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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 94171 times)
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« Reply #1440 on: Mar 22, 2015, 06:09 AM »

Obama administration sets first major rules for oil companies that frack on federal lands

22 Mar 2015 at 14:32 ET 

The Obama administration on Friday unveiled its first major standards for oil companies that frack on federal lands, including beefed-up safety measures to protect groundwater, prompting industry complaints they will be a barrier to growth.

The rules require energy companies to reinforce boreholes and otherwise prevent leakage and provide data on the cocktail of chemicals that helps extract crude oil and gas out of the ground. The rules will add transparency to the practice, long shrouded by companies reluctant to reveal “trade secrets.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial process that involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into a well to extract oil or gas. Environmentalists say fracking poses health risks.

Although only about 10 percent of fracking occurs on federal lands, the Obama administration is hoping the new rules will become a model for industry standards elsewhere, especially in states that do not have fracking rules.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the standards are a long-overdue update to decades-old U.S. rules for drilling on federal lands that preceded the widespread emergence of horizontal drilling.

The new regulations “will move our nation forward as we ensure responsible development while protecting public land resources. That is good for the public and good for industry,” Jewell said.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) received comments from over 1.5 million groups and individuals, Jewell said.

The standards have been in the works for nearly four years and gone through several drafts, with environmentalists and the energy industry fighting over its scope.

The new BLM standards will require companies to submit detailed information about the proposed operation, including the location of faults and fractures, the depths of all usable water and the depth of estimated volume of fluid to be used.

Industry groups were quick to criticize the proposal before its official release, warning it will slow down the U.S. “energy renaissance.”

“A duplicative layer of new federal regulation is unnecessary, and we urge the BLM to work carefully with the states to minimize costs and delays created by the new rules to ensure that public lands can still be a source of job creation and economic growth,” said Eric Milito, a director at the American Petroleum Institute.

Environmental groups said the Obama administration had made progress in trying to hold oil and gas firms accountable for the environmental impact of drilling, but would have preferred bolder moves.

“The only true way to protect communities from fracking is to not frack at all,” said Dan Chu, a senior director for the Sierra Club.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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« Reply #1441 on: Mar 23, 2015, 05:28 AM »

National Trust aims to 'nurse British countryside back to health'

Conservation charity, which is one of UK’s biggest landowners, to reverse effects of intensive farming and decimation of wildlife under £1bn plan

Fiona Harvey environment correspondent
Monday 23 March 2015 00.01 GMT Last modified on Monday 23 March 2015 00.02 GMT

The British countryside will be “nursed back to health” by the National Trust under a new £1bn, 10-year plan, which takes the charity far beyond its conventional image of country houses and tearooms.

Decades of poor land management, intensive farming and the loss of habitat have sent wildlife numbers tumbling, with 60% of species declining in the UK over the last 50 years.

Under plans unveiled on Monday, the National Trust has pledged to try to reverse this decline, through its own actions and working with partners. It is one of the biggest land managers in the UK, numbering hundreds of tenant farmers among its estates, as well as woodland, beauty spots, coastline, rivers and historic properties.

It now plans to develop new ways of managing land on a large scale, which it said would benefit farmers, the economy and the environment. These could include providing more habitats for birds, animals and insects to improve their numbers, and measures to protect fragile soils that are under threat from erosion.

Helen Ghosh, director general of the trust, said: “The protection of our natural environment and historic places over the last 100 years has been core to the work of the trust but it has never been just about looking after our own places. The natural environment is in poor health. We can’t keep taking it for granted.”

Many of the changes the trust wants to make would need 30 years or more to take effect, she said. “This is a long-term commitment, for the benefit of generations to come.”

Climate change had become the biggest threat to the National Trust’s properties, the charity said, and as well as protecting and repairing buildings to cope with that, the trust would continue its programme of energy efficiency and renewable energy, with a pledge to cut energy use by a fifth by the decade’s end.

By then, half of its remaining energy use will be from renewable sources, such as solar power. In the past, the charity’s commitment to renewables has come under question from some quarters, because of the opposition to wind turbines of the previous chairman, Simon Jenkins.

Ghosh promised that the next decade for Europe’s biggest conservation charity would see it work more with other charities, government, businesses and local communities to “improve the quality of the land and attract wildlife back to the fields, woods and river banks”.

Another part of the plan is to help protect public green spaces used by local communities that are under threat from budget cuts.

Tim Parker, chairman of the 120-year-old trust, said: “The National Trust has always responded to the challenges of the time. I believe our founders would be proud of our ambitions and the part we plan to play.”

The trust has more than 4.2 million members and there are about 20 million visitors to its sites each year. About £300m will be spent in the next 10 years on clearing the backlog of repairs to its properties, most of which will be open 364 days a year. The charity said it would make major changes at its most visited historic houses that would “transform how we tell the story” of their heritage, which is likely to include more ways for people to use and experience life in the houses rather than simply pass through them on roped-off walkways.

