Scientists warn thawing soil could suddenly unleash deadly pathogens unseen in centuries

May 8, 2017 by  
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Humans have fought viruses for centuries. We struck a temporary winning blow with the discovery of penicillin, but now we’re watching bacteria develop antibiotic resistance . But what if we were exposed to viruses that have been dormant for millennia? As climate change melts permafrost , the frozen soil could suddenly release ancient, deadly bacteria and viruses that humanity hasn’t had to deal with for thousands of years. 2016 saw a case of an illness trapped inside ice being released to harm people . A 12-year-old boy died and around 20 people were hospitalized with anthrax in August 2016 in the Siberian tundra. Researchers think the anthrax came from a reindeer that died more than 75 years ago and was trapped under permafrost, but when that permafrost thawed in a 2016 heat wave, the anthrax was released. And researchers fear this may not be the last time such an event occurs. Related: Dramatic disintegration of Canada permafrost threatens huge carbon release Jean-Michel Claverie, an evolutionary biologist at France’s Aix-Marseille University, told the BBC, “Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark. Pathogenic viruses that can infect humans or animals might be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused global epidemics in the past.” Over a million reindeer perished due to anthrax in the early 20th century. Most of their carcasses rest near the surface in 7,000 burial grounds in Russia. But even more than the anthrax, researchers fear other diseases that might be lurking in the permafrost. Scientists found pieces of RNA from the Spanish flu in bodies buried in the Alaskan tundra in mass graves. They think the bubonic plague and smallpox could hide in Siberian permafrost. But some bacteria won’t come back to life. So some people argue we should be more concerned about threats we know for sure climate change will unleash. Claverie says there’s a non-zero probability dormant microbes could come back to life and harm us. He told the BBC, “How likely that is is not known, but it’s a possibility. It could be bacteria that are curable with antibiotics, or resistant bacteria, or a virus. If the pathogen hasn’t been in contact with humans for a long time, then our immune system would not be prepared.” Via the BBC Images via NPS Climate Change Response on Flickr and Pixabay

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Scientists warn thawing soil could suddenly unleash deadly pathogens unseen in centuries

World officials entreat Trump to stay in Paris agreement

May 8, 2017 by  
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President Donald Trump’s policies don’t just impact the United States. As climate change grows increasingly dangerous, executive orders on the Clean Power Plan and fossil fuel development in a top greenhouse gas-producing country have consequences for other countries as well. The Guardian spoke with world leaders, some of whom were involved in the 2015 Paris climate deal , who agree it would be disastrous if Trump were to pull America out of the historic agreement. Trump threatened to pull out of the Paris agreement on the campaign trail, and has yet to follow through. But he’s taken shots at the environment anyway, by rolling back pollution rules including Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. He could make a decision on the agreement as soon as this week, and former Brazilian environment minister Izabella Teixeira, instrumental in Paris, said the situation reminds her of when George W. Bush pulled away from Kyoto protocol. Related: ExxonMobil exhorts White House to keep Paris agreement Former head of climate policy in Uruguay Ramón Méndez, who was present in Paris in 2015, said it was an extraordinarily strong shock to hear of Trump rolling back the Clean Power Plan. He said of all the policies the president has pursued, this one holds the worst consequences for the rest of the world. He also told The Guardian if the U.S. leaves the Paris agreement, “it will make it harder for other countries to maintain their ambitions.” Trump advisers reportedly can’t decide if pulling out of the agreement would be worth the diplomatic fallout sure to follow. But United Nations environment chief Erik Solheim pointed to an economic fallout as well. He told Reuters , “The future is green. Obviously if you are not a party to the Paris agreement, you will lose out. And the main losers of course will be the people of the United States itself because all the interesting, fascinating new green jobs would go to China and to the other parts of the world that are investing heavily in this.” Even if Trump doesn’t back out of the agreement, he still needs to take action. Peking University expert Zhang Haibin told The Guardian the president could pursue a semi-withdrawal instead: “I think the greater likelihood is that Trump will end up not pulling out of the pact but instead adopting a passive approach towards it [and] meeting none of its commitments.” Via The Guardian Images via Wikimedia Commons and Michael Vadon on Flickr

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ExxonMobil wants a sanctions waiver for Russian oil project

