Sunday, April 30, 2017

EPA Wipes Its Climate Change Site as Tens of Thousands March in Washington

Protesters march away from the US Capitol on Saturday in Washington.

Thousands march through Chicago on 100th day of Trump presidency
One of my favorite Toronto groups....The Raging Grannies
A woman holds a sign in her right hand reading "dump trump" with a photo of trump's face crossed out on it
A lane of the highway in los angeles is packed with protesters
Los Angles

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s main climate change website is “undergoing changes” to better reflect “the agency’s new direction” under Donald Trump.
The announcement, made late Friday evening, left empty what was previously the “official government site” providing “comprehensive information on the issue of climate change and global warming”.
The change came a day before thousands gathered in Washington DC and other U.S. cities to protest inaction on climate change, and hours before the symbolic 100-day mark of the Trump administration. In fact demonstrations took place in many countries to protest Mr Trump's attitude.
At the marquee climate protest, the Peoples Climate March in Washington, tens of thousands made their way down Pennsylvania Avenue in sweltering heat on their way to encircle the White House. Temperatures neared 90 degrees Saturday, well above the average high of 71 degrees for April 29, according to It seems global warming was sending it's own message to Mr Trump.
Organizers said about 300 sister marches or rallies were being held around the country, including in Seattle, Boston, Denver and San Francisco. In Chicago, marchers headed from the city’s federal plaza to Trump Tower.
Some of the marches drew celebrity attendees, including former Vice President Al Gore and actor Leonardo DiCaprio in the capital and senator and former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination Bernie Sanders at an event in Montpelier, Vermont.
“Honored to join Indigenous leaders and native peoples as they fight for climate justice,” DiCaprio tweeted.
Any marchers who used their phones to look at the EPA climate change website would have been greeted with a message from the new administration: “ This page is being updated.”
“As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency,” said JP Freire, an associate administrator for public affairs.
Previously, the website housed data on greenhouse gas emissions from large polluters and reports on the effects of climate change and its impact on human health.
“We want to eliminate confusion,” Freire said, “by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law.”
Information from previous administrations is archived as a link from the EPA’s website.
The EPA is currently led by Scott Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who has denied that carbon dioxide causes global warming.
The Trump administration has called for budget cuts of nearly one-third at the EPA and has sought to weaken protections for human health. For instance, the White House has proposed cutting funding and regulations regarding lead poisoning prevention and is considering rewriting regulations concerning smog.
It has already rolled back a law that prevented coal mining companies from dumping waste in streams.
An article written by Senator Sanders of Vermont made an economic case for a focus on industries meant to ameliorate the effects of climate change, rather than those which contribute to it.
The senator wrote: “No matter what agenda President Trump and his administration of climate deniers push, it is clear that jobs in clean energy like wind and solar are growing much more rapidly than jobs in the coal, oil and gas sectors.”
The truth is that Mr Trump cannot halt progress on climate change, alternate fuels and energy sources. He cannot turn back the clock or obliterate scientific knowledge. If he thinks  he can blindside the American people he is very much mistaken; there are too many intelligent and informed citizens our there.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Plastic eating caterpillars could be the answer to plastic waste in oceans and landfills

Wax worm caterpillars in petri dish
plastic eating caterpillars

In a chance discovery, a research team from Europe has learned that a common insect larva is capable of breaking down the plastic found in shopping bags and other polyethylene-based products. This trash-munching caterpillar could inspire scientists to develop a new chemical process to tackle the growing problem of plastic waste.

Beekeepers are all too familiar with the larvae of the moth Galleria Mellonella, also known as the wax moth. This daring insect has the audacity to lay its eggs inside of bee hives, where they hatch and thrive on beeswax. But as a new study published in Current Biology shows, these caterpillars are not just capable of breaking down beeswax, they can also break down plastic—and that’s probably not a coincidence. The chemical processes are likely similar, and researchers are now excited by the prospect of developing a biotechnological approach to the plastic waste that chokes oceans, rivers, and landfills.