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« Reply #1442 on: Mar 23, 2015, 05:30 AM »

Great Barrier Reef campaign: scientists call for scrapping of coal projects

Australian coral reef experts say if the mining and port expansion projects go ahead, there will be permanent damage to the reef

Oliver Milman
Sunday 22 March 2015 20.14 GMT Last modified on Sunday 22 March 2015 22.52 GMT

Australia’s leading coral reef scientists have called for huge coalmining and port developments in Queensland to be scrapped in order to avoid “permanent damage” to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian Coral Reef Society (ACRS) report, compiled by experts from five Australian universities and submitted to the United Nations, warns that “industrialising the Great Barrier Reef coastline will cause further stress to what is already a fragile ecosystem.”

The report notes that nine proposed mines in the Galilee Basin, in central Queensland, will produce coal that will emit an estimated 705m tonnes of carbon dioxide at capacity – making the Galilee Basin region the seventh largest source of emissions in the world when compared to countries.

Climate change, driven by excess emissions, has been cited as the leading long-term threat to the Great Barrier Reef. Corals bleach and die as water warms and struggle to grow as oceans acidify.

“ACRS believe that a broad range of policies should be urgently put in place as quickly as possible to reduce Australia’s record high per capita carbon emissions to a much lower level,” the report states.

“Such policies are inconsistent with opening new fossil fuel industries like the mega coalmines of the Galilee Basin. Doing so would generate significant climate change that will permanently damage the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef.”

The warning follows the unveiling of a long-term plan to reverse the reef’s decline on Saturday. The strategy, which outlines cuts in pollution flowing onto the reef but sets out no additional action to curb emissions, was hailed by Tony Abbott as evidence that the government was “utterly committed” to the reef’s preservation.

In the ACRS report, the scientists urge a rethink on associated plans to expand the Abbot Point port, near the town of Bowen as well as calling for a halt to the Galilee Basin mines, which have broad support from the Queensland and federal governments.

The expansion would make Abbot Point one of the largest coal ports in the world, requiring the dredging of 5m tonnes of seabed to facilitate a significant increase in shipping through the reef.

The report warns dredging will have “substantial negative impacts on surrounding seagrass, soft corals and other macroinvertebrates, as well as turtles, dugongs and other megafauna.” Research has shown that coral disease can double in areas close to dredging activity.

The port expansion will also increase the amount of coal dust blowing onto the reef and the risk of shipping strikes upon whales and dugongs, the report states.

Sediment dredged from Abbot Point was initially earmarked to be dumped within the reef’s waters, but following a request from Unesco, an alternate onshore plan was devised.

Dr Selina Ward, a reef scientist at the University of Queensland and co-author of the report, said the high-profile campaign around the sediment dumping obscured the more pressing threats to the reef.

“The dumping of the dredge spoil is important but it’s not the whole story,” she said. “We have the huge background threat of climate change and going ahead with the industrialisation of the coastline just doesn’t sit well with that.

“The dredging involves the removal of seagrass beds and it creates sediment plumes that move large distances and cut light out to corals, which need photosynthesis for energy.

“If we have a 2C rise in the world’s temperature we’ll have bleaching events far more frequently. The outlook really is grim for the reef, but we still have time to turn it around.”

Ward said she hoped the report would spur international pressure on Australia to scale back the mines and port. The report will be send to advisors to Unesco’s world heritage committee, which will decide whether to officially list the reef as “in danger” in June.

“I don’t want to see the Great Barrier Reef listed as in danger, that would be terrible for Australia,” Ward said. “I hope the government understands what is at stake. We can have these mines and this port or we can have a healthy reef. We really can’t have both.”

Queensland’s mining industry has also voiced its apprehension over the reef being listed in danger. The Queensland Resources Council said that the listing would harm the economy by triggering potential restrictions on mining activity, port operations and tourism facilities.

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« Reply #1443 on: Mar 23, 2015, 05:33 AM »

Paris smog forces authorities to get tough on traffic

French capital introduces vehicle ban and 20km speed limit alongside free public transport and parking to curb soaring pollution levels

Kim Willsher in Paris
Monday 23 March 2015 10.59 GMT Last modified on Monday 23 March 2015 11.20 GMT

Paris has introduced emergency measures to ban half of the vehicles from the city’s roads after a noxious smog descended on the French capital.

Only ‘clean’ cars, those with uneven number plates or vehicles carrying more than three people have been permitted to enter Paris and 22 surrounding areas on Monday in an attempt to reduce the level of fine PM10 particles from diesel engines.

Vehicles were also ordered to travel at a maximum 20kph in the city. An estimated 750 police officers were dispatched from 5.30am onwards to about 100 busy roads and junctions to hand out €22 fines to those who ignored the measures.

To encourage people to leave their cars at home, public transport and parking were free.

Pedestrians and cyclists in the city have confirmed that the pollution has become steadily worse over a period of weeks. For several hours on Wednesday last week, as the pollution peaked and cloud of smog almost completely obscured the city’s famous landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, Paris was declared the most polluted city in the world, and worse than Shanghai, which normally tops the list.

The effect of the ban on some of the capital’s busiest roads was evident first thing on Monday morning. On the grands boulevards, the main roads running from Place de L’Opera to Place de La Republique, traffic was moving freely. On a normal weekday morning, it is backed up and crawling from traffic light to traffic light.

