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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 58961 times)
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« Reply #1200 on: Sep 11, 2014, 06:09 AM »


Amazon deforestation jumps 29%

Satellite figures show surge in deforestation, as agriculture expands in states of Para and Mato Grosso

Reuters
theguardian.com, Thursday 11 September 2014 09.12 BST      

The destruction of the world’s largest rainforest accelerated last year with a 29% spike in deforestation, according to final figures released by the Brazilian government on Wednesday that confirmed a reversal in gains seen since 2009.

Satellite data for the 12 months through the end of July 2013 showed that 5,891 sq km of forest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon, an area half the size of Puerto Rico.

Fighting the destruction of the Amazon is considered crucial for reducing global warming because deforestation worldwide accounts for 15% of annual emissions of heat-trapping gases, more than the entire transportation sector. Besides being a giant carbon sink, the Amazon is a biodiversity sanctuary, holding billions of species yet to be studied.

Preliminary data released late last year by Brazil’s space research center INPE had indicated deforestation was on the rise again, as conservationist groups had warned.

The largest increases in deforestation were seen in the states of Para and Mato Grosso, where the bulk of Brazil’s agricultural expansion is taking place. More than 1,000 sq km has been cleared in each state.

Other reasons for the rebound in deforestation include illegal logging and the invasion of public lands adjacent to big infrastructure projects in the Amazon, such as roads and hydroelectric dams.

Despite the increase in 2013, the cleared area is still the second-lowest annual figure since the Brazilian government began tracking deforestation in 2004, when almost 30,000 sq km of forest were lost.

The Brazilian government frequently launches police operations to fight illegal loggers in the forest, but environmentalists say more is needed.

****************

Tropical forests illegally destroyed for commercial agriculture

Forest Trends warns that demand for palm oil, beef, soy and wood has fuelled rapid deforestation, especially in Indonesia

Sam Jones   
theguardian.com, Thursday 11 September 2014 00.01 BST   
   
Increasing international demand for palm oil, beef, soy and wood is fuelling the illegal destruction of tropical forests at an alarming rate, according to new analysis that suggests nearly half of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of unlawful clearing for commercial agriculture.

The report, by the Washington-based NGO Forest Trends, concludes that 71% of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012 was due to commercial cultivation. Of that deforestation, 49% was caused by illegal clearing to make way for agricultural products whose largest buyers include the EU, China, India, Russia and the US.

The global market for beef, leather, soy, palm oil, tropical timbers, pulp and paper – worth an estimated $61bn (£38bn) a year – resulted in the clearance of more than 200,000 square kilometres of tropical forest in the first decade of the 21st century, the report says. Put another way, an average of five football fields of tropical forest were lost every minute over that period.

As well as having “devastating impacts” on both forest-dependent people and biodiversity, the destruction of tropical forests for commercial exploitation has, according to the study, released an estimated 1.47 gigatonnes of carbon each year – equivalent to a quarter of the EU’s annual fossil fuel-based emissions.

The study, Consumer Goods and Deforestation, says two countries – Brazil and Indonesia – account for 75% of the total area illegally cleared over the period. The countries are leading producers of agricultural commodities such as palm oil, which is used in cosmetics and household goods; soy, used in animal feed; and wood products destined for packaging.

It suggests that at least 90% of deforestation for agriculture in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal, mainly because the legal obligation to preserve a percentage of natural forest in large-scale cattle and soy plantations was ignored. The report does, however, concede that much of the damage was done before 2004, when the Brazilian government embarked on a successful drive to reduce deforestation.

The NGO estimates that 80% of the deforestation in Indonesia was illegal, with most of it cleared for palm oil and timber plantations.

Similar patterns were seen in other parts of Latin America and Asia, as well as in Africa.

According to the study, 90% of the licences granted to clear millions of hectares of forest in Papua New Guinea were issued through corrupt or fraudulent means, while in Bolivia the production of soy – 75% of which is exported – has been the chief driver of illegal deforestation in its Amazon region.

It suggests that almost 40% of palm oil, 20% of soy, nearly 33% of tropical timber, and 14% of beef traded internationally comes from land that had been illegally razed.

“We’ve known that the production of agricultural commodities is a principal driving force behind deforestation, but this is the first report to show the outsize role that illegal activities play in the production of hundreds of food and household products consumed worldwide,” said Michael Jenkins, the president and CEO of Forest Trends.

He said that although increased agricultural production would be needed to meet the demands of the emerging global middle class, the world needed to wake up to the effect it was already having on tropical forests.

Jenkins added: “Urgent action is needed to help countries where these agricultural products are being grown, both for governments to enforce their own laws and regulations, and for businesses aiming to produce commodities legally and sustainably.”

If the trend is to be reversed, says the report, governments, corporations and investors will need to act quickly and in partnership. It urges producer countries to simplify land laws – and make sure they are respected by investors. It calls on consumer countries to ensure that the goods they buy have been legally and sustainably sourced. Companies, meanwhile, ought to make sure they buy and trade only legally produced commodities and refuse to do business in countries where legality cannot be guaranteed.

The report’s author, Sam Lawson, said allowing commodities from illegally cleared land “unfettered access” to international markets was undermining tropical countries’ efforts to enforce their own laws, adding: “Consumer countries have a responsibility to help halt this trade.”

