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« Reply #2985 on: Apr 18, 2019, 03:59 AM »

New research says traffic exhaust is giving millions of kids asthma all around the world


The team looked at 125 cities around the world, keeping track of the nitrogen oxide (NO2) levels in their air, and how it related to new pediatric cases of asthma. The study, based on data from 2010 to 2015, estimates that 4 million children worldwide develop asthma each year due to NO2, with 64% of these new cases occurring in urban areas.

The gas accounted for anywhere between 6% (Orlu, Nigeria) to 48% (Shanghai, China) of these cases, the authors report. Overall, NO2’s contribution to new cases of pediatric asthma exceeded 20% in 92 cities, they add, in both developed and emerging economies.

Bad air

    “Our findings suggest that millions of new cases of pediatric asthma could be prevented in cities around the world by reducing air pollution,” said Susan C. Anenberg, PhD, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH, and the study’s senior author.

    “Improving access to cleaner forms of transportation, like electrified public transport and active commuting by cycling and walking, would not only bring down NO2 levels, but would also reduce asthma, enhance physical fitness, and cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

Asthma is a chronic disease that involves inflammation of the lung’s airways, making it hard (sometimes impossible) to breathe. It is estimated that 235 million people worldwide currently have asthma, varying in intensity from wheezing to life-threatening attacks. This study is the first to take a look at how traffic-related nitrogen dioxide fits into the asthma picture. The work relied on a method that takes into account high exposures to NO2  that occur near busy roads, Anenberg explains.

For the study, the team linked together global datasets of NO2 concentrations,  population distributions, and asthma incidence rates with epidemiological evidence relating traffic-derived NO2 pollution with asthma development in kids. This wealth of data allowed the team to estimate how many new cases of pediatric asthma are attributable to NO2 pollution in the 194 countries and 125 major cities they studied.

Here are some key takeaways:

    Roughly 4 million children developed asthma, each year, from 2010 to 2015 due to NO2 pollution (primarily from motor vehicle exhaust).
    NO2 accounted for between 6% to 48% of pediatric asthma incidence. Its contribution exceeded 20% in 92 cities located in developed and emerging economies.
    The ten highest NO2 contributions were estimated for eight cities in China (37 to 48% of pediatric asthma incidence) followed by Moscow, Russia and Seoul, South Korea, both at 40%.
    In the US, the top-five most affected cities (as judged by percentage of pediatric asthma cases linked to polluted air) are Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Milwaukee
    China had the largest national health burden associated with air pollution at 760,000 cases of asthma per year, followed by India at 350,000, and the United States at 240,000.
    In general, cities with high NO2 concentrations also had high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has set Air Quality Guidelines for NO2 and other air pollutants. For NO2, that guideline pins about 21 parts per billion for annual average levels as being safe. The researchers estimate that most children live in areas that conform to this guideline, but say that 92% of new pediatric asthma cases attributable to NO2 sprung up in areas that met the WHO guidelines.

    “That finding suggests that the WHO guideline for NO2 may need to be re-evaluated to make sure it is sufficiently protective of children’s health,” said Pattanun Achakulwisut, PhD, lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral scientist at Milken Institute SPH.

The team, however, is confident that we can do better. Many of the solutions aimed at scrubbing cities of the greenhouse gases in their air would also reduce NO2 levels, thus helping prevent new cases of asthma.

The paper “Global, national, and urban burdens of paediatric asthma incidence attributable to ambient NO2 pollution: estimates from global datasets” has been published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal.

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« Reply #2986 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:02 AM »

Trump administration sabotages major conservation effort, defying Congress

Revealed: federal support to research centers cut off as scientists fear years of successful work will go ‘down the drain’

Mallory Pickett
18 Apr 2019 11.00 BST

Scientists and officials around the US have told the Guardian that the Trump administration has withdrawn funding for a large, successful conservation program – in direct contradiction of instructions from Congress.

Unique in scale and ambition, the program comprises 22 research centers that tackle big-picture issues affecting huge swaths of the US, such as climate change, flooding and species extinction. They are known as Landscape Conservation Cooperatives – or were, because 16 of them are now on indefinite hiatus or have dissolved.

“I just haven’t seen anything like this in my almost 30 years of working with the federal government,” said a scientist at the Fish and Wildlife Service who worked for one of the LCCs and wished to remain anonymous, because federal employees were instructed not to speak with the Guardian for this story. “There is this lack of accountability.”

“Congress approved $12.5m for the existing 22 landscape conservation cooperatives,” said Betty McCollum, chair of the House interior-environment appropriations subcommittee, at a recent hearing with an interior department official. “But we are hearing disturbing reports from outside groups and concerned citizens that the LCC program is being altered and may not receive any federal funding.”

McCollum requested a full accounting of the situation so her committee could investigate.

The LCCs were established under the Obama administration in 2010 and staffed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, and appeared to be achieving their goals. In Hawaii, a center found that many native Hawaiian forest birds would not have any suitable habitat remaining by the end of the century, which helped get one of the birds listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. In flood-prone areas of the Gulf coast, work by an LCC has resulted in more residents getting access to flood-insurance discounts. Another created the “California Climate Commons”, a website that aggregates studies, data visualizations and maps on how climate change will affect the state.

“No other federal program is designed to address landscape conservation needs at a national scale” in this way, according to a 2016 review by the National Academy of Sciences.
Flood water inundates a town along Florida’s Gulf coast during a tropical storm. Work by LCCs helped more residents access flood-insurance discounts.

Donald Trump made it clear from the beginning that the LCCs – and science funding in general – were not a priority for his administration. His first budget proposal as president eliminated funds for the LCCs, and for other applied research programs run through the interior department. Ensuing budget requests followed the same pattern.

But Congress decides the federal budget, and it can disregard a president’s proposals. It has consistently rejected these cuts. In 2017, a consortium of NGOs, state fish and wildlife agencies, and tribal groups came together to convince Congress that LCCs were crucial. The Congress for American Indians passed a resolution in support of the LCC network, stating that “they have played an important role in advancing western science and traditional knowledge with our local communities that are continually struggling to adapt to increasingly unpredictable and dangerous environments due to climate change”.

These petitions were successful and since then Congress has continued to fund LCCs at the same level – about $12m.

Even so, in 2017 LCCs across the country began to receive the news that they would no longer receive federal support.

“With this administration, very few things come out on email or on paper. There’s very little paper trail. It’s just, this is the way it’s going to be,” said another Fish and Wildlife Service scientist who worked for one of the LCCs.

The scientist said that federal support for the LCC program appeared to dry up after the start of an unprecedented political review of scientific research at the interior department, of which the Fish and Wildlife Service is a part. It was led by Steve Howke, a high school friend of the former interior secretary Ryan Zinke. When this review began, said the Fish and Wildlife Service scientist, “it was known that nothing associated with LCCs, would be funded” and they “basically had to kind of wind everything down”.

There was also resistance to the centers within the interior department, several scientists associated with the LCCs said, because some officials did not like the loss of control that came with their collaborative approach.

“For most of us in the program, it was pretty disappointing. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into getting to where we were,” says Greg Wathen, the former coordinator for the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozark LCC. “I always felt like we were right on the cusp of making some real good progress.”

Gary Tabor, a member of the LCC Network Council, a group that provided leadership for all 22 centers, said the LCCs had created a framework for the nation to address existential challenges, like natural disasters.

“That kind of architecture is now lost, and takes time to build up and it takes training the people and positioning the resources,” he said. “We’ve lost time, we’ve lost money, and we’ve lost momentum.”

According to information compiled by the FWS and shared confidentially with the Guardian, six LCCs are on hiatus, and 10 have officially dissolved. Another six continue to operate thanks to support from other sources. The California LCC is now hosted and funded by the state, for instance, and the Aleutian and Bering Sea Islands LCC in Alaska is now run by the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

A Fish and Wildlife Service representative conceded that it “no longer provides dedicated staff, administrative functions and funding for the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs)”.

The first anonymous scientist is in despair. “I’d say there could be five to six years [of work] down the drain.”