“Goodness, it’s calm this morning. What a difference.” said Rosa, a concierge sweeping the front of a building near Boulevard Saint Martin. “I can breathe,” she added.

It was the same on all the main city axes north and south of the River Seine.

It is only the third time since 1997 the city authorities have resorted to such emergency measures. This time last year, a similar two-day ban was said to have had a positive impact on air quality, reducing the PM10 particles and the toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) according to Airparis, which measures pollution in the capital.

Experts say the problem is caused by carbon monoxide and PM10 particles from vehicles, an absence of wind to disperse the pollutants and other meteorological conditions including sunshine coupled with a drop in temperature leading to stagnant cover of warm air over Paris.

Airparis issued its maximum alert after the carcinogenic PM10 particles (those with a diameter less than 10 microns) topped 80mg per cubic metre.

Martin Pietz, a German photographer living in Paris, said he could hardly breathe when cycling to work. “The pollution has become extremely noticeable and worrying. Apart from cutting off my breath, I also find these days that when I get a cough it takes two months rather than two weeks to clear up.”

However, the emergency ban sparked a political row between the Socialist ecology minister, Ségolène Royal, and the Socialist city mayor, Anne Hidalgo. Having been warned that the pollution was unlikely to go away without emergency measures, Hidalgo asked the police to impose the traffic ban last Friday. Her request was overruled by Royal, who argued it was better to persuade Parisians to abandon their vehicles and take public transport than take “hasty decisions” to issue bans that were not a long-term solution.

After a public spat, much of it carried out on social networks, the ecology minister agreed to the ban, but not without accusing Hidalgo of failing to have a “real transport policy” to deal with the pollution problem.

On Monday, Hidalgo tweeted that traffic in the city appeared to be 40% less as a result of the emergency measures.

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« Reply #1444 on: Mar 23, 2015, 05:35 AM »

Kenya hoping to make a splash with Africa's first public-private water fund

Scheme to fund upstream water conservation touted as good news for Nairobi despite fears that businesses may benefit more than Kenyan capital’s residents

Jessica Hatcher
Sunday 22 March 2015 07.00 GMT

In a first for Africa, a public-private water fund was launched in Kenya on Friday, bringing together businesses, utilities, conservation groups, government and farmers to fund upstream water conservation through activities such as watershed protection and reforestation.

The Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund was launched by the Nature Conservancy, a US-based NGO, which has used the same model in 32 initiatives in Latin America. Its partners in Kenya include East African Breweries Ltd, Coca-Cola, Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC), and electricity provider KenGen.

The 1,000-km Tana river, which flows from the Aberdare mountains north of Nairobi to the Indian Ocean, is Kenya’s longest, and supplies 95% of the water used by the capital’s estimated 3.4 million residents.

Since the 1970s, forests and wetlands in the Tana river basin have been converted to agricultural land. Where water would once have been stored in the soil and filtered, it is now running straight into the rivers, increasing sedimentary deposits. These deposits clog up reservoirs and push up the cost of water treatment.

An estimated 60% of Nairobi’s residents do not have a secure water supply, and demand has grown by 350% since 2004, according to NCWSC.

The new fund will be managed by a trust, which seeks to raise $15m (£10m) to invest in soil and water conservation activities in the Upper Tana watershed. Landowners and NGOs will work upstream to protect the watershed and “harness nature’s ability to capture, filter, store and deliver clean and reliable water”, according to the Upper-Tana Nairobi Water Fund business case report.

The report said a $10m investment will return $21.5m in economic benefits over 30 years, including gains for farmers, Nairobi’s water and sewerage company, and KenGen.

“It’s good economic science and the best we could do,” said Colin Apse, senior freshwater conservation adviser at the Nature Conservancy. He added that the Zambian capital Lusaka was preparing to launch a similar scheme, with other cities in sub-Saharan Africa also expected to roll out water funds in the future.

The project’s partners have already raised nearly $2m, which has been used to launch the initiative, carry out a business case study, and fund conservation activities in an initial two-year pilot phase.

Water security is a priority issue in the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which will be finalised this September. About 748 million people do not have access to an improved source of safe drinking water, according to the UN, and 40% of these live in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Nature Conservancy, whose list of corporate partners includes BHP Billiton, Boeing, BP, Coca-Cola, Rio Tinto and Shell, says it aims to alleviate the pressures of climate change, pollution, population growth and deforestation on the world’s clean water supplies.

However, there has been some criticism of its funds in Latin America. Jaime Ignacio Veléz Upegui, a professor at Medellín’s National University of Colombia, where the Nature Conservancy established one of its first water funds, said such schemes were too speculative, arguing that the environment should not become a business chain.

“Despite investing in water, they do not directly result in water,” he told the US environmental publication Ensia.

He said such schemes could result in the public’s environmental sensibilities being harnessed to build a system for business, leaving people feeling cheated and less inclined to participate in future.

Backers of the new fund believe it will save money for businesses and consumers.

