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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 79548 times)
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« Reply #390 on: Apr 06, 2013, 07:28 AM »


The Christian Science Monitor

Face-sized tarantula lives in trees in Sri Lanka

Face-sized tarantula: With a leg span of up to 8 inches across, the Poecilotheria rajaei, is one of the larger species of tarantula.

By Eoin O'Carroll, Staff / April 4, 2013 at 3:31 pm EDT

Wired reports on what may be a new species of tarantula in Northern Sri Lanka, and it's unlikely to be appearing on the island nation's tourism materials any time soon.

Writer Nadia Drake describes the tree-dwelling Poecilotheria rajaei  as "about the size of your face" – the human face apparently being a standard metric for tarantula sizes – and notes that it has a pink band on its underside.

The spider was first discovered in 2009, by Ranil Nanayakkara, co-founder of Sri Lanka’s Biodiversity Education and Research.

“They are quite rare,” Nanayakkara told Wired. “They prefer well-established old trees, but due to deforestation the number have dwindled, and due to lack of suitable habitat they enter old buildings.”

As huge as P. rajaei is, it's not actually the world's biggest tarantula. That distinction goes to Theraphosa blondi, the Goliath birdeater, a burrowing spider native to the rainforests of northern South America. These spiders have a leg span of up to 12 inches – or 1.5 faces.

The Goliath birdeater is the world's second largest spider by leg span, and might be the largest by mass. The cave-dwelling giant huntsman spider, Heteropoda maxima, discovered in Laos in 2001, has a leg span that is slightly longer than that of the birdeater.

For what it's worth, the world's smallest spider is the Patu marplesi, a species native to Western Samoa. According to the Guinness Book of World records, It measures 0.017 inches. You could fit about 470 of them on your face, if you felt so inclined.   

But back to the Sri Lankan tarantula. Researchers are not completely certain that it represents a new species. Wired's Drake spoke with Robert Raven, an arachnologist at the Queensland Museum in Australia, who suspects that it very well could be a local variant of a related species. She notes that the spider closely resembles Poecilotheria regalis, a species native to the Indian mainland. We won't know until DNA samples are taken.

Ms. Drake writes that the spider's discoverer "hints that he’s got several more potential new tarantulas up his sleeve, awaiting review." Let's hope that she didn't mean that literally.


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« Reply #391 on: Apr 06, 2013, 07:31 AM »

Zoo to build power plant that uses panda poop to produce electricity

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 5, 2013 17:00 EDT

Not content with housing a pair of celebrity pandas that attract hordes of avid onlookers, a zoo in France has decided to put their droppings to good use by recycling them into gas and electricity.

Yuan Zi and Huan Huan — “Chubby” and “Happy” in Chinese — arrived at Beauval zoo in central France in January last year, on loan from China for 10 years at a cost of around a million dollars a year.

The zoo announced Friday it would build a facility that would process the dung of the two pandas and of other animals, as well as plant matter, to produce biogas that will then be turned into heat and electricity.

The plant, which will cost 2.3 million euros ($3 million), is expected to be operative in the spring of 2014.

Some of the energy produced will be used to keep gorillas and manatees — also known as sea cows — warm in their pens, and to heat the building that houses elephants in the winter, allowing a 40 percent saving on the gas bill.

The rest will be transformed into electricity and sold to French power giant EDF.

“This initiative is a perfect fit in the policy of sustainable development that we have been applying for a long time,” said Delphine Delord, spokeswoman for the zoo.

Pandas are an endangered species and only about 1,600 remain in the wild in China.

Some 300 others are in captivity worldwide — mostly in China, but also in 15 foreign zoos where they are sent as part of Beijing’s efforts to use soft power to boost its image, the so-called “panda diplomacy.”

They eat 35 kilos (78 pounds) of bamboo a day and defecate about 30 kilos a day, making them prime candidates for this green initiative.

Beauval zoo has a total of 4,600 animals and attracted some one million visitors last year.


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« Reply #392 on: Apr 07, 2013, 06:21 AM »

Video: A Boom with No Boundaries

By Andrew Satter and Jessica Goad | April 2, 2013

The Bakken oil boom in North Dakota has brought much-needed jobs and economic development to the region. But the fast pace of the drilling has caused many problems, including industrial-scale impacts on Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the land surrounding it.

“A Boom With No Boundaries” explores how one of America’s 59 national parks is already being affected by the pollution, traffic, and noise associated with oil and gas drilling. And this is only the beginning of the problems, as drilling continues to ramp up on the public lands managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management around the park. This video recommends that the oil and gas industry and the Obama administration slow down and take measures to protect the national park’s resources. If they don’t, this special treasure—once the home to our greatest conservation president, Theodore Roosevelt—will be irrevocably damaged.

The story of the assault on Theodore Roosevelt National Park is only one example of how energy development and land conservation are out of balance on our public lands. Over the past four years, the Obama administration has leased two-and-a-half times more acres of public lands to oil and gas companies than it has permanently protected. It’s time for the administration to put policies that protect and conserve our public lands and national parks for future generations on equal ground with policies that promote more oil and gas drilling.

click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfOpPnfW0lo&feature=player_embedded
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« Reply #393 on: Apr 07, 2013, 08:18 AM »

April 6, 2013

Taping of Farm Cruelty Is Becoming the Crime

By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
NYT

On one covert video, farm workers illegally burn the ankles of Tennessee walking horses with chemicals. Another captures workers in Wyoming punching and kicking pigs and flinging piglets into the air. And at one of the country’s largest egg suppliers, a video shows hens caged alongside rotting bird corpses, while workers burn and snap off the beaks of young chicks.

