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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 146257 times)
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« Reply #975 on: Mar 11, 2014, 06:08 AM »

These beautiful 7-legged frog images by Brandon Ballengee are 100% real — and frightening

By Planetsave
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 6:49 EDT

Nature photographer Brandon Ballengee took these incredible photos by chemically “clearing and staining” terminally deformed, 7 legged frogs he found out in nature. He calls these images “reliquaries”, which the theologians among you will recognize as the containers or vessels of holy relics- bones, tissue, or possessions of saints and revered monks.

Despite the beauty of these photos, it’s probably worth remembering that Brandon’s finding quite a few terminally deformed frogs. That may not be quite as horrifying, in concept, as that Wolverine + Kermit “horror frog” nightmare, but it does seem like animals with a bunch of extra legs should be some sort of environmental “red flag”, right? Right.

Brandon, however, doesn’t want to focus on the frogs’ deformity or sensationalize or politicize his work. Instead, he goes back to the concept of the holy and sacred:

    This process (of chemically “clearing and staining”) obscures direct representation- as I do not want to exhibit large images of “monsters”, which would be frightening and be exploitative to the organisms. This process is followed by high-resolution scanner photography of each specimen to create individual portraits. These portraits are printed as unique watercolor ink prints (never made into editions) and each individual frog will be centered appearing to “float” in what looks to be clouds. This otherworldly quality is reinforced by the titles named after ancient characters from Greco-Roman mythology. They are scaled so the frogs appear approximately the size of a human toddler, in an attempt to invoke empathy in the viewer instead of detachment or fear: if they are too small they will dismissed but if they are too large they will become monsters. Each finished artwork is unique and never editioned, to recall the individual animal and become a reliquary to a short-lived non-human life.

This Brandon Ballegenée seems like a stand up guy.

You can check out the images below- along with many, many more incredible photos- at Brandon Ballengee’s Reliquaries photo gallery. If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend checking it out. Enjoy!

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« Reply #976 on: Mar 11, 2014, 06:09 AM »

Scientists: Genghis Khan’s rise was aided by ‘warm and wet’ Mongolian climate

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 10, 2014 18:13 EDT

A pleasantly warm and wet spell in central Mongolia eight centuries ago may have propelled the rise of Genghis Khan, according to a US study Monday.

The research was based on an analysis of tree rings spanning 11 centuries, showing that the conqueror seized power during dry times and was able to expand his empire across Asia during an unusual stretch of good weather.

The years before Genghis Khan’s rule were marked by severe drought from 1180 to 1190, said the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But from 1211 to 1225, as the empire spread, Mongolia saw an unusual period of sustained rainfall and mild temperatures.

“The transition from extreme drought to extreme moisture right then strongly suggests that climate played a role in human events,” said study co-author Amy Hessl, a tree-ring scientist at West Virginia University.

“It wasn’t the only thing, but it must have created the ideal conditions for a charismatic leader to emerge out of the chaos, develop an army and concentrate power.”

For the oldest samples, Hessl and lead author Neil Pederson, a tree-ring scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, focused on an unusual clutch of trees found while researching wildfires in Mongolia.

The strand of gnarled, stunted Siberian pines were emerging from cracks in an old solid-rock lava flow in the Khangai Mountains, according to a statement from Columbia.

Trees living in such conditions grow slowly and are particularly sensitive to changes in weather, so they provided an abundance of data to study.

Some of the trees had lived for more than 1,100 years. One piece of wood they found had rings going back to about 650 BC.

Researchers compared those samples to younger fallen trees and some pieces bored from living trees.

“Through a careful analysis of tree-ring records spanning eleven centuries, the researchers have provided valuable information about a period of great significance,” said Tom Baerwald, a program director for the National Science Foundation, which funded the research.

Genghis Khan died in 1227, but his descendants ruled most of what became modern Korea, China, Russia, eastern Europe, southeast Asia, India and the Middle East.

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« Reply #977 on: Mar 12, 2014, 06:35 AM »

Nine Chinese cities suffered more days of severe smog than Beijing

Pollution widespread and affected millions more than previously thought, 2013 data shows

Adam Vaughan, Wednesday 12 March 2014 11.11 GMT      

Photographs of a smog-wreathed Tiananmen Square and the iconic headquarters of China Central Television dominated reports of Chinese pollution last year, but analysis shows nine other Chinese cities suffered more days of severe smog than the capital in 2013.

The worst was Xingtai, a city of more than 7 million people south-west of Beijing, which was hit by 129 days of "unhealthy air" or worse – the threshold at which pollution is considered at emergency levels – and more than twice as many days as the capital experienced.

Beijing suffered 60 days of pollution above emergency levels, sparking reports of an "airpocalypse", a boom in sales of air purifiers and masks and measures to tackle the problem including the destruction of open-air barbecues and a crackdown on fireworks for Chinese new year.

Last week, the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, "declared war" on pollution, saying it was "nature's red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development."

The new analysis by Energy Desk, a site published by Greenpeace, is based on Chinese government data of fine particulates (PM2.5s), that have been linked by studies to increases in lung cancer and heart failure. It ranked cities against the US air quality index, based on how many experienced "very unhealthy" days or worse, roughly equivalent to levels the Chinese government considers an emergency.

Fang Lifeng, Greenpeace east Asia climate and energy campaigner, said: "China's air pollution crisis usually makes the headlines when the smog cloud hits Beijing, but this research shows just how widespread this problem really is. There are now millions of Chinese people living in cities with air pollution above emergency levels for a third of the year, while other urban areas have gone a whole 12-month period with hardly any days of good-quality air."

Most of the cities in the top 10, including Shijiazhuang, Baoding, and Langfang, are in the Hebei province south of Beijing, which is home to a large number of coal-fired power plants and industries including steel and cement that burn coal. Harbin, a city north-east of Beijing, which made headlines in October due to a choking smog that forced schools and the airport to close, comes in below Beijing on the ranking, at number 17.

Beijing only had 13 days considered "good" on the US index last year, with 70 days of moderate air pollution, 64 at unhealthy for sensitive groups, 148 unhealthy days, 45 very unhealthy, 14 deemed hazardous and one day that registered at "beyond index", ie off the scale. Weather conditions in Beijing and the surrounding regions often compound the particulates generated by coal burning, cars and industry, with cold winter air trapping the pollution.

China is not the only country suffering air pollution problems, and far from the worst. Iran is home to four of the world's four most polluted cities, with Quetta and Peshawar in Pakistan also in the top 10 alongside Kanpur and Ludhiana in India, data from the World Health Organisation shows.

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« Reply #978 on: Mar 14, 2014, 05:53 AM »

Battle-scarred diamond find provides evidence of vast quantities of water inside Earth

By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Thursday, March 13, 2014 7:20 EDT

A small, battered diamond found in the gravel strewn along a shallow riverbed in Brazil has provided evidence of a vast “wet zone” deep inside the Earth that could hold as much water as all the world’s oceans put together.

The water is not sloshing around inside the planet, but is held fast within minerals in what is known as the Earth’s transition zone, which stretches from 410 to 660km (250-400 miles) beneath the surface.

“It’s not a Jules Verne-style ocean you can sail a boat on,” said Graham Pearson, a geologist who studied the stone at the University of Alberta. The water-rich zone could transform scientists’ understanding of how some of the Earth’s geological features arose.

