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TWP: Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

TWP: Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

After millions of years of gloriously successful life on Earth, a dangerous new organism arose and spread rapidly across the planet. Mankind? No. Two billion years ago the delinquent organisms were cyanobacteria, the first photosynthetic life forms to give off pure oxygen gas, a chemical deadly to all extant organisms. There may be surprising parallels between the, eventually positive, cyanobacteria impact 2 billion years ago and human impact today. Human beings too are a self-inflicted biosphere disaster in progress, but, in the extremely long-term, we could be just what the planet needs. We have much to learn before we become guardians rather than despoilers of Earth. If our destiny is to safeguard life’s future, it’s time our apprenticeship began.

NYT: Starkest Warning Yet

NYT: Starkest Warning Yet

The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report. In the starkest language the IPCC has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.

DS: The Zombie System

DS: The Zombie System

Six years after the Lehman disaster, the industrialized world is suffering from Japan Syndrome. Growth is minimal, another crash may be brewing and the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen. Can the global economy reinvent itself?

PS: China’s Silk Road Revival

PS: China’s Silk Road Revival

The phrase “Silk Road” evokes a romantic image – half history, half myth – of tented camel caravans winding their way across the trackless deserts and mountains of Central Asia. But the Silk Road is not just part of a fabled past; it is an important feature of China’s current foreign policy.

MJ: Bee-Killing Pesticides Useless

MJ: Bee-Killing Pesticides Useless

So, there’s this widely used class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids that have emerged as a prime suspect in honeybee collapse, and may also be harming birds and water-borne critters. But at least they provide benefits to farmers, right? Well, not soybean farmers, according to a blunt economic assessment released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

TG: The Truth About Evil

TG: The Truth About Evil

Liberal meliorists like to think that human life contains many things that are bad, some of which may never be entirely eliminated; but there is nothing that is intrinsically destructive or malevolent in human beings themselves – nothing, in other words, that corresponds to a traditional idea of evil. But another view is possible, and one that need make no call on theology. What has been described as evil in the past can be understood as a natural tendency to animosity and destruction, co-existing in human beings alongside tendencies to sympathy and cooperation.

HP: Homer Describing Big Oil

HP: Homer Describing Big Oil

The dangers of climate change have grown and become palpable in myriad ways but nations have made little progress. In fact, having put the car in reverse, they are accelerating in the wrong direction. The planet has a big problem. I’m here to argue that divestment from fossil fuel companies is an important strategy for fiduciaries of all types to pursue. Divestment by any group, but particularly by thought leaders such as those responsible for public pension funds, helps to stigmatize the oil, gas and coal giants as repugnant social pariahs and rogue political forces bent on profit at whatever cost to the planet and its people.

BI: Climate Change and CA Drought

BI: Climate Change and CA Drought

It is clear that the current drought event in California is an extreme event, and that it is resulting from a complex confluence of interacting climatic conditions. And it is also clear, given the dramatic and far-reaching impacts, that effective management of climate-related risks requires rigorous, objective assessment of the probability of this kind of extreme event in the current climate.

WWF: Half of Global Wildlife Lost

WWF: Half of Global Wildlife Lost

Between 1970 and 2010 populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish around the globe dropped 52 percent, says the 2014 Living Planet Report released today by World Wildlife Fund. This biodiversity loss occurs disproportionately in low-income countries—and correlates with the increasing resource use of high-income countries. The report’s data also point to other warning signs about the overall health of the planet.

BBC: One Third US Birds in Decline

BBC: One Third US Birds in Decline

The State of the Birds report, the most comprehensive review of bird trends and data ever undertaken in the US, makes clear that birds across the US are in deep trouble. Almost half of all shorebird species, such as ruddy turnstones, red knots and piping plovers, are either endangered or at risk of becoming endangered. In Hawaii the situation is even worse. “Hawaii is the extinction capital of the world,” says Pete Marra, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center.