Each video — all shot in the last two years by undercover animal rights activists — drew a swift response: Federal prosecutors in Tennessee charged the horse trainer and other workers, who have pleaded guilty, with violating the Horse Protection Act. Local authorities in Wyoming charged nine farm employees with cruelty to animals. And the egg supplier, which operates in Iowa and other states, lost one of its biggest customers, McDonald’s, which said the video played a part in its decision.

But a dozen or so state legislatures have had a different reaction: They proposed or enacted bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups. They have also drafted measures to require such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which activists say would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of large factory farms.

Critics call them “Ag-Gag” bills.

Some of the legislation appears inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business advocacy group with hundreds of state representatives from farm states as members. The group creates model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that in the past have included such things as “stand your ground” gun laws and tighter voter identification rules.

One of the group’s model bills, “The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” prohibits filming or taking pictures on livestock farms to “defame the facility or its owner.” Violators would be placed on a “terrorist registry.”

Officials from the group did not respond to a request for comment.

Animal rights activists say they have not seen legislation that would require them to register as terrorists, but they say other measures — including laws passed last year in Iowa, Utah and Missouri — make it nearly impossible to produce similar undercover exposés. Some groups say that they have curtailed activism in those states.

“It definitely has had a chilling effect on our ability to conduct undercover investigations,” said Vandhana Bala, general counsel for Mercy for Animals, which has shot many videos, including the egg-farm investigation in 2011. (McDonald’s said that video showed “disturbing and completely unacceptable” behavior, but that none of the online clips were from the Iowa farm that supplied its eggs. Ms. Bala, though, said that some video showing bird carcasses in cages did come from that facility.)

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which lobbies for the agricultural and meat industries, criticized the mistreatment seen on some videos. But the group cautions that some methods represent best practices endorsed by animal-care experts.

The videos may seem troubling to someone unfamiliar with farming, said Kelli Ludlum, the group’s director of Congressional relations, but they can be like seeing open-heart surgery for the first time.

“They could be performing a perfect procedure, but you would consider it abhorrent that they were cutting a person open,” she said.

In coming weeks, Indiana and Tennessee are expected to vote on similar measures, while states from California to Pennsylvania continue to debate them.

Opponents have scored some recent victories, as a handful of bills have died, including those in New Mexico and New Hampshire. In Wyoming, the legislation stalled after loud opposition from animal rights advocates, including Bob Barker, former host of “The Price is Right.”

In Indiana, an expansive bill became one of the most controversial of the state legislative session, drawing heated opposition from labor groups and the state press association, which said the measure violated the First Amendment.

After numerous constitutional objections, the bill was redrafted and will be unveiled Monday, said Greg Steuerwald, a Republican state representative and chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

The new bill would require job applicants to disclose material information or face criminal penalties, a provision that opponents say would prevent undercover operatives from obtaining employment. And employees who do something beyond the scope of their jobs could be charged with criminal trespass.

An employee who took a video on a livestock farm with his phone and gave it to someone else would “probably” run afoul of the proposed law, Mr. Steuerwald said. The bill will apply not just to farms, but to all employers, he added.

Nancy J. Guyott, the president of the Indiana chapter of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said she feared that the legislation would punish whistle-blowers.

Nationally, animal rights advocates fear that they will lose a valuable tool that fills the void of what they say is weak or nonexistent regulation.

Livestock companies say that their businesses have suffered financially from unfair videos that are less about protecting animals than persuading consumers to stop eating meat.

Don Lehe, a Republican state representative from a rural district in Indiana, said online videos can cast farmers in a false light and give them little opportunity to correct the record.

“That property owner is essentially guilty before they had the chance to address the issue,” Mr. Lehe said.

As for whistle-blowers, advocates for the meat industry say that they are protected from prosecution by provisions in some bills that give them 24 to 48 hours to turn over videos to legal authorities.

“If an abuse has occurred and they have evidence of it, why are they holding on to it?” said Dale Moore, executive director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

But animal rights groups say investigations take months to complete.

Undercover workers cannot document a pattern of abuse, gather enough evidence to force a government investigation and determine whether managers condone the abuse within one to two days, said Matt Dominguez, who works on farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States.

“Instead of working to prevent future abuses, the factory farms want to silence them,” he said. “What they really want is for the whistle to be blown on the whistle-blower.”

The Humane Society was responsible for a number of undercover investigations, including the videos of the Wyoming pig farm and the Tennessee walking horses.

Video shot in 2011 showed workers dripping caustic chemicals onto the horses’ ankles and clasping metal chains onto the injured tissue. This illegal and excruciating technique, known as “soring,” forces the horse to thrust its front legs forward after every painful step to exaggerate the distinctive high-stepping gait favored by breeders. The video also showed a worker hitting a horse in the head with a large piece of wood.

The Humane Society first voluntarily turned over the video to law enforcement. By the time the video was publicly disclosed, federal prosecutors had filed charges. A week later, they announced guilty pleas from the horse trainer and other workers.

Prosecutors later credited the Humane Society with prompting the federal investigation and establishing “evidence instrumental to the case.”

That aid to prosecutors shows the importance of lengthy undercover investigations that would be prevented by laws requiring video to be turned over within one or two days, Mr. Dominguez said.

“At the first sign of animal cruelty, we’d have to pull our investigator out, and we wouldn’t be able to build a case that leads to charges.”

click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gxVlxT_x-f0


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« Reply #394 on: Apr 08, 2013, 06:06 AM »


April 07, 2013 07:00 PM

Exxon Spills Chemicals in Louisiana While Cleaning Up Oil in Arkansas

By Diane Sweet
Occupy America

The Mayflower, Arkansas oil spill continues to be the source of questions about the long-term health, environmental and financial consequences for residents in a town the state's attorney general described as a scene out of "The Walking Dead."