Tests on the diamond revealed that it contained a water-rich mineral formed in the zone. Researchers believe that the gemstone, which is oblong and about 5mm long, was blasted to the surface from a depth of about 500km by a volcanic eruption of molten rock called kimberlite.

The battle-scarred gem has a delicate metallic sheen, but is pitted and etched from its violent journey, which probably took several days and ended with the stone shooting up through the Earth’s crust at speeds of about 70km/h (40mph).

“It’s a fairly ugly diamond. It looks like it’s been to hell and back,” said Pearson, adding that the gem was worth about $20 at most. The stone was found in 2008 by artisan miners working the Juina riverbeds in Mato Grosso in western Brazil.

Most diamonds used in jewellery form at much shallower depths, about 150km down. Those that form in the transition zone are called super-deep diamonds and are distinguished by their battered appearance and low nitrogen content.

Pearson and his team were running tests on the diamond in the hope of finding minerals they could use to work out its age. But by chance they discovered a speck of mineral called ringwoodite, a form of olivine that forms under extremely high pressures. The mineral inclusion was so small it was invisible to the naked eye.

Without the diamond – and the water-rich mineral inside it – scientists had no hope of confirming the make-up of material so deep inside the Earth’s interior. “No-one is ever going to run a geological field trip to the transition zone 500km beneath the Earth’s surface, and no-one is ever going to drill down to the transition zone,” said Pearson. “It was a total piece of luck that we found this.”

For half a century, scientists have suspected that ringwoodite made up much of the deep Earth, because olivine is so widespread underground. But no one had ever found any ringwoodite from Earth’s interior that proved the idea beyond doubt. In the transition zone where the diamond and its ringwoodite formed, the pressure reaches 200,000 atmospheres.

Tests on the mineral found that around 1.5% of its weight is water. “That doesn’t sound like much, but when you calculate the vast volumes of ringwoodite thought to exist in the deep Earth, the amount of water might be as high as that contained in all the world’s oceans,” Pearson told the Guardian. That amounts to more than one billion billion tonnes of water.

At the very least, the scientists say, there must be local wet spots or “oases” in the Earth’s interior. “The beauty of this diamond is that it gives us a real sample from those depths,” Pearson said. The diamond is described in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

A huge water store in the Earth’s mantle might help geologists explain some oddities seen on the planet’s surface. Water in the transition zone could dissolve in molten magma and reach the undersides of continental plates, where it would weaken the huge slabs of rock. That could create weak spots prone to volcanoes, and even cause “uplift”, where the land rises up.

Hans Keppler at the University of Bayreuth in Germany said: “Until now, nobody had ever seen ringwoodite from Earth’s mantle, although geophysicists were sure that it must exist. Most people, including me, never expected to see such a sample.” © Guardian News and Media 2014

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« Reply #979 on: Mar 16, 2014, 08:12 AM »

Scientists probe what killed off Earth’s megafauna: Man or climate change?

By Robin McKie, The Observer
Saturday, March 15, 2014 19:10 EDT

They were some of the strangest animals to walk the Earth: wombats as big as hippos, sloths larger than bears, four-tusked elephants, and an armadillo that would have dwarfed a VW Beetle. They flourished for millions of years, then vanished from our planet just as humans emerged from their African homeland.

It is one of palaeontology’s most intriguing mysteries and will form the core of a conference at Oxford University this week when delegates will debate whether climate change or human hunters killed off the planet’s lost megafauna, as these extinct giants are known.

“Creatures like megatherium, the giant sloth, and the glyptodon, a car-sized species of armadillo, disappeared in North and South America about 10,000 years ago, when there were major changes to climates – which some scientists believe triggered their extinctions,” said Yadvinder Malhi, professor of ecosystem science at Oxford, one of the organisers of the conference, Megafauna and Ecosystem Function.

“However, it is also the case that tribes of modern humans were moving into these creatures’ territories at these times – and many of us believe it is too much of a coincidence that this happened just as these animals vanished. These creatures had endured millions of years of climate change before then, after all. However, this was the first time they had encountered humans.”

Modern humans emerged from Africa around 70,000 years ago, travelled across Asia and reached Australia 50,000 years ago, a time that coincides with a wave of extinctions of creatures there, including the diprotodon, a species of wombat that grew to the size of a modern hippopotamus. By about 14,000 years ago, humans had reached North America by crossing the land bridge that then linked Siberia and Alaska. Then they headed south.

By 10,000 years ago, Homo sapiens had conquered North and South America at a time that coincided with major megafauna extinctions, including those of the giant sloth and the glyptodon.

“We think of Africa and south-east Asia – with their lions, elephants and rhinos – as the main home of large animals today, but until very recently in our planet’s history, huge creatures thrived in Australia, North America and South America as well,” said Professor Adrian Lister of the Natural History Museum in London. “The question is: why did they disappear in the new world but survive in the old world?

“Some believe it is because large animals in Africa and south-east Asia learned to become wary of human beings and decided to avoid them at all costs. However, I also think climate change may have been involved in the Americas and Australia and that humans only finished off these big animals when they were already weakened by loss of habitats and other climate-related problems.”

The idea that humans were involved in any way in eradicating dozens of species of giant animal when we were still hunter-gatherers has important implications in any case. It was thought, until relatively recently, that it was only when humans invented agriculture several thousand years ago that our species’ relationship with the natural world become unbalanced. Until then, humans had a close affinity with nature. But if ancient hunter-gatherers played a part in wiping out these species of huge animals as long as 50,000 years ago, humanity’s supposed innate harmony with the living world appears misplaced.

More to the point, humanity is still paying the price for the disappearance of the megafauna of the Americas and Australia, the Oxford conference will hear. “There is now a lot of evidence to suggest that large herbivores like gomphotheres, a family of elephant-like animals that went extinct in South America around 9,000 years, played a key role in spreading nutrition in areas like the Amazon. They would eat fruit in the forest, including avocados, and their excrement would then fertilise other areas. That no longer happens and places like the Amazon are today affected by low nutrition as a result,” Malhi said.

Another example is provided by the giant wombat, the diprotodon, which some scientists have argued browsed bush across Australia and kept biomass levels very low. When the diprotodon vanished, plants and shrubs across the outback grew unhindered. The result was major bush fires which, archaeologists have discovered, became a serious problem just after the giant wombat disappeared from Australia.

Similarly, creatures such as the mammoth played a key role in trampling tundra and maintaining healthy grasslands in high latitudes such as Siberia. When the mammoth became extinct, the tundra took over to the detriment of the landscape.

“It is now becoming clear that lots of our understanding of contemporary ecology is incomplete because it does not take into account that ecosystems were adopted to having giant animals like the mammoth or the diprotodon,” added Malhi. “These are not natural systems today because they are missing key components to which most plants had adopted.”

This awareness has led some scientists to propose moving populations of the planet’s surviving large animals into regions where they could help restore the ecologies to their previous healthy conditions. One such experiment is being carried out by the ecologist Sergey Zimov at a nature reserve called Pleistocene Park in Siberia. Zimov has reintroduced musk ox, moose and other large animals and is attempting to find out if their browsing will restore the landscape to its previous healthy, grassy state. Zimov is also scheduled to speak at the Oxford conference. Other researchers go even further and have proposed bringing extinct megafauna back to life. For example, several scientists have suggested that it could be possible to clone a mammoth from frozen remains found in Siberia using an Asian elephant as a surrogate mother.

