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Carbon Tax Coalition Grows as Climate Change Talk Grows

The long list of big companies backing a carbon tax as a solution to climate change grew this week with financial giant J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. endorsing a legislative plan billed as a centrist approach to reducing emissions.

The announcement comes as the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), the organization behind the proposal, which was first released in 2017, redoubles efforts to promote the plan before an expected introduction in Congress as the conversation around various climate solutions heats up in Washington.

The CLC announced new backers—including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres—and released internal poll numbers showing bipartisan voter support for the plan. Supporters now include a broad coalition of companies, from oil giants like ExxonMobil to tech behemoths like Microsoft, major environmental groups like Conservation International, and a range of economists and political leaders.

“The markets can and will do much to address climate change,” David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, a founding member of the CLC, told TIME in an emailed statement. “But given the magnitude and urgency of this challenge, governments must put a price on the cost of carbon.”

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The thinking behind the plan is straight forward. Economists have long argued that a carbon tax, which makes companies pay for what they pollute and gives them an incentive to stem carbon emissions, is the most efficient way to reduce such emissions. But carbon tax proposals have been met with opposition in the past from across the political spectrum, including from some Democrats, in large part because they increase energy costs. The CLC proposal would give the money collected by the tax back to taxpayers in the form of a quarterly dividend, an effort to make it more politically palatable.

On Feb. 13, the CLC provided additional details about the plan, including introducing a new mechanism that would rapidly increase the price on carbon if targets are not met. Backers say the plan will cut U.S. emissions in half by 2035. “We think it has a compelling economic logic,” says Janet Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve and a backer of the plan, in an interview.

But despite the growing coalition, actually passing the plan remains a challenging uphill battle. While more and more Republicans have stopped denying the science of climate change, many continue to insist that they would never support anything resembling a carbon tax. Meanwhile, many leading Democrats, including presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have downplayed the role a carbon tax might play in future climate legislation. Many Democrats argue that the time has passed for such a market-driven approach to climate change, arguing that it is too little, too late and that a corporate-backed plan shouldn’t be trusted.

Still, big corporations increasingly see a carbon tax—especially a proposal like the CLC plan—as the simplest solution to a thorny problem. With clear science, activists in the streets and voters experiencing extreme weather events in their own backyards, business leaders see new climate rules as all but an inevitability, if not at the U.S. federal level then in states or other countries where they have operations.

The CLC proposal offers a business-friendly approach: nixing many existing climate regulations, a “border carbon adjustment” that would create a fee on imports from countries without a carbon price, and a dividend system that pays out the revenue collected by the carbon tax back to taxpayers. “If we do one without the other,” says Shailesh Jejurikar, CEO of Procter & Gamble’s Fabric & Home Care division, “it doesn’t work.”

Still, even as more than a dozen Fortune 500 firms support the legislation, many other businesses and influential business groups continue to either oppose a carbon tax or haven’t taken a position at all. That’s particularly true of the fossil fuel industry’s trade groups like the American Petroleum Institute, which officially has no position. Even though major oil companies like ExxonMobil and Shell have joined the CLC initiative, independent oil companies, oil refiners and other related companies remain largely opposed.

One of the biggest challenges to this measure—or any carbon tax for that matter—is the growing interest in other approaches to climate legislation. Republicans this week pushed legislation to plant trees and expand tax incentives for capturing carbon, measures that wouldn’t match the scale of the challenge but allow Republicans to offer a different message on the issue. Earlier this month, Representative David McKinley, a Republican from West Virginia, and Kurt Schrader, an Oregon Democrat, called for legislation that would lead to an 80% reduction in emissions from the power sector by 2050 using a combination of regulation and funding for innovation and infrastructure. And more than 30 Democratic senators introduced a bill to require the Environmental Protection Agency to come up with a plan for the U.S. to eliminate its carbon footprint by 2050. “This is the quickest way we can jumpstart government-wide climate action,” Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, who introduced the legislation, said on the Senate floor.

