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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 145524 times)
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« Reply #450 on: May 12, 2013, 06:22 AM »

New Virus Can Probably Pass Person to Person-WHO

Published: May 12, 2013 at 7:43 AM ET  

RIYADH (Reuters) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Sunday it appeared likely that the novel coronavirus, which has killed 18 people in the Middle East and Europe, could be passed between people in close contact.

The coronavirus is from the same viral family that triggered the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that swept the world after starting in Asia in late 2003 and killed 775 people.

WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda, speaking after a visit to Saudi Arabia, the site of the largest cluster of infections, told reporters in Riyadh there was no evidence so far that the virus was able to sustain "generalised transmission in communities".

But he added: "Of most concern ... is the fact that the different clusters seen in multiple countries ... increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact, this novel coronavirus can transmit from person to person."

A public health expert, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter, said "close contact" in this context meant being in the same small, enclosed space with an infected person for a prolonged period of time.

(Reporting by Angus McDowall, Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Angus MacSwan)


May 12, 2013

France Confirms 2nd Case of SARS-Related Virus


PARIS (AP) — The French Health Ministry says a second case of a deadly new respiratory virus related to SARS has been confirmed.

A ministry statement issued Sunday said a hospital roommate of the 65-year-old man who initially contracted the virus has tested positive.

The two shared a room for a few days in late April at Valenciennes hospital in northern France, and hence were in "prolonged and close contact." Both are now hospitalized in nearby Lille.

Four suspected cases, all people who had contact with the initial patient, were false alarms.

The novel coronavirus has killed 18 people since being identified last year in the Middle East, out of 30 confirmed cases reported to the World Health Organization since September 2012.

The first France patient had just returned from vacationing in Dubai.
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« Reply #451 on: May 12, 2013, 07:08 AM »

Plants use underground fungus network to send ‘distress signals’ to each other

By David Ferguson
Friday, May 10, 2013 15:04 EDT

British researchers released a study on Thursday saying that plants can communicate with each other by using an underground network of fungi. According to the BBC, the study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, said that plants signal each other when they are under attack by aphids to that other plants can secrete chemicals that repel aphids and attract the wasps that are the aphids’ natural predators.

Scientists from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, the James Hutton Institute and Rothamstead Research joined forces to devise an experiment to test what role these threadlike fungi, called mycorrhizae, play in aiding communication between plants in distress.

The type of distress they chose to inflict on the plants and test their response was an attack by aphids. Aphids are tiny insects that feed on a variety of plants and many plants have developed an arsenal of chemical defenses to use against them.

The research team grew sets of five broad bean plants. In each set of five, three were allowed to grow mycorrhizal tissue around their roots. Two were prevented from doing so.

The scientists then isolated the plants from each other above ground, covering them with bags and thereby preventing airborne chemicals (one form of plant communication) from traveling from one plant to the other. Then, the team introduced the aphids.

In the plants that were connected by fungi, when a single plant was infected with aphids, the other two plants began to mount their chemical defenses, secreting aphid-repelling substances that also attract the wasps that feed on aphid larvae. The plants that were not connected by mycorrhizae were apparently not warned of the attack on the single plant in their group because they secreted no defensive chemicals.

When the bean plants come under attack, their chemical defenses trigger a reaction in the chemical composition of the fungi, causing a chain reaction that leads to the next bean plant, which, in its turn, detects the distress chemicals in the fungi and reacts by releasing its own chemical defenses.

John Pickett of Rothamsted Research told the BBC that the fungi are engaged in a two-way relationship with the bean plants.

“Mycorrhizal fungi need to get [products of photosynthesis] from the plant, and they have to do something for the plant,” he said. “In the past, we thought of them making nutrients available from the [roots and soil], but now we see another evolutionary role for them in which they pay the plant back by transmitting the signal efficiently.”

The discovery took scientists by surprise, but Pickett calls the fungal network “a fantastic signaling system.”

The team hopes that their discovery can contribute to pest-resistance and additional hardiness for food plants in the field.

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« Reply #452 on: May 12, 2013, 03:55 PM »

‘Glacier on speed’ nearly swallows Minnesota homes

A glacier-like “ice wave” struck northern Minnesota on Friday, nearly swallowing up homes in an astonishing natural phenomenon that was caught on tape by shocked residents.

NBC affiliate WPTV described the bizarre scene as like watching “a glacier on speed” as high winds and crashing waves pushed the mass of ice shards toward homes, a terrible crunching/scratching noise following it the whole way. Observers estimated that the ice was moving up to two feet per minute.


Video here:

Its worth tolerating the 30 second commercial you have to watch first

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« Reply #453 on: May 13, 2013, 05:57 AM »

New coronavirus can spread between humans, says WHO official

World Health Organisation expert plays down fears of pandemic, saying prolonged contact is needed to transmit disease

Reuters, Monday 13 May 2013 08.39 BST   

A World Health Organisation (WHO) official has said it seems likely that a new coronavirus that has killed at least 18 people in the Middle East and Europe can be passed between humans, but only after prolonged contact.

A virus from the same family triggered the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) that swept the world after emerging in Asia and killed 775 people in 2003.

French authorities announced on Sunday that a second man had been diagnosed with the disease after sharing a hospital room with France's only other sufferer.

The WHO's assistant director general, Keiji Fukuda, told reporters in Saudi Arabia, the site of the largest cluster of infections, that there was no evidence so far the virus was able to sustain "generalised transmission in communities" – a scenario that would raise the spectre of a pandemic.

But he said the main concern was that the clusters seen in several countries "increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact, this novel coronavirus can transmit from person to person".

Countries need to increase levels of awareness, he said.

A public health expert who declined to be identified said close contact meant being in a small, enclosed space with an infected person for a prolonged period.