April 20, 2017 by  
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The United States imposed sanctions on Russia back in 2014 after Moscow annexed Crimea. But it appears oil giant ExxonMobil would like an exception for their own profit. They’re seeking a sanctions waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department to pursue drilling in the Black Sea with Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft . It seems U.S. sanctions are just too inconvenient for ExxonMobil . Apparently they sent in their waiver application when Barack Obama was president, and did not drop it once Donald Trump entered office. The application didn’t come up during Senate hearings for former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson before he was confirmed as Secretary of State. Tillerson and other ExxonMobil officials then said they hadn’t lobbied against the sanctions on Russia. Related: Americans don’t trust climate change science because of fossil fuel industry’s disinformation Tillerson and the officials said ExxonMobil did receive a waiver to finish drilling an exploration well in Arctic waters near Russia. ExxonMobil officials also said they’d exhorted members of the Obama administration to align U.S. sanctions with European sanctions which allowed some flexibility for European companies to continue working on Russian projects. The Wall Street Journal first reported on ExxonMobil’s sanctions waiver request yesterday, and The New York Times confirmed the story with an oil industry official. An ExxonMobil spokesperson refused to comment to The New York Times on the waiver application. The application will go before the Trump administration at a tenuous time, as an inquiry into Russia’s potential influence on the American presidential election continues. At a 2014 Exxon annual meeting, Tillerson as CEO said, “We do not support sanctions, generally, because we don’t find them to be effective unless they are very well implemented comprehensively, and that’s a very hard thing to do.” But as Secretary of State he has not suggested sanctions be lifted. Rosneft and Exxon made a deal back in 2011 to invest $3.2 billion to explore the Black Sea and the Arctic Ocean, with the pledge to share in the findings if oil were discovered. Obama’s U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael A. McFaul, said on Twitter , “If the Trump administration approves this waiver, then all that tough talk last week about Russia was just that – talk.” Via The New York Times Images via Wikimedia Commons and President of Russia

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ExxonMobil wants a sanctions waiver for Russian oil project

Researchers discover 14,000-year-old Canadian village, one of North America’s oldest

April 13, 2017 by  
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The discovery of a 14,000-year-old ancient village in Canada could forever alter our understanding of early civilization in North America. Researchers estimate the settlement is way older than the Giza pyramids, and have found artifacts dating all the way back to the Ice Age . The village is one of the oldest human settlements we’ve ever uncovered in North America – and lines up with the oral history of the Heiltsuk Nation. Researchers from the Hakai Institute and University of Victoria , with local First Nations members, unearthed revealing artifacts on Triquet Island, around 310 miles northwest of Victoria, Canada. They’ve found fish hooks, spears, and tools to ignite fires. Thanks to the discovery of the ancient village last year, researchers now think a massive human migration may have happened along British Columbia’s coastline. Related: World’s oldest fossils discovered in Canada – and they’re 4 billion years old According to IFL Science, archaeologists once thought humans might arrived in North America via a land bridge between Russia and Alaska, and then moved forward on foot. But the recent discovery suggests people moved down the coast possibly in boats instead; the coastal route likely came before the inland route. University of Victoria PhD student Alisha Gauvreau, who was part of the excavation, told CTV News Vancouver Island, “I remember when we get [sic] the dates back and we just kind of sat there going, holy moly, this is old. What this is doing is just changing our idea of the way in which North America was first peopled.” The find fits right in with the oral history of a First Nations government in British Columbia, the Heiltsuk Nation. For generations they’ve told stories of ancient coastal villages. William Housty of Heiltsuk Nation told CTV News Vancouver Island, “To think about how these stories survived all of that, only to be supported by this archaeological evidence is just amazing.” Via CTV News Vancouver Island , The Independent , and IFL Science Images via screenshot and Hakai Institute Twitter

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Russian ice skating rink doubles as a solar-powered outdoor cinema and geothermal spa

March 27, 2017 by  
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This solar-powered ice skating rink for a natural lake in the Kamchatka peninsula, Russia, is designed to double as an outdoor cinema and natural geothermal spa. Photovoltaic panels and geothermal turbines provide enough energy to keep the lake at frozen temperatures, power the cinema and LED lighting , and still pump excess energy back into the grid. Margot Krasojevi? Architects designed the project as a fully self-sufficient multi-use structure that reflects the fluid nature of its immediate environment. Surrounded by hot springs and scenic routes amidst a volcanic terrain, the lake stays frozen during winter months. The architects introduced solar panels to generate enough electrical current that keeps it frozen in warmer weather and during ice hockey tournaments. A sequence of cedar wood sections partly surround the ice rank, while a canopy with attached solar panels holds the lighting and cinema projection outlets. Related: BIG Unveils A Green-Roofed Ice Hockey Rink That Is Downright Cool When it’s not used as an ice skating rink, the project turns into an outdoor cinema with foldable seating – keeping the project flexible. A biodegradable LED net shelters the area of the lake and provides light and charging stations during the evening. + Margot Krasojevi? Architects Via v2com