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« Reply #2987 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:08 AM »

'Decades of denial': major report finds New Zealand's environment is in serious trouble

Nation known for its natural beauty is under pressure with extinctions, polluted rivers and blighted lakes

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin
Thu 18 Apr 2019 03.17 BST

A report on the state of New Zealand’s environment has painted a bleak picture of catastrophic biodiversity loss, polluted waterways and the destructive rise of the dairy industry and urban sprawl.

Environment Aotearoa is the first major environmental report in four years, and was compiled using data from Statistics New Zealand and the environment ministry.

It presents a sobering summary of a country that is starkly different from the pristine landscape promoted in the “Pure New Zealand” marketing campaign that lures millions of tourists every year.

It found New Zealand is now considered one of the most invaded countries in the world, with 75 animal and plant species having gone extinct since human settlement. The once-vibrant bird life has fared particularly badly, with 90% of seabirds and 80% of shorebirds threatened with or at risk of extinction.

Almost two-thirds of New Zealand’s rare ecosystems are under threat of collapse, and over the last 15 years the extinction risk worsened for 86 species, compared with the conservation status of just 26 species improving in the past 10 years.

The scale of what is being lost is impossible to accurately gauge, as only about 20% of New Zealand’s species have been identified and recorded.

Kevin Hague from the conservation group Forest and Bird said the report was chilling reading and captured the devastating affects of “decades of procrastination and denial”.

“New Zealand is losing species and ecosystems faster than nearly any other country,” he said. “Four thousand of our native species are in trouble … from rampant dairy conversions to destructive seabed trawling – [we] are irreversibly harming our natural world.”

The minister for the environment, David Parker, said the report offered “no big surprises” but reinforced the importance of cleaning up the waterways and becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

“If, with all our advantages, New Zealand can’t overcome its environmental problems, then the world won’t,” Parker said.

A massive rise in the country’s dairy herd over the last 20 years has had a devastating impact on the country’s freshwater quality, a key area being targeted by the government for improvement. During her election campaign, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, pledged to make the country’s rivers and lakes swimmable again for the next generation.

That could prove challenging, with the report finding that groundwater failed standards at 59% of wells owing to the presence of E coli, and at 13% of the wells owing to nitrates. Some 57% of monitored lakes registered poor water quality, and 76% of native freshwater fish are at risk of or threatened with extinction. A third of freshwater insects are also in danger of extinction.

Forest and Bird said the main culprits for worsening freshwater quality were the intensive use of fertilisers, irrigation and cows.

The Green party co-leader James Shaw, who is also the minister for climate change, said the environment was taking a further hammering with the effects of global warming starting to be felt, including sea-level rise, increasing land temperatures and warming ocean temperatures.

“All the issues in this report are made worse by climate change and that is why this government is so determined to take strong action,” Shaw said.

“The introduction of climate change legislation, establishing an independent climate change commission to guide emissions reductions, and the just transition to a low emissions economy are vital.”

Hague said while the findings were sobering, the reality was far worse as the report missed “dangerous marine heatwaves” and the inadequacy of marine protections, with less than half a per cent of New Zealand’s sea area protected by marine reserves.

“We must not waste any more time in fundamentally changing the way we interact with nature,” he said. “We need an economy that nurtures and restores our environment, not one that trashes it.”

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« Reply #2988 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:11 AM »

The female boxers fighting back in the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been branded the rape capital of the world. Now photographer Alessandro Grassani is documenting the women there who have taken up boxing for self-defence

Killian Fox

An 18-year-old woman stands at the intersection of two featureless grey brick walls in Goma, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. We can’t see her face, which is concealed by her left hand, but her right arm and neck are exposed and the burns on her skin are clearly visible. One night several years ago, the woman, whose name is Blandini and who lives on the streets of Goma with her two young children, was attacked by four men, who raped her in turn. Afterwards, they doused her with petrol and set her alight – “like a candle,” she recalls.

In the portrait of Blandini, taken by the Italian documentary photographer Alessandro Grassani, she sports a pair of cushioned red gloves. After the attack, in a bid to prevent anything like it from happening again, Blandini took up boxing. She joined an unregistered club, run by a former boxing champion of DRC who goes by the nickname Kibomango, and threw herself into training.

“In a patriarchal society like Congo, it’s really difficult for women to box,” says Grassani. “It’s seen as a sport for men.” But Blandini is one of a growing group of women in Goma for whom boxing has become a lifeline, not just a form of self-defence in a country where sexual violence is rife, but also a source of companionship, purpose and hope for the future.

Grassani, who lives in Milan, learned about the Friendship boxing club prior to his trip to DRC last May. He had been commissioned to take photographs for a Goma-based NGO that runs hospitals in the region, but Grassani was on the lookout for other stories to explore during his visit. Getting in touch with Kibomango, who trained former child soldiers and homeless people for free, he asked if there were any women in his club. “He told me, ‘Yes, there are also women here.’”

It’s not surprising that women in Goma want to learn how to box. In 2010, Margot Wallström, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, branded DRC “the rape capital of the world”, following a decade and a half of civil unrest during which sexual violence was routinely used as a weapon of war.

Exact figures are impossible to come by, but the UN estimates that more than 200,000 Congolese women are rape survivors. The problem is particularly acute in the east of the country.

“Some of the women I met in Goma had suffered extreme violence,” says Grassani. “Living on the streets, they have to change where they sleep every night, so as not to be found by violent gangs that will rape them.” In this drastic situation, boxing provided a measure of security. “Now that they are training, they are fit, they can run faster, they are not afraid,” says Grassani. “For sure they will fight back.”

The Friendship boxing club meets every weekday morning from 6-8am at the Volcans football stadium in Goma, close to where its coach works as a mechanic. A former child soldier who lost an eye in a bomb blast, Kibomango (born Balezi Bagunda) has a formidable appearance – Grassani describes him as “the Rocky Balboa of Congo” – that belies his gentle manner.

“He’s very sweet with the kids and the women he’s training,” says Grassani. “He would tell them, ‘Everyone here is friends, it doesn’t matter if you were a child soldier, if you lived on the streets, if you’ve been raped… we’re all friends.’”

For the women training at Friendship, the main motivation was self-defence. At another club in the city that Grassani visited, the exclusively female Radi Star girls club, its members’ ambitions went beyond mere survival: they wanted to compete and win. “I don’t know much about boxing,” says Grassani, “but when you see someone run, fight and punch like they were doing – wow. They’re very strong, very aggressive.”

One woman who had been abandoned by her family told the photographer that she wanted to go to the US and become a champion like Muhammad Ali, then come back to DRC to open an orphanage for other abandoned children who needed help.

Grassani left Goma deeply impressed by the resilience of the female boxers and the generosity of their ambitions. His admiration was shared by the judges of the Sony world photography awards, who have shortlisted the Boxing Against Violence series in this year’s sport category. The winners will be announced on 17 April.

Grassani, who is currently working on a long-running project about environmental migration and border walls, says he’s delighted by the nomination and the extra attention it will bring to his subjects.

“The most important thing for me was not to portray these women as victims of something, but as the boss of their destiny,” Grassani says. “They are able to do everything. The courage and the strength of these women in the face of very serious violence was just incredible.”

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« Reply #2989 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:21 AM »

Ukraine elections: actor and comedian poised to win crushing victory

Volodymyr Zelenskiy is hot favourite to triumph in Sunday’s presidential election

Shaun Walker in Kyiv
Thu 18 Apr 2019 10.14 BST

Latest polling in Ukraine suggests that the actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has eschewed traditional political campaigning and given little insight into his policy positions, is set to win a crushing victory in Sunday’s presidential election.

Zelenskiy is known for his television series Servant of the People in which he plays a history teacher who wins a shock victory in presidential elections. He is now odds-on to pull off the feat in real life, after capitalising on widespread disappointment with the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, who won elections in 2014 after the Maidan revolution kicked out the previous government.

A poll released earlier this week gave Zelenskiy 72% of votes from those who said they were certain to vote, against 25% for Poroshenko. Other polls have also given Zelenskiy an overwhelming lead.

In the first round of voting, Zelenskiy was the clear winner, taking 30% of the votes in a crowded field, with Poroshenko coming in a distant second on 16%.

