Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Heflin Man Faces Possible Prosecution for Allegedly Shooting at Black Bear

Heflin, Ala. - After allegedly shooting at a black bear seen in Heflin, Ala., on June 16, 2015, a local man has been charged with breaking the state’s bear protection laws. While classified as a game animal in Alabama, there is no established black bear hunting season in the state. Black bears are also protected by state law due to low population numbers. The shooter was arrested and released pending a court hearing on August 5.

In Alabama, shooting at a black bear is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a potential minimum fine of $2,000. Other penalties for attempting to take a black bear include the loss of hunting and fishing license privileges for three years and possible jail time.

The bear in Heflin appeared to be unharmed by the incident and was allowed to find its way back into a wooded area near Sugar Hill Road where the shots were fired.

Capt. Johnny Johnson, Supervising Conservation Enforcement Officer with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) District 2 Office, assisted in the investigation on June 16 and said anyone shooting at a black bear risks serious consequences.

“Shooting a black bear in Alabama is a serious offense that could send someone to jail for up to a year in addition to the substantial fines,” Johnson said. “If you see a black bear, leave it alone. We want and welcome them in Alabama.”

Historically, a small population of black bear has remained rooted in southwest Alabama, primarily in Mobile and Washington counties. In recent years, bears migrating from northwest Georgia have established a small but viable population in northeast Alabama. WFF is currently working with other state and federal agencies to collect data on the state’s black bear population and movements.

Black bears are secretive, shy animals that will avoid human interaction. To avoid accidently attracting a bear to your home, feed pets just enough food that they can consume in one meal. Secure uneaten pet food, trash bins, bird and other wildlife feeders, as they are easy pickings for hungry young bears.

If you are lucky enough to encounter/observe a black bear, WFF offers these suggestions:

• Do not be frightened
• Do not approach the animal
• Do not run from the bear; back away slowly
• Stand tall and upright and make loud noises
• Avoid direct eye contact with the bear
• Make sure the bear has an unobstructed direction to escape
• Never purposely feed a bear

The public is encouraged to report black bear sightings online at https://game.dcnr.alabama.gov/BlackBear/. Black bear sightings can also be reported to WFF district wildlife offices, or by email to Thomas Harms at Thomas.Harms@dcnr.alabama.gov.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

NASA Administrator Statement on the Loss of SpaceX CRS-7

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator
Charles Bolden on the loss Sunday of the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services 7 (CRS-7) mission.

“We are disappointed in the loss of the latest SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.

"However, the astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months. We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight. The commercial cargo program was designed to accommodate loss of cargo vehicles. We will continue operation of the station in a safe and effective way as we continue to use it as our test bed for preparing for longer duration missions farther into the solar system. 

“A Progress vehicle is ready to launch July 3, followed in August by a Japanese HTV flight. Orbital ATK, our other commercial cargo partner, is moving ahead with plans for its next launch later this year.

“SpaceX has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first six cargo resupply missions to the station, and we know they can replicate that success. We will work with and support SpaceX to assess what happened, understand the specifics of the failure and correct it to move forward. This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback. Today's launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program.”  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Agroecology can help fix our broken food system. Here’s how.

by Maywa Montenegro for Ensia

Illustration by Glen Lowry

The various incarnations of the sustainable food movement need a science with which to approach a system as complex as food and farming.

Editor’s note: This story was co-published with Food Tank, a nonprofit organization focused on building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters. 

Thumb through U.S. newspapers any day in early 2015, and you could find stories on President Obama’s “fast-track” plans for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, antibiotic scares and the worsening California drought. Economists reported on steadily rising income inequality, while minimum-wage food workers took to the picket lines. Americans fled their kitchens and Chipotle welcomed them with farm-friendly appeal. Scientists recorded the warmest winter in history.

