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Internet Television

Taking cues from Chromecast, Sharp turns TVs into art displays 08 January 2015, 00.14 Internet Television
Taking cues from Chromecast, Sharp turns TVs into art displays
One of the features Sharp had on display at its CES booth looked vaguely familiar: Sharp’s 2015 TVs automatically display a series of works of art and great-looking photos when not in use, which the company is calling
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Online outlets showed Hebdo images but offline media didn’t. Why? 08 January 2015, 00.14 Internet Television
Online outlets showed Hebdo images but offline media didn’t. Why?
As the world struggled to understand the violence in Paris, where 12 cartoonists and other staff at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were gunned down by Islamic extremists, media outlets were faced with a challenge: Should
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Neil Young: Pono won’t be a hardware company for long (video interview)
Neil Young’s high-definition audio startup Pono just started selling its Pono player, but the music legend told me during an interview at CES in Las Vegas Wednesday that he sees Pono getting out of the hardware business
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Tesco sells Blinkbox to TalkTalk and may offload Dunnhumby 08 January 2015, 00.14 Internet Television
Tesco sells Blinkbox to TalkTalk and may offload Dunnhumby
The British supermarket giant Tesco is, to put it mildly, having financial difficulties. On Thursday it unveiled a range of measures that it hopes will help dig it out of its hole. These include the sale of Tesco Broadband and
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Deezer buys mobile-focused Muve Music from Cricket / AT&T 08 January 2015, 00.14 Internet Television
Deezer buys mobile-focused Muve Music from Cricket / AT&T
Paris-based music streaming service Deezer has acquired Muve Music, the mobile-focused music service from Leap Wireless. Leap is a virtual mobile operator better known for its Cricket service, which was itself acquired by
Read More 237 Hits 0 Ratings

Earth News Reports

FitDesk Lets You Pedal Your Way to Fitness While You Work
Share on TumblrEmail Telecommuting saves workers money on subway or gas costs while conserving energy – but it can also mean less exercise. The folks at FitDesk have a solution – a brilliant bicycle/desk that
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10 websites for designers to get free PSD templates 26 May 2015, 17.17 Green Architecture
10 websites for designers to get free PSD templates
PSD files/templates are very useful resource for designers. It saves time and makes it easier to make a new design simply by customizing the existing one. Rather than creating from a scratch, it’s more smart step to modify
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Spectacular sketches by PEZ 26 May 2015, 17.17 Green Architecture
Spectacular sketches by PEZ
PEZ is the artist name of a talented French illustrator. His art goes far beyond simple illustrations, but what we share in this post are his incredibly detailed sketches. In this series, PEZ took on some famous characters with
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Google reveals Literata, a new typeface for Google Play books
So far, Droid Serif was the default font for reading books on Google Play. Earlier in May, Google quietly introduced a new typeface to replace it along with the release of the latest version of PlayBooks. Google introduced
Read More 447 Hits 1 Rating
A collection of vintage Photoshop textures 26 May 2015, 17.17 Green Architecture
A collection of vintage Photoshop textures
Textures are a great way to add some depth to your designs, it can also make the designs much more realistic, if that’s what you are trying to achieve. For a vintage look-and-feel, the Photoshop textures in this post will
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3D printed books by Tim Burtonwood 26 May 2015, 17.17 Green Architecture
3D printed books by Tim Burtonwood
Although 3D printing is gaining ground on a larger scale at quick speed, most of the 3D printing projects you’ll see are still experimental. Tim Burtonwood is one of these experimenting 3D artists who took on publishing
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Bookmarks that look like a character’s legs are sticking out
On Designer Daily, we love good books and creative bookmarks. There is no way we couldn’t feature these awesome bookmarks designed by Olena Mysnyk. On the Ukrainian designer’s Etsy shop, you can find all the
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15 cool gift ideas that were inspired by bikes 26 May 2015, 17.17 Green Architecture
15 cool gift ideas that were inspired by bikes
Are you a crazy bicycle lover? Is yes, then you have reached the right place because here we have a collection of 15 cool gift ideas that were inspired by bicycles. Get your favorite one and enjoy! 1. Bicycle pizza cutter You
Read More 440 Hits 1 Rating
Poop-powered bus breaks world speed record 26 May 2015, 17.17 Transportation
Poop-powered bus breaks world speed record
Share on TumblrEmail The UK’s poop-powered bus has set a speed record for a regular service bus with a top speed of 76.8 miles per hour (123.5kph). The vehicle is called the ‘Bus Hound’ (a tongue-in-cheek
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Watch this man set the world record for farthest hoverboard flight
Share on TumblrEmail Catalin Alexandru Duru, an inventor from Canada, set the world’s record recently for the longest flight by hoverboard. Ever since Marty McFly surfed the streets of Hill Valley on a
Read More 562 Hits 1 Rating

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Future News Reports

Obama's War Against US Energy Independence:  Give Away Oil Rich Alaskan Islands to Russia!
  By Joe Miller The Obama administration, despite the nation’s economic woes, effectively killed the job-producing Keystone Pipeline last month. The Arab Spring is turning the oil production of Libya and other Arab
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OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials 08 April 2012, 02.33 Administrator Energy
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials Visit for further information OSBIT Power (OP), Siemens Wind Power and Statoil have successfully completed offshore
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North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost 12 January 2012, 02.01 Administrator Energy
North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost
        North America’s EV charging infrastructure may soon see significant improvements, thanks to a recent agreement between Eaton Corporation and Coulomb Technologies. Under the deal, Eaton’s Level II and
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Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source? 28 May 2011, 01.34 Administrator Energy
Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source?
      Have scientists already unknowingly discovered the source for all atomic energy reactions, and could the discovery of the gravitomagnetic field be the ultimate energy source?  What if our understandings on how
Read More 5712 Hits 1 Rating
Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation 25 September 2011, 16.27 Administrator Energy
Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation
Physicists wary of junking light speed limit yet Physicist Antonio Ereditato poses before presenting the result of an experiment, which found a subatomic particle, the neutrino, seemed to move faster than the speed of
Read More 3648 Hits 1 Rating
STEORN ORBO  FREE ENERGY:  What's Next a Self Charging Unit for your Electric Car?
Steorn's Free Energy Orbo -- From Permanent Magnets to Solid State Systems   My associate, Hank Mills composed this for PESN, Saturday, February 12, 2011 6:17 Steorn is a small company based in Dublin, Ireland. For
Read More 5581 Hits 1 Rating
Cold Fusion, Releases Energy from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field 16 January 2011, 09.17 Administrator Energy
Cold Fusion, Releases Energy  from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field
Cold Fusion "In Bologna we did it" By Ilaria VENTURI, La Republica News, Bolona, Italy For the first time in Italy, in front of experts, the process was carried out using nickel and hydrogen. It 's the way to achieve
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Abu Dhabi Media Zone to generate renewable energy through its façade
Eco Factor: Sustainable development to generate renewable solar energy. Bernard Tschumi Architects have re-imagined their master plan for the new Abu Dhabi Media Zone, by incorporating several environmentally-friendly
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Change The World!

Latest Published Articles



The Right Wingâs Endless War on Environmental Regulation PDF Print E-mail

Since it seems impossible to update our environmental laws in this era of partisan poison, the Obama Administration has been working to use existing laws to update old rules. Updates like these were anticipated by many of our environmental laws, which included provisions that assumed that technologies and economic practices would evolve over time and new rules would be needed. For example, greenhouse gases were recently defined as air pollutants and the Supreme Court required EPA to regulate them under the Clean Air Act. Now EPA has turned to an update of some of the rules issued under federal water pollution laws.