***************

Illegal loggers blamed for murder of Peru forest campaigner

Authorities confirm killing of Edwin Chota and three other men, with reports saying they were shot in front of villagers

Dan Collyns in Lima
The Guardian, Tuesday 9 September 2014 04.01 BST      

Illegal loggers are being blamed for the murder of four Asheninka natives including a prominent anti-logging campaigner, Edwin Chota, near the Peruvian frontier with Brazil.

Authorities in Peru have confirmed that Chota, the leader of Alto Tamaya-Saweto, a community in Peru’s Amazon Ucayali region, fought for his people’s right to gain titles to their land and expel illegal loggers who raided their forests on the Brazilian border. He featured in reports by National Geographic and the New York Times that detailed how death threats were made against him and members of his community.

“This is a terribly sad outcome. And the saddest part is that it was a foreseen event,” said Julia Urrunaga, Peru director for the Environmental Investigation Agency, an international conservation group.

“It was widely known that Edwin Chota and other leaders from the Alto Tamaya-Saweto community were asking for protection from the Peruvian authorities because they were receiving death treats from the illegal loggers operating in their area.”

Local leader Reyder Sebastian Quinticuari, the president of Aconamac, an association of Ashaninka communities, told local media that Edwin Chota and his companions were killed on 1 September but the news was delayed due to the remoteness of the location.

The circumstances of the deaths are not clear but one local indigenous leader, Robert Guimaraes Vasquez, told a newspaper that illegal loggers bound and shot Chota and companions on the sports field in their village in front of the inhabitants. He said illegal loggers were taking revenge after having been reported to the authorities.

The Associated Press said the other slain men were identified by a police official in Pucallpa, the regional capital, as Jorge Rios, who was Chota’s deputy, Leoncio Quincicima and Francisco Pinedo.

“Edwin Chota’s widow and other villagers travelled for six days by river to come here to report this crime,” Peru’s vice minister of intercultural affairs, Patricia Balbuena, told the Guardian. She had travelled to the regional capital, Pucallpa, to further investigate the case.

“There are no military or police posts in these dangerous border regions and that must change,” she added, indicating police would travel to the scene of the crime as part of the investigation.

Henderson Rengifo, a leader with Peru’s largest indigenous federation, Aidesep, called on the Peruvian state to do more protect indigenous people from criminal mafias.

“There’s so much corruption in the regional governments that these logging mafias can kill our brothers with impunity,” he told the Guardian.

“We must ensure that justice is done and this crime does not go unpunished.”

A 2012 World Bank report estimated that as much as 80% of Peru’s logging exports are harvested illegally [PDF] and investigations have revealed that the wood is typically laundered using doctored papers to make it appear legal and ship it out of the country; while a 2012 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency indicated at least 40% of official cedar exports to the US included illegally logged timber.

A recent operation conducted by Peruvian customs looked at other timber species and, in three months, stopped the export of a volume of illegally logged timber equivalent to more than six Olympic pools.


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« Reply #1201 on: Sep 11, 2014, 06:16 AM »


Tropical forests illegally destroyed for commercial agriculture

Forest Trends warns that demand for palm oil, beef, soy and wood has fuelled rapid deforestation, especially in Indonesia

Sam Jones   
theguardian.com, Thursday 11 September 2014 00.01 BST      

Increasing international demand for palm oil, beef, soy and wood is fuelling the illegal destruction of tropical forests at an alarming rate, according to new analysis that suggests nearly half of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of unlawful clearing for commercial agriculture.

The report, by the Washington-based NGO Forest Trends, concludes that 71% of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012 was due to commercial cultivation. Of that deforestation, 49% was caused by illegal clearing to make way for agricultural products whose largest buyers include the EU, China, India, Russia and the US.

The global market for beef, leather, soy, palm oil, tropical timbers, pulp and paper – worth an estimated $61bn (£38bn) a year – resulted in the clearance of more than 200,000 square kilometres of tropical forest in the first decade of the 21st century, the report says. Put another way, an average of five football fields of tropical forest were lost every minute over that period.

As well as having “devastating impacts” on both forest-dependent people and biodiversity, the destruction of tropical forests for commercial exploitation has, according to the study, released an estimated 1.47 gigatonnes of carbon each year – equivalent to a quarter of the EU’s annual fossil fuel-based emissions.

The study, Consumer Goods and Deforestation, says two countries – Brazil and Indonesia – account for 75% of the total area illegally cleared over the period. The countries are leading producers of agricultural commodities such as palm oil, which is used in cosmetics and household goods; soy, used in animal feed; and wood products destined for packaging.

It suggests that at least 90% of deforestation for agriculture in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal, mainly because the legal obligation to preserve a percentage of natural forest in large-scale cattle and soy plantations was ignored. The report does, however, concede that much of the damage was done before 2004, when the Brazilian government embarked on a successful drive to reduce deforestation.

The NGO estimates that 80% of the deforestation in Indonesia was illegal, with most of it cleared for palm oil and timber plantations.

Similar patterns were seen in other parts of Latin America and Asia, as well as in Africa.

According to the study, 90% of the licences granted to clear millions of hectares of forest in Papua New Guinea were issued through corrupt or fraudulent means, while in Bolivia the production of soy – 75% of which is exported – has been the chief driver of illegal deforestation in its Amazon region.

It suggests that almost 40% of palm oil, 20% of soy, nearly 33% of tropical timber, and 14% of beef traded internationally comes from land that had been illegally razed.

“We’ve known that the production of agricultural commodities is a principal driving force behind deforestation, but this is the first report to show the outsize role that illegal activities play in the production of hundreds of food and household products consumed worldwide,” said Michael Jenkins, the president and CEO of Forest Trends.

