in a statement.


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« Reply #1374 on: Nov 20, 2017, 05:59 AM »

Nurseries ban glitter in pre-Christmas drive for cleaner seas

Tops Day Nurseries group cracks down amid fears children’s favourite could be as harmful to environment as microbeads

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
Guardian
11/20/2017

Glitter, as anyone who has ever worn it knows, has a habit of turning up in unexpected places days later, even after a good scrub. However, a new peril has emerged from the sparkly substance: it is adding to the plastic pollution in our seas.

A group of nurseries in southern England has banned the use of glitter among its 2,500 children to reduce the amount of microplastics entering the seas.

Harriet Pacey, the business development director at Tops Day Nurseries, a 19-strong chain, said: “We want to do something we have control over.”

The nursery group’s views were backed up by scientific expertise. Alice Horton, research associate at the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, told the Guardian she was unaware of specific research on glitter but that it was likely to be found in similar places to other microplastics.

She said: “Glitter is absolutely a microplastic and has the same potential to cause harm as any other microplastic including microbeads, the subject of a government ban.

“We all know that glitter can get everywhere and is highly likely to end up in the environment, either down the drain or by shedding from decorative items. So I think there’s no harm in banning it from nurseries for craft purposes given that its only purpose is ornamental.”

Horton was unsure whether banning the use of glitter in Christmas crafts would make a sizeable impact on the burden of plastic debris in the oceans, which Sir David Attenborough recently described as one of the greatest environmental scourges to befall the planet.

Horton said: “Reducing the use of glitter in general would reduce the amount of microplastics entering the environment so there is likely to be a benefit, in the same vein as banning microbeads.

“But, on a larger scale, I don’t know how easy it would be to ban glitter completely given its widespread use, not just in craft materials but also cosmetics.

“On a small scale, one nursery banning it is unlikely to have any environmental impact, but it’s a good environmental statement to make, like one person choosing not to buy bottled water to reduce plastic bottle waste. It is not going to change the world but [it] sets a target for others.”

The Health and Safety Executive told the Guardian it had no plans to restrict the use of glitter this Christmas. The nurseries’ ban does not extend to other festive accessories such as tinsel.


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« Reply #1375 on: Nov 20, 2017, 06:03 AM »

Fears for Great Barrier Reef as deforestation surges in catchments

Calls grow for the federal government to step in as erosion from intensified land clearing in Queensland threatens coral

Michael Slezak
Guardian
11/20/2017

A deforestation surge in Queensland, which the latest government data suggests is about to accelerate dramatically, is heavily concentrated in catchments for the Great Barrier Reef, further undermining plans to improve reef water quality.

The finding has renewed calls for the federal government to use its powers to assess the impact of clearing there until the Queensland government is able to pass legislation to halt it itself.

“There’s a deforestation frenzy happening in Great Barrier Reef catchments, which means more erosion and more muddy and polluted water smothering coral and seagrass,” said Jessica Panegyres, a campaigner at the Wilderness Society. “The Turnbull government has done virtually nothing to stop this – it’s a national disgrace.”

Catchments for the Great Barrier Reef – where freshwater rivers and floodplains drain on to the reef, washing any pollution or sediment with it – make up about 10% of Queensland’s area.

But among landholders who have notified the state government that they plan to clear on their land since 20 July 2016, almost a third are in Great Barrier Reef catchments.

Since July 2016, notifications of land clearing in Queensland have surged by 30% compared with the already concerning average for the preceding three years. If that translates to a 30% jump in land clearing, Queensland – a region already marked as a global deforestation hotspot – could experience rates of land clearing seen just twice since detailed observations began in the 1980s.

Of the more than 1.1m hectares earmarked for clearing since July 2016, 332,710 hectares of that is inside Great Barrier Reef catchments, according to analysis released by the Wilderness Society.

Almost all of it is “remnant” forest or bushland – a term used to describe forest that has not previously been cleared.

The Queensland Labor government tried to pass legislation to halt the land clearing surge caused by the previous Liberal National party government, but failed when one former Labor MP, now independent, voted against it.

Conservationists fear the surge in clearing notifications indicates the start of panic clearing, ahead of legislation Labor has promised to pass if re-elected.

But when campaigning to stop Unesco from listing the Great Barrier Reef as a world heritage site “in danger”, the federal government promoted its powers to stop this clearing.

In its update to Unesco about the progress of its failing Reef 2050 Plan, it said: “The national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 also regulates actions that are likely to result in a significant impact on the Great Barrier Reef and offers important protections in relation to large-scale land clearing.”

