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US Clean Power Plan Setback ‘Will Not Affect Paris Climate Change Deal’

Politicians, campaigners from other countries rally to support President Obama after Supreme Court puts landmark climate plan on hold

The US commitment to cutting carbon emissions under the landmark Paris agreement remains unaffected by the setback delivered to President Obama’s climate plans by the country’s supreme court, the White House has said.

Photo of Coal-Fired Power PlantPhoto by Robert S. Donovan The Supreme Court put a temporary freeze on new rules to clean up coal-fired power plants.

Politicians, businesses and green campaigners from other countries rallied to the support of the president after the US supreme court put a temporary freeze on new rules to clean up coal-fired power plants, the centerpiece of Obama’s climate plan. They insisted that the Paris commitments on tackling emissions would be enforced.

Miguel Arias Canete, the EU’s climate change commissioner, said: “We have confidence in all countries to deliver on what they promised. The EU will continue to lead by example and enshrine its targets into law. I will meet the US climate envoy Todd Stern next week in Brussels and hope to better understand the potential implications of the court decision.”

Lord Stern, one of the world’s foremost economists on climate change, said: “It is perhaps no surprise that vested interests have united against the Clean Power Plan.”

He warned: “We have to recognize that delay is dangerous and faltering by the US risks being amplified elsewhere. While this is a setback, it does not change the profound attractiveness to the United States of the transition to low-carbon economic growth, and a world that is cleaner, safer and more prosperous.” 

Bas Eickhout, spokesman for the European Green MEPs, said: “This is unexpected but does not change the growing global momentum to shift away from fossil fuels. The US administration played an important role in the Paris deal and it is clear they will want to continue with their implementation of the clean energy plan.”

President Obama’s strong stance on climate change had “rightly won support internationally,” added Lisa Nandy, the UK’s shadow energy and climate secretary. “There is such strong public support within the US for Obama’s efforts on climate change that I think this ruling will prove to be only a very temporary issue. The Supreme Court has already upheld the authority of America’s Environmental Protection Agency to limit carbon from power stations.”

Under the proposed “Clean Power Plan” rules, the …more

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Preserving the Night

Across the world, Dark Sky reserves help ensure a bright future for astronomical research

At night, the forest whispered its secrets. An elaborate outdoor holographic production billed as “Foresta Lumina” (lighted forest) brought dead trees back to life and played tricks on the humans passing by. In Quebec Province’s Eastern Townships, I hiked on the night-illuminated forest pathway past massive rock walls through clusters of glowing, Stonehenge-like cairns. All the while, the tree canopy lit from the underside in a red and green pinpoint pattern directed my gaze upward. Although I was perfectly safe, I realized that ancient peoples feared and respected the night. Attributing events in their lives to occult forces beyond their control, they spent centuries trying to light the dark.

Photo of Mont MeganticPhoto by O. TaillonThe Astronomical Observatory in Mont Megantic National Park. Mont Megantic became the world’s first Dark Sky Reserve in 2007.

But now there is too much of a good thing.

At the eastern end of the province’s border with New Hampshire and Maine, I drove the winding, steep road of Mont Megantic National Park to the top. The summit is the site of two celestial observatories. The Astronomical Observatory is the larger of the two facilities and is reserved for scientific research. On the building’s facade, I paused at a photographic display of the astounding changes that the night sky had undergone from artificial light in relatively few years. A short distance down a wooded trail, the Popular Observatory is open to the public and used for park service interpretive programs. Here I met science communicator Remi Boucher a few hours later for the evening program.

As the thin clouds dissipated and a nearly full moon rose above the trees, the domed top of the observatory whirred and spun around like a giant cousin of R2D2 in Star Wars. Other than the twinkling stars slowly appearing in the sky, there wasn’t a single light visible on the expansive horizon. It was obvious why this mountaintop location was chosen for building an observatory. But it hadn’t always been so dark — just two decades earlier, there had been trouble brewing in galactic paradise as stars appeared to be dimming. 

“Toward the end of the 90s, scientific observations began to show a measurable increase in light interference,” Boucher said. “We wanted to make sure Mont Megantic remained a good observatory.”

Boucher …more

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Catch of the Week

Community-supported fisheries bring the benefits of community-supported agriculture to the seas

Mark Tognazzini has been fishing his whole life. On California’s Central Coast, fishing is a tradition. He got involved with Central Coast Catch, the first community-supported fishery (CSF) on the entire US West Coast, five years ago. It’s not making him any money, but he’s committed to the principle of connecting consumers with the fish they eat.

fishermen chatting on a docked boatPhoto by Real Good FishFisherman Stan Bruno, founder and CEO of Real Good Fish Alan Lovewell, and fisherman Jerry Foster in the foreground.