He said that although increased agricultural production would be needed to meet the demands of the emerging global middle class, the world needed to wake up to the effect it was already having on tropical forests.

Jenkins added: “Urgent action is needed to help countries where these agricultural products are being grown, both for governments to enforce their own laws and regulations, and for businesses aiming to produce commodities legally and sustainably.”

If the trend is to be reversed, says the report, governments, corporations and investors will need to act quickly and in partnership. It urges producer countries to simplify land laws – and make sure they are respected by investors. It calls on consumer countries to ensure that the goods they buy have been legally and sustainably sourced. Companies, meanwhile, ought to make sure they buy and trade only legally produced commodities and refuse to do business in countries where legality cannot be guaranteed.

The report’s author, Sam Lawson, said allowing commodities from illegally cleared land “unfettered access” to international markets was undermining tropical countries’ efforts to enforce their own laws, adding: “Consumer countries have a responsibility to help halt this trade.”
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« Reply #1202 on: Sep 11, 2014, 06:37 AM »

U.N. researchers: ‘Montreal Protocol’ has almost totally corrected damage to ozone layer

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 10, 2014 16:17 EDT

Paris (AFP) – In some rare good news for the environment, the UN on Wednesday said Earth’s damaged ozone layer was “well on track” for recovery by mid-century, although fixing it over Antarctica would take longer.

In their first review in four years on Earth’s vital shield, UN agencies said a 1987 treaty to protect the ozone layer was so successful it was indirectly adding to problems in another area — global warming.

Without the landmark Montreal Protocol, two million extra cases of skin cancer would have occurred each year by 2030 and levels of ozone-damaging compounds could have increased tenfold by 2050, the report said.

The pact had also averted ultra-violet damage to human eyesight and to plants and animals, it said.

“The Earth’s protective ozone layer is well on track to recovery in the next few decades,” the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said.

Recovery to a benchmark level of 1980 “is expected to occur before mid-century in mid-latitudes and the Arctic, and somewhat later for the Antarctic ozone hole,” their report said, standing by estimates made in 2010.

UNEP chief Achim Steiner hailed the Montreal Protocol, which set a timetable for scrapping chemicals that deplete the ozone, as “one of the most successful environmental treaties” in history.

“However, the challenges that we face are still huge. The success of the Montreal Protocol should encourage further action not only on the protection and recovery of the ozone layer but also on climate.”

Ozone is a three-atom molecule of oxygen. In the stratosphere, a layer of the atmosphere that lies at between 10 and 50 kilometres (six to 32 miles) in altitude, it is a natural shield for life on Earth’s surface.

It filters out harmful ultra-violet light from the Sun that can cause sunburn, cataracts and skin cancer and damage vegetation.

Its thinning — the “ozone hole” — is caused by extreme cold temperatures at high altitude but also by man-made chlorine compounds, such as coolants in air conditioners and refrigerators, insulation foams and propellants in hair sprays.

Most of these substances, notably chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons, are being phased out on schedule under the Protocol, which has been ratified by all 197 UN members.

Although it said the news for the ozone layer was generally good, the 110-page report, authored by 300 scientists, also warned of potential pitfalls.

It pointed to an ozone-eroding compound, carbon tetrachloride, whose production continues to rise, even though it is covered by the treaty.

Measured atmospheric levels of this substance are “much larger” than production and usage figures that countries have reported over the last decade, the report said.

And it also pointed to man-made nitrous oxide (N2O) — a precursor of an ozone-gobbling gas, nitric oxide (NO) — which is not covered by the Protocol.

N2O emissions mainly result from natural activity by soil bacteria, but around a third come from human activity, such as fertilisers, fossil fuels, livestock manure and industry.

Tackling these emissions “will become more important” as CFC levels decline, the report said.

- Heat-trapping substitutes-

Many CFCs are also greenhouse gases — according to the report, action under the Protocol saved the equivalent about 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually in 2010.

The problem is that industries have substituted CFCs for hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which do not attack the ozone layer but can also be powerful trappers of solar heat.

At present, HFC emissions are the equivalent of about 500 million tonnes per year of carbon dioxide.

But they are rising at a rate of about seven percent per year, and could reach up to 8.8 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent annually by 2050, close to that of the peak of 9.5 billion tonnes reached by CFCs in the late 1980s.

Safer substitutes that are less effective greenhouse gases do exist. Bringing these into production would “essentially” wipe out HFC’s contribution to climate change, the UN experts said.

“International action on the ozone layer is a major environmental success story,” said Michel Jarraud, the WMO’s secretary general.

“This should encourage us to discourage us to display the same level of urgency and unity to tackle the even greater challenge of climate change.”


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« Reply #1203 on: Sep 14, 2014, 07:57 AM »

Scientists discover antibiotic produced by vaginal bacteria while exploring ‘microbiome’

David Ferguson
13 Sep 2014   
RawStory

A new study reveals that microorganisms inhabiting areas of almost all human bodies produce substances that could be used in a wide array of medications, from antibiotics to chemotherapy drugs.

Nature.com reported on a study published in the journal Cell, in which researchers announced that one vaginal microbe’s power has been tapped to yield a new antibiotic medicine, Lactocillin.

Scientists say that they have only scratched the surface, however, when it comes to body microbes that produce useful compounds.

Nature quoted microbiologist Marc Ouellette, from the University of Laval’s Hospital Centre (CHUL) in Quebec, Canada, who said the team who did the research has “shown that there is a huge diverse potential of the microbiome for producing antimicrobial molecules.”