These seemingly disconnected events have a common thread: They all are symptoms of a political economy out of kilter with the welfare of the planet and the people who live on it. They are also nestled deep in the way food is grown, distributed and consumed today. What we sometimes call the “agri-food system” is clearly broken — just ask farmworkers and food workers (exploited and underpaid), honeybees (collapsing), forested landscapes (fragmenting), the climate (warming), and the ever-growing number of people without access to nutritious food, or the land and resources with which to produce it. 

“Sustainable food” attempts to heal this fragile system, and it’s been a buzzword for three decades. Its mushrooming incarnations — local, organic, biodynamic, fair trade and “slow,” among others — suggest a broad yearning for something better. But modern capitalism is wondrously efficient at disciplining outliers. It hasn’t taken much for the dynamics of competition and price to sweep countercultural ideas into the industrial mainstream, forcing enterprises in many – not all – sustainable food niches to expand in size, adopt monoculture techniques and replicate the basic model of industrial overproduction. 

What some have described as “input-substitution organic,” for example, swaps out chemical inputs for biological ones. These farms are therefore marginally better in terms of pollution but have barely budged the needle on monoculture cropping, not to mention labor issues. In any of these alternatives, price is prohibitive: Most low- to middle-income earners — and this includes most workers in the food system — cannot afford to buy the fruits of this so-called food revolution. 

There is an approach that embraces complexity and change. It involves developing the capacity to listen, to grow new connections, and to build solidarity among animals, plants and people.

In short, there’s a systems problem with the many incarnations of “sustainable food.” Good intentions notwithstanding, most alternatives leave untouched the underlying structures and forces of the agri-food system. They don’t ask how farmers can listen to their land, scientists can listen to farmers, eaters can listen to restaurant workers and the government can listen to people’s needs. 
Sustainable food, it turns out, lacks a science with which to deal with a system as complex as farming and food. 

But there is an approach that embraces complexity and change. It involves developing the capacity to listen, to grow new connections, and to build solidarity among animals, plants and people. It’s called agroecology.

As the name suggests, agroecology is based in ecology, a science grounded in the interactions among organisms and their environments. Agroecology has roots that go back to the 1930s, but only recently has it come into its own as a science, practice and social movement. Steve Gliessman, a modern pioneer in the field, defines the term in a nutshell: “Agroecology applies the principles of ecology to the design and management of sustainable food systems.” What that means in practice is that farmers and researchers work together to develop farming practices that enhance soil fertility, recycle nutrients, optimize the use of energy and water, and, perhaps most importantly, increase the beneficial interactions of organisms with and within their ecosystems.

A key ingredient in agroecology is agricultural biodiversity — aka agrobiodiversity — says Miguel Altieri, another leader in the field. Farms include “planned biodiversity” (the crops and livestock farmers intentionally introduce) and “associated biodiversity” (the various flora and fauna that colonize the area as a result of farming practices and landscape), says Altieri. What’s important, he says, is identifying the type of biodiversity interactions that will carry out ecosystem services (pollination and pest control, for example, or climate regulation) and then determining which farming practices will encourage such interactions — in other words, working with biodiversity to provide the farming system with ecological resilience and reduce dependence on costly, often harmful, conventional inputs.

Knowledge of how to establish agroecological systems has grown increasingly sophisticated over time. Gliessman’s first edition of his textbook Agroecology reflected 1990s thinking, where transitions moved from increasing the efficiency of conventional production, to substituting industrial inputs with bio-based alternatives to, finally, redesigning the entire farm to mimic nature. People, however, were largely absent from the “agroecosystem.” But economic, social and cultural factors slowly crept into the conversation, and by 2006 the second edition featured on its cover images of a woman Costa Rican coffee grower proudly displaying a handful of beans, a farmers market and a cow. The salient idea was connecting consumers and producers through alternative distribution networks instead of conventional supply chains — linking growers to eaters, the urban to the rural.

By 2014, agroecology had become as much a political endeavor as an ambition for farming. The third edition, published that year, showcased the interplay of science, practice and social movements. It’s a framework, says Gliessman, that has evolved because we need food systems that “once again empower people, create economic opportunity and fairness, and contribute to restoring and protecting the planet’s life-support systems.”

