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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 143509 times)
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« Reply #465 on: May 17, 2013, 07:05 AM »

Malaria parasite drives infected mosquitos to aggressively pursue human blood

By David Ferguson
Thursday, May 16, 2013 14:11 EDT

British researchers announced Wednesday that they have established that the malaria parasite makes the smell of human beings even more irresistible to mosquitos that feed on our blood. According to a paper published in the Public Library of Science’s PLOS One journal and reported by NPR, mosquitos that carry malaria are even more powerfully drawn to the smell of human prey than their uninfected fellows.

Entomologists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine conducted an experiment in which mosquitos were given a choice whether to fly to a clean sock or a sock that had been worn for 20 hours by an adult male human. All of the mosquitos chose the dirty sock over the clean one, but the malaria-infected bugs landed on the fabric again and again, trying to bite and draw blood.

Mosquitos track humans through our scent. Human skin gives off more than 350 odor molecules, all of which combine to form an irresistible fragrance cocktail to hungry female mosquitos, who need human blood to nourish the larvae that will hatch from their eggs.

It would appear that infection with malaria, which is neither a virus nor bacteria, but a single-celled, blood borne parasite, drives the mosquitos to feed more often, thus allowing the disease a greater chance to spread via the mosquitos’ saliva.

Invasive parasites have been found to exert control over the behaviors of their hosts in several species. In ants, the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis invades the brain and compels the insects to climb to the highest point they can find, at which point the fungus explodes from their head in the form of a spore-casting mushroom, killing the ant, but scattering spores over the widest possible area.

The blood infection Toxoplasmosis gondii is believed to make rats crave the smell of cat urine, increasing their chances of being killed and eaten by cats. Toxo needs to complete the next phase of its development in the bloodstream of a cat, hence its influence over the rat’s normal fear of the smell of its natural predator.

Some scientists postulate that Toxo can exert control over some human behaviors as well, making them, too, less repelled by the smell of cat urine and giving rise to the so-called “crazy cat-lady effect.” Toxo can only make the jump from cats to humans during one phase of its development, however, which can only occur during a certain during in a cat’s first year of life.

According to the World Health Organization, malaria kills around 655,000 people worldwide every year, many of them children in Africa.

Health activists would presumably welcome new advances in malaria prevention since resistance to current treatments is growing in new malaria cases. The current main treatment for malaria, artemisinin, is requiring higher and higher doses to work and no new drugs or treatments appear to be in the pipeline for testing or further research.
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« Reply #466 on: May 17, 2013, 07:08 AM »

Scientists prepare to explore the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 17, 2013 7:28 EDT

Scientists are to set off on a research expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on May 20. The patch is a huge mass of rubbish held in place by swirling underwater currents in the north-east of the Pacific Ocean. This build-up of marine debris is a danger to many marine mammals, birds and underwater ecosystems.

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« Reply #467 on: May 17, 2013, 07:09 AM »

In America

Health officials: Feces found in almost 60 percent of public pools

By Arturo Garcia
Thursday, May 16, 2013 23:03 EDT

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are advising swimmers at public pools nationwide to be extra careful, after finding that nearly 60 percent of pools in the Atlanta area tested positive for traces of fecal matter.

CBS News reported on Thursday that the CDC found the bacteria Escherichia coli — commonly known as E. coli — in 58 percent of indoor and outdoor pools in and around the Georgia city.

Though commonly associated with food, E. coli can also enter a pool if a swimmer has a “fecal incident” or does not shower enough before going into the pool. Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacteria associated with ear infections and “hot tub rash,” was found in 59 percent of test samples. Researchers said this could be a sign of natural pool contamination on top of bacteria introduced by swimmers.

Though the study did not cover private pools or water parks, officials warned that it is likely the risk of contamination is likely not any lower at those types of establishments.

The tests also found much smaller instances of two other bacteria, Cryptosporidium and Giardia, that are also spread via feces. Swallowing Cryptosporidium can lead to an infection and consequently vomiting, nausea and fever, among other symptoms.
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« Reply #468 on: May 18, 2013, 05:58 AM »

May 17, 2013

A Black Mound of Canadian Oil Waste Is Rising Over Detroit


WINDSOR, Ontario — Assumption Park gives residents of this city lovely views of the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit skyline. Lately they’ve been treated to another sight: a three-story pile of petroleum coke covering an entire city block on the other side of the Detroit River.

Detroit’s ever-growing black mountain is the unloved, unwanted and long overlooked byproduct of Canada’s oil sands boom.

And no one knows quite what to do about it, except Koch Carbon, which owns it.

The company is controlled by Charles and David Koch, wealthy industrialists who back a number of conservative and libertarian causes including activist groups that challenge the science behind climate change. The company sells the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste, usually overseas, where it is burned as fuel.

The coke comes from a refinery alongside the river owned by Marathon Petroleum, which has been there since 1930. But it began refining exports from the Canadian oil sands — and producing the waste that is sold to Koch — only in November.

“What is really, really disturbing to me is how some companies treat the city of Detroit as a dumping ground,” said Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan state representative for that part of Detroit. “Nobody knew this was going to happen.” Almost 56 percent of Canada’s oil production is from the petroleum-soaked oil sands of northern Alberta, more than 2,000 miles north.