Until recent weeks, many western diplomats had assumed Poroshenko would be able to overturn his rival’s lead, but as victory for Zelenskiy looks ever more likely, the international community has started to take notice.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, received both Poroshenko and Zelenskiy in Paris last week, while this week Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Ivan Bakanov, travelled to Washington.

In meetings set up by a US lobbying firm, Bakanov assured policymakers and analysts that Zelenskiy would pursue a pro-western course in office, according to a source briefed on the contents of the discussions. However, he also said Zelenskiy would want to make more efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including potential negotiations with Russia-backed separatists, and bringing the UK and US into the so-called Normandy peace format, which involves the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France.

Poroshenko has sought to portray Zelenskiy as a stooge of the Kremlin, but his nationalist rhetoric around the Ukrainian church and language appears to have backfired with the electorate. Zelenskiy has faced questions about his ties to the oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi, and has irritated Ukrainian journalists by not giving interviews.

An open letter to Zelenskiy by 20 Ukrainian media outlets this week said: “Over the past few weeks, you have avoided direct and fully fledged communication with domestic journalists.”

“A million people will see your interview. Now imagine if I gave them every day,” Zelenskiy told RBK Ukraine, in an interview released on Thursday, explaining his desire to speak rarely as part of a strategy to create maximum interest.

Many voters are likely to back Zelenskiy on an “anyone but Poroshenko” basis, angry that after the promises of the Maidan revolution, cronyism and corruption have continued to flourish under Poroshenko, while the Ukrainian economy remains weak.

Poroshenko’s final chance to tip the balance back in his favour will be a debate with Zelenskiy on Friday night, which is shaping up to be the final set-piece in a bizarre and eventful election campaign.

The two campaign teams have been wrangling over the format and style of the debate.

Zelenskiy, who won the first round by avoiding traditional debates and presenting himself as outside politics, presented a series of extraordinary conditions to Poroshenko for any debate, including a stipulation that both candidates should take drug tests, and that the debate should take place at Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium.

Poroshenko, feeling he had nothing to lose, called Zelenskiy’s bluff, inviting journalists to watch him give blood, urine and hair samples at a Kyiv clinic last week.

Zelenskiy has invited his fans to acquire free tickets to the debate, while Poroshenko has called for his supporters across the country to mobilise and descend on Kyiv to watch the spectacle, raising the possibility that tens of thousands of supporters of the two politicians could create an atmosphere inside the stadium more akin to a football match than a presidential debate.

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« Reply #2990 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:26 AM »

'A whole generation has gone': Ukrainians seek a better life in Poland

As Ukraine prepares to elect a new president, millions of its citizens have moved across the border
Shaun Walker

Shaun Walker in Lublin
Thu 18 Apr 2019 05.00 BST

When the small business run by Kristina Melnytska’s father began to struggle in 2014 he did what hundreds of thousands of other Ukrainians were doing and moved his family to Poland.

Melnytska, then 19, enrolled in a university in the eastern city of Lublin. She worked long nights in a kebab shop, where she was paid about £1 an hour. Five years later she is still here and one of an estimated 2 million Ukrainians working and living in Poland.

While Poland’s rightwing populist government has rejected resettlement quotas for refugees from Syria and other conflict zones, the country has quietly accepted what may amount to the largest migration into a European country in recent years. There are about 400,000 Ukrainians on proper contracts but many more who work in the parallel economy or are short-term, seasonal labourers.

Their presence helps replace the labour shortage created by the Poles who have left for Britain, Germany and other EU countries since Poland joined the bloc. The numbers also tell a story about Ukraine, where the economy tanked after the 2014 Maidan revolution and the war in the east.

On Sunday the country will vote in a presidential election in which the television comedian and political neophyte Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to score a crushing victory over the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, in a sign of just how dissatisfied people are with widespread corruption and the lack of economic opportunities over the past few years.

“We have ended up with a whole generation that has gone,” said Irina Vereshchuk, a former mayor of Rava-Ruska, a town on the border with Poland. “Poland has taken our best minds, our best labourers.”

In towns and cities across Ukraine there are advertisements and recruitment drives to find people keen to move to Poland for higher salaries. According to data from the World Bank, Ukraine is now the biggest recipient of wage remittances of any country in Europe, with £11bn being sent back to the country by workers abroad last year, amounting to 11% of the country’s GDP.

Olena Babakova, a Ukrainian journalist who moved to Warsaw in 2008, said that while there were no Ukrainian-majority areas of Warsaw or other cities there was what she described as a “horizontal ghetto” of her fellow nationals. “The barmen in the bars I go to are Ukrainians, my hair and nails are done by Ukrainians and some of the bank clerks are Ukrainians.”

Poland for a long time had a programme allowing short-term workers to obtain visas, but things are even more simple, with the EU granting Ukrainian citizens visa-free entry since 2017.

Many Poles say the government is asking for trouble by allowing so many Ukrainians to settle in Poland.

“Ukrainians are quite close to us physically and culturally, but if you build a multinational country you get political problems,” said Krzysztof Bosak, a former MP and deputy leader of the National Movement, a nationalist political force. “Economic mass migration for a country is like cocaine for a workaholic. It makes you more effective in the short term but after, the problems start.”

Many Ukrainians do low-paid, low-skilled jobs the Polish locals do not want. Unlike Polish workers in other EU countries, however, the Ukrainians in Poland have few legal safeguards to fall back on.

In Lublin, Melnytska said she frequently suffered abuse at the hands of drunken customers while working in the kebab shop. “People shouted that I should go home and was ruining Poland. One time someone threw a kebab at me, and there was one guy who said he was going to wait outside and attack me on the way home.”

She called the police, who did nothing except laugh at her and tell her that in Poland there is freedom of speech, she said.

Ruslana Poberezhna, a 20-year-old from the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia who came to Lublin and found work as a waitress, said she was paid a third of the amount the establishment’s Polish workers were paid, and when she complained was laughed at and told she had no rights.

“There’s absolutely nobody for them to turn to,” said Anna Dąbrowska of Homo Faber, a Lublin-based NGO that offers advice and free language lessons to Ukrainians and other foreigners to help them integrate. There are no government-organised or subsidised language programmes for immigrants. She said she was frequently approached by people who had suffered racist abuse or had problems getting their salaries.

An imminent easing of German labour regulations means many Polish employers fear they will lose their Ukrainian workers to higher salaries farther west. So far, though, the Ukrainians continue to come. At Lublin bus station, most of the adverts are in Ukrainian, offering arriving workers cheap sim cards, banking and other services. There are 17 departures per day to Kyiv and many more to other cities across Ukraine.

For Polish nationalists, according more rights to Ukrainians would be a second mistake after allowing them entry in the first place. “The vast majority understand they are guests here and they should be careful and not talk about sensitive issues. If they get citizenship, they won’t be as shy as they are now,” said Bosak.

History remains the trickiest subject, especially the massacre of Polish civilians by Ukrainian nationalist forces during the second world war. A monument to the victims was erected last year in Lublin. Melnytska said she has learned to avoid talking about history with Poles, fearing it will end up in accusations and abuse.

For many Ukrainians, carving out an existence in Poland, despite all the hurdles they face to integrate, is still a more appealing prospect than the one that waits at home.

Melnytska said despite the hardships during her four years in Poland, she planned to stay. She now speaks fluent Polish, has a Polish boyfriend and next year wants to apply for citizenship.

Dmitry, from a small town close to Kyiv, worked in a management position for a large multinational until he relocated to Warsaw with his family two years ago. Now, he drives an Uber in the Polish capital, and by working 70 hours per weeks he can earn about 7000 Zloty (£1,400) per month.

“It’s more than I earned in Ukraine, but it wasn’t really about the money. I was just tired of the unpredictability of life in Ukraine, with revolution, war, uncertainty. I just wanted to feel settled somewhere.”

Additional reporting by Paulina Olszanka

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« Reply #2991 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:29 AM »

‘It’s dangerous to go out now’: young, gay and scared in Brunei

Kate Lamb in Bandar Seri Begawan

A day after it became legally possible to be stoned to death for having gay sex in Brunei, 21-year-old Zain* got a bitter taste of the new reality.