Cross-pollinating Diverse Knowledge 

If you’re reading this in the U.S., you may be asking yourself, “If agroecology is so great, why don’t more people do it? Why have I never heard of it?”

Though not yet widely used in the U.S., agroecology is more recognized and established in countries such as Mexico and Brazil, stemming from their response to Green Revolution interventions when packages of standardized seeds, fertilizers and chemicals were introduced across much of the developing world. As much scholarship has since concluded, the Green Revolution contributed to temporary yield increases in some regions, yet its resulting monocultures also led to widespread loss of traditional seed varieties, environmental pollution, increased dependence on fossil fuels and human exposure to harmful chemicals. In addition, this technological revolution was not scale neutral: wealthy, large-scale farmers could more easily afford the irrigation systems, tractors, plows and large tracts of land required to make “magic seeds” work than could poorer, smaller-scale farmers. From the 1940s through the 1980s, many smallholders lost their farms under combined forces of debt, land concentration and deteriorating health, swelling the ranks of the rural and urban underemployed.

Latin America has led the agroecological revolution in recent years, with the governments of Brazil and Ecuador creating the first national policies in support of agroecology, a farmer-to-farmer agroecological tour de force underway in Cuba, and the emergence of SOCLA, a lively network of agroecology scientists (including this TEDx storyteller). Indeed, many nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America most affected by the turbulences of the Green Revolution are anticipating the rollout of a “New Green Revolution” today by recognizing agroecology as key to both rural and urban food security. Simultaneously, the largest international coalition of peasant farmers, La Via Campesina, representing some 300 million small-scale farmers, has formally recognized and adopted agroecology as its preferred paradigm for rural development. Urban farmers and eaters are increasingly a part of this global movement.

Unlike some other food movements, agroecology is not confined to an academic or social elite. To the contrary, agroecological knowledge began with indigenous and smallholder practices from which researchers learned to abstract unifying principles. Systems such as “three sisters” (corn, beans, squash) agriculture from Mexico and integrated rice-fish-duck culture from China have taught researchers volumes about complex interactions of life, water, energy, minerals and soil. Seed savers (usually women) and community seed networks have opened a world for researchers to survey the flow of genetic materials, the way in which crops change over time and space, and the co-evolution of people and agriculture.

In other words, agroecology creates a space for cross-pollinating knowledge from diverse participants: scientists, farmers, policy-makers — even the insects, wild plants, animals and microbes whose significance is still vastly underplayed.

But Can Agroecology Feed the World?

From Stockholm to India to Washington, D.C., to Milan, “feeding the world” is increasingly on the lips of policy-makers, NGOs, philanthropists and researchers in disciplines from agriculture to public health. But agroecologists suggest we might be asking the wrong question.

The Green Revolution taught us that yields can increase — sometimes by 200 to 300 percent — and yet malnutrition and hunger persist. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that roughly 2,800 kilocalories of food are produced per day for each person on the planet, yet at least 800 million people remain undernourished and at least 2 billion suffer micronutrient deficiencies. As Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen long ago recognized, poverty and inadequate distribution of healthy food — not lack of aggregate production — shape the contours of food insecurity. Meanwhile, racial, gender and ethnic discrimination are also deeply entwined with access to nutritious, sustainably produced food. Agroecology counters the “feed the world” framing by arguing that farmers can be empowered to feed themselves — and can reach all eaters more equitably through revitalizing rural economies and prioritizing local food security before engaging in global trade.

This doesn’t mean, however, that plenty of food won’t come from agroecological farms. Research out of Iowa shows that agroecological systems can exceed yields from U.S. industrial grain production and provide equal or higher profits to farmers. And UC Berkeley scientists reported that biodiversity-based agriculture can be highly productive and concluded that, when it comes to organic farms, the more agroecological they were, the more plentiful their harvests.