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None of these measures are likely to become law anytime soon, and any legislative approach to addressing climate change will involve intense debate on Capitol Hill.

Even some backers of the carefully crafted CLC plan acknowledge it’s not likely to pass in its current form. “Inevitably, Congress will have some of its own ideas in terms of the implementation,” Moniz, who endorsed the CLC proposal this week, tells TIME.“ “I would welcome seeing that negotiation start in earnest.” Indeed, even having a discussion in Congress indicates a new climate for climate in Washington.

Write to Justin Worland at justin.worland@time.com.

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Here’s What Happens To Nature When Humans Get Out Of The Way

An irradiated nuclear zone is hardly the most obvious animal sanctuary. But in January, almost a decade after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, scientists using remote cameras in the area around the abandoned power station discovered an abundance of wildlife.

Macaques, raccoon dogs (a relative of the fox), wild boar, pheasants ― over 20 species in all were found to be thriving in the absence of people.

It’s the latest piece of research to show that nature bounces back when humans are out of the way. And fortunately, this doesn’t require a nuclear disaster. 

Nature is taking over buildings inside the radiation contamination exclusion zone around the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuc

Nature is taking over buildings inside the radiation contamination exclusion zone around the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

In 1995, faced with severely depleted fish stocks, the Mexican village of Cabo Pulmo decided to abandon its nets and campaign to establish a “no-take” marine reserve. Decades of overfishing had all but emptied the once-thriving coral reef of the colorful shoals the Sea of Cortez was renowned for, and the community feared for the future. 

Fifteen years later, its waters were again teeming with life. A 2009 study found fish biomass had increased by 463%, to a level similar to that of reefs that have never been fished. 

“The results were completely amazing,” said Octavio Aburto, the study’s author and director of the Gulf of California Marine Program, adding that top predators like bull sharks have returned to the once-depleted habitat. Those at the top of the food chain, often called “keystone species,” are critical to maintaining healthy ecosystems because they keep populations of smaller animals in check.

Such cases add fuel to a growing call for a more radical approach to conservation ― one that would ultimately give protected status to half the planet, putting existing wilderness off-limits and rewilding developed areas. Proponents argue that such action is vital to stem species extinctions and avert climate breakdown.

A King Angelfish swims in the Cabo Pulmo Marine National Park in Mexico.

A King Angelfish swims in the Cabo Pulmo Marine National Park in Mexico.

“We know from many studies all around the world that when we give space to nature, she comes back spectacularly,” said Enric Sala, explorer in residence at National Geographic. “And we know that when nature comes back, all the services that nature provides for us come back too.”

Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson proposed setting aside 50% of the planet for nature in his 2016 book, “Half Earth.” The idea was given fresh impetus in April 2019 when Sala and a group of fellow scientists published a paper calling for a target of preserving 30% of Earth in its natural state by 2030, in what they framed as a Global Deal for Nature. 

Almost three million people around the world have since signed a petition backing the call, while a coalition of countries ― including Costa Rica, France and Senegal ― has pledged to push for a global commitment to the 30% target this year. In January, the figure was included in a draft text to be negotiated at a key United Nations meeting in October. The “30 by 30” goal is intended to be as important for nature as the Paris agreement is for climate change.

Sala said he is now confident that countries can reach an ambitious agreement, thanks in part to growing awareness of the critical role of natural habitats in tackling climate change. “Even if [our energy system] went 100% renewable, we still need forests and wetlands and healthy ecosystems to help us absorb all the CO2 we’ve put in the atmosphere,” he said. “The realization there is no solution to climate without biodiversity and vice versa has been key.”

The stakes could hardly be higher. U.N. scientists have said one million species now face extinction. A recent paper from the World Economic Forum named major biodiversity loss as one of the top five risks of the next decade and warned of the dire consequences to food and medical supplies if we fail to act. 

But is protecting a third ― let alone half ― of the planet doable? 

