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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 143608 times)
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« Reply #480 on: May 24, 2013, 07:23 AM »

Scientists: Frog and toad declines signal of ‘collapse of the world’s ecosystems’

By David Ferguson
Thursday, May 23, 2013 13:33 EDT

A study released Wednesday said that North American frogs, toads and other amphibious animals are disappearing so quickly that they are on track to be extinct from their natural habitats by 2033. According to the Denver Post, the study — which was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey — said that these types of animal populations are disappearing at a rate of 3.7 percent per year, although certain threatened species are expected to be extinct from their natural habitats within 6 years.

The researchers found that amphibian species are even rapidly declining in protected areas. Biologist Erin Muths of Ft. Collins, Colorado told the Post, “Even in what we consider pristine areas, we are seeing amphibian decline. If anything is doing poorly in an area we think is protected, that says something about our level of protection and about what may be happening outside those areas.”

The USGS study did not delve into the causes of the species’ shrinking numbers, but a report published by Oregon State University in 2011 titled “Catastrophic amphibian declines have multiple causes, no simple solution” said that a plethora of factors could be to blame.

“The amphibian declines are linked to natural forces such as competition, predation, reproduction and disease, as well as human-induced stresses such as habitat destruction, environmental contamination, invasive species and climate change,” reads the report.

OSU zoologist Andrew Blaustein said, “With a permeable skin and exposure to both aquatic and terrestrial problems, amphibians face a double whammy. Because of this, mammals, fish and birds have not experienced population impacts as severely as amphibians – at least, not yet.”

Amphibians play an important role in ecosystems, keeping insect populations in check and serving as prey animals to birds, snakes and other animals higher up in the food chain. Study co-author Stephen Corn told the Post, “Amphibians are going, but a lot of other species are going, too. Snakes are declining. Mammals are declining. We’re seeing bird declines. Amphibians are probably declining at a faster rate than other groups, and they may be a little more sensitive.”

Amphibious species, said Corn, “are a good example of the collapse of the world’s ecosystems that we seem to be seeing right now. We’re seeing a lot of species in a lot of places declining at the same time.”

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« Reply #481 on: May 25, 2013, 07:52 AM »

Scientists warn that Earth faces severe water shortages within a generation

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 24, 2013 13:16 EDT

The majority of people on Earth will face severe water shortages within a generation or two if pollution and waste continues unabated, scientists warned at a conference in Bonn Friday.

“This handicap will be self-inflicted and is, we believe, entirely avoidable,” read a document entitled The Bonn Declaration issued at the close of the four-day international huddle.

The conference sought to assess the evidence of man’s impact on freshwater resources, which constitute only 2.5 percent of the total volume of water on Earth.

Currently, an estimated third of the world’s seven million people has limited access to adequate fresh water, according to conference delegates.

“In the short span of one or two generations, the majority of the nine billion people on Earth will be living under the handicap of severe pressure on fresh water,” said the declaration.

The nine billion mark is widely projected to be reached from about 2040.

“We are flying the red flag out of our conference here,” Charles Vorosmarty, co-chairman of the Global Water System Project research body that hosted the meeting, said in a teleconference from Bonn.

“These self-inflicted wounds have long-term legacy effects that are not easy to turn around.”

The declaration points out that humanity uses an area the size of South America to grow crops and another the size of Africa to raise livestock.

Two-thirds of major river deltas are sinking due to groundwater extraction, and tens of thousands of large dams are distorting natural river flows on which ecosystems have depended for millennia.

Much damage is being done by river pollution from sewer drainage or agricultural fertiliser and pesticide use.

Already, about a billion people around the world are dependent on finite water supplies being depleted at a fast rate, said Vorosmarty, who made a plea for more financial and technical resources for research.

“We’re not making the requisite commitments to creating observational networks and satellite systems that can measure the state of water,” he said.

“Increasingly, we are flying blind and finding it very difficult to figure where we are and where we’re going and whether the things we are doing are making a difference.”

UN-Water, a coordinating body for water efforts by UN groups, says Earth has about 35 million cubic kilometres (eight million cubic miles) of fresh water — 70 percent of it locked up in ice and permanent snow cover.

Thirty percent of freshwater is stored underground in groundwater, which constitutes 97 percent of all freshwater potentially available for human use.

About 0.3 percent is found in lakes and rivers.

Experts say some 3,800 cubic kilometres of fresh water are extracted from aquatic ecosystems around the world each year, partly as a result of global warming.

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« Reply #482 on: May 26, 2013, 06:36 AM »

Millions march against GM crops

Organisers celebrate huge global turnout and say they will continue until Monsanto and other GM manufacturers listen

Associated Press, Sunday 26 May 2013 01.26 BST   

Organisers say that two million people marched in protest against seed giant Monsanto in hundreds of rallies across the US and in more than 50 other countries on Saturday.

"March Against Monsanto" protesters say they wanted to call attention to the dangers posed by genetically modified food and the food giants that produce it. Founder and organiser Tami Canal said protests were held in 436 cities across 52 countries.

Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits, or otherwise improve crop yields and increase the global food supply. Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States today have been genetically modified. But some say genetically modified organisms can lead to serious health conditions and harm the environment.

The use of GMOs has been a growing issue of contention in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labelling of genetically modified products even though the federal government and many scientists say the technology is safe.

The "March Against Monsanto" movement began just a few months ago, when Canal created a Facebook page on 28 February calling for a rally against the company's practices. "If I had gotten 3,000 people to join me, I would have considered that a success," she said Saturday. Instead, she said, two million responded to her message.

Together with Seattle blogger and activist Emilie Rensink and Nick Bernabe of, Canal worked with A digital anarchy to promote international awareness of the event. She called the turnout "incredible" and credited social media for being a vehicle for furthering opportunities for activism.

Despite the size of the gatherings, Canal said she was grateful that the marches were uniformly peaceful and that no arrests had been reported.

"It was empowering and inspiring to see so many people, from different walks of life, put aside their differences and come together today," she said. The group plans to harness the success of the event to continue its anti-GMO cause.

"We will continue until Monsanto complies with consumer demand. They are poisoning our children, poisoning our planet," she said. "If we don't act, who's going to?"

Monsanto, based in St Louis, said on Saturday that it respects people's rights to express their opinions, but maintained that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.

The US Food and Drug Administration does not require genetically modified foods to carry a label, but organic food companies and some consumer groups have intensified their push for labels, arguing that the modified seeds are floating from field to field and contaminating traditional crops. The groups have been bolstered by a growing network of consumers who are wary of processed and modified foods.

The Senate this week overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would allow states to require the labelling of genetically modified foods.