An initial refining process known as coking, which releases the oil from the tarlike bitumen in the oil sands, also leaves the petroleum coke, of which Canada has 79.8 million tons stockpiled. Some is dumped in open-pit oil sands mines and tailing ponds in Alberta. Much is just piled up there.

Detroit’s pile will not be the only one. Canada’s efforts to sell more products derived from oil sands to the United States, which include transporting it through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, have pulled more coking south to American refineries, creating more waste product here.

Marathon Petroleum’s plant in Detroit processes 28,000 barrels a day of the oil sands bitumen.

Residents on both sides of the Detroit River are concerned that the coke mountain is both an environmental threat and an eyesore.

“Here’s a little bit of Alberta,” said Brian Masse, one of Windsor’s Parliament members. “For those that thought they were immune from the oil sands and the consequences of them, we’re now seeing up front and center that we’re not.”

Mr. Masse wants the International Joint Commission, the bilateral agency that governs the Great Lakes, to investigate the pile. Michigan’s state environmental regulatory agency has submitted a formal request to Detroit Bulk Storage, the company holding the material for Koch Carbon, to change its storage methods. Michigan politicians and environmental groups have also joined cause with Windsor residents. Paul Baltzer, a spokesman for Koch’s parent company, Koch Companies Public Sector, did not respond to questions about its storage or the ultimate destination of the petroleum coke.

Coke, which is mainly carbon, is an essential ingredient in steelmaking as well as producing the electrical anodes used to make aluminum.

While there is high demand from both those industries, the small grains and high sulfur content of this petroleum coke make it largely unusable for those purposes, said Kerry Satterthwaite, a petroleum coke analyst at Roskill Information Services, a commodities analysis company based in London.

“It is worse than a byproduct,” Ms. Satterthwaite said.“It’s a waste byproduct that is costly and inconvenient to store, but effectively costs nothing to produce.”

Murray Gray, the scientific director for the Center for Oil Sands Innovation at the University of Alberta, said that about two years ago, Alberta backed away from plans to use the petroleum coke as a fuel source, partly over concerns about greenhouse-gas emissions. Some of it is burned there, however, to power coking plants.

The Keystone XL pipeline will provide Gulf Coast refineries with a steady supply of diluted bitumen from the oil sands. The plants on the coast, like the coking refineries concentrated in California to deal with that state’s heavy crude oil, are positioned to ship the waste to China or Mexico, where it is burned as a fuel. California exports about 128,000 barrels of petroleum coke a day, mainly to China.

Tony McCallum, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, played down the impact of Keystone XL. “Most of the Canadian oil earmarked for the U.S. Gulf Coast is to replace declining heavy oil imports from Mexico and Venezuela that produces the same amount of petcoke, so it doesn’t create a new issue,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Much of the new coking investment has gone into refineries in the Midwest to allow them to take advantage of the oil sands. BP, the British energy company, is building what it describes as the second-largest coke refinery in Whiting, Ind. When completed, the unit will be able to process about 102,000 barrels of bitumen or other heavy oils a day.

And what about the leftover coke? The Environmental Protection Agency will no longer allow any new licenses permitting the burning of petroleum coke in the United States. But D. Mark Routt, a staff energy consultant at KBC Advanced Technologies in Houston, said that overseas companies saw it as a cheap alternative to low-grade coal. In China, it is used to generate electricity, adding to that country’s air-quality problems. There is also strong demand from India and Latin America for American petroleum coke, where it mainly fuels cement-making kilns.

“I’m not making a value statement, but it comes down to emission controls,” Mr. Routt said. “Other people don’t seem to have a problem, which is why it is going to Mexico, which is why it is going to China.”

“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” he said. One of the world’s largest dealers of petroleum coke is the Oxbow Corporation, which sells about 11 million tons of fuel-grade coke a year. It is owned by William I. Koch, a brother of David and Charles.

Lorne Stockman, who recently published a study on petroleum coke for the environmental group Oil Change International, says, “It’s really the dirtiest residue from the dirtiest oil on earth,” he said.

Rhonda Anderson, an organizing representative of the Sierra Club in Detroit, said that the mountain’s rise took her group by surprise, but it had one benefit.

“Those piles kind of hit us upside to the head,” she said. “But it also triggered a kind of relationship between Canada and the United States that’s allowed us to work together.”

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« Reply #469 on: May 19, 2013, 08:03 AM »

South Korea May Launch World’s Most Ambitious Cap And Trade Market

May 19, 2013
Silvio Marcacci

With roughly 18 months until launch, South Korea appears ready to create the world’s most ambitious cap and trade market, with the highest global price on carbon.

These findings jump from a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) white paper analyzing how potential market designs could affect the nation’s carbon price and market efficiency, and are a reminder that global cap and trade could still be integral to combating climate change.

South Korea’s government is finalizing system design, set to launch in January 2015, but BNEF predicts it could ultimately cover 70% of national emissions and reach $90 per ton of carbon.

Ambitious Goals Would Force Tough Cuts

Criticism of the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) centers on if it actually forces industry to cut pollution, but that won’t be the case in South Korea. “If the government implements the scheme without any changes, it will have major implications for Korean companies,” said Richard Chatterton of BNEF.

Over 450 entities participate in the country’s existing greenhouse gas inventory, covering more than 60% of South Korea’s emissions. These entities are all large-scale emitters, and submit annual emissions and energy consumption data to the government, which then sets reduction targets for the subsequent year.