Today, the most generous estimates put currently protected areas at 15% of the Earth’s land and 7% of the oceans. Meanwhile, deforestation rates, for example, have accelerated in the past five years. 

Success in habitat protection will depend on governments looking beyond the “easy metric” of area to the harder one of effective management, said Sarah Hameed, the California-based director of the Blue Parks Program at the Marine Conservation Institute, which gives out awards to exemplary marine reserves. 

This means sufficient investment in surveillance and enforcement, she said, but above all in community engagement. Without buy-in from local people, you’re “very likely to see poaching problems,” Hameed said, noting that many of the habitats most in need of protection, like mangrove forests, are found on populated coastlines.

Part of the answer, Aburto argues, lies in mass-scale replication of the transformation of Cabo Pulmo, where locals now make more money from ecotourism than they ever did from fishing. He has co-authored a white paper calling for a worldwide map of similar communities and envisages a global network of small protected areas, led by local people and receiving government funding.

“The only thing we need is to invest in this model, rather than governments investing in subsidies for fishing or massive scale tourism development that only bring more extraction of natural resources,” he said. 

But even in Cabo Pulmo, the tussle between nature and society is complex. Success has brought exploding visitor numbers and concerns those tourists could damage fragile corals, as well as growing interest from major hotel developers. While Aburto suggested that diving companies could stem the flow of tourists by raising their prices, he acknowledged this would likely be criticized as a “very capitalist approach.”

A view of the coastline in Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park.

A view of the coastline in Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park.

While Cabo Pulmo demonstrates that habitat protection can benefit both wildlife and local residents, some human rights activists have deep worries about how an ambitious, top-down conservation goal could affect people, especially in already vulnerable communities. Stephen Corry, director of the indigenous rights group Survival International, said at least 10 million people have been displaced by protected areas to date and described the push to create more as “deeply anti-people.”

A BuzzFeed investigation last year revealed that in the fight against poachers, the World Wildlife Fund had funded paramilitary groups who ended up being accused of atrocities ― including torture, murder and sexual assault ― against indigenous people who had been displaced in the name of conservation. 

The whole notion of pristine nature as something separate from humans is a fabrication, Corry argues, pointing out that people like the Baka in Congo, whom plans for a new national park threaten to displace, have been managing the forest sustainably for thousands of years. 

“It’s nonsense and of course it detracts from the real issue, which is overconsumption by the West,” he said. It is not indigenous people who are destroying habitats, said Corry, but rich countries’ insatiable desire for more stuff, which drives the ever-increasing thirst for land for industries like agriculture, timber and mining. 

Sala said we can protect indigenous rights and tackle the drivers of climate change at the same time. Both goals require us to take on destructive fossil fuel lobbies and extractive industries ― those he described as wanting “to make money in the casino of the Titanic after hitting the iceberg.”

These industries hold big sway. In the U.S., for example, the Trump administration has been working to open up new lands for drilling and fracking and to roll back existing protections, from pollution regulations to the Endangered Species Act.

“Politically the environment in which we’re doing this work very much puts us on defense,” said Jenny Binstock, senior campaigner at the Sierra Club. Her team is currently rallying to protect a hard-won deal to balance conservation needs with renewable energy development and other land use requirements across 10.5 million acres of California desert, which the Trump administration has signaled it intends to roll back.

But Binstock remains optimistic about achieving the “30 by 30” goal, arguing that President Donald Trump’s “all-out assault on nature” has prompted a stronger national conversation about strategies to protect public lands and their potential to mitigate climate change.

Ruins of ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings at Butler Wash in Utah's Bears Ears National Monument. President Donald Trump has c

Ruins of ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings at Butler Wash in Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument. President Donald Trump has cut the size of the protected monument by 85% and plans to open it up to mining interests.

She also pointed to a recent letter from a group of institutional investors urging energy, timber and mining firms not to take advantage of newly weakened regulations, as a sign that key sectors regard Trump’s wrecking ball as temporary. “I think there’s acknowledgment that these are not necessarily durable changes in a post-Trump America and so they’re not reliable investments,” she said.