The Biotechnology Industry Organisation, a lobbying group that represents Monsanto, DuPont & Co and other makers of genetically modified seeds, has said that it supports voluntary labelling for people who seek out such products. But it says that mandatory labelling would only mislead or confuse consumers into thinking products weren't safe, even though the FDA has said there is no difference between GMO and organic, non-GMO foods.

However, state legislatures in Vermont and Connecticut moved ahead this month with votes to make food companies declare genetically modified ingredients on their packages. And supermarket retailer Whole Foods Markets Inc has said that all products in its North American stores containing genetically modified ingredients will be labeled as such by 2018.

Whole Foods says there is growing demand for products that don't use GMOs, with sales of products with a "Non-GMO" verification label spiking between 15% and 30%.

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« Reply #483 on: May 26, 2013, 06:43 AM »

'The Sumatran rainforest will mostly disappear within 20 years'

In only a few years, logging and agribusiness have cut Indonesia's vast rainforest by half. The government has renewed a moratorium on deforestation but it may already be too late for the endangered animals –and for the people whose lives lie in ruin

John Vidal   
The Observer, Sunday 26 May 2013   

Link to video: Sumatra, Indonesia: the rainforest's last stand

Our small plane had been flying low over Sumatra for three hours but all we had seen was an industrial landscape of palm and acacia trees stretching 30 miles in every direction. A haze of blue smoke from newly cleared land drifted eastward over giant plantations. Long drainage canals dug through equatorial swamps dissected the land. The only sign of life was excavators loading trees onto barges to take to pulp mills.

The end is in sight for the great forests of Sumatra and Borneo and the animals and people who depend on them. Thirty years ago the world's third- and sixth-largest islands were full of tigers, elephants, rhinos, orangutan and exotic birds and plants but in a frenzy of development they have been trashed in a single generation by global agribusiness and pulp and paper industries.

Their plantations supply Britain and the world with toilet paper, biofuels and vegetable oil to make everyday foods such as margarine, cream cheese and chocolate, but distraught scientists and environmental groups this week warn that one of the 21st century's greatest ecological disasters is rapidly unfolding.

Official figures show more than half of Indonesia's rainforest, the third-largest swath in the world, has been felled in a few years and permission has been granted to convert up to 70% of what remains into palm or acacia plantations. The government last week renewed a moratorium on the felling of rainforest, but nearly a million hectares are still being cut each year and the last pristine areas, in provinces such as Ache and Papua, are now prime targets for giant logging, palm and mining companies.

The toll on wildlife across an area nearly the size of Europe is vast, say scientists who warn that many of Indonesia's species could be extinct in the wild within 20-30 years. Orangutan numbers are in precipitous decline, only 250-400 tigers remain and fewer than 100 rhino are left in the forests, said the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Millions of hectares are nominally protected, but the forest is fragmented, national parks are surrounded by plantations, illegal loggers work with impunity and corruption is rife in government. "This is the fastest, most comprehensive transformation of an entire landscape that has ever taken place anywhere in the world including the Amazon. If it continues at this rate all that will be left in 20 years is a few fragmented areas of natural forest surrounded by huge manmade plantations. There will be increased floods, fires and droughts but no animals," said Yuyun Indradi, political forest campaigner with Greenpeace southeast Asia in Jakarta.

Last night the WWF's chief Asian tiger expert pleaded with the Indonesian government and the world to stop the growth of palm oil plantations. "Forest conversion is massive. We urgently need stronger commitment from the government and massive support from the people. We cannot tolerate any further conversion of natural forests," said Sunarto Sunarto in Jakarta.

Indonesia's deforestation has been accompanied by rising violence, say watchdog groups. Last year, more than 600 major land conflicts were recorded in the palm plantations. Many turned violent as communities that had lost their traditional forest fought multinational companies and security forces. More than 5,000 human rights abuses were recorded, with 22 deaths and hundreds of injuries.

"The legacy of deforestation has been conflict, increased poverty, migration to the cities and the erosion of habitat for animals. As the forests come down, social conflicts are exploding everywhere," said Abetnego Tarigan, director of Walhi, Indonesia's largest environment group.

Scientists fear that the end of the forest could come quickly. Conflict-wracked Aceh, which bore the brunt of the tsunami in 2004, will lose more than half its trees if a new government plan to change the land use is pushed through. A single Canadian mining company is seeking to exploit 1.77m hectares for mining, logging and palm plantations.

Large areas of central Sumatra and Kalimantan are being felled as coal, copper and gold mining companies move in. Millions of hectares of forest in west Papua are expected to be converted to palm plantations.

"Papuans, some of the poorest citizens in Indonesia, are being utterly exploited in legally questionable oil palm land deals that provide huge financial opportunities for international investors at the expense of the people and forests of West Papua," said Jago Wadley, a forest campaigner with the Environment Investigation Agency.

Despite a commitment last week from the government to extend a moratorium on deforestation for two years, Indonesia is still cutting down its forests faster than any other country. Loopholes in the law mean the moratorium only covers new licences and primary forests, and excludes key peatland areas and existing concessions which are tiger and elephant habitats. "No one seems able to stop the destruction," said Greenpeace International's forest spokesman, Phil Aikman.

The conflicts often arise when companies are granted dubious logging or plantation permissions that overlap with community-managed traditional forests and protected areas such as national parks.

Nine villages have been in conflict with the giant paper company April, which has permission to convert, with others, 450,000 hectares of deep peat forests on the Kampar Peninsula in central Sumatra. Because the area contains as much as 1.5bn tonnes of carbon, it has global importance in the fight against climate change.

"We would die for this [forest] if necessary. This is a matter of life and death. The forest is our life. We depend on it when we want to build our houses or boats. We protect it. The permits were handed out illegally, but now we have no option but to work for the companies or hire ourselves out for pitiful wages," said one village leader from Teluk Meranti who feared to give his name.

They accuse corrupt local officials of illegally grabbing their land. April, which strongly denies involvement in corruption, last week announced plans to work with London-based Flora and Fauna international to restore 20,000 hectares of degraded forest land.

Fifty miles away, near the town of Rengit, villagers watched in horror last year when their community forest was burned down – they suspect by people in the pay of a large palm oil company. "Life is terrible now. We are ruined. We used to get resin, wood, timber, fuel from the forest. Now we have no option but to work for the palm oil company. The company beat us. The fire was deliberate. This forest was everything for us. We used it as our supermarket, building store, chemist shop and fuel supplier for generations of people. Now we must put plastic on our roofs," said one man from the village of Bayesjaya who also asked not to be named.

Mursyi Ali from the village of Kuala Cenaku in the province of Riau, has spent 10 years fighting oil plantation companies which were awarded a giant concession. "Maybe 35,000 people have been impacted by their plantations. Everyone is very upset. People have died in protests. I have not accepted defeat yet. These conflicts are going on everywhere. Before the companies came we had a lot of natural resources, like honey, rattan, fish, shrimps and wood," he said.

