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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 144229 times)
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« Reply #495 on: Jun 04, 2013, 06:50 AM »

Monsanto baffled by reappearance of GMO ‘zombie wheat’ in Oregon

By David Ferguson
Monday, June 3, 2013 20:33 EDT

The company that engineered an herbicide-resistant strain of wheat which was never cleared for commercial use is baffled as to how the genetically modified organism (GMO) came to be growing in an Oregon wheat field. According to New Scientist, Monsanto, which says it abandoned research on the wheat in 2004, claims it has no idea how the wheat got there, but that it is urgently trying to find out.

An Oregon farmer who found the wheat only realized that it was a genetically modified crop when he tried to clear the field where it was growing by using the Monsanto herbicide Roundup. To his amazement, the plants simply refused to die.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) fact sheet about the contamination said:

    An Oregon farmer noticed some volunteers, or plants that had germinated and developed in a place where they were not intentionally planted, in his wheat field, were resistant to glyphosate and sent the samples to the OSU scientist. She received the samples on April 30, 2013, and conducted tests on the samples. Based on her preliminary tests, the samples she received tested positive for the glyphosate trait and the farmer was informed of the testing results.

In a press release on Friday, Monsanto claimed that as a company, it “remains committed to working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. wheat industry to get to the bottom of the reported detection of Roundup Ready wheat earlier this week in a single field in Oregon.”

“We’re committed to being transparent about our investigation and sharing information as it is assembled,” said Claire Cajacob of Monsanto in the press release. “We’re prepared to provide any technical help that we can to get to the bottom of this.”

“Roundup Ready” wheat, which is immune to the effects of the wide-spectrum herbicide glyphosate — marketed by Monsanto as Roundup — was cleared for human consumption by the FDA in 2004, but Monsanto stopped growing it the same year, claiming at the time that a 25 percent drop in global demand for wheat meant the strain wasn’t as urgently needed. All remaining stocks of Roundup Ready wheat were purportedly destroyed.

The modified wheat was grown in 17 U.S. states, including Oregon, but never at the farm where the resistant stain was found. Monsanto’s statement ruled out physical contamination as the source, saying, “The company’s internal assessments suggest that neither seed left in the soil nor wheat pollen flow serve as reasonable explanations behind this reported detection.”

In short, the agri-business colossus sounds as mystified as everyone else as to how a strain of wheat that was supposed to be completely eradicated in 2004 has spontaneously come back to life in an Oregon field.

Now, Korea and Japan have suspended imports of U.S. soft white wheat, which is used for making noodles, until they determine that none of the Monsanto wheat has entered their supply chain. So far, no GMOs have been found among the exported crops.

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« Reply #496 on: Jun 06, 2013, 06:50 AM »

Scientists claim major malaria breakthrough

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, June 5, 2013 15:22 EDT

European researchers on Wednesday said they had identified how the malaria parasite sticks to blood vessels, a finding that opens up new targets for drugs to protect children who are the biggest victims of the disease.

Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria parasite, grows in red blood cells.

It adheres to the wall of blood vessels to avoid being swept by the bloodstream down to the spleen, where it would otherwise be destroyed.

The binding trick has been known for more than a century, but how it is done has remained unclear.

A first insight came last year, when a lab team pointed the finger at a protein on the parasite called PfEMP1.

The new study, published in the journal Nature, has taken things further by looking for the docking point where PfEMP1 latches a hold on the blood-vessel lining.

A team led by Louise Turner at the University of Copenhagen screened 2,500 profiles, but only one provided a fit: a receptor called endothelial protein C, or EPCR.

To check whether the hunch was right, the researchers looked at parasites taken from 15 children in Tanzania who had fallen ill with severe malaria, and confirmed the association with EPCR.

“It was true eureka moment,” said fellow researcher Thomas Lavstsen, in a press release issued by the university.

“Under normal conditions, ECPR plays a crucial role in regulating blood clotting inflammation, cell death and the permeability of blood vessels.

“The discovery that parasites bind and interfere with this receptor’s normal function may help us explain why severe symptoms of malaria develop.”

The new findings will help pharmaceutical engineers target the parasite’s binding mechanism, said Matthew Higgins of Oxford University.

“We want to know exactly which bits of the parasite protein are needed to bind to the receptor in the blood vessel wall. Then we can aim to design vaccines to drugs to prevent this binding.”

In 2010, an estimated 219 million people were infected with the disease and some 660,000 died, most of them African children aged under five, the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) said last December.

A study published in the Lancet in February 2012 said the global death toll was likelier to be around 1.2 million a year.

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« Reply #497 on: Jun 07, 2013, 06:36 AM »

06/07/2013 10:06 AM

Warming World: It's Time to Give Up the 2 Degree Target

A Commentary by Oliver Geden

Limiting global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius, as called for by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has become patently unrealistic. Political will is lacking and emissions continue to increase. The target needs to be revised.

At the United Nations climate conference in the former German capital of Bonn on Wednesday, delegates and stakeholders discussed the options for reaching the overarching objective of international climate policy: that of limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). That upper limit is considered to be the threshold to "dangerous climate change."

Technically, the goal might still be achievable. But from a political point of view, it has become patently unrealistic. And since a target that is unattainable cannot fulfill either a positive symbolic function or a productive governance function, the 2°C target will ultimately have to be modified.