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Norway wants to give Finland a mountaintop for its birthday

January 26, 2017 by  
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What do you give the country that has everything? The peak of a 4,500-foot mountain, naturally. As U.S. President Donald Trump continues to spew protectionist invective about walls both literal and figurative, the good people of Norway want to ring in Finland’s 100th anniversary of independence from Russia by giving it the top of Mount Halti, a feat of topography that would require the country to nudge its border 130 feet up the mountainside. Bjørn Geirr Harsson, a retired Norwegian geophysicist, arrived at the idea during gravity survey back in 1972. “I saw that the highest point in Finland was on a hillside and for Norway on a mountain, so I wrote a letter to the foreign ministry and proposed that a gift from the Norwegian people to Finland should be a mountaintop,” he said in Battle for Birthday Mountain , a new film about the proposed gift, and the legal and political debates it has generated in its wake. “All over the world you find countries that fight or make war to enlarge their countries, but in this case Norway is willing to give away a small part without anyone asking for anything return,” Geirr Harsson said. “It is a gift from the heart of the Norwegians to Finland so we don’t expect anything back; we just want to give them something really nice when they celebrate 100 years as a free nation.” Despite the idea’s widespread popularity—a Facebook group about the unusual present has rallied more than 17,000 likes—proponents of the idea face an uphill climb, so to speak. Norway’s constitution, as Prime Minister Erna Solberg notes in the film, stipulates that the country should remain “indivisible and inalienable,” meaning it can’t go around parceling out parts of its territory. “This creative proposal has received a very positive response from the public,” she said in October. “I welcome this and I see a clear sign that Norway and Finland have a close relationship,” adding that “the alteration of borders between countries causes too many judicial problems that could affect, for example, the Constitution.” Related: Norwegian Mountaineering Centre mimics a dramatic snow-covered mountain “We will think of another worthy gift to celebrate the occasion of [the] Finland centenary,” Solberg added. Despite the rejection, Geirr Harsson is not giving up, and neither are his supporters. “While we witness the rising tumult along international borders – from Ukraine and Russia, to the South China Sea, to Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico – the idea behind Birthday Mountain is a rare international gesture worth admiring,” David Freid, the film’s director, told The Local . “On the surface, this is a cute film about a very unique kind of gift between nations. But at its heart is something real and relevant.” Via the Independent

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Norway wants to give Finland a mountaintop for its birthday

FBI investigates claims Russia has information compromising Trump

January 11, 2017 by  
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The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating allegations that Russian agents possess compromising financial and personal information about President-elect Donald Trump , reports CNN . The news organization said memos providing the classified information haven’t been “independently corroborated,” but it appears the FBI was at least aware of such damaging allegations before the United States election. Trump, President Obama , and eight members of Congress reportedly received a two-page summary on the allegations that also included claims Trump surrogates exchanged information with Russian government intermediaries during Trump’s campaign. The two-page summary was compiled mainly from memos prepared by a former British intelligence agent. U.S. intelligence officials believe past work from this agent is credible. The FBI will now delve into the accuracy and credibility of the allegations from the memos, which contain information coming from Russian sources, but CNN notes “many essential details” in the memos have not yet been confirmed. Although Buzzfeed published the memos, CNN did not. Related: Trump calls for more nuclear weapons in alarming new tweet The former British agent, who during the 1990’s was posted to Russia, now operates his own private intelligence firm. CNN reports donors and groups backing Republican opposition to Trump initially funded the former agent’s investigations into the President-elect. After Trump nabbed the Republication nomination, donors and groups backing Hillary Clinton funded further investigations. It appears the FBI knew about the compromising memos during the summer; the former British agent gave memos to an FBI official in August 2016 in Rome, reports CNN. The news organization also said Senator John McCain delivered memos dated from June to December 2016 to FBI Director James Comey on December 9. FBI and Director of National Intelligence spokespersons did not comment. CNN said officials they talked with spoke off the record as the information is classified. Senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said on Late Night with Seth Meyers that the memos are untrue. And predictably, Trump ranted on Twitter about “fake news.” Via CNN Images via Gage Skidmore on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Former industrial district in Finland to be transformed into an eco-friendly innovation hub