Like so many other scientific discoveries, this one was assisted by a bit of luck. Study co-author Federica Bertocchini of the Spanish National Research Council happens to be an amateur beekeeper. While removing the parasitic pests from the honeycombs in her beehives, she noticed that the plastic bags she used to store the caterpillars became riddled with holes in less than an hour. Like the good scientist that she is, she decided to investigate further, recruiting biochemist Paolo Bombelli from the University of Cambridge to help out.
In experiments, the researchers exposed 100 caterpillars to a plastic polyethylene bag obtained at a UK supermarket. After just 40 minutes, holes began to appear in the bag, and after 12 hours the larvae had managed to reduce the amount of plastic by as much as 92 milligrams. That’s incredibly fast—even faster than the plastic-munching bacteria reported last year, which were capable of biodegrading plastic at a rate of 0.13 mg per day.

In subsequent tests, the researchers ground the caterpillars into a paste, smearing it onto the plastic. The bags degraded in a similar fashion, indicating that chemicals in the caterpillar’s body—likely in the gut—are responsible for the action. Naturally, this has the researchers excited, and they’ve already filed a patent on their discovery.
“If a single enzyme is responsible for this chemical process, its reproduction on a large scale using biotechnological methods should be achievable,” said Bombelli in a statement. “This discovery could be an important tool for helping to get rid of the polyethylene plastic waste accumulated in landfill sites and oceans.”
Indeed, plastic waste is a growing problem. Around 80 million tons of polyethylene is produced each year around the world, and it takes an inordinate amount of time—upwards of a hundred years—for this substance to degrade completely. Researchers are now looking to nature to find ways of boosting the speed at which we can degrade this stuff. In addition to bacteria, scientists have also discovered plastic-eating fungi.

Nature may have stumbled upon an answer to our plastic problem, but we still need to figure out how these creatures do it if we’re to ramp their biological processes up to an industrial scale.
“The caterpillar produces something that breaks the chemical bond, perhaps in its salivary glands or a symbiotic bacteria in its gut,” said Bombelli. “The next steps for us will be to try and identify the molecular processes in this reaction and see if we can isolate the enzyme responsible.”
Obviously, the caterpillars didn’t evolve to eat plastic. It just so happens that their wax-munching skills also work on human trash. Call it a happy accident.

Scientists and believers around the world... march for science

Thousands of protesters fill Tom McCall Waterfront Park during the March for Science in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday, April 22. Protests were held in cities around the world against President Donald Trump's policies.

London science march

Science protesters in London

Science protesters in London

Crowds massed in the US capital and around the world Saturday to support science and evidence-based research -- a protest partly fueled by opposition to President Donald Trump's threats of budget cuts to agencies funding scientists' work.
At the main March for Science, demonstrators gathered at Washington's National Mall to hear speakers laud science as the force moving humanity forward, and rail against policymakers they say are ignoring fact and research in areas including climate change.

A woman protestor holding signs

A dog wearing a banner at the protests

"Today we have a great many lawmakers -- not just here but around the world -- deliberately ignoring and actively suppressing science," one of the event's speakers, TV host and scientist Bill Nye, told a rain-soaked crowd from a stage.
"Their inclination is misguided and in no one's best interest. Our lives are in every way improved by having clean water, reliable electricity and access to electronic global information."
Besides the Washington march, organizers said more than 600 "satellite" marches were taking place globally in a protest timed to coincide with Earth Day.

Thousands participate in the National March for Science in Rome, Italy, on Earth Day.