The study was published by a University of California, San Francisco team led by microbiologist Michael Fischbach. Fischbach and his team have been attempting to determine exactly how the teeming biome of bacteria that inhabit the human body affect our health. The relationship has so far proven to be highly complex and difficult to pin down.

The team began with a small group of molecules which they knew to produce substances that are useful as drugs. They then constructed a computer model designed to detect organisms in the human microbiome with similar genetic structures.

The computer returned thousands of results, some of which produce compounds that are markedly similar to pharmaceuticals that are already being tested in clinical trials, like a class of antibiotics called thiopeptides.

Fischbach told Nature, “We used to think that drugs were discovered by drug companies and prescribed by a physician and then they get to you. What we’ve found here is that bacteria that live on and inside of humans are doing an end-run around that process; they make drugs right on your body.”

Fischbach’s team isolated one such thiopeptide is produced by a bacteria commonly found in the vagina. The vaginally-derived thiopeptide killed the same types of bacteria as the pharmaceutical compounds, including Staphylococcus aureus, which causes skin and other infections.

Rob Knight, a microbial ecologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told Nature, “To my knowledge, this is the first work that isolates new compounds with strong drug potential from the human microbiome. This work provides an exciting platform for mining our microbiomes for new compounds of medical interest.”

Fischbach said that the antibiotic-producing microbe is just the beginning of what he believes the microbiome will yield when closely studied.

“People are eager to learn what exactly helpful bacteria are doing,” he said. “Nobody had anticipated that they have the capability to make so many different kinds of drugs. I don’t think this is the only thing they do, but it’s a big thing.”

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« Reply #1204 on: Sep 15, 2014, 06:01 AM »


EU polluters to land €5bn windfall under 'carbon leakage' proposal

European commission report assumes an unrealistically high carbon price, in move expected to cost governments billions

Arthur Neslen   
theguardian.com, Monday 15 September 2014 11.41 BST 

Heavily-polluting industries are in line for a €5bn (£4bn) handout from Europe’s taxpayers because of the way the EU is measuring their exposure to unregulated competitors outside the bloc, according to an unpublished report prepared for the European commission.

Steel-making, cement and power plants have their greenhouse gas emissions capped by the emissions trading system (ETS), putting a price on carbon to encourage companies to cut emissions by trading allowances.

The EU calculated the risk of such companies relocating to regions with laxer emissions limits – known as ‘carbon leakage’ – by assuming carbon allowances will be at €30 a tonne up to 2020. But carbon allowances have not touched that price since 2008, when the ETS was set up, and currently languish at around €6 a tonne, due to economic crisis and a market glut.

Using a lower price of €16.50 a tonne – the working paper’s preferred option – would “increase the auctioning revenues for member states by about €5.01 bn”, the document predicts.

The lower price would also cut the number of free pollution permits to industry by around a quarter, and address a carbon market already flooded with around a billion spare allowances. Some 640 million of these, with a value of almost €2bn, are owned by high-emitting sectors such as cement and steel.

“The costs of too many sectors on the carbon leakage list and thus too high free allocation is that public resources are wasted,” says the report which will be published later this autumn, if the list is first approved in a European parliament vote on 24 September.

“The commission has proposed another carte blanche to energy-intensive industry worth €5bn of taxpayers money,” said Eva Filzmoser, the director of Carbon Market Watch. “It is now up to the European parliament to reject the proposed carbon leakage list and make polluters pay, as recommended by the commission’s own scientific experts.”

Isaac Valero, a spokesman for the outgoing climate action commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, told the Guardian that the €30 a tonne price had been chosen because the EU’s proposed 2030 climate and energy targets and market stability reserve for the ETS would give carbon prices a boost.

“Under those circumstances, it is expected that the carbon price will in the future be more strongly driven by mid- and long-term emission reductions,” he said. “It is therefore considered justified to continue using an assumed carbon price of €30 per tonne of CO2 equivalent for the assessment underlying this decision.”

But even factoring in 2030 targets and the proposed allowance reserve, market analysts Thomson Reuters Point Carbon told the Guardian they expected a carbon price of €10 a tonne by 2020.

Marcus Ferdinand, Point Carbon’s head of EU carbon analysis viewed the €30 figure as “very much at the high end” of market forecasts. “I think it is more a means to reassure industrial participants in this market,” he said.

Indeed, an alliance of energy intensive industries sent a letter to EU governments and institutions last week urging a rapid commitment to continue the policy of free allowances for heavy industry beyond 2020. “Energy intensive industries are all at risk of carbon and investment leakage and therefore must be safeguarded,” their missive said, calling for the guaranteed 100% free allocation of pollution permits with more business-friendly criteria in the decade ahead.

Under the EU’s current proposals, 175 industry sectors out of 245 will receive their pollution permits for free to 2020, even though the ‘carbon leakage’ phenomena is still disputed, with one recent EU report questioning whether it even existed.

“We found no evidence for any carbon leakage – according to the ETS directive, defined as production relocation due to the ETS – in the past two ETS periods,” they said.

Some environmentalists argue that an approach to cutting emissions centred on the carbon market allows industry groups to block more easily verifiable CO2-cutting measures, like energy savings.

“The biggest opponents to energy efficiency are the people in the commission who support an ETS-only policy for 2030,” said Brook Riley, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth. “They want to block ambitious 2030 targets for energy efficiency and renewables to protect their ailing brainchild [the ETS].”