In the 20 years since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted, progress in the area of international climate policy has been modest at best. Annual greenhouse gas emissions have increased by over one-third since 1992. Acute conflicts of interest among industrialized, emerging, and developing countries remain a persistent obstacle. A comprehensive global climate treaty will not be concluded until 2015 at the earliest, and it will not enter into force before 2020.

If one accepts key findings from climate research and the recommendations from scientific policy advisors, emissions will have to be reduced by 15 percent by 2020 to stay below the 2°C limit. But global emissions trends are still moving in the opposite direction and will be impossible to reverse in a matter of just a few years.

Symbolic Function

Contrary to widespread hopes, the global agreement on the 2°C target has contributed little to the implementation of ambitious policy measures worldwide. The target currently serves a primarily symbolic and declarative function. For this reason, a pragmatically motivated reduction in the level of ambition carries risks. This is particularly critical for the EU, which has gained worldwide recognition as a leader in climate policy, not least because of its role in bringing the 2°C target into the international climate policy arena.

But the EU not only risks damage to its public image. Since Europeans derive their internal emissions reduction objective of 80 to 95 percent (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050 directly from the 2°C target, a weakening of the global climate policy target would inevitably lead in turn to a debate over the easing of internal EU reduction targets.

Despite the dwindling probability that the established goal can still be met, there has been no broad discussion to date about the future of the 2°C target. There is no "Plan B." As global emissions continue to rise, the EU will not be able to avoid this question much longer.

Basically, there are three options to changing the primary target of international climate policy. World leaders could either allow the 2°C goal to become a benchmark that can be temporarily overshot, accept a less stringent target, or give up on such an objective altogether.

The most obvious starting point for the EU would be to ask whether the 2°C target should still be understood as an absolute upper limit or whether it might be a threshold that could be crossed temporarily, probably for many decades. This would mean downgrading the objective to a mere benchmark for international climate policy. The most important political advantage would be that the 2°C target could be formally retained and scientists would not be forced to move the threshold of "dangerous climate change."

Politically Unappealing

While this approach strives for an indirect and politically less risky path to reducing ambition levels, accepting a less stringent target that would be significantly higher (2.5 or 3°C), or even giving up a specific global stabilization target altogether, would have the benefit of being more direct.

The EU will probably favor a reinterpretation over a complete revision of the 2°C target. However, that does not mean its preferences will necessarily prevail. What ultimately happens will be determined by the actions of major emitters like China and the US, and even more by how global emissions levels evolve over the next several years. If the trend is not reversed soon, a mere reinterpretation of the 2°C target might not be enough. If the EU wants to maintain its role as a global leader in climate policy, it will have to investigate all options for target modification as soon as possible, even those that seem politically unappealing.

No matter which option the EU chooses to pursue in the medium term, and which one is ultimately adopted in international climate policy, the relationship between climate policy and climate science will undoubtedly become much more pragmatic. The need to reinterpret or revise the 2°C target arises primarily from international climate policy's lack of success. Yet its failure is also the failure of the dominant approach to policy advice up to now: the attempt to delimit the range of options available to climate policy by establishing science-based climate objectives.

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« Reply #498 on: Jun 07, 2013, 06:58 AM »

Koch-funded group launches campaign to block carbon tax and deregulate oil industry

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Thursday, June 6, 2013 23:52 EDT

Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the ultra-conservative group funded by the Koch oil billionaires, is launching a series of adverts that target Democratic senators and aim to block action on climate change.

The online-only campaign was created with the specific purpose of defeating moves to make polluters pay for the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

AFP said on its website: “Over the next several weeks, the online ads will alert activists to urge their lawmakers to block carbon taxes, support domestic production, and get government out of the way of abundant, affordable energy sources.”

The group, which is funded by Charles and David Koch and other wealthy conservatives through a system of anonymous trusts, said the campaign would be one of its most ambitious projects this year, with a budget of $175,000.

AFP described the adverts, which will run throughout June, as the first wave of a campaign against climate action.

“The latest effort leverages AFP’s broad network of grassroots activists and enables them to send a message directly to their senator or representative,” the group said. ” Activists will also be able to add their name to a petition that calls for free-market energy policy.”

The campaign represents the first signs of a counter-attack from ultra-conservatives against efforts to advance a climate agenda during Barack Obama’s second term.

The president made sweeping promises on his election to act on climate change in his second term, and he has been far more willing to speak out publicly about the need for action. “I don’t have much patience for people who deny climate change,” he told a fundraiser last month.

But Obama has yet to put forward any specific proposals and the White House has shot down some ideas circulating in Washington, such as a carbon tax.

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters in January that a carbon tax was a non-starter. Obama had “no intention” of proposing such a tax, he said.

Wednesday’s announcement from AFP made no mention of Obama. Instead, the group said the adverts would target three Democratic senators who are all facing re-election in 2014 – Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Udall of Colorado and Kay Hagen of North Carolina.

It said it would target 10 other Democrats, but declined to name them.

AFP was an active player in the 2012 elections, spending at least $25m attacking Obama.

The newest ad buy suggests the group is jumping back into the fight – perhaps in response to an internet advertising campaign by Organising for Action, which was set up to support Obama’s agenda.

The group has run a series of web ads mocking Republicans who deny human activity is causing climate change, or oppose action on climate change.

The timing of the ad buy – in the run-up to the long summer recess when members of Congress go home to their districts – bore some resemblance to the successful campaign by Tea Party groups such as AFP to defeat climate law.