And even as Exxon was cleans up after its tar-sands oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas on Wednesday -- and threatening to have reporters arrested -- it spilled an unknown amount of unknown chemicals, possibly hydrogen sulfide and cancer-causing benzene during an accident at the Chalmette refinery in Louisiana.

From The Times-Picayune:

    ExxonMobil first reported releasing 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide and 10 pounds of benzene, a volatile organic carbon compound known to cause cancer, because those amounts are the minimum required for reporting, [Coast Guard Petty Officer Jason] Screws said. But the company has since said it is unsure exactly what chemicals were involved or how much may have been released, he said.

    The spill occurred as a result of a break in a pipeline connecting a drum used to store “liquid flare condensate,” with a flare on the refinery site, Screws said. He said the company measured 160 parts per million of hydrogen sulfide and 2 parts per million of benzene in the air at the site of the spill, but has not seen similar readings at the plant’s fence line or in the neighboring community.

Area residents breathed in the chemicals caused by the spill for over a day, leading to reports of breathing difficulties and other ailments. But the Coast Guard told them not to worry because everything was just fine.

Reuters:

    "We haven't told the refinery to shut down because we haven't any cause for a shutdown," Zeteza said. "We've no indication that this is dangerous."

The "safety" record of the Louisiana refinery sounds horrid and includes a 36-barrel spill in January, and 10 incidents in which it violated the pollution limits, including an outage caused by Hurricane Isaac during the last 6 months of 2012.

Not too surprising, but the size of the Exxon tar sands disaster in Arkansas grew by thousands of barrels on Friday.

From InsideClimate News:

    Since ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured and leaked Canadian oil across an Arkansas suburb a week ago, the company has maintained that only "a few thousand barrels" spilled at the site.

    "We've had no reason to change that at this stage," Exxon spokesman Charles Engelmann told InsideClimate News on Friday.
    ...
    Reports posted online by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimate the spill even higher—at 4,000 to 7,000 barrels—as much as 40 percent more.

    Austin Vela, the EPA spokesman at the spill site, said the agency stands by its 4,000 to 7,000 barrel estimate. When asked why those higher numbers aren't being included in the daily press releases issued by the joint command of the cleanup operation, Vela did not respond. The joint command includes five EPA employees as well as ExxonMobil officials.

An update to the article notes that after it was published, Exxon Mobil updated the joint command incident report for Friday, and it now states that approximately 5,000 barrels of oil spilled in Mayflower.

For some perspective on the size of this mess, the report notes that if the EPA's highest estimate of 7,000 barrels is correct, that would make this spill about one-third the size of the Enbridge spill in Michigan's 2010 dilbit disaster.

Exxon is still keeping tight control of the command center even though the EPA is the designated on-scene coordinator. An employee of the oil giant threatened to have InsideClimate News reporter Lisa Song with arrested after she went to the command center in an effort to contact the EPA and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) employees who are working there.

*********

Activists claim Arkansas oil spill diverted into wetland

By Stephen C. Webster
RawStory
Sunday, April 7, 2013 16:59 EDT

Activists with the group Tar Sands Blockade published new videos on Sunday showing oil from the Arkansas pipeline rupture purportedly diverted from a residential neighborhood into a wetland area to keep it out sight and, most importantly, out of the media.

While it’s not clear if the oil was intentionally moved into the wetland, the company says it is cleaning pavement with power washing devices, which could cause some of the oil to be pushed off neighborhood streets and into other areas.

Activists also interviewed a local resident who claimed the oil has continued “flowing” into Lake Conway since the spill happened.

A letter sent by ExxonMobil to residents of Mayflower on March 31 claims the oil did not reach Lake Conway.

“I don’t have allergies,” a man who lives on Lake Conway told tar sands activists. “But now my sinuses are bothering me. My throat’s bothering me. My eyes water constantly. But they [Exxon] act like nothing’s wrong. They don’t have to live here, we do. And we’re not moving just because of them.”

The activists noted that they were turned away from the area several times before by police and Exxon spill cleanup workers, but they returned on Saturday just before sundown and managed to sneak in to capture footage of the oiled wetlands. In two separate videos, nearby residents say they’ve been made sick my the spill, which has tremendously affected their air quality.

This footage has largely remained out of the media due to the lockdown that’s descended upon Mayflower nearly a week since the spill. Reporters touring the damage with Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel were allegedly turned away by Exxon workers. One journalist, InsideClimate News’s Susan White, was even threatened with arrest when she asked a question of Exxon’s “public affairs” desk inside the spill cleanup command center. The company has also secured a no-fly zone over the spill area.

Video of Lake Conway’s wetlands shows thousands of what Exxon called “absorbent pads” — which appear to be nothing more than paper towels — littering the blackened landscape as thick, soupy crude bubbles across the water’s surface. The company insists that air quality in the affected region is being measured by the Environmental Protection Agency, and that tests show “levels that are either non-detect or that are below any necessary action levels.” Exxon also says that the area’s drinking water remains unaffected.

A phone number given by Exxon to reach the company’s “downstream media relations” team did not appear to be correct, and a spokesperson was not available for comment.
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« Reply #395 on: Apr 08, 2013, 07:50 AM »


Kenya's Maasai keep lions at bay with solar power and ingenuity

Teenage Maasai cattle herder invents illuminated fence to prevent lions from preying on his father's livestock

David Smith, Africa correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 8 April 2013 07.00 BST   

When it came to keeping hungry lions at bay, an old-fashioned scarecrow just wasn't up to the job. So Richard Turere, a 13-year-old Maasai cattle herder, combined rudimentary technology with teenage ingenuity to find another way.