Sine then, the federal environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, has said if the clearing activities “have, will have or are likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance under federal environment law”, then they required approval under the act.

Frydenberg also told the ABC the Turnbull government had powers to enforce those laws and would continue to do so.

The only time the federal government did move to force a clearing activity to gain approval under federal law, it caused ructions within the Coalition.

“The Turnbull government is trying to hoodwink the UN, saying it will act on deforestation in reef catchments while the destruction continues,” said Panegyres.

“It has not addressed the major problem of the cumulative impact of the thousands of instances of deforestation in reef catchments. You’d have to be Blind Freddy to not know that bulldozing nearly half a million hectares in Great Barrier Reef catchments is going to have a significant impact on reef waters.”

Frydenberg’s office told the Guardian on Friday: “As with most land management matters, the clearing of vegetation is largely a matter for state governments to manage.

“It is, however, already the case that landholders are obliged to refer any land clearing action to the federal government for assessment where that action could have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance, such as the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.”


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« Reply #1376 on: Nov 20, 2017, 06:14 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/20/2017 01:07 PM

#MeToo: The European Parliament's Sexual Harassment Problem

By Peter Müller

Sexual harassment has long been a fact of life in the European Parliament in Brussels. Recently, some women have begun speaking up. But the law-making body has been slow to address the problem.

When Jeanne Ponté wanted to go home, she found a man blocking her way to the exit. The Frenchwoman was coming from a meeting with lobbyists, and in the conference room she had already noticed an older man who kept staring at her. Now, with the meeting over, he caught the woman like a predator captures its prey. His hand grabbed the door jamb and he placed his arm like a gate just below her breasts. The lawmaker said: "You seem to be new here. Shouldn't we grab a drink?"

Ponté was a self-confident young woman who studied law and has a degree from the elite College of Europe in Bruges. But she didn't know how to react. She had only been working in the European Parliament for a few weeks and didn't want to cause a ruckus at one of her first official meetings. "I didn't want to make a drama out of it," she now says. Ultimately, she summoned up her courage and pushed the arm to the side. The man, a German delegate, is still a member of the European Parliament.

The nightmarish encounter, which took place in July 2014, became the first entry in a diary that Ponté has been keeping ever since. In the small book with a floral cover, she has been documenting the harassment faced by her and her colleagues at the European Parliament in Brussels. "I don't want to accept that this kind of behavior is normal," she says. "I want to create solidarity among those affected. " She has collected over 50 cases, the most recent entry is just two weeks old.

The European Parliament likes to be at the forefront of supporting women's rights in the developing world, but when it comes to protecting women in its own ranks, it is less eager. The institution has apparently neglected a sexism problem that has been rampant for years.

Ever since a growing number of women began revealing experiences of sexual assault as part of the #MeToo campaign in the U.S., women in Brussels have also been speaking up. Now the parliament has passed a resolution calling for its leaders to bring in independent experts. "We cannot clear this up internally," says French Socialist Edouard Martin. "Anyone who wants to clear the subject up internally is minimizing it." Yet even though the resolution had the support of a clear majority of the parliament, it isn't legally binding.

There have been indications of problems for quite some time. In January 2017, members of the anti-harassment committee wrote a letter of complaint to then parliament President Martin Schulz. They argued that the precautions against harassment and abuse needed to be improved as quickly as possible. But only now, almost a year and several concrete scandals later, is Schulz's successor, the Italian Antonio Tajani, taking action. He plans to present his suggestions by the end of the year.

'I Sat There Like a Stone'

For Victoria* Tajani's proposals will come too late. The British woman is sitting in a café across the street from the impressive parliamentary building, as a colorful melange of languages drifts through the space. It's lunchtime in the European Quarter. Victoria speaks quietly as she describes her harassment. In June 2009, she was accompanying her boss to lunch along with several colleagues. The meal was to be used to plan a coming election campaign, and a German political consultant had been invited.

Victoria, who was 22 years old at the time, sat next to the German. "Suddenly he shoved his hand under my butt," she remembers. "I sat there, like a stone, and didn't know what I was supposed to do." The hand stayed there for five minutes or longer. When two female colleagues went outside to smoke, Victoria joined them even though she was a non-smoker.

Terry Reintke, 30, is one of the people who wants to put an end to assaults like these. Even lawmakers aren't safe from sexist remarks, says Reintke, a Green party member from Gelsenkirchen in Germany. A male parliamentarian from Poland, for example, a member of the right-wing conservative PiS party, lauded the high proportion of women in the European Parliament in a committee meeting by saying: "That means I at least have something to look at."