The house narrowly passed a climate bill in June 2009. But Democratic officials returning to their districts that summer were ambushed by Tea Party activists, self-proclaimed Energy Citizens, who argued that action on climate change was a “job killer”.

The effort to advance the bill through the Senate collapsed a year later. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #499 on: Jun 07, 2013, 09:03 PM »

Hi Everyone,
I'm not sure if this is a good place to post this but it seems this could be a healthy expression of Pluto in Capricorn. Man made laws honouring the earth.
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« Reply #500 on: Jun 08, 2013, 05:50 AM »

Pig Putin's Russia ....

Russia blocks key panel to hold up UN climate talks

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, June 7, 2013 13:26 EDT

Procedural protests by Russia held up part of the UN climate talks on Friday for the fifth successive day, according to frustrated delegates at the labyrinthine negotiations in Bonn.

Russia has been blocking a key technical panel whose work feeds into the 12-day negotiation round.

The Russians, supported by Belarus and Ukraine, are demanding a debate on how decisions are agreed at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the 20-year forum for addressing global warming and its impacts.

They say they sought to object to a deal at the UNFCCC’s last big meeting, held in Doha, Qatar, last December, that saw an extension of the Kyoto Protocol.

But they complain they were ignored by the conference’s Qatari chairman, who gavelled the agreement through.

“There’s a big fight about how rules are agreed,” said a source with a European NGO. “They obviously feel very sore about what happened there, and they are making a big deal about it.”

Other countries have expressed sympathy for Russia’s argument for clarity on how UN decisions are adopted, but opposed its demands for a debate.

Decisions in climate talks are already crimped by national interests and would be even weaker if they have to be formally adopted unanimously rather than by the fuzzier format of consensus, said one delegate.

“It would have the effect of redoing international law… it’s awkward and dangerous, because it could drag the plenary on, so it would impact the effectiveness of a process that already struggles to make decisions,” said the source.

The spat has held up technical talks on how developing countries are meeting emissions goals, on forestry projects by developed economies and beefing up carbon trading.

A coalition of 850 green groups represented in the Climate Action Network on Friday awarded Russia a symbolic “fossil” for the country “which does the most to block progress.”

The decision at Doha hamstrings the sale of 5.8 billion tonnes of carbon credits that Russia had amassed under the first round of the Kyoto Protocol.

It had gained these credits not through emissions reductions efforts, but after market pressure forced the closure of CO2-spewing factories following the fall of the Soviet Union.

The wrangling in the panel, called the Subsidiary Body for Implementation, did not seem to badly affect other areas of the talks but has stoked worries of time pressure, the sources said.

Unless money can be found for an additional meeting, the Bonn negotiations will be the last before the UNFCCC’s annual minister-level talks, which this year will take place in Warsaw from November 11 to 22.

The goal is to make a giant’s stride toward a global pact on carbon emissions that would be signed in late 2015 and take effect in 2020.

Political interest on tackling climate change at a global level peaked in the runup to the 2009 Copenhagen Summit.

But the low-level compromise that was brokered there, amid scenes of chaos and finger-pointing, has dashed expectations that the UN forum can do very much.
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« Reply #501 on: Jun 08, 2013, 06:49 AM »

June 7, 2013

Federal Protection of Gray Wolves May Be Lifted, Agency Says


Gray wolves, whose packs now prowl through the northern Rockies and the forests along the Great Lakes, no longer need endangered-species protection to prevent their extinction, the Obama administration said Friday.

The Fish and Wildlife Service unveiled a proposal to eliminate the remaining restrictions across the country, saying wolves are flourishing again. The only populations to have protection, under the proposal, would be Mexican wolves in southern Arizona and New Mexico and a small experimental population in North Carolina.

The announcement by Daniel M. Ashe, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, marked the imminent end of 50 years of controversial efforts to bring back a predator that once roamed the continent but had been all but exterminated in the United States by the mid-20th century.

“Wolves are recovered and they are now in good hands,” Mr. Ashe told reporters on a conference call. “States are the most competent people to make the decisions in the future about how many wolves” there should be and “where wolves can add value to the landscape in the years ahead,” he said.

States like California, Colorado and Utah have few, if any, packs now. It is unclear, if the proposal is made final, whether migrating wolves from the Rockies could flourish there.

Environmental groups were quick to criticize the decision, saying that it reflected a parsimonious view of the Endangered Species Act and would hinder the further expansion of the wolves’ current range. Protections have already been lifted for the largest populations of wolves in the Midwest and northern Rockies.

Kieran Suckling, the president of the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, said, “What this is really about is the agency saying: We’re closing the door on the recovery of wolves, new wolf populations in new areas. We’re going to be satisfied with a northern Rockies population, a Great Lakes population and a Southwest population.”

The protections available for wolf populations in the northern Midwest have been largely uncontroversial, as was the removal of these populations from the endangered species list in 2011. But in Montana and Idaho, where wolves were reintroduced a generation ago, they were a magnet for bitter controversy, pitting ranchers and hunters against groups dedicated to helping transplanted populations thrive.

Gray wolves in Wyoming had some protections until last year.

The most obvious result of the loss of protections was state-authorized wolf hunts. Because some of the wolves hunted and killed were favorites of tourists in Yellowstone National Park or collared animals being tracked by wildlife biologists, the news of their deaths left raw emotions among conservation advocates.