Other provocative evidence of yield and income benefits has recently emerged from NGO research in Africa. In Malawi, an estimated 200,000 farm families have begun embracing agroforestry, an agroecological technique that integrates trees in farms and landscapes to play multiple roles: fertilizing the soil, providing fruit for nutrition, giving fodder for livestock, and offering timber and fuel wood for shelter and energy. Curious to learn how agroforestry farmers were faring compared with their conventional-based counterparts, researchers studied several communities of maize growers.

Average profitability of maize, they discovered, was US$259 per acre (0.4 ha) for agroforestry farmers versus US$166 for conventional farmers — a significant difference in Malawi, where the average annual income is only about US$270. The revenue boost resulted from a combination of lower spending on inputs — less than one-third of what conventional farmers spent on chemicals — and increased maize yields: 2,507 pounds (1,137 kg) per acre versus only 1,825 pounds (828 kg) per acre for conventional farmers. Malawi’s government has become famous for its large-scale subsidy of chemical fertilizers (a massive 43 percent of the agricultural budget in 2013–14); these results suggest that state funding could be better invested in forested farming.

The same is true for the U.S., where a recent study revealed tremendous research and development gaps between agroecology and conventional agriculture. Over the past 100 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has spent less than 2 percent of its research budget on bio-diverse methods, creating not only a legacy of fewer scientists interested in pursuing such work (a knowledge gap), but also a measurable difference in the farm fields. Given the chronic underinvestment, it is little surprise when conventional agriculture still tends to outyield its competition.

Learning to Speak Agroecology

Today, agroecology is slowly gaining official traction. In 2011 Olivier De Schutter, then U.N. special rapporteur, wrote a watershed report plumping for agroecology, and he’s since been urging governments to recognize and affirm the farming practice. In 2014 the FAO held its first-ever international summit on agroecology in Rome. In his closing remarks, director-general José Graziano da Silva said, “Today a window was opened in what for 50 years has been the cathedral of the Green Revolution.” 

Meanwhile, there are myriad ways for individuals to become involved in the science, practice and movement, including reading about it in a popular magazine, subscribing to an open-access journal dedicated to the topic, purchasing Agroeco coffee, and even signing up for a two-week intensive summer course held each year in a different part of the world.

Like anything, agroecology is no panacea. But it can be part of the solution. It offers a scientific precision that our overstretched limbs of “sustainable agriculture” lack. And while it may at first seem complicated, principles such as beneficial connections and diversity aren’t really so difficult to grasp. We are only long out of practice, demoralized by messages that change is too hard. But the structures and processes that underpin modern agri-food systems are no less than those underlying the world economy, and our current brand of capitalism is socially, ecologically and morally untenable.

Subconsciously, we know this, even if it’s seldom spelled out in ink. What we need is a language and logic to guide the transition. So use agroecology. Say it aloud. Spread the idea that models grounded in solidarity, complexity and interdependence are not only valuable and possible, they are already underfoot. View Ensia homepage

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Speculation Flares Online as Huge Fuel Depot Fire Burns Near Kyiv

People watching the fire near Vasylkiv, Ukraine, on June 8, 2015. Image by Maksym Kudymets from Demotix.
A massive fire has been burning at an oil depot near Vasylkiv, a town near Kiev, Ukraine, since Monday night, raising fears of air pollution and generating speculations about the cause of the fire online. According to the latest reports, four persons have died while fighting the blaze and at least 14 people have been injured or poisoned by the fumes. 

The facility contains 17 storage tanks, each of them holding approximately 900 cubic meters (32,000 cubic feet) of petrol—with at least four of them now completely burned out. According to the Ukrainian Emergency Services, the fire began Monday evening in one of the storage tanks, and soon spread to neighboring containers. Firefighters, rescue workers, and the National Guard have been on the scene battling the fire.

On Tuesday morning, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov tweeted that an explosion occurred in the midst of fighting the fire, killing several firefighters. 