Water in the Upper Tana basin is becoming increasingly turbid, the land is being eroded and productivity is declining. Already, $500,000 has been spent by the fund on pilot activities, such as terracing to redirect run-off water, installing drip irrigation systems, and planting to stabilise the soil.

Water from the Tana also generates 50% of Kenya’s hydropower, which accounts for 43% of all power produced in-country, according to KenGen, which is on the steering committee of the new fund.

KenGen expects the fund’s activities to result in savings of $6m in avoided interruption and increased water yield.

“The benefit is huge to us,” said Joshua Were, an environment manager at KenGen. “It comes with increased rate yield to avoid interruptions in our operations, which ultimately means better services … and lower bills for our customers.”

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« Reply #1445 on: Mar 23, 2015, 06:44 AM »

Planetary wobbles don’t cause global ice ages

March 22, 2015
Eric Hopton for – Your Universe Online

What causes the earth to freeze up and enter global ice ages?

Until now, a commonly accepted explanation is the Milankovitch ‘wobbly earth’ theory of climate in which changes in the way the Earth orbits the sun result in the creation of ice ages. The Milankovitch proposition is that the expansion and contraction of Northern Hemisphere continental ice sheets are influenced by cyclic fluctuations in solar radiation intensity due to wobbles in the Earth’s orbit. This theory, however, has just gotten served! It’s been challenged by in-depth research of the Southern Hemisphere’s mid-latitude glaciers.

It’s not the planetary wobbles, according to the researchers. Glacier movement in the Southern Hemisphere, they claim, is influenced primarily by sea surface temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide rather than changes in the Earth’s orbit. If the Milankovitch theory was correct, those orbital fluctuations should have an opposite effect on Southern Hemisphere glaciers. But the findings of the research, which can be found in the journal Geology, refute that proposition.

The team used detailed mapping and beryllium-10 surface exposure dating of ice-age moraines (rocks deposited when glaciers move) in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, where the glaciers were much bigger in the past. The dating method measures beryllium-10, a nuclide produced in rocks when they are struck by cosmic rays. The researchers identified at least seven episodes of maximum glacier expansion during the last ice age, and they also dated the ages of four sequential moraine ridges.

Cold at the same time

The results showed that New Zealand glaciers were large at the same time that large ice sheets covered Scandinavia and Canada during the last ice age about 20,000 years ago. This makes sense in that the whole world was cold at the same time, but the Milankovitch theory should have opposite effects for the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and thus cannot explain the synchronous advance of glaciers around the globe. This latest conclusion is supported by previous studies which proved that Chilean glaciers in the southern Andes also have been large at the same time as Northern Hemisphere ice sheets.

The ages of the four New Zealand ridges, which were respectively about 35, 27, 20, and 18 thousand years old, were found to align with times of cooler sea surface temperatures off the coast of New Zealand based on offshore marine sediment cores. The timing of the Northern Hemisphere’s ice ages and large ice sheets is still paced by how Earth orbits the Sun, but how the cooling and warming signals are transferred around the world has not been fully explained, although the team believe that ocean currents play a significant role.

STORY: Where penguins hid during the last ice age:

“Records of past climatic changes are the only reason scientists are able to predict how the world will change in the future due to warming. The more we understand about the cause of large climatic changes and how the cooling or warming signals travel around the world, the better we can predict and adapt to future changes,” said lead author Alice Doughty, a glacial geologist at Dartmouth College.

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« Reply #1446 on: Mar 23, 2015, 08:14 AM »

Old viruses and some deadly ones no one had seen jar doctors

Originally published March 22, 2015 at 7:31 pm
Updated March 23, 2015 at 6:44 am

Are we under siege from a growing number of new, exotic and lethal viruses? Or does it just seem that way?

By Alan Bavley
The Kansas City Star (TNS)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The man wasn’t any sicker at first than many of the other patients who arrive at University of Kansas Hospital, infectious-disease specialist Dana Hawkinson recalls.

Going viral

In a 2012 report, a group of British scientists counted 219 species of viruses that are known to be able to infect people. They estimated that three or four new virus species were being found every year, with at least dozens and possibly many more left to be discovered.

But he went downhill fast. Fever spiking, kidneys failing, breath so short he needed supplemental oxygen.

He had been bitten by ticks while working outdoors, so he probably had one of the many diseases commonly spread by bug bites in the Midwest, Hawkinson figured. But the tests the doctor ran — for ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, West Nile virus — all turned up negative.

Maybe, Hawkinson thought, this patient had Heartland virus, a severe infection discovered just a few years earlier in St. Joseph, Kan. As the man lay dying in intensive care, Hawkinson sent a blood sample to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).   

The CDC delivered a shocker. The patient didn’t have Heartland virus. He had another virus — one nobody had ever seen before.

“It was very much a surprise,” Hawkinson said. “Everyone here at the hospital hopes to help, but we couldn’t. It was very hard. We just didn’t have any answers.”

That new pathogen — named Bourbon virus after the county in southeast Kansas where the patient lived — is just the latest virus grabbing headlines, joining Ebola, SARS and MERS, West Nile virus and strains of flu that can mutate before vaccine manufacturers have time to respond. Now, too, there’s chikungunya virus, which is carried by mosquitoes and appears poised to establish a beachhead in the United States.