January 11, 2017 by  
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The Finnish city of Tampere just declared Schauman & Norgren Architects and Mandaworks the winners of an international competition for the redesign of Hiedanranta, a former industrial district. The 250-hectare masterplan, named Hiedanranta Innovation Bay, prescribes carbon neutral development to deal with the rapidly growing population. The design will be sensitive to the site’s industrial heritage and the natural lakeshore environment. Located northwest of the city of Tampere, Hiedanranta Innovation Bay will house 25,000 new residents and 10,000 new jobs created around a circular economy . Schauman & Norgren Architects and Mandaworks organized the area around two urban grids and divided the land into six diverse and productive neighborhoods. The neighborhoods will be connected by two major corridors—a north-south “innovation corridor” and an east-west “recreation corridor”—complemented with a cohesive landscape design integrated with passive stormwater management and habitat cultivation. Major civic buildings as well as manufacturing facilities and the innovation campus will line the innovation corridor, whereas the recreation corridor is defined by water elements such as the harbor and a grand canal. Related: Reykjavik announces plans to be carbon neutral by 2040 Public transportation and non-vehicular transport are prioritized in the masterplan. Two tram lines will crisscross the development, while cycle and pedestrian routes will make it easy for residents to move between neighborhoods. The masterplan will be installed in three phases, from 2025 to 2045. “Embracing the circular economy and creative potential of Tampere, the masterplan catalyses innovation, embraces the future of smart manufacturing and creates a robust platform for public life. Hiedanranta Innovation Bay embraces the site’s industrial character and builds upon its foundation to create an urban district that supports new technologies, emerging business trends and local energy production ,” says Patrick Verhoeven, partner in charge of Mandaworks. + Schauman & Norgren Architects + Mandaworks Images via Schauman & Norgren Architects

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Former industrial district in Finland to be transformed into an eco-friendly innovation hub

New project could see UK electric trains powered by off-grid solar

January 11, 2017 by  
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In what’s being hailed as a “completely unique” idea that could have “wide impact with commercial applications on electrified rail networks all over the world,” a new project in the UK could see electric trains powered by trackside solar panels that work independently from the main power grid. The Guardian reports that Imperial College London has teamed up with climate change charity 10:10 to look into using trackside solar panels to power trains. As part of the project, researchers will investigate connecting solar panels directly to power lines that supply trains, in an effort to bypass the larger power grid and more efficiently manage power demand from trains. Along with the aforementioned worldwide commercial applications, Imperial College said in a statement that if the research is successful, it would “also open up thousands of new sites to small and medium-scale renewable developments by removing the need to connect to the grid. Related: Wind power now runs all electric passenger trains in the Netherlands The Guardian notes that state-owned Network Rail is already investing billions of dollars toward electrifying railways in the UK, in an effort to get rid of polluting trains that run on diesel fuel. According to 10:10, this effort, combined with the growing production of renewable power in the country could add up to significantly less carbon emissions by 2050. As many trains in the country run through rural areas where the electricity grid is tough to access, the plan to power trains with solar panels not connected to the grid could have widespread applications. The project’s first goal is to look at the feasibility of converting “third rail systems” that supply electricity through power lines close to the ground, which are used on about one third of the country’s tracks. “I don’t think you get a better fit for PPA than a train line,” said Leo Murray of 10:10. “A rural train line even more so, the project would open up many investment opportunities across the country and further afield.” Via The Guardian Images via Sunil060902 and Siemens UK

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Russia investigating men who brutally ran over a bear with heavy trucks

December 29, 2016 by  
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Russia has launched a criminal investigation after a horrifying YouTube video showed men in Siberia driving heavy duty trucks over a brown bear . One man can be heard yelling for the others to crush the poor animal . Many people are outraged over their atrocious treatment of the bear that ultimately led to its death, and Russia’s environment minister is now calling for tough punishment for the “villains.” In the appalling YouTube video, men ran over the bear in off-road trucks typically operated by mining and oil workers. The video, which looked as it it was filmed on a cell phone, showed the men driving trucks over the bear several times in the snow, as one man yelled “Squash him! Squash him!” The words “It’s still alive,” could be heard as the men prodded the animal using a metal rod, while it struggled to escape before it perished. Related: Tigers punched for fun at horrifying “sanctuaries” in China The video has since been taken down, but the crime is too enormous to be forgotten. Russian investigators in Yakutia, a northern region of the country, opened a criminal inquiry. They said the men work for a mineral prospecting company, and they could face up to two years in jail due to sadistic treatment of the animal. Russian media reported on the sickening video, sparking anger from the public. Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Sergei Donskoi posted on social media, “There should be real jail time for this sort of crime! We’ll make sure these villains get the most serious punishment.” According to The Guardian , people working in the oil and mining industries in Siberia come into conflict more often with animals – including bears, which can be dangerous. People in this area of the world are legally allowed to shoot bears if they don’t go into hibernation and wander near villages or towns. But that can never excuse the way these men cruelly treated the bear. Via The Guardian Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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