"An explosion at the oil depot in Vasylkiv. A giant one. Firefighters dead… Emergency Services bringing in all we have. National Guard is on alert. We're working."

Early videos from the scene of the blaze showed huge clouds of black smoke and intense fire, destroyed storage facilities and equipment.

Citizens document blaze on social media
As soon as news of the fire spread, Internet users from nearby areas started posting vivid photos and videos of the fire and smoke around the facility. 

To add context to the reports of the fire threatening a nearby military base and other fuel depots, users created a contextual map of the area. The depot is located in the village of Kryachki, Vasylkiv district, about 25 miles away from the Ukrainian capital.

Drones, which are quickly becoming an invaluable part of the reporting arsenal for those covering the conflict in Ukraine, were used to scope out the damage done by the fire.


Ukrainian Emergency Services also posted scores of photos on Facebook depicting efforts to put out the fire. 

Health hazard worries
Rescue workers have been evacuating people from the immediate area within several miles of the fire, although latest official reports suggest the main blaze has been “localized” and is under control. The city council of Vasylkiv, the town closest to the facility, has told local residents to close their windows and avoid going outside, raising fears of toxic particles released by the blaze. Although environmental officials have said the levels of any harmful elements in the air are within the safety norm, netizens have been sharing tips and advice on minimizing possible harm.

"An acquaintance of mine who is a fuel chemist advises Kyiv residents to eat dried apples (the pectin helps get rid of heavy metals), wash their hair daily and not get drenched by the rain."
What caused the fire?
Government officials have said it's unlikely that a terrorist act caused the fire, but an investigation has been launched to probe the possibility of a technical error or any external intervention. Most speculations so far have revolved around the fuel depot business and its owners.

Some sources have suggested the competitors of the owner were the ones responsible for setting the depot on fire. Instead, Kharkiv politician Gennady Korban suspected a case of insurance fraud and claimed Stavitsky (the alleged owner) may have attempted to cover up shady business practices. Investigative journalist Dmytro Gnap quoted his own sources as saying the oil repository was notorious for producing diluted fuel, an a mistake in the production process may have caused the blaze. 

These and other conspiracy theories caused frustration among some social media users who ridiculed the sudden influx of armchair analytics—a common occurrence in times of crisis.

"Astrologists have announced a week of experts on oil repository fires and their extinguishing. The amount of analytics and [accusations of] treason has grown by 154%."

Monday, June 8, 2015

20,000+ Police March In Force Against G7 Protests in Germany

Though more than 20,000 police officers were deployed to keep voice of the people away from powerful leaders, the critiques offered by demonstrators appear highlighted by the enormous efforts made to silence them.
Police officers briefly stop a protest in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany, on Saturday, June 6, 2015. According to reports and despite the strong turnout of demonstrators, police outnumbered civilians by nearly 2 to 1. (Photo: AP/Markus Schreiber)

Though outnumbered by police by approximately two-to-one, thousands of people took to the streets of the Alpine resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany on Saturday to express their opposition to the hegemonic and neoliberal policies of the G7 nations as they gathered in a nearby luxury hotel ahead their annual summit which begins Sunday.

Speaking out against the destructive policies of the world's leading industrialized nations—which includes the U.S., U.K., Canada, France, Japan, Italy, and Germany—organized groups and individuals who participated in the protest carried signs and banners decrying inaction on climate change, the pending TransAtlantic Trade in Partnership (TTIP) agreement, ongoing wars and militarization, and the overarching assault on global democracy that has seen the power of corporations rise alongside nearly unprecedented levels of economic inequality.

Saturday's demonstration follows a larger one that took place in Munich on Thursday which saw tens of thousands march beneath those same messages.

"I'm protesting because the big financial corporations have too much influence over politics," one protester, 50-year-old Thomas Schmidbauer, told Reuters on Saturday. "Poverty isn't being tackled. It is unfair. We could organize our economies much better for the people."