Lister was cautious about the prospects of such work, however. “I think people greatly underestimate the incredible difficulties involved. The mammoth corpses we have found are thousands of years old and we have yet to find one that possesses an entire, intact cell with a nucleus. Without that, you are going to find it very difficult to bring an animal like a mammoth back to life.”

In fact, the real lesson from the fate of the Earth’s megafauna is to appreciate how important surviving species are to our planet. Oxford University ecologist Emily Read, a conference organiser, said: “We need to protect the megafauna that we have. More than 20,000 elephants were killed in 2012 for ivory and rhino numbers are declining because their horns are traded, illegally, at more than the price of gold. It’s not just the cultural value of these large animals that we need to think about, but the fact that removing them affects the whole ecosystem.” © Guardian News and Media 2014

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« Reply #980 on: Mar 18, 2014, 05:42 AM »

Without clean air, we have nothing

As smog contaminates Paris, Shanghai and other world cities, we should regard pollution as a crime against humanity

Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder   
The Guardian, Monday 17 March 2014 21.30 GMT      

Air pollution is deteriorating in many places around the world. In Shanghai, such is the oppressive smog, covering the city with a toxic cloud, that authorities have had to instal gigantic TV screens to broadcast the sunrise. Salt Lake City has such poor air quality that chemicals in the atmosphere not only give it a different hue but leave residents with a foul-smelling, metallic taste in their mouths. Closer to home, Paris has experienced some of its worst air pollution in recent days, while in the EU as a whole, even at permitted concentrations, industrial and traffic-related pollution is harming cardiovascular health.

Is clean air, along with drinkable water, becoming one of the most precious resources on the planet? Or should we reframe the question and challenge the kind of thinking that converts everything, including the very air we breathe, into economically measurable reserves and commodities?

Today we live in a world so complicated and, moreover, organised so differently according to the cultures we belong to, that encountering each other as humans has become almost impossible. However, instead of asking what it means to be human, alleged experts in various domains discuss at great length how to establish coexistence among people. No doubt such an objective is both relevant and urgent, but in their debates, these experts in peace stray far from a solution, getting lost in technical detail without considering the universal sharing of life, from which we could start again. Even if it makes sceptics laugh, we have no viable solution other than to experience the universal human condition as that of a living being, standing naked in the garden that the earth is. After all, with every breath we take, we expose our lungs to the outside world, regardless of all the barriers we have erected between the environment and ourselves. The resistance to envisaging this alternative is due to a nihilistic preference for certain powers – be they material or spiritual, capitalist or cultural – over life itself. Such a stance is both suicidal and murderous, even though few people actually intend it to be so negative. How can they recover their taste for life and learn ways of cultivating it, in themselves, with others, and in the natural world?

The fact that public parks in cities become crowded as soon as the sun shines proves that people long to breathe in green, open spaces. They do not all know what they are seeking but they flock there, nevertheless. And, in these surroundings, they are generally both peaceful and peaceable. It is rare to see people fighting in a garden. Perhaps struggle unfolds first, not at an economic or social level, but over the appropriation of air, essential to life itself. If human beings can breathe and share air, they don't need to struggle with one another. And consequently, it appears to be a basic crime against humanity to contribute to air pollution.

Unfortunately, in our western tradition, neither materialist nor idealist theoreticians give enough consideration to this basic condition for life. As for politicians, despite proposing curbs on environmental pollution, they have not yet called for it to be made a crime. Wealthy countries are even allowed to pollute if they pay for it.

But is our life worth anything other than money? Are we, then, still living? Or, do we only sense what life could be when we enjoy green spaces?

The plant world shows us in silence what faithfulness to life consists of. It also helps us to a new beginning, urging us to care for our breath, not only at a vital but also at a spiritual level. We must, in turn, care for it, opposing any sort of pollution that destroys both our world and that of plants. The interdependence to which we must pay the closest attention is that which exists between ourselves and the vegetal world. Often described as "the lungs of the planet", the woods that cover the earth offer us the gift of breathable air by releasing oxygen. But their capacity to renew the air polluted by industry has long reached its limit. If we lack the air necessary for a healthy life (or, indeed, for any kind of life), it is because we have filled it with chemicals and undercut the ability of plants to regenerate it. As we know, rapid deforestation combined with the massive burning of fossil fuels, which are largely the remnants of past plants, is an explosive recipe for an irreversible disaster.

The fight over the appropriation of resources will lead the entire planet to an abyss unless humans learn to share life, both with each other and with plants. This task is simultaneously ethical and political because it can be discharged only when each takes it upon her – or himself – and only when it is accomplished together with others. The lesson taught by plants is that sharing life augments and enhances the sphere of the living, while dividing life into so-called natural or human resources diminishes it. We must come to view the air, the plants and ourselves as the contributors to the preservation of life and growth, rather than a mesh of quantifiable objects or productive potentialities at our disposal. Perhaps then we would finally begin to live, rather than being concerned with bare survival.

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« Reply #981 on: Mar 18, 2014, 06:04 AM »

Climate change is putting world at risk of irreversible changes, scientists warn

AAAS makes rare policy intervention urging US to act swiftly to reduce carbon emissions and lower risks of climate catastrophe

Suzanne Goldenberg, Tuesday 18 March 2014 09.53 GMT   

The world is at growing risk of “abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes” because of a warming climate, America’s premier scientific society warned on Tuesday.

In a rare intervention into a policy debate, the American Association for the Advancement of Scientists urged Americans to act swiftly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – and lower the risks of leaving a climate catastrophe for future generations.

“As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do,” the AAAS said in a new report, What we know.

“But we consider it our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risks and costs of taking action.”

The United Nations’ climate science panel, the IPCC, will gather in Yokohama, Japan next week to release the second in a series of blockbuster reports, this time outlining how a changing climate is affecting rainfall and heat waves, sea level and the oceans, fisheries and food security.

But the AAAS scientists said they were releasing their own assessment ahead of time because they were concerned that Americans still failed to appreciate the gravity of climate change.

Despite “overwhelming evidence”, the AAAS said Americans had failed to appreciate the seriousness of the risks posed by climate change, and had yet to mobilise at a pace and scale needed to avoid a climate catastrophe.

The scientists said they were hoping to persuade Americans to look at climate change as an issue of risk management. The society said it plans to send out scientists on speaking tours to try to begin a debate on managing those risks.

The report noted the climate is warming at almost unprecedented pace.

“The rate of climate change now may be as fast as any extended warming period over the past 65 million years, and it is projected to accelerate in the coming decades,”

An 8F rise – among the most likely scenarios could make once rare extreme weather events – 100-year floods, droughts and heat waves – almost annual occurrences, the scientists said.

Other sudden systemic changes could lie ahead – such as large scale collapse of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, collapse of part of the Gulf Stream, loss of the Amazon rain forest, die-off of coral reefs, and mass extinctions.

“There is a risk of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes in the earth’s climate system with massively disruptive impacts,” the report said.

The risks of such catastrophes would only grow over time – unless there was action to cut emissions, the scientists said.

“The sooner we make a concerted effort to curtail the burning of fossil fuels as our primary energy source and releasing the C02 to the air, the lower our risk and cost will be.”