Ultimately, conservation is never simple, Binstock said. “You’re constantly needing to negotiate amongst folks who use the land in many, many different ways. It’s not easy work at all, but it’s the work that we have to do together.”

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HuffPost’s “This New World” series is funded by Partners for a New Economy and the Kendeda Fund. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundations. If you have an idea or tip for the editorial series, send an email to thisnewworld@huffpost.com.

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Is it time to re-think the love story?

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When it comes to love stories, what makes a great novel a classic rather than a guilty pleasure? This Valentine’s Day, academics are asking readers for help to understand why some romantic novels are remembered as masterpieces, while others are considered light entertainment.

Riders, a tale of wealthy love-rivals set to the background of show-jumping, helped author Jilly Cooper to sales of 12 million books after it was published in 1985.

But Cooper herself said she was surprised to see the story appear alongside Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in the BBC’s recent 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.

Austen’s novel is a staple on school and university syllabuses, while Cooper’s novel is yet to make it as essential academic reading.

However, work by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu suggests that acceptance of a novel into the literary canon – a body of texts considered important or influential – often has less to do with the work itself, and more to do with other social and cultural factors.

This finding was supported by recent research in the Netherlands. In a ground-breaking project, The Riddle of Literary Quality, a survey of over 13,000 participants found that readers gave statistically higher ratings of “literary quality” to novels written by men.

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Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (pictured), is considered part of the literary canon, but why?

Project lead Karina van Dalen-Oskam described the results as startling.

She suggested that while many high-quality novels by female authors were included in the study, the Dutch canon contained only a few books written by women, and that this may have shaped readers’ perceptions of women writers.

As part of The Novels That Shaped Our World season, a team of literature experts led by Professor Sebastian Groes at the University of Wolverhampton, hopes to explore whether the same is true for English texts.

This Valentine’s Day, they are asking the public to tell them about the love stories that shaped their worlds. The survey forms part of a larger project, which the authors hope will become the largest ever investigation into attitudes to the English language novel.

The Novels That Shaped Our World

  • A year-long celebration of literature to mark the 300th publication of Robinson Crusoe, sometimes seen as the first English novel
  • A panel of six authors and literature experts chose the 100 novels that shaped their lives
  • Throughout 2020, the BBC will be providing resources for book clubs to explore the panel’s choice

Take the survey

Computer analysis

As well as gathering responses from the reading public, the team will be performing computational analysis of all 100 novels in the BBC list.

This will allow them to examine elements of each author’s style such as sentence length, the use of difficult words, and the topics a story deals with.

They will then explore how these are linked to readers’ enjoyment of the books, and to whether they perceive them as “literary”.

Comparisons between Pride and Prejudice with Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary have already underlined the role of changing language in the continuing evolution of the novel.

Fielding favours nouns such as “cigarettes”, “units”, “alcohol” and “calories”, reflecting Bridget’s late 20th Century obsessions. In Austen’s novel, the words “sister”, “father”, “colonel” and “aunt” all feature in the top 10, revealing a different preoccupation with family and status.

However, the frequent appearances of “letter” in Pride and Prejudice, and ‘”message'” and “phone” in Bridget show a similar emphasis in both novels on social connections and communication.

The research project, called Novel Perceptions, will explore how features such as these affect readers’ judgement of texts.

Prof van Dalen-Oskam, who is collaborating on the new survey, said that computers have provided exciting new ways of thinking about literature.

“We can look at novel-length texts and see patterns in an author’s language that would be really hard for human readers to spot, but which can tell us something about an author’s distinctive style,” she said.

“At the same time, we can use the internet to gather feedback from many thousands of participants in different locations and with different backgrounds. A study like this would not have been possible 20 years ago.”

BBC executive producer Stephen James-Yeoman suggested that the project represented a unique opportunity to discover more about the nation’s favourite books.