Turere is the inventor of "lion lights", a fence made of a car battery, solar panel and torch bulbs that ensures lions no longer dare touch his father's livestock. The young Kenyan has been lauded as an inspiration after giving a recent TED talk about his invention.

Turere lives in Kitengela on the edge of Nairobi national park. He told how wild animals that migrate from the park are pursued and killed by lions.

"My community, the Maasai, we believe that we came from heaven with all our animals and all the land for herding them, and that's why we value them so much," says Turere, who started herding his family's cattle when he was nine. "So I grew up hating lions so much. The morans are the warriors who protect our community and the livestock, and they're also upset about this problem. So they kill the lions … And I think this is why the Nairobi national park lions are few."

Turere said he tried various ideas for a more peaceful solution, such as a kerosene lamp and a scarecrow. "But lions are very clever. They will come the first day and they see the scarecrow, and they go back, but the second day, they'll come and they say, this thing is not moving here, it's always here. So he jumps in and kills the animals."

But, one night, Turere went to the cowshed with a torch and found that the lions stayed away. "I discovered that lions are afraid of a moving light."

The teenager – who has a knack for making things from scrapyard parts – bought a car battery, motorcycle indicator box, switches, torch bulbs and solar panel, and hooked them together. It worked, and now dozens of lion lights have been rigged up around Kenya.

As a consequence, Turere gained a scholarship to one of the country's top schools, delivered a TED talk in Longbeach, California, last month, and has ambitions to be an aircraft engineer and pilot when he grows up.

"I used to hate lions," he adds, "but now, because my invention is saving my father's cows and the lions, we are able to stay with the lions without any conflict."


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« Reply #396 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:02 AM »

Land desertification and drought causes up to $450 billion in lost farm output

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 9, 2013 15:41 EDT

Loss of land through desertification and drought costs up to five percent of world agricultural gross domestic product (AGDP), or some $450 billion (340 billion euros), every year, said a study presented at a UN conference Tuesday.

Each year an area roughly three times the size of Switzerland is lost through soil degradation, it said, as 870 million people suffer from chronic hunger.

Between four and 12 percent of Africa’s AGDP is lost due to degraded land annually, and in Guatemala the figure is 24 percent, the report said.

In Uzbekistan, food yields have declined by 20-30 percent due to deteriorated land, while in East Africa nearly 3.7 million people need food assistance as a result of the drought of 2011, it said.

The study, a summary of published research, was presented at the opening of a four-day conference in Bonn of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

It is the most detailed exploration of the economic cost of degraded and desertified land since 1992, the UNCCD said.

At that time, the direct annual cost was estimated at $42 billion.

“For current estimates, the best guess is $450 billion per year as a result of land degradation, drought and desertification and loss in fertile soil,” said Walter Ammann, head of Global Risk Forum Davos, which promotes debate on issues of world risk.

“For example, Bangladesh is losing two percent of its fertile soil on an annual basis,” Ammann said in a phone interview from the former West German capital.

“If you calculate this on a linear basis, then in 50 years’ time, Bangladesh will have no fertile soil available.”
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« Reply #397 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:50 AM »


Germany: ‘Historic compromise on final nuclear waste storage site’

Der Tagesspiegel,
10 April 2013

The federal government and Germany’s 16 states have reached agreement on a project to seek a site for a final deep-level nuclear waste storage dump.

A bill will shortly be introduced to propose an alternative to the hotly contested plan to use a salt dome at the Gorleben site in Lower Saxony, which is already Germany’s main nuclear waste storage facility, amid criticism of the geoscientific arguments used to select Gorleben.

Exploration to find a site will be conducted “with full transparency and possible participation by citizens” at locations across Germany so as “to finally reach a consensus” said Winfried Kretschmann, the Green party Minister-President of the state of Baden-Württemberg.
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« Reply #398 on: Apr 10, 2013, 07:52 AM »


April 9, 2013

In Crisis, Last Roundup for Horses in Spain Is the Slaughterhouse

By RAPHAEL MINDER
IHT

CHAPINERIA, Spain — Like his father and grandfather before him, Alberto Martín breeds horses, raising them on two farms, one of them here on the outskirts of Madrid. But even as a third-generation breeder, nothing in his experience had prepared him for times like these. Over the last two years, Mr. Martín says he has been forced to sell 50 of his 70 beloved mares for about $400 each. That is all the slaughterhouse would pay.

Some of the horses had cost him as much $24,000 when he bought them before 2008, the start of the financial crisis. But now, Mr. Martin said, ‘'it sadly makes more sense to sacrifice horses for close to zero money rather than continue to pay for their upkeep, knowing that nobody seems to want to buy horses anymore.'’

“Breeding always has its difficulties,” he added, “but I don’t believe anybody in my family ever faced a crisis like this.'”

While a horse meat scandal has recently raised concern among European consumers over their food and its labeling, for breeders and others in this horse-loving country an altogether different kind of drama has unfolded — the increasing slaughter of horses that people either do not want or cannot afford.

Many were bought during Spain’s real estate-led boom years, when owning a horse was seen by some buyers as a way to gain social status and join the ranks of Spain’s landed gentry, without always considering the long-term maintenance costs. Now that the economic bubble has burst, many of those same buyers have been offloading horses, often for slaughter.

Other horses are simply abandoned, or killed illegally, animal right activists say, their carcasses dumped in remote areas and sometimes even beheaded in order to remove their identification microchip and avoid a possible fine. The police recently unearthed a horse cemetery in the hills near Algeciras that contained the unidentifiable remains of around 20 horses.

“Many people who suddenly became rich thanks to property then also went crazy about buying nice horses,” said Miguel Alonso, a horse veterinarian. “The major difference is that you can at least shutter a house if the market then collapses, while a horse has to continue to be fed.”