The virus emerged in the Gulf last year but cases have also been recorded in Britain and France among people who had recently been in the Middle East. A total of 34 cases worldwide have been confirmed by blood tests so far.


Mysterious SARS-like virus kills 15 people in Saudi Arabia

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 12, 2013 14:01 EDT

Fifteen people in Saudi Arabia have died from a SARS-like virus out of 24 people who contracted it since last August, Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabia said on Sunday.

“The number of people who contracted the virus in the kingdom since August/September is 24, of whom 15 have died,” Rabia told a news conference in Riyadh.

An earlier toll provided on Tuesday by the World Health Organisation said 11 people had died in Saudi Arabia since last year from the disease whose medical term is NCoV-EMC, or novel coronavirus.

Rabia also said three other people are suspected of having contracted the virus in Saudi Arabia, pledging to announce with “full transparency” the results of their medical tests.

The WHO’s assistant director general for health security and the environment, Keiji Fukuda, told a Riyadh news conference on Sunday the new virus posed an “important and major challenge” for countries affected and the world generally.

He said experts were still grappling to understand all aspects of the virus and how humans become infected, stressing, however, that “this new virus is not the SARS virus.”

“This is a new infection and there are also many gaps in our knowledge that will inevitably take time to fill in,” a WHO statement cited Fukuda as saying.

“The greatest global concern, however, is about the potential for this new virus to spread. Of most concern, however, is the fact that the different clusters seen in multiple countries increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact this novel coronavirus can transmit from person-to-person,” he said.

“This pattern of person-to-person transmission has remained limited to some small clusters, and so far, there is no evidence that this virus has the capacity to sustain generalised transmission in communities.”

Since the virus was first recorded in September 2012, there have been 34 cases reported worldwide, and 18 of those have died, according to the WHO.

While it has been deadliest in Saudi Arabia, cases have also been reported in Jordan, Germany, Britain and France where two patients are now in hospital in the northern city of Lille.

It is a cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which triggered a scare 10 years ago when it erupted in east Asia, leaping to humans from animal hosts and eventually killing some 800 people.

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« Reply #454 on: May 13, 2013, 05:59 AM »

Bugs are the food of the future: UN

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 13, 2013 7:16 EDT

Beetles, caterpillars and wasps could supplement the diets of billions of people globally and help feed livestock, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Monday, calling for more investment in edible insect farming.

“One of the many ways to address food and feed insecurity is through insect farming,” the report said, pointing out that insects were “nutritious, with high protein, fat and mineral contents”.

“Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly, and they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint,” it said.

But the authors admitted that “consumer disgust remains one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries”.

It suggested that the food industry could help in “raising the status of insects” by including them in new recipes and putting them on restaurant menus.

The report also called for better regulation and mechanisation for using insects as feed — an industry that at present “cannot compete” with traditional sources of feed.

“The use of insects on a large scale as a feed ingredient is technically feasible, and established companies in various parts of the world are already leading the way,” it added.
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« Reply #455 on: May 13, 2013, 06:25 AM »

UK government to oppose 2025 European vehicle emissions target

Department for Transport argues that proposal will delay agreement on 2015 and 2020 targets

Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, Monday 13 May 2013 11.07 BST   

Greenpeace activists highlight the fact that Norman Baker MP opposed laws that make new cars cleaner
Activists from Greenpeace on Monday morning unveiled a large banner in Norman Baker’s constituency in Lewes, in east Sussex, calling on him to accept the proposals. Photograph: Greenpeace

The UK government is to oppose a proposal for a tough new EU-wide target on carbon emissions from vehicles, provoking protests from environmental campaigners.

The proposal for a 2025 target, by which emissions per car should not exceed 70g of carbon dioxide per kilometre, was made by Fiona Hall, a Liberal Democrat MEP.

At present, the European commission is working with member states and MEPs to put in place targets on emissions from cars that would apply for the period from now to 2020. The targets would be that emissions from new vehicles sold in 2015 should be no higher than 130g CO2/km, and cars rolling off production lines in 2020 should have emissions not exceeding 95g CO2/km.

Hall, who sits on the industry research and energy committee in the EU parliament, wants a 2025 target to be included as well, in order to give car companies more time to prepare for the changes beyond 2020.

But the Department for Transport (DfT), where Lib Dem Norman Baker is a minister, argues that trying to extend the targets beyond 2020 at this stage will only cause delays to the process of agreeing the 2015 and 2020 targets, which a spokeswoman said needed to be agreed as soon as possible to ensure that car manufacturers can put them in place in time.

After they have been accepted, then work could begin on considering proposals for 2025 and beyond, according to the department.

A DfT spokeswoman said: "It is important to strike the right balance by supporting ambitious targets, while ensuring we do not hinder industry growth or competitiveness and encourage continued investments in low carbon vehicle technologies in the EU. Beyond 2020, it is likely that some form of mandatory targets will continue to be an effective measure for reducing CO2. We would only consider specific targets following a commission review and assessment of the impacts to ensure that target levels were ambitious, but realistic and based on sound evidence."

But Sara Ayech, campaigner at Greenpeace, said a 2025 proposal could be included without delaying the current considerations, if it were put in place as an indicative target range that could be firmed up in future years after the requisite impact assessments. She said if such a target was not included in this round, it would make it much harder in future to set a 2025 limit in time. Greenpeace said that the proposed 2025 target could save motorists up to £400 a year in fuel costs.

The government's opposition to setting mandatory car emissions targets beyond 2020 mirrors its position on other environmental goals. The European commission wants to start work on setting targets for emissions cuts beyond 2020, and to put in place targets on renewable energy generation for 2030 that would allow for greater certainty beyond the current 2020 stipulation, of generating 20% of energy from renewable by that date.