Riley cited an internal EU document, obtained by WWF and Friends of the Earth in an access to documents request, indicating that the costs of a higher energy efficiency target could be dramatically lower than those published in an efficiency review this summer.

The price tag on a 30% energy efficiency target fell by €600bn when EU models included the climate, health and market benefits of using less energy, and assumed that the policy was actually implemented by EU states.


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« Reply #1205 on: Sep 15, 2014, 06:39 AM »

Three-quarters of the trash found off of Australian beaches is plastic

Agence France-Presse
15 Sep 2014                   

Three-quarters of the trash found off Australian beaches is plastic, a study released Monday said as it warned that the rubbish is entangling and being swallowed by wildlife.

Researchers surveyed the vast Australian coastline at intervals of about 100 kilometres (62 miles), compiling the world’s largest collection of marine debris data, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) said.

“We found about three-quarters of the rubbish along the coast is plastic,” CSIRO scientist Denise Hardesty said.

“Most is from Australian sources, not the high seas, with debris concentrated near cities.”

Rubbish found included glass and plastic bottles, cans, bags, balloons, pieces of rubber, metal and fibreglass as well as fishing gear and other items lost or discarded in or near the sea.

This marine debris not only poses a navigation hazard but can smother coral reefs, transport invasive species, harm tourism and kill and injure wildlife, the report said.

It warned that litter impacted wildlife through entanglement and ingestion but also indirectly via the chemicals it introduces into marine ecosystems.

Smaller turtle species in particular ingest the debris, possibly because soft, clear plastic resembles its natural prey jellyfish, it said.

“Our findings indicate oceanic leatherback turtles and green turtles are at the greatest risk of both lethal and sub-lethal effects from ingested marine debris,” the report said.

Birds, meanwhile, eat everything from balloons to string, with the survey finding 43 percent of seabirds had plastic in their gut, with the Tasman Sea between Australia, New Zealand and the Southern Ocean pinpointed as a high risk region.

“Our analyses predict that plastics ingestion in seabirds may reach 95 percent of all species by 2050, given the steady increase of plastics production,” it said.

Entanglement also poses the risk of death or maiming to seabirds, turtles, whales, dolphins, dugongs, fish, crabs and crocodiles and other species.

“Approximately one-third of marine turtles around the world have likely ingested debris, and this has increased since plastic production began in the 1950s,” Hardesty said.

“We also estimate that between 5,000 and 15,000 turtles have been killed in the Gulf of Carpentaria (in northern Australia) after becoming ensnared by derelict fishing nets mostly originating from overseas.”

The report, part of a three-year marine debris research and education programme developed by Earthwatch Australia with CSIRO and energy group Shell, found that there were two main drivers of the pollution — littering and illegal dumping.

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« Reply #1206 on: Sep 15, 2014, 06:42 AM »

Scientists unveil magnetic device for extracting bacteria, toxins from blood

Agence France-Presse
14 Sep 2014                   

Scientists said Sunday they had invented a device that uses a magnet to extract bacteria, fungi and toxins from blood, potentially throwing a lifeline to patients with sepsis and other infections.

The external gadget — tested so far in rats but not yet humans — could be adapted one day for stripping Ebola and other viruses from blood, they hoped.

Acting rather like a spleen, the invention uses magnetic nanobeads coated with a genetically-engineered human blood protein called MBL.

The MBL binds to pathogens and toxins, which can then be “pulled out” with a magnet, the developers wrote in the journal Nature Medicine.

The “bio-spleen” was developed to treat sepsis, or blood infection, which affects 18 million people in the world every year, with a 30-50 percent mortality rate.

The microbes that cause it are often resistant to antibiotics, and spread fast.

If the invention is shown to be safe for humans, “patients could be treated with our bio-spleen and this will physically clean up their blood, rapidly removing a wide spectrum of live pathogens as well as dead fragments and toxins from the blood,” study co-author Donald Ingber told AFP.

The cleansed blood is then returned to the circulatory system.

“This treatment could be carried out even before the pathogen has been formally identified and the optimal antibiotic treatment has been chosen,” said Ingber, of Harvard University, Massachusetts.

The MBL protein is known to bind to the Ebola virus “and so it potentially might be useful for treatment of these patients,” said Ingber in an email exchange.

“We potentially could treat patients with this bio-spleen during the most infectious, viraemic phase of the disease and reduce the amount of virus in their blood.”

MBL has also been reported to bind to the Marburg and HIV viruses.

In live rats infected with the notorious bugs Staphylococcus aureus or Escherichia coli, the device removed 90 percent of bacteria from the blood, said the study.

“When we injected rats with a lethal dose of LPS endotoxin (a bacteria type)… we found that we could significantly improve animal survival” with the bio-spleen, it said.

Tests with human blood in the lab also showed the bio-spleen cleaned out multiple species of bacteria, fungi and toxins.

Years of testing in larger animals and then in humans lie ahead before the bio-spleen can be approved, Ingber cautioned.


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« Reply #1207 on: Sep 15, 2014, 06:44 AM »

Brazil to build giant observation tower in Amazon to monitor ecosystem

Agence France-Presse
14 Sep 2014                   

Brazil is building a giant observation tower in the heart of the Amazon to monitor climate change and its impact on the region’s sensitive ecosystem, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Amazon Tall Tower Observatory (ATTO) is a project of Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research and Germany’s Max Planck Institute, O Estado de Sao Paulo said.