The crisis has had the unexpected effect of making Spain an increasingly prominent supplier of horse meat to the rest of the Continent. The number of horses killed in Spanish slaughterhouses has doubled since the start of the financial crisis, to 59,379 last year from 30,563 in 2008, according to Spain’s Agriculture Ministry.

Most of that Spanish horse meat is exported to countries like France and Italy, where horse meat is a culinary tradition. Spanish horse meat exports rose six-fold in 2011, according to the most recent figures from the Agriculture Ministry. (Spain itself, with the exception of the eastern regions closest to France, has little use for horse meat.)

Spanish officials say that the slaughtering boom has increasingly claimed horses in their prime years, not just those one step from the proverbial glue factory, which is good if you plan to eat their meat. “There has been a move from slaughtering older to younger horses, so the quality of Spanish horse meat is also much higher than before,"said Luis Vázquez, head of the animal inspection department in Seville, Andalusia’s capital.

The slaughtering has gathered pace particularly in the southern farming region of Andalusia, home to almost a third of the country’s horses. In Andalusia alone, the slaughtering activity almost tripled last year, to 16,391 horses from 6,256 in 2011, according to data from the regional government.

Animal rights activists warn that the number of abandoned horses is also soaring. “There are hundreds of horses whose lives are under threat right now in Spain,” said Virginia Solera, who works for Cyd Santa María, a Málaga-based association that rescues abandoned horses.

The statistics on slaughter understate the true magnitude of the problem, Ms. Solera and other activists said, because under Spanish law only horses that have been registered can be taken to a slaughterhouse. As in other sectors of Spain’s economy, the activists claim that a sizeable part of the horse business is underground.

The Agriculture Ministry said that it had been clamping down on unregistered horses and ranches in recent years, leading to a rise of 14 percent in the official census of 2011, which registered 748,622 horses in Spain.

Still, Rafael Olvera, who is director general for livestock and agricultural production in Andalusia, argued that the rise in slaughtering should still be seen “a legitimate business decision that any owner can make.” As for horses being abandoned, Mr. Olvera said, “There have been some cases, but not on the scale of a major scandal.”

Mr. Martín, the breeder, would of course prefer to sell his horses to buyers interested in keeping and raising them. On Monday morning, he was busy grooming some of the horses that he keeps and has not managed to sell since the start of the crisis, including 8-year-old Farruco, who has been earmarked for dressage, and 6-year-old Gallo, a black stallion.

Mr. Martín said he had lowered the price for his horses on average by 60 percent in the past year. He is now asking $14,000 for Gallo, for instance, compared with an initial price tag of more than $30,000.

“It used to be so easy to find buyers that I had never bothered with any marketing,” he said, “But now, even with plenty of advertising, I’m lucky if I can sell one horse a month.”


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« Reply #399 on: Apr 11, 2013, 06:11 AM »

Baby elephant rescued from well in India - video

guardian.uk
11/4/13

A baby elephant calf is rescued from a well in a rubber plantation in Kerala, south India. Forest officials bring in a crane to break the side of the well down, enabling them to pull out the distressed animal. Vets say the elephant was injured during the ordeal, but would fully recover

click to watch: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/apr/11/baby-elephant-well-india-video
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« Reply #400 on: Apr 12, 2013, 06:53 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/12/2013 12:34 PM

Radiating Remnants: Nuclear Waste Barrels Litter English Channel

By Nicola Kuhrt

German journalists have discovered barrels of radioactive waste on the floor of the English Channel, just a handful of thousands dumped there decades ago. It was previously thought the material had dissipated. Now politicians are calling for the removal of the potentially harmful containers.

Some 28,500 containers of radioactive waste were dropped into the English Channel between 1950 and 1963. Experts have assumed that the containers had long since rusted open, spreading the radioactivity throughout the ocean and thus rendering it innocuous. But a new investigative report from the joint French-German public broadcaster ARTE has concluded that the waste is still intact at the bottom of the sea.

As part of an investigative report set to air on April 23, affiliated German public broadcaster SWR sent an unmanned, remote-controlled submarine into the canal's depths, where they discovered two nuclear waste barrels at a depth of 124 meters (406 feet) just kilometers from the French coast.

Jettisoned by both the British and the Belgians, the containers hold some of the estimated 17,224 metric tons of low-level radioactive waste dumped in the English Channel's underwater valley known as Hurd's Deep, just north of the isle of Alderney, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The British barrels are estimated to have contained 58 trillion becquerels (units of radioactivity), while the Belgian barrels held some 2.4 trillion bequerels. By way of comparison, the European Union's limit for drinking water is 10 becquerels per liter.

"We think that there are still many more undamaged barrels below," SWR journalist Thomas Reutter told SPIEGEL ONLINE, adding that it was very unlikely that the broadcaster's expedition uncovered the only intact containers in existence.

'High Potential for Danger'

In response to the discovery, members of Germany's environmentalist Green Party have called for the barrels to be removed from the channel, SWR reports. "I believe that at such shallow depths these barrels pose a high potential for danger," Green Party parliamentarian and nuclear policy spokesperson Sylvia Kotting-Uhl told the broadcaster. "And it's not for nothing that dumping in the ocean has been forbidden for 20 years."

Hartmut Nies, a German oceanic expert for the IAEA, is also in favor of removing the waste. "If it's not too complex, then of course they should be removed," he told SWR.

In response to a parliamentary inquiry from the Green Party in August 2012, entitled "Final Disposal Site Ocean Floor," the German federal government stated: "The Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH), as part of its radioactivity monitoring in the North Sea, regularly carries out monitoring runs, which went into the British Channel Most recently in August 2009. The monitoring data contained no indication of emissions from dumping areas."