Walking down the street in skinny jeans and high-heeled boots, a flamboyant anomaly in the conservative sultanate, the university student became a target.

“I saw this van about 50 metres away,” said Zain, who is gay. “When the driver saw me, the van accelerated, just to run me over, but I dodged it. I was like, ‘Bitch, what the hell was that?’”

Last week Brunei – a tiny tropical nation on the island of Borneo, a former British protectorate that is home to 420,000 people – introduced harsh new sharia laws, including death by stoning for adultery and gay sex, and amputation of limbs for theft.

The punishments are part of the third and final phase of sharia laws to be implemented after they were first announced in 2013. Following panic and outcry then, plans for the most grievous penalties had lain seemingly dormant for years. Many had hoped that the government had quietly decided to back down.

But in late December last year a little-read official gazette announced that the laws would be effective as of Wednesday last week.

Decried as inhumane, archaic and barbaric, the new laws have seen Brunei dubbed the Saudi Arabia of south-east Asia, sparked widespread international condemnation and calls from celebrities such as George Clooney and Elton John to boycott hotels owned by sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, including the Dorchester in London, and the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.

But amid the cacophony of international criticism, in Brunei the laws came into effect with zero official fanfare, or even a passing mention. On Wednesday the lead story in the Borneo Bulletin, Brunei’s main English-language daily newspaper, was about missing fire hydrants – with not a word about the laws.

At a public event the same day, the sultan was similarly oblique, saying only that he advocated “stronger Islamic teaching”. In fact, in the quiet and predictable Bruneian capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, the reception of the new sharia penal code has run counter to international perceptions.

On the ground, young Bruneians say they are less scared of being prosecuted under the new laws than of how they might embolden religious conservatives, and justify acts of hate against them – like strangers trying to run them over in the street, or worse.

Given the absence of reports in the self-censoring local press, Zain heard the news on Twitter. His first thought, he told the Observer, was “oh my God I am going to die, I am going to be stoned to death”.

But after reading the fine print, he and others in Brunei’s underground LGBT scene are sceptical that anyone will actually be stoned. The high burden of proof, requiring a confession, or at least four credible witnesses to a criminalised act, means it won’t be easy to prosecute.
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And while capital punishment has long been law in Brunei – although by hanging rather than stoning – no one has been executed since 1957.

“So that’s why I am not really scared about the law, but I am scared about the people,” said Zain. “The implementation gives a lot of conservative people who are very homophobic a lot of power. It is more dangerous for people like me to go out now.”

Other LGBT Bruneians agree the laws will be very difficult to enforce, but that hasn’t stopped them feeling paranoid. Are their neighbours, for example, watching them now?

Many, especially the more visible transgender people, are keeping a low profile, living even more discreetly than they already did.

Rafay, another gay Bruneian man, said: “To me, it makes my life even more complicated. It’s somewhat harder for me to be open when I’m in public.”

Although the draconian measures are in place, in the capital it feels as though little has changed. Days after the law came into effect, no cases had been prosecuted and sharia police were not combing the streets. LGBT Bruneians are in an uneasy state of wait and see. “I might leave Brunei,” said Rafay, “if the situation worsens.”

Some have already made changes to their lifestyles. Ali, a thirtysomething artist, said he would simply stop dating men. “I consider myself bi[sexual], so for me I guess it is just pretty easy – I just cut the other half,” he said. “For me it’s an extra risk I can just cut off. I know that doesn’t apply to most people. If they are gay they can’t just cut off guys, so I am fundamentally opposed to the laws.”

Living in a conservative majority-Muslim society with strict laws already in place – gay sex, for example, has long been illegal – young Bruneians are skilled adapters. The sale of alcohol and cigarettes is banned, but they know where to find contraband sources.

If they want to party they can drive a few hours to the Malaysian border town of Miri, and go clubbing for the night, or take a short flight to neighbouring Kuala Lumpur. And if they do party at home, it’s always best to have a member of the royal family in tow, some half-joke. In Brunei, locals say it’s all about who you know.

“It sucks, but it wasn’t great to begin with. We are very good at adapting, we all learn to have two or three social media accounts,” said Anna, a young professional, of the new laws. “We Bruneians can’t do anything about it, so I don’t know how outside forces can help. It’s more about how we as Bruneians can get through this together.”

Alongside the shock and uncertainty, there is also a feeling of indignation that the international coverage has skewed perceptions of their country that detract from what they see as its attributes – a strong education and healthcare system, and no income tax. Typically proud of their nation, Bruneians also worry about the economic repercussions, even those who identify as LGBT.

    The laws might give them a reason to crack down on people who are not loyal to the throne

The sultan has pushed for sharia law since the 90s, despite the failure of other family members to live up to his standards. His brother Prince Jefri’s flamboyant lifestyle involved a harem of foreign mistresses, erotic sculptures of himself with his fiancee, and a luxury yacht he called Tits.

In a country that bills itself as something of a sanctuary – the full name of the country is Brunei Darussalam, meaning in Arabic “abode of peace” – Bruneians have different answers when asked how it has become a country with draconian sharia law.

Ali’s working theory was that, as rumours swirl that the sultan, 72, is likely to abdicate soon, he was paving the way for his son, the crown prince, to take over. “The laws might give them a reason to crack down on people who are not loyal to the throne, and the people that are not loyal to the throne are usually people who are more liberal and progressive and probably doing all the adultery,” he said. “They are preparing for when the crown prince, who is not popular at all, takes the throne, and then there is going to be a lot more dissent, I think.”

Some Bruneians are hoping that, eventually, all this will fade away. That life will be back to business as usual, soon enough. “I can’t imagine anyone carrying this punishment out. It’s not the Brunei I know, at least not the one I grew up in,” said Anna. “The future isn’t bright, but it isn’t bleak either. We just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

*All names have been changed.

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« Reply #2992 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:41 AM »

Trump and America brace for release of redacted Mueller report

Long-awaited document to be released on Thursday could shed light on details of evidence gathered during two-year Trump-Russia investigation

Ed Pilkington and Tom McCarthy in New York
Thu 18 Apr 2019 06.00 BST

Almost two years after Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate potential ties between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, the American people will finally read his report on Thursday – albeit in redacted form.

The public release of the 400-page Mueller report marks a significant moment for a country on tenterhooks over what the former FBI director has uncovered. It marks the first time that US citizens and members of Congress will be able to hear from the special counsel directly rather than through the lens of his Department of Justice bosses or the media.

In the lead-up to the report’s release, the White House was in a defensive crouch. Justice department officials provided lawyers close to Trump with briefings on the content of the report in advance of its release, the New York Times reported Wednesday, assisting the White House in the preparation of a rebuttal to a document that Trump previously claimed had “totally exonerated” him.

The report will be issued by the Department of Justice in paper form at its headquarters in Washington DC and online, sometime on Thursday morning. William Barr, the attorney general, will hold a news conference at 9.30am ET, after which the redacted report will be delivered to Congress.

Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House judiciary committee, called a news conference late Wednesday to criticize the multi-step rollout and to accuse Barr of attempting to prejudice the public reception of the report in favor of the White House.

“The fact that the attorney general is not releasing even the redacted report to Congress until after his press conference will again result in the report being presented in his own words, rather than in the words of special counsel Robert Mueller,” Nadler said.

“The central concern here is that attorney general Barr is not allowing the facts of the Mueller report to speak for themselves, but is instead trying to bake in the narrative about the report to the benefit of the White House.”

Just how revelatory the document is, and how much it puts to rest the partisan dispute that has raged ceaselessly in Washington since Mueller was appointed in May 2017, will depend on the extent of its redactions.

Since the report was handed on 21 March to the recently appointed US attorney general, he has been busily obscuring parts of it from public and congressional view.

Barr has insisted the redactions are necessary for legal reasons involving material gathered secretly by a grand jury and evidence in other continuing criminal cases. But Democrats are suspicious, given the fact that Barr was handpicked by Trump to head the justice department and the speed with which he rushed out a four-page summary of the Mueller report – a summary that was generally favorable to the president.