But the coalition – despite the unease of many Lib Dems, and many businesses, which would like to see longer term targets on key green goals, as a way of helping companies and governments to prepare for the long term – has strongly opposed setting any new EU mandatory green goals beyond 2020.

It is understood that George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, has taken a stance against new mandatory targets.

Details of the transport department's position were contained in a document sent to MEPs, and seen by the Guardian. The document was publicly released by Greenpeace on Monday morning.

Ayech said: "These documents reveal that there is a split at the heart of the Liberal Democrats over policy to reduce carbon emissions and save motorists money. Baker should follow the progressive political lead of Hall and support laws that will help the environment while putting an average of £400 a year back into the pockets of hard-pressed motorists."

Activists from Greenpeace on Monday morning unveiled a large banner in Baker's constituency in Lewes, in east Sussex, calling on him to accept Hall's proposals. A petition with more than 20,000 signatures from the UK, and tens of thousands more from across Europe, will also be presented to the MP.

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« Reply #456 on: May 13, 2013, 06:28 AM »

One-third of animal species will be hit by climate change, scientists warn

Plant and animal species could see dramatic losses as habitats become unsuitable and ecosystems collapse

Press Association, Monday 13 May 2013 10.02 BST   

One-third of common land animals could see dramatic losses this century because of climate change, scientists predict.

More than half of plants could be hit the same way as habitats become unsuitable for numerous species.

The collapse of ecosystems would have major economic impacts on agriculture, air quality, clean water access, and tourism.

Global temperatures are set to rise 4C above preindustrial levels by 2100 if nothing is done to stem greenhouse gas emissions.

This could have a hugely destructive effect on thousands of common as well as rare and endangered species around the world, according to the researchers.

An estimated 57% of plants and 34% of animals were likely to lose half or more of their habitat range.

But the damage would be greatly reduced if emissions were scaled down in time, the study shows. Losses are reduced by 60% if global warming is cut to 2% above preindustrial levels, with emissions peaking in 2016 and then being reduced by 5% a year. If emissions peak in 2030, losses are reduced by 40%.

Lead scientist Dr Rachel Warren, from the University of East Anglia's school of environmental science, said: "While there has been much research on the effect of climate change on rare and endangered species, little has been known about how an increase in global temperature will affect more common species.

"This broader issue of potential range loss in widespread species is a serious concern as even small declines in these species can significantly disrupt ecosystems.

"Our research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world. This loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides."

The findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, are based on information from a biodiversity database listing 48,786 animal and plant species and computer-run climate simulations.

Reptiles and amphibians were especially sensitive to changes in the environments where they lived, the study showed.

The largest numbers of plants and animals were likely to be lost from sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia. Major losses of plant species were also predicted for North Africa, Central Asia and south-eastern Europe.

A small proportion of species – 4% of animals and no plants – were expected to benefit from climate change by increasing their habitat ranges by more than 50%.

Human populations depend on natural ecosystems in a number of ways, explained Warren. For instance, wetland vegetation helped to filter and clean fresh water.

Air quality was also affected by chemicals released and extracted by living systems, while tree and plant cover prevented soil erosion and limited flood damage.

"It's important because the erosion of species richness among widespread and common species means that the functions ecosystems provide for humans across the whole global land surface will be very significantly reduced," said Warren. "These are important services such as air and water purification, soil stabilisation and nutrient recycling that we take for granted."

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« Reply #457 on: May 14, 2013, 05:57 AM »

US windfarms avoiding prosecution for eagle deaths

More than 83,000 hunting birds are killed by windfarms each year but no wind energy company has been fined

Associated Press, Tuesday 14 May 2013 11.33 BST   

The Obama administration has never fined or prosecuted a windfarm for killing eagles and other protected bird species, shielding the industry from liability and helping keep the scope of the deaths secret, an Associated Press investigation has found.

More than 573,000 birds are killed by the country's windfarms each year, including 83,000 hunting birds such as hawks, falcons and eagles, according to an estimate published in March in the peer-reviewed Wildlife Society Bulletin.

Each death is federal crime, a charge that the Obama administration has used to prosecute oil companies when birds drown in their waste pits, and power companies when birds are electrocuted by their power lines. No wind energy company has been prosecuted, even those that repeatedly flout the law.

Wind power, a pollution-free energy intended to ease global warming, is a cornerstone of President Barack Obama's energy plan. His administration has championed a $1bn-a-year tax break to the industry that has nearly doubled the amount of wind power in his first term.

"It is the rationale that we have to get off of carbon, we have to get off of fossil fuels, that allows them to justify this," said Tom Dougherty, a long-time environmentalist who worked for nearly 20 years for the National Wildlife Federation in the West, until his retirement in 2008. "But at what cost? In this case, the cost is too high."

Documents and emails obtained by The Associated Press offer glimpses of the problem: 14 deaths at seven facilities in California, five each in New Mexico and Oregon, one in Washington state and another in Nevada, where an eagle was found with a hole in its neck, exposing the bone.

One of the deadliest places in the country for golden eagles is Wyoming, where federal officials said windfarms had killed more than four dozen golden eagles since 2009, predominantly in the southeastern part of the state. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to disclose the figures. Getting precise figures is impossible because many companies aren't required to disclose how many birds they kill. And when they do, experts say, the data can be unreliable.

When companies voluntarily report deaths, the Obama administration in many cases refuses to make the information public, saying it belongs to the energy companies or that revealing it would expose trade secrets or implicate ongoing enforcement investigations.

Nearly all the birds being killed are protected under federal environmental laws, which prosecutors have used to generate tens of millions of dollars in fines and settlements from businesses, including oil and gas companies, over the past five years.

"What it boils down to is this: If you electrocute an eagle, that is bad, but if you chop it to pieces, that is OK," said Tim Eicher, a former US Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement agent.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says it is investigating 18 bird-death cases involving wind-power facilities and seven have been referred to the Justice Department. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to discuss the status of those cases.