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« Reply #982 on: Mar 20, 2014, 05:26 AM »

Eastern Seaboard Is A Tidal Energy Hotspot

By CleanTechnica
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 9:12 EDT

Wave power has been grabbing the spotlight lately, but the US also has vast tidal power potential and the race is on to engineer a tidal energy device that can overcome some serious obstacles, namely interference with shipping, aquatic life, and recreation. It looks like a research team at Brown University is on to a solution, so let’s take a look and see what they’re up to.

Brown University hydrokinetic

Tidal energy potential in the US has largely been untapped compared to Scotland and several other countries, but that is about to change in a big way, especially along the eastern seaboard.

Just last August, the Energy Department announced $16 million in funding for cutting edge ocean energy projects, and the company Verdant Power has already begun operating a hydrokinetic tidal energy turbine right in the heart of New York City.

Speaking of East Coast energy potential, the offshore wind sector is also coming on strong. The massive Cape Wind project in Massachusetts has just won out against a Koch-supported legal challenge, and another utility scale offshore wind power project is under way in Rhode Island.

Getting back to tidal energy, despite the obstacles to shallow water deployment there is one key advantage that tides have over wave or wind power, and that is their unerring around-the-clock reliability.

Reliability is becoming a moot point as next-generation energy storage technology begins to mainstream, but given the localized nature of the emerging renewable energy economy, tidal energy could still provide the most cost-effective resource for some regions.

The Brown University Tidal Energy Solution

Brown University has focused its tidal energy project on the juiciest locations, which also happen to present the greatest challenges.

According to an Energy Department report cited by Brown, the most effective locations are in shallow bays and inlets, typically no deeper than ten meters, where the narrowness of the channel speeds up the pace of tidewater both coming and going.

That basically cuts out conventional underwater turbines, which rely on a windmill style configuration. The blades would be too short to be effective, but long enough to create potential hazards for wildlife, shipping, and recreation.

The solution is a hydrofoil configuration. Based on the same principle behind the design of airplane wings, a hydrofoil is oriented so that it is pushed up a pole by incoming water, then pushed back down.

Writer Kevin Stacey of Brown recaps the advantages of the hydrofoil design compared to turbines:

    A single wing can span an area that would require a series of several turbines placed side-by-side — an expensive and inefficient arrangement. Gaps between the turbines would allow water to slip through untouched, which is a waste of potential power. A wide wing, on the other hand, could generate power from the entire span.

Since the project is supported by ARPA-E, the Energy Department’s cutting edge research funding agency, you can expect some extra bells and whistles.

One is a collapsible design, when enables the devices to duck under passing ships.

Another is a self-teaching computer algorithm that monitors the wing and fine-tunes its motion to maximize efficiency as tidal conditions change, testing out different strokes to decide which is the most efficient.

The project is still in the prototype stage, with a 16″ wide model undergoing tests in the lab, and the outlook is promising.

So far the device has been gathering power up to four times more efficiently than conventional hydrokinetic systems, and the lab expects even better results in the field, where flows will be faster.

The team is currently seeking additional federal funding and an industry partner to launch a new prototype at a testing facility in New Hampshire, so stay tuned.

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« Reply #983 on: Mar 20, 2014, 05:29 AM »

Researchers use nanomaterials to create energy producing ‘bionic’ plants

By CleanTechnica
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 9:20 EDT

Imagine human-designed ‘bionic’ plants with enhanced energy production that can perform valuable functions such environmental pollutant monitoring. Sort of like plant-based substitutes for conventional machines. Sounds a bit far-fetched? Well, apparently it’s not — in fact, it’s already a reality.

Researchers from MIT have succeeded in substantially boosting the light-capturing abilities of various plants via the implantation of nano-materials, as well as giving the plants completely new functions — such as the monitoring of environmental pollutants.

Researchers use a near-infrared microscope to read the output of carbon nanotube sensors embedded in an Arabidopsis thaliana plant. Image Credit: Bryce Vickmark

The gains made with regard to the plants’ ability to capture light energy — an increase of 30% — were achieved through the use of embedded carbon nanotubes in the chloroplast — the plant organelle where photosynthesis takes place. The plants were also then modified with carbon nanotubes in order to be able to detect the gas nitric oxide.

This research represents some of the first in the emerging field of “plant nanobionics.”

Michael Strano, the Carbon P Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering, and also the lead researcher behind the new work, explains the appeal of the approach: “Plants are very attractive as a technology platform. They repair themselves, they’re environmentally stable outside, they survive in harsh environments, and they provide their own power source and water distribution.”

In addition to the functions represented in the new work, the researchers see a great many other possibilities, including “turning plants into self-powered, photonic devices such as detectors for explosives or chemical weapons. The researchers are also working on incorporating electronic devices into plants.”

The press release from MIT provides the specifics on how the research was performed:

The idea for nanobionic plants grew out of a project in Strano’s lab to build self-repairing solar cells modeled on plant cells. As a next step, the researchers wanted to try enhancing the photosynthetic function of chloroplasts isolated from plants, for possible use in solar cells.

Chloroplasts host all of the machinery needed for photosynthesis, which occurs in two stages. During the first stage, pigments such as chlorophyll absorb light, which excites electrons that flow through the thylakoid membranes of the chloroplast. The plant captures this electrical energy and uses it to power the second stage of photosynthesis — building sugars.

Chloroplasts can still perform these reactions when removed from plants, but after a few hours, they start to break down because light and oxygen damage the photosynthetic proteins. Usually plants can completely repair this kind of damage, but extracted chloroplasts can’t do it on their own.
To prolong the chloroplasts’ productivity, the researchers embedded them with cerium oxide nanoparticles, also known as nanoceria. These particles are very strong antioxidants that scavenge oxygen radicals and other highly reactive molecules produced by light and oxygen, protecting the chloroplasts from damage.

The researchers delivered nanoceria into the chloroplasts using a new technique they developed called lipid exchange envelope penetration, or LEEP. Wrapping the particles in polyacrylic acid, a highly charged molecule, allows the particles to penetrate the fatty, hydrophobic membranes that surrounds chloroplasts. In these chloroplasts, levels of damaging molecules dropped dramatically.

Using the same delivery technique, the researchers also embedded semiconducting carbon nanotubes, coated in negatively charged DNA, into the chloroplasts. Plants typically make use of only about 10% of the sunlight available to them, but carbon nanotubes could act as artificial antennae that allow chloroplasts to capture wavelengths of light not in their normal range, such as ultraviolet, green, and near-infrared.

With carbon nanotubes appearing to act as a “prosthetic photoabsorber,” photosynthetic activity — measured by the rate of electron flow through the thylakoid membranes — was 49% greater than that in isolated chloroplasts without embedded nanotubes. When nanoceria and carbon nanotubes were delivered together, the chloroplasts remained active for a few extra hours.

The researchers then turned to living plants and used a technique called vascular infusion to deliver nanoparticles into Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant. Using this method, the researchers applied a solution of nanoparticles to the underside of the leaf, where it penetrated tiny pores known as stomata, which normally allow carbon dioxide to flow in and oxygen to flow out. In these plants, the nanotubes moved into the chloroplast and boosted photosynthetic electron flow by about 30%.