Reintke is one of the few women who dares speak openly about sexual harassment. In early September, before the #MeToo campaign, she gave a speech in parliament about how she had been harassed in the train station in Duisburg. "A man came from behind and grabbed between my legs," she said. Reintke received a lot of respect for her appearance, but on Facebook, she faced malice and hatred. "Finally, someone actually touched you," was one of the milder comments.

Traditional power structures -- male boss, female employees -- famously facilitate abuse. This is exacerbated by the fact that the female lawmakers and assistants in Brussels are often working far from home, and that receptions and lots of alcohol replace meals at home with the family. This feeling of being on a school trip is especially strong when the parliamentarians meet once a month in Strasbourg.

On top of that, the European Parliament is still a way-station for men who were once important. Former commissioners, former party leaders and several big-name politicians spend their political twilight years here. "Many have the feeling that nothing can happen to me here," says Martin, the Socialist from France.

Complaints About Existing Mechanisms

That also makes it difficult to organize help for the women affected. Although there has been an advisory committee for harassment complaints for several years, its work hasn't had much of an effect. "It is unrealistic to believe that women affected would turn to a committee composed of European parliamentarians," says Terry Reintke, "which is to say, to exactly those people that would need to condemn the person sitting next to them, or their colleague in the parliamentary group, in order for something to happen." This explains why former French environment ninister and European parliamentian Yves Cochet is one of only a few who have so far been accused of harassment. Britain's Sunday Times reported that he made inappropriate advances to a 25-year-old colleague, allegedly writing to her in a text message that she should share "passions, dreams and fantasies" with him.

As early as July 2013, more than four years ago, the European ombudsman, an independent complaints authority, had ascertained that the anti-harassment committee hadn't fulfilled its duty. A woman who sought help in May 2011 because of sexual harassment was only able to present her version of events in October 2012. "The 10-day deadline for an initial hearing was clearly not adhered to," claims the EU auditors' devastating report.

Nevertheless, the chairwoman of the anti-harassment committee, Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, refuses to involve external consultants in individual cases. "The process must remain confidential and internal," she says.

Jeanne Ponté's situation has improved since her boss, Edouard Martin, reorganized his office. The Frenchwoman is sitting in the 14th floor of the Brussels parliament building and holds her diary in her hand, a pressed gingko leaf between its pages.

In one of the entries, she describes how a parliamentary group colleague sent her an email in the middle of the night of photos he had secretly taken of her during a meeting. Prior to that email, the man had repeatedly asked her to go out with him. The morning after sending the email, he asked her how she had liked his photos. "I have more of them," he said. Jeanne Ponté consulted a lawyer, and her boss ensured that a different assistant would be responsible for working with the stalker in the future.

Ponté asked that the name of the nighttime email-writer remain confidential, as well as that of the German lawmaker who hassled her at the door in her first days as an assistant. "For me, it's not about a quick news story," she says. "I want to see structural changes."


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« Reply #1377 on: Nov 20, 2017, 06:17 AM »

A porn star reveals the truth about having sex on camera

Independent
11/20/20017

Before you start reading we should highlight that this article contains a lot of NSFW material.

In the Internet age, it is probably fair to say that most adults have seen their fair share of pornography by now.

People watch so much porn now that scientists are able to conduct studies to see what impact it has on men and women.

When watching these x-rated clips you may have considered what it is like for the actors, who are doing the most intimate thing humans can do, to perform in front of a camera.

35-year-old Madison Missina is a porn star veteran and has worked in the industry for the past 18 years and since 2012 has appeared in over 200 films.

Despite her experience, Missina now believes that having sex in front of a camera isn't great, lacks any chemistry and can be very painful.

The former "Porn Star of the Year" spoke to news.com.au about what life in the sex industry is like.

She is quoted as saying:

    It’s quite clinical ... and it’s completely void of what makes good sex good.

    There’s a lot of communication before we start filming, so the scenes are really good for the camera.

    It gets quite messy ... and it’s so painful. The worst sex I’ve ever had is on a porn set.

The Australian goes on to explain that the positions and angles that female pornstars have to perform are not normal and can cause considerable pain to the ovaries and uterus.

There are some really gross details too, like ovary cysts bursting during filming.

However, one of the biggest problems is the lack of cutting between scenes.

She adds:

    Most people are shocked to know we do pornography photos first as a way to rehearse the sex scene.

    During the photoshoot is when we also practice the transition between positions, which can usually be quite acrobatic when working out the coolest move.