In its defence, the wind-energy industry points out that more eagles are killed each year by cars, electrocutions and poisoning than by turbines. Dan Ashe, the Fish and Wildlife Service's director, said that his agency always has made clear to wind companies that if they kill birds they would still be liable.

"We are not allowing them to do it. They do it," he said of the bird deaths. "And we will successfully prosecute wind companies if they are in significant noncompliance."

Windfarms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors the size of jetliners.

Flying eagles behave like drivers texting on their cell phones – they don't look up. As they scan for food, they don't notice the industrial turbine blades until it's too late.

Former interior secretary Ken Salazar, in an interview with the AP before his departure, denied any preferential treatment for wind. Interior Department officials said that criminal prosecution, regardless of the industry, is always a "last resort".

"There's still additional work to be done with eagles and other avian species, but we are working on it very hard," Salazar said. "We will get to the right balance."

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has proposed a rule that would give wind-energy companies potentially decades of shelter from prosecution for killing eagles. The regulation is currently under review at the White House.

The proposal, made at the urging of the wind-energy industry, would allow companies to apply for 30-year permits to kill a set number of bald or golden eagles. Previously, companies were only eligible for five-year permits.

"It's basically guaranteeing a black box for 30 years, and they're saying 'trust us for oversight'. This is not the path forward," said Katie Umekubo, a renewable energy attorney with the Natural Resources Defence Council, who argued in private meetings with the industry and government leaders that the 30-year permit needed an in-depth environmental review.

But the eagle rule is not the first time the administration has made concessions for the wind-energy industry.

Last year, over objections from some of its own wildlife investigators and biologists, the Interior Department updated its guidelines and provided more cover for wind companies that violate the law.

Under both the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the death of a single bird without a permit is illegal.

But under the Obama administration's new guidelines, wind-energy companies don't face additional scrutiny until they have a "significant adverse impact" on wildlife or habitat.

That rare exception for one industry substantially weakened the government's ability to enforce the law and ignited controversy inside the Interior Department.

"US Fish and Wildlife Service does not do this for the electric utility industry or other industries," Kevin Kritz, a government wildlife biologist in the Rocky Mountain region wrote in internal agency comments in September 2011. "Other industries will want to be judged on a similar standard."

The Obama administration, however, repeatedly overruled its own experts. In the end, the wind energy industry, which was part of the committee that drafted and edited the guidelines, got almost everything it wanted.

"Clearly, there was a bias to wind energy in their favor because they are a renewable source of energy, and justifiably so," said Rob Manes, who runs the Kansas office for The Nature Conservancy and who served on the committee. "We need renewable energy in this country."

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« Reply #458 on: May 14, 2013, 07:31 AM »

America's first climate refugees

Monday 13 May 2013 16.10 BST

Newtok, Alaska is losing ground to the sea at a dangerous rate and for its residents, exile is inevitable.

Sabrina Warner keeps having the same nightmare: a huge wave rearing up out of the water and crashing over her home, forcing her to swim for her life with her toddler son.

"I dream about the water coming in," she said. The landscape in winter on the Bering Sea coast seems peaceful, the tidal wave of Warner's nightmare trapped by snow and several feet of ice. But the calm is deceptive. Spring break-up will soon restore the Ninglick River to its full violent force.

In the dream, Warner climbs on to the roof of her small house. As the waters rise, she swims for higher ground: the village school which sits on 20-foot pilings.

Even that isn't high enough. By the time Warner wakes, she is clinging to the roof of the school, desperate to be saved.

Warner's vision is not far removed from a reality written by climate change. The people of Newtok, on the west coast of Alaska and about 400 miles south of the Bering Strait that separates the state from Russia, are living a slow-motion disaster that will end, very possibly within the next five years, with the entire village being washed away.

The Ninglick River coils around Newtok on three sides before emptying into the Bering Sea. It has steadily been eating away at the land, carrying off 100ft or more some years, in a process moving at unusual speed because of climate change. Eventually all of the villagers will have to leave, becoming America's first climate change refugees.

It is not a label or a future embraced by people living in Newtok. Yup'ik Eskimo have been fishing and hunting by the shores of the Bering Sea for centuries and the villagers reject the notion they will now be forced to run in chaos from ancestral lands.

But exile is undeniable. A report by the US Army Corps of Engineers predicted that the highest point in the village – the school of Warner's nightmare – could be underwater by 2017. There was no possible way to protect the village in place, the report concluded.

If Newtok can not move its people to the new site in time, the village will disappear. A community of 350 people, nearly all related to some degree and all intimately connected to the land, will cease to exist, its inhabitants scattered to the villages and towns of western Alaska, Anchorage and beyond.

It's a choice confronting more than 180 native communities in Alaska, which are flooding and losing land because of the ice melt that is part of the changing climate.

The Arctic Council, the group of countries that governs the polar regions, are gathering in Sweden today. But climate change refugees are not high on their agenda, and Obama administration officials told reporters on Friday there would be no additional money to help communities in the firing line.

On the other side of the continent, the cities and towns of the east coast are waking up to their own version of Warner's nightmare: the storm surges demonstrated by hurricane Sandy. About half of America's population lives within 50 miles of a coastline. Those numbers are projected to grow even more in the coming decades.

What chance do any of those communities, in Alaska or on the Atlantic coast, have of a fair and secure future under climate change, if a tiny community like Newtok – just 63 houses in all – cannot be assured of survival?

But as the villagers of Newtok are discovering, recognising the gravity of the threat posed by climate change and responding in time are two very different matters.

Remote location

Newtok lies 480 miles due west of Anchorage. The closest town of any size, the closest doctor, gas station, or paved road, is almost 100 miles away.