Are we really under siege from a growing number of new, exotic and lethal viruses? Or does it just seem that way?

The answers are yes — and yes.

The world we live in now, with its changing climate, burgeoning population and constant travel, is introducing us to all kinds of viruses that once hid in animals inhabiting the world’s obscure corners, scientists say.

Meanwhile, new laboratory technologies have made it possible to quickly and easily identify old viruses that may have gone incognito for hundreds or thousands of years while afflicting untold generations of people.

“In a lot of cases, they’re not new viruses. We just didn’t have the tools to identify them,” said Rafal Tokarz, a research scientist at Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity. “In the past, it was probably something that would be missed or misdiagnosed.”

Bourbon and Heartland viruses probably fall into this category.

It’s possible that countless other people have gotten ill from the Bourbon virus but typically recovered, Hawkinson said.

“They may have been misdiagnosed (with a different illness) or the doctor may have said, ‘I don’t know what you have, but you got better.’ That happens a lot.”

And those undiagnosed Bourbon cases could have been happening for a very long time.

“It’s reasonable to say decades or centuries, for sure, maybe longer,” Hawkinson said.

Answering basic questions such as how common Bourbon virus is and even whether it’s spread by ticks will have to await further research. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is in discussions with the CDC on such studies.

That kind of research already is under way on Heartland virus in Missouri. The virus got its name from Heartland Regional Medical Center, the St. Joseph hospital, now known as Mosaic Life Care, where the first cases were reported.

In June 1999, two farmers showed up with fever, fatigue, diarrhea and low levels of white blood cells and platelets. Both men had been bitten by ticks. Scott Folk, the hospital’s infectious-disease expert, suspected ehrlichiosis, a bacterial illness carried by ticks, and put the patients on antibiotics.

Usually, patients start feeling better in a day or two, Folk said. But these two were slow to recover.

Folk sent their blood to the CDC. A cell culture didn’t grow bacteria but showed signs there might be a virus.

Heartland became the first new human virus identified in the United States since 1993, when hantavirus was found in the Four Corners region, where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet.

The U.S. now has nine confirmed Heartland cases. They include a Tennessee farmer who died in August 2013 and an Oklahoma man who died last May.

Laboratory technology has taken leaps and bounds in the past decade or so, and that’s “a significant factor in identifying theses viruses,” Folk said.

Polymerase chain-reaction testing makes it possible to take the DNA of a virus and produce thousands of copies to make the virus easier to identify. The same kind of genetic-sequencing technology that made it possible to map the human genome allows scientists to map the genetics of viruses. And computer databases let scientists rapidly compare an unknown virus to hundreds of known viruses. Sequencing a virus’s DNA might have taken weeks of lab work 10 or 15 years ago. Now it can be done in minutes.

“We have new technology that allows us to dive deeper,” said Nirav Patel, an infectious disease expert at St. Louis University. “Things that used to be very esoteric have become commonplace.”

In the past a doctor might just tell a patient, “You have a virus,” without being able to identify it, Patel said. “The disease was a black box. All the tests would come out negative. New technologies come online, and we find new viruses.”

Unlike bacteria, which are single-cell organisms, viruses are strands of genetic material, DNA or RNA, that invade the cells in an organism and hijack their biological machinery to replicate thousands of copies that go on to infect other cells.

While there are more bacteria and fungi than viruses that are known to cause human illnesses, viruses account for two-thirds of recently discovered human pathogens. Bacteria are less likely to jump from animals to people, scientists say. The reason is that viruses evolve far more rapidly and can adapt to people faster than other kinds of pathogens.

In a 2012 report, a group of British scientists counted 219 species of viruses that are known to be able to infect people. They estimated that three or four new virus species were being found every year, with at least dozens and possibly many more left to discover.

“There’s way more (viruses) that we don’t know about. Almost every organism carries viruses,” Tokarz said.

His colleagues at Columbia recently estimated that the world’s mammals, the kinds of animals most likely to pass their infections to people, carry at least 320,000 so-far-undiscovered viruses.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all pathogenic to us,” Tokarz said. “There is no way to know if they could infect people. It’s probably a very, very small percentage. The vast majority of viruses that scientists find don’t infect people.”

But as the growing human population moves into more animal habitats, the viruses that can infect people seem to find us.

“By extending our range, we encounter viruses we wouldn’t have otherwise,” Tokarz said. “It’s the nature of the world we live in now. It’s how it is, unfortunately.”
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« Reply #1447 on: Mar 25, 2015, 06:35 AM »

The human right to water: Salvadoran NGOs and a global campaign

Should water be legally recognised as a human right? Campaigners around the world from El Salvador to Indonesia say yes

Meera Karunananthan
Wednesday 25 March 2015 12.19 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 25 March 2015 12.21 GMT
“We saw a group of strangers and asked what they were doing. When they said they were looking for mines, we told them naively that there were no landmines here,” says Felipe Tobar, the mayor of San Jose Las Flores.