Community-supported fisheries are based on the same idea as community-supported agriculture (CSA). Instead of buying as a typical consumer, CSA customers sign up as shareholders in the farm, paying a lump sum in advance and receiving a box of produce weekly over the course of the farm season. Similarly, a community-supported fishery pays the fishermen, and customers get a share of the catch each week.

The advantages to the fisherman or farmer include having a reliable income in an unpredictable business and being closer to customers, which helps them understand their customers’ interests and preferences. The advantages to the consumer include getting fresher food, being part of the local economy, getting to know local producers, and learning about different kinds of seafood.

Pioneer Believers

“You have to believe in the principle,” Mark Tognazzini said in a recent interview at one of his three restaurants in Morro Bay, California. Most of Morro Bay’s fishermen are one- or two-person operations. Mark fishes alone on his 38-foot fishing vessel, the Bonnie Marietta, and buys and brokers fish for other fishermen. These days, he confines his fishing to albacore and salmon, chartering the boat out to other marine projects. In September, he brought scientists out past Piedras Blancas, north of Morro Bay, to place a buoy in the water to track great white sharks.

When Margie Hurd started Central Coast Catch in 2010, Mark was the only fisherman who signed on to supply fish. No one else was interested. Most thought the idea wouldn’t even work. Hurd set prices low, $12 a week for a one-pound full share or $6.25 a week for a half-pound half-share, and signed up the first members. Five years later, membership has risen to about 100, while Mark is still the CSF’s only fisherman.

Know your fisherman, value …more

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The Risks of Digital Delusion

Despite the online world, civilization is still subject to physical laws

A friend of mine recently related an amusing story: he was walking down a city street one day when a young man accosted him, in obvious distress. The youth thrust forward his face, pried open his bloody mouth with his fingers and asked my friend to look at his teeth. My friend, somewhat taken aback but unable to refuse, took a look and replied, “your left front tooth is badly chipped. You need to see a dentist immediately.” The youth sheepishly explained that he had had an accident. He had been looking at his smartphone while walking down the sidewalk, and had walked directly into a metal pole.

Connected and Alone, Plate IIphoto by Almond Butterscotch, on FlickrOur digital preoccupations do not operate outside of or transcend the physical world.

The story brought to mind an advertisement I had seen on a city bus. The ad was for a digital marketing agency, and read, in large, bold letters “Because we live in an online world.” It is a common slogan, and not just in advertising. Our lives these days are increasingly conducted online – from entertainment to business, education, and political activism. We are compelled to keep up with the newest apps, get on the hottest new social media platform, and adopt the latest software upgrades for our families, our work and our schools, because, we are told repeatedly, “we live in an online world.”

But is this actually true? The answer, of course, depends on what we mean by “world.” It can mean the physical world as described by the physical sciences and includes things like gravity, mitosis, photosynthesis, and plate tectonics. But it can also refer to the human cultural constructions that constitute our social institutions and practices. The “world of the ancient Greeks” in the second sense was radically different from ours – so much so that we could say they lived in a “different world”– but not in the first sense. The ancient Greeks inhabited the same physical world we do; the same physical laws applied then as they do now. The ancient Greek philosopher Thales reportedly fell down a well while contemplating the night sky. He was in his own “world,” so to speak, but gravity asserted itself and interrupted. Similarly, the limit of the socially constructed “world” …more

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Grain by Grain, Truck by Truck: How Myanmar Is Losing its Beaches

Booming construction fuels sand mining, threatens coastal environment and tourism

Around every corner waits a new truck. Workers dig their shovels into the powdery white sand of Myanmar’s Ngapali beach, the country’s top seaside destination, and lift it onto the truck beds. Vast craters dot the coastline. Many are bigger than the swimming pools of the nearby luxury hotels.

Photo of Ngapali sand miningPhoto by Denise Hruby A booming construction industry is fueling illegal sand mining in Ngapali, Myanmar.

As a main ingredient of cement, sand is a vital component in almost any construction, whether that of a skyscraper or a middle-class home, a countryside road or a vast bridge. But the resource is finite, and as construction booms in Myanmar and across Asia, the industry has fuelled the illegal mining of sand — with harsh implications for Myanmar’s environment and burgeoning tourism industry.

Myanmar was ruled by a brutal military junta for decades. Few tourists ventured to Southeast Asia's most impoverished nation, and even fewer made it to Ngapali, nestled in the remote Rakhine state in western Myanmar. Up until 2011, fewer than 1 million international visitors (including business travelers and tourists) arrived in Myanmar each year. Then, the junta opened up the country and began to make way for a civilian government. International arrivals are now estimated around 5 million annually.