The only year-round link to the outside world is via a small propeller plane from the regional hub of Bethel.

The seven-seater plane flies over a landscape that seems pancake flat under the snow: bright white for land, slightly translucent swirls for frozen rivers. There are no trees.

The village as seen from the air is a cluster of almost identical small houses, plopped down at random on the snow. The airport is a patch of cement newly swept of snow, marked off for the pilot by a circle of orange traffic cones. The airport manager runs the luggage into the centre of the village on a yellow sledge attached to his snowmobile.

Like many if not most native Alaskan villages, Newtok owes its location to a distant bureaucrat. The Yup'iks, who had lived in these parts of Alaska for hundreds of years, had traditionally used the area around present-day Newtok as a seasonal stopping-off place, convenient for late summer berry picking.

Even then, their preferred encampment, when they passed through the area, was a cluster of sod houses called Kayalavik, some miles further up river. But over the years, the authorities began pushing native Alaskans to settle in fixed locations and to send their children to school.

It was difficult for supply barges to manoeuvre as far up river as Kayalavik. After 1959, when Alaska became a state, the new authorities ordered villagers to move to a more convenient docking point.
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It takes two hours from Anchorage to fly to Bethel and another 90 minutes in a smaller plane that stops in villages on the way, to reach Newtok. Photograph: Richard Sprenger

That became Newtok. Current state officials admit the location – on low-lying mud flats between the river and the Bering Sea – was far from perfect. It certainly wasn't chosen with a view to future threats such as climate change.

"The places are often where they are because it was easy to unload the building materials and build the school and the post office there," said Larry Hartig, who heads the state's Commission on Environmental Conservation. "But they weren't the ideal place to be in terms of long-term stability and it's now creating a lot of problems that are exacerbated by melting permafrost and less of the seasonal sea ice that would form barriers between the winter storms and uplands."

It became clear by the 1990s that Newtok – like dozens of other remote communities in Alaska – was losing land at a dangerous rate. Almost all native Alaskan villages are located along rivers and sea coasts, and almost all are facing similar peril.

Alaskan villages are at risk because of climate change
million could be the full cost of moving just the one village, Newtok
Source: US GAO

A federal government report found more than 180 other native Alaskan villages – or 86% of all native communities – were at risk because of climate change. In the case of Newtok, those effects were potentially life threatening.

A study by the US Army Corps of Engineers on the effects of climate change on native Alaskan villages, the one that predicted the school would be underwater by 2017, found no remedies for the loss of land in Newtok.

The land was too fragile and low-lying to support sea walls or other structures that could keep the water out, the report said, adding that if the village did not move, the land would eventually be overrun with water. People could die.

It was a staggering verdict for Newtok. Some of the village elders remember the upheaval of that earlier move. The villagers were adamant that they take charge of the move this time and remain an intact community – not scatter to other towns.

And so after years of poring over reports, the entire community voted to relocate to higher ground across the river. The decision was endorsed by the state authorities. In December 2007, the village held the first public meeting to plan the move.

The proposed new site for Newtok, voted on by the villagers and approved by government planners, lies only nine miles away, atop a high ridge of dark volcanic rock across the river on Nelson Island. On a good day in winter, it's a half-hour bone-shaking journey across the frozen Ninglick river by snowmobile.

But the cost of the move could run as high as $130m, according to government estimates. For the villagers of Newtok, finding the cash, and finding their way through the government bureaucracy, is proving the challenge of their lives.

Five years on from that first public meeting, Newtok remains stuck where it was, the peeling tiles and the broken-down office furniture in the council office grown even shabbier, the dilapidated water treatment plant now shut down as a health hazard, an entire village tethered to a dangerous location by bureaucratic obstacles and lack of funds.

Village leaders hope that this coming summer, when conditions become warm enough for construction crews to get to work, could provide the big push Newtok needs by completing the first phase of basic infrastructure. And the effort needs a push. When the autumn storms blow in, the water rises fast.

Changing climate

Climate change remains a politically touchy subject in Alaska. The state owes its prosperity to the development of the vast Prudhoe Bay oil fields on the Arctic Coast.

Even in Newtok, there are some who believe climate change is caused by negative emotions, such as anger, hate and envy. But while some dispute the overwhelming scientific view that climate change is caused primarily by human activities, there is little argument in Alaska about its effects.

The state has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the country over the past 60 years. Freeze-up occurs later, snow is wetter and heavier. Wildfires erupt on the tundra in the summer. Rivers rush out to the sea. Moose migrate north into caribou country. Grizzlies mate with polar bear as their ranges overlap.

Even people in their 20s, like Warner and her partner Nathan Tom, can track the changes in their own lifetimes. Tom said the seasons have changed. "The snow comes in a different timing now. The snow disappears way late. That is making the geese come at the wrong time. Now they are starting to lay their eggs when there is still snow and ice and we can't go and pick them," Tom said. "It's changing a lot. It's real, global warming, it's real."

On days when the clouds move in, and the only sound is the crunch of boots on snow and the distant buzzing of snowmobiles, it's difficult to imagine a world beyond the village, let alone a threat.

But Warner has seen the river rip into land and carry off clumps of earth. "It's scary thinking about summer coming," she said. "I don't know how much more is going to erode – hopefully not as much as last year."

Warner was raised in Anchorage and Wasilla, mainly by her non-Yup'ik father. But she was introduced to Yup'ik food and Yupi'ik ways by her mother, and she has taken to village life since moving to Newtok in December 2011 to be with Tom.

Even in those short months, she said she can see the changes carved out on the land behind the family home. "When I first got here the land used to be way out there," she said, pointing towards the west. "Now that doesn't exist any more. There is no land there any more."

The river claims more of the village every year. Warmer temperatures are thawing the permafrost on which Newtok is built, and the land surface is no longer stable. The sea ice that protected the village from winter storms is thinning and receding, exposing Newtok to winter storms with 100mph winds and the waves of Warner's nightmare.