One of the most important questions that will be raised by Thursday’s release is whether Barr’s brief summary is true to Mueller’s original report.

Democratic leaders in Congress are unlikely in any case to be satisfied until they have seen the complete, unredacted version. Nadler has indicated that he will subpoena the justice department for the full document potentially as soon as Friday.

There will be much riding on what emerges from the report. Criminal charges have been ruled out after Barr said that he and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, had decided there was insufficient evidence to establish that Trump had committed obstruction of justice.

But it remains a possibility, though unlikely, that Democratic leaders in the House will see material in the report that merits the framing of impeachment charges against the president. Last month Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, said that she was not in favour of impeaching Trump as “he’s just not worth it”.

The Mueller report could still provide political ammunition against Trump as the president seeks re-election in next year’s presidential contest.

The document is expected to fall into two clear sections.

The first will look at Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race and the question of any involvement in that effort by the Trump campaign. Barr’s summary quoted Mueller as saying “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated” with Russia, but it remains to be seen whether that sentence was taken out of context.

The second part will deal with the obstruction of justice allegations. Trump aroused suspicions that he tried to impede the work of the FBI after it emerged that he had put pressure on the then head of the agency, James Comey, to end an investigation into the Russia links of the former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Those suspicions deepened when Trump fired Comey on 9 May 2017, triggering the appointment of Mueller.

Trump previously told NBC news during an interview on camera, on his decision to fire Comey: “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

Though Barr decided that evidence was lacking for a criminal charge, his summary did make the point that Mueller was ambivalent on the subject. The special counsel opted to make no prosecutorial judgment – neither accusing Trump of any crime nor exonerating him.


Mueller report: five things to look out for in the redacted document

Barr has said the report has two parts: one on Russian tampering efforts and one on alleged obstruction of justice by Trump

Tom McCarthy in New York
Thu 18 Apr 2019 06.00 BST

On Thursday, the US justice department is expected to release a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report on Russian election tampering and the Donald Trump campaign to the public. The attorney general, William Barr, has announced a press conference at the justice department at 9.30am to discuss it.

Barr has previously described the Mueller report as having two parts: one part devoted to describing the Russian tampering efforts, believed to include a rundown of Russian contacts with Trump campaign officials; and one part devoted to evidence of alleged obstruction of justice by the president.

Here are five things to look out for with the release of the report, which reportedly runs to nearly 400 pages and is officially titled Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election:

Obstruction of justice

The Mueller report “catalogues the President’s actions” that could amount to an obstruction of justice by Trump, according to an earlier letter issued by Barr summarizing his view of the report’s findings. How much of this catalogue will the public get to see on Thursday?

Mueller left the decision of whether to charge Trump to Barr, who decided not to. But it appears that Mueller gathered substantial evidence of potential obstruction of justice by the president. In his letter, Barr quoted this line from the report: “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

What did Mueller, a lifelong prosecutor, see or discover that led him to believe that the president might have committed a crime?

Contacts with Russia

According to Barr, the Mueller report does exonerate the Trump campaign from allegations that it conspired with Russia. In his letter, Barr quoted the report: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But there are signs that the report contains new information about contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives. One source close to Mueller’s team told NBC News that the report “paints a picture of a campaign whose members were manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation”.

Trump’s political base appears to be unbothered by his campaign’s contacts with Russia, and by his subsequent chronic lying about those contacts. But could the report put those contacts in a new light?


Mueller delivered his report one month ago, on 22 March. Since then, Barr and colleagues in the justice department have been preparing it for release to Congress and the public.

A big question is how much of the report will be redacted. Barr is seen as a Trump loyalist with a low opinion of Mueller’s investigation. Barr will probably be challenged to explain why certain material was deemed unfit for public view. Democrats in the House have already said they will subpoena the full report.

Barr has described to Congress four categories of material he intended to redact and said the redactions would be color-coded by category: first, grand jury information, including witness interviews; second, classified information; third, information related to continuing investigations; fourth, so-called derogatory information – information about people who were interviewed or scrutinized in investigations but not charged.

That last category could prominently include Trump.

In the report, Mueller’s team included multiple summary paragraphs intended for quick public release after the report was submitted to Barr, according to multiple media accounts. Some members of Mueller’s team were reported to have been displeased that Barr did not release the summaries.

The report was prepared “so that the front matter from each section could have been released immediately – or very quickly”, one official not on Mueller’s team told the Washington Post. “It was done in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary, and the work would have spoken for itself.”

Will we see the summaries? Will they be significantly redacted?

Based on media reports and previous indictments, the public knows some of what was going on behind the scenes as the Trump campaign lurched toward victory in 2016, Russian operatives dangling off it, leech-like, on all sides.

But the Mueller report, which would draw on material not available to journalists, such as surveilled communications and seized evidence, could reveal what was really happening in some of the set pieces from the Trump campaign and early presidency.

We might find out more about what happened at a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, and whether Trump was ignorant of the meeting, as he claims. New evidence could come to light about the firing of former FBI director James Comey. We could learn more about Trump campaign contacts with WikiLeaks.

The report could contain damaging new information about the conduct of Trump family members, including Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner, who have been accused of using the campaign to try to enrich their companies and keeping up inappropriate, if not illegal, contacts with foreign operatives.

The Mueller report might weigh in on whether Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, as Cohen has alleged, or whether Trump tried at least twice to fire Mueller, only to be stopped by the former White House counsel Don McGahn, as has been reported.

But key sections of the Mueller report might remain redacted for now.


Democrats condemn attorney general's plan for rollout of Mueller report

Attorney general has sought to ‘put his own spin’ on special counsel’s report, say lawmakers before report’s release

Tom McCarthy and agencies
Thu 18 Apr 2019 01.55 BST

On the eve of the long-anticipated release of the report by special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian tampering in the 2016 election and alleged Trump campaign involvement, Democrats accused the attorney general, William Barr, of trying to “cherry-pick” and “put his own spin” on the conclusions of the investigation.

Representative Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House judiciary committee, appeared with colleagues at a press conference in New York City late Wednesday to protest against Barr’s plan for rolling out a redacted version of the Mueller report.

Barr is scheduled to hold a 9.30am press conference on Thursday. Nadler tweeted on Wednesday that the justice department informed him that Congress would receive the report around 11am or noon, after which it would be posted online.

That plan amounted to an effort by Barr to put up a smokescreen to obscure the true findings of the report, Nadler charged.

“Now it appears that the attorney general intends to once again put his own spin on the investigative work completed by the special counsel and his team,” Nadler said.

“The fact that the attorney general is not releasing even the redacted report to Congress until after his press conference will again result in the report being presented in his own words, rather than in the words of special counsel Robert Mueller.

“The central concern here is that Attorney General Barr is not allowing the facts of the Mueller report to speak for themselves, but is instead trying to bake in the narrative about the report to the benefit of the White House.”

Nadler said he would subpoena the full report “in very short order” and said he assumed it would be useful to call Mueller and members of his team to testify before Congress.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, argued Americans deserved to see the truth, “not a sanitized version of the Mueller Report approved by the Trump Admin”.

“AG Barr has thrown out his credibility”, she added.

    Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi)

    AG Barr has thrown out his credibility & the DOJ’s independence with his single-minded effort to protect @realDonaldTrump above all else. The American people deserve the truth, not a sanitized version of the Mueller Report approved by the Trump Admin. https://t.co/fgXwiLuQfr
    April 17, 2019

Democratic House committee leaders followed by asking Barr to cancel his scheduled morning address. “This press conference, which apparently will not include Special Counsel Mueller, is unnecessary and inappropriate, and appears designed to shape public perceptions of the report before anyone can read it”, they wrote.

“Barr should let the full report speak for itself. The Attorney General should cancel the press conference and provide the full report to Congress, as we have requested”, they added.

The justice department also plans to provide a “limited number” of members of Congress and their staff access to a copy of the Mueller report with fewer redactions than the public version, according to a court filing Wednesday.

The nearly 400-page report is expected to reveal what Mueller uncovered about ties between the Trump campaign and Russia that fell short of criminal conduct. It will also lay out the special counsel’s conclusions about formative episodes in Trump’s presidency, including his firing of the FBI director James Comey and his efforts to undermine the Russia investigation publicly and privately.