The march, whose beginnings reflect the viral birth of the Women's March on Washington, was billed by its organizers as political but nonpartisan. But many messages were leveled at Trump and his party, which holds majorities in Congress. Scientists have raised alarms over Trump's budget blueprint, which would cut $12.6 billion from the Department of Health and Human Services, including $5.8 billion from the National Institutes of Health alone.
One speaker said the administration "tries but fails to silence scientists." Several contrasted rationality and scientific thought to "alternative facts," a phrase that's attracted popular derision since a White House aide uttered it.
With the White House in view, protesters held signs with messages such as "In peer review we trust" and "It's the environment, stupid."

Germany's Neumayer Station is an active research institute in Antarctica. During the Antarctic summer, the station houses up to 50 scientific researchers and support staff.
With the Antarctic winter drawing near, a very small "overwintering" team remains there to conduct research and maintain the station.
On Saturday, this skeleton crew traveled out into the 20°F temperatures and 26 mph gusts to join their voices in support with crowds gathering around the world. Marches for Science have taken place on all seven continents.
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood," reads a quote from renowned scientist Marie Curie on the banner they held. "Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less."

MEANWHILE, their colleagues in the Arctic Circle at the other end of the globe ... conducting research in Norway's scientific village of  Ny-Ă…lesund, braved the 27°F temperatures and spoke out with their fellow scientists in Antarctica and the other marchers around the world, on Saturday.
Standing around a large bust of Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen, they unfurled a banner that read, "Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known." 
Besides the main march in Washington, organizers said more than 600 "satellite" marches took place globally in a protest timed to coincide with Earth Day.
The crowds of people marching Saturday in Rio, Berlin, Washington, Boston, London and Paris, among other places, are voicing support of science and evidence-based research in a protest fueled by opposition to President Donald Trump's environmental and energy policies, which are selfish, uninformed, blind and motivated by industry...

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Piracy of a river due to climate change

A team of scientists say a melting glacier in Canada's Yukon has caused a river to completely change course. Their findings, published in Nature Geoscience, show how climate change can cause surprising geological events.
The Slims River once flowed out to the Bering Sea, but now it flows into the Kaskawulsh River instead. This phenomenon, known as "river piracy", typically takes centuries but the study documented it over the course of one spring.
"Nobody's ever seen a river piracy occur in modern times, at least to my knowledge," lead author Dan Shugar told the BBC.
The geoscientist at the University of Washington Tacoma says he and six researchers from Canadian and American universities had planned to study the Slims River last summer.

An aerial photo shows the meltwater stream along the toe of Kaskawulsh Glacier, seen on the left, that is diverting fresh water from one river to the other

But when they arrived in the Yukon it was barely flowing. They discovered that a small channel had eroded from abnormal, rapid melting in a large glacier that fed a number of small lakes. Glaciers provide a vital source of fresh water lakes.
The glacial lakes used to feed two river systems - the Slims River and the Kaskawulsh River - but when water from one lake poured through the channel into another, it cut the Slims off from its water source.
The event is known as river piracy or stream capture, and often takes thousands of years. But the researchers documented the piracy of the Slims River and it took just one spring. With global warming, a water source can vanish that quickly.
Prof Shugar said his colleague, John Clague, at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, had predicted this event just a decade before because of the area's unique geological formation. But no one knew when or how quickly the stream capture would occur.
River gauges show an abrupt four-day drop in late May 2016, which then continued over the summer, the study found.
By the time Prof Shugar and his associates got there, the Slims was basically just "a long, skinny lake".
"The Slims River was essentially cut off from how it was flowing before," he said.
The change in the river's flow affected the whole landscape. Sheep are now grazing on the exposed river bank, while other rivers in the area are running high. Fish population, wildlife and lake chemistry will continue to be affected, the study noted.
In the big picture, Prof Shugar said, the piracy of the Slims is a reminder that climate change "may bring surprises that we are not appreciating fully and that we're not necessarily prepared for".

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Opossum Appreciation Day ( I just invented it )

At night, when you catch sight of an opossum in your car headlights, you are allowed to think, "That is one ugly little animal."