When the wind blows from the east or south, the land falls away even faster. The patch of land where Warner picked last summer to practice shooting was gone, on the other side of a sharp drop-off to the river. "The summer came, 15 or 20ft of land went just from melting, and then after we had those storms in September another 20ft went," she said. In an average year the river swallows 83ft of land a year, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. Some years of course it's more.

Living on the edge

By Richard Sprenger and Suzanne Goldenberg

Erosion is bringing the Ninglick River to Sabrina Warner and Nathan Tom's doorstep

Warner fears her house will soon be swallowed up by that hungry river. "Two more years, that's what I'm guessing. About two more years until it's right up to our house," she said.

The house is now barely 200 paces away from the drop-off point. It's become a sort of tourist stop for visitors to the village, and an educational aid for teachers at the local school. Last year, one of the teachers set out stakes to mark how fast the river was rising. At least one has already been washed away.

But it won't be long before nobody in the village is safe. Other homes, once considered well back from the river, now regularly flood.

Over the years the river, in its attack on the land, engulfed a few small ponds – some fresh water, some used as raw sewage dumps – spewing human waste across the village. Last summer it almost carried off a few dumpsters filled with old fridges and computers. It swept away the barge landing, and infested the landfill.

Sometimes, though, the river gives up treasure: villagers walking newly exposed banks have discovered mammoth tusks and fossil remains.

During one storm last autumn, Warner stayed up until 4am, waiting to see if the waves would engulf the house. "I was scared because it looked so close because our window is right there. I was just looking out, and you can see these huge waves come at you," she said.

It's not easy living with that fear every day, she concedes. Anxious residents want to know that their future will be safe. They are exhausted by the years of uncertainty and fed up with a village left to decay, with leaders' energy and every scrap of funding focussed on the relocation.

"Considering that our house is the closest, I would like it if they would at least let us know if we are going to have a house over there [at the new site]", said Warner. Tom's grandmother, who needs oxygen, lives with the couple. It would be tough to move her in the event of a disaster, although she claims she is not at all afraid.

The young couple go through times when they can't deal with the talk of relocation. Tom bought a big tent some time ago and the couple have talked about camping out at the site chosen for the new village, just to get away – from the stress, from the drama of village politics – until things are settled.

But the relocation keeps being put off.

"A few years ago, they said next year. And then last year they said next year. And next year, they are probably going to say next year again," said Tom. But he soon perks up. The village has sent local men, including Tom, for training as construction workers.

"It's picking up," he said. "I'm not afraid any more. The erosion is really fast. I know the state is going to deal with it pretty fast. They are not going to leave us hanging there."

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« Reply #459 on: May 15, 2013, 05:52 AM »

Environmentalists outraged as Rio Tinto mine gets go-ahead

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 5:27 EDT

Australia on Wednesday gave Rio Tinto the go-ahead for a controversial Aus$1.3 billion (US$1.3 billion) bauxite mine project in a decision environmentalists blasted as “vandalism on a grand scale”.

After more than a year of delays, Environment Minister Tony Burke approved Rio Tinto Alcan’s South of Embley bauxite mine and port development in western Cape York, a wilderness area in northeastern Australia.

Burke slapped 76 conditions on the project, including on shipping movements through the Great Barrier Reef and steps to protect endangered species such as turtles, dugongs and dolphins.

“My decision comes after a rigorous environmental assessment, and the conditions I have placed on the project will ensure that the region is protected,” he said.

The project includes building a power station, processing plant, warehouses and workshops, in addition to barge, ferry and ship-loading facilities to extend the life of an existing bauxite mine in the area for a further 40 years.

“Respect for the environment is central to the way we operate, and we will ensure all the conditions for the construction and operation of the project are met,” said Pat Fiore, chief executive of bauxite at Rio Tinto Alcan, an arm of Rio Tinto.

But environmentalists said Burke had approved the single biggest land clearing project in Cape York’s history, claiming it would wipe out 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of a landscape identified as being of World Heritage standard.

They also said it would mean hundreds more ships crossing the Great Barrier Reef.

“This mine will result in environmental vandalism on a grand scale,” said Tim Seelig, Queensland campaign manager for the Wilderness Society.

The approval came just days after the United Nations warned that the Great Barrier Reef’s world heritage status could be downgraded in 2014 due to rampant coastal development and water quality issues.

“Management plans and monitoring programmes don’t change the fact that Labor is letting Cape York be strip mined and allowing even more massive ships to crash through the Great Barrier Reef,” said Australian Greens environment spokeswoman Larissa Waters.

Australia is riding an unprecedented wave of resources investment due to booming demand from Asia, with hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of resource projects in the pipeline.
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« Reply #460 on: May 15, 2013, 05:53 AM »

May 15, 2013

Arctic States Open Council to China, India, SKorea


KIRUNA, Sweden (AP) — Arctic states agreed Wednesday to let nations that are located nowhere near the Earth's north to become observers to their diplomatic council, boosting rising superpowers China, India and South Korea that are seeking to mine the region for its untapped energy and other natural resources.

The European Union also was tentatively granted observer status to the eight-state council but must first address several questions about its bid, including concerns about its ban on Canadian seal exports.

It was an odd but not entirely unexpected move by the long-obscure Arctic Council, which traditionally has served as a watchdog for the rights of the region's indigenous people and protector of its fragile ecosystem.

Widespread thawing of Arctic ice, which keeps the rest of the world cooler, has alarmed environmentalists but has become an economic lure to nations seeking to ship cargo across once-frozen seas. The global warming is making the Arctic's elusive supply of oil, gas, minerals and precious metals available — in some areas, for the first time ever — as ever-expanding counties like China and India hunt for additional energy supplies.