Friday’s announcement of the proposal to leave management of wolves to state wildlife officials was expected; a version of the proposal had been reported by The Los Angeles Times. But that did not make it any more palatable to environmental groups.

“This proposal is really an unfortunate low bar for endangered-species recovery in the United States,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, the president of Defenders of Wildlife. “I’m not saying we have to restore them to their whole historic range, but this cuts off wolf recovery in the middle of the movie.”

“We didn’t do this with bald eagles,” she added. “Grizzlies and wolves, the top predators, need the cover of the law. The social tolerance for predators in the West is very low. There is concern that states will follow the race to the bottom. We’re talking about a predator that people are very emotional about to begin with.”

Mr. Ashe, in his news conference, said, “The recovery of the gray wolf is one of the most remarkable successes in the history of conservation.”

He stoutly defended the state agencies, saying: “We need to be dependent on the states to carry out wildlife management on a broad scale. And states are very competent to do that.”

Ron Aasheim, a spokesman for Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said that after three hunting seasons, the most recent of which ended with 225 dead wolves, “the population remains robust and very healthy.” He added that the packs are spreading “in every direction.”

But Mr. Suckling does not share the optimism. “There are large areas of big wild habitats outside those three locations that could and should have wolf populations in them, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is closing that opportunity,” he said.

“That on one hand is really bad news for wolf recovery because it sets a low standard. And that is really bad news for those ecosystems.”

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« Reply #502 on: Jun 08, 2013, 06:51 AM »

Detroit’s mountains of petroleum coke (petcoke) are ‘dirtier than the dirtiest fuel’

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Saturday, June 8, 2013 4:40 EDT

Byproduct of tar sands production is piling up in Detroit, and environmentalists fear Keystone XL pipeline will bring more

It was the dirty secret of Alberta’s tar sands – until the black mountain of petroleum coke on the banks of the Detroit River grew to occupy an entire city block three storeys high.

Now it could become a familiar feature at storage yards and water fronts across the country as the oil industry in the US and Canada struggles to deal with a glut of waste from Alberta’s tar sands production.

“This is dirtier than the dirtiest fuel,” Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat who represents the area where the pet-coke mountain has been accumulating, told the Guardian.

Peters has been pressing for full exposure of the potential health and environmental risks associated with petroleum coke, a byproduct of tar sands production.

“We need to know more about this material and the impact on communities,” he said. “I don’t think enough is known. ”

Peters (pictured) has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives calling for an investigation into pet-coke.

Pet-coke is made up almost entirely of carbon, which means that it produces more greenhouse gas emissions than tar sands oil or even coal if it is used for electricity.

Some pet-coke can be used to make steel, but the pet-coke piling up in Detroit is low-grade and high in sulphur and impurities which means it can only be used for electricity – and that comes at a heavy cost to the climate and for air quality.

This particular pile is owned by Koch Carbon, which is controlled by the Koch brothers, oil billionaires and backers of ultra-conservative groups, including those which work to discredit climate science and block action on climate change.

Koch Carbon did not respond to requests for comment.

The growing eyesore has generated growing concern in Detroit and Windsor, the Canadian city across the river. Residents complained about clouds of black dust blowing off the mounds, which were left uncovered.

“People around that area especially in windy conditions say the material can be blown around and they say it is ending up in houses,” Peters said. “What is going to happen when rainwater is on the material which is high in sulphur, high in heavy metals, when it runs off into that river?” This week, the state environmental authority in Michigan disclosed that an adjacent drain had been left open, raising the possibility pet-coke had been washing into the river and the Great Lakes system. “We just don’t know,” Peters said.

That may be about to change. Peters and others are pressing for greater oversight of the hodgepodge of regulations governing the storage and transport of pet-coke. Some states, such as California, require pet-coke be kept covered. Others have far less specific guidelines.

But it’s unclear whether those efforts can keep pace with the growing mounds of pet-coke building up in Canada and in the US.

Expanded production from the tar sands has dramatically increased the amount of pet-coke entering the refining system – and US refineries are overwhelmed, said Deborah Gordon, an energy and climate analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Every barrel of crude that comes out of the Alberta tar sands throws off between 60-130lbs of pet-coke. By May 2012, Alberta had stockpiled 70m metric tons of the stuff, driving down prices.

“They are drowning in it. It just can’t be absorbed any more in the refining process,” Gordon said.

Until now, the industry had shipped pet-coke off to Asia or southern Europe as a cheaper alternative to coal.

Most power plants in the US or Canada will not burn pet-coke for fuel because it is so polluting. Burning pet-coke for electricity require expensive equipment to clean up the sulphur – although a plant in Nova Scotia announced this week it would begin chipping away at the mound in Detroit.

“It is a waste product that is almost free for the taking, and the Koch brothers are probably thinking: ‘please somebody take this from us. Give us a little something for transport, and just take it’,” Gordon said.

Peters said he feared similar piles accumulating at other locations in the US, as tar sands production continues to expand. “One of my main concerns with the Keystone pipeline is that we will be seeing piles of pet-coke in a lot of other places in the US, because it is a main byproduct of refining Canadian oil,” he said. “What we are seeing in Detroit now will be dwarfed by more oil coming through here with Keystone.”

“This is just a glimpse of that future reality.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #503 on: Jun 09, 2013, 07:18 AM »

U.S. and China agree to end ‘super greenhouse gas’ production

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, June 8, 2013 18:00 EDT

China agreed Saturday with the United States to scale back production of “super greenhouse gases” used in refrigerators and air conditioners in a joint bid to fight climate change.