According to Coral Davenport's report in last week's New York Times:

The E.P.A. proposed the rule, known as Waters of the U.S., last March. The agency has held more than 400 meetings about it with outside groups and read more than one million public comments as it wrote the final language. The rule is being issued under the 1972 Clean Water Act, which gave the federal government broad authority to limit pollution in major water bodies, like Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River and Puget Sound, as well as streams and wetlands that drain into larger waters. But two Supreme Court decisions related to clean water protection, in 2001 and in 2006, created legal confusion about whether the federal government had the authority to regulate the smaller streams and headwaters...E.P.A. officials say the new rule will clarify that authority, allowing the government to once again limit pollution in those smaller bodies of water -- although it does not restore the full scope of regulatory authority granted by the 1972 law. The E.P.A. also contends that the new rule will not give it the authority to regulate additional waters that had not been covered under the 1972 law. People familiar with the rule say it will apply to about 60 percent of the nation's waters.

Since water sources drain into each other, efforts to regulate pollution in "major" lakes and rivers require the regulation of pollution in smaller streams, tributaries and wetlands. Unfortunately, none of the Supreme Court Justices are hydrologists, and their 2001 and 2006 rulings did not reflect this basic fact of environmental science; their rulings (excuse the pun) muddied the waters.

As Davenport and others have reported, the interest group reaction to EPA's new rule has been intense. The American Farm Bureau Federation believes it will reduce the value of farmland dramatically. The usual ideologues are making the usual noises about big, intrusive government and job-killing regulations. Some time down the road (or should I say downstream?) when we all end up paying additional billions to treat our drinking water and clean up toxic wetlands and waterways, these same special interests will complain about wasteful government spending.

Environmental protection is typically about smaller costs up front, at least when compared to huge costs once pollution has occurred and remediation must take place. It's pay me now or pay me later. Cleaning up the oil spilling into the ocean by Santa Barbara will cost much more than preventing the leak would have cost. But of course, preventing the leak would require more "overreaching by government" and "job-killing regulations."

We pay for this ideological idiocy. Ask BP now that they are spending $20 billion to clean up the Gulf of Mexico if they wished they'd spent a few million more to better manage their drilling contractors. The complaint that regulations prevent economic growth is an old one and is just as fictitious now as it has ever been. Auto manufacturers once claimed that seat belts and catalytic convertors would bankrupt their businesses. Bar owners in New York City once complained that banning smoking would destroy their business. I see lots of cars on the road and more people in New York City's bars than ever. People like safe, less polluting cars and it turns out that the market for smoke-free bars was larger than the one for smoke-filled bars.

Before EPA was created in 1970, economic growth and pollution were both increasing rapidly. By 1980, after regulation kicked in, pollution started to drop and, with few exceptions, economic growth and pollution reductions have continued ever since. While some regulations are misguided, typically bad rules are corrected before they do much damage. But in an increasingly complex world economy, the free market cannot function effectively without clear and reasonable rules. At some point, we will need to drop this absurd mindset that all rules are bad and start focusing on improving the regulatory structure to maximize benefits and minimize costs. The day of complete freedom for businesses to operate any way they want never really existed, but certainly in today's high-tech, highly-networked, global economy, such freedom is not even remotely possible.

People who manage global businesses understand this, expect rules, and hope to influence their development or manipulate their implementation to their competitive advantage. In fact, the absence of rules, or in the case of the U.S., state-by-state rules, can create confusion and uncertainty that makes business operations complex and difficult to manage. Nevertheless, conservative extremists are attempting to delegitimize rulemaking and governance itself. This anti-authoritarian impulse is deeply problematic. The world is filled with dangers. Everything from global terror to toxic waste poses threats to human health and wellbeing. Rules of law apply to many aspects of our economic and social life. The alternative to a world of law is not a world of freedom but a world of chaos, terror and danger.

A very active effort underway in congress is to attach bans on environmental regulation to statutes needed for the government to function. The threat of a presidential veto is one of the few remaining weapons that environmental advocates still possess to resist these destructive measures. The right wing is also trying to prevent regulation by starving EPA of funding for inspections, environmental monitoring, research, and enforcement. The Toxic Substances Control Act is so under-funded that it typically takes many years for new chemicals to be tested for regulation.

Conservatives will discover, as their great hero Ronald Reagan learned over 30 years ago, that support for protecting the environment runs deep in the American political culture. Polling measures the ebb and flow of this political support, but it is a mistake to assume that Americans do not care about clean air and clean water. They assume that government is taking care of this problem. Just as they assume that the police and military will keep them safe, Americans assume that government will prevent the poisoning of their air, water and food. When the public sees the government losing interest in environmental protection, support for the environment spikes in the polls.

The right wing attack on environmental regulation is a fundamental political mistake. Conservatives are correct in assuming that Americans mistrust big organizations and powerful institutions, but they should remember that the public counts on these powerful organizations to protect them. Attacking government inefficiency and overreach is often a popular political message, but attacking government practices that protect the health of American families is a losing one. American environmental law was born in a bipartisan partnership. This past week, Columbia's Earth Institute posted a video of a semester-long class taught last year on the origins of our environmental law by Leon Billings and Tom Jorling, the Republican and Democratic senate staff leaders who worked across the aisle to help develop these path-breaking laws. We once knew how to be the world's leader in developing creative and cost-effective environmental rules. We should learn from our own history and figure out a way to end the war on the environment and move forward once again.

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  Section:  Articles - File Under:  Earth  |  
Treks to the North Pole Might Be a Thing of the Past PDF Print E-mail

VICE News is closely tracking global environmental change. Check out the Tipping Point blog here.

When longtime polar explorer Will Steger traveled to the North Pole in 1986, the conditions were what he described as "the old-fashioned winter." When they were first starting out, it was around 70 degrees below zero. That expedition, which he co-led, involved dog teams, and they traveled from northern Ellesmere Island in Canada to the pole, which he's reached four times.

"From a dogsledding point of view, those days are over of reaching the pole," Steger told VICE news. "I don't think anyone will ever be able to reach the pole from the shoreline. A lot of people fly out within 15 miles or five miles and they ski to the pole, and that's great. But in terms of a real expedition, where you're going from land — you'll never see … a dog team reach the pole again."

A perfect storm of thinning sea ice, caused by global warming, and changing aviation logistics, says National Geographic, are imperiling modern land-to-North-Pole expeditions. Adventurers haven't used dogs since 2005, but traverse the harsh habitat with skis, snowshoes, and dry suits to protect them as they swim across water.

Related: Animation shows alarming trend in the Arctic Ocean

Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean waxes and wanes with the seasons, melting in the summer months and freezing again during the winter. It's at a minimum in September, at summer's end, Robert Newton of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory told VICE News.

"Arctic Sea ice is losing mass. So there's simply less ice. And that's operating in two ways," he said. "One is that the extent of the ice is getting smaller, and we see that very clearly from satellite imagery. There's just no question."

Another factor, less apparent from satellite pictures, is that the ice is also getting thinner, Newton said.

"It's really quite extreme," he added. "We've lost on the order of 50 percent of the [summertime] ice in just the last couple of decades, between those two factors operating simultaneously: the loss of extent and the loss of thickness."

A related issue is that multiyear ice — ice that has more than one winter under its belt and is thus thicker — is also dwindling. "At this point, there's no question that this is attributable to global warming," Newton said.

'Imagine if all the sudden nobody was able to climb Mt. Everest ever again.'

Reasons behind the melting ice are due to a "combination of some naturally occurring phenomenon as well as global warming, and the warming Arctic, specifically," Stephanie Pfirman, also of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, told VICE News. "The Arctic's been warming faster than almost anyplace else on earth, as a region, and so clearly that's involved in it." Winds and storms have also played a role.

Explorer Eric Larsen, who has made the journey to the North Pole three times, told VICE News that the combination of logistical limitations and changing ice conditions has made a land-to-North-Pole journey all but impossible. For one, a Russian station called Borneo, which has a runway — and was a way for people to fly out at the end of expeditions — hasn't been operating as long into April as it used to, he said.

"The other thing about the logistics is the really only other way to get picked up is by a company which is called Kenn Borek — they specialize in flying into remote places," Larsen said. "What happened this year is they ceased flying operations all together for expeditions. For a variety of reasons, one of which is just the shifting ice conditions, it's much more dangerous."

Then there's the expense and "rigamarole" of working with North Pole expeditions.

"You can't even get to the starting line," Larsen added, for a trip from land to the North Pole.