Officials estimate the Arctic holds 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves, and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits.

Ministers suggested the inclusion of the energy-hungry nations at the Arctic Council will force them to uphold the diplomatic panel's core goals of safeguarding the region.

"There is no such thing as a free lunch," said Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide. "By becoming an observer you're also signing up to the principles embodied by this organization, and that is why we have been working hard to make that happen."

In all, six nations — China, India, Italy, Japan, Korea and Singapore — were granted observer status to the council, joining several previously-accepted counties from Europe. The eight states that are permanent members of the non-binding panel all touch the Arctic Circle, including the United States, through Alaska. Denmark is connected to the Arctic Circle through its relationship with Greenland, which is a semi-autonomous territory.

Canada's minister to the council, Leona Aglukkaq, voiced mild but restrained discomfort with the new observers to the council, which she said was created "by northerners, for northerners, before the Arctic was of interest to the rest of the world." Canada will chair of the council for the next two years.

The ministers' short meeting, which is held only every two years, also attracted a scattering of protesters form the environmental group Greenpeace, who held banners outside Kiruna's small city hall urging "No Arctic oil." A hulking black mountain, from which iron ore is mined, served as the backdrop for the meeting in the small Arctic town where snow had melted to slush.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, sporting a blue suit coat amid the ski sweaters and tribal costumes at the meeting, said the world must crack down on polluting emissions that endanger the Arctic. He said the U.S. and China are two of the globe's largest contributors to emissions.

"No one nation can solve this," Kerry said. "No one is doing enough. The problem is that everything we do, or everything that another nation does, is going to be wiped out by China or another nation if they continue with coal-fired power at the rate we are seeing. So the warning signals are there."

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« Reply #461 on: May 16, 2013, 05:51 AM »

Survey finds scientific consensus on cause of climate change: humans

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 20:34 EDT

A survey of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals has found 97.1% agreed that climate change is caused by human activity.

Authors of the survey, published on Thursday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, said the finding of near unanimity provided a powerful rebuttal to climate contrarians who insist the science of climate change remains unsettled.

The survey considered the work of some 29,000 scientists published in 11,994 academic papers. Of the 4,000-plus papers that took a position on the causes of climate change only 0.7% or 83 of those thousands of academic articles, disputed the scientific consensus that climate change is the result of human activity, with the view of the remaining 2.2% unclear.

The study described the dissent as a “vanishingly small proportion” of published research.

“Our findings prove that there is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary,” said John Cook of the University of Queensland, who led the survey.

Public opinion continues to lag behind the science. Though a majority of Americans accept the climate is changing, just 42% believed human activity was the main driver, in a poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre last October.

“There is a gaping chasm between the actual consensus and the public perception,” Cook said in a statement.

The study blamed strenuous lobbying efforts by industry to undermine the science behind climate change for the gap in perception. The resulting confusion has blocked efforts to act on climate change.

The survey was the most ambitious effort to date to demonstrate the broad agreement on the causes of climate change, covering 20 years of academic publications from 1991-2011.

In 2004, Naomi Oreskes, an historian at the University of California, San Diego,surveyed published literature, releasing her results in the journal Science. She too came up with a similar finding that 97% of climate scientists agreed on the causes of climate change.

She wrote of the new survey in an email: “It is a nice, independent confirmation, using a somewhat different methodology than I used, that comes to the same result. It also refutes the claim, sometimes made by contrarians, that the consensus has broken down, much less ‘shattered’.”

The Cook survey was broader in its scope, deploying volunteers from the website to review scientific abstracts. The volunteers also asked authors to rate their own views on the causes of climate change, in another departure from Oreskes’s methods.

The authors said the findings could help close the gap between scientific opinion and the public on the causes of climate change, or anthropogenic global warming, and so create favourable conditions for political action on climate.

“The public perception of a scientific consensus on AGW [anthropogenic, ie man-made, global warming] is a necessary element in public support for climate policy,” the study said.

However, Prof Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University who studies the forces underlying attitudes towards climate change, disputed the idea that educating the public about the broad scientific agreement on the causes of climate change would have an effect on public opinion – or on the political conditions for climate action.

He said he was doubtful that convincing the public of a scientific consensus on climate change would help advance the prospects for political action. Having elite leaders call for climate action would be far more powerful, he said.

“I don’t think people really want to come around to grips with the fact that climate change is a highly ideological issue and it is not amenable to the information deficit model,” he said.

“The information deficit model, this idea that if you just pile on more information people will get convinced, is just completely inadequate, he said. “It strengthens the people who actually read and pay attention but it is certainly not going to change or shift the opinions of others.” © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #462 on: May 16, 2013, 05:52 AM »

Two Saudi nurses infected with deadly coronavirus: WHO

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 17:59 EDT

Two Saudi health workers have contracted the deadly coronavirus from patients, marking the first evidence of transmission in a hospital setting, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

“This is the first time health care workers have been diagnosed with nCoV (novel coronavirus) infection after exposure to patients,” the WHO said in a statement.

The two health care workers were among six new cases announced by the Saudi health ministry on Tuesday.

The UN’s health body said that while other health care workers had contracted the deadly disease in Jordan, there had until now not been clear evidence that they had been infected by patients carrying the virus.

“This is the first time we have pretty hard and fast evidence of it,” WHO spokesman Gregory Haertl explained to AFP.

“Health care facilities that provide care for patients with suspected nCoV infection should take appropriate measures to decrease the risk of transmission of the virus to other patients and health care workers,” the agency said.

WHO said one of the new patients with laboratory-confirmed nCoV was a 45-year-old man who became ill on May 2, and who was currently in a critical condition.

The second patient was a 43-year-old woman with a coexisting health condition, who became ill on May 8 and was in a stable condition.