The two nations made the pledge after a closely watched first summit between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, who lead the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases blamed for the planet’s increasingly volatile climate.

In a statement, China and the United States “agreed to work together” through an international body to “phase down the production and consumption” of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), dubbed super greenhouse gases for their pollution.

The White House said that a global phasedown of HFCs could reduce carbon emissions by 90 gigatons by 2050 — equivalent to around two full years worth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

China — by far the largest producer of HFCs — had until recently resisted efforts by the United States and other wealthy nations to scale back the super greenhouse gases, arguing that alternatives in appliances were not fully ready.

But China agreed in April to end HFC production by 2030 as part of a $385 million assistance package by wealthy countries under the Montreal Protocol, which was set up to fight the depletion of the ozone layer.

China and other developing nations such as India had initially argued that the Montreal Protocol was not the best instrument to target HFCs and that the issue should instead by handled under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Some critics accused China of holding off on ending HFC production as it wanted to keep the flow of money from European Union nations that can earn credits for carbon emissions by cleaning up dirty production overseas.

The US-China statement made clear that HFCs would remain within the scope of the Kyoto Protocol and the related UN Framework Convention on Climate Change “for accounting and reporting of emissions.”

The statement said that China and the United States would work together at the Montreal Protocol.

The United States, Canada and Mexico — along with Micronesia, which greatly fears rising sea levels from climate change — have proposed a global end to HFCs through the Montreal Protocol.

The United States and China — which together account for more than 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions — have both faced international criticism for not doing more on climate change.

China has embraced solar and other green technologies, but has resisted binding commitments in talks on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that such requirements were unfair considering its stage of development.

But China has witnessed a growing debate on requiring curbs on emissions — not just a commitment to scale back the intensify of its own emissions, as per current policy — as concern rises over the country’s pollution woes.

Obama took office in 2009 vowing to do more on climate change after the skepticism of his predecessor George W. Bush.

But efforts backed by Obama to require caps on carbon emissions died in the US Congress, where many lawmakers from the rival Republican Party question the cost of such action and question the science behind climate change.

The planet has charted a slew of record hot years and some scientists link recent catastrophes — such as superstorm Sandy in the United States, droughts in Russia and massive floods in Pakistan — to climate change.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #504 on: Jun 10, 2013, 05:10 AM »

Bacterial apocalypse – the bugs are getting cleverer, and we are doing little to stop them

By Jenny Rohn, The Guardian
Monday, June 10, 2013 3:15 EDT

The time is now to develop new antibiotics, but serious barriers stand in our way

We’re all doomed.

Well, possibly not. But having recently returned from the American Society for Microbiology annual meeting in Denver, Colorado, where thousands of my fellow scientists flocked to present and absorb all the latest research into our tiny ancient enemies, I certainly have a lot to think about.

Large conferences present the whole spectrum of a topic, rather than one specialized niche. So while you attend them in the hopes of learning the latest findings (and gossip) in your own particular area, you are simultaneously exposed to helpful information and inspiration from a wide variety of parallel systems. For example, I work on bacterial pathogens of the urinary tract, but there is a lot to be learned from similar ecosystems in the gut, the mouth and indeed pretty anywhere else on the human body where microorganisms can gain access (even the penis, it transpires – who knew?).

And what struck me was the vast complexity of the problem at hand. Human beings (and their animal companions) have co-evolved with bacteria for millennia, but bacteria always seem to be one step ahead. First of all, we are vastly outnumbered: it’s been estimated that there are five million trillion trillion bacteria on our planet, more than there are stars in the universe. Our bodies themselves harbour a hundred trillion individual bacteria, which is ten times more than the number of human cells that make us up – and there are probably about a thousand different types along for the ride.

But the more we study microbes and how they interact with us, their hosts, the more complicated the picture becomes. I sat back in my chair and was blown away by the many ingenious strategies bugs employ to gain the upper hand. I learned about parasites that invade our cells and then throw up an elaborate shell coated with proteins that, like snipers, go after anything our cells throw at them. I learned about bacteria that spit out toxins that drill holes into our white blood cells to render them inert, or that create syringe-like structures to inject helpful materials into our tissues like an advanced party prepping the ground. I learned about bugs that dock on the surface of our cells and then tickle them, somehow persuading our membranes to obligingly produce welcoming cup-like structures that usher them inside like honoured guests. I learned about bugs that lurk almost dormant inside our cells, feeding themselves by diverting common biochemical pathways like the Krebs cycle to their own benefit.

These strategies are surely just the tip of the iceberg. Given that five million trillion trillion bacteria share our world, we are only scratching the surface of how an infinitesimally small fraction of them actually work.

All of this bacterial diversity is wonderful from the point of view of the biologically curious, but as a species, we really ought to be getting our own backs a bit better. As most people have heard, antibiotic resistance is on the rise. We are rapidly running out of new classes of drugs for diseases that we thought we’d conquered decades ago, such as tuberculosis, some strains of which are now able to completely evade all of our current therapies. Scary examples like this are inevitably going to increase in number and variety. And it’s not just the usual suspect killer diseases – given the risk of infection during routine procedures such as operations and hip replacements, the scope for havoc in the absence of useful antibiotics is even higher. Before antibiotics, people could die from a paper cut.