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« Reply #401 on: Apr 12, 2013, 06:55 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/11/2013 05:57 PM

Muddy Waters: Mining Legacy Pollutes East German Rivers

By Christoph Seidler

The Spree River region in Eastern Germany is a major tourist destination, known for its picturesque, meandering tributaries. But now tons of iron ochre flushed up from brown-coal pit mines are turning the river brown, killing plants and animals, and threatening to drive visitors away from its prime attraction.

The green club-tailed dragonflies are gone. Isabell Hiekel knows not to look for them anymore along the Wudritz, a tributary of the Spree River in eastern Germany. The majestic Ophiogomphus cecilia was once at home here, growing up to seven centimeters (2.75 inches) long. "They hide their larvae here along the riverbed for four years before they emerge" she says.

The freshwater ecologist works with the activist group Saubere Spree, or Clean Spree, fighting what has become a lethal danger to the rivers around the eastern German state of Brandenburg, just a short distance from Berlin. A fine brown sludge is filling them up, killing the wildlife, from dragonflies to fish and worms.

Now, emergency measures are to be implemented in hopes of saving the Spreewald, a popular tourist attraction and a UNESCO biosphere reserve that features a network of small channels meandering through the forested landscape. Populated by the Slavic Sorbs, it is a deeply traditional region where even the mail is delivered by boat.

The idyllic setting attracts some 1. 6 million overnight guests each year, not to mention countless day-trippers who enjoy the lazy rowboat trips and pickles the region is famous for. "We earn our money with an environment that's intact," says Jana Eitner, who works for tour operator Spreescouts in the small town of Burg.

But the brown slime could endanger many of the 7,700 tourism jobs in the area, which is why activists like Eitner and Hiekel are in a delicate position. Should their warnings grow too loud, tourists might stay away, even though the catastrophic-looking sludge doesn't pose a danger to humans. But if the Spreewald's residents remain silent, the death of the surrounding flora and fauna will continue.

The problem has been of interest to a few scientists and environmentalists for some time now, and the dead zones in the headwaters of the tributaries continue to grow in size. Now that the brown mess has reached the edge of the Spreewald, politicians have suddenly -- and literally -- jumped on board.

The Legacy of Open-Cast Mining

The rust-colored mud results from a chemical compound known as iron (III) oxide-hydroxide, or iron ochre. The fact that it is present in such large quantities here in the rivers and streams of southeast Brandenburg can primarily be attributed to mining. For decades, brown coal has been mined from open pits in the surrounding Lausitz region, both in Brandenburg and Saxony, its neighboring state to the south.

To prevent the massive pits from flooding, the underground water level has been lowered in large areas. Doing so has exposed ferrous compounds to the air, leaving them to rust. When the open-cast mines were shut down, the water level climbed back up, and a particularly rainy last few years have now flushed out large quantities of iron ochre. A study by the IWB Dresden, an institute focused on geophysical and hydrological issues related to mining, posits that the Spree River dumps 6.8 metric tons of iron ochre into the reservoir of the Spremberg Dam alone -- per day.

The Lausitz and Central-German Mining Administration Company (LMBV), a federally owned company, is responsible for dealing with the legacy of mining activities from the era when this region was still part of communist East Germany. The brown river is keeping LMBV spokesman Uwe Steinhuber very busy these days. He just had new flyers printed. "My message is always: Things are still fine in the Spreewald," he says.

Steinhuber also points out what his company is doing to protect the popular tourist region. For example, a mine-water cleaning plant is supposed to go back into operation near the town of Vetschau. The name makes it sound like a large technological device. On closer inspection, though, it looks much more like three little fish pools -- at least to the untrained eye. But plans call for the water of Vetschau's extremely polluted mill channel to start flowing back through this cleaning facility in the near future. The process is slow, however, because the iron ochre in the water has to be allowed to settle at the bottle of the three basins, where it can then be collected.

Steinhuber promises that doing so will bring about "an enormous relief." But first a canal of some 200 meters (650 feet) must be dug for the water, which is supposed to happen in the next few weeks.

'Just at the Beginning of the Problem'

It must be clearly stated that the battle against iron ochre is not a story about environmentalists campaigning against an evil company. In principle, both sides agree that something must urgently be done to counter this lethal muck.

On the other hand, the inhabitants of the Lausitz region need to think about how open-pit mining will be conducted here in the future. The mining fields of Vattenfall, the Swedish energy giant, still contain some 1.3 billion metric tons of coal. Extracting just a portion of that could result in more jobs and at least modest prosperity -- and, of course, give rise to more environmental concerns. By themselves, the current problems with iron ochre could last until the end of the century. On top of that comes pollution from sulfate. "We're just at the beginning of the problem," warns Falkner Schwarz, deputy head of Brandenburg's LAVB anglers' association.

The emergency measures currently being undertaken do nothing to combat the source of the iron ochre and, instead, only somewhat slow its path to the Spree. Among these measures is a loud vehicle standing near the small village of Klein Radden alongside the ochre-colored water of the Wudritz, a Spree tributary. The walking excavator lifts up mud from the bottom of the little river and dumps it out on both banks. Then it moves forward a few meters and repeats the process.

The iron ochre makes the sludge a dirty brown. But the excavator pulls much more than just the legacy of mining out of the Wudritz. When asked whether this brutish operation might cause much damage, Hiekel, the ecologist, pauses to think before shrugging her shoulders and saying that it doesn't matter much seeing that everything in the river is already dead. But, she adds, the river used to be a "genuine highlight," back when the green club-tailed dragonflies were still alive.