He compared it to a classic mountaineering pursuit coming to an end. "Imagine if all the sudden nobody was able to climb Mt. Everest ever again."

"There has been one successful North Pole expedition in the past five years," he said. This year, there was a brief, aborted expedition in which one person flew into the Borneo station. Expeditions like that might still be possible — it's the more traditional, land-to-north-pole expedition that, like the polar bear, is an endangered species.

Related: Shell's CEO says we cant burn fossil fuels in an 'unmitigated way'

Thinning sea ice in the Arctic may make expedition logistics harder, but there is a — perhaps sad — flip side. Boat travel in the Arctic is getting easier, Newton, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, pointed out. "There's a lot of economic interest in shipping in the Arctic," he said. When the ice drops below one million square kilometers in the summer, he said, that's what is considered to be an "ice-free Arctic."

"At that point,' Newton told VICE News, "you'll have an open Mediterranean Sea there."

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger


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  Section:  Articles - File Under:  Earth  |  
From Granite to Glacier: Rebuilding Antarctica's Past PDF Print E-mail

By Jia You

Palisades, New York — They rest side by side on a dark bench table, two coarse linen bags labeled with big, round numbers and letters. Mike Kaplan carefully unties the bag labeled “JRI-14-33” and reaches inside.

“That’s a really nice granite,” the 46-year-old geologist exclaims as soon as he sees the light gray rock, large as his palm and twice as thick. He takes off his glasses to examine it up close. Outside, cherry trees are blossoming under a clear April sky at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in the Palisades. But inside the dim underground lab, Kaplan is absorbed with the granite and the clues it holds to climate change.

Yes, it’s the same rock used for flooring tiles and posh kitchen countertops. Except it took Kaplan a month of hiking through Antarctica to find this piece of granite — a time capsule from the ancient past, when our planet emerged from the last Ice Age and the massive ice sheets covering much of North America and Eurasia thawed.  Human hunters and gatherers soon started growing their own food. Just like how people bury metal boxes of photos, newsreels and other artifacts for future generations to discover, a melting glacier deposited rock on an island off Antarctica’s northeastern tip some 8,000 years ago — a rock that contained secret messages depicting how the climate changed at the time. Kaplan discovered those messages.

Now, it’s up to him and his colleagues at the observatory, geologists Joerg Schaefer and Gisela Winckler, to figure out what exactly happened all those centuries back. But first, Kaplan needs to pry open the time capsule he holds in his hands. And that takes some chemistry, lots of crushed rocks and, finally, thin residual powders carrying the messages from the past, to be decoded at a national laboratory on the opposite side of the country.

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In dark-rimmed glasses, a bright orange sports jacket and brown hiking shoes, Kaplan’s soft-spoken demeanor can mask the endurance it takes to hike in Antarctic conditions. The Bronx native studied geology in college, and discovered a passion for tracking glaciers and climate during a summer research trip to Greenland.

Two decades later, through a collaboration with Argentine scientists funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, Kaplan and his colleagues turned their attention to the Antarctic Peninsula, the icy continent’s northernmost tip, just about 600 miles across the sea from Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America.

As global temperature rises in recent years, the Antarctic Peninsula has made headlines as one of the fastest warming places on earth, with its ice shelves melting and glaciers accelerating into the ocean. The collapses not only contribute incrementally to rising sea levels, but also give early warnings of alarming climate changes in the region, Kaplan says.

One change that scientists fear is a potential collapse of the massive ice sheet covering west Antarctica, which threatens to push the sea level more than 10 feet higher, says Schaefer, who works with Kaplan on the project. That would devastate millions of lives in coastal areas including New York City, Miami, and New Orleans.

“It’s probably the most vulnerable ice sheet that we have on earth,” he says.

To predict whether and when such a doomsday scenario might occur, climate scientists need to draw a baseline of how climate in the region naturally varies, unaffected by human activities — by looking at how the climate has changed in the past. Kaplan is especially interested in changes during and since the end of the last Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago, when the much larger ice sheets than those we have today collapsed as the Antarctic Peninsula warmed up.

Scientists once thought that such drastic changes occurred on the scale of thousands of years, but they learned that the collapses at the end of the Ice Age actually unfolded in a matter of decades, says Meredith Kelly, a glacial geologist at Dartmouth College who is not involved with Kaplan’s research.

“Those kinds of climate changes, I think, really alarmed scientists,” she says. “Climate changes like that in a decade would really affect people and societies today, so understanding those rapid changes has really been a focus of climate scientists.”

That rings true especially as the earth is warming more now, driven by human dependence on fossil fuels, and the past offers the clearest map for where we might be heading.

But how can scientists reconstruct climate from thousands of years ago? It turns out that glaciers are a good recorder of climate because they are sensitive to even minuscule changes in temperature. And when they start to melt, they leave a record in the rocks they drop as they retreat — time capsules such as Kaplan’s granite.

Like the rising and falling tides, a glacier advances and retreats as its surroundings freeze and warm in cyclical intervals of thousands of years. As a glacier expands, it picks up rocks and sediments along the way and carries them forward. As the temperature rises and the glacier melts, it leaves behind trails of boulders and sediments on the landscape, known as glacial deposits, which can be thousands of miles away from their places of origin. These rocks are easy to spot: The light gray granite in Kaplan’s lab, for example, looks distinct from the dark, coal-like volcanic rocks that make up the island where Kaplan found it.

As these abandoned rocks lie exposed to the air, their transformation into time capsules begins through an interstellar storm of cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are high-energy subatomic particles, accelerated to near light speed when stars explode. Imagine these cosmic rays as pool balls that hurl through space and constantly bombard Earth from all directions. As they enter the earth’s atmosphere, they strike molecules in the upper atmosphere and release other pool balls — subatomic particles called neutrons. The neutrons collide into the surfaces of the rocks on the ground and change their atomic structures, creating a new substance known as Beryllium-10.

The Beryllium-10 carries the secret messages contained in the granite time capsules, the messages that Kaplan and his colleagues decode to figure out how climate changed in the ancient past. That’s because the longer the rocks have been exposed in the air, the more Beryllium-10 they accumulate. So by measuring the amount of Beryllium-10 in a rock sample, Kaplan’s team can deduce when a glacier melted and dropped the rock, and how far the glacier had advanced at that point. Rock by rock, Kaplan and his team can start to piece together a map of changes in glaciers and temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula during the closing epoch of the Ice Age.

“He’s one of the people … really at the forefront of trying to understand glacial advances and retreats in the past,” says John Chiang, a climate scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Finding a time capsule like Kaplan’s granite is no easy task. The flights themselves required a feat in coordination. To bring the rock back to the lab, Kaplan flew about 5,000 miles from New York to Buenos Aires last January to meet his three Argentine collaborators: geologist Jorge Strelin of the Argentine Antarctic Institute, who planned and led the expedition, and two of his Ph.D. students. It was Kaplan’s second expedition to the island, following a previous trip in 2013.

Together, the team flew to southern Patagonia, Argentina, and waited two days for the weather to clear. Then, a special Argentine military plane used for flying to Earth’s polar regions carried them to a base camp on the Antarctic Peninsula, where the team boarded military helicopters to their field sites on James Ross Island, near the northeastern tip of the peninsula.

For Kaplan, who has explored the interior central Antarctica before, hiking 12 hours a day during the peninsula’s balmy 30-degree Fahrenheit summer can almost seem like a paradise. Survival wasn’t an issue, he says, and food was abundant: Fresh fruit lasted only about two weeks in the cold, but the snowy ground served as a natural fridge for raw meat. At the end of a day, the team would roast chickens and bake pizza in a pantry camp for dinner.

Even so, there were dreary days when wind storms hit camp at 50 miles per hour or more, forcing the team to cancel all plans for the day and secure their tents with all the rocks they could find. During the strongest gusts, they even held the tent up from the inside.