Ngapali is still the secluded, pristine paradise for which Western tourists yearn. The beaches are white, the seafood fresh, and the coconuts meaty. Clamoring beach vendors are as hard to come by as a cell phone signal. But with the arrival of international tourism, hotel numbers have more than doubled since 2012. Construction is booming, and sand, mostly taken straight from the local beaches, is urgently needed. The sand on Ngapali's beach has become a free-for-all.

Few have thought about the implications of mining beach sand. But Oliver E. Soe Thet, a rotund German who's adopted a Burmese name and who used to serve as an environmental advisor to the junta government, is fully aware of the environmental toll. He now documents the depletion of the beach in Ngapali.

The waterline has already started to recede due to the disappearing sand, says Thet. In the evenings, the high tide comes in closer than before, causing erosion and decreasing protection from the storm surges common to this area. Moreover, …more

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FBI Joins EPA in Investigating Flint Water Crisis for Criminal Violations

FBI spokeswoman says agency’s role is ‘investigating the matter to determine if there have been any federal violations’ in lead contamination of drinking water

The FBI is working with a multi-agency team investigating the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water, alongside Environmental Protection Agency investigators who can tackle criminal violations of federal environmental law, officials said on Tuesday.

photo of people listening in a meetingcourtesy of Flint Water StudyThe Michigan civil rights commission plans to hold hearings to explore whether the civil rights of Flint residents were violated.

Also on Tuesday, it was announced that Darnell Early, the state-appointed emergency manager for Flint when its water source was switched, will leave his current role in Detroit’s troubled school district four-and-a-half months early.

A slew of local, state and federal officials have resigned since doctors revealed last year that using the Flint River for the city’s drinking water supply caused elevated levels of lead in some children’s blood. Lead contamination has been linked to learning disabilities and other problems. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, has apologized repeatedly for the state’s role.

FBI spokeswoman Jill Washburn told the AP in an email that the agency’s role is "investigating the matter to determine if there have been any federal violations." She declined to say when the FBI got involved.

Officials haven’t said whether criminal or civil charges might follow the investigation.

In addition to the FBI and the EPA, the team includes the US postal inspection service, Gina Balaya, a US attorney’s spokeswoman in Detroit, told the Associated Press in an email. The Detroit Free Press first reported the FBI’s involvement on Tuesday.

In November, the EPA announced it was auditing how Michigan enforces drinking water rules and said it would identify how to strengthen state oversight. The US attorney’s office in Detroit said in January that it was investigating the water crisis with the EPA.

The federal investigation is one of several taking place into Flint’s water supply. Last month, Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette announced the appointment of a special counsel to help his office investigate whether laws were broken.

An independent panel appointed by Snyder has determined that the Michigan department of environmental quality was primarily responsible for the water contamination. The Michigan civil rights commission also plans to hold hearings to explore whether the civil rights of Flint residents were violated.

Earley notified Snyder of his decision on Tuesday and said he had completed work ahead …more

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The Fight to Legalize Ferrets in California

Advocates push to overturn state ferret ban, argue pets don't pose threat to wildlife

Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park was packed, gray-haired hippies in tie-dye swaying to a Grateful Dead tribute band, the scent of marijuana heavy in the air. Tents around the perimeter peddled food, jewelry and the like — but one tent was a little different.

Photo of FerretPhoto by LynahePossession of ferrets has been illegal in California since 1933.

Three women stood gathering signatures, selling t-shirts and buttons with slogans like “Occupy California” and “Enemy of the State.” Each item featured a small weasel-like creature, the furry emblems of their cause: to quote from another button, “Free the fucking ferrets.”

Importation and possession of Mustela putorius furo has been illegal in California since 1933, though ferrets are allowed in zoos and research labs. This ban is driven primarily by fear that escaped ferrets would prey on native birds and other small animals. After years of unsuccessful government lobbying, these three activists and others like them are petitioning to put ferrets on the November 2016 ballot.

Perhaps the closest to success the legalization movement has come in three decades of advocacy was Senate Bill 89, which made it through the legislature onto then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk in 2004. The bill proposed amnesty to ferrets already in the state — no small number, estimates ranging wildly from 30,000 to one million — on the condition they were vaccinated for rabies and sterilized. SB 89 would also have allocated funds towards an environmental impact report (EIR) to determine the ecological consequences of legalization.

Schwarzenegger terminated the bill. “I love ferrets,” he wrote in his official veto message. “I co-starred with a ferret in ‘Kindergarten Cop.’” But he found the bill “too bureaucratic,” and believed such action should not be taken without conducting an EIR first.

No EIR is required to put a ferret measure in front of California voters, but a spot on the ballot must be earned through other means: 365,880 signatures. (A quarter of that number would at least guarantee a hearing in the state legislature). The ferret legalization initiative estimates it has collected around 10,000 signatures so far, and campaigners say they have until February 9 to close the gap. While they admitted that’s a long shot, advocates said their primary goal has been to build awareness.

The Golden State …more

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