BNEF’s projections assume the same entities would be covered by the ETS, and are based on South Korea’s emissions reductions target of 30% below current trends by 2020. This goal will require a 19% reduction from 2010 levels, and compared to Australia’s 14% and the EU’s 5% reduction target, make the Korean system without equal.

In order to meet its goal, BNEF predicts South Korea would need to cut its emissions by 836 million tons (Mt) of carbon relative to business-as-usual between 2015 and 2020.

Demand for emission reductions would thus rise to 200 million metric tons per year (Mt/yr) by 2020 – almost double demand projected for the EU ETS, even though South Korea’s program is only 20% its size.
But Reducing Those Emissions Won’t Be Easy

However, BNEF expects South Korea will face challenges meeting these goals. The proposed system design restricts the use of carbon offsets to 28% of reduction requirements up to 2020, and starting in 2021 only offsets from domestic projects would be eligible for polluters.

This tight offset market means South Korea’s ETS could be painful for the country’s industrial sector as they’re forced to buy permits or cut emissions. 598Mt of emissions reductions – nearly 75% of total cuts – will need to come from the industrial and power sector, meaning the cost of electricity and manufactured goods would rise.

Further complicating matters, South Korea’s industrial sector is already fairly energy efficient as a result of historically high energy prices, exposure to international fuel price shocks, and national investment in energy efficiency programs.

Clean Energy Is A Clear Solution…But Not Short-Term

So if offsets are going to be at a premium, and much of the country’s energy efficiency potential has already been realized, where will South Korea’s emissions reductions come from? The clearest solution, as in most cases, is cutting coal-fired electricity generation.

BNEF sees the power sector offering the most abatement opportunities both short and long term. Short-term, the white paper estimates South Korea could reduce emissions in 2020 by up to 64Mt/yr by substituting natural gas for coal-fired power. This assumes natural gas generation utilization capacity rises from current projections of 27% in 2020 to 70%

South Korea has traditionally relied upon imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), but tight supply and volatile price swings lead BNEF to predict electricity generation will shift toward higher-efficiency fossil fuel or renewable generation, and overall energy efficiency measures will rise outside of the industrial sector.

In fact, BNEF predicts the ETS will feed into South Korea’s renewable portfolio standard to expand demand and boost renewable generation to 55 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2020 – a 700% increase from 2010.

Toward A Global Carbon Market Via South Korea

But the best way for South Korean polluters to comply with the ambitious reduction goals may not be within its borders – BNEF recommends linking to other functional carbon markets with an abundance of low-cost abatement options.

Two other mature markets will be operating in 2015 when South Korea’s system launches: the EU-Australian, and California-Quebec linked programs. BNEF predicts EU-Australian allowance prices will be below $40 per ton, and California-Quebec around $50 per ton in 2020.

Linking to these two systems would benefit all parties. South Korea’s ETS will create demand four times greater than California’s system, and 60% higher than the EU-Australia scheme. Thus, South Korea reduces abatement prices by accessing cheaper permits from other systems, while boosting demand and whittling away surplus permit supply in other carbon markets.

Perhaps most promising in this equation, BNEF’s estimates don’t even consider China’s fledgling market. Seven regional pilot programs began rolling out this year, and they will cover up to 1 billion tons of emissions by 2015 before the country launches its own national system in 2020. Remember China is by far the planet’s biggest emitter of carbon.

Oh Wait, Industry May Have Its Day

Of course, these rosy scenarios hinge on the ETS unfolding as originally proposed, and that’s far from a certainty. South Korea’s government is consulting with large emitters this month, and they have called for many revisions to loosen the strict allowance, offset, and reduction policies.

The ETS “Master Plan” is due to be published in December 2013, and it will provide the legal basis for emissions reductions until 2018.

So South Korea, it’s decision time. Stay on your ambitious path, and cut emissions 30% while helping create a truly global carbon market. Or, water down the system proposal, and watch your national emissions climb 28% by 2020, according to BNEF – no pressure.
Silvio Marcacci (163 Posts)

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy public relations company based in Washington, D.C.
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« Reply #470 on: May 20, 2013, 08:20 AM »

Study: Climate change slowed over last decade but may speed up again

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 19, 2013 17:17 EDT

A global warming “pause” over the past decade may invalidate the harshest climate change predictions for the next 50 to 100 years, a study said Sunday — though levels remain in the danger zone.

Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, an international team of climate scientists said a slower rate of warming increase observed from 2000 to 2009 suggested a “lower range of values” to be taken into account by policy makers.

While the last decade was the hottest since records began in 1880, the rate of increase showed a stabilisation despite ever-rising levels of Earth-warming greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Scientists have alternatively explained the flatter curve by oceanic heat capture, a decline in solar activity or an increase in volcanic aerosols that reflect the Sun’s rays.

Because of the hiatus, warming in the next 50 to 100 years “is likely to lie within the range of current climate models, but not at the high end of this range,” said Alexander Otto of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, co-author of the new study.

Otto and his team used up-to-date data on temperatures and levels of solar radiation trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases, to make new projections for climate warming.

The United Nations is targeting a global average maximum temperature rise of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on pre-industrial levels, for what scientists believe would be manageable climate change.

In 2007, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in a report of the temperature rising by as much as 6.4 degrees C in the worst emissions scenario.

Study co-author Reto Knutti of ETH Zurich said data ruling out the most extreme scenarios for near-term warming was clearly welcome news.