“During a strong storm, all the snow is blowing, sometimes you cannot see your hand right in front of you,” says Fernando Calabozo, a Ph.D. student in geology at the National University of Cordoba, Argentina, who worked with Kaplan. “It can be really frustrating because you got there with a few work plans, so you try to follow a schedule, and the weather is so bad you can’t go outside.”

Besides chiseling out samples from rocks that stood out from their surroundings, the team also looked for fossils on James Ross Island. Whereas the rocks indicate when glaciers expanded the farthest and just started to melt, fossils of shells and whale bones indicate warmer times when glaciers retreated from parts of the island, and seawater covered sections of the landscape. By dating these fossils, Kaplan could glimpse into windows of warm periods on the island as far back as 40,000 years ago.

For the last stop of the expedition, the team flew to the northern tip of the island specifically to find a fossil moss. About two decades ago, a team of European scientists discovered fossils of moss there and dated them as 11,000 years old. The dead plant has important implications for Kaplan’s research because moss only grows in ice-free lakes. So like any good scientist, Kaplan wanted to verify the age of the fossil moss.

“We flew all the way to the northern tip of the island for that moss, and we weren’t sure if we were going to find it,” he says.

Luck was with them. Just 15 minutes after they settled in camp and started looking around, Kaplan, Calabozo and their other team member Juan Presta, spotted a thick brown chunk of hardened dead moss. Cautiously optimistic, Kaplan and his colleagues spent the rest of the day digging around where they found the plant, until they found it pressed between two sediment layers that were thousands of years old, concrete evidence that the moss was a fossil.

“That was a really nice finding,” Kaplan says.

At the end of the expedition, the rocks and fossils were shipped from Antarctica to Argentina and then to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in five Fed Ex boxes weighing 200 pounds. A month later, Kaplan would open one of those boxes and take out a coarse linen bag marked “JRI-14-33.” As he reaches inside for a piece of granite, the quest to open the time capsule begins.

Bringing the granite and other rocks back from Antarctica is just the first step in recreating the Antarctica’s past climate. To actually date how long ago glaciers started melting and leaving the rocks exposed to air, Kaplan and his team still needs to know how much Beryllium-10 is contained in the rocks.

To find the Beryllium-10, the secret messages contained in the time capsules, the researchers first need to isolate quartz, the hard, transparent minerals in granite that sparkle under light. That’s where the Berylllium-10 hides.

The process begins with what Kaplan calls the “dirty work” – sawing, crushing, grinding and sieving the rocks into fine particles, which are shaken in acids to obtain pure quartz. Then, lab technicians and students dissolve the pure quartz, and uses chemicals to remove other elements and isolate Beryllium-10. If the process sounds complicated, it’s because it is — it can take a skilled technician up to two months to process a batch of eight to ten samples.

At the end of the process, the researchers fill solid Beryllium-10 powders into a thumb-sized, bullet-shaped stainless steel capsule and send it across the country to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, one of a handful labs around the world capable of measuring the exact amount of Beryllium-10 contained.

Once the lab sends the results back to Kaplan, he will conduct the detective work of deducing how long the rocks have been exposed in the air, and thus when the glaciers on James Ross Island melted and deposited the rocks, and thus what the temperature in the Antarctic Peninsula must have been at that time. One data point followed by another, he will plot out a timeline of how climate in the region changed as it emerged from the last Ice Age.

For now, Kaplan’s hands are full. It would take a few years for him to work through the five Fed Ex boxes from his last expedition, in addition to several boxes from the 2013 expedition.

Yet he’s already planning to go back. Just a few weeks ago, with other Lamont scientists, Kaplan applied for funding for yet another trip to the Antarctic Peninsula, this time to stretch his time machine even further back. On his last trip, he and his Argentine colleagues found much older glacial deposits, sandwiched between layers of volcanic rocks, and ancient residues from the sea bottom. Geologists have well-established methods for dating volcanic rocks, which would allow Kaplan to date the old glacial deposits more accurately. Already, the volcanic layers and fossil shells they found indicate that those rocks could be millions of years old.

“It’s much older than anything we’ve worked on in this present project,” he says.

There’s an old Chinese saying that history is a mirror to the future. And Kaplan sees himself as a historian. “I’m interested very much in human history, and I figured it’s probably not a coincidence that I look at time periods in the geologic past,” he says.

He opens a notebook and sketched the granite’s outline on the page. Then he draws nine dots inside the outline in a three by three matrix, and patiently measures the thickness of the rock at each spot. Nine measurements to obtain the rock’s average thickness, which is just one number used to calculate its exposure to air. Back at his office, Kaplan has a shelf of close to 40 yellow- and red-covered notebooks, his field notes over the past two decades.

In the next few months, the granite will be ground and reduced to quartz, then to white powders in a stainless steel capsule, then to an age, then to a number on a graph or in a model. And then, with hundreds of rocks like the granite, the ancient Antarctic Peninsula would come alive: glaciers expanding and retreating over centuries, reacting to dynamic changes in the environment as they are now and far into the future.

Kaplan writes down the last thickness number and closes the notebook. Another day’s work done in writing the climate history of the Antarctica.

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Rhino Return to Samburu PDF Print E-mail

By Wanjiku Kinuthia
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

Critically endangered black rhino reintroduced to a native habitat 25 years after the last individual was poached in the area

Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

Monday (May 18, 2015) the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy have embarked on a relocation programme in a bid to expand black rhino habitat in the country, and boost populations of the iconic species.

At least 20 preselected rhinos will be moved from Lewa, Nakuru and Nairobi National Parks to a sanctuary within the community owned and operated Sera Community Conservancy.

Two rhino have already been successfully moved and released to their new home.

This will be the first time in East Africa a local community will be responsible for the protection and management of the highly threatened black rhino, signaling a mind shift in Kenya’s conservation efforts. This pioneering move demonstrates the Government of Kenya’s confidence in the local community, and materialises the promise to support community-based conservation initiatives as provided for by the new Wildlife Act, 2013.

It is expected that the presence of black rhino in Samburu County will be a significant boost to tourism in the area whilst providing new job opportunities for local communities. Parts of the Sanctuary will also be set aside for dry season grazing for local herders, and the community look forward to increased overall security in the area.

The candidates earmarked for translocation range from six and a half years to 20 years old. Candidates are meant to reflect natural demographics and encourage natural breeding conditions. All animals will be fitted with satellite-based transmitters for close monitoring. The community rangers have been trained by Lewa and KWS in data gathering, anti-poaching operations, bush craft and effective patrolling – and will have the back up of the Lewa, NRT and KWS Anti-Poaching Units.

According to International Union for the Conservation of Nature, populations of the Eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) plummeted by 98% between 1960 and 1995 primarily as a result of poaching and hunting.

However, conservation efforts have managed to stabilise and increase numbers in most of the black rhino’s former ranges since then. Kenya’s population has increased from 381 since 1987 to a current estimate of 640. It is projected to rise significantly in the near future, especially with growing partnerships between government, communities and conservation organisations. It is hoped that the new rhino sanctuary will benefit Kenya’s black rhino population

Sera Community Conservancy, established in 2001is a member of NRT umbrella. It is governed by a council of elders, an elected board of trustees, a management team and the residing communities which include the Samburu, Rendille and Borana.

This translocation is jointly supported by Samburu County Government, USAID, The Lundin Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, San Diego Zoo, St. Louis Zoo, Tusk Trust, The US Fish and Wildlife Service, Zurich Zoo, and several private philanthropists.

The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is an award-winning catalyst and model for community conservation, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features on the IUCN Green List of successful protected areas. Lewa is the heart of wildlife conservation, sustainable development and responsible tourism in northern Kenya and its successful working model has provided the framework on which many conservation organisations in the region are based.

The Northern Rangelands Trust is an umbrella organisation that aims to establish resilient community conservancies that transform lives, secure peace, and conserve natural resources. There are now 27 NRT-member community conservancies across northern and coastal Kenya, home to over 300,000 people who are managing over 31,000 square kilometres of land and safeguarding a wide range of species and habitats. NRT is now widely seen as a model of how to support community conservancies, and its success has helped shape new government regulations on establishing, registering and managing community conservancies in Kenya.