"We had all we wanted. That all went when the companies came. Everything that we depended on went. Deforestaion has led to pollution and health problems. We are all poorer now. I blame the companies and the government, but most of all the government," he continued. He pleaded with the company: "Please resolve this problem and give us back the 4,100 hectares of land. We would die for this if necessary. This is a life or death," he says.

Greenpeace and other groups accuse the giant pulp and palm companies of trashing tens of thousands of hectares of rainforest a year but the companies respond that they are the forest defenders and without them the ecological devastation would be worse. "There has been a rampant escalation of the denuding of the landscape but it is mostly by migrant labour and palm oil growers. Poverty and illegal logging along with migrant labour have caused the deforestation," said April's spokesman, David Goodwin.

"What April does is not deforestation. In establishing acacia plantations in already-disturbed forest areas, it is contributing strongly to reforestation. Last year April planted more than 100 million trees. Deforestation happens because of highly organised illegal logging, slash-and-burn practices by migrant labour, unregulated timber operations. There has been a explosion of palm oil concessions."

The company would not reveal how much rainforest it and its suppliers fell each year but internal papers seen by the Observer show that it planned to deforest 60,000 hectares of rainforest in 2012 but postponed this pending the moratorium. It admits that it has a concession of 20,000 hectares of forest that it has permission to fell and that it takes up to one third of its timber from "mixed tropical hardwood" for its giant pulp and paper mill near Penabaru in Riau.

There are some signs of hope. The heat is now on other large palm oil and paper companies after Asia Pacific Resources International (APP), one of the world's largest pulp and paper companies, was persuaded this year by international and local Indonesian groups to end all rainforest deforestation and to rely solely on its plantations for its wood.

The company, which admits to having felled hundreds of thousands of acres of Sumatran forest in the last 20 years, had been embarrassed and financially hurt when other global firms including Adidas, Kraft, Mattel, Hasbro, Nestlé, Carrefour, Staples and Unilever dropped products made by APP that had been made with rainforest timber.

"We thought that if we adopted national laws to protect the forest that this would be enough. But it clearly was not. We realised something was not right and that we needed a much higher standard. So now we will stop the deforestation, whatever the cost. We are now convinced that the long term benefits will be greater," said Aida Greenbury, APP's sustainability director. "Yes. We got it wrong. We could not have done worse."


'Indonesia is seeing a new corporate colonialism'

Multinational companies have been encouraged to seize and deforest land owned by indigenous people, say human rights groups

John Vidal   
The Observer, Saturday 25 May 2013 23.00 BST   

Land conflicts between farmers and plantation owners, mining companies and developers have raged across Indonesia as local and multinational companies have been encouraged to seize and then deforest customary land – land owned by indigenous people and administered in accordance with their customs. More than 600 were recorded in 2011, with 22 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The true number is probably far greater, say watchdog groups.

The Indonesian national human rights commission reported more than 5,000 human rights violations last year, mostly linked to deforestation by corporations. "Deaths of farmers caused by the increase in agrarian conflicts all across Indonesia are increasing," said Henry Sarigih, founder of the Indonesian Peasant Union, which has 700,000 members.

"The presence of palm oil plantations has spawned a new poverty and is triggering a crisis of landlessness and hunger. Human rights violations keep occurring around natural resources in the country and intimidation, forced evictions and torture are common," said Sarigih. "There are thousands of cases that have not surfaced. Many remain hidden, especially by local authorities," he says.

Communities complain that they are not warned, consulted or compensated when concessions are handed out and that they are left with no option but to give up their independence and work for minimal wages for the companies.

At fault are badly drafted laws, unclear regulations, corruption and heavy-handed security and paramilitary forces – all of which favour large business over the poor. Illegal land purchases and logging are mostly supported by police, armed forces and local government staff. Companies are even allowed to work with security forces.

Feelings run high when land is taken and livelihoods are wiped out by deforestation. In December 2011, 28 protesters from a logging concession area on Padang island in Sumatra sewed their mouths shut in front of the parliament building in Jakarta in a protest against having their land "grabbed" by a giant paper and pulp company.

Last year, three people were killed in a clash with security forces during a protest over gold prospectors in Bima on the island of Sumbawa. Farmers from Mesuji in Sumatra claimed that security forces murdered residents to evict them from their land.

Over 10m hectares (24.7m acres) of land has been given away and converted to plantations in the last 10 years, forcing thousands of communities to give up forest they have collectively used for generations. Politicians offer land to supporters and give permission to develop plantations with little thought for the human or ecological consequences. In addition, government attempts to move landless people from densely populated areas to less populous areas with "transmigration" policies have caused major conflicts with indigenous groups in provinces like Papua and Sulawesi.

"Who controls the land in Indonesia controls the politics. Corruption is massive around natural resources. We are seeing a new corporate colonialism. In the Suharto era you were sent to prison for talking about the government. Now you can be sent there for talking about corporations," says Abetnego Tarigan, director of Friends of the earth Indonesia in Jakarta.

Three of the group's staff members, including its south Sumatra director, are in prison following protests at the involvement of the police and military in a land dispute involving a state-owned palm oil plantation firm. "The scale of the conflicts is growing. Every day new ones are reported. More and more police are now in the plantations. Government is trying to clamp down on mass protests," said Tarigan.

"These developments are classed as 'growth' but what we are seeing is the collapse of communities of fisherfolk or farmers and increasing poverty. We are exchanging biodiversity for monocultures, local economies for global ones, small-scale producers are becoming labourers and community land is becoming corporate. This is the direction we are going."


Industry, fires and poachers shrink Sumatran tigers' last stronghold

No Sumatran wild animal is safe as contact with humans rises with disastrous results

John Vidal   
The Observer, Sunday 26 May 2013   

Karman Lubis's body was found near where he had been working on a Sumatran rubber plantation. His head was found several days later a mile away and they still haven't found his right hand. He had been mauled by a Sumatran tiger that has been living in Batang Gadis National Park and he was one of five people killed there by tigers in the last five years.

Contact between humans and wild animals is increasing disastrously in Sumatra as deforestation, mining and palm oil concessions expand, fragmenting forest habitats and driving animals out of protected areas. The exact number of tigers left in the wild is uncertain but latest estimates range from under 300 to possibly 500 in 27 locations.

Batang Gadis is one of the last strongholds of the Sumatran tiger with anywhere between 23 and 76 tigers in the dense forests, making up nearly 20% of all Sumatra's tigers. But with a single tiger worth as much as $50,000 to a poacher on the black market, hunting is rampant. Conservationists fear that unless concerted action is taken, the Sumatran tiger will go the way of two other Indonesian subspecies. The Bali tiger was hunted to extinction in 1937 and the last Javan tiger was recorded in the 1970s.