“Health care providers are advised to be vigilant among recent travellers returning from areas affected by the virus who develop SARI,” or severe acute respiratory infections, WHO said.

The organisation however continued to say travel restrictions and special screening was not yet called for to limit the spread of the virus.

Since last September, WHO says it has been informed of a global total of 40 laboratory confirmed cases of the virus, including 20 deaths.

While the virus has been deadliest in Saudi Arabia, which now counts 30 infections, half of them fatal, cases have also been reported in Jordan, Qatar, Germany, Britain and France, where two patients are now in hospital in the northern city of Lille.
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« Reply #463 on: May 16, 2013, 06:56 AM »

Chinese protest at planned chemical plant over pollution fears

Social media shows hundreds gathering in southern city of Kunming as officials deny refinery will produce carcinogen PX

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, Thursday 16 May 2013 08.00 BST   

Thousands of protesters have gathered in the southern Chinese city of Kunming for the second time this month to voice concerns over the environmental impact of a planned chemical plant, according to uncorroborated posts on Twitter and Chinese social networking sites.

The protesters gathered in front of the provincial government headquarters at the intersection of Zhengyi Road and Renmin Road at about 10am, according to the posts. The demonstration has drawn a large police presence and began with one arrest, but has remained largely peaceful.

Kunming's first environmental protest this month was held, without arrests, on 4 May after China National Petroleum Corporation announced plans to build the chemical plant in Anning, 17 miles (28km) south-west of the city centre.

Every year the refinery would produce 500,000 tons of paraxylene (PX), a carcinogenic chemical used in production of polyester, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper.

Thursday's demonstrators donned face masks displaying anti-PX messages, shouted "roll out, protest!" and sang the national anthem in unison, according to Twitter reports.

Photos posted online show a thick line of police pressed tightly against rows of protesters, many of them documenting the standoff with smartphones and digital cameras.

"Protest activities only happen on the precondition that the government doesn't offer opportunities for information transparency, dialogue and negotiation," said an influential Kunming-based blogger who uses the name Bianmin, or "frontier person", in an email interview before Thursday's protest.

"If the government clings to its position, the public's resistance will only increase."

According to pictures posted on the popular Chinese microblogging website Sina Weibo, protesters held banners reading: "Save Kunming! Help us! We love Kunming, oppose pollution" and in English, "Save the water for the life!" The pictures have since been deleted, and searches for Kunming PX have been blocked.

Many university students in Kunming have been blocked from leaving their campuses, according to reports online. On Saturday the municipal government sent text messages to Kunming residents claiming that the project "will not produce PX".

Many Kunming residents appear unconvinced. "If the refinery is [as] clean and safe they claim it to be, why does the government not dare to publish the environmental review report," a demonstrator told the South China Morning Post.

A similar protest earlier this month in Chengdu, the capital of adjacent Sichuan province, was suppressed by police.

Environmental protests have become more common in recent years, as many Chinese people become increasingly exasperated by the government's growth-first development strategy and lack of transparency.

A Shanghai battery manufacturer announced on Wednesday that it would cancel plans for a new plant after hundreds of people staged three protests to voice concerns about its possible environmental impact.

In August 2011 a protest in the north-eastern city Dalian led local authorities to announce that they were would relocate a polluting PX plant. The following summer, the coastal city Qidong scrapped a pipeline plan after about a thousand protesters stormed government offices and overturned cars.

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« Reply #464 on: May 17, 2013, 06:41 AM »

World's tallest dam approved by Chinese environmental officials

Authorities push forward plans for 314 metre-high dam on Dadu river which would affect rare plants and fish

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, Friday 17 May 2013 11.49 BST   

Chinese environmental authorities have approved construction plans for what could become the world's tallest dam, while acknowledging that the project would affect endangered plants and rare fish species.

The 314 metre-high dam (1,030ft) will serve the Shuangjiangkou hydropower project along the Dadu river in south-western Sichuan province, according to China's state news agency, Xinhua. A subsidiary of Guodian Group, one of China's five major state-owned power companies, will complete the project over a decade at an estimated cost of £2.9bn.

The dam will be far taller than the 185 metre-high Three Gorges dam along the Yangtze river – the world's most powerful hydroelectric project – and slightly edge out the current record holder, the 300 metre-high Nurek dam in Tajikistan. The world's second-tallest dam, the 292 metre-high Xiaowan dam on the Lancang (Mekong) river, is also in China.

China's environment ministry acknowledged that the dam would have an impact on the area's highly biodiverse flora and fauna.

"The project will affect the spawning and movement of rare fish species, as well as the growth of endangered plants, including the Chinese yew, which is under first-class state protection," the ministry said, according to Xinhua.

The ministry proposed counter-measures to mitigate the environmental impact, such as "protecting fish habitats in tributaries, building fish ladders and increasing fish breeding and releasing", Xinhua reported. The project is still awaiting a final go-ahead from China's state council.

The Dadu river is a tributary of the 450 mile-long Min river, which cuts through the centre of Sichuan province before joining the Yangtze further south.

Upon completion, the plant will have a total installed capacity of 2GW and produce nearly 8bn KW-hours of energy a year, about twice as much as the Hoover dam in the US.

China's hydropower development has surged in recent years as the country moves to increase non-fossil energy sources to 15% of its total energy use by 2020. Central authorities approved a controversial cascade of 13 dams on the pristine upper reaches of the Nu (Salween) river in January. The plans had stalled nearly a decade ago under pressure from environmental groups.

Scientists and environmental activists have raised concerns that a profusion of dams in south-west China could increase the area's risk of natural disasters, such as earthquakes and landslides.

Another hydroelectric project on the Dadu river prompted social unrest in 2004, as tens of thousands of farmers along its banks rioted against plans to relocate them. Authorities responded by halting the Pubugou dam's construction for a year.

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