The Kenya Wildlife Service is a State Corporation established by the Act of Parliament, CAP 376, (now repealed by Wildlife Act, 2013) with a mandate to conserve and manage wildlife in Kenya. It also has a sole jurisdiction over 27 both terrestrial and marine National Parks and oversight role in the management of 28 national reserves and private

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Link Forests into Food Security Efforts, UN Told PDF Print E-mail

By SciDevNet

International efforts to address food insecurity must pay more attention to the role forests play in food production, say a panel of scientists.

palm-forestA report issued on 6 May (see video) by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), a body convened by the United Nations, says forests should be considered as food sources, rather than just areas for conservation. It says the concerns of people living in or near forests should be included in the final version of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one of which currently focuses on ending hunger and promoting sustainable agriculture.

The report warns that most governments separate forests from food production when making policy, usually having different departments deal with each. As a result, the two areas must compete for funding and political attention, and policies that benefit one may harm the other, according to the report’s authors.

“The report’s main emphasis is to recognise the complementary role of forests to agriculture and promote the awareness that we already depend on forests for supplementing conventional agriculture,” says Bhaskar Vira, director of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute in the United Kingdom and chair of the IUFRO’s Expert Panel on Forests and Food Security, which produced the study.

Governments own around 80 per cent of global forests, the report says, but management rights are increasingly being transferred to indigenous communities. The authors say that ensuring local people have access to forest resources is vital to helping them sustain a nutritious diet.

Watch the report’s presentation at the UN

Vira says existing policies to end hunger have largely neglected the value that forest foods — for example, fruits, seeds and wild meat — can add to people’s diets.

Another advantage of making better use of forests in food production is that it would strengthen local people’s ability to resist environmental changes, the report says. Vira says forests appear to be a more-resilient food source under extreme weather conditions caused by climate change than field-based agriculture.

The report’s message of paying more attention to forests in the SDGs was echoed by Dominic White, head of international development at the United Kingdom branch of conservation charity WWF.

“Sustainable development depends on the maintenance of healthy forests and the services they provide,” he tells SciDev.Net. “It is essential that the global community agrees strong SDGs and puts the intelligent management of natural capital at the heart of social and economic development.”

Forests, trees and landscapes for food security and nutrition — A global assessment report (International Union of Forest Research Organizations)

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Dust, TB and HIV: the ugly face of mining in South Africa PDF Print E-mail

Zululand anthracite colliery
Zululand Anthracite Colliery is owned by Rio Tinto, a mining company invested in by the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. Photograph: Khaya Ngwenya/Demotix/for the Guardian

Worried that his eyes and urine were turning a deep yellow, Gednezar Dladla made his way to a local clinic and was referred to a district hospital, where he was x-rayed, diagnosed with gallstones, and admitted for the night. Both institutions receive funding from the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A day later, Dladla set off through the hills and valleys of rural Zululand to a village near his childhood home, where a group of men played cards in the shade of a tree. The environmental activist listened to their grievances about dust pollution, water shortages and lack of assistance from a local mine owned by Rio Tinto – whose investors include the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Two of the greatest philanthropic organisations in the world, responsible for saving countless lives through scientific research and healthcare programmes, are heavily invested in fossil fuel industries that have profound impacts on the health of local communities and cause climate change. Nowhere is this paradox more acute than in South Africa, a country with the biggest HIV caseload in the world and an economy founded on mining.

Gednezar Dladla
Gednezar Dladla, 60, campaigns for people living around the mining areas in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Photograph: Khaya Ngwenya/Demotix for the Guardian

“I would absolutely recognise that it’s a very difficult decision for big funders like the Wellcome Trust and Gates Foundation: they need to manage their investments in the best way possible to maximise funding for research,” said Marie-Louise Newell, former director of the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, which receives money from both to combat HIV. “But if you think back to apartheid days, there are times when you need to make big statements, and the climate change issue is very worrying.”

The Africa Centre is located in the beautiful KwaZulu-Natal province, where one in three people have HIV and – around the town of Mtubatuba, 173 miles north of Durban – a 15-year-old girl has an 80% chance of contracting it in her lifetime. Inside its modern building, which has won architecture prizes, are staff in T-shirts and jeans processing data on laptops.

Zanele Zungu
Zanele Zungu, 43, who has HIV and TB, collects her medication from Hlabisa hospital, in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Photograph: Khaya Ngwenya/Demotix/for the Guardian

In a poverty-stricken area where joblessness is estimated at 70%, the Africa Centre is one of the three biggest employers. It does vital work supporting healthcare for local people and receives up to £4m a year from the Wellcome Trust and contributions from donors including the Gates Foundation for world-class HIV and tuberculosis research. The list of papers published by the centre’s researchers in scientific journals numbered 99 last year alone. The centre works in lockstep with the South African government and provides advice, expertise and training to Hlabisa district hospital and 17 associated primary care clinics.

At the hospital earlier this month, half a dozen patients wearing face masks sat on plastic chairs outside a prefab structure, awaiting the free TB medication that keeps them alive. Among them was Zanele Zungu, 43, who was diagnosed with TB and HIV in 2003, the same year her 34-year-old husband, Sipho, died of Aids. “The passing of my husband was shocking to me,” the mother of five recalled through a Zulu interpreter, a tear on her cheek.

“I was very scared because I had the same symptoms my husband died of. He had sores on the mouth and all over the body. He used to scream a lot in his last days. He was feeling a lot of pain, and that’s why I took him to hospital. There was no treatment at that time and he passed away.”

Zungu, who walks for an hour from her mudbrick home to reach the hospital, was unaware that it is supported by the Africa Centre – or that its benefactor, the Wellcome Trust, invests in the mining industry. “I would like to say thank-you because they provide life to us. That’s why we are alive. But investing in a mine is not right … They must only give to the hospitals, because people are dying every day.”

Newell’s successor, Prof Deenan Pillay, said: “The aim of the Africa Centre is to do world-class science and the Wellcome Trust is one of the major and most prestigious funders of science. As such I’m very happy to receive Wellcome Trust resources for that because it brings a reputation for high quality of research.”

On the Wellcome Trust’s investment policies, he added: “Climate change and energy use are some of the most pressing global issues, and I welcome the debate on the impact of investment policies. I recognise the variety of views within this debate.”

Deenan Pillay, 57, director of the Africa Centre.
Deenan Pillay, 57, director of the Africa Centre. Photograph: Khaya Ngwenya/Demotix for the Guardian

South Africa has the deepest mines in the world and the industry employs half a million people. But nature’s blessing of coal, diamonds, gold and platinum has also been a curse over the past century and a half. Thousands of workers have died in accidents. Continual exposure to mineral dust in mine shafts has resulted in high rates of silicosis. That, and the proximity of mineworkers underground, contributes to the spread of TB. In South Africa’s mines the disease is up to six times more common than in the general population. Men in a mining area tend to attract commercial sex workers, leading to the spread of HIV. Scientists are studying the potential dangers of acid draining from disused mines into water supplies.

Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels and soot and dust emissions from coal burning are, along with diesel engines, the biggest contributors to microscopic particulate pollution that penetrates deep into the lungs. This causes heart attacks and lung cancer as well as increasing asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. A 2013 study found that air pollution from Europe’s 300 largest coal power stations causes 22,300 premature deaths a year and costs companies and governments billions of pounds in treatment and lost working days.

Dladla, a retired cattle herder who is married and has three sons, wears a faded T-shirt that reads: “Remember the slain of Marikana,” – a reference to the 2012 police massacre of 34 striking mineworkers. He sits on the steering committee of the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa.

Looking out from a car as it bumped slowly towards the Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) near the town of Ulundi – about 25 miles (40km) from the Africa Centre – Dladla sighed. “The trees are full of dust, the grass is full of dust. It will have to rain a lot for the grass to be washed, for the leaves to be washed. It has become the life people are living here: they are living in dust every day.” A billboard proclaims the town to be “the core of the Zulu heritage”.