    But depending on the scene, most porn we don’t like to have many cuts while filming.

    The only time we will cut mid-scene is because the male has lost his erection — which happens all the time.

    That’s what is funny about men who book me.

    They often say they hope they’re as good as the guys in the movies, but all the men in porn are on Viagra.

Missina, who also works as an escort, admits that her career has got in the way of her having a real relationship as partners see her job as some sort of trophy.

Despite, this she doesn't have any regrets about the line of work she has decided to pursue and still enjoys it.

    I love this industry, the human side to it and I am so lucky to have this extraordinary life and crazy adventures.

    It’s very exciting.


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« Reply #1378 on: Nov 20, 2017, 06:20 AM »

The Boy on the Bus: A 16-Year-Old Recounts a Terror Attack

By Jan Ransom
NY Times
11/20/2017

Noah Salz sat there seemingly stunned with his headphones around his neck, the matron on his small yellow school bus across his lap, bleeding. The side of the bus had completely caved in. He could hear the sound of gunfire nearby, the cries for help from his bus driver, and frantic pleas from a passer-by that someone call 911.

Not far away, along the Hudson River bike path, a pickup truck had left a roughly mile-long stretch of carnage — mangled bodies and bicycles. Then it had slammed into his school bus. It was 3 p.m. on Halloween. In all, eight people were killed with others injured in that afternoon’s terrorist attack, but one of the most ineradicable images in those first frantic moments was that of the crushed school bus — the bus that had stopped a driver bent on sowing death and pain. Who was inside and what happened to them?

It was Noah, along with a female student, the matron and the bus driver. The three of them were injured. Noah was unscathed, at least physically, but for a 16-year-old with Down syndrome, there were moments of terror and confusion.

“He was in the middle of a terrorist attack,” Noah’s mother, Kim Salz, said in their home in Brooklyn. “He’s completely fine. Mentally, I don’t know.”

Noah returned to school the next day, and resumed taking the bus that shuttles him to his high school in the East Village twice a week. Mrs. Salz said she follows Noah’s lead and discusses the attack only when he brings it up. “We’re slowly adjusting and figuring it out,” she said. “I’m thankful he was sheltered from the worst of it.”

Although Noah heard the gunfire, he did not see when a police officer shot Sayfullo Saipov, 29, the driver charged in the attack. He also did not see the dead and injured along the bike path.

Noah sat at his family’s dining room table Friday night, his beagle, Peanut, in a chair beside him.

“I got scared,” he said. “I had glass on me. I was crying. I’m pretty scared when bad things happen.”

He remembers the gunshots, and the purple gloves that emergency medical technicians wore as they checked him and asked him questions: “Where are you from?” “What’s your date of birth?”

Noah called his mother and asked her to pick him up, but he was not sure where he was. Brooklyn maybe, he told her.

Mrs. Salz said Noah typically called to let her know that he had boarded the bus, but that day his voice was shaky, and she immediately knew something was wrong. An emergency medical worker explained that the bus had been involved in an accident and that he was unharmed, but that he had to be transported to the hospital as a precaution. Panicked, he resisted.

“No, no. I don’t want to do it,” Noah cried, his mother said.

Mrs. Salz reassured Noah on the phone that he was fine and that he needed to follow instructions from the emergency workers. She told him that his father, David Salz, who works downtown, would meet him at the hospital. Noah said his bus driver also helped to keep him calm. He said the driver held him as emergency workers pushed the two on a stretcher to an ambulance.

Mrs. Salz had no idea that her son had been involved in much more than a routine accident. After learning that the area was placed on lockdown because of a “police situation,” she said she searched online for news updates and saw initial reports about the crash, and later of road rage and gunfire. She still did not yet know that her son had survived a terrorist attack.

“I’m concerned like, ‘Oh my God,’ but my son is O.K.,” she said. “I didn’t know anything other than that.”

Mr. Salz met his son at the hospital, and Mrs. Salz went out trick-or-treating in the Park Slope neighborhood with their daughter, Talia, 9, and younger son, Jake, 14. Noah was supposed to be there with them dressed as a witch doctor. It was when she was out that Mrs. Salz learned the harrowing details of what had happened.

“I was disappointed because I had to stay in Lower Manhattan,” Noah said about missing out on Halloween festivities with his siblings.

On their way back from trick-or-treating, Mrs. Salz, Talia and Jake boarded a train at Seventh Avenue and happened to get in the same car that Noah and Mr. Salz were in. Noah’s mother and siblings rushed over to greet him. Talia hugged her brother and asked him if he was O.K. She even shared some of her Halloween candy with him, an unusual move, Mrs. Salz said.