With regard to the sensors which rely on this increased electron flow rate, the researchers are next looking to develop plants that can function as monitors for environmental pollution, pesticides, fungal infections, or exposure to bacterial toxins.

“Right now, almost no one is working in this emerging field,” Giraldo states. “It’s an opportunity for people from plant biology and the chemical engineering nanotechnology community to work together in an area that has a large potential.”

The new research was detailed in a paper published in the journal Nature Materials.

About the Author

James Ayre James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.
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« Reply #984 on: Mar 23, 2014, 06:52 AM »

Global warming to hit Asia hardest, warns new report on climate change

Flooding, famine and rising sea levels will put hundreds of millions at risk in one of the world's most vulnerable regions

Robin McKie, science editor
the Observer, Saturday 22 March 2014 21.21 GMT   
People in coastal regions of Asia, particularly those living in cities, could face some of the worst effects of global warming, climate experts will warn this week. Hundreds of millions of people are likely to lose their homes as flooding, famine and rising sea levels sweep the region, one of the most vulnerable on Earth to the impact of global warming, the UN states.

The report – Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability – makes it clear that for the first half of this century countries such as the UK will avoid the worst impacts of climate change, triggered by rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. By contrast, people living in developing countries in low latitudes, particularly those along the coast of Asia, will suffer the most, especially those living in crowded cities.

A final draft of the report, seen by the Observer, will be debated by a panel of scientists set up by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this week at a meeting in Yokohama, Japan, and will form a key part of the IPCC's fifth assessment report on global warming, whose other sections will be published later this year.

According to the scientists who have written the draft report, hundreds of millions of people will be affected by coastal flooding and land loss as global temperatures rise, ice caps melt and sea levels rise. "The majority of it will be in east, south-east and south Asia. Some small island states are expected to face very high impacts."

In addition, the report warns that cities also face particular problems. "Heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, as well as drought and water scarcity, pose risks in urban areas with risks amplified for those lacking essential infrastructure and services or living in exposed areas." The report adds that this latter forecast is made with very high confidence.

In addition, climate change will slow down economic growth, further erode food security and trigger new poverty traps, particularly "in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger," it is argued.

This combination of a high-risk region and the special vulnerability of cities make coastal Asian urban centres likely flashpoints for future conflict and hardship as the planet warms up this century. Acrid plumes of smoke – produced by forest fires triggered by drought and other factors –are already choking cities across south-east Asia. In future, this problem is likely to get worse, say scientists.

The authors warn that some other climate change effects will be global. "Climate change throughout the 21st century will lead to increases in ill-health in many regions, as compared to a baseline without climate change," the report states. "Examples include greater likelihood of injury, disease, and death due to more intense heatwaves and fires; increased likelihood of under-nutrition resulting from diminished food production in poor regions; and increased risks from food-borne and water-borne disease."

Other potential crises highlighted by the report include the likelihood that yields of major crops such as wheat, rice and maize are likely to decline at rates of up to 2% a decade, at a time when demands for these crops – triggered by world population increases – are likely to rise by 14%. At the same time, coral reefs face devastating destruction triggered by increasing amounts of carbon dioxide dissolving in sea water and acidifying Earth's oceans.

The report makes grim reading. "This comprehensive scientific assessment makes clear that climate change is having a growing impact in the UK and around the world, and that the risks of catastrophic consequences increase every day as more greenhouse gas pollution is pumped into the atmosphere. I hope David Cameron will read this report and understand the huge dangers of delaying the bigger cuts in emissions that are required to protect our children, grandchildren and future generations against this devastating threat," said Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change.


Indonesia's forest fires feed 'brown cloud' of pollution choking Asia's cities

An acrid blanket of haze is hanging over the cities of south-east Asia, where 700,000 people a year die prematurely from the effects of air pollution. Industry and climate change are being blamed, but governments are slow to act

John Vidal in Manila
The Observer, Saturday 22 March 2014 21.52 GMT      

High above the vast Indonesian island of Sumatra, satellites identify hundreds of plumes of smoke drifting over the oil palm plantations and rainforests. They look harmless as the monsoon winds sweep them north and east towards Singapore, Malaysia and deep into Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. But at ground level, south-east Asian cities have been choking for weeks, wreathed in an acrid, stinking blanket of half-burned vegetation mixed with industrial pollution, car exhaust fumes and ash.

From Palangkarya in Borneo to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, the air has been thick, the sun a dull glow and face masks obligatory. Schools, airports and roads have been closed and visibility at times has been down to just a few yards. Communities have had to be evacuated and people advised to remain indoors, transport has been disrupted and more than 50,000 people have had to be treated for asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses in Sumatra alone. Last week more than 200 Malaysian schools were forced to close, and pollution twice reached officially hazardous levels.

The Asian "haze", which comes and goes with the wind and droughts, is back with a vengeance just eight months after an embarrassed Indonesian government promised it would never happen again and was forced to apologise to neighbouring countries for the pollution that blanketed the region in June 2013.

Mixed with the dense photo-chemical smogs that regularly hang over most large traffic-choked Asian cities, south-east Asia's air pollution has become not just a major public health hazard but is said to be now threatening food production, tourism and economic expansion. In addition, say scientists, it may now be exacerbating climate change.

According to Nasa satellite maps, more than 3,000 separate fires have been recorded across Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia since mid-January, more than in June 2013 when the pollution spiked to dangerous levels and became a regional diplomatic crisis. This time, the monsoon winds mostly spared Singapore but sent the thick smog from burning peat soils and vegetation over much of the region. Around 10 million people and an area the size of Britain and France have been affected.

Just as in 2013, most of this year's fires appear to have been started in Riau province, northern Sumatra, the centre of the rampant Indonesian palm oil and pulp-paper industries. According to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, 70% of these fires were lit by landowners wanting to clear ground for more plantations. But while Indonesia is widely blamed for the air pollution, the latest satellite images show fires burning and haze spreading across Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and as far away as the Philippines and Papua.

What has surprised observers is the timing: the burning season, when farmers clear land, does not usually start for many months. Monitoring groups such as Walhi, the World Resources Institute and Greenpeace say the fires are linked both to the worst drought seen in years and corruption and inaction at government level. So far, says the Riau government, only a handful of suspects have been held for setting the fires.

Nearly half are burning on land managed by large pulpwood, palm oil and logging companies which have turned the rainforest into a giant fire-prone region by clearing millions of acres for plantations, says Nigel Sizer of the Washington-based World Resources Institute, which uses satellite data to pinpoint hot spots. The corporations have denied involvement, saying the latest fires are illegally set. "The fires are starting outside our forest concessions but with the heavy, circular winds they're jumping everywhere," said Kusnan Rahmin, president director of the pulp and paper manufacturer April Indonesia.

Sizer says: "Even if they did not start the fires, they are responsible for massive and dramatic clearing of forests in the regions that have been burning, and to some extent for the conflicts with local communities that may be starting fires to stake their claim to land awarded in concessions to the companies."

"Once ignited, peat fires are extremely difficult to extinguish and generate massive air pollution that contributes to the choking haze now blanketing much of Sumatra," says Rhett Butler, editor of the international forest conservation website Mongabay.

Scientists now fear that the Asian haze will intensify and become an annual event as the population of the region rises to an estimated five billion people and climate change bites over the next 30 years. This week's IPCC report on the expected impacts of climate change will warn of the cities becoming unliveable in for millions as temperatures rise. Droughts are expected to become longer and more intense and the number of extremely hot days to grow.