Soon a giant discarded dump emerged into view from the countryside, along with the vast cranes and machinery of a processing plant where cows grazed nearby. It produces anthracite, a relatively clean coal, which the mine’s owner, Rio Tinto, sends to provide raw material for its Richards Bay mine on the coast.

Campaign sign up

Inside, a poster announced: “Rio Tinto. Speak out. Doing what’s right.” Rio Tinto is a leading international mining giant in which the Wellcome Trust and Gates Foundation have invested $157m (£100m) and $10m respectively. The Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign is calling for both charities to move their investments out of fossil fuel companies, including Rio Tinto.

The company bought the ZAC in 2011, inheriting a troubled history that included the digging of three mine shafts without environmental authorisation, for which Rio Tinto last year paid a cursory fine.

People in the village of Okhukho, which is virtually surrounded by the mine, are critical of its side effects. Sitting under a tree with a group of jobless men playing cards, Thembinkosi Zulu, 20, a student, said: “There are a lot of trucks and they are never sealed. I’ve got sinus problems from inhaling the dust. My nose gets blocked and painful. The mine must cover the trucks and water the roads. The mine does create jobs, but they don’t attend to the community’s needs adequately.”

Xolani Majola, 23, who lives next to the road used by trucks around the clock, said his brothers, aged 10 and nine, were constantly coughing and complaining about chest pains. “When your clothes are on the washing line, by the time you come back, they’ll be all dusty. If you sleep with your window open, you’ll be dusty yourself. With the noise, you find it hard to sleep.”

Lindekile Mncube, 26, added: “There is dust when they haven’t watered the roads. The dust makes it difficult for us to breathe and it falls on our curtains. I’m worried about the effect on our lives here, but there’s nothing I can do.”

Mining consumes huge quantities of water and the ZAC draws it from the local Umfolozi river, a vital source for the community and its livestock. Mncube said: “We’ve been complaining about water, but the mine has done nothing. When the mine came, we thought we would get everything we need.”

Lungile Ngqulunga, 54, also mentioned a lack of water as she leaned against her front step with her 15-month-old grandson, Kusile. A nearby bowl crawled with flies as goats wandered by and cockerels sang cock-a-doodle-doo. Her husband was away, she explained, receiving treatment for TB that he contracted a decade ago while working at the ZAC.

“We don’t have water,” Ngqulunga complained. “The river has been suffering ever since the mine started working. One of the pipes from the mine burst and now we’re scared of going to the river. There are no taps in this area and we struggle for drinking water. We ask the mine for water and they say we must go to the government. We go to steal it inside the mine, but if the security guards catch you, you will be locked up.”

The ZAC denies polluting the river or the air and says it is helping local villages. David Outhwaite, a London-based spokesman for Rio Tinto, said: “The Zululand region as a whole, and Okhuko community in particular, has been adversely affected by a severe drought being the worst in many decades. ZAC supplies in excess of 40m litres of potable water free of charge at various strategic water points in the community close to our operations. ZAC is not in a position to supply water to every one of the 80,000 people living in the rural community surrounding the mine.”

Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) near Ulundi. It is owned by the mining giant Rio Tinto
Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) near Ulundi. It is owned by the mining giant Rio Tinto. Photograph: Khaya Ngwenya/Demotix for the Guardian

Responding to complaints about dust, he said: “All trucks transporting final product from the plant area to the siding are covered with tarpaulins. The coarse size of the run-of-mine product from the shafts to the plant does not necessitate the covering of those trucks. Dust generated by vehicles, both our own and others, on the public gravel roads is actively managed by ZAC on a daily basis through an extensive dust suppressing programme.” Rio Tinto did not respond to questions about TB.

A Wellcome Trust spokesperson said: “When managing the investment
portfolio that funds our mission, we consider companies’ social and
environmental responsibilities carefully and engage to encourage them
to take these seriously. We do not comment on individual companies.”

A spokesperson for Bill Gates’s private office said: “Bill and Melinda Gates wrote in their recent annual letter that ‘the long-term threat [of climate change] is so serious that the world needs to move much more aggressively – right now – to develop energy sources that are cheaper, can deliver on demand, and emit zero carbon dioxide.’ Bill is privately investing considerable time and resources in this effort and the breakthrough innovations needed and will continue to speak out about it. We respect the passion of advocates for action on climate change, and recognise that there are many views on how best to address it.”

But setting off for home, Dladla was convinced he had experienced the sharp end of a contradiction involving two of the world’s leading givers. It did not add up. He demanded: “[They] must stop investing in these mines because the mines are making people suffer while the management enrich themselves ... They should divest.”

Fossil fuel ticker

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Company behind giant telescope on Mauna Kea moves forward amid talks PDF Print E-mail

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HILO, Hawaii — Aside from the ongoing standstill atop Mauna Kea, those behind the Thirty Meter Telescope are moving forward with the $1.4 billion project.

"While construction of the observatory itself has been halted, the project has not been canceled," TMT International Observatory Board Member Michael Bolte said in an email to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald on Tuesday.

During the downtime, Bolte said TMT has been talking with community leaders to find a path where the parties can move forward together.

"That said, other areas of the project have been moving forward as planned as instruments and other technologies also take time to design, build and test," he said.

In India, workers are fabricating the telescope mirror support system, TMT said Tuesday. In China, partners are designing the telescope's fully articulated main science steering mirror system and developing the laser guide star system. In California, the primary mirror and mirror control system are in final design, while Japan has produced more than 60 special zero thermal-expansion glass mirror blanks for the main mirror and continues design of the massive telescope structure.

Bolte said that as a global partnership, the TMT enables collaboration between world-renowned scientists in the U.S., Canada, Japan, China and India.

"International teamwork today will enhance future science collaborations for the next generation," he wrote. "Each of the TMT partners has in-country expertise in different areas and they are bringing them to the project."

And for their contributions, Bolte said each will receive observation time on the massive, powerful telescope, slated to see first light in the 2020s.

In a release Tuesday, TMT announced that Canada had affirmed its commitment to the project by being voted in as a full member by the TMT International Observatory Board of Directors during its recent meeting.

"Canada is proud to be an official partner in this revolutionary facility that has the potential to transform our understanding of the universe," Canadian Minister of Industry James Moore said in a statement. "It is a testament to the leadership and expertise of our space industry that Canada will build the telescope's precision-steel enclosure and provide cutting-edge optics technologies. We look forward to working with our international partners in conducting ground-breaking space research."

Last month, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the country had finally committed its share of funds — $243.5 million through 10 years — to help build the telescope. Canada joins California Institute of Technology, the University of California and the science institutions of China, India and Japan as partners project.

Grading and grubbing work at the 13,150-foot elevation project site has been postponed since 31 people were arrested on the mountain March 31 for blocking access to TMT construction workers en route to the summit.

Bolte said TMT has not yet determined a construction restart date.

In an announcement last month, Gov. David Ige said his administration would be working with the University of Hawaii, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the community to actively pursue several outcomes, including decommissioning and removing older telescopes and facilities, reducing the level of activity on the summit, and integrating culture and science.

Jodi Leong, a spokeswoman for Ige, said there was no update on the progress of those discussions as of Tuesday.

Once complete, scientists say TMT will allow astronomers to observe fainter objects, including planets that orbit stars outside our own solar system, and distant stars that formed some 13 billion light years away.

Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald,

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Addressing Global Warming Claims PDF Print E-mail

Unless you are a new arrival from another planet, you have probably heard or read at least one of the following claims (among other possibilities):

  1. Global warming is occurring—or, conversely, is not occurring. (Presidential candidate Ted Cruz has, for example, referred to global warming believers as “alarmists,” and has “compared people who think that the climate is warming to ‘flat-Earthers’ and described himself as a modern-day Galileo in an interview with the Texas Tribune.”)
  1. Global warming is occurring, and is human-caused (i.e., anthropogenic)—by our burning of fossil fuels and our deforestation activities especially.
  1. The unusual weather that we have been experiencing during the past few years (e.g., the recent spate of tornadoes, and the flooding) is a consequence of the global warming that is occurring.
  1. Not only is global warming occurring, but is likely to render our species extinct within a matter of decades, if not years.