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« Reply #402 on: Apr 12, 2013, 07:27 AM »


“Artificial Leaf” Makes Clean Energy From Dirty Water

April 11, 2013 Tina Casey
By CleanTechnica

What’s all this fuss about silly federal research projects? If one day in the not too distant future you can go to the dollar store, buy a thin, flat device the size of a playing card, dunk it in a quart of dirty bath water and use it to generate about 100 watts of electricity 24 hours a day, you can thank the Air Force. Along with other federal agencies, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research has been pouring funds into the development of an “artificial leaf,” a low cost solar-powered device that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, for powering fuel cells.

Clean Energy From Dirty Water

We first noticed the artificial leaf concept a couple of years ago, when lead researcher Daniel Nocera (formerly of MIT, now at Harvard) called it “one of the Holy Grails of science.”

The device, which really is about the size of a playing card or a medium-sized leaf, is a stripped-down version of the process by which leaves create energy from sunlight and water.

Its simple design consists of a slim wafer of silicon coated with catalysts that break water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gases, which can then be stored in tanks and used as fuel in hydrogen fuel cells.

The initial research resulted in a “practical artificial leaf” with commercial potential, but it required purified water. Otherwise, naturally occurring bacteria create a film on the wafer, which interferes with its efficiency and eventually prevents it from working altogether.

In the latest twist, which was just unveiled at a convention of the American Chemical Society, Nocera revealed a new iteration of the device that has the ability to keep chugging along in contaminated water.

The trick was to “tweak” the catalyst so that it creates a rough surface, preventing biofilm from forming. While that involves making part of the  catalyst fall apart, it also has the capability to heal and reassemble itself.

Low Cost Solar Power For Everybody

The artificial leaf is not particularly efficient, but the driving force behind Nocera’s research is not to create the most efficient device. The aim was to develop a simple, durable device that could help provide affordable, renewable energy to the billions of people (3 billion and counting) who currently don’t have reliable access to conventional energy and clean water.

Aside from general quality of life improvement, low cost devices like the artificial leaf could help provide sustainable alternatives to the widespread use of primitive cookstoves, which cumulatively have a significant impact on the global climate with a double whammy of “black carbon” emissions and deforestation.

With population movement already linked to climate change, affordable renewable energy devices will also play an important future role in relocation and disaster relief.

The combination of fuel production and energy storage also lends itself to any number of uses in the developed world that lack ready access to transmission lines and other forms of energy transportation.
Silly Federal Research Projects

That brings us right around to this whole idea of mocking federal research projects. It’s not a particularly new or original trend (National Geographic’s Carl Zimmer has a great article on the topic), but until recently it occurred within a social context of general respect for scientific method.


The current version is a different animal altogether, given the willful ignorance of settled science that has been aggressively promoted into the mainstream by political partisans, most infamously in the form of climate change “skepticism,” a fringe concept that made its way into the last presidential campaign and continues to bubble around certain members of Congress.

In that context, while the artificial leaf could find itself next in line for mockery, the last laugh you hear will probably be from Nocera and his team, which is already looking into using the device as a first step to creating liquid fuel.


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« Reply #403 on: Apr 15, 2013, 06:57 AM »

Antarctic summer ice melting 10 times faster: study

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 15, 2013 6:34 EDT

Summer ice in the Antarctic is melting 10 times quicker than it was 600 years ago, with the most rapid melt occurring in the last 50 years, a joint Australian-British study showed Monday.

A research team from the Australian National University and the British Antarctic Survey drilled a 364-metre (1,194 feet) long ice core from James Ross Island in the continent’s north to measure past temperatures in the area.

Visible layers in the ice core indicated periods when summer snow on the ice cap thawed and then refroze.

By measuring the thickness of these melt layers, the scientists were able to examine how the history of melting compared with changes in temperature at the ice core site over the last 1,000 years.

“We found that the coolest conditions on the Antarctic peninsula and the lowest amount of summer melt occurred around 600 years ago,” said lead author Nerilie Abram of the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

“At that time, temperatures were around 1.6 Celsius lower than those recorded in the late 20th century and the amount of annual snowfall that melted and refroze was about 0.5 percent.

“Today, we see almost 10 times as much of the annual snowfall melting each year.

“Whilst temperatures at this site increased gradually in phases over many hundreds of years, most of the intensification of melting has happened since the mid-20th century,” she added.

The research, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, is only the second reconstruction of past ice melt on the Antarctic continent.

Abram said it helped scientists gain more accurate projections about the direct and indirect contribution of Antarctica’s ice shelves and glaciers to global sea level rise.

“What it means is that the Antarctic peninsula has warmed to a level where even small increases in temperature can now lead to a big increase in summer ice melt,” she said.

“This has important implications for ice instability and sea level rise in a warming climate.”

Robert Mulvaney, from the British Antarctic Survey, led the ice core drilling expedition and co-authored the paper.

“Having a record of previous melt intensity for the peninsula is particularly important because of the glacier retreat and ice shelf loss we are now seeing in the area,” he said.

“Summer ice melt is a key process that is thought to have weakened ice shelves along the Antarctic peninsula leading to a succession of dramatic collapses, as well as speeding up glacier ice loss across the region over the last 50 years.”

***********

Greenpeace activists plant North Pole flag to fight Arctic oil drilling

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 15, 2013 6:10 EDT

Activists have planted a flag at the North Pole along with millions of signatures calling for the Arctic to be declared a global sanctuary protected from oil drilling, lobby group Greenpeace said on Monday.

Expedition members cut a hole in the ice and lowered the “flag for the future” onto the seabed along with a titanium-glass capsule containing 2.7 million signatures against the exploitation of the pristine Arctic.