But what opossums lack in looks, they make up in originality. They're a southern species -- proper name Virginia opossum -- that's adapted to New England  and Canadian winters. They're one of the oldest species of mammal around, having waddled past dinosaurs.
They eat grubs and insects and even mice, working over the environment like little vacuum cleaners.
"They really eat whatever they find," said Laura Simon, wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Humane Society.
And they're an animal whose first line of defense includes drooling and a wicked hissing snarl -- a bluff -- followed by fainting dead away and "playing possum."
"They are just interesting critters," said Mark Clavette, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
And now ecologists have learned something else about opossums. They're a sort of magnet when it comes to riding the world of black-legged ticks, which spread Lyme disease.
"Don't hit opossums if they've playing dead in the road," said Richard Ostfeld, of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.

Ostfeld is forest ecologist and an expert on the environmental elements of infectious diseases like Lyme disease. Several years ago, scientists decided to learn about the part different mammals play in the spread of the ticks and the disease.
They tested six species -- white-footed mice, chipmunks, squirrels, opossums and veerys and catbirds -- by capturing and caging them, and then exposing each test subject to 100 ticks. What they found, is that of the six, the opossums were remarkably good at getting rid of the ticks -- much more so that any of the others.
"I had no suspicion they'd be such efficient tick-killing animals," Ostfeld said.
Indeed, among other opossum traits, there is this: They groom themselves fastidiously, like cats. If they find a tick, they lick it off and swallow it. (The research team on the project went through droppings to find this out. All praise to those who study possum poop.)
Extrapolating from their findings, Ostfeld said, the team estimated that in one season, an opossum can kill about 5,000 ticks.
What ecologists are learning is how complex the interaction of ticks and mammals can be.
For example, foxes probably serve as a host for ticks seeking a blood meal. But foxes are great at killing white-footed mice -- the species in the environment credited with being the chief reservoir of the Lyme bacteria.
Likewise, Ostfeld said, opossums, waddling around at night, pick up lots of ticks. Some ticks end up getting their blood meal from the possum. But more than 90 percent of them ended up being groomed away and swallowed.
"They're net destroyers of ticks," Ostfeld said.
For Simon, of the U.S. Humane Society, the Cary Institute research is a welcome justification to just leave opossums be.
"People are so hard on them," she said.
That's in part because people think oppossums might be rabid when they drool and hiss and carry on when threatened.
In fact, and this is breaking news, 'opossums are resistant to rabies'. So, please leave the ugly little guys alone. People tend to dispose them as if they were rats. They are valuable to the environment. They can't help being ugly.
You owe me one...Possums.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Trudeau an environmental hypocrite

Image result for images of trudeau

Justin Trudeau’s support for more oil pipelines and tar sands drilling is at loggerheads with his image as Canada’s progressive, environmentally concerned  prime minister, according to a top environmentalist.
In an op-ed published Monday in The Guardian, founder Bill McKibben called Trudeau a “stunning hypocrite” on global warming.
“When it comes to the defining issue of our day, climate change, he’s a brother to the old orange guy in DC,” McKibben wrote.
He said Trudeau was “hard at work pushing for new pipelines through Canada and the US to carry yet more oil out of Alberta’s tarsands, which is one of the greatest climate disasters on the planet.”
Tar sands ― a noxious mix of sand, clay and bitumen, a viscous oil ― are considered one of the dirtiest fossil fuels. The controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which Trump jump-started days after taking office in January, would funnel a daily load of 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil to refineries in Texas, producing emissions equal to putting 5.6 million new cars on the road, according to estimates by the environmental nonprofit Friends of the Earth.
A spokesperson for Trudeau did not reply to a request for comment. In 2015, former President Barack Obama rejected pipeline-builder TransCanada’s application to construct the Keystone XL after a seven-year deliberation. Trudeau cheered Trump’s decision to reconsider the pipeline.
“I reiterated my support for the project. I’ve been on the record for many years supporting [Keystone XL] because it leads to economic growth and good jobs for Albertans,” Trudeau told reporters on Jan. 24, when Trump signed an executive action inviting TransCanada to reapply.
 “We know we can get our resources to market more safely and responsibly while meeting our climate change goals.”
To be sure, the Trudeau administration has made significant moves to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels. In November, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced plans to phase out most coal-fired power plants by 2030. Some coal power stations would remain, equipped with carbon-capture technology that has yet to be proved reliable. Nevertheless, the Canadian government forecasts carbon emissions falling by 5 megatons ― equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the road ― if the plan is fully implemented.
In December, Trudeau announced a nationwide minimum price on carbon of about 10 Canadian dollars, or about $7.53 per metric ton. By next year, the administration plans to roll out either a tax on fossil fuels or a cap-and-trade system to exact the levy.
Still, McKibben urged Trudeau’s fans to “stop swooning” over the prime minister, whom he called a “disaster for the planet.”
“Trump is a danger and unpleasant to look at, but at least he’s not a stunning hypocrite,” McKibben wrote, before concluding: “Trump’s insulting the planet, in other words. But at least he’s not pretending to do otherwise.”