The tower, which will rise 325 meters (over 1,000 feet) from the ground, will be equipped with high-tech instruments and an observatory to monitor relationships between the jungle and the atmosphere.

It will gather data on heat, water, carbon gas, winds, cloud formation, carbon absorption and weather patterns.

The ATTO project has been seven years in the making, with a site finally being selected far from any human presence, about 100 miles (170 kilometers) from Manaus, capital of the state of Amazonas, project coordinator Antonio Manzi told the newspaper.

The steel structure has been transported to the site on trucks and rafts from southern Brazil, nearly 2,500 miles away.

The Amazon jungle is one of the world’s most sensitive ecosystems, with a powerful influence on the atmospheric release or intake of carbon.

“The tower will help us answer innumerable questions related to global climate change,” said Paulo Artaxo, a project coordinator from the University of Sao Paulo.

“We will gain a better understanding of the role of the Amazon and other humid tropical areas in climate models.”


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« Reply #1208 on: Sep 17, 2014, 06:53 AM »


Antarctic sea ice set for record high as Arctic heads for sixth lowest extent

Antarctica poised for record high as figures show Arctic sea ice was millions of square kilometres below long-term average

Adam Vaughan   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 17 September 2014 09.42 BST      

The extent of sea ice in Antarctica is set to reach a record high, scientists said on Tuesday, as they announced that Arctic sea ice appeared to have shrunk to its sixth lowest level ever.

The NSIDC said that satellite data was expected to shortly confirm whether the maximum extent of sea ice at the opposite pole, in Antarctica, had set a new record.

“Antarctic sea ice is poised to set a record maximum this year, now at 19.7 million sq km (7.6m sq m) and continuing to increase,” the centre, considered one of the world’s top authorities on sea ice data, said in a statement.

Jan Lieser, of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-operative Research Centre (CRC), told Australia’s ABC News that: “This is an area covered by sea ice which we’ve never seen from space before.”

The conundrum of why Antarctic sea ice appears to be expanding as the Arctic decreases had puzzled polar observers, but scientists have suggested that the reason Antarctic ice extent appears to be increasing is due to changing wind patterns.

Figures released by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado, show that the so-called Arctic sea ice minimum – the point where the extent of sea ice there is at its lowest after the summer, before it begins to refreeze for winter – is expected to be confirmed imminently and would be millions of square kilometres below the long-term average.

At 5.09m sq km, the extent of Arctic sea ice this year would be the sixth lowest on record, slightly worse than last year, though not as extreme as the record set in 2012 when it plunged to less than 3.5 million square kilometres.

However, the centre noted that there had been a particularly strong retreat of sea ice in the Laptev Sea and although the reasons for that were not yet clear, sea temperatures there had been up to 5C higher than average.

The amount of sea ice cover in the Arctic has been showing a long-term decline as climate change takes hold, with temperatures rising more rapidly in the Arctic than the rest of the planet.


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« Reply #1209 on: Sep 17, 2014, 07:13 AM »

New urine test for cervical cancer virus offers potential alternative to smear exam

Reuters
16 Sep 2014                   

A simple urine test for the virus that causes cervical cancer could offer a less invasive and more acceptable alternative to the conventional cervical smear test, researchers said on Tuesday.

In a study comparing the accuracy of urine sample testing with smear testing conducted by a doctor, scientists from Britain and Spain found the results were good and said using the urine test to detect human papillomavirus (HPV) could lead to more women agreeing to be screened.

“The detection of HPV in urine is non-invasive, easily accessible and acceptable to women, and a test with these qualities could considerably increase uptake,” the researchers said on Tuesday in thebmj.com, the online version of the British Medical Journal.

The study, which analyzed 14 studies involving 1,443 sexually active women, was led by Neha Pathak of the women’s health research unit at Queen Mary University of London.

Compared with cervical smear samples, urine HPV testing had an overall sensitivity — the proportion of positives correctly identified — of 87 percent, and a specificity — the proportion of negatives correctly identified — of 94 percent.

Urine testing for the particularly high risk strains of HPV that cause the majority of cervical cancer cases, had an overall sensitivity of 73 percent and a specificity of 98 percent compared with cervical samples.

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, with up to 80 percent of sexually active women infected at some point in their lives.

Infection with specific high risk strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer, which kills around 266,000 women a year globally, according to the World Health Organization.

By the far the vast majority of cervical cancer deaths are in poorer countries where access to screening and prevention methods is less widely available.

In a smear test, an instrument called a speculum is inserted into the vagina to allow access to the cervix and a brush is used to collect cells from the surface of the cervix.

In wealthier developed countries, cervical screening for HPV has been in place for many years and have been able to catch many potential cancer cases before they develop.

More recently, national immunization programs using vaccines from drugmakers Merck and GlaxoSmithKline have been launched to protect girls from HPV.

Yet in developing nations, where some 445,000 cases were diagnosed and 230,000 women died of cervical cancer in 2012, infrastructures have not yet been established to run national screening programs and HPV vaccination is still rare.

In a commentary on Pathak’s study, Henry Kitchener, professor and chair of gynecological oncology at Manchester University noted that even in developed countries such as Britain, for example, cervical screening coverage has fallen below 80 percent in recent years.

This is partly due to some complacency about cervical cancer as it starts to be come less common, he said, but also partly due to emotional factors such as embarrassment or fear of an invasive speculum examination.

Using a urine test instead of a smear could persuade those reluctant women to come for regular screening, Kitchener said, while in lower income countries that lack infrastructure “self sampling (urine testing) might even be beneficial and cost effective for all women who are eligible for screening”.