Many Sumatran tigers, says Greenpeace, are being killed by accident. In July 2011, one was found dying in an animal trap on the border of an Asia Pulp and Paper acacia tree concession where rainforest had recently been cleared. Others have been found caught in electric fences or have been killed by farmers in retaliation for the killing of humans.

No wild animal is now considered safe in Sumatra. An Australian-owned gold mining company has a 200,000-hectare concession which overlaps into Batang Gadis and illegal logging is encroaching upon the park from all sides.

Other Indonesian animals are faring even worse than the tiger. Widespread forest fires, many set deliberately to clear land for oil palm plantations, have been disastrous for Sumatran orangutans. Thousands are thought to have burned to death, unable to escape the flames both in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The species' range is now severely circumscribed, says WWF in Jakarta. Of nine populations left in Sumatra, only seven are thought viable. "The fate of Sumatran orangutans is inextricably linked to the island's fast-disappearing forests. If we want to save the Sumatran orangutan we have to save their forest home," said Barney Long, WWF's Asian species expert.

The Sumatran rhino could be extinct within a few years because of poaching and habitat destruction. A report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature last month estimated that there were now fewer than 100 in small, fragmented populations.

Conservationists fear that the whole species may be extinct in 20 years and are planning to move individual rhinos between Indonesia and Malaysia. Last year the first Sumatran rhino calf was born at a semi-wild sanctuary in Indonesia. It was only the fourth time in a century that captive Sumatran rhinos have given birth. A similar sanctuary, with large pens in natural forest, has also been established in Malaysian Borneo. These two sanctuaries, which house eight rhinos between them, are increasingly being seen as insurance policies against extinction.

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« Last Edit: May 26, 2013, 07:33 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #484 on: May 27, 2013, 08:08 AM »

Residents flee the ‘Venice of Africa’ as climate change drowns city

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 26, 2013 17:00 EDT

Ameth Diagne was asleep when the first waves lapped at his back door, the lukewarm, salty water seeping into his bedroom an impassive portent of the final days of his 650-year-old fishing community.

He had kept his two wives and many of his 16 children with him long after the neighbours had fled, in the vain hope that his once-bustling, tenacious west African village could survive the remorseless advance of the Atlantic Ocean.

“My house used to be two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the sea. I could grow things here because there was fresh water which came from the river,” Diagne said, surveying a stretch of wet sand and rubble which, until last year, had been his living room.

Doun Babe Dieye, settled by the Normans in 1364, was the first casualty among many districts of the Senegalese city of St Louis, the former colonial capital of French west Africa which, little-by-little, is disappearing underwater.

Diagne, 52, and his 760 neighbours had made their living from the precious mullet, sardines, bonga and tilapia which populated the mangroves but have left since the salt water of the Atlantic began encroaching into the Senegal River.

“It was a beautiful village with lots of greenery everywhere,” recalled Diagne, a fisherman since leaving Koranic school at the age of 12, and the last to leave when the sea claimed his village of around 40 houses last year.

“I’m sad that I had to go because I lived on fishing. Life was simpler. Now I cannot teach my children what my ancestors taught me — knowledge of the sea, fishing, fauna and flora,” said Diagne, one of the lucky ones who had enough money to build a new house further inland.

An archipelago in the mouth of the Senegal River often referred to as the “Venice of Africa”, St Louis is anchored precariously between the fast-flowing currents of the swollen waterway and the fearsome breakers of the Atlantic.

Named after Louis XIV, in 1659 it became the first French settlement of l’Afrique-Occidentale, trading in slaves and gum arabic.

A four-hour car journey from Dakar through baobabs and palm trees, the UNESCO World Heritage site remains a major pull for well-heeled Westerners who come to sample its rich colonial heritage.

Women in grimy dresses and headscarves swap jokes and sip tea in its 19th century courtyards while weatherbeaten men lean against the disintegrating plasterwork of 1920s Art-Deco houses and watch the world go by.

The economy has declined since the shift of rule to Dakar but there is still a vibrant fishing economy and the pungent tang of drying Nile perch spread on nets by the river is unmistakable.

In 2008, Alioune Badiane of the United Nations’ UN-Habitat agency designated St Louis as “the city most threatened by rising sea levels in the whole of Africa”, citing climate change and a failed 2003 canal project as the cause.

The city is plagued by flooding during the rainy season when the river overflows and scientists say climate change is exacerbating the problem with increasingly heavy rain and a rise in the sea level.

Thanks to large scale urbanisation, two-thirds of the 250,000 residents are exposed to floods, with 70 percent of households in the poorest areas having no regular waste collection and less than a tenth having sewer connections.

“If things keep going the way they are the whole city of St Louis will have to be moved, but it’s a possibility we do not want to contemplate,” the mayor, Amadou Abiboulaye Dieye, said in an Open University film he made on the city.

The heart of the old colonial city is protected from the rolling waves of the ocean by the Langue de Barbarie, a slender, 17-kilometre spit of sand which is home to 80,000 people, a population density found nowhere else in Africa.

In 2003, heavy rain in the drainage basin of the Senegal River alarmed the authorities who feared the water would rise above critical levels and so dug a new outlet for the river water across the spit.

The channel was about 100 metres (328 feet) in length and 4 metres wide but grew rapidly in the first days as the sea flooded into the river mouth and continued to widen to more than 2 kilometres across today.

Within a year the beach at Doun Baba Dieye, situated opposite the new river mouth, had eroded rapidly, causing Diagne and his neighbours to fear the worst.

“All the villages that were in front of the channel, such as Doun Baba Dieye, have suffered the effects of an intense erosion because these villages were protected from the sea by the Langue de Barbarie,” Boubou Aldiouma Sy, a geography lecturer at St Louis’ Gaston Berger University, told AFP.

“Today, the village of Doun Baba Dieye has completely disappeared and villages to the south are progressively more threatened as the breach is migrating south.”

In a few weeks the rains will come again, bringing more flooding, sewage, disease and misery.

With each storm season more worrying than the last, experts like Sy believe St Louis has to live up to the comparisons with Venice and emulate the Italian city’s success in turning water to its advantage.

“St Louis can choose to do the same, at the same time solving some of their most urgent water-related problems — managing the drainage problem and reducing the flood risk,” a 2011 report for UN Habitat said.

“If water is approached as an opportunity instead of an enemy that needs to be combatted, then St Louis can make a strong statement to the world, similar to what the Venetians did a long time ago: use the water dimension as a unique selling point and fully integrate it in short and long term urban planning.”