If you are anything like me (“I’m a “doubting Thompson”!), when you learn of unusual claims—even ones stated by “experts”—your reaction is: “Provide me with enough solid evidence to convince me that I should accept your claim.” I, in learning of the above claims, have tried to seek out evidence relevant to each one, and I use this essay to report on what I’ve found. In some cases the evidence is rather substantial, so that one can say with confidence that the claim either has, or lacks, a sound basis.

The last of the four claims listed above, however, probably cannot be given a definitive “answer”: Whereas the first three claims refer to the present, the last one references the future; in referring to the “not yet,” only reasoned (and “wild”!) guesses are possible, some more plausible than others. Because of the fact that the first three, of the above four claims, have a time reference that the fourth one lacks, below I discuss the first three claims together in the same section, and discuss the fourth one in a separate section that then follows.

Because the subject of “greenhouse” gases inevitably enters any discussion of global warming, I begin here with a section that briefly discusses those gases and their role. Before doing so, however, I should note that “global warming” is also referred to as “climate change” (among other possibilities); and that although I prefer the term “climate disintegration” (for reasons stated later) for this phenomenon, herein I will use the term “global warming.”

Greenhouse” Gases

A layer of “greenhouse” gases (such as carbon dioxide, CO2, water vapor, and nitrous oxide) surrounds the earth, and the presence of such gases is an enabler of human life. As the short-wave energy from the sun that reaches our planet strikes earth, that energy is either absorbed by the earth or it “bounces off.” The reflective tendencies of a given surface are referred to as its albedo, this being expressed on a scale from 0 to 1.0. A surface of fresh snow, for example, tends to reflect most of the sun’s rays that strike it, and therefore has a “high” albedo (a value of about 0.9.

Short-wave rays from the sun that strike dark surfaces tend to be absorbed, and to heat that area to a certain depth. That area, in turn, then re-radiates long-wave heat energy into the atmosphere, and it is the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that prevents that energy from simply escaping into the deep atmosphere. In a sense, those gases “trap” heat energy, much like the glass of a greenhouse does—which is why those gases are termed greenhouse gases. Another way of expressing this point is that the layer of greenhouse gases acts as a sort of “blanket.”

More will be said about these gases as the essay progresses, but my purpose in this brief section was simply to clarify, briefly, what they are and what they do. Let us next, then, turn to the first three of the claims stated above.

The First Three Claims

Is Global warming Occurring?

The graph below shows temperature variation—for the earth as a whole—during the past 1,000 years (source):

The red line shows temperature variation; and although the blue line depicts CO2 variation over that period of time, if we were to create a trend line for temperature, it would correspond rather closely to the CO2 line! Later I will comment on that matter.

Note that the temperature values depicted on this graph are not absolute values but, rather, are relative ones—relative to the temperatures of the 1956-1995 time period. Although the Y (temperature) axis of the graph contains no zero, if we were to draw a horizontal line on the graph at the 0 position, we would see that for much of the time during the past 1,000 years, although temperatures varied considerably, even at their warmest they were below the graph’s “normal.” Also note, however, that since about 1850 the trend has been upward; there has been variation from year to year, certainly, but it’s clear that the trend has been upward.

The first person to actually take temperature data and then determine whether or not global warming was occurring was Guy Stewart Callendar [1898-1964]:

In 1938, Callendar compiled measurements of temperatures from the 19th century on, and correlated these measurements with old measurements of atmospheric CO2 concentrations… He concluded that over the previous fifty years the global land temperatures had increased, and proposed that this increase could be explained as an effect of the increase in carbon dioxide.

(I should add here that before Callendar’s research, Svante Arrhenius [1859-1927] had done some important work:

Arrhenius developed a theory to explain the ice ages, and in 1896 he was the first scientist to attempt to calculate how changes in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect

Based on information from his colleague Arvid Högbom (sv), Arrhenius was the first person to predict that emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and other combustion processes were large enough to cause global warming.)

The fact that earth’s temperature increased by 0.85° C between 1880 and 2012 is further proof, of course, that global warming is occurring—i.e., that there is a trend of global warming. Thus, the claim that global warming is occurring has been rather well established.

Is Global Warming Anthropogenic (i.e., human-caused)?

GW2_DVIt’s been claimed that the global warming now occurring is of an anthropogenic nature—i.e., caused by the burning of fossil fuels and by deforestation activities. A reason for doubting this claim is implicit in this graph (source). It shows CO2 variation over the past 800,000 years. For most of that period there was important variation in CO2 level; and insofar as there was trend, it was one of little change. (However, since 1850, the trend has been one of increase, as I noted above.) Now given that anatomically modern humans have been in existence for only the past 200,000 years, of the past 800,000 years, it’s obvious that for most of the past 800,000 years, it is non-human factors that have affected CO2 levels. That fact gives one at least some reason to doubt the claim that the warming that is occurring at present is human-caused.

However, the fact that the CO2 line on the first graph depicted above is, simultaneously, a virtual trend line for temperature (as I noted earlier), combined with the fact that CO2 emissions are known to produce warming (as Arrhenius determined over a century ago), gives us a rather sound basis for accepting the thesis that the global warming that has been occurring does have a human cause. A question that arises here (and given some attention later), however, is whether or not non-human factors could come to the fore that would change the relationship that now exists between CO2 level and temperature.

Is Our Unusual Weather a Result of the Global Warming That’s Occurring?

I suspect that the term “global warming” goes back to Callendar’s research, because he limited his focus to temperature. However, since Callendar’s time researchers have come to realize that the heat energy being added to the atmosphere via an increased “greenhouse effect” (i.e., increased concentration of greenhouse gases) is causing not only a trend in increased global temperature, but (a) an increase in the number of storms, (b) an increase in their size and severity, and (c) an increase in weather variability (directly resulting from changes in the course of the jet stream, e.g., those changes caused by the added heat energy).

Thus, it is possible to say that the unusual weather that we have been experiencing is consistent with global warming, but that does not constitute proof that global warming is the cause of the unusual weather now occurring.

Will Global Warming Render Our Species Extinct “Soon”?

This question is inherently more difficult to grapple with, first, because it involves a projection into the future, and the future cannot be known with certainty. It is tempting for scientists to assume that the factors now acting (a) will continue to act, and that (b) no additional factors will enter the picture. The graph above that depicts CO2 variation over the past 800,000 years shows that during most of that period the level of concentration ranged from a low of about 175 ppm to a high of about 300 ppm.

Given that for most of that period, when it increased, it did so in response to “natural” factors, and the same for those periods when it decreased, this question arises: Is it not at least conceivable that some of the factors long before humans were present will enter the picture again, doing so in such a way as prevent earth from being rendered uninhabitable (with our species then becoming extinct)? If we knew why the level of CO2 in the atmosphere declined fairly steadily from a 300 ppm level to a 175 ppm level, is it not possible that geo-engineering measures could be developed that could replicate the earlier natural process?

Not myself being a scientist, I have no idea what the answers to those two questions might be. Nor do I know if it’s even meaningful to ask those questions. I pose them here, however, in the event that they might have some merit.

Not only is the question of whether global warming will render our species extinct one that is inherently difficult to grapple with because of its future orientation; unlike the other three questions, this one requires the presentation of an argument: A series of statements that are logically connected. This fact presents us with two problems: (a) Unless the statements constituting the argument have a solid basis, the conclusion “produced” by the statements will not be one that one can accept; (b) if the argument omits statements regarding factors that are, or will be, playing a role in affecting the conclusion, again the conclusion will be unacceptable. This second point has, however, the problem that one is likely to unaware of what one has omitted!

Because of these problems, I am not as sanguine as some are about our “inevitable” demise as a species within a few decades, or even years. I would like to think that my attitude here is not so much influenced by the fact that my wife and I have three children and five grandchildren (so far) but, rather by the “facts.” However, I am quick to add that as I now perceive the facts of which I am aware, I see little reason to believe that we humans will be able to escape near-term extinction. After all, we are now living in the period of the “sixth extinction,” so what makes us think that we are so “special” that we won’t be among those species now becoming extinct?!