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« Reply #1210 on: Sep 18, 2014, 06:27 AM »


Climate change is real. Want to live? It's up to people like you

Politicians don’t understand. They just smile and hold the hand of big business. And so we march. Because destroying the Earth is not a good idea. It really isn’t

Jarvis Cocker for Creative Time Reports
theguardian.com, Thursday 18 September 2014 12.45 BST   
     
Do I really have to march? It’s actually a serious question: I mean, marching’s rather ... military, isn’t it? Bit aggressive. Bit too much like what the baddies on the other side would do, don’t you think? Wouldn’t you rather saunter? Or stroll? Mince, even? A hop, a skip or a jump – anything but stern-faced, humorless marching. And let’s face it: we’re probably going to need a sense of humor.

Remember 15 February 2003? If you’re taking the trouble to read this, then you probably went to an anti-war march that day. Didn’t turn out so well, did it? Nothing really changed. The “largest protest event in human history”, as we remember it today, was effectively ignored. That left a nasty taste. It might even have put you off the idea of protesting forever. The marching boots were thrown to the back of the cupboard and you went into a major sulk. Maybe you even wrote a song about it. Yeah, that’ll tell ‘em. You wrote the words:

    If you don’t like it then leave

    or use your right to protest on the street.

    Yeah, use your right –

    but don’t imagine that it’s heard.

    No: not whilst c***ts are still running the world.

    – “Running the World” (2006)

And you thought: “Yes! Smash the system!” And then ... time passed. Until you got this email:

    On Sunday, Sept 21, a climate march through midtown Manhattan will kick off a week of high-profile climate events in the Big Apple. Promoted as an effort to bring unprecedented attention to climate change, the gathering comes just as international climate negotiations ramp up in a major push toward a new global accord. The People’s Climate March, being called the ‘largest climate march in history’ by organizers, will potentially draw over a hundred thousand people to walk through Manhattan and show a level of demand for action not seen since the era of Civil Rights marches and anti-Vietnam protests.

Can you be arsed? Do you risk being disappointed again? Or do you sit this one out? I mean, climate change is a bit old-hat now, isn’t it? And some people say it doesn’t even exist – people like ... Nigel Lawson. (A note for non-British readers: you may be more familiar with his daughter, the TV chef Nigella Lawson. The fact that he gave his daughter a “feminized” version of his own name tells you all you need to know about him, really.)

Back in 2008, I sailed the coast of Greenland on a vessel chartered by the organization Cape Farewell and saw the effects of global warming firsthand. It exists. On the way home, we spent a few hours in Reykjavík’s international airport waiting for a connecting flight back to the UK. I bought an ashtray made out of lava. When I got back home, I turned the TV on. It was the morning of the stock market crash and I learned that Iceland, the country I had been visiting not four hours previously, was effectively bankrupt.

That gave me a strange feeling because I hadn’t noticed. The sun had still been shining as I walked through the airport terminal. People had gone about their everyday business as usual, there had been air to breathe and nothing to betray the cataclysm that had befallen the entire country. How could that be? This was a financial crisis! The Big One! THE Economy was at risk! Why was the world still turning?

You whisper now, but could it be that there is a higher power than … The Economy? I know that sounds a bit sacrilegious, but could it be that THE Ecology is actually the biggie? That maybe having air to breathe, water to drink and land to inhabit could be more important than the fluctuations of the FTSE or the Dow Jones? It’s just a thought – a thought that most people instinctively understanding, but that the political classes have yet to grasp.

In the end it all comes down to a single letter – R – that has somehow gone astray over the years.

Exactly when did “government for the people” become “government of the people”? When did the function of government change from public service to crowd control? From protector to pimp?

The People’s Climate March this Sunday is important. Because governments won’t put the case for action on climate change too strongly – no, that might be interpreted as being “anti-business”. It might dissuade corporations from building factories in countries that sign on to climate agreements. It might be harmful to THE ECONOMY. So once again it will be left to ordinary people to point out the blindingly obvious fact that destroying the place you live in is not a good idea. It really isn’t. And the powers that be would do well to heed the cold, hard truth that there are more of us than them, that we are heartily sick and tired of being ignored.

That’s not a threat, you understand. I just thought I’d point it out.

Yep, it’s “once more unto the streets, dear friends” (you know you want to, really), and I would like to suggest that you dance your way along the route. Much more fun than marching.


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« Reply #1211 on: Sep 19, 2014, 09:59 AM »


U.S. maps strategy to counter rising antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the United States each year. Health advocates have long argued that overuse of antibiotics in health care and food has continued to make the problem worse.

By SABRINA TAVERNISE
AP
09/19/2014

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Thursday announced measures to tackle the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, outlining a national strategy that includes incentives for the development of new drugs, tighter stewardship of existing ones, and improvements in tracking the use of antibiotics and the microbes resistant to them.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the United States each year, mostly in hospital and nursing-home settings, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health advocates have long argued that overuse of antibiotics in the health and food industries has continued to make the problem worse.

Researchers have been warning for years that the miracle drugs that changed the course of health in the 20th century are losing their power because of overuse.

Some warn that if the trend is not halted, we could return to the time before antibiotics, when it was common for people to die from ordinary infections and for strep throat to kill children.

Dr. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the new strategy — established by an executive order that President Obama signed Thursday — was intended to jolt the federal government into fighting a health crisis that many experts say it has been slow to recognize.