“But even if the response is at the low end of the current range of uncertainty, we are still looking at warming well over the two-degree goal that countries have agreed upon.”

To meet the two-degree goal, countries are negotiating curbs to emissions of Earth-warming greenhouse gases released by fossil fuel burning.

Only last week, the level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere breached a threshold of 400 parts per million — a level never experienced by humans and considered the absolute maximum for the two-degree target to remain within reach.

Many scientists believe that on current trends, Earth is set for warming much higher than the two-degree target.

Commenting on the publication, University of New South Wales climate researcher Steven Sherwood said the conclusions “need to be taken with a large grain of salt until we see what happens to the oceans over the coming years.”

The authors had partly based their finding on a higher-than-expected absorption of heat by the world’s oceans, he said, but other research has suggested this storage may reverse due to natural phenomena such as El Nino.
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« Reply #471 on: May 21, 2013, 06:16 AM »

Oregon senator vows to repeal the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, May 20, 2013 17:04 EDT

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on Monday vowed to repeal a measure that prevents federal courts from halting the sale and planting of genetically engineered crops.

The Farmer Assurance Provision, dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act” by critics, was quietly inserted into a short-term funding bill passed by Congress in March. The biotech rider allows farmers to buy and plant genetically engineered seeds while the regulatory approval of the crop is being challenged in court.

“The Monsanto Protection Act is an outrageous example of a special interest loophole,” Merkley said in a statement. “This provision nullifies the actions of a court that is enforcing the law to protect farmers, the environment and public health. That is unacceptable.”

“To avoid public scrutiny, the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ was quietly and anonymously inserted into the continuing resolution passed this March to avert a government shutdown,” he explained.

Merkley said he would offer an amendment to the Senate farm bill that would repeal the controversial law, which is set to expire in September. However, agricultural groups like the American Soybean Association are expected to lobby for the farm bill to include the Farmer Assurance Provision.

“We applaud Sen. Merkley’s effort to repeal the Monsanto Protection Act. The ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ is an outrageous attempt by biotech giants like Monsanto and DuPont further consolidate their control of our nation’s food supply,” said Executive Director of Food Democracy Now! Dave Murphy. “For too long, Americans have been kept in the dark about the food that we eat and the science behind it because our elected officials are in the pockets of Monsanto. We encourage the Senate to repeal the Monsanto Protection Act and protect the food we eat.”
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« Reply #472 on: May 21, 2013, 06:19 AM »

Hong Kong pledges to reduce waste by 40 percent per person

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 20, 2013 15:55 EDT

Hong Kong on Monday launched a ten-year plan to reduce waste by 40 percent per person as part of efforts to catch up with other leading Asian cities and avert a looming environmental crisis.

With a population of more than 7 million, the city currently sends 1.27 kg (2.8 pounds) per person per day to three huge outdoor landfill sites which are set to reach capacity by 2020.

The government’s ‘blueprint’ document proposed reaching its reduction target by expanding recycling, levying duties on household rubbish and improving waste-related infrastructure.

It also mooted the possibility of building incinerators and extending existing landfill sites.

“To face the challenges of the waste issue fundamentally, we need the joint efforts of the entire community to embrace an environmentally sustainable culture in daily life,” the city’s environmental minister Wong Kam-sing told reporters.

“We are committed to taking all the necessary decisions and actions now so we can put Hong Kong on a clear path…towards a use less, waste less lifestyle,” Wong said in the document.

The government hopes to recycle 55 percent of the city’s waste, incinerate 23 percent and place 22 percent in landfills by 2022. In 2011, 52 percent of waste was put into landfills and 48 percent recycled.

But the proposal to build an incinerator is unpopular with residents and some environmentalists.

Other possible measures include an expansion of food-waste recycling, a waste separation and collection system, a charge on construction waste and landfill extensions.

The majority of the 9,000 tonnes of rubbish generated in Hong Kong each day is from households, business and industry and made primarily of putrescibles, paper and plastics, the report said.

The southern Chinese city has a high waste generation rate compared to other Asian cities of similar economic development, Wong said, adding that Hong Kong is behind because it has not taken enough steps to reduce waste.

Hong Kong’s generation of waste per person is higher than other large Asian cities, including Metro Tokyo and Seoul which generate only 0.77 kg and 0.95 kg of daily waste per person, according to the document.

Wong also offered Taipei as an example where a volume-based waste fee system helped reduced waste per person by 65 percent from 2000 to 2011, according to Taiwan Environmental Authority statistics.

The city’s Environmental Protection Department had previously published a 10-year framework for managing the city’s waste in 2005 but has been criticised for failing to implement much of the plan.
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« Reply #473 on: May 21, 2013, 06:21 AM »

Small Alaskan village loses court battle against big oil

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 20, 2013 16:25 EDT

Perched at the tip of an Arctic barrier reef in harsh northwestern Alaska, a tiny village took on big oil for causing the climate change that is eroding its shores, but lost its court fight Monday.

The US Supreme Court declined to hear the case of Kivalina vs. Exxon.

Therefore, a lower court’s decision stands, holding that energy companies cannot be sued collectively for harm done by climate change and leaving such issues to lawmakers and the executive branch of government.

The village of Kivalina is home to about 400 people, mostly Inupiat Native Alaskans, and is being forced to relocate because global warming has led to a reduction in sea ice that once protected its shores.