The report is not expected to place the president in legal jeopardy, as Barr made his own decision that Trump should not be prosecuted for obstruction. But it is likely to contain unflattering details about the president’s efforts to control the Russia investigation that will cloud his ability to credibly claim total exoneration.

And it may paint the Trump campaign as eager to exploit Russian aid and emails stolen from Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s campaign even if no Americans crossed the line into criminal activity.

The report’s release will be a test of Barr’s credibility as the public and Congress judge whether he is using his post to shield the president who appointed him.

Trump announced Barr’s press conference during a radio interview Wednesday before the justice department did. Trump also said he might take questions about the report after its release.

Barr will also face scrutiny over how much of the report he blacks out and whether Mueller’s document lines up with a letter the attorney general released last month. The letter said Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government but he found evidence on “both sides” of the question of whether the president obstructed justice.

Barr has said he is withholding grand jury and classified information as well as portions relating to continuing investigations and the privacy or reputation of uncharged “peripheral” people. But how liberally he interprets those categories is yet to be seen.

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« Reply #2993 on: Apr 18, 2019, 05:14 AM »

MSNBC’s Morning Joe drops the hammer on Bill Barr as ‘unfit’ — and challenges Dems to do something about him

Travis Gettys
18 Apr 2019 at 06:45 ET   

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said William Barr had proven himself “unfit” to serve as attorney general — and he challenged congressional Democrats to do something about it.

Barr will brief reporters Thursday before they’ve had a chance to review the Mueller report he has redacted, and the Department of Justice he oversees has briefed the White House to help prepare a rebuttal that will be issued before the special counsel’s report.

“Yes, Attorney General Barr has proven once again that he’s unfit to be attorney general of the United States of America — fine, full stop,” Scarborough said. “Let’s put a period and move that to the side. What happens next? What happens?”

The attorney general was helping President Donald Trump slow walk the findings of the 21-month investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, and the “Morning Joe” host said Democrats must be prepared to win the next stage of the public relations battle.

“What should we expect to see tomorrow and the next day and the next week?” he said. “Because chances are good this is going to start an entirely new process in the United States House of Representatives.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fU0-UQ6_Gk

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« Reply #2994 on: Apr 19, 2019, 03:51 AM »

‘Killer’ cells raise hope of universal flu vaccine

Agence France-Presse

Scientists said they had discovered immune cells that can fight all known flu viruses in what was hailed as an “extraordinary breakthrough” that could lead to a universal, one-shot vaccine against the killer disease.

Influenza epidemics, largely seasonal, kill hundreds of thousands of people each year, according to the World Health Organization.

Due to its mutating strains, vaccine formulas must be regularly updated and only offer limited protection currently.

Researchers in Australia said that “killer T cells” — found in over half the world’s population — had shown in testing to be effective in fighting all common flu varieties.

This means the cells could potentially be used to develop an all-encompassing flu shot that did not need to be changed annually, and even be effective in people who don’t naturally possess them.

“Influenza viruses continuously mutate to evade recognition by our immune system, and they are vastly diverse, making it nearly impossible to predict and vaccinate against the strain that will cause the next influenza pandemic,” said Marios Koutsakos, a researcher at the University of Melbourne’s Doherty Institute.

T cells are a type of white blood cell that roams the body scanning for abnormalities and infections. They are essential for human immunity against a host of invading bacteria and viruses.

So-called “killer” T cells are unique in that they can directly target and kill other infected cells.

Koutsakos and his colleagues used mass spectrometry — a scanning technique that helps separate molecules based on their mass — to identify parts of the virus that are shared across all flu strains, and realised that killer T cells could effectively fight variations of influenza A, B and C.

Flu is especially dangerous for elderly people, children and those with compromised immune systems, as well as certain ethnic groups who never developed immune responses to the disease.

The team behind the research has patented their discovery, and researchers said they hoped it would enable them to develop a universal influenza vaccine “to reduce the impact of pandemic and seasonal influenza around the world”

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« Reply #2995 on: Apr 19, 2019, 03:56 AM »

Trump policy of less safety and more offshore drilling is 'a recipe for disaster'

Nine years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Trump administration is exacerbating the industry’s ‘systemic failures’, report warns

Oliver Milman in New York
19 Apr 2019 09.00 BST

Offshore oil and gas drilling in the US is plagued by “systemic failures” in oversight that are being worsened by Trump administration attempts to expand drilling and roll back safety requirements, a new report has warned.

The analysis of public documents by the conservation group Oceana found that while some minor improvements have been made since the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, a system of lax oversight, paltry fines and overstretched inspectors risks further major oil spills.

This situation is further deteriorating due to the Trump administration opening up almost all US waters to offshore drilling, as well as repealing Obama-era safety rules put in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill, according to the report, released on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the disaster.
US official reveals Atlantic drilling plan while hailing Trump’s ability to distract public
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“Less safety and more drilling is a recipe for disaster,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana. “We should be implementing safety reforms, not rolling back what we have. Nearly 10 years on from the BP disaster, overarching failures haven’t been remedied.”

The report criticizes the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling, for relying upon industry-written standards and for regularly granting exemptions to safety rules.

Penalties for rule-breaking by drilling companies are capped at little more than $44,000 per violation per day, with just 120 BSEE inspectors tasked with conducting 20,000 inspections in US waters each year. Oceana called this oversight regime “alarming” and demanded a much tougher system of inspections and fines.

A spokeswoman for BSEE said the agency had doubled its number of inspectors since 2010 “to significantly enhance our inspection program and ensure that we are providing sufficient oversight to drive improved safety performance and environmental stewardship.

“BSEE has made significant advances in technology, safety and environmental management systems, inspection strategies and risk management, and the regulatory framework since 2010,” reducing the risk of another accident, the representative said.

Conservationists have attacked the Trump administration for its sweeping “energy dominance” agenda that has seen oil and gas businesses invited to explore for resources in waters surrounding the US, including swaths of the Atlantic and Arctic previously put out of bounds due to concerns over environmental impacts and vocal opposition from coastal communities.

Many leading Republicans in coastal states have also expressed alarm over the huge expansion in drilling, with some warning that the potential auctioning off of Florida’s waters could cost Donald Trump dearly in the state in the 2020 presidential election.

In September, BSEE eased key safety rules put in place by the Obama administration in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon calamity, where an explosion killed 11 people and caused millions of barrels of oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, fouling the coastline. BSEE said the watered-down rule would save industry around $13m a year.

While the BP oil spill is considered the worst environmental disaster in US history, smaller-scale oil spills are commonplace in US waters, with about 6,500 leaks occurring in federal waters between 2007 and 2017.

One such oil spill is now in its 15th year, with up to 700 barrels of oil a day flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from a wrecked Taylor Energy oil platform, which was toppled by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

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« Reply #2996 on: Apr 19, 2019, 03:59 AM »

The Alps will lose all their glaciers by 2100 if we don’t do something about it


We could be looking at ice-free Alps by 2100. And yes, it’s because of climate change.

Matterhorn, the ‘Peak of the Meadows’, a mountain in the Alpine range straddling the border between Switzerland and Italy.
Image via Pixabay.

New research found that the European Alps could lose all their glacier ice by the end of the century. Under a limited warming scenario, the mountain range would lose about two-thirds of their current ice volume. However, under a strong, unmitigated warming scenario, virtually all Alpine glaciers will be gone by 2100.
Alps, stirred, no ice

    “Glaciers in the European Alps and their recent evolution are some of the clearest indicators of the ongoing changes in climate,” says senior co-author Daniel Farinotti from ETH Zurich.

    “The future of these glaciers in indeed at risk, but there is still a possibility to limit their future losses.”

The study provides the most up-to-date estimates of how Alpine glaciers (of which there are around 4000) will evolve in the coming decades, the team writes. According to the results, large changes in glacier ice volume in this area will occur in the next few decades. From 2017 to 2050, for example, the team expects roughly 50% of their volume to melt away — regardless of any slashing of emissions on our part (due to climate inertia). After 2050, however, “the future evolution of glaciers will strongly depend on how the climate will evolve,” says study-leader Harry Zekollari.