NG: The 1,300 Bird Species Facing Extinction Signal Threats to Human Health

NG: The 1,300 Bird Species Facing Extinction Signal Threats to Human Health

For all their superhero powers, birds are in trouble. Globally, one in eight—more than 1,300 species—are threatened with extinction, and many others are in worrying decline, from the tropics to the poles. Much of their decline is driven by the loss of places to live and breed—their marshes, rivers, forests, and plains—or by diminished food supply. But more and more these days, the birds are telling us about new threats to the environment and potentially to human health in the coded language of biochemistry. Birds provide the starkest clues in the animal kingdom about whether humans, too, may be harmed by toxic substances. And they prophesy what might happen to us as the load of carbon-based, planet-warming gases in the atmosphere and oceans climbs ever higher.

NYT: A New Life for Refugees

NYT: A New Life for Refugees

Harsh winters have been one of the challenges of living in Utica, an old manufacturing city in upstate New York, for Sadia and her family, members of the Somali Bantu tribe. They arrived here from a Kenyan refugee camp almost a decade ago after a stint in St. Louis. Sadia’s family belongs to the Mudey clan and over 100 extended family members live within blocks of one another. Family ties are everything, yet Sadia and her sisters have stitched together American and Somali Bantu identities. This might seem like an unexpected corner of America to plant roots for Somali Bantus who have fled persecution, but in fact they are part of a remarkable story: the evolution of Utica into a city of refugees. A large concentration of immigrants who have come here seeking sanctuary, including Vietnamese, Bosnians and Burmese, have transformed this once-fading industrial town.

MJ: General Mills and Climate Change

MJ: General Mills and Climate Change

A few months ago, the international food manufacturing giant General Mills was branded a “clear laggard” by climate activists for not doing enough to cut its carbon footprint. Today, Oxfam International is claiming big victory: General Mills has released a new set of climate policies that Oxfam says makes it “the first major food and beverage company to promise to implement long-term science-based targets to cut emissions.”

NYT: Bee Colony Collapse

NYT: Bee Colony Collapse

Around the world, honeybee colonies are dying in huge numbers: About one-third of hives collapse each year, a pattern going back a decade. For bees and the plants they pollinate this is a catastrophe. But in the midst of crisis can come learning. Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society.

MIT: Forget the Wisdom of Crowds

MIT: Forget the Wisdom of Crowds

In recent years, researchers have spent a significant amount of time and effort teasing apart the factors that make crowds stupid. It turns out that if a crowd offers a wide range of independent estimates, then it is more likely to be wise. But if members of the crowd are influenced in the same way, for example by each other or by some external factor, then they tend to converge on a biased estimate. In this case, the crowd is likely to be stupid. Separating the more strongly influenced people from the independent thinkers creates two different groups and the group of independent thinkers is more likely to give a wise estimate. The research highlights the way bias can destroy the wisdom of a crowd, how that problem can be solved, but the possibilities for its application in the real world can be a little frightening.

AJA: Clintons’ Web of Wealth

AJA: Clintons’ Web of Wealth

Given their immense wealth and how they got it — politicized kickbacks from the most powerful political forces in Washington, on Wall Street and around the globe — the Clintons would do well to admit that they are unusually wealthy and stop trying to pass themselves off as ordinary folks. If they don’t, their fate may very well resemble Romney’s.

BBC: Alien Brains on Earth

BBC: Alien Brains on Earth

To look for aliens, most people peer towards the sky. But if you look down, you’ll discover they already live among us. These aliens have brains, like we do, but they’re mostly inside their arms, and each arm acts as if it has a mind of its own – the aliens are cephalopods. The kinds of decisions that octopus arms can make on their own, such as those involved in self recognition and in complex camouflage, appear to be more complex than simple pain avoidance, and in addition to their arms’ impressive sensory abilities, cephalopods have excellent vision, are capable of generating and storing both short-term and long-term memories, and can learn new tasks with ease. Some species even use tools.