These worries are not new. In fact, Alexander Fleming, one of the discoverers of antibiotics, was trying to warn people as far back as 1945 – a warning that came true very soon after when soldiers started to develop penicillin-resistant gonorrhoea. I myself have been hearing about the looming antibiotic crisis ever since I trained as a Microbiology PhD student back in the early 1990s. A few months ago Sally Davies, the UK’s Chief Medical Advisor, produced yet another call to arms, calling antibiotic resistance a “catastrophe” akin to climate change and terrorism. But after a brief media flurry in response, it all went quiet again – as it always does.

There’s no quick solution in sight, even though we have a pretty good grasp of why we are rubbish at developing and approving new classes of antibiotics. As outlined recently in a nice piece by Ben Hirschler for Reuters, there’s a major question of incentive. Antibiotics don’t command the same prices as blockbuster drugs for heart disease or cancer, and they aren’t used on a regular basis like, say, prophylactic treatments for stroke. So companies, who quite justifiably need to have a good return on the heart-stoppingly expensive process of developing a new drug in the first place, just can’t afford it – and very few are now bothering. (I know it’s very popular to demonize big pharma for not being more selfless, but anyone who has worked in business – in any sphere, not just in medicines – will easily grasp that without enough return, spending money on something that will not produce enough profits is a one-way ticket to bankruptcy.) Traditionally, selfless research has been performed by academia, but with spending cuts and people losing the art of antibiotic research, there are fewer to do this sort of work. It’s no wonder, therefore, that there hasn’t been a new class of antibiotics discovered since the 1980s – just sporadic variations on the same tired old themes that bacteria have long since sussed out.

Regulation is another big problem. In 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration cracked down after a scandal involving a new antibiotic called Ketek that caused some harmful side effects, and from that point on virtually crippled attempts to approve all new ones. I was talking to a biotech mogul the other day who told me that there’s another problem in the UK – even if a new antibiotic is developed, it goes to the end of the queue, and you’re not allowed to try it until all others have failed. So they rarely get tried at all.

We’re going to need clever science to stay ahead of the bacteria. But we’re also going to need clever policies, and clever financial incentives. We’ve known for a long time that a catastrophe is brewing, so what will it take to finally make us change our approach? Given that it can take more than a decade to develop a new drug from discovery to market, and that the bacteria are unlikely to politely wait around for this to happen, we’d better get cracking.

Jenny Rohn is a cell biologist at UCL, who tweets as @jennyrohn and fights bad-ass bugs for a living

 © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #505 on: Jun 11, 2013, 06:50 AM »

China's rich provinces outsource emissions to less developed areas

The practice makes it far less likely that China – the world's biggest emitter – will meet its climate goals, study shows

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Monday 10 June 2013 20.00 BST   

Rich coastal provinces of China are outsourcing their greenhouse gas emissions by importing goods from less developed provinces, according to scientists. The practice makes it far less likely that China – the world's biggest emitter – will reach its climate goals, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said.

"Recent studies have shown that the high standard of living enjoyed by people in the richest countries often come at the expense of CO2 emissions produced with technologies of low-efficiency in less affluent, developing countries," the study said. "Less apparent is that this relationship between developed and developing can exist within a single country's borders."
CO2 pollution in China : graphic shows coastal provinces outsourcing their greenhouse gas emissions A graphic showing how coastal provinces of China are outsourcing their greenhouse gas emissions by importing goods from less developed provinces, 2013. Photograph: University of Maryland

China and America agreed on Saturday to work with other countries to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) . HFCs, which are used for air conditioning and refrigeration, are an extremely potent greenhouse gas on a 10 or 20-year timeframe, and contribute significantly to climate change.

But the two biggest emitters have yet to show such leadership in cutting carbon dioxide. And as the study suggests, China's efforts to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions without damaging its rapid economic growth were being undermined by carbon outsourcing.

The authorities set a number of target for carbon intensity – the emissions produced per unit of economic productivity – with less stringent targets for less developed regions. But it turns out those less developed regions, with far more carbon-intensive production units, were producing a large share of the goods for affluent areas of the country. The richer areas have tighter carbon intensity targets.

The richest cities such as Beijing and Shanghai and provinces such as Guangdong were outsourcing more than 50% of the emissions related to the products they consumed, the researchers said. In some instances up to 80% of emissions related to goods consumed in the richer coastal provinces were imported from less developed provinces in central and western China, the study said.

The result of the outsourcing was that China was losing out on a chance to achieve swift and relatively painless reductions in emissions by modernising those highly polluting coal-burning industrial units, said Steven Davis, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, who led the study.

"The tragedy of this is that the easiest and cheapest cuts in emissions are in these provinces in the interior where the technologies are antiquated and with even slight improvements could be much, much cleaner," Davis said.

The net effect of the outsourcing is to make it far less likely China would reach its climate targets. "I think the carbon leakage problem is likely to make it more challenging for China to meet its climate goals," said Ailun Yang, a climate analyst for China, India and other emerging economies at the World Resources Institute.

The Chinese authorities are already acutely conscious of the costs to public health and environment of relying on those old coal-burning plants. The annual report from China's Environment ministry, released last week, catalogued deteriorating air, land and water quality, describing the situation as "grim".

Davis said outsourcing would reinforce that situation: "The result is it's going to cost them more and perpetuate inequality within that country. They are going to be paying more for every ton of CO2 reduced than they need to be."