“We always intended The Novels That Shaped Our World list to be a starting point for discussion,” he said.

“We’re delighted that the public will now have a chance to reveal the novels that are really important to them, and help shape academic understanding.”

The survey is running on the Open University’s nQuire website, a citizen science platform built in collaboration with the BBC.

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Study: EPA Not Imposing Laws to Protect Kids from Pesticides

It’s easy to lose count of all of the pesticides that are sprayed on crops in the U.S., and well-nigh impossible to know all of the names (dichloropropene and pyraclostrobin and spinetoram and on and on). But it’s not hard to guess who gets hit hardest by all of these chemicals: kids, whose brain, nervous and hormonal systems are still developing at the time of exposure. What’s more, a new pesticide introduced today will have fewer years to build up in the tissues of, say, a 50-year old, compared to a child who will accumulate a lifetime load of the stuff.

That’s the biggest reason that, in 1996, Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). The legislation represented one of the most effective crackdowns on pesticides in the food supply to date, requiring the Environmental Protection Agency not simply to establish a safe threshold of exposure for the population as a whole, but to limit permissible levels much further—10-fold further in fact—to ensure that children are protected too. The legislation benefits everyone of course: Ten times less pyraclostrobin on your apple is a good thing no matter how old you are, but it’s children who are the most important beneficiaries.

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But a law is only as good as its enforcement and a new study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, —a nonprofit advocacy organization—and published in the journal Environmental Health found that when it comes to the FQPA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is laying down on the job. The group surveyed 47 non-organophosphate pesticides—a category that tends to persist in soils—and found that the 10-fold safety standard was being applied only to five of them.

“The FQPA was a revolution in how we think about pesticides’ effects on children,” said Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook in a statement accompanying the release of the study, “but it does no good if the EPA doesn’t use it.”

As of publication, the EPA has not yet responded to questions sent by TIME.

The study looked back at FQPA enforcement from as early as 2011, during the Obama administration—generally seen as an environmentally friendly presidency—and saw the same spotty pesticide enforcement even then. But the Obama White House did take some proactive steps, seeking to extend the 10-fold standard to organophosphate pesticides as well, which break down relatively quickly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but while they are around can be even more toxic than other varieties of pesticides, affecting the nervous system in much the way sarin and other nerve gasses do.

Under the Trump Administration, however, the Obama ruling was reversed for the most widely used organophosphate, known as chlorpyrifos. Nonetheless, Corteva Agriscience, the nation’s largest manufacturer of the chemical, under pressure from multiple states that are banning its use, announced on Feb. 6 that it would voluntarily agree to stop producing it.

It’s a manifestly good thing that in that one case, market forces were sufficient to stop a bad chemical from getting into the food supply. But it’s a manifestly bad thing that in a far larger share of cases, apparently the health of America’s children does not have the same power in Washington.

“With the FQPA legislation, Congress clearly gave the EPA the power to protect children’s health from pesticides,” says Olga Naidenko, vice president of science investigations at the Environmental Working Group, and lead author of the paper. “The EPA should be able to fully use this authority without waiting for additional instructions, if the EPA leadership decides to do so.”

Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.

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Canadian Scientists Give Vicious Name To Newly Discovered T.Rex Relative

Scientists have discovered a dinosaur that is a close relation of Tyrannosaurus rex and is nicknamed the “reaper of death.”

The animal was 8m (26ft) long and a relative of the T.rex, researchers said.

It is called “Thanatotheristes degrootorum” – the first word is Greek for “reaper of death”. It is also named after John and Sandra De Groot, the couple who found the fossils on the shore of Bow River in Alberta, Canada.

The Discovery was made by a team of researchers from the University of Calgary and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

It is the oldest tyrannosaur species ever found in Canada.

Darla Zelenitsky, assistant professor of dinosaur palaeobiology at the University of Calgary, told the AFP news agency: “We chose a name that embodies what this tyrannosaur was as the only known large apex predator of its time in Canada, the reaper of death.”