The lawsuit was brought in 2008 against 22 energy companies, including ExxonMobil Corporation, BP, Chevron and Shell, seeking damages under a federal common law claim of “public nuisance.”

The suit alleged that “massive greenhouse gas emissions emitted by the Energy Producers have resulted in global warming, which, in turn, has severely eroded the land where the City of Kivalina sits and threatens it with imminent destruction.”

A buildup in greenhouse gases is increasing the temperature of the planet, causing sea levels to rise, ice caps to melt and “destroying its land by melting the Arctic sea ice that formerly protected the village from winter storms,” court documents said.

The US Army Corps of Engineers estimates that it will cost more than $95 million to relocate the village.
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« Reply #474 on: May 21, 2013, 06:22 AM »

WHO: ‘No one can predict’ course of China’s new bird flu outbreak

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 20, 2013 15:46 EDT

It is impossible to predict the evolution of China’s human H7N9 bird flu outbreak as researchers are still trying to understand the source of human transmission, the head of the World Health Organisation said Monday.

According to the latest official data, H7N9 avian influenza has infected 130 people in China, and killed 35, since it was found in humans for the first time in March.

“Influenza viruses constantly reinvent themselves. No one can predict the future course of this outbreak,” Margaret Chan said, but added that “although the source of human infection with the virus is not yet fully understood, the number of new cases dropped dramatically following the closing of (China’s) live poultry markets.”

“At present, human-to-human transmission of the virus is negligible,” she said in her address to some 3,000 delegates attending the 66th World Health Assembly in Geneva.

Chan also thanked China for its close collaboration with WHO in sharing its information on the situation and for having “promptly traced, monitored, and tested thousands of patient contacts”.

Chan also talked about the deadly SARS-like coronavirus, detected for the first time in the Middle East last year. “To date, 41 cases, including 20 deaths, have been reported,” she said, adding that “though the number of cases remains small, limited human-to-human transmission has occurred and health care workers have been infected.”

The virus 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.

“These two new diseases remind us that the threat from emerging and epidemic-prone diseases is ever-present. Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of the microbial world. It will always deliver surprises.”
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« Reply #475 on: May 22, 2013, 06:20 AM »

05/21/2013 05:28 PM

'Death By a Thousand Cuts': Coal Boom Could Destroy Great Barrier Reef

By Samiha Shafy

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is rapidly losing its coral, to the point that UNESCO may soon place the natural wonder on its "in danger" list. Climate change is one culprit, but so is the country's booming extraction industry. Environmentalists warn that time is running out for the reef.

The man whose job it should be to protect the Great Barrier Reef is actually afraid of water. The vast ocean, with all the creatures it contains, makes him uneasy. Only once has he visited the reef, the world's largest and most beautiful. Just thinking about the visit makes his skin crawl.

Andrew Powell, 40, the environment minister of the Australian state of Queensland, is a stocky man with a boyish face. Sitting in the neon-lit cafeteria of the parliament building in the state capital Brisbane, he smiles at the memory of his ill-fated expedition to the reef. "I get seasick very quickly," Powell explains, "and I don't do sharks very well."

As he was snorkeling over the reef, he says, a reef shark swam directly beneath him. The horrifying animal was at least twice as big as he is, Powell insists. "My wife says it wasn't more than a meter long," he admits, "but it was enough for me." He swam back to the boat and refused to go back into the water.

The 2,300-kilometer (1,430-mile) Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia, is a natural wonder. It is home to a quarter of all species that exist in the world's oceans. In 1981, it became the first ocean region to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

But now UNESCO is threatening to add the Great Barrier Reef to its list of protected sites that are "in danger." The authors of a report presented to the World Heritage Committee in June are "extremely concerned" about the condition of the reef. UNESCO wants the Australian government to demonstrate that it is serious about saving the reef, or else it will be officially classified in 2014.

'Five Minutes to Midnight'

"When a place is recognized as a World Heritage site," says Fanny Douvere, the lead author of the report, "it is both a recognition and a responsibility." UNESCO, she adds, is essentially saying to Australia: "Look, it's five minutes to midnight."

She is far from the only one concerned. Australian scientists have calculated that the Great Barrier Reef, the earth's largest living organism, has lost half of its coral in the last 27 years, and coral death is only accelerating.

One reason is that Australia feels the effects of climate change earlier and more strongly than elsewhere. Not only do rising water temperatures lead to coral bleaching in the summer, but increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also raise ocean acidity, which damages the coral.

But storms and floods also flush mud, pesticides and fertilizers from farmland into the ocean, creating conditions under which a type of starfish that eats coral can thrive. And without healthy coral, fish, crabs, mollusks, sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, skates and sharks also disappear.

Man is also threatening the reef in a very direct way. Australia has the world's largest reserves of uranium, zinc and lead. It also has rich deposits of bauxite, iron ore, copper, gold, manganese and nickel, and no other country in the world has exported as much coal in recent years.

Mining companies have dug enormous open-pit mines in the country's interior, creating moonscapes covering a total of hundreds of square kilometers. Analysts also expect that in a few years Australia will produce more natural gas than Qatar, currently the world's largest exporter. Much of Australia's coal and natural gas reserves are in Queensland.

Coal from Australia, most of which is burned in Asia, is fueling climate change, which in turn is detrimental to the reefs. International energy companies are investing many billions of dollars in new mega-mines and infrastructure projects.