Monday, April 10, 2017

Australia sees second year of coral bleaching in Great Barrier Reef

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is experiencing an unprecedented second straight year of mass coral bleaching, scientists said Friday, warning many species would struggle to fully recover. The 2,300-kilometre reef suffered its most severe bleaching on record last year due to warming sea temperatures during March and April.
Bleaching is once again occurring, the government's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said after an aerial survey off Australia's eastern coast on Thursday.
"Regrettably, the temperatures have been high on the Great Barrier Reef this summer as well and unfortunately (we) are here to confirm... a mass coral bleaching event for the second consecutive year," the Authority's reef recovery director David Wachenfeld said in a Facebook video.
"And importantly, this is the first time we've ever seen the Great Barrier Reef bleached two years in sequence. We've seen heat stress build since December."
The agency said more bleaching was being observed in the central part of the reef, which last year escaped widespread severe bleaching.
The 2016 bleaching was more severe in the northern areas of the bio-diverse site.
The back-to-back occurrence of widespread bleaching also meant there was insufficient time for corals to fully recover, Neal Cantin from the Australian Institute of Marine Science said.
"We are seeing a decrease in the stress tolerance of these corals," Cantin added in a statement.
"This is the first time the Great Barrier Reef has not had a few years between bleaching events to recover.
"Many coral species appear to be more susceptible to bleaching after more than 12 months of sustained above-average ocean temperatures."

'Fight climate change'
Bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, such as warmer sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, draining them of their color. Corals can recover if the water temperature drops and the algae are able to recolonize them. But researchers said in January coral reefs which survive rapid bleaching fuelled by global warming would remain deeply damaged with little prospect of full recovery. The Barrier Reef -- already under pressure from farming run-off, development and the crown-of-thorns starfish -- escaped with minor damage after two other bleaching events in 1998 and 2002.
Conservation group WWF-Australia said Friday the latest bleaching increased the urgency of tackling climate change in Australia, one of the world's worst per capita greenhouse gas polluters.
"I did not anticipate back-to-back bleaching this decade," WWF-Australia's oceans division head Richard Leck said.
"Scientists warned that without sufficient emissions reductions we could expect annual mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef by 2050. Consecutive bleaching events have arrived 30 years early."
Advocacy group the Australian Marine Conservation Society added Friday that the construction of a mega India-backed coal project near the reef should be abandoned as it would put further pressure on the natural wonder. The reef scientists plan to conduct further surveys over the next few weeks to determine the extent and severity of the bleaching.
Canberra in 2015 narrowly avoided UNESCO putting the reef on its endangered list, and has committed more than Aus$2.0 billion (US$1.5 billion) to protect it over the next decade. Nearly two-thirds of shallow-water corals in a 700-kilometre stretch of the reef's northern section were lost to last year's bleaching event.