WW: A Hachette Job

WW: A Hachette Job

It is true that the big publishers buckling under Amazon’s thumb today are themselves tightly consolidated and have used their power in the past in ways that didn’t promote the best interest of writers and readers. But to champion as the antidote to their power an even bigger and consolidated power like Amazon ignores the lessons of the past – and sets up writers, publishers, and readers for fewer avenues and hence greater risks ahead.

BBC: Honeybee Loss Task Force

BBC: Honeybee Loss Task Force

The White House has set up a taskforce to tackle the decline of honey bees. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the agriculture department will lead the effort, which includes $8m (£4.7m) for new honey bee habitats. Bee populations saw a 23% decline last winter, a trend blamed on the loss of genetic diversity, exposure to certain pesticides and other factors.

WP: Pacific Marine Sanctuary

WP: Pacific Marine Sanctuary

President Obama on Tuesday will announce his intent to make a broad swath of the central Pacific Ocean off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities. The proposal, slated to go into effect later this year after a comment period, could create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected. The announcement is part of a broader push on maritime issues by an administration that has generally favored other environmental priorities. On Capitol Hill, some Republicans have sought to limit the administration’s ability to influence offshore activities, viewing it as another attempt by the president to test the limits of White House power.

NYT: Antibiotic Resistance

NYT: Antibiotic Resistance

The World Health Organization has surveyed the growth of antibiotic-resistant germs around the world and come up with disturbing findings. The organization reports on its finding that antimicrobial resistance in bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites is an increasingly serious threat in every part of the world.

AN: US Warp Speed Decline

AN: US Warp Speed Decline

If America needed a reminder that it is fast becoming a second-rate nation, and that every economic policy of the Republican Party is wrongheaded, it got one this week with the release of the Social Progress Index (SPI). America’s rapid descent into impoverished nation status is the inevitable result of unchecked corporate capitalism. By every measure, we look like a broken banana republic. In The World As It Is, Chris Hedges writes, “Our anemic democracy will be replaced with a robust national police state. The elite will withdraw into heavily guarded gated communities where they will have access to security, goods, and services that cannot be afforded by the rest of us. Tens of millions of people, brutally controlled, will live in perpetual poverty.”

NYT: Climate Risk

NYT: Climate Risk

Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

AP: Feds Move to Save Bees

AP: Feds Move to Save Bees

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend three million dollars to help farmers and ranchers improve pastures in five Midwestern states to provide food for the nation’s struggling honeybees. Agricultural production has been threatened by a more than decade-long decline in commercial honeybees and their wild cousins due to habitat loss and pesticide use.

TD: End of History?

TD: End of History?

Climate change exists on a time scale not congenial either to media time or to the individual lifetimes of our short-lived species. If the end of the world doesn’t fit well with “the news,” neither does denial. The idea of a futureless humanity is difficult to take in and that has undoubtedly played a role in suppressing the newsiness of climate change.

HI: Prepper Philosophy

HI: Prepper Philosophy

The “defend what’s mine” mentality states that the moment “shit goes down,” every other human in the world instantly becomes either a resource to be used or a threat to be eliminated. Never have I encountered someone who is prepping for the purpose of building a post-apocalyptic community or offering a haven of help and support for other less-prepared people in the event that something terrible does happen.

AN: Economic Exploitation

AN: Economic Exploitation

Reviewing a variety of political systems, Aristotle concluded that democracy was the best – or perhaps the least bad – form of government. But he recognized a flaw: The great mass of the poor could use their voting power to take the property of the rich, which would be unfair. Madison and Aristotle arrived at opposite solutions: Aristotle advised reducing inequality, by what we would regard as welfare state measures. Madison felt that the answer was to reduce democracy.