To double its coal exports, Australia is deepening and expanding ports, or building new ones, even in previously untouched protected areas. The silt from excavation is dumped into the ocean, polluting the reef.

'We Are in the Coal Business'

If all goes according to plan, twice as many freighters could soon be passing through the World Heritage site than do so today. And with increased traffic comes an increased risk of accidents such as the one three years ago which saw a Chinese freighter crash into the reef.

UNESCO is particularly alarmed about the plans of mine operators, which have also sparked growing resistance among scientists and environmentalists. The environment organization Greenpeace is collecting signatures to support a campaign of "civil disobedience to stop coal exports from Australia." In April, activists occupied a ship loaded with coal bound for South Korea.

"We are in the coal business," Queensland Prime Minister Campbell Newman said in response to UNESCO criticism. "If you want decent hospitals, schools and police on the beat, we all need to understand that."

But if current trends continue, the unthinkable could happen: the Great Barrier Reef could die.

The reef looks endless when seen from the vantage point of a helicopter. The ocean shimmers in every shade of blue, turning clear and turquoise-colored where the coral grows. Clouds cast dramatic shadows onto the water.

Of course the reef is near and dear to him, says Environment Minister Powell. "We wouldn't be Queensland without the Great Barrier Reef at our doorstep." The reef generates close to €5 billion ($6.5 billion) a year for the local tourism industry.

Powell has five children, he says. The youngest is three and the eldest 10, "and I want to leave them the Great Barrier Reef in better condition than it's in today." But the real question is what will remain of the Great Barrier Reef when Powell's children are adults.

"Our government was voted into office with the mandate to stimulate the economy," says the environment minister. "That's why we support the mining industry, construction and agriculture, as well as tourism."

And the reef?

Role Model Australia?

In keeping with UNESCO's wishes, Queensland is currently working on a strategy to develop its coastline in an environmentally sustainable way, says Powell. The national government in Canberra, he adds, is also developing plans for a marine park off the coast. The government expects to complete the overall concept to save the reef and present it to UNESCO by 2015, Powell explains.

Canberra will invest $200 million in the next five years to reduce pollution from agriculture and fight the coral-eating starfish. Queensland is contributing $35 million a year to the effort.

"I believe that we are doing everything we can to satisfy UNESCO's expectations," says Powell, leaning back in his chair. "Look, if Australia doesn't manage to have a healthy economy and simultaneously protect something as special as the Great Barrier Reef, who will?"

In this respect, Powell is right. Most tropical coral reefs are off the coasts of developing nations, whereas Australia is a prosperous country. In addition, climate change is not some abstract idea; the country has been suffering from the painful effects of global warming for some time. In other words, the Australians are in an ideal position to serve as role models.

"It would be a total embarrassment for us if the reef were placed on the list of World Heritage sites in danger," says Larissa Waters, 36. She isn't buying the environment minister's arguments. In her opinion, the government is being coopted by the extractive industry and isn't taking UNESCO's warnings seriously.

Waters is also a politician, though in a somewhat lonely position. She is the first and only member of the Green Party to be voted into the traditionally conservative Queensland Legislative Assembly. In office since 2010, she says that she hardly has any time left these days for issues other than the reef.

"UNESCO has concrete concerns that are simply being ignored," says Waters. "First, no ports in untouched regions; second, no port expansions that could impair the universal value of the reef; and third, a moratorium on port projects until 2015."

Her goal is to convince the state parliament to write UNESCO's recommendations into law. It's a futile struggle, and yet Waters remains optimistic. "I refuse to accept the idea that we will lose the reef," she says. "Australians have enough imagination and courage to prevent that from happening."

The Coal Industry's Perfect World
On a May afternoon, several hundred members of the Mining & Energy Services Council of Australia, an interest group representing the mining industry, meet at a golf club in the upscale Brisbane suburb of St. Lucia. Except for a few employees handing out name cards, the room is almost entirely filled with men.

They have come to listen to a speech by Paul Mulder, managing director for coal and infrastructure with the Australian-Indian energy giant GVK Hancock Coal. Mulder is there to present his current project: three new coal mines in Queensland's undeveloped Galilee Basin, together with a 500-kilometer rail line to the coast and a dedicated coal terminal.

While Mulder rattles off the superlatives of his project at the podium, a storm is brewing outside. Birds screech, and the wind howls through the windows, shaking the screens next to the podium. But Mulder, who is not tall but broad-shouldered, remains undaunted as he gets to the real subject of his presentation: The environmental activists who, as he claims, are damaging Australia's economy.

"I see a bunch of these activists jumping up and down, saying that we are destroying the reef," says Mulder. "They have no idea what they're talking about." According to Mulder, storms, starfish and coral bleaching are the reasons the reef is suffering. His coal has nothing to do with it, he says.

Besides, Mulder notes, coal is indispensable, providing 80 percent of electricity in Australia and China, 57 percent in India and 42 percent worldwide. "What sort of a society would we have without electricity?" Mulder asks. He says it is unfair of the anti-coal activists to deprive the "poor people in the Third World" of the kind of comfortable life they themselves enjoy.

Those who would obstruct the coal industry, according to Mulder's logic, are merely granting other resource-rich countries a competitive advantage, thereby weakening the Australian economy. As such, he explains, it is necessary for the government to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles and simplify approval procedures. The men in the room nod in agreement.