After the attack, Talia slept in her parents’ bed and told them she did not feel comfortable taking the bus to school. So her mother took her to school by bicycle, then her father took her once on the city bus. Jake has not talked much about what happened. Mrs. Salz said Noah had not cried, but he did tell her that “the matron fell on him, was crying for help and her face scared him.”

Last week, Talia rode the school bus and slept in her room for the first time since the attack. Noah quickly returned to his routine. Missing school, he said, was not an option. On Friday night, before he retreated to his room to complete his homework, Noah said, “This week I’m happy.”


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« Reply #1379 on: Nov 20, 2017, 06:22 AM »

German coalition talks collapse after deadlock on migration and energy

Chancellor Angela Merkel left facing prospect of forming minority government – or fresh elections – after FDP quits negotiations

Philip Oltermann in Berlin
Guardian
Monday 20 November 2017 02.18 GMT

Exploratory talks to form Germany’s next coalition government collapsed shortly before midnight on Sunday when the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) walked out of marathon negotiations.

“The four discussion partners have no common vision for modernisation of the country or common basis of trust,” the FDP leader, Christian Lindner, announced after the four parties involved missed several self-prescribed deadlines to resolve differences on migration and energy policy. “It is better not to govern than to govern badly.”

The euro slid in Asian trade overnight thanks to the uncertainty in Europe’s powerhouse nation. Against the yen, the euro was down 0.6% on the day to a two-month low and slipped 0.5% against the US dollar. It was down 0.43% against the pound at €1.125.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been trying to forge a coalition between her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), the pro-business FDP and the Green party, following federal elections at the end of September.

Announcing the collapse of talks as an “almost historic day”, Angela Merkel on Sunday night insisted that the parties would have been capable of reaching a compromise even in spite of their polarised views on migrations, and described the FDP’s walk-out as “regrettable”.

A so-called “Jamaica” coalition – so nicknamed because the parties’ traditional colours mirror those of the Jamaican flag – has only previously been tested at regional level but was the only plausible coalition option open to Merkel.

The Social Democrat leader, Martin Schulz, whose party has played junior partner to Merkel in the German government for the past four years, ruled out the possibility of another grand coalition under his leadership. “The voter has rejected the grand coalition,” Schulz said at a party conference in Nuremberg on Sunday. A repeat of the grand coalition between the two largest parties would also see the far-right Alternative für Deutschland, the third largest party in the Bundestag, become the official opposition.

In a month of talks, Merkel has often cut a passive figure as party representatives found themselves at loggerheads over issues such as the question of how many of the migrants who found their way to Germany in 2015 and 2016 would be allowed to be reunited with their families.

Migration emerged as a contentious political issue in Germany following the refugee crisis, when 1.2 million migrants entered the country in 2015-16. The backlash against Merkel’s decision to keep open Germany’s borders has resulted in a far-right party entering the German parliament for the first time in more than 50 years.

In the coalition talks in Berlin, the CDU, the CSU and the FDP have, at times, worked to outdo each other on calling for a harder line on migration controls.

According to reports in German media, the Green party suggested a compromise over the weekend whereby they would agree to limit Germany’s annual intake of migrants to a benchmark figure of 200,000 – as long as other parties did not rule out allowing migrants with “subsidiary protection” status to be reunited with their families.

The parties have struggled to find a common ground on climate change, with the Greens calling for a reduction in coal-generated power of 8-10 gigawatts while its potential coalition partners have expressed concerns about job losses in the energy and manufacturing sectors.

At the start of the weekend, the FDP leader, Christian Lindner, announced a deadline for the exploratory talks. “If we don’t work it out by 6pm on Sunday, the whole thing is dead,” his deputy, Wolfgang Kubicki, said. Yet the talks went on past that deadline.

If the parties had come to an agreement, negotiations would have moved to the next stage, in which a document with fundamental agreements provides the basis for the carving up of ministerial roles.

With talks now seemingly over, Merkel could seek to form a minority government, either with the FDP or the Greens, and gather support from other parties on individual policy votes.

Once all other options are exhausted, Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, could dissolve the current parliament and call fresh elections. To get there, however, Steinmeier would need first to set into motion a complicated process that would involve a parliamentary vote on Merkel’s role as interim chancellor.

While the debate in Germany over the past few weeks has mainly focused on policy differences between the parties, it is likely to soon shift to the chancellor, and the question of whether or not she still commands sufficient power to hold together a strong government.


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