The flag, atop the titanium-ringed glass sphere, was lowered near where a Russian mini-submarine in 2007 controversially planted a Russian flag at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.

The Greenpeace expedition included Hollywood actor Ezra Miller, indigenous Sami MP Josefina Skerk from Sweden and Renny Bijoux from the Seychelles, all of who trekked for a week to reach the geographical North Pole, a statement said.

“We’re here to say this special area of the Arctic belongs to no person and no nation, that it is the common heritage of everyone on Earth,” said Sami Parliament member Skerk, 26.

Amsterdam-based Greenpeace says the Arctic is under threat from climate change, oil companies, industrial fishing and shipping, with oil giants such as Shell and Gazprom moving in as nations lay claim to areas previously covered by ice.

Shifting ice and dwindling supplies meant that the expedition members had to hitch a lift with a helicopter for one of the final legs of their journey.

The Arctic seabed is thought to hold about 90 billion barrels of oil and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas resources, according to the US Geological Survey.

“As temperatures rise and the ice retreats, the oil companies are moving in. They want to drill for the fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place. It’s madness, we have to stop them,” said Miller, star of the 2011 film “We Need to Talk About Kevin”.

“My country would literally disappear if sea levels rise. I have come to the North Pole from the Seychelles to plant this flag because what happens in the Artic matters to me, people from my country and everyone across the world,” Bijoux said in the Greenpeace statement.

The flag was designed by Malaysian schoolgirl Sarah Batrisyia in a competition judged by British fashion icon Vivienne Westwood.
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« Reply #404 on: Apr 17, 2013, 06:44 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/17/2013 12:38 PM

Failed Emissions Trading Reform: 'The End of a European Climate Policy

Europe's once celebrated cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions has languished. The economic crisis has caused the price of emissions licenses to plummet, and a recent remedy to the problem has been rejected by EU lawmakers. Climate policy expert Felix Matthes tells SPIEGEL ONLINE that an opportunity has been squandered.

The European Parliament on Tuesday voted down a proposal to make it more expensive for companies to burn fossil fuels, in what environmental advocates are calling a major setback in the fight against climate change.

The European Commission, the EU's executive branch, had proposed measures that would have increased the price per ton of emitted carbon dioxide that companies must pay under the bloc's Emissions Trading System (ETS), which was set up in 2005. EU lawmakers narrowly rejected the bill 334 to 315, with 63 abstentions.

The ETS was initially lauded by environmental advocates as the world's most ambitious effort to combat climate change. The number of certificates granting permission to emit carbon dioxide is capped, and companies can trade those certificates on the open market, in theory giving an economic incentive to invest in cleaner energy.

However the economy slump in Europe has caused the price of the emission certificates to drop dramatically, currently hovering around €5 ($6.50) per ton of carbon dioxide. The European Commission's plan would have delayed the auctioning of 900 million additional pollution certificates. While the European Parliament voted down the bill, it sent it back to committee for revision, leaving the door open for future reform.

SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with climate policy expert Felix Matthes about the consequences of the proposal's failure.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What does this vote mean for the emissions trade?

Matthes: This will have grave consequences. The price for certificates, which is already much too low today, will collapse. On top of that, I foresee a re-nationalization of climate policy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is Europe-wide emissions trade threatened with extinction?

Matthes: I would go even further: The decision means the end of a European approach to climate policy. The paradox is that all the politicians who are constantly calling for more harmonization of climate policy in the EU and internationally are sending the policy back to the national level. That is an enormous step backwards -- also for global climate policy. Even China is now starting to pursue emissions trade. South Korea and Australia have already implemented it, and California has started a very ambitious system.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why do you find emissions trading so important?

Matthes: The advantage is that you can connect the systems worldwide. That would achieve what the United Nations has been unable to accomplish for years -- a global climate policy. And this opportunity is being intentionally destroyed.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why did the parliament reject the Commission's reform?

Matthes: There were largely two kinds of opponents. For the larger contingent, the opposition on the right, this wasn't at all about emissions trading. They want to break the climate change policy itself. And they might even manage to do that on the EU level. But they won't achieve that in Britain, France and Germany. The big member states have agreed on this policy. The German government is a leader with its transition away from nuclear energy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But there was also opposition from the left.

Matthes: Yes. They say it's not good for the markets to regulate it. They want environmental protection by other means. But they recognize that we need efforts that are feasible on a global scale. CO2 taxes and renewable energy laws are interesting tools, but in the end they are not feasible across the globe. Emissions trading, despite all its problems, is the measure with the greatest perspective. And now it's being broken.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In its current form, emissions trading has proven ineffective. The certificates have become so cheap that investments in environmentally friendly technologies aren't worth it anymore. What happened?

Matthes: There are two main reasons for the problem. The first is that no one could have imagined an economic crisis of the proportion that we experienced in 2008. Economic activity in 2020 will be 15 to 20 percent lower than what we expected in 2008. That also means less energy consumption and industrial production, resulting in a surplus of some 500 million certificates.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What's the second reason?

Matthes: Europe's Emissions Trading System is very generous in recognizing emissions reduction certificates from projects in China and other places as equal measures. So 1.5 billion certificates have flooded into the system, which you can see in today's current prices of just a few cents. There's no real emissions reduction there. We in Europe always assumed that the price could never realistically fall below €10. Now there are certificates for 30 cents and less. All together that means that there's a surplus of 2 billion certificates in the system. That just about corresponds to the annual CO2 emission of all regulated facilities. The tightening (of certificates) would have been a signal to the markets and the world that an effective emissions trading system will be in place beyond 2020, and it would have built the decisive framework for a long-term climate policy. The European Parliament has squandered this chance.

Interview conducted by Christian Teevs


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