No Regulation, No Taxes

Mulder's words offer an insight into the mindset of his boss, the richest person in Australia and, depending on what happens to commodity prices, perhaps in the entire world soon -- a woman who wants people to see things her way. Gina Rinehart, 59, heir to the Hancock Prospecting mining empire, is worth about €23 billion. Rinehart doesn't speak with journalists but does pay some of their salaries. In addition to coal mining, she is also a major shareholder in Australia's leading media company, Fairfax Media Limited. And she is on the board of a television network group.

Her vision is a radical one: She wants an Australia in which the interests of the extractive industry are paramount, a place with little regulation, no taxes on natural resources or CO2, but massive numbers of low-wage guest workers from Asia, so that planned mega-projects can be implemented as quickly as possible. Rinehart uses her money and influence to make the voices of climate change deniers heard, and she has developed a following of like-minded billionaires and politicians. One of her fans is opposition leader Tony Abbott, who polls suggest could win the September election to become the next prime minister.

Abbott, the leader of the center-right Liberal Party, has characterized scientific conclusions about climate change as "absolute crap" and he successfully fought a planned special tax for the mining industry. Abbott has said that if he wins the election he will immediately abolish the CO2 tax introduced last year.

Wayne Swan, finance minister in the current Labor government, has called Rinehart and those who are like-minded a threat to democracy.

Is the Great Barrier Reef the price Australia will have to pay if Rinehart's worldview prevails?

Do Not Feed the Animals

Visitors to the natural wonder must first travel to Cairns, 1,350 kilometers north of Brisbane. The city's downtown area is filled with restaurants, souvenir shops and travel agencies. There are various ways to reach the reef: by sea, on multi-deck ships or sailboats, or by air, with small planes or helicopters that take passengers to islands or floating platforms above the reef. Once there, visitors can dive, snorkel or walk along the sea floor wearing a device that looks like an astronaut's helmet. There are warnings everywhere, admonishing visitors not to step on coral, feed animals, litter, use soap or urinate into the water.

Pale staghorn coral towers above the sea floor like a forest of bones, interspersed with sponge-like stony corals, large chunks of centuries-old coral and fat sea cucumbers resting on sandy spots. Schools of blue-and-white, yellow and striped fish swim past, and occasionally a larger fish peeps out from the forest of coral.

Russell Reichelt, 59, is paid to ensure that everything remains as it is. Head of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, he has been tasked with investigating the impact of the natural resource boom. Reichelt is sitting in his office, with a view of the marina in Townsville, 300 kilometers south of Cairns. He looks at a map of the coast and says: "There's that old saying: death by a thousand cuts." He is referring to the deleterious effects of construction and pollution on the reef.

What Australia needs, says Reichelt, is a consensus that there is a breaking point for the reef that cannot be exceeded. "In my view, UNESCO's interest is welcome," says the reef administrator, "especially in this time of growing pressure."

For the time being, his staff is focused on fighting the invasion of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish. The animals hide during the day, and at night they extrude their stomachs over the corals and digest them. To kill the starfish, divers inject multiple doses of sodium bisulfate into the middle of their bodies. Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of the coral-eaters populate the reef, making the divers' work a Sisyphean task. But at least it represents something the conservationists can do to protect the reefs.

Drinking Binges and Brawls

The heart of the coal industry can be found between Townsville and Brisbane. The town of Gladstone consists of a port stretching for 30 kilometers along the coast, surrounded by power plants, coalfields, scrap heaps and flat-roofed buildings. The air is filled with the roar of machinery. Workers fly in and out of Gladstone, where the local paper reports on nightly drinking binges and brawls.

Jan Arens, 56, also works for the coal industry, as an engineer for a company that produces wastewater treatment chemicals. He can't stop thinking about the activities he has witnessed in his job. He claims that the industry dumps toxic substances into the ocean and ignores regulations. "We have laws to protect the environment, but we bend and break them wherever we can," says Arens, a big-boned man with the coarse hands of laborer. "I'm not against the industry, but I am against such dishonesty."

Two years ago, Arens founded the city's only environmental protection organization, the Gladstone Conservation Council. The group has about 50 members, he says. They distribute flyers and take out ads in the paper. But the response has been modest. "I want my children to be able to say one day that at least their old man tried to do something," says Arens.

Energy companies are currently investing $33 billion in new coal and gas projects around the port of Gladstone alone. The projects are scheduled for completion in 2015, which will coincide with the Australian's government's completion of its plan to save the reef.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #476 on: May 22, 2013, 06:33 AM »

05/21/2013 06:50 PM

Bison Baby: First Wisent Born in German Wild

After being released into the wild in Germany just last month, a herd of wisents has welcomed its first calf. The first European bison to be born free in Germany in centuries has been named "Quintus," and appears to be healthy.

For the first time in centuries, a European bison, or wisent, has been born in the wild in Germany, conservationists announced on Tuesday. The calf, which arrived early this month, belongs to a herd that was released in April.

The young wisent seems "perky," said Jochen Born, a ranger at Wisent Welt Wittgenstein, the forest sanctuary surrounding the western German town of Bad Berleberg that is home to the animals. But any hikers hoping to catch a glimpse of the typically shy bison should keep their distance, he added, because the species is known for fiercely protecting its young.