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« Reply #485 on: May 27, 2013, 08:10 AM »

05/24/2013 06:14 PM

Electric Avenue: Solar Road Panels Offer Asphalt Alternative

By Sören Harder

An American couple has found a surprising alternative to conventional asphalt motorways: solar road panels. In addition to providing electricity, saving oil and melting fresh snow, it could also prevent accidents.

A lot of thought is put into how much energy we use to drive from point A to B. But what if the road itself could generate energy? Julie and Scott Brusaw, a married couple from Sandpoint, Idaho, have taken on just such a concept, which they hope will make the auto transport of the future cleaner and safer.

The idea is as simple as it is ingenious. Wherever roads are laid, solar panels could go instead. They would generate electricity, which would in turn be fed into the grid. Thus, oil is conserved twice: Electric cars could be charged with the energy produced by the panels, and the panels would replace the use of asphalt, the production of which requires petroleum.

Moreover, Solar Roadways, as the Brusaws have dubbed their invention, are heated and equipped with integrated LED screens, which act not only as street markings, but can also show warnings directly on the road.

The Brusaws are aware that their vision cannot be realized in a day. They've decided to start small: with pedestrian and bicycle paths or large parking lots at supermarkets. As they see it, every square meter of asphalt that gets replaced with Solar Roadway is a small step on the path toward independence from fossil fuels. The giant leap would be to take on urban roads and highways on a global scale.

A Crazy, Brilliant Idea

"In the beginning, half the people thought we were geniuses, and the other half thought we were off our rockers," says Scott Brusaw. The electrical engineer has spent years trying to bring his wife's idea to fruition. Julie Brusaw is a psychotherapist. Roads didn't fall into either of their areas of expertise. But as the discussion in the United States about climate change intensified, the Brusaws were struck with the idea of solar roads, and the project took on a life of its own. In 2009 they received their first government grants to construct the prototypes.

The Brusaws' work was impressive enough that this spring, they are launching a pilot project, for which the state awarded them $750,000. In their hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho, near the Canadian border, the couple has built their first parking lot made from solar panels.

The Brusaws encountered a number of hurdles in their search for smart asphalt replacement, though. "It had to be textured to the point that it provides at least the traction that current asphalt roads offer -- even in the rain," explains Scott. "At the development stage, that was one of the most important requirements for the upper layer of the panels." They managed to develop such a glass, which is as hard as steel but not at all smooth. "We hesitate to even call it glass, as it is far from a traditional window pane, but glass is what it is, so glass is what we must call it," says Scott.

The composition of a panel is always the same and consists of three parts: on top, a hard glass layer containing the solar panels, LED lights and heating. Then comes the second layer, which contains the controller, where a microprocessor unit activates the lights and communicates with the road panels. Finally, the bottom layer ensures that the electrical current collected from above makes it to homes and charging stations for electric cars. In addition, there is space for other cables, such as television or telephone lines.

And the Brusaws have thought even further ahead. Along the sides of the modules are canals that collect water drainage for filtering. That way the water isn't wasted and can be used to water fields, for example.

An Intelligent Street Network

But what happens in the event of an earthquake? "While we haven't had a chance to test it yet, we understand that an earthquake can be catastrophic for a road of any type. Basically, any such force that could destroy an asphalt or concrete road would have a similar result with a Solar Roadway," says Scott Brusaw. But if one solar road panel is broken, it can simply be replaced, because all of the elements connect to create an intelligent street network, which can even use LED lights to alert drivers to dangers around the next curve.

If the technology works for the pilot project, there's hardly anything that speaks against it, except perhaps that the panels might not generate as much electricity as solar panels that are positioned according to the sun's movements. Still, solar roads have massive potential. In Germany alone, there are some 230,000 kilometers (around 143,000 miles) of roadways, including the autobahn, federal, state and county roads. That's about 18,000 square kilometers of area, accounting for about five percent of the country's total territory.

There's just one catch: Currently the solar road panels cost about three times as much as conventional roads, the Brusaws say. But over time, they add, the technology could begin to actually turn a profit. It sounds almost too good to be true.

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« Reply #486 on: May 27, 2013, 08:12 AM »

05/24/2013 10:22 AM

Volcanic Riddle: Burst in Mount Etna Eruptions Puzzles Experts

By Hilmar Schmundt

Mount Etna is spitting lava more violently than it has in years, and scientists are baffled as to why. Despite being the world's most-studied volcano, the Sicilian mountain is also its most unpredictable.

The volcano is raging. Fountains of lava, some taller than the Eiffel Tower, shoot from its mouth every few weeks, flowing in red-hot streams into the surrounding valleys. There have been 13 eruptions since the beginning of February.

Mount Etna, 3,329 meters (10,922 feet) high, towers majestically above the Sicilian city of Catania. In June, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will decide whether to list it as a World Heritage Site. Etna is considered the most heavily studied volcano in the world, and it is thoroughly wired with sensors. In addition to lava, Etna spits out vast amounts of data -- several gigabytes a day, coming from magnetic field sensors, GPS altimeters and seismic sensors.

Despite this wealth of data, Etna still poses a conundrum to scientists. "The eruptions in recent weeks have been unusually fierce and explosive," reports German volcanologist Boris Behncke, who monitors the mountain together with a few hundred colleagues at Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV). "There have been lava fountain events in the past, but rarely in such rapid succession."

Behncke has fallen under Etna's spell. During the day, he maps the lava flows; at night, he hikes along its slopes. His Twitter hash tag is "@etnaboris." The volcano is the first thing he sees when he looks out of his bedroom window every morning.

"This time, the range of ash fall is much wider than usual," says Behncke. A layer of black ash covers cars as far as 50 kilometers (31 miles) away.

Even in ancient times, people marveled at the forces that were capable of shooting fountains of lava into the sky. In Greek and Roman mythology, the volcano is represented by a limping blacksmith swinging his hammer as sparks fly. Legend has it that the natural philosopher Empedocles jumped into the crater 2,500 years ago. What he found there remained his secret, because he never returned. All that remained of him were his iron shoes, which the mountain later spat out.

A Champagne Bottle under Pressure

For many geologists today, Etna is still the most inscrutable volcano in the world. The mountain is located at precisely the spot where the African and European tectonic plates rub against each other like two giant ice floes. At this plate margin, lava with low viscosity flows upward from a depth of 30 kilometers into a reservoir of magma two kilometers beneath the summit.

"The stream of magma doesn't move uniformly, but in spurts, vibrating as if it were in a hydraulic pump," explains Stuttgart geophysicist Rolf Schick. "This makes Etna so unpredictable." Schick has been a star among volcanologists since 1972, when he caused a stir with his new discoveries about Etna. Using seismic sensors, he discovered a "pulse rate" of sorts in the stream of magma, which is forced through the vent at a rate of 72 beats per minute -- coincidentally, at a rate similar to that of the human heartbeat.