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Ocean Infinity: Exploration company goes for robot boats at scale

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Media captionOliver Plunkett: “I expect that we’ll operate them in groups of three or four”

The maritime and scientific communities have set themselves the ambitious target of 2030 to map Earth’s entire ocean floor.

It’s ambitious because, 10 years out from this deadline, they’re starting from a very low level.

You can argue about the numbers but it’s in the region of 80% of the global seafloor that’s either completely unknown or has had no modern measurement applied to it.

The international GEBCO 2030 project was set up to close the data gap and has announced a number of initiatives to get it done.

What’s clear, however, is that much of this work will have to leverage new technologies or at the very least max the existing ones. Which makes the news from Ocean Infinity – that it’s creating a fleet of ocean-going robots – all the more interesting.

US-based OI is a relatively new exploration and survey company. It was founded in 2016.

It’s made headlines by finding some high-profile wrecks, including the Argentinian submarine San Juan and the South Korean bulk carrier Stellar Daisy. It also led an ultimately unsuccessful “no find, no fee” effort to locate the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

OI’s strategy has always been to throw the latest hardware and computing power at a problem. The move into Uncrewed Surface Vessels (USV) at scale is therefore the logical next step, says CEO Oliver Plunkett.

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Ocean Infinity’s survey gear has found a number of high-profile wrecks

“We’ve ordered 11 robots, different sizes. The smallest ones are 21m; the biggest are up to 37m,” he told BBC News. “They will be capable of transoceanic journeys, wholly unmanned, controlled from control centres on land.

“Each of them will be fitted out with an array of sensors and equipment, but also their own capability to deploy tethered robots to inspect right down to the bottom of the ocean, 6,000m below the surface.”

The boats will be used to search for missing objects, yes; but they’ll also inspect pipelines, and survey bed conditions for telecoms cables and off-shore wind farms. They’ll even to do freight, says Dan Hook who’ll run the robot fleet for OI under the spin-out name of Armada.

“The 37m will actually take about 60 tonnes of deck cargo. We’re looking at logistics services in places like the North Sea, running containers out to oil and gas platforms.”

And with every USV equipped with a hull-mounted, multi-beam echo-sounder, the boats have the potential to add to the global seafloor database.

Armada specifications

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Ocean Infinity

Size: 21 metres (35 tonnes) long and 37 metres (120 tonnes) long

Speed and range: 12 knots. 21m – 3,700 nautical miles; 37m – 5,000 nautical miles

Propulsion: Diesel electric. Reduced CO2 emissions compared with large ships

Armada will be based in the Southampton area of the UK’s South Coast. Or at least, that’s where the main control room will be. The boats themselves will be positioned around the world, along with a small number of maintenance staff.

When a mission is instigated, the Southampton operator (or an operator in an identical control centre in Austin, Texas) will drive the vehicle out of port, maintaining command and situational awareness through satellite links.

We’ve already seen something similar come out of the recent Shell Ocean Discovery XPrize, which sought to find a range of innovative seafloor mapping technologies.

This was a 12m USV called Sea-Kit that proved its credentials by deploying and recovering an autonomous survey submarine in the Mediterranean and by making the first robotic cargo run across the North Sea.

The OI difference is to bring scale to the endeavour.

The growth in the deployment of uncrewed vessels inevitably raises questions about safety – similar to the ones being asked of driverless cars.

“This is a new industry and we’ve got to get across the message that this must be done responsibly,” said Hook. “It will take time, but I’m convinced that it won’t be long before people trust a robot to read the chart and look out for things at night better than a human can. It’s going to come.”

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SEA-KIT International Ltd

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Sea-Kit took British oysters to Belgium and brought back a crate of beer

Since Ocean Infinity’s announcement of the Armada fleet, there’s been quite a bit of chatter about the company resuming its search for MH370.