    “In case of a more limited warming, a far more substantial part of the glaciers could be saved,” Zekollari, a researcher at ETH Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, now at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, adds.

This melting will have a pronounced impact on local alpine ecosystems, of which the glaciers play an important part. Local landscape and economy are also likely to see perturbations, the team adds. The glaciers supply local ecosystems with fresh water, and keep local agriculture and hydroelectricity production going in warm or dry periods. They also attract a lot of tourists.

Zekollari and his team used computer models that combined ice-flow and ice-melt processes with observational data to see how Alpine glaciers will fare in the future. They used 2017, when Alpine glaciers had a total volume of about 100 cubic kilometers, as the ‘present day’ reference.

Under a limited warming scenario (RCP2.6), where greenhouse gas emissions would peak in the next few years and then decline sharply — leading to warming below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels by 2100 — Alpine glaciers would lose around 37 cubic kilometers of ice by the end of the century.

Under a high-emissions scenario (RCP8.5), where emissions would continue to rise rapidly over the next few decades, the glaciers would be virtually gone by 2100.

    “In this pessimistic case, the Alps will be mostly ice free by 2100, with only isolated ice patches remaining at high elevation, representing 5% or less of the present-day ice volume,” says Matthias Huss, a researcher at ETH Zurich and co-author of the study.

It pays to keep in mind that our current emissions are just above the quantities considered for this scenario.

All in all, no matter what we do, the Alps would lose around 50% of their glacier volume by 2050. This happens because all the greenhouse gases we’ve already emitted will linger in the atmosphere for a while — until they break down, mean temperature increase is largely independent of new emissions. However, what happens after 2050 is very much in our hands. Another reason for this decline in glacier volume by 2050, the team adds, is that the Alpine glaciers currently have ‘too much’ ice. Their volume, especially at lower elevations, still reflects the colder climate of the past, as glaciers are slow to respond to changing climate conditions.

Even if we manage to stop the climate from warming any further, keeping it at the level of the past 10 years, glaciers would still lose about 40% of their present-day volume by 2050 because of this “glacier response time,” says Zekollari.

The paper ” Modelling the future evolution of glaciers in the European Alps under the EURO-CORDEX RCM ensemble” has been published in the journal The Cryosphere.

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« Reply #2997 on: Apr 19, 2019, 04:03 AM »

'The perfect storm': hydrogen gains ground on LNG as alternative fuel

With demand set to rise across the world, Australia is set to become a global primary producer of hydrogen

Royce Kurmelovs

In March, the Queensland University of Technology made history when it achieved the first export of a small quantity of clean, green hydrogen produced in Australia from renewable energy, to Japanese energy giant JXTG – proving that it was in fact possible.

Hydrogen is increasingly being seen as an alternative to LNG and other fossil fuels and Australia has a lot to gain from a new export industry, with companies such as Woodside Energy and Siemens already investing.

Each year the world consumes 55 million tonnes of hydrogen, a figure which is expected to increase dramatically over the next decade. As countries such as Japan and South Korea embrace hydrogen to rapidly decarbonise their economies in response to climate change, global demand is expected to rise by eight million tonnes as of 2030 and about 35 million tonnes by 2040.

While hydrogen is used in the manufacture of glass, steel and fertiliser, the greatest demand is likely to come from its use as a fuel for hydrogen-powered electric cars, long-haul heavy transport and public transport such as buses.

And while Australia may not be able to make those vehicles, it has the potential to become a primary producer of hydrogen. The only thing holding it back is the pace at which it embraces the technology and build its industrial capacity over the next few years.

So far, the main roadblock has been political will. This seemed to have been resolved in February when the Coalition announced it would hold public consultations on establishing the new industry before the next election.

Labor has likewise set aside $1bn in funding for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to develop clean hydrogen technologies and an additional $90m for the Australia Renewable Energy Agency for research.

Support for a clean hydrogen industry has been a long time coming. In August 2018, Dr Alan Finkel, Australia’s chief scientist, released a National Hydrogen Roadmap spelling out how Australia could develop a hydrogen export industry.

Finkel’s plan was adopted by COAG and the 30 companies currently working on hydrogen projects in Australia knew they had a future.

Dr Fiona Beck, a theoretical physicist working with an ANU team recently awarded $10m in funding to conduct holistic research into setting up a hydrogen export industry in the Asia-Pacific, compared the current state of hydrogen to the early days of solar.

“With hydrogen, there is really the feeling right now that it’s not just researchers and technologists talking about this. There is the alignment. The perfect storm,” said Beck.

She said in the past hydrogen faced objections from people who said it just was not possible. Like solar, the technology had been around since the 1970s, but it was only with a growing awareness of climate change and the need for a transition that the technology started to receive more attention.

A hydrogen powered bus is refuelled at a depot in London. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Broadly, there are currently three ways to make hydrogen. Brown hydrogen is is produced when the element is stripped out of fossil fuels such as coal, while blue hydrogen is produced from gas. Green hydrogen is produced from running an electric current through water using an electrolyser powered by renewable energy such as solar.

While the current policy focus has been on the production of blue hydrogen, the technology needed to produce, store and transport green hydrogen at scale is improving rapidly.

Among industry titans, Woodside Petroleum chief executive Peter Coleman said blue hydrogen is currently the cheapest to produce and, while he didn’t see exports reaching scale until 2030, the company was already planning ahead.

“The technology is ready today but has not been widely deployed in Australia,” Coleman said. “We view hydrogen production and export as a potential adjacent activity to our core business of LNG. We are also ideally placed to produce hydrogen in the north-west of Australia, where we have access to abundant sunshine for solar power.

“Blue hydrogen is the key to building scale and lowering costs in hydrogen transport and distribution, which will enable an earlier transition to renewable green hydrogen, produced through electrolysis of water, powered by renewables. The earlier we can shift, the faster we can reduce emissions.”

Martin Hablutzel, the head of strategy for Siemens – which manufacturers electrolysers, the main equipment needed to make zero carbon hydrogen – said the company welcomed bipartisan support for the industry and said demand for the company’s equipment is growing.

“What we need now is for Australia to fast-track green hydrogen projects of scale and governments to have a clear role in supporting this great new industry as it establishes,” Hablutzel said.

Where once their electrolysers were only capable of turning kilowatts of renewable energy into clean hydrogen, the company is now building larger scale devices.

Siemens will soon deliver a unit with a 1.25MW capacity to the Tonsley Innovation District in South Australia. It also offers another unit capable of scaling up above 10MW, with plans for newer equipment capable of producing into the triple digits.

Other companies aren’t waiting either. Yara Pilbara operates a fertiliser plant on the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia’s far north and is racing to commercialise hydrogen production in partnership with French company Engie. Hydrogen is a key ingredient in fertiliser and general manager Chris Rijkson says the company sees it as a way to decarbonise its range.

While the original plan was to build a test-site, about a year ago Yara Pilbara chose to skip straight to building a full-scale 100MW solar-powered commercial-scale green hydrogen plant with a 66MW electrolyser. If successful, it would be the first in the world.

“With this we could make our whole product portfolio carbon-free in the future,” Rijkson said. “On top of that, Yara is looking into what other options there are to produce fuel in the future.”

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« Reply #2998 on: Apr 19, 2019, 04:06 AM »

Forget Brexit and focus on climate change, Greta Thunberg tells EU

Teenager who started school strike movement urges MEPs to ‘wake up and take action’

Jennifer Rankin in Strasbourg

The teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has chided EU leaders for holding three emergency summits on Brexit and none on the threat posed by climate change.

In a clarion call to Europe’s political leaders ahead of European parliament elections in May, the founder of the school strike movement said if politicians were serious about tackling climate change they would not spend all their time “talking about taxes or Brexit”.

In a typically blunt speech, she said politicians were failing to take enough action on climate change and the threats to the natural world.

“Our house is falling apart and our leaders need to start acting accordingly because at the moment they are not,” the 16-year old schoolgirl from Sweden told a standing room-only meeting of MEPs and EU officials in Strasbourg.