Protester Monika Lambert, meanwhile, told the Associated Press she had come "to exercise my democratic rights to say that everything the G7 decides is in the interest of the banks and capitalists."

Charging the G7 leaders with offering empty promises and false solutions for the world's most pressing problems, Oxfam International put its focus on the interrelated crises of soaring inequality and climate chaos.

"Today, 85 people own as much wealth as half the world’s population," said Oxfam's Natalia Alonso in a statement ahead of Saturday's protest. "At least US$18.5 trillion is hidden by wealthy individuals in tax havens worldwide representing a loss of more than $156 billion in tax revenue; money that could be invested in promoting equitable and sustainable growth and jobs. By not agreeing on next steps to end financial secrecy and tax evasion, G7 leaders have in effect shut their eyes to the growing problem of economic inequality."

Meanwhile, she added, G7 leaders continue to fail on the issue of global warming by offering some quality climate action—like emission-reduction pledges and renewable energy plans—on the one hand, "only to snatch it away with the other" by continuing to finance fossil fuels expansion elsewhere in the world and stubbornly refusing to embrace a truly transformational energy paradigm.

"Europe’s dependence on dirty energy is pushing up fuel prices and driving climate change, which means higher food prices in Europe and across the world," said Alonso. "If leaders don't break their fossil fuel habit, poor people may be left to choose between eating and heating."

Speaking from the demonstration, Guy Taylor, a campaigner with the UK-based Global Justice Now, told the Guardian that his group was focused on calling attention to the far-reaching threats posed by the pending TTIP, a corporate-friendly pact that expresses the worst inclinations of global capitalism. "There is clearly no mandate for the G7 leaders to be pushing ahead with this disastrous trade deal," Taylor said. "TTIP may bring some economic benefits for a tiny handful of the business elite but for the rest of us it would mean compromising vital public services, the stripping of regulations protecting labor rights and the environment, and a dramatic erosion of democratic process."

As this video shows, at least minor clashes broke out as police responded violently when some demonstrators attempted to leave the official march route and break through barricades leading to the summit site:

In a shocking show of force, news outlets report that the police presence was far larger than that of the sizable number of demonstrators. According to reports, more than 17,000 police officers were deployed in the area, with as many as 5,000 additional officers on standby or waiting on the Austrian side of the border.

According to the Guardian:

German police said they would carry out spot-checks at the country’s borders, which, because Germany is a member of the Schengen agreement, are normally openly accessible.
Police had planned to keep all demonstrators away from the venue, which is in a tiny village five miles from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but a court ruled that 50 protesters could be allowed inside the security zone, so G7 leaders would be able to hear them outside.
Simon Ernst, one of the organisers of the Stop Elmau demonstration, called the G7 leaders "the henchmen of bankers and corporations" and said that having just 50 demonstrators allowed to be near the actual venue was far too few.
"We think it shows an arrogant attitude toward freedom of assembly," he said.
On Twitter:

India’s Heat Wave Is Now the 5th Deadliest in the World

Indian people walk at holy sangam during a duststorm in a hot day in Allahabad. Image by Ritesh Shukla. Copyright Demotix (28/5/2015)
Heat is a constant phenomenon across much of India during summertime, but the country’s most recent heat wave has killed over 2,300 people and placed among the top five deadliest in the world.

Impacting much of the eastern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the heat wave forced many people indoors. Those without a place to escape the soaring temperatures suffered most. Authorities said most of the victims who perished from heat were construction workers, the elderly or homeless who suffered from sunstroke or dehydration.

Temperatures in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana peaked at 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Celsius). In response to the heat wave, the Andhra Pradesh state government launched a campaign encouraging residents to stay indoors, drink lots of water, use an umbrella and keep their heads and bodies covered to avoid sunstroke.

According to the Indian government’s National Disaster Management Authority website, the country is experiencing more intense heat waves more frequently due to global climate change.

On Twitter and much of the news media, reactions pointed out the death toll, yet did not highlight the fact that many who died did not have the means to escape the heat.