Oliver Plunkett describes OI’s involvement in the hunt for the missing jet as “unfinished business”. But he stresses that any further survey work would require some credible new evidence first.

To that end, OI is involved with an academic group that is conducting a start-from-scratch re-evaluation of all the available data on the airliner’s disappearance. If this new analysis yielded something worth pursuing, could the Armada USVs be involved?

“When we set out to design this latest generation of robots, we deliberately built them to be capable of transoceanic operations. So the simple answer to the question is ‘yes’, they are absolutely the right type of tool for that type of project,” said Plunkett.

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Oliver Plunkett describes the hunt for the missing jet as “unfinished business”

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography

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Most of the ocean floor’s shape is very poorly resolved

and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

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Botswana Selling Licenses To Kill Elephants At $39,000 A Head

Botswana has auctioned off permits that will allow hunters to kill elephants for some $39,000 a head, infuriating environmentalists and animal lovers around the globe.

The pricey permit system will allow hunters to kill 70 elephants in all.

The permit auction was arranged by Auction It Ltd. on behalf of the government on Friday in packages of 10 elephants, according to a document viewed by Bloomberg. The packages are purchased by expedition operators who sell them to trophy hunters at a profit. Most trophy hunters in southern Africa come from the U.S., according to Bloomberg.

All but one of the packages have been sold, Bloomberg reported.

African conservationist organizations that wanted to bid on the permits and not shoot the elephants were banned from participating, The Independent reported.

The EMS Foundation in Africa, which battles to protect elephants among its many projects, tweeted afterward: “Shame on you, President Masisi – we will not forget.”

The government has set a quota for killing a total of 272 of the animals this year. Foreign hunters will be allowed to shoot 202 of those, and export trophies.

Poaching also takes a major toll on elephants. Conservationists warn that hunting is particularly devastating because trophy hunters are after the largest, often healthiest, animals.

“Trophy hunting is artificial selection. By targeting the biggest and strongest animals, it leaves the weaker, smaller animals behind,” Eduardo Goncalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, told The Independent. “This means the best genes are being lost, so the species will be less able to adapt to accelerating climate change, it will be more prone to disease, and the risk of extinction is greater.”

Botswana instituted a ban on elephant trophy hunting in 2014. But that ban has been revoked, and President Mokgweetsi Masisi promoted elephant hunting last year. Farmers have complained about an increase in dangerous encounters with elephants.

Besides concerns about the loss of the animals, and their suffering, conservationists have argued that Botswana’s important tourist industry could be devastated by the change, which will likely outrage visitors. Tourism accounts for a fifth of the African nation’s economy.

Botswana is home to some 130,000 elephants, the world’s largest population. But Africa’s total elephant population has plummeted by more than two-thirds in 40 years, from 1.3 million in 1979 to 415,000 in 2015, according to official figures.

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Solar Orbiter launch: what is it and what’s it going to do?

It is the new space mission that will show us the Sun as we’ve never been able to see it before.

The spacecraft – called Solar Orbiter – is a European Space Agency-led mission – and was assembled at Airbus in Stevenage, England.

Many scientists are calling it the UK’s most important mission for a generation.

BBC science reporter Laura Foster explains what SolO will be doing and how it will help us improve technology here on Earth.

The spacecraft is due to be launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 23:03 local time on Sunday 9 February (04:03 GMT on Monday).

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Trump Finalizes Industry Friendly Plans For Gutted Utah Monuments

The Interior Department on Wednesday adopted final management plans that allow for mining, drilling and other development on lands that the administration recently removed from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

The move comes a little more than two years after Trump signed a pair of proclamations to carve more than 2 million acres from the two protected Utah sites ― the largest rollback of national monuments in U.S. history — opening up vast swaths of previously protected federal land to extractive industries. 

The resource management plans “mark an important moment in Utah’s history by providing certainty to local communities, business owners, permittees and the recreating public,” Casey Hammond, Interior’s acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said in a call with reporters. 