This was his community’s first encounter with Aurora Mineral Resource Group, a large mining company that began exploration in the Salvadoran town in 2005. After learning that the government had permitted exploration for a gold mine without their consultation, the communities were anxious to protect their water sources from the mines. In Latin America’s most water-scarce country, 98% of fresh water is contaminated; metal mining has long been one of the contributing factors.

The villagers took matters into their own hands. They took away the markings that the prospectors had been putting into place and rebuffed company representatives. “They sent public relations people to speak to us, but each time they were escorted out by dozens of community members and eventually the company gave up,” says Tobar. For this community, as for many others in El Salvador, the need to protect water resources was far more vital than any employment that the mine might offer.

In terms of access to water, El Salvador is the third most unequal country in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a 2010 report by the UN. But now a powerful coalition of NGOs and community groups is attempting to get access to water enshrined in law as a human right. El Foro del Agua, a water coalition of more than 100 organisations and community groups, is calling for a national ban on metal mining, a constitutional amendment recognising the human right to water, and a general water law that would legally establish social control of water resources and services. Through consultation and research with communities on the front line of the water struggle, these strategies are aimed, in part, at shifting the power dynamics to strengthen the sovereignty of the Salvadoran people to determine their own freshwater future.

Binding national laws to protect community water rights would help other local communities that have been less successful in their struggles to protect water from harmful developments. It is no small miracle that environmental strategies developed at the grassroots level have been introduced for debate at the Salvadoran legislature. Yet despite support from the ruling Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front party, opposition parties defending the interests of transnational corporations have blocked these strategies at the legislative assembly.

And now a constitutional amendment for El Salvador to recognise water and food as human rights is set to expire. In 2012, the Salvadoran legislative assembly voted unanimously in favour of the amendment. But Salvadoran law states that a vote for constitutional reform must be supported by two consecutive legislatures – the bill is introduced by one legislature and ratified by the following one. If the amendment is not ratified by the current legislature by 30 April 2015, it becomes void. Even if the new legislature were to reintroduce the bill, it would take another four to six years to ratify.

If passed, however, the formal recognition of water and food as human rights would provide a strong tool in the struggle to protect water in El Salvador. It would affirm the primacy of local access to water supplies and ecosystem needs over foreign interests. Although the current government has vowed to maintain a de facto moratorium on metal mining that has been in place since 2008, without binding legislation environmental groups fear that this stopgap measure will not provide the long-term water strategy the country needs.

Brazil drought: water rationing alone won't save Sao Paulo

The human right to water is increasingly serving as a tool for communities throughout the world. In Uruguay, formal recognition of the human right to water and sanitation resulted in the banning of private water and sanitation services. In Indonesia on 24 March, weeks after the constitutional court deemed a World Bank-imposed water law to be anti-constitutional for allowing the privatisation of water, the Central Jakarta District Court annulled a 17-year old private-public-partnership arguing that it violated the human right to water. As in El Salvador, campaigns in Uruguay and Indonesia were led by people’s coalitions.

“The thousands of people organising to defend water in El Salvador are writing the shared history of the continent,” says Marcela Olivera, coordinator of La Red Vida, a coalition representing groups working on water issues from across the Americas. “They are showing the world that from El Salvador and Mexico to Argentina and Uruguay, we are not only capable of resisting the neoliberal agenda, but also of building concrete alternatives.”

In the meantime, the communities of San Jose Las Flores and Nueva Trinidad are not taking any chances. They are among a growing number of municipalities in Chalatenango who are declaring themselves as territories free of mining through municipal laws. In Central America, where environmental health and public policy decisions are dominated by the interests of big (primarily Canadian) mining companies, places like Chalatenango show that it is still possible to assert local power and maintain “liberated territories”.

Meera Karunananthan is international water campaigner for the Blue Planet Project and co-author of a new report on El Salvador’s water struggles. Follow @meerakar on Twitter.

Join our community of development professionals and humanitarians. Follow@GuardianGDP on Twitter.

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« Reply #1448 on: Mar 25, 2015, 06:41 AM »

Largest asteroid crater on Earth discovered in Australia

March 24, 2015
Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

A nearly 250 mile (400 km) wide impact zone recently discovered in Central Australia is being called the largest asteroid-caused crater ever discovered, according to research published earlier this month in the international earth sciences journal Tectonophysics.

The impact craters were discovered hidden deep beneath the Earth’s crust by geophysicists from the Australian National University’s School of Archaeology and Anthropology, and according to Discovery News, they were caused by the most powerful asteroid impact ever discovered.

Lead investigator Dr. Andrew Glikson and his colleagues believe that the craters were created by a massive asteroid that broke into two pieces just prior to making impact, and the force generated by its violent collision likely had a devastating impact on creatures living at the time.

“The two asteroids must each have been over 10 kilometers across – it would have been curtains for many life species on the planet at the time,” explained Dr. Glikson, who is also affiliated with the ANU Planetary Science Institute. He added that “large impacts like these may have had a far more significant role in the Earth’s evolution than previously thought.”