Under the order, Obama created a national task force, to be led by the secretaries of health and human services, defense and agriculture. It will be required to deliver a five-year action plan by Feb. 15.

Obama also directed the Department of Health and Human Services to propose regulations requiring hospitals to set up antibiotic-stewardship programs.

“This represents a major elevation of the issue,” said Holdren, who talked of the problem as a national-security issue. He said the order also established a $20 million prize for the development of a test that could be used in hospitals to quickly identify highly resistant bacterial infections.

The announcement came with a report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, made up of academics, government scientists and industry representatives who take on policy questions from the White House.

The document begins with a warning that in the past decade, “this brewing problem has become a crisis,” and it recommends a number of steps, including doubling the current investment in stewardship, surveillance and research to $900 million a year, and providing an additional $800 million a year to give companies incentives to develop new drugs.

Americans use more antibiotics than people in other industrialized nations, with rates more than twice those in Germany and the Netherlands, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, a research and advocacy group.

The United States also uses far more antibiotics in livestock than many other nations; animals raised for food in America are given about six times as much antibiotics as are animals in Norway and Denmark.

Many health experts were disappointed with the report, saying it ignored a major source of antibiotic resistance in the U.S.: the use of the drugs in agriculture.

The government has estimated that more than 70 percent of antibiotics in the United States are given to animals, and scientists and industry are at odds over how much the use in industrial-scale farming contributes to problems in people.

Companies use antibiotics to prevent sickness when animals are packed together in ways that breed infection. They also use them to make animals grow faster, though the Food and Drug Administration has taken steps that it says will stop that.

Lance Price, a microbiologist at George Washington University, said the new efforts seemed to be focused on future supplies — encouraging drug companies to develop new drugs and others to invent diagnostic tests — rather than on overhauling a system he believes is not working.

“We can’t rely on technology to fix this problem,” he said. “We can’t just keep introducing these new drugs into a broken system.”
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« Reply #1212 on: Sep 19, 2014, 10:03 AM »


At UN, Obama to urge nations to go big on climate

By JOSH LEDERMAN
Associated Press

WASHINGTON —

Having spent political capital fighting climate change at home, President Barack Obama will turn his sights overseas next week, urging fellow heads of state to be as ambitious as possible as they negotiate a make-or-break global treaty to be finalized in Paris next year.

Obama will attend a United Nations climate summit where he will announce new U.S. commitments, aiming to ramp up the pressure on other major polluters like India and China to demonstrate they're not laggards in the global campaign against climate change.

White House officials said the U.S. will offer tangible contributions such as American technology to help vulnerable populations deal with food security, sea level rise and other negative effects of climate change.

"Our hope is that others will do the same and that can build momentum toward an agreement in Paris," Dan Utech, Obama's top adviser on climate and energy issues, said in an interview.

Obama had hoped to focus in his second term on legacy-making projects like curbing climate change. But a dizzying array of global crises has competed for his attention, overshadowing many goals he had hoped to achieve. Over just a few days at the U.N., leaders will be wrangling with deep problems in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Israel, to name a few.

By taking time out at the U.N. for climate change, Obama is working to keep the issue at the top of the global agenda even after the crises of the day recede from memory. More than 100 heads of state will join Obama at the summit, which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is hosting.

The last time Obama gathered with so many leaders to discuss climate change was five years ago in Copenhagen, where a U.N. summit intended to yield a strong accord on emissions ended in failure. That outcome dampened hopes that developed and developing nations could come together to address climate change in any serious way before temperatures spiral out of control.

Obama can't afford another failure in 2015. The talks already underway under the U.N. umbrella mark the last major opportunity for Obama to leave his imprint on the global response to climate change before his term ends and another president takes over -- potentially a Republican who would be less inclined to press the issue.

"If we don't get a deal next year, I think we're in for big trouble," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., a prominent advocate for fighting global warming.

Officially, Tuesday's one-day summit isn't part of the negotiations for the 2015 agreement, set to take effect in 2020 and apply to all countries. In the coming months, the U.S. and other nations are expected to unveil their emission-reduction targets, and there's serious concern that countries won't offer nearly enough to avert the worst effects of climate change. It's not known what the U.S. offer will be.

There's also concern that Obama, his poll numbers sagging, lacks the political clout to get the Senate to ratify any such treaty -- an obstacle that will become even greater if Republicans seize control of the chamber in November's elections.

White House officials say it's possible negotiators could draft an agreement that doesn't require Senate ratification, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has warned that sidestepping Congress "would be just another of many examples of the Obama administration's tendency to abide by laws that it likes and to disregard laws it doesn't."

By convening heads of state now in front of cameras at the U.N., rather than leaving it to lower-level negotiators until the very end, Obama and U.N. organizers hope to increase the political pressure on leaders to set ambitious targets -- especially reticent nations like Australia and major polluters like China and India.

The summit's major take-away will be specific actions that world leaders are expected to announce, as confidence-building measures toward an accord in Paris. John Podesta, Obama's senior counselor, said the U.S. will offer to let other nations use scientific data and technical tools that agencies like NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have developed to boost local resilience to climate change.

Early in his presidency, Obama set a goal to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. With U.S. lawmakers opposed to major climate legislation, Obama has sought to bypass Congress as much as possible. Republicans and even some Democrats have balked at unprecedented pollution limits Obama has proposed for power plants. But the White House said those and other actions have kept the U.S. on track to meet Obama's 17 percent goal, giving Obama more leverage when he presses other leaders to go just as bold.
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