“We are advancing our goal to restore trust and be a good neighbor,” he said.

The Trump administration has said that shrinking the monuments was about reversing federal overreach and not aimed at boosting energy and mineral development, but reporting by The New York Times and other outlets found otherwise. The boundary of Bears Ears National Monument, a 1.35 million-acre landscape named after a pair of buttes and home to thousands of Native American archeological and cultural sites, was shrunk roughly 85 percent. The 1.87 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the largest land national monument in the country, was cut roughly in half.

Interior Department officials stressed Wednesday that the administration remains opposed to selling and transferring public lands and that areas removed from monument protection remain safeguarded by multiple federal laws. 

“Any suggestion that these lands and resources will be adversely impacted by the mere act of being excluded from the monuments is simply not true,” Hammond said, adding there’s been “very little real interest in mineral development” on those lands. 

Last week, investors representing nearly $113 billion in assets warned dozens of drilling and mining companies not to move into public lands that the Trump administration has opened for extraction, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. 

Conservation groups, including those currently suing the administration over the monument rollbacks, slammed Wednesday’s announcement.

“It’s the height of arrogance for Trump to rush through final decisions on what’s left of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante while we’re fighting his illegal evisceration of these national monuments in court,” Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Trump is eroding vital protections for these spectacular landscapes. We won’t rest until all of these public lands are safeguarded for future generations.” 

Asked Wednesday why the Interior Department didn’t wait to finalize management plans until its legal challenges were settled, Hammond said, “If we stopped and waited for every piece of litigation to be resolved, we would never be able to do much of anything around here.”

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Climate change: Loss of bumblebees driven by ‘climate chaos’

Bumblebee collecting pollen from a flowerImage copyright
Getty Images

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Bumblebee collecting pollen from a flower

“Climate chaos” has caused widespread losses of bumblebees across continents, according to scientists.

A new analysis shows the likelihood of a bee being found in any given place in Europe and North America has declined by a third since the 1970s.

Climbing temperatures will increasingly cause declines, which are already more severe than previously thought, said researchers.

Bumblebees are key pollinators of many fruits, vegetables and wild plants.

Without them, some crops could fail, reducing food for humans and countless other species.

Dr Tim Newbold of University College London (UCL) said there had been some previous research showing that bumblebee distributions are moving northwards in Europe and North America, “as you’d expect with climate change”.

He added: “But this was the first time that we have been able to really tie local extinctions and colonisations of bumble bees to climate change, showing a really clear fingerprint of climate change in the declines that we’ve seen.”

Bumblebee declines are already more severe than previously thought, said lead researcher Peter Soroye of the University of Ottawa in Canada. “We’ve linked this to climate change – and more specifically to the extreme temperatures and the climate chaos that climate change is producing,” he said.

Image copyright
Antoine Morin

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North American bumblebee on a flower

Bumblebees are among the most important plant pollinators. Declines in range and abundance have been documented from a range of causes, including pesticides, disease and habitat loss.

In the new study, researchers looked at more than half a million records of 66 bumblebee species from 1901 to 1974 and from 2000 to 2014.

They found bumblebee populations declined rapidly between 2000-2014: the likelihood of a site being occupied by bumblebees dropped by an average of over 30% compared with 1901-1974.

‘Alarming’ losses

Bees have been hardest hit in southern regions such as Spain and Mexico due to more frequent extreme warm years. And, while populations have expanded into cooler northern regions, this has not been enough to compensate for the losses.

Jonathan Bridle and Alexandra van Rensburg of the University of Bristol described the findings as “alarming”. Commenting in the journal Science, they said: “The new study adds to a growing body of evidence for alarming, widespread losses of biodiversity and for rates of global change that now exceed the critical limits of ecosystem resilience.”

There are around 250 species of bumblebee in the world. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), declines have been documented in Europe, North America, South America, and Asia, caused by a variety of threats that range from habitat loss and degradation to diseases and pesticide use.

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