Still unclear is how far the haze from burning forests feeds into Asia's rapidly worsening urban air pollution to form a semi-permanent toxic cloud thick enough to disrupt monsoons and weather patterns across the world and reduce sunlight and crop yields.

From being more or less accepted as the inevitable price of industrial development and poverty reduction just a few years ago, air pollution has risen dramatically up the region's political agenda as the costs are counted. Asia is now the centre of global air pollution, which along with obesity is the world's fastest growing cause of death.

Every year, says a recent Lancet report, more than 2.1 million people in Asia die prematurely from air pollution, mostly from the minute particles of diesel soot and gases emitted by cars and lorries, as well as half-burned vegetation from forest burning. Of these deaths, 1.2 million were in east Asia and China, and 712,000 in south Asia, including India.

According to the Lancet report, by a consortium of universities working in conjunction with the UN, Asia loses more than 50m years of healthy life from fine particle air pollution per year. Air pollution also contributes to higher rates of cognitive decline, strokes and heart attacks, it says. In a separate report last month, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences claimed that Asian air pollution was now affecting climate around the world and making cities like Beijing uninhabitable and suggestive of what a "nuclear winter" might be like.

"Pollution originating from Asia clearly has an impact on the upper atmosphere and it appears to make such storms or cyclones even stronger," says Renyi Zhang, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University and a co-author of the study with Nasa scientists. "This pollution affects cloud formations, precipitation, storm intensity, and other factors and eventually impacts climate. Most likely, pollution from Asia can have important consequences on the weather pattern here over North America", said Zhang. The study backs UN research that suggests a layer of air pollution, the "brown cloud", regularly covers the upper atmosphere over Asia between January and March and could precipitate an environmental disaster that could affect billions of people.

It is, says scientists, the result of forest fires, the burning of agricultural wastes, dramatic increases in the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, industries and power stations, and emissions from millions of inefficient cookers burning wood and cow dung.

"The effects of the 'Asian brown cloud' have been linked to the retreat, over the last half a century, of glaciers in the Himalayas that supply water to major rivers, including the Yangtse, the Ganges and the Indus," says co-author Harshal T. Pandve.

Asian leaders have been slow to understand and act on air pollution, but are now aware of people's anger. China, embarrassed by air pollution before the 2008 Olympics, says it is now costing its economy $400bn a year, or 6% of its GDP. Beijing last month pledged $1.6bn to reward cities for tackling it and said it planned to close 300 factories. Meanwhile, Singapore has proposed a law which would allow it to fine foreign companies for causing cross-border air pollution. But observers say that passing new laws will not enough. In the Philippines, where car numbers are predicted to quadruple within 20 years, a brown cloud hangs over the mega-city of Metro Manila most days, despite higher standards for vehicles and draconian laws.

"Most Asian governments are still concerned with economic development to the detriment of everything else," says Vicky Segovia, of Manila's Clean Air partnership. "We are not impressed by any of them."


Air pollution in 180 Indian cities is more than six times higher than World Health Organisation standards and is the country's fifth biggest killer. Improvements in car and fuel technology since 2000 have been nullified by the rise in car numbers and the poor fuel burned.


Air pollution causes about 200,000 early deaths a year across the US, with emissions from cars and trucks causing 53,000 and power generation 52,000, says MIT's environment laboratory. California suffers most from air pollution (21,000 early deaths).


Janez Potočnik, the EU environment commissioner, says poor air quality is the top environmental cause of premature deaths in the EU, causing more than 100,000 premature deaths a year and costing from £300bn-£800bn a year in extra health costs. Air pollution causes 29,000 early deaths a year in the UK and similar numbers in France and Germany. This month, Paris curbed car use on one day to cut pollution.


African cities are increasingly choked in smog from the burning of poor-quality diesel engines and firewood. In Lagos, Nigeria, tens of thousands of inefficient generators and more than 2m old cars are in use. The main teaching hospital says one in five admissions are now linked to respiratory diseases.

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« Reply #985 on: Mar 24, 2014, 07:31 AM »

13 of 14 warmest years on record occurred in 21st century – UN

Global warming trend continues with floods, droughts and extreme weather events around the world

Adam Vaughan, Monday 24 March 2014 10.05 GMT   

13 of the 14 warmest years on record occurred this century, according to the UN.

Publishing its annual climate report, the UN's World Meteorological Organisation said that last year continued a long-term warming trend, with the hottest year ever in Australia and floods, droughts and extreme weather elsewhere around the world.

Michel Jarraud, the WMO's secretary-general, also said there had been no 'pause' in global warming, as has been alleged by climate change sceptics. “There is no standstill in global warming,” Jarraud said.

2001-2010 was the warmest decade on record, the WMO noted, and added that the last three decades had been warmer than the previous one.

The WMO reiterated its earlier finding that 2013 was the sixth warmest on record, with temperatures 0.5C above the long-term average (1961-1990). The southern hemisphere was particularly warm, its report said, with Argentina experiencing its second warmest year on record and New Zealand its third warmest.

Arctic sea ice in 2013 did not reach the record lows seen in 2012 for minimum extent in the summer, but was at the sixth lowest on record. The WMO noted all seven of the lowest Arctic sea-ice extents took place in the past seven years, starting with 2007, which scientists were "stunned" by at the time.

"Many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change. We saw heavier precipitation, more intense heat, and more damage from storm surges and coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise – as typhoon Haiyan so tragically demonstrated in the Philippines," said Jarraud.

Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, said: “2013 with its mixture of record warmth and extreme weather shows a now familiar mixture of natural variability and greenhouse gas induced climate change. These annual statements document a striking long term trend, and one thing is clear: that our continuing greenhouse gas emissions are a crucial driving force in the changing climate."

Next week the UN's climate science panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will publish the second part in its landmark fifth report on climate change. The report is expected to warn that food yields will suffer from future heatwaves, and the natural world will suffer severe impacts if temperatures continue to rise.

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« Reply #986 on: Mar 24, 2014, 08:01 AM »

Study: Tuberculosis afflicts one million children per year, double previous estimate

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 23, 2014 20:58 EDT

About a million children, double the previous estimate, fall ill with tuberculosis every year, said a study Monday that also gave the first tally of drug-resistant TB among the young.

“Many cases of tuberculosis and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis disease are not being detected in children,” it said.

The team’s computer model, based on population data and previous studies, suggests 999,800 people aged under 15 fell sick with TB in 2010.

Around 40 percent of the cases were in Southeast Asia and 28 percent in Africa.

“Our estimate of the total number of new cases of childhood TB is twice that estimated by the WHO (World Health Organisation) in 2011, and three times the number of child TB cases notified globally each year,” said Ted Cohen from the Harvard School of Public Health.

The research, published in The Lancet, coincides with World TB Day, which places the spotlight on a disease that claims some 1.3 million lives each year.

The team estimated that nearly 32,000 children in 2010 had multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB), meaning the strain was impervious to frontline drugs isoniazid and rifampin and was thus harder and costlier to treat.

This is the first estimate of MDR-TB among children under 15, who constitute a quarter of the global population.