“If our house was falling apart our leaders wouldn’t go on like we do today,” she said. “If our house was falling apart, you wouldn’t hold three emergency Brexit summits and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate and the environment.”

While climate change is sometimes discussed at the EU’s regular summits, the issue has never dominated because Brexit, migration or the eurozone crisis have monopolised the attention of Europe’s top leaders.

Greta’s 10-minute speech was interrupted by frequent applause and ended with a 30-second standing ovation.

Before she began speaking, many in the room rose to their feet to applaud and take photos of her as she sat on the podium surrounded by cameras.

As the young climate activist spoke of a “sixth mass extinction”, her voice faltered. “The extinction rate is up to 10,000 times faster than what is considered normal, with up to 200 species becoming extinct every single day,” she said. “Erosion of fertile topsoil, deforestation of the rainforest, toxic air pollution, loss of insects and wildlife, acidification of our oceans – these are all disastrous trends.”

She was applauded after getting to the end of the passage and continued the speech without faltering again.

Greta had previously addressed the UN climate change summit in Poland and the World Economic Forum in Davos since her lone protest outside the Swedish parliament last August triggered a worldwide school strike movement to raise the alarm about climate change.

Neither was it the first time Greta had taken her uncompromising message to the EU institutions. In February, she told an audience including the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU needed to double the ambition of its climate targets.

At that time, the parliament’s senior leaders, led by the European parliament president, Antonio Tajani, decided against inviting Greta to address MEPs in the parliament’s debating chamber. Centre-right and liberal groups argued against the invitation, which had been proposed by the Greens. Objections ranged from the potential vulnerability of a child exposed to the chamber to a desire to reserve the plenary address for politicians or senior officials.

The meeting took place in the more low-key setting of a special meeting of the European parliament’s environment committee.

Noting the imminent European elections and the fact that her generation could not vote, Greta urged MEPs to listen to scientists and millions of children who had taken part in school strikes. “In this election, you vote for the future living conditions of humankind,” she said.

Referring to Monday’s fire at Notre Dame in Paris in her speech, Greta called for “cathedral thinking” to tackle climate change.

“It is still not too late to act. It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce, fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations where we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling,” she said. “In other words it will take cathedral thinking. I ask you to please wake up and make changes required possible.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWsM9-_zrKo

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« Reply #2999 on: Apr 19, 2019, 04:08 AM »

A topless photo ruined this teacher's career. Now she's speaking out

Lauren Miranda says what should have been an innocuous photo spun out of control – and would have a different outcome for a man in her position

Lucia Graves
Fri 19 Apr 2019 06.00 BST

Lauren Miranda’s nightmare began as a school day like any other. She was teaching math during first period at Bellport middle school on Long Island, New York, when she received a text from a friend in another building. There was a nude photo going around, and kids were saying it was her.

“I just thought it was impossible,” Miranda told the Guardian. “I was almost offended that she thought it was a picture of me.”

But when she arrived in the principal’s office, he spun the computer monitor around to show her the image in question. There it was: a picture of her topless on the screen. She had sent the picture to one and one person only: a male colleague she was dating.

“It’s one of those things you read about in the newspaper. You never expect it to be you,” she said.

That Friday, 11 January 2019, changed her life forever, sparking a lively conversation about citizen rights, privacy in the age of sexting and social media and even the right to be sexual – with Miranda at the center of it.

    All of these milestones were ripped away from me because of a picture of my upper body
    Lauren Miranda

“I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” she said of her dream of being a math teacher. “I was so proud of myself and so proud of everything that I’ve accomplished being 25 years old and about to be granted tenure – all of these milestones were ripped away from me because of a picture of my upper body.”

Miranda was suspended immediately after the 11 January meeting with the principal. The school board voted to fire her several months later, following a closed-door meeting in March.

Now she’s suing the school district and its administrators for her job back or for $3m in restitution for gender discrimination, claiming in court documents that they failed to conduct a “full and adequate” review.

The school district declined to discuss the case, saying in a statement from the superintendent, Joseph Giani: “The district does not comment on active litigation.”

The photo at the center of the controversy was one Miranda had taken at home in 2016, sitting on the floor before a mirror, a towel draped across her legs and her breasts exposed.

A letter recommending her termination faulted her for having “caused, allowed or otherwise made it possible” for the photo of her to circulate, or for “failing to take adequate precautionary measures” in preventing its circulation.

Miranda had only shared the image with a colleague she was dating, according to court documents. “I gave one person permission to have this picture. How it got out I can only speculate but I never gave anyone aside from one person permission to have my personal image,” she said.

She had told the school as much, but said it didn’t seem to register. The male teacher in question was not disciplined or discharged for the photos purportedly disseminated to students, according to a notice of complaint.

The man she sent it to has not been named publicly, so his side of things cannot be told. Miranda said the story isn’t about the man she sent the photo to, whom she is no longer dating.

It’s about how what should have been an innocuous photo spun out of control, threatening to ruin her career. And how different she thinks it would be for a man in her position.

“It’s always the boys hurting the girls and the girls taking the brunt of it,” she said. “Having this picture gain so much traction really shows the disparity between how women are viewed and how men are viewed, and how men can openly sexualize women and how it’s a real problem.”

Before the topless photo surfaced publicly, Miranda had received high praise for her work as a middle school math teacher, according to a performance evaluation shared by her lawyer, John Ray, and seemed on track to receive tenure the following year.

Afterwards, however, school officials told Miranda she could no longer serve as a “role model” for students, according to Ray. After all, the image was an unwelcome distraction and not something students could not unsee, regardless of how it got out.

The case is a personal one for Miranda, who grew up nearby in a small beach town on the southern shore of Long Island and has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember.

“I started there when I was student teaching in college,” she said of the school, “so to now not be treated with any type of dignity or respect or even be treated in a professional manner, hit that much harder.”

She didn’t set out to become a poster child for women’s rights, but she hopes there’s a teachable moment in helping students navigate a new era in digital privacy.

Last fall GQ declared “The age of sending nudes is upon us”, and the same month Miranda was voted out of her job nearly 50 students were caught sharing nude photos of their classmates at a Georgia high school.

A study done by security software firm McAfee in the wake of former congressman Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal found 70% of people ages 18 to 24 receive sexually suggestive photos and messages. And numbers among young people appear to be on the rise.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has already been swept up in a fake nude photo scandal. And a real one involving Jeff Bezos lost steam when his would-be extorters realized that in 2019, a semi-clothed photo just isn’t that compromising.

Not if you’re a man, anyway.

For Miranda, it still cost her job, even as – like so many other Americans who’ve seen their photos circulated without their permission – she has said she has no knowledge of how her image leaked.

No wonder she has received an outpouring of sympathy in the community and online.

“Because you can’t have a private sex life *and* be a role model at the same time, apparently? this story makes me want to bash my head against a wall,” tweeted Ej Dickson, a writer at Rolling Stone.

“How are we still here in the discourse,” tweeted the writer Rachel Syme.

Locally, protesters have voiced support for Miranda, including the activist known as Sister Leona, who did so topless and interviewed with Vice.

    At the end of the day it really comes down to: the picture is just a picture of my upper body – it’s not offensive
    Lauren Miranda

Miranda never intended to become the cause du jour, but the central irony of combatting her firing is that she has had to fight her case against the private photo that ruined her life when it became public by going even more public with it.

That hasn’t come naturally to the 25-year-old teacher, who has described herself as “a very private person” – she would rather be teaching math. But it does appear to be what her new lesson plan requires.

“It’s a huge problem, even just in terms of adolescents not taking the severity of the situation into consideration because they have no education on it. They don’t know what’s appropriate, how to appropriately use social media, how harmful and detrimental it could be,” she said.

In court, however, the case will probably hinge less on digital privacy than gender parity and, specifically, the sexualizing of women’s nipples while men are free to flaunt their chests.

“At the end of the day it really comes down to: the picture is just a picture of my upper body – it’s not offensive,” Miranda said. “A guy wouldn’t have the same problem. If a male teacher took the same picture with a towel around his waist sitting in his room getting ready, he wouldn’t be fired.”

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