A bit of a mystery

While the impact crater itself is long gone, buried 19 miles (30 km) beneath the surface in rock that is at least 300 million years old, its imprint on the Earth’s crust remains, the website said. It was found in the Warburton Basin in Central Australia, in a region close to the borders of South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, the researchers noted.

The asteroid believed to have caused the impact would have been far larger than the one that was responsible for the famous Chicxulub crater located beneath Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, which is believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago. The Warburton Basin impact zone is twice the size of the Chicxulub one, and was caused by two impactors, each about the same size as the six-mile (10 km) wide asteroid that caused the Mexican crater.

The impacts were discovered accidentally during a geothermal research project. While drilling more than a mile into the Earth’s crust, the team found traces of rocks that had been turned into glass by the extreme temperature and pressure resulting from a major impact event. A magnetic model of the deep crust there found chemical composition corresponding to that typically found in the mantle, including high amounts of iron and magnesium, the study authors said.

After the Chicxulub impact, a huge quantity of debris was shot into the atmosphere, covering the globe in a tell-tale layer of sediment. However, no such layer has been found in relation to the Warburton Basin event, Dr. Glikson said, which leads to a bit of a mystery, as he said that there is no evidence of a mass extinction event that matches the timing of the collisions.

For that reason, he believes that the impact might even be even more than 300 million years old. The goal now is to uncover additional evidence for the impact to determine exactly when it happened and what impact it had on the planet.

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« Reply #1449 on: Mar 25, 2015, 08:08 AM »

Utah confirms spike in infant deaths in oil and gas boomtown, but the state won’t bother finding out why

By Zoë Schlanger

In Donna Young’s 19 years as a midwife, she’s made house calls to hundreds of mothers in Utah’s Uintah Basin, and never delivered a stillbirth—until last May. She was startled. “Everything seemed to be normal, everything seemed to be good. [But] when the baby was born, she never even tried to take her first breath. It wasn’t a struggle or anything, it just wasn’t there.”

When Young attended the child’s memorial at a cemetery in the town of Vernal a few days later, a woman pointed out a few other fresh graves. The headstones were engraved with baby feet, or just one date—markers for infants who either were stillbirths or were born and died the same day.

“After the services, I came home and got to wondering exactly how many more there were, so I started looking back through the public obituaries,” Young says.

Vernal’s population is under 10,000. Young didn’t have access to official death records, so she came up with her own numbers by looking through obituaries at the three funeral homes in the area. By her count, the infant whose burial she attended in May was the seventh in Vernal to die within a day of being born since the beginning of 2013. Another six infants would die before the year’s end.

That was a major uptick from previous years. According to Young’s findings, the town put in 191 graves in 2010, of which two were for infants. A year later, three infants died, and in 2012, four. The following year, 13 infants died shortly after birth. Total burials in Vernal numbered 176 in 2013, so roughly one in every 15 new graves was for an infant. Vernal’s rate of neonatal mortality appears to have climbed from about average in 2010 (relative to national figures) to six times the normal rate three years later, Young’s calculations show.

Infant death can have any number of causes, and Young doesn’t know the medical history of any of the infants included in her tally. But as reported in The Salt Lake Tribune, she and several advocacy groups have raised questions about the Uintah Basin’s high air pollution, which has been blamed on the oil and gas industry. Encompassing Vernal and three counties, the basin is home to around 30,000 people and some 11,200 oil and gas wells. Another 25,000 new wells are under proposal, according to a recent study from the University of Colorado Boulder. The basin is in the midst of possibly the largest oil find in the world: A 2012 federal report estimated that land in the Green River Formation, which extends through the Uintah Basin and into Colorado, might hold up to 3 trillion barrels of oil—more recoverable oil than has been used so far in human history.

“I hate to blame the oil industry, because our livelihoods depend on it. If the [drilling] industry is strong, then the community is strong,” Young says. “But I want solutions. I never want to be in that spot again. I don’t ever want to lose another child.”

The oil and gas industry acknowledges that ozone pollution is an issue in the basin, but dismisses “speculation” about any supposed connection to infant deaths. “We’ve seen the same kind of thing before, where anecdotal evidence is blamed on the oil and natural gas industry. Those accusations before there’s any real evidence are highly suspect,” Kathleen Sgamma, vice president for government affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, a trade group, tells Newsweek.

“Ozone has certain health impacts. That’s why EPA has a health standard for ozone, and Western Energy Alliance helped fund [a government-led] study,” she says. “Being that the oil and gas industry is just about the only industry in the basin, it is well known that it is the source of ozone precursors. Ozone precursors do not necessarily create ozone. You need the right weather conditions. We did have high ozone readings in 2013 and 2014, and Western Energy is working with regulators to address that.”

Oil and gas are central to life in the region. A map of the Uintah Basin is thickly cluttered with colorful dots marking the locations of oil and gas wells. “From a plane it looks like the Earth has smallpox,” says Brian Moench, an anesthesiologist and president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, an advocacy group that is urging the state to more aggressively assess the situation with the infant deaths. The area is almost completely surrounded by mountains. In the winter, it is prone to weather events called “inversions,” where warmer air floats above cooler air, forming a “cap” that keeps the air stagnant and prevents pollution from exiting the area.