NPR: Easter Island

NPR: Easter Island

Easter Island has been thought of as a clear example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources. Two anthropologists now think that may not be what happened, but their alternative view is hardly consoling. On Easter Island, people learned to live with less and forgot what it was like to have more. Maybe that will happen to us. A future in which we continuously degrade our planet, losing plant after plant, animal after animal, forgetting what we once enjoyed, adjusting to lesser circumstances, cannot be called “success.” To prevent an ecological crisis, we must become alarmed – that’s when we’ll act – but the new Easter Island story suggests that humans may never hit the alarm. There’s a lesson here and it’s not a happy one.

FA: Devolution of the Seas

FA: Devolution of the Seas

Of all the threats looming over the planet today, one of the most alarming is the seemingly inexorable descent of the world’s oceans into ecological perdition. Over the last several decades, human activities have so altered the basic chemistry of the seas that they are now returning to the barren primeval waters of hundreds of millions of years ago. The world faces a choice. We do not have to return to an oceanic Stone Age. Whether we can summon the political will and moral courage to restore the seas to health before it is too late is an open question. The challenge and the opportunity are there.

NG: Wise Old Whooping Cranes

NG: Wise Old Whooping Cranes

People have pondered the question for centuries: How do migrating birds find their way between far-flung breeding and wintering grounds? Do they have some genetic GPS to steer them along time-honored routes? Or do they learn the way from parents or elders in the flocks? New research shows that, at least in the case of whooping cranes, the birds do learn the route from their older and more experienced companions—and all of them get better at navigating with age and experience. Detailed whooper migration data is a silver lining to a near-tragedy. America’s whooping cranes were within a whisper of extinction during the mid-20th century, when as few as 16 individuals survived. Only a large-scale, international captive breeding and conservation effort enabled the species to survive—and ultimately made this discovery possible.

GAO: Pesticide Registration Problems

GAO: Pesticide Registration Problems

EPA does not have a reliable system, such as an automated data system, to track key information related to conditional registrations of pesticides, including whether companies have submitted additional data within required time frames. As a result, pesticides with conditional registrations could be marketed for years without EPA’s receipt and review of these data.

TE: Biodiversity Special Report

TE: Biodiversity Special Report

Ever since man first picked up a spear, other species have suffered. As his technology improved, so his destructive power increased. In a sense, this orgy of destruction was natural. In the wild, different species compete for resources, and man proved a highly successful competitor. Religion sanctioned his ascendancy. But in recent times attitudes have changed.

DS: Europe Gone Wild

DS: Europe Gone Wild

A group of scientists led by Dutch conservation expert Frans Schepers has launched a unique experiment centered on the return of the large grazing animals and predators that populated the Continent long ago. The scientists expect the greatest possible diversity of species to develop around the spectacular mammals, including insects, vultures, toads and snakes — all the kinds of animals that were once forced out of their habitats by human activity.

Yale Env360: UN Climate Panel

Yale Env360: UN Climate Panel

Since it was created by the UN in 1988, the IPCC has synthesized scientific thinking around climate change and delivered a series of consensus assessments to policymakers. But the question is now being asked: Is the IPCC still fit for its purpose? It may do good science, but does it deliver what policymakers need?

NoC: GM Insects

NoC: GM Insects

Just when you thought genetically modified mosquitoes and mutated dinner entrees were the extent of biotech’s hunger to manipulate the genetic coding of the planet, scientists have now unleashed a plan to launch thousands of ‘frankenfly’ style insects into the wild in order to combat pests.

Economist: Mass Extinctions

Economist: Mass Extinctions

The idea that an impact caused the Permian extinction has been around for a while. But the abruptness of the extinctions indicates the coup de grâce was administered by something else, and that something was an asteroid or a comet causing a huge burp of methane into the atmosphere making things too hot for much of the planet’s animal life.

Edward O. Wilson: Professor

Edward O. Wilson: Professor

Biologist Edward O. Wilson is University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, and author of the books: The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth; The Future of Life; and The Diversity of Life, which describes how man is in the process of causing the “sixth extinction”.