Children are at a higher risk of disease and death from MDR-TB, but react well to medication. They are harder to diagnose, partly because smaller children cannot cough up sputum samples needed for laboratory tests.

Reliable estimates are necessary for health authorities to assign resources for diagnosing and treating the infectious lung disease.

Commenting on the study, Ben Marais of the Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity in Sydney, Australia, described it as the “most rigorous effort to date” to assess TB and MDR-TB incidence in children.

“Every effort should be made to reduce the massive case-detection gap and address the vast unmet need for diagnosis and treatment,” he said.

The WHO says about 450,000 people developed MDR-TB in 2012 and 170,000 died from it.

Less than 20 percent of MDR patients received appropriate treatment, which promotes further spread of the disease.

Nearly 10 percent of MDR cases are thought to be of the even deadlier XDR (extensively drug resistant) variety which does not respond to a yet wider range of drugs.
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« Reply #987 on: Mar 24, 2014, 08:02 AM »

The climate change deniers have won

By Nick Cohen, The Observer
Saturday, March 22, 2014 14:27 EDT

Scientists continue to warn us about global warming, but most of us have a vested interest in not wanting to think about it

The American Association for the Advancement of Science came as close as such a respectable institution can to screaming an alarm last week. “As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do,” it said as it began one of those sentences that you know will build to a “but”. “But human-caused climate risks abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes.”

In other words, the most distinguished scientists from the country with the world’s pre-eminent educational institutions were trying to shake humanity out of its complacency. Why weren’t their warnings leading the news?

In one sense, the association’s appeal was not new. The Royal Society, the Royal Institution, Nasa, the US National Academy of Sciences, the US Geological Survey, the IPCC and the national science bodies of 30 or so other countries have said that man-made climate change is on the march. A survey of 2,000 peer-reviewed papers on global warming published in the last 20 years found that 97% said that humans were causing it.

When the glib talk about the “scientific debate on global warming”, they either don’t know or will not accept that there is no scientific debate. The suggestion first made by Eugene F Stoermer that the planet has moved from the Holocene, which began at the end of the last ice age, to the manmade Anthropocene, in which we now live, is everywhere gaining support. Man-made global warming and the man-made mass extinction of species define this hot, bloody and (let us hope) brief epoch in the world’s history.

If global warming is not new, it is urgent: a subject that should never be far from our thoughts. Yet within 24 hours of the American association’s warning the British government’s budget confirmed that it no longer wanted to fight it.

David Cameron, who once promised that if you voted blue you would go green, now appoints Owen Paterson, a man who is not just ignorant of environmental science but proud of his ignorance, as his environment secretary. George Osborne, who once promised that his Treasury would be “at the heart of this historic fight against climate change“, now gives billions in tax concessions to the oil and gas industry, cuts the funds for onshore wind farms and strips the Green Investment Bank of the ability to borrow and lend

All of which is a long way of saying that the global warming deniers have won. And please, can I have no emails from bed-wetting kidults blubbing that you can’t call us “global warming deniers ” because “denier” makes us sound like “Holocaust deniers”, and that means you are comparing us to Nazis? The evidence for man-made global warming is as final as the evidence of Auschwitz. No other word will do.

Tempting though it is to blame cowardly politicians, the abuse comes too easily. The question remains: what turned them into cowards? Rightwing billionaires in the United States and the oil companies have spent fortunes on blocking action on climate change. A part of the answer may therefore be that conservative politicians in London, Washington and Canberra are doing their richest supporters’ bidding. There’s truth in the bribery hypothesis. In my own little world of journalism, I have seen rightwing hacks realise the financial potential of denial and turn from reasonable men and women into beetle-browed conspiracy theorists.

But the right is also going along with an eruption of know-nothing populism. Just as there are leftish greens, who will never accept that GM foods are safe, so an ever-growing element on the right becomes more militant as the temperature rises.

Clive Hamilton, the Australian author of Requiem for a Species, made the essential point a few years ago that climate change denial was no longer just a corporate lobbying campaign. The opponents of science would say what they said unbribed. The movement was in the grip of “cognitive dissonance”, a condition first defined by Leon Festinger and his colleagues in the 1950s . They examined a cult that had attached itself to a Chicago housewife called Dorothy Martin. She convinced her followers to resign from their jobs and sell their possessions because a great flood was to engulf the earth on 21 December 1954. They would be the only survivors. Aliens in a flying saucer would swoop down and save the chosen few.

When 21 December came and went, and the Earth carried on as before, the group did not despair. Martin announced that the aliens had sent her a message saying that they had decided at the last minute not to flood the planet after all. Her followers believed her. They had given up so much for their faith that they would believe anything rather than admit their sacrifices had been pointless.

Climate change deniers are as committed. Their denial fits perfectly with their support for free market economics, opposition to state intervention and hatred of all those latte-slurping, quinoa-munching liberals, with their arrogant manners and dainty hybrid cars, who presume to tell honest men and women how to live. If they admitted they were wrong on climate change, they might have to admit that they were wrong on everything else and their whole political identity would unravel.

The politicians know too well that beyond the corporations and the cultish fanatics in their grass roots lies the great mass of people, whose influence matters most. They accept at some level that manmade climate change is happening but don’t want to think about it.

I am no better than them. I could write about the environment every week. No editor would stop me. But the task feels as hopeless as arguing against growing old. Whatever you do or say, it is going to happen. How can you persuade countries to accept huge reductions in their living standards to limit (not stop) the rise in temperatures? How can you persuade the human race to put the future ahead of the present?

The American historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Eril M Conway quoted a researcher, who was asked in the 1970s what his country’s leaders said when he warned them that C02 levels would double in 50 years. “They tell me to come back in 49 years,” he replied.

Most of the rest of us think like the Washington politicians of the Carter era. And most of us have no right to sneer at Dorothy Martin and her cult either. We cannot admit it, but like them, we need a miracle to save us from the floods. © Guardian News and Media 2014

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« Reply #988 on: Mar 24, 2014, 08:10 AM »

Africa: Ebola epidemic reaches Guinea capital, UNICEF says


An epidemic of the deadly Ebola virus in Guinea has now reached the country’s capital of Conakry, the United Nations children's agency said on Sunday.

"At least 59 out of 80 who contracted Ebola across the West African country have died so far. Over the past few days, the deadly haemorrhagic fever has quickly spread from the communities of Macenta, Gueckedou, and Kissidougou to the capital, Conakry," UNICEF said.

Conakry, a vast, sprawling port city on Guinea's Atlantic coast, is estimated to have a population of between 1.5 and two million.

To date, no treatment or vaccine is available for Ebola, which kills between 25 and 90 percent of those who fall sick, depending on the strain of the virus, according to the World Health Organisation.

The disease is transmitted by direct contact with blood, faeces or sweat, or by sexual contact or unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.

UNICEF said at least three victims of the outbreak, which began on February 9, were children.

"This outbreak is particularly devastating because medical staff are among the first victims, so far it has killed at least eight health workers who have been in contact with infected patients, hindering the response and threatening normal care in a country already lacking in medical personnel," UNICEF said.

The organisation said it had rushed five tonnes of aid, including medical supplies, to the most affected areas in Guinea's south.

"UNICEF has pre-positioned supplies and stepped up communication on the ground to inform and sensitise medical staff and the population on how to avoid contracting Ebola."