The study tracked the emissions produced in the manufacture of goods traded across 26 provinces and four cities. It said: "Without policy attention to this sort of interprovincial carbon leakage, the less developed provinces will struggle to meet their emissions intensity targets, whereas the more developed provinces might achieve their own targets by further outsourcing."

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« Reply #506 on: Jun 11, 2013, 07:10 AM »

Organic growers lose decision in suit versus Monsanto over seeds

By Reuters
Tuesday, June 11, 2013 2:38 EDT

By Carey Gillam

(Reuters) – Monsanto Co. on Monday won another round in a legal battle with U.S. organic growers as an appeals court threw out the growers’ efforts to stop the company from suing farmers if traces of its patented biotech genes are found in crops.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a previous ruling that found organic growers had no reason to try to block Monsanto from suing them as the company had pledged it would not take them to court if biotech crops accidentally mix in with organics.

Organic farmers and others have worried for years that they will be sued by Monsanto for patent infringement if their crops get contaminated with Monsanto biotech crops.

In its ruling Monday, the appellate court said the organic growers must rely on Monsanto assurances on the company’s website that it will not sue them so long as the mix is very slight.

“Monsanto’s binding representations remove any risk of suit against the appellants as users or sellers of trace amounts (less than one percent) of modified seed,” the court stated in its ruling.

Monsanto officials applauded the ruling.

“The assertion that Monsanto would pursue patent infringement against farmers that have no interest in using the company’s patented seed technology was hypothetical from the outset,” the company said in a statement issued Monday.

Monsanto has developed a reputation for zealously defending patents on its genetically altered crops, which include patented “Roundup Ready” soybeans, corn and cotton, genetically altered to tolerate treatments of its Roundup weedkiller.

The crops are widely used in the United States and Latin America. It has proven difficult to keep the genetic alteration from contaminating non-biotech crops, as recently occurred in a wheat field in the U.S. state of Oregon.

The group of more than 50 organic farmers and seed dealers sued Monsanto in March 2011 seeking to prohibit Monsanto from suing them if their seed and crops become contaminated.

Monsanto officials specifically refused to sign a covenant stating it would not sue the growers, but the court said the website statement was sufficient and would be binding.

Andrew Kimbrell, a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety, which joined as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the decision made no sense.

“It is a very bizarre ruling that relies on a paragraph on a website,” he said. “It is a very real threat to American farmers. This is definitely appealable.”

In its ruling Monday, the court noted that records indicate a large majority of conventional seed samples have become contaminated by Monsanto’s Roundup resistance trait.

Monsanto filed 144 patent-infringement lawsuits against farmers between 1997 and April 2010, and won judgments against farmers it said made use of its seed without paying required royalties.

Many U.S. farmers have said their fields were inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto’s biotech seeds without their knowledge. The issue has been a topic of concern for not only farmers, but also companies that clean and handle seed.

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« Reply #507 on: Jun 13, 2013, 06:15 AM »

Phasing out ‘super greenhouse gases’ could cut warming by half a degree by 2050

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 14:12 EDT

Phasing out “super greenhouse gases,” which mass emitters China and the United States have agreed to restrict, could curb global warming by as much as half a degree Celsius by 2050, a report said Wednesday.

Issued on the sidelines of beleaguered UN climate talks in Bonn, the report said a new Sino-US deal to scale back hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) “can make a difference”.

“Should we succeed in phasing out HFCs, there could be quite large benefits,” Bill Hare, director of the Climate Analytics think tank that co-authored the report told journalists in Bonn.

If HFCs were scrapped globally, “it… could result in a reduction of between 0.1 and 0.5 degrees (Celsius — 0.18 to 0.9 deg Fahrenheit) warming,” he said.

The calculation is based on a worldwide phaseout that by 2020 would spare the atmosphere annual emissions that are equivalent to some 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), or about as much as Spain emits in a year.

HFCs are used in refrigerators, air conditioners and industrial solvents as an alternative to ozone-eating chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).

Driven especially by production in developing countries, HFC emissions have been projected to grow from today’s one gigatonne (Gt — a billion tonnes) of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year, to between four and nine GtCO2e a year by 2050.

The United States and China are the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases — together accounting for more than 40 percent.

The report also warned that global warming appeared likely to exceed, perhaps even double, the 2 C (3.6 F) ceiling set for manageable climate change.

Assessing different emissions trend reports, the climate was likely to be 3.8 C warmer by 2100, with a 40 percent chance of it exceeding 4 C, and a 10 percent chance for 5 C, said the report.

“We are coming up with a very disturbing picture,” said Hare.

“We are becoming increasingly sceptical that the (governments’) pledges are going to be fully implemented.”

The report was issued as the latest round of global climate negotiations stumbled in Bonn on the back of Russian procedural objections.

The ongoing UN process, which seeks a new deal by 2015 on curbing Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions, has been hamstrung from the start by nit-picking, bickering and defence of national interests.

This time, Russia backed by Belarus and Ukraine, has frozen the work of one of three technical bodies, the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), which is meant to lay important groundwork for the next round of ministerial-level UN climate talks in Warsaw in November.

The SBI is tasked with measuring progress towards reducing climate-altering emissions and drafting the next budget for the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under whose auspices the negotiations take place.

Moscow is incensed by the way the last big annual meeting, held in Doha, Qatar, closed last December — its objections ignored by the conference’s Qatari chairman, who gavelled through a deal that extended the Kyoto Protocol on curbing Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

The Doha decision hamstrung Moscow’s planned sale of 5.8 billion tonnes of carbon credits amassed under the protocol’s first round, which expired at end of last year.