Here is why I see little reason for hope, stated as a series of points:

1. The parts per million (ppm) level of CO2 that was in our atmosphere prior to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution—about 280 ppm—can be regarded as an appropriate level for human existence.

2. “The daily average concentration of atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa first exceeded 400 ppm on 10 May 2013.” There is every reason to believe that further increases in the ppm level will be forthcoming.

3. This increase has meant an increase in heat energy in the atmosphere, resulting in (a) a heating trend (about 0.85° C. since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution), (b) an increase in the number of storms, (c) an increase in their size and severity, and (d) increased variability in weather phenomena at any given location (the degree of that variability varying from place to place, of course). Presumably, these phenomena will intensify with a continuation of global warming.

4. Even with a cessation—tomorrow—in the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation activities, the atmospheric phenomena under point (3) above would continue, because the greenhouse gases would continue to be in the atmosphere, with the ppm level decreasing only gradually over time. One source states this: “Individual carbon dioxide molecules have a short life time of around 5 years in the atmosphere. However, when they leave the atmosphere, they’re simply swapping places with carbon dioxide in the ocean. The final amount of extra CO2 that remains in the atmosphere stays there on a time scale of centuries.” One site states that it would take even longer: “What would happen to the climate if we were to stop emitting carbon dioxide today, right now? Would we return to the climate of our elders? The simple answer is no. Once we release the carbon dioxide stored in the fossil fuels we burn, it accumulates in and moves amongst the atmosphere, the oceans, the land, and the plants and animals of the biosphere. The released carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years.”

5. As heating in particular increases, it’s likely that a point in time will be reached such that after that point (“tipping point”) the phenomena listed in point (3) above will begin to accelerate. The reason: Global warming is a process that tends to “feed upon itself.” That is, the initial effects of specifically warming cause changes (e.g., the melting of snow and ice) which result in further increases in temperature: (a) Less of the short-wave energy coming from the sun will be reflected back into space; (b) the amount of exposed bare ground will increase, it will absorb more short-wave heat energy, and therefore re-radiate more long-wave heat energy, producing heating; (c) the thawing of permafrost will release methane gas, a greenhouse gas far more potent than CO2 in “contributing” to more warming; (d) etc.

6. GW3_DVThe fact that global warming is a process that “feeds on itself” suggests that the global mean could at least reach an Eocene level. The graph below indicates that over the past 65 million years, temperatures were highest during the Eocene (source). (Note that on this graph the present is shown on the left, rather than right, side! Also, here’s a definition of “benthic.”) Presumably, human life could not exist in Eocene conditions.

7. Recognizing the above facts, it is important to cease those activities that will contribute to heating “long” before the tipping point is reached, because specifically of points (3) and (4).

8. It’s likely, however, that we have already passed that point; in fact, in 2013 Arctic climate scientist John B. Davies stated: “The world is probably at the start of a runaway Greenhouse Event which will end most human life on Earth before 2040.”

9. There are no signs that our leaders are taking global warming seriously—making Davies’s projection highly plausible. That is, even if we have not yet reached the tipping point, point (5) suggests that it’s likely that we will in the near future.

10. If it were possible, using geo-engineering measures, to prevent our near-term extinction (by, e.g., removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, reducing the amount of insolation reaching the Earth, etc.), we could “rest easy.” However:

  1. There’s no reason to believe that such measures will be developed.
  1. If they are, there is no reason to believe that they will be implemented.
  1. If such measures are implemented, there’s no reason to believe that they will “work”—with the possibility, even, that they will bring the time of our extinction even closer (than, e.g., 2040!). In fact, Guy McPherson is on record of declaring that our species will be extinct by 2030! Because any use of geo-engineering measures would be of an “experimental” nature, many scientists have expressed their opposition to such measures—and last year politician Al Gore declared the use of such measures as “insane”!


What we do know about global warming suggests that because global warming is a process that “feeds on itself,” unless its causes are removed long before a “tipping point” is reached, “runaway” may begin at some point, and it will be impossible to halt the process. The reason it’s essential to remove the causes far in advance of the arrival of the “tipping point,” is that the greenhouse gases that are directly responsible for global warming will remain in the atmosphere for centuries, perhaps much longer; and although their degree of presence in the atmosphere will diminish over time, while they are still present, they will contribute to continued heating.

It’s conceivable that certain geo-engineering measures could be developed that, because they emulated Nature’s past control of the CO2 presence, could be trusted “safely” to reduce the level of greenhouse gas concentration enough—and quickly enough—to prevent our extinction. However, given the points listed under point (9) above, it’s virtually impossible to believe that this will occur—and that if such measures are developed, they will be implemented, and in time.

I hate to end an essay on such a depressing note, and would therefore direct the reader to my “Explanations: Useless and Otherwise,” written about 6 months ago, for some ideas of a far more positive nature.

Al Thompson is retired from an engineering (avionics) firm in Milwaukee. His e-mail address is: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Read other articles by Alton.

This article was posted on Monday, May 25th, 2015 at 2:50am and is filed under Climate Change, Extinction, Life/Animal Rights, Science/Technology.

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May 21, 2015 is the inaugural USA Red Nose Day

It’s a tough act to follow…

red-noseFor 30 years, the Brits with all their dour, dry humor, have raked in mega bucks in their Red Nose Day, a fundraiser for impoverished children at home and abroad, presented by the BBC.

This year, the first Red Nose Day USA is being celebrated and broadcast in a special 3-hour live event on NBC tonight, May 21. Walgreens and M&Ms are co-partnering the event.

Every Little Bit Helps

For many, the concept of charity giving to any extent that can make a difference is defined by the likes of the Gates Foundation, Angelina Jolie, Robert Redford, who give millions of dollars to support various causes, many aimed at reducing poverty around the world.

Comic Relief brought Red Nose Day to the people, giving them the opportunity to laugh and have fun, all the while making it possible to donate small amounts to help a huge cause. This concept works in the UK and the hoopla surrounding the first U.S. RND indicates that the concept of fun and giving will work here in the United States.

With climate change wreaking havoc around the globe, help is desperately needed, not just in rural areas of Africa and Asia, but here in the United States. Drought is threatening children and families in California’s Central Valley; fierce tornadoes have whipped through southern states, leaving devastation in their wake – and children and families in dire need.

In Africa and Asia, where poverty is a way of life to many, funds from charity events such as this, bring much needed help to those in need.

The charities earmarked to receive funds from this RND event are already on the ground helping the needy, and this extravaganza will help them continue their work.

Comic Relief, the 501(c)(3) charity and sister site to the UK charity of the same name is the lead fundraiser for the event, with 12 charities slated to benefit from the fundraiser. The pre-selected charity partners are Boys & Girls Clubs of America; charity: water; Children’s Health Fund; Feeding America; Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund; LIFT; National Council of La Raza; National Urban League; Oxfam America; Save the Children and United Way.

The Fun-Raiser

The line-up for this event is spectacular! Ed Sheeran, Josh Groban, Christian Slater, Al Roker, Andy Cohen, Kellan Lutz, Kermit the Frog Julia Roberts, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Blake Shelton, Richard Gere, Reese Witherspoon, Jack Black, Michelle Rodriguez, Julianne Moore, Pharrell, One Direction, Keith Urban, John Mellencamp, John Krasinski, Zac Efron, Nick Cannon are just a few of the stars who will be joining hosts Seth Meyers, David Duchovny and Jane Krakowski. Each host will present and hour-long portion of the show that is happening at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom.

The UK version of the event, one of the BBC’s highest-rated Friday night shows has raised over $1 billion in donations over the past 30 years. It will be fun to see if the original concept of creator/producer Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Bridget Jones Diary,” “Notting Hill”), that “mass media and celebrities can help raise money and increase awareness of poverty in order to save and change millions of lives” is a viable concept in the U.S.

Go to the Red Nose Day site to donate – all amounts, large or small, are greatly appreciate by those on the receiving end.

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