Schick spent 40 years traveling repeatedly to Sicily to explore Etna. "I used to believe that we would soon be able to predict volcanic eruptions," says the scientist, who turns 80 next month. "Today, I'm no longer certain that we'll ever succeed."

On one trip, Schick was traveling near the town of Nicolósi, which has been repeatedly destroyed by streams of lava. Based on the volcanic pulse he had measured, the geophysicist recognized that a molten heart was beating underneath him. The magma was only 400 meters beneath the surface, and an outbreak seemed imminent.

But nothing happened.

Etna is currently behaving like a champagne bottle under pressure. The magma, a foam-like brew of gas and red-hot molten rock, has been flowing to the surface more quickly in recent years.

At the moment, the mountain is belching out about a million tons of water vapor and more than 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide each day. As they ascend, the gas bubbles expand with lighting speed, and if they cannot readily escape, they hurl clumps of magma into the air like oversized champagne corks.

"There have been violent eruptions like this once every few thousand years, as, for example, in the year 122 B.C.," says Behncke. The scientist also expects a destructive outbreak on the eastern flank in a few months or years. "This is relatively normal for Etna, but society has changed tremendously. It's become much more difficult today to carry out an evacuation."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #487 on: May 28, 2013, 06:37 AM »

Thousands of Romanians protest Chevron fracking

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 27, 2013 18:04 EDT

Thousands of Romanians protested on Monday against plans by the US company Chevron to explore for shale gas in eastern Romania.

“I have three children and I want them to grow up within a safe environment with clean water. Exploring for shale gas threatens to contaminate ground water,” Alina Secrieru, a 39-year old nurse from the Barlad region told AFP.

“No fracking”, “Chevron go home”, “We say no to shale gas”, read some of the banners carried by protesters who came from Barlad and surrounding villages.

Chevron obtained a vast concession in this poor and rural area of Romania to prospect for shale gas.

“This area survives on agriculture. If our water gets contaminated by the extraction of shale gas, agriculture will die and this area as well,” said Constantin, a water specialist who was among the protesters.

He refused to give his last name out of fear of losing his job as most of the local politicians are now defending shale gas drilling.

Chevron has said in the past that all its activities “have, and will continue to be conducted in compliance with Romanian laws, EU requirements and stringent industry standards.”

Shale gas drilling has fuelled controversy around the world.

The technique to extract the gas, hydraulic fraction or fracking, has been banned in countries such as France and Bulgaria but is widely used in some US states.

Fracking is a process whereby liquid products, including water and chemicals, are pumped deep into oil or gas-bearing rock to cause fractures and release the hydrocarbons.

Environmentalists say the method poses serious threats that include contaminating ground water and triggering earthquakes.

Romania together with Britain, Hungary, Poland and Spain strongly pleaded for developing shale energy during the last European council on energy.

Protesters lashed at centre-left Prime Minister Victor Ponta, accusing him of flip-flopping on his position against shale gas.

Ponta, in power since May 2012, had slammed the previous government’s decision to grant Chevron and other oil groups concessions to prospect for shale gas.

His government last year adopted a moratorium on drilling, putting Chevron’s operations on hold.

But since the moratorium expired in December, Ponta said he was in favour of exploration.

“Politicians have let us down but we want to remind them that the people in this area are against the exploration of shale gas. People here care about their environment” said Lulu Finaru, a notary who helped organise the protest.

A US Energy Information Administration study said the joint reserves for Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary were around 538 billion cubic metres (19 trillion cubic feet), among the biggest in eastern Europe.

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« Reply #488 on: May 29, 2013, 07:48 AM »

Walmart fined $110 million for dumping toxic chemicals in California

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 28, 2013 21:58 EDT

Wal-Mart was hit with $110 million in US federal and state fines Tuesday after pleading guilty to criminal charges of mishandling hazardous waste and pesticides at its retail stores.

The world’s largest retailer was fined for dumping hazardous chemicals in city trash bins and sewer systems in cases filed by the Los Angeles and San Francisco municipalities.

In addition, the US Justice Department said Wal-Mart Stores had mishandled pesticides it had sent as damaged products to a Missouri recycling facility that resulted in them being mixed together and put on sale again in a process that violated federal laws regulating pesticide processing.

Wal-Mart pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of violating the Clean Water Act in the California cases, and, in the Missouri case, one charge of violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

Prosecutors in San Francisco said that through January 2006, the company did not have any program or training in place to show employees how to properly handle hazardous waste.

“By improperly handling hazardous waste, pesticides and other materials in violation of federal laws, Wal-Mart put the public and the environment at risk,” said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division, in a statement.

“Truckloads of hazardous products, including more than two million pounds of pesticides, were improperly handled under Wal-Mart’s contract,” said Tammy Dickinson, US attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

“Today’s criminal fine should send a message to companies of all sizes that they will be held accountable to follow federal environmental laws.”

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« Reply #489 on: May 30, 2013, 07:36 AM »

‘Weather whiplash’ is a symptom of climate change: report

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Wednesday, May 29, 2013 16:22 EDT

Frequent and intense weather events in the US cited in climate studies as series of natural disasters plague region

America has some of the wildest weather on the planet, and it turns out those extremes – which run from heat waves and tornadoes to floods, hurricanes and droughts – carry a heavy price tag.

Climate studies have associated more frequent and intense weather events – such as heavy storms and heat waves – with climate change. The wild swings in weather across the midwest over the last few years – including heat waves, floods, and drought – have been cited as an example of what lies ahead with future climate change.

A report from the environmental research organisation World Watch Institute on Wednesday provided further evidence of the costs of those extreme shifts – known as “weather whiplash”.

The report found that the United States alone accounted for more than two-thirds of the $170bn in losses caused by natural disasters around the world last year.

Hurricane Sandy, the drought that spread across the corn belt last summer, and a spate of tornadoes and other extreme storms together accounted for $100bn of those global losses, the report said.

Some $58bn was covered by insurance still making 2012 the most expensive year in terms of natural disasters in the US since hurricane Katrina in 2005.

About a third of those losses, $20bn, was due to a drought which at its height ravaged 60% of the US mainland.

Last year did not set new records in terms of the sheer number of natural disasters or lives lost through such calamities.

In all, there were 905 natural disasters around the world last year. Nearly all were weather or climate-related – with 45% attributed to storms, 35% to flooding and 12% to wildfires, drought, extreme heat or cold snaps, the report said.

The remaining 7% were caused by earthquakes and volcanos.

Deaths due to natural disasters reached 9,600 – only a fraction of the 10-year average of 106,000, the report said.