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« Reply #508 on: Jun 14, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Transparency in Serbia: Natasa Djereg, director, Centre for Ecology and Sustainable Development

Harriet Salem, Thursday 13 June 2013 08.55 EDT   

Natasa Djereg

In 1999, bombs rained down on Belgrade as Nato forces attempted to topple Slobodan Milosevic's regime. Amid the chaos of war, Natasa Djereg, a student at the University of Belgrade's faculty of forestry, founded the Centre for Ecology and Sustainable Development (Cekor) with her professors. "Those were terrible years," says Djereg, who is now the director of the NGO. "We wanted to start a project that looked to the future."

Since then Cekor has grown in size and scope. Today, the team consists of nine multi-disciplinary professionals working on national and cross-border environmental projects.

"Campaigning around transparency was a natural progression," she says. "In Serbia sustainable development is not high on political agendas, people are not aware of their rights. The system is open to abuse. We have to speak with courage … ensure government and large companies meet environmental standards … this is our everyday work".

Last year, Cekor began investigating Electric Power Industry Serbia (EPS), a state-owned company and monopoly electricity provider, and one of their funders, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). What began as a project lobbying against the expansion of lignite mining in the Kolubara basin quickly took a sinister turn.

"We found people living very close to the mines, less than 200 metres," says Nikola Perusic, Cekor's project manager. "Many are not being offered adequate compensation for their homes; some no compensation at all."

Serbia's transition towards democracy since the conflict ended has been faltering. Despite anti-corruption crackdowns, unscrupulous practices in politics and business remain rife.

"[EBRD] have completely failed to monitor EPS," says Perusic. "This is not uncommon; wherever we see EBRD or other banks involved in large infrastructure projects, in energy or transport, there are often problems. Cekor have worked on similar projects before."

On paper, Serbia's access to information legislation is liberal, but in practice requests are often subject to lengthy delays and rules are hard to enforce.

"We are trying to follow a paper trail," explains Perusic. "But in this instance, the [most important] piece of information I'm seeking, an action plan for the resettlement of these houses, is the one lacking. It just doesn't exist … We have to piece together information like a puzzle."

When the paper trail disappears, the team search for physical evidence instead. Visiting villages on the edge of the mines, they see the suffering caused. "It is like Armageddon, houses are collapsing and being bulldozed," says Perusic. "Many villagers do not know their rights … Civil society is weak. People are poor and have little education. They don't know who is responsible or how to make complaints."

Cekor is now a regional leader in environmentalism. Since 2004 it has represented the international NGO Bankwatch in Serbia. "Collaborating with international organisations and the growing influence of [the] EU has helped our work," says Djereg. "With this pressure, the government has to pay attention. Since we started out important legislation has been passed – now we need to see it enforced."
Clear thinking

What does transparency mean to you?

Transparency is a crucial issue and a condition for democratic global and local environmental governance, and necessary for the expression of the right to an environment adequate for human health and wellbeing.

Why is access to information important in development?

Access to information is an indispensable prerequisite for the right to public participation in environmental decision-making. Improved access to information aims to facilitate public participation, enhance public awareness and understanding, and, ultimately, the greater public accountability of public authorities

What is the one piece of information you most want released?

In our practice we most often want released an environmental assessment of the various plans/programmes: the environmental objectives of the programme, the current state of the environment, the alternatives considered, feasibility studies, and – particularly – data from emissions from industry into the air, water and soil.

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« Reply #509 on: Jun 14, 2013, 07:25 AM »

Warm ocean water melting Antarctic ice from bottom

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, June 14, 2013 7:13 EDT

Warming ocean waters are melting the Antarctic ice shelves from the bottom up, researchers said, in the first comprehensive study of the thick platforms of floating ice.

Scientists have long known that basal melt, the melting of ice shelves from underneath, was taking place and attributed the trend to icebergs breaking off the platforms.

But the new study, to be published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, said most of the lost mass came from the bottom, not the top.

“Our study shows melting from below by the ocean waters is larger, and this should change our perspective on the evolution of the ice sheet in a warming climate,” said lead author Eric Rignot of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California, Irvine, on Thursday.

Overall, Antarctic ice shelves lost 2,921 trillion pounds (1,325 trillion kilograms) of ice per year in 2003 to 2008 through basal melt, compared to 2,400 trillion pounds lost due to iceberg formation.

During the process known as calving, large chunks of ice break off from the part of the ice shelf facing the sea.

The researchers also made the surprising discovery that the three giant ice shelves that make up two thirds of the entire Antarctic ice shelf area only account for 15 percent of basal melting.

The melted ice shelves are also distributed unevenly across the continent.

Ice shelves tend to lose mass twice as fast as the Antarctic ice sheet on land over the same period, according to the study.

“Ice shelf melt doesn’t necessarily mean an ice shelf is decaying; it can be compensated by the ice flow from the continent,” Rignot said.

“But in a number of places around Antarctica, ice shelves are melting too fast, and a consequence of that is glaciers and the entire continent are changing as well.”

Antarctica holds about 60 percent of Earth’s freshwater inside its huge ice sheet.

The researchers said that understanding how ice shelves melt will help improve projects of how the Antarctic ice sheet will respond to a warming ocean and raise sea levels.

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