The organisation urged Guineans not to attend funerals wherever possible and to avoid all contact with the sick and the dead.

‘One of the most virulent diseases’

Ebola, one of the world's most virulent diseases, was first discovered in Africa in 1976. The most recent epidemic, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), infected 62 people and left 34 dead between May and November 2012, according to the country's health ministry.

There are fears it could be used in a biological weapons attack.

According to researchers, the virus multiplies quickly, overwhelming the immune system's ability to fight the infection.

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has set up isolation units for suspected cases in the southern region of Nzerekore and is seeking out people who may have had contacts with the infected.

World Health Organisation officials say cases showing similar symptoms, including fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and bleeding have also been reported in an area of Sierra Leone near the border with Guinea.

On Saturday, a Sierra Leone health official said that authorities there were running tests to determine if the cases were part of the epidemic in Guinea.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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« Reply #989 on: Mar 25, 2014, 06:02 AM »

Risky cities: red equals danger in Bucharest, Europe's earthquake capital

The first in a new series on cities living with risk assesses the problems facing Romania's capital, where hundreds of ornate buildings in the historic centre are in real danger of collapse

Kit Gillet in Bucharest, Tuesday 25 March 2014 08.00 GMT      

Dan Lungu, a sprightly 70-year-old expert on seismological risk, is taking a morning stroll down a street in the centre of the Romanian capital, pointing out historic buildings that are slowly falling apart as he goes. They are the victims not only of neglect, but seismic activity. “Bucharest is the most dangerous major city in Europe when it comes to earthquakes,” Lungu explains.

Nearly 40 years ago, an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale struck 60 miles away from Bucharest. The resulting shockwaves destroyed more than 30 high-rise buildings in the Romanian capital as well as thousands of other structures. An estimated 1,578 people were killed with a further 11,000 injured. It was one of the most devastating events in recent Romanian history.

“In that 1977 quake, 33 [high-rise] buildings in Bucharest were completely destroyed, but many others were damaged,” says Lungu. The former director of the Romanian National Institute of Historical Monuments points to the metal brackets that were attached to building walls as a quick-fix solution soon after the earthquake struck. The fact those brackets are still there today, and that little has been done to shore up these heritage buildings, is of major concern to Lungu and others trying to protect both the city and its structures.

Bucharest is a beautiful and little-known European city, with an historic heart full of crumbling, ornate, early 20th-century buildings. A walk down Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue) in the heart of the city takes you past former palaces, majestic hotels dating from the turn of the 20th century, and the homes of some of the country’s most renowned historical figures, including George Enescu, the country’s best-loved composer.

But Bucharest is also the most earthquake-prone capital in Europe, affected by numerous small tremors every year – and many of its older buildings are in real danger of collapse.

In the late 1990s, the Romanian government began a programme of building assessments, placing red circular plaques on buildings that were deemed likely to collapse in an earthquake of magnitude 7 or higher. The idea was to identify the buildings so that efforts could be made to preserve them and protect their inhabitants, with residents being given interest-free loans to carry out the necessary repairs.

To date, 374 buildings in the heart of the old city (containing as many as 2,700 apartments) have been classified as Class I risk. Many are still inhabited by long-term residents; people seeking cheap rent or those unable to afford to live elsewhere in the capital. Rents can be a third less in these buildings than in neighbouring apartments.

The testing process was begun at the request of the apartments’ residents, who then quickly realised the negatives of owning property in a building with a “red spot”. Repair loans would only be awarded if every homeowner in the building agreed – if just one resident refused, the building would still be given a red spot without any way to remove it.

“People realised it was pointless, that property prices would go down. There have been no more than 17 requests for red spot tests since 2000. If people see the spot, the price lowers and it is harder to sell,” says Lungu, adding that many residents have removed the plaques from the sides of their buildings.

“Probably nearly all of the buildings in Bucharest’s old town should have red spots,” he adds, almost as an afterthought.

Sitting in her apartment on the fourth floor of a 1930s tenement building, 34-year-old Daniela Turcu says she fell in love with Bucharest’s old architecture soon after arriving in the city a year ago – but is now planning to move from her building, which has a prominent red plaque on it. “It is cheap and everywhere in the city centre is so expensive, but after one of last year’s bigger earthquakes I got scared,” the 34-year-old Romanian artist says. “I’m not sure if I am being paranoid, but it is just not worth the risk.”

Turcu says few of the owners or landlords here bother spending money to do up the apartments, when there is a chance that the building could fall down or become uninhabitable after the next major earthquake hits – whenever that is.

According to Nicusor Dan, a 45-year-old mathematics professor who moved to the city as a 20-year-old and eventually set up his own small NGO to protect Bucharest’s heritage architecture, the fact the buildings are now nearly 40 years older, yet have had little done to preserve them, “means that if an earthquake happens again similar to 1977, we can expect an even greater number of deaths”.
Some buildings are left to deteriorate until they have to be pulled down for safety reasons – with high-rises appearing in their place Some buildings are left to deteriorate until they have to be pulled down for safety reasons – with high-rises appearing in their place. Photograph: Kit Gillet

Dan estimates there are around a thousand historical buildings in danger in Bucharest, with just 26 having been strengthened in the past 20 years. “The buildings most at danger are the high-rises built between the wars,” he says. Many of these buildings still bear the scars of the earthquake in 1977.

Despite his mathematical background, Dan declines to offer odds on the next quake happening soon – but says his logical thinking comes in useful when preparing to go to court to try to get yet another building placed on the heritage list, or protected from demolition. “When a house is destroyed, I resent it very strongly,” he says.

Hundreds of buildings dating from the early 20th century remain empty across Bucharest, having been allowed to fall into disrepair. In the pedestrian heart of the city, where revellers sit at cafe and bar terraces in the evenings, some buildings have wire-mesh netting to try to protect passersby from any falling masonry.

Critics say a significant number of these historic buildings could be strengthened, rejuvenated and saved – but that the owners prefer to leave them empty, waiting until it is necessary to tear them down for safety reasons and then, in their place, building a modern high-rise.

“A get-rich-quick mentality has been responsible for much of the destruction of Old Bucharest,” says Roxana Wring, founder of the Association for the Protection and Documentation of Listed Monuments and Heritage of Romania. “There is not even a beginning of a modern approach to what it means to preserve the cultural landscape in Bucharest.”

Wring suggests the local authorities need to treat the city’s historic buildings in a holistic way, rather than as a set of disparate objects that can be replaced by modern buildings which are, often, in stark contrast to the “historical character of the neighbourhoods”.

“Urban regeneration and conservation can only be created with decent regulations,” says Wring. “There is no political will to change things related to heritage.”

Some of Bucharest’s older buildings have stood empty for years; others are being aided in their deterioration at night through strategic vandalism. Once they reach a certain stage of disrepair, the owners will have no choice but to finish the job. In the meantime, they are dangerous shells of buildings that could easily fall on those passing by, with or without the help of an earthquake.

“It is impossible to predict when the next major quake could happen,” says Lungu, as we continue our walk around the old city centre. “A similar magnitude earthquake to the one that occurred in 1977 happens every 50 to 100 years.”

And so, people in Bucharest must go on living in and around dilapidated buildings that are at serious seismic risk. As Daniela Turcu says: “I guess most of my neighbours just try not to think about it too much.”

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