But in 2012 weather became far more deadly. Almost all of the fatalities last year, 93%, were due to weather-related events.

And the dangerous weather appears to be a trend. Property damage due to weather extremes has risen sharply in North America, including the Caribbean, over the last 30 years, the report said.

© Guardian News and Media 2013
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« Reply #490 on: Jun 01, 2013, 07:15 AM »

Tar sands project suffers setback as British Columbia rejects pipeline

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Saturday, June 1, 2013 0:15 EDT

Canadian province rejects plan for Enbridge Northern Gateway, saying company failed to demonstrate adequate clean-up plan

Efforts to expand production from the Alberta tar sands suffered a significant setback on Friday when the provincial government of British Columbia rejected a pipeline project because of environmental shortcomings.

In a strongly worded statement, the government of the province said it was not satisfied with the pipeline company’s oil spill response plans.

The rejection of the pipeline – which was to have given Alberta an outlet to Pacific coast ports and markets in China – further raises the stakes on another controversial tar sands pipeline, Keystone XL.

Barack Obama is still weighing a decision on that pipeline, intended to pump tar sands crude to the Texas gulf coast.

British Columbia, in its official submission to a pipeline review panel, said the company had failed to demonstrate an adequate clean-up plan for the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. It set five new conditions for the project’s approval.

“Northern Gateway has presented little evidence about how it will respond in the event of a spill,” Christopher Jones, a lawyer representing the province, said in a statement to the federal government panel reviewing the project.

“It is not clear from the evidence that Northern Gateway will in fact be able to respond effectively to spills either from the pipeline itself, or from tankers transporting diluted bitumen,” Jones added.

Jones said the pipeline would cross over remote and extremely difficult terrain, with pristine rivers that could be devastated in the event of a spill. He said those considerations compelled the province to hold the pipeline company to a higher standard. “Trust me is not good enough in this case.”

Officials in British Columbia said Friday’s decision would not necessarily kill off the project for good. But the demand for more stringent protections poses additional challenges to Enbridge’s plans of building the pipeline.

The Canadian government has lobbied extensively in support of both projects and to prevent restricts on exports from the tar sands. In recent months, the government of Stephen Harper has deployed teams of lobbyists, and dispatched cabinet officials to US and European cities to make the case for tar sands development.

Prices for tar sands crude have been dropping in the absence of a reliable export route.

The Enbridge project, though not as ambitious as Keystone XL had been an important part of Harper’s contingent plan. Canadian government officials had argued that if Obama turned down Keystone XL, Canada would simply ship crude to China.

As currently envisaged, the $6bn (£4bn) Northern Gateway project would extend about 700 miles from the Alberta tar sands to a tanker port on the northern coast of British Columbia. It would have the capacity to ship more than 525,000 barrels of oil per day. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #491 on: Jun 02, 2013, 08:20 AM »

Farmers turn to bumblebees to save strawberry crops

By The Observer
Saturday, June 1, 2013 21:27 EDT

By Damian Carrington, The Observer

Growers turn away from chemical pesticides in the battle against grey mould

Squadrons of bumblebees are being deployed in a novel attempt to prevent grey mould turning the summer’s strawberries into fluffy mush.

The bees are routed via a one-way system in their hive through a tray of harmless fungus spores which, when delivered to flowers, ensure that the grey mould cannot take hold as the fruit grows. New flowers on a strawberry crop open every day, which means that spraying with pesticides only protects those that are open at the time. “But the bees visit the flowers at the perfect moment for that flower,” said Harriet Roberts of Adas, an agricultural consultancy testing the use of bees as delivery systems in the UK.

More than 50,000 tonnes of strawberries are sold through UK supermarkets alone each year, but more than half can suffer from grey mould (Botrytis cinerea), which only manifests itself after the fruit has been picked and causes major damage to crops around the world. The damp summer of 2012 saw a particularly high incidence of the mould.

Chemical pesticides are the usual treatment, but Roberts said farmers were moving away from these. “There is a movement to reduce the use of conventional plant protection products, because they may not be sustainable,” she said.

The fungus (Gliocladium catenulatum), which is carried to the flower on the legs and undersides of the bees, naturally occurs in soil and is harmless to both bees and plants, but it outcompetes the grey mould, starving the latter of nutrients. Bees are often used to ensure good pollination of fruit crops.

A Belgian company, BioBest, developed the bee-delivery system and has dubbed it “flying doctors”. It has been used on cherries and raspberries as well. The fungus can be used as a spray in the UK, but the use of bees to carry it to the flowers has yet to be licensed.

The UK trials are part of a wider drive backed by the Department for Environment to find alternatives to chemical pesticides in protecting strawberries. Other methods being tested include the use of insect sex pheromones to attract pests into traps and the release of millions of insect predators that kill damaging insects. The two-spotted spider mite and aphids, which can plague strawberry fields, can be killed by special predatory mites and wasps respectively. All the insects used are native to the UK.

“It makes a lot of sense to use these predators,” said Roberts. “If you boost the natural population, they may breed and give you ongoing and easy protection of the crops.” Unlike chemicals, she added, the pests cannot become resistant to the predators.

© Guardian News and Media 2013
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« Reply #492 on: Jun 02, 2013, 08:29 AM »

Decoding 'orphan crop' genomes could save millions of lives in Africa

Howard-Yana Shapiro, a scientist with the Mars confectionery company, will make the information free to boost harvests

John Vidal and Mark Tran   
The Observer, Sunday 2 June 2013   

The future wellbeing of millions of Africans may rest in the unlikely hands of a vegan hippy scientist working for a sweet company who plans to map and then give away the genetic data of 100 traditional crops.

Howard-Yana Shapiro, the agriculture director of the $36bn US confectionery corporation Mars, led a partnership that sequenced and then published in 2010 the complete genome of the cacao tree from which chocolate is derived. He plans to work with American and Chinese scientists to sequence and make publicly available the genetic makeup of a host of crops such as yam, finger millet, tef, groundnut, cassava and sweet potato.

Dubbed "orphan crops" because they have been ignored by scientists, seed companies and governments, they are staples for up to 250 million smallholder African farmers who depend on them for food security, nutrition and income. However, they are considered of little economic interest to large seed and chemical companies such as Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta, which concentrate on global crops such as maize, rice and soya.

According to Shapiro, there is huge potential to develop more resilient and higher-yielding varieties of most orphan crops by combining traditional plant breeding methods with new biotech tools such as "genetic marking". This does not involve the altering or insertion of genes that takes place with controversial genetic modification.

"The genetic information will be put on the web and offered free to plant breeders, seed companies and farmers on condition it is not patented. A new African plant-breeding academy will also be set up in Nairobi, Kenya," he said.