Moench’s group has joined a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for what it alleges is failure to declare the Uintah Basin out of compliance with federal air-quality standards. Litigation is pending, and the EPA declines to comment on the lawsuit. “I will note that the Uintah Basin is among many areas in the country where EPA is actively evaluating and working on ozone issues,” says Richard Mylott, a public affairs spokesman for EPA Region 8.

Uintah Basin exceeded the National Ambient Air Quality Standards level for ozone pollutants for 39 days last winter, according to the University of Colorado study, which puts Uintah Basin’s ozone pollution above the Los Angeles Basin’s average summertime levels. L.A. is currently ranked the most ozone-polluted city in the U.S. by the American Lung Association. Several studies have linked L.A.’s air pollution to an increase in adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as early birth and low birth weight. But linking air pollution to infant deaths within a population as small as Vernal’s is extremely difficult. Some say the state is not trying hard enough.

“We know that pregnant women who breathe more air pollution have much higher rates of virtually every adverse pregnancy outcome that exists,” says Moench. “And we know that this particular town is the center of an oil and gas boom that’s been going on for the past five or six years and has uniquely high particulate matter and high ozone. So seeing this spike in perinatal mortality is not surprising.

“We can’t say at this point, and we probably can’t say ever, that each one of these deaths is due to air pollution,” he continues. “Much like we can’t say that someone’s lung cancer is definitely due to their smoking. But if you put the components of this equation in the context of everything else we know, it would say something.”

But when is an anomaly a trend? A few months after Young and Moench’s group say they first presented their concerns to state officials, the Utah Department of Health and the local health agency agreed to conduct a study of infant death records to determine whether pregnancy outcomes are worse for women in the area, before considering a much costlier environmental assessment. But to have a big enough sample size to rule out random chance, they say, they need to look at data across a much larger swath of geography than just Vernal.

“One of the problems we’re going to have is that we can’t just look at Vernal, we have to look at the tri-county area,” Sam LeFevre, program manager of the state’s Environmental Epidemiology Program, tells Newsweek. “The Uintah Basin stretches through all three counties, but there are natural barriers between them, like hills, so the [pollution] exposure is not going to be even across all three.”

Plus, the study won’t include data from 2013—the year that’s had the most infant deaths by far.

“We’re reliant on vital birth records registry data,” LeFevre says. “I’m talking to the registry owners and seeing what it will take [to get that]. For right now, I’m not planning on using 2013 data. You would think if there’s a health problem associated with the ozone that it wouldn’t be just that year.”

Moench says the study is a waste of time. “To us, studying it without [2013] seems pointless. Or deliberately crafted so there won’t be any alarming result. I call tell you right now that that study isn’t going to tell you anything.”

Even if the government study finds an upward trend in infant deaths, LeFevre is skeptical that the oil and gas wells will be found responsible. He says that while there is research linking air pollution to adverse pregnancy outcomes, many other studies are inconclusive or find no connection to drilling.

“Typically, negative results have a hard time getting published. I think the effects are really small and hard to find,” he says. “I’ve reviewed the literature enough to know that there are a hundred [studies] that find an effect and another 50 that don’t.”

Young, for her part, just hopes the Vernal community will come to share her concerns about air pollution and recognize that she isn’t trying to hurt the oil and gas industry.

“These are people who, if you have a flat tire, somebody is going to stop and help. It’s a good place. On a clear day, it’s one of the nicest places.”

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« Reply #1450 on: Mar 26, 2015, 05:44 AM »

Leaders of European cities make pledge to tackle climate change

Representatives of 30 cities gather in Paris to sign declaration that will also commit them to use their €10bn purchasing power to buy eco-friendly

Kim Willsher in Paris
Thursday 26 March 2015 08.40 GMT Last modified on Thursday 26 March 2015 10.38 GMT

Leaders and representatives of 30 European cities will gather in Paris on Thursday to declare their commitment to “clean” policies to fight climate change.

Officials will also sign a declaration agreeing to use their collective purchasing power – estimated at around €10bn (£7.4bn) a year – to buy eco-friendly.

Full text of climate change statement signed by 26 European mayors

The gathering comes eight months before Paris hosts the United Nations climate change conference, known as COP21, aimed at achieving a binding, universal and international agreement on climate for the first time in more than 20 years of UN negotiations.

In a joint statement signed by 26 European mayors, including London’s Boris Johnson, city representatives said they hoped combining forces to favour green and low-carbon industries for procurement contracts would have a “leverage effect on the private sector that very often aligns its own requirements with the public sector”.

“The time has now come for European capitals and metropolises to pool our efforts to tackle climate change. This requires a closer dialogue between cities through a more regular exchange of expertise and good practices,” they declared.

The mayors will arrive at Paris’ city hall in electric Autolib’ cars, from the city’s car-sharing service, decorated in the colours of their country.

The summit comes a week after Paris was declared the most polluted city on the planet after a choking cloud almost obscured its most symbolic monuments including the Eiffel Tower and left the city of light looking more like the capital of smog.

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