While this picture posted by Hindustan Times received many retweets and coverage around the globe, Global Voices could not verify its authenticity.

Others wonder if this is a peak into the future:

While some blamed the government,

others blamed the media for not highlighting the issue enough:

Most of the people killed in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana states were labourers at construction sites who continued with their work even when the temperatures were at the peak. Richard Mahapatra suggested in youth news and commentary website Youth Ki Awaaz how Telangana and Andhra Pradesh could take their cue from the Odisha state government on reducing number of heat stroke deaths:

After the heavy casualties in 1998, the Odisha government treats it as a disaster on the scale of cyclone or flood.
By February-end, the government starts the preparation for fighting heat wave with a single objective in mind: no human casualty. Schools and colleges shift to early morning sessions. They open at 6.30am and end by 12 noon.
Government offices also follow the same timings. Examinations are held by March. Public transport does not operate between 12 noon and 3.30pm. Public wage programmes like, MGNREGA is halted from 11.30am to 3.30pm.

A Naga youth jumps into the water to cool off beside a small stream on a hot summer day in the outskirt of Dimapur, Nagaland, India. Image by Caisii Mao. Copyright Demotix (23/5/2015)

A study in Nature Climate Change revealed that increasing the weather is already limiting India’s labor capacity. Another study shows that heat stress “will be increasingly deadly” in the future, with over 250 million farmers expected to suffer.

Energy and access to air conditioning has become an increasingly important issue. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made universal electricity access by 2019 part of his election platform. The rising middle class and changing climate has increased the demand for air conditioning 20 percent this year.

How the global community can prevent and prepare for natural disasters remains to be seen. Luckily, the monsoon has begun in Kerala and will soon move travel across the country.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

#NewsBham: Young Black Bear Makes Appearance in Alexandria, Alabama

Residents of Alexandria, Ala., a small community just north of Anniston in Calhoun County, were treated to an uncommon, but more frequent sight in Alabama when a black bear weighing approximately 100 pounds was spotted near Alexandria High School Saturday, May 30.

Officials from the Weaver Police Department, Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office and the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) responded to calls concerning several sightings of the young bear near the high school and community baseball fields near Pattiway Drive. The bear took refuge in a hedgerow near the baseball fields for several hours before escaping into a nearby forested area, but not before attracting the attention of several individuals at the baseball fields. Numerous households in the area were subsequently notified about the bear sighting.

Steve Bryant, WFF District 2 Supervising Wildlife Biologist, assisted with the response efforts in Alexandria. Bryant said the excitement caused by the bear sighting is understandable even during summer when the chance of seeing a young black bear can increase. “This particular bear was behaving as a normal black bear should, exhibiting a natural fear of humans and was a minimal threat to the public,” Bryant said. “It had not caused any property damage, expressed any aggressive behavior and was not acclimated to human activities. In cases such as this, the best option is to allow the bear to return to the area in which it left on its own accord. While tranquilizing equipment was on site, its use is typically the last option due to the associated risks to the bear.”

“During spring and summer, black bear movements increase as adult males expand their home ranges dramatically in search of receptive females and sub-adult males scour new grounds to establish a home range,” he said. “Late spring and early summer are typically the time in which young sub-adult males are expelled from their mother’s territory and often wander miles prior to establishing a territory. While black bear mothers may allow a sub-adult female to become established within her home range, she won’t tolerate any of her male offspring doing the same. This results in the numerous spring and summer sightings of black bears that WFF staff collect and analyze on an annual basis.”

While Alabama has had a resident black bear population for many years in southwest Alabama, during the last decade, an expanding population has been established in northeast Alabama. The bears have gradually migrated from northwest Georgia following the preferred habitats of the Appalachian foothills as they extend into our state. While this sighting was uncommon for Alexandria, several have been documented not too far away and will most likely be more common in years to come.