"It's not charity. It's a gift. Its an improvement of African agriculture. These crops will never be worked on by the big five [seed] companies. They don't see them as competition."

Shapiro, a leading plant scientist who founded organic seed company Seeds of Change but sold it to Mars in 1997, now cuts an idiosyncratic figure in the corporate food world, sporting a long beard and listing motorcycles as a favourite pastime. But he said that the culture of the family-owned corporation had advantages. "It took less than a nanosecond to decide not to patent. Ownership was not an issue," he said.

Shapiro is angered by the stunting caused by malnutrition that affects 30% of African children. By improving the crops, he said, the African orphan crop consortium, which includes corporations such as Life Technologies and the conservation group WWF, could eradicate a "plague" that costs Africa $125bn a year. "We will start with genomics, go to analysis, then to plant breeders, then to the field, then the seed companies, and then to the farms," he said.

Open-access publication of the cacao genome in 2010 is now bearing fruit. The genes that determine resistance to fungal infections and yield have been found and a new generation of cacao trees is being grown which should eventually quadruple production. "We haven't changed a single gene. It's inheritability. It's all done with grafting."

But the "improved" seeds expected to come out of the $40m orphan programme could change Africa in unexpected ways. Nearly 80% of all seed used in Africa is selected, saved and exchanged by farmers without money changing hands. The result has been an immense diversity of crops suited to particular localities and cultures. The new, "improved" seeds of the orphan crops may increase yields or disease resistance but could be unaffordable and might oust traditional varieties. It is also possible that the genetic decoding could open the door to genetic modification.

"Anything that keeps the [genetic] information out of proprietary hands is a good thing. But it's important to maintain the traditional varieties that have not been 'improved' and to keep a non-monetised path for the farming economy," said Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London. "It's important to recognise improvements in crops are not just about genetics. How plants are managed is equally important."

Agricultural investment in Africa will be a key point at the G8 hunger summit in Northern Ireland next weekend. Governments and 45 of the largest agribusiness corporations are expected to unveil initiatives to boost African farming.

West and east African small farmers' groups have joined British charities to say that small-scale family farmers were being excluded from the talks even though they feed 80% of Africans. "It's very important that governments prioritise investment to support family farmers and their more ecological food production," said Patrick Mulvany, chair of the UK Food group.

"Technological advances in food production can be part of the solution to increase yields. But the world already grows enough food yet one in eight people go hungry every day. G8 leaders can begin to tackle the scandal of global hunger by closing the tax loopholes, improving land rights and increasing public investment in developing country agriculture," said Lucy Brinicombe, spokesperson for the If coalition of 200 groups which includes Oxfam and ActionAid.

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« Reply #493 on: Jun 04, 2013, 06:12 AM »

SARS-like virus spreads to Italy as 10 people test positive

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, June 3, 2013 17:56 EDT

Around 10 people in Italy have tested positive for a SARS-like virus but have presented no symptoms and have not been quarantined, an infectious diseases specialist told the ANSA news agency on Monday.

“They have not been isolated because they are not presenting with any symptoms,” Alessandro Bartoloni of the Infectious Diseases clinic at Careggi hospital in Florence was quoted as saying.

Samples of their blood have been sent to the Superior Health Institute in Rome for confirmation, he added.

“There was a firm belief, according to the World Health Organisation, that the virus was not easily spread but was rather aggressive (in those infected). What we are seeing now seems, however, to be the exact opposite,” he added.

Bartoloni said the clinic would continue to collect samples to see how widely the virus has spread.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) — termed “New SARS” in Italy — is believed to have killed around 30 people globally.
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« Reply #494 on: Jun 04, 2013, 06:31 AM »

Jellyfish surge in Mediterranean threatens environment – and tourists

A project is tracking the phenomenon as global warming and overfishing boost numbers of the venomous sea creature

Giles Tremlett in Madrid, Monday 3 June 2013 19.14 BST   

Scientists across the Mediterranean say a surge in the number of jellyfish this year threatens not just the biodiversity of one of the world's most overfished seas but also the health of tens of thousands of summer tourists.

"I flew along a 300km stretch of coastline on 21 April and saw millions of jellyfish," said Professor Stefano Piraino of Salento University in southern Italy. Piraino is the head of a Mediterranean-wide project to track the rise in the number of jellyfish as global warming and overfishing clear the way for them to prosper.

"Citizen scientists" armed with smartphones and a special app are now tracking them along thousands of miles of Mediterranean coastline. Population growth has continued over the four years of the project, and appears to be part of a global phenomenon, with most coastal areas studied around the world also reporting a rise in numbers.

"There are now beaches on the island of Lampedusa, which receives 300,000 tourists a year, where people can only swim for a week in the summer," said Piraino.

Josep María Gili, a veteran jellyfish researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences in Barcelona, said: "It is a growing problem in the Mediterranean, as it is in the rest of the world. But the problem is at its greatest in the open sea."

The institute has detected a surge this spring in one of the most poisonous species, the mauve stinger or Pelagia noctiluca, along the coast of Catalonia and Valencia. "We have seen banks several kilometres long and with a density of 30 to 40 jellyfish per square metre," the institute's Verónica Fuentes told Spain's ABC newspaper. "The ones we have found this spring are particularly big."

Gili said this was mostly surprising because the mauve stingers were close to beaches. "Normally, that size of jellyfish does not reach the coast because of the temperature of the water," he said.

Other badly hit coastlines include Sardinia, Sicily, Malta and the eastern Mediterranean beaches of Israel and the Lebanon.

Piraino said at least 150,000 people were treated for jellyfish stings around the Mediterranean each summer.

Global warming, overfishing and human intervention – especially breakwaters that protect sandy beaches but provide a home for larvae – are all blamed. As predators disappear, population surges are happening with greater frequency.

"The jellyfish that we see on the beach is really the sea sending us a message in a bottle, saying: 'Look what is happening to me,'" Gili said.

"The socio-economic impact on tourist areas is huge," said Piraino. "We are losing millions of euros."

Beaches in Catalonia are rarely affected for more than 15 days each summer, but some Mediterranean resorts are now considering using two-metre-deep nets to fence off safe zones for bathers.

The best protection against stings is suncream, which prevents the venom released by the tentacles from penetrating the skin.

Piraino said knowledge of jelly fish populations was still relatively scant and it was impossible to predict how big a problem they might become this summer. "We do not know enough, but we have to be ready," he said.

Not everyone is appalled by the gelatinous creatures and their stings. The Chinese have been eating them for 5,000 years and export some $20m worth each year. Chinese immigrants in Sicily have also begun to harvest them.

Scientists also point to at least one species of Mediterranean jellyfish – the fried egg jellyfish or Cotylorhiza tuberculata – as a potential source of raw materials for cancer treatments and antioxidants.

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