The calf is the fifth to be born since the sanctuary began its project to reintroduce European bison to their native habitat. The fact that it was born outside of a corral in the Rothaar Mountain region is a "great success," its website said.

The powerful animals were hunted to extinction in the wild long ago, and all of the roughly 3,000 wisents alive today are the descendants of only about a dozen original animals that survived in zoos. Most of today's wild European bison population lives in the forest in eastern Poland. In Germany, Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, 78, one of the most important forest owners in the country, hopes to prove that active species conservation can be combined with forestry.

Years of scientific study preceded the release of the herd of nine wisents. However, one question still remains: Whether the bison, which are one of Europe's largest animals and can weigh up to a metric ton, pose a danger to hikers or mountain bikers. A popular hiking trail called the Rothaarstieg passes directly through the area where they have been reintroduced, though encounters are unlikely due to their shyness.

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« Reply #477 on: May 22, 2013, 07:08 AM »

British wildlife faces ‘stark’ threat as 60 percent of species assessed in ‘The State of Nature’ report decline

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 22, 2013 7:32 EDT

British wildlife is under serious threat, according to a major new study out Wednesday, which found that 60 percent of species assessed have declined in numbers over the past 50 years.

The State of Nature report, produced by 25 wildlife organisations working together for the first time, examined the population or distribution trends of 3,148 mammals, birds, insects and plants.

“This important document provides a stark warning: far more species are declining than increasing in the UK, including many of our most treasured species,” broadcaster David Attenborough said in an introduction to the study.

“Alarmingly, a large number of them are threatened with extinction.”

Some 31 percent of species surveyed have declined sharply, the study found. Its authors said that factors including climate change and the loss of habitats were having a “major impact” on wildlife.

Among butterflies alone, 72 percent of species have declined over the last ten years, while the number of breeding birds has fallen by 44 million since the late 1960s, the report said, citing targeted research projects.

Hedgehogs and red squirrels are continuing to shrink in numbers but otters are recovering, it added.

However, the authors of the study said a lack of knowledge on the trends of most of the UK’s plant and animal species means they can only report quantative trends for 5 percent of the 59,000 land and freshwater species in the UK and for very few of the 8,500 marine species.

Wildlife knowledge is strongly biased towards vertebrates and researchers know little about the fortunes of many invertebrates and fungi, the researchers said.

“The threats to the UK’s wildlife are many and varied, the most severe acting either to destroy valuable habitat or degrade the quality and value of what remains,” the study’s authors said.

“Climate change is having an increasing impact on nature in the UK. Rising average temperatures are known to be driving range expansion in some species, but evidence for harmful impacts is also mounting.”

The study nevertheless found that targeted conservation has produced a legacy of success stories including the reintroduction of red kites.

“With sufficient determination, resources and public support, we can, and will, turn the fortunes of our wildlife around,” the authors said.
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« Reply #478 on: May 23, 2013, 07:15 AM »

China unveils details of pilot carbon-trading programme

Nation's first trading scheme in the southern city of Shenzhen will cover 638 companies when it begins next month

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, Wednesday 22 May 2013 16.38 BST   

China has unveiled details of its first pilot carbon-trading programme, which will begin next month in the southern city of Shenzhen.

The trading scheme will cover 638 companies responsible for 38% of the city's total emissions, the Shenzhen branch of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced on Wednesday. The scheme will eventually expand to include transportation, manufacturing and construction companies.

Shenzhen is one of seven designated areas in which the central government plans to roll out experimental carbon trading programmes before 2014.

China is the world's biggest carbon emitter and burns almost as much coal as the rest of the world's countries combined.

Li Yan, Greenpeace east Asia's climate and energy campaign manager, said that the pilot programmes will inform the central government on how to motivate local authorities to adopt low-carbon policies.

The push to reduce carbon emissions coincides with the newly installed leadership's effort to tackle the country's dire air pollution problem, which has emerged as a source of widespread anger and frustration in recent months. "Having a mid-term strategy, and trying to prepare years ahead, is actually in line with China's interests and its political and social priorities," she said.

On Monday, the Chinese newspaper 21st Century Business Herald reported that the NDRC has discussed implementing a national system to control the intensity and volume of carbon emissions by 2020. The agency expects China to reach its carbon emissions peak by 2025, five years earlier than many recent estimates, according to unnamed sources quoted in the article.

At a recent climate change meeting, the agency "announced that it's currently researching and calculating a timetable for the greenhouse gas emissions peak, and will vigorously strive to implement a total emissions control scheme during the '13th five-year plan' period (from 2016-2020)," the paper quoted a NDRC official, also unnamed, as saying.

"The NDRC is looking for a national cap, but nobody knows exactly when that is going to happen," said Wu Changhua, greater China director of the Climate Group. "There's still a lot of work to be done."

The EU's carbon trading scheme, the world's largest, has suffered repeated setbacks in recent months. In April, MEPs voted against a proposed reform aimed to raise the price of carbon, which has been diluted by an overabundance of permits.

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« Reply #479 on: May 24, 2013, 06:17 AM »

EU to ban three harmful bee pesticides from December

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 24, 2013 7:22 EDT

The European Commission said Friday that it will ban for two years beginning in December three pesticides blamed for killing the bees that pollinate food and fruit crops.

The decision to ban the insecticides, made by chemicals giants Bayer and Syngenta, “marks another milestone towards ensuring a healthier future” for bees, EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said.
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