Black bears are typically secretive, shy animals that will avoid human interaction. To avoid accidentally attracting a bear to your home, feed pets just enough food that they can consume in one meal. Secure uneaten pet food, trash bins, bird and other wildlife feeders, as they are easy pickings for hungry young bears.
What should you do if you are lucky enough to encounter/observe a black bear? WFF offers these suggestions:
  • Do not be frightened.
  • Do not approach the animal.
  • Do not run from the bear; back away slowly.
  • Stand tall and upright and make loud noises.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with the bear.
  • Make sure the bear has an unobstructed direction to escape.
  • Never purposely feed a bear.
While bears are classified as a game animal, there is no open hunting season for black bears in Alabama. The public is encouraged to report black bear sightings to WFF district wildlife offices, online at https://game.dcnr.alabama.gov/BlackBear, or by email to Thomas Harms at Thomas.Harms@dcnr.alabama.gov.

State of Disaster

Originally published May 31 on RobertReich.org

As extreme weather marked by tornadoes and flooding continues to sweep across Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has requested – and President Obama has granted – federal help. 

I don’t begrudge Texas billions of dollars in disaster relief. After all, we’re all part of America. When some of us are in need, we all have a duty to respond. 

But the flow of federal money poses a bit of awkwardness for the Lone Star State. 

After all, just over a month ago hundreds of Texans decided that a pending Navy Seal/Green Beret joint training exercise was really an excuse to take over the state and impose martial law. And they claimed the Federal Emergency Management Agency was erecting prison camps, readying Walmart stores as processing centers for political prisoners. 

There are nut cases everywhere, but Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott added to that particular outpouring of paranoia by ordering the Texas State Guard to monitor the military exercise. “It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed upon,” he said. In other words, he’d protect Texans from this federal plot. 

Now, Abbott wants federal money. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is gearing up for a major role in the cleanup – including places like Bastrop, Texas, where the Bastrop State Park dam failed – and where, just five weeks ago, a U.S. Army colonel trying to explain the pending military exercise was shouted down by hundreds of self-described patriots shouting “liar!” 

Texans dislike the federal government even more than most other Americans do. According to a February poll conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, only 23 percent of Texans view the federal government favorably, while 57 percent view it unfavorably, including more than a third who hold a “very unfavorable” view.

Texas dislikes the federal government so much that eight of its congressional representatives, along with Senator Ted Cruz, opposed disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy – adding to the awkwardness of their lobbying for the federal relief now heading Texas’s way. 

Yet even before the current floods, Texas had received more disaster relief than any other state, according to a study by the Center for American Progress. That’s not simply because the state is so large. It’s also because Texas is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather – tornadoes on the plains, hurricanes in the Gulf, flooding across its middle and south. 

Given this, you might also think Texas would take climate change especially seriously. But here again, there’s cognitive dissonance between what the state needs and how its officials act. 

Among Texas’s infamous climate-change deniers is Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, who dismissed last year’s report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “more political than scientific,“ and the White House report on the urgency of addressing climate change as designed “to frighten Americans.”

Smith is still at it. His committee just slashed by more than 20 percent NASA’s spending on Earth science, which includes climate change.

It’s of course possible that Texas’s current record rainfalls – the National Weather Service reports that the downpour in May alone was enough to put the entire state under eight inches of water  – has  nothing to do with the kind of extreme weather we’re witnessing elsewhere in the nation, such as the West’s current drought, the North’s record winter snowfall, and flooding elsewhere. 

But you’d have to be nuts not to be at least curious about such a connection, and its relationship to the carbon dioxide humans have been spewing into the atmosphere. 

Consider also the consequences for the public’s health. Several deaths in Texas have been linked to the extreme weather. Many Texans have been injured by it, directly or indirectly. Poor residents are in particular peril because they live in areas prone to flooding or in flimsy houses and trailers that can be washed or blown away. 

What’s Texas’s response?  Texas officials continue to turn down federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, thereby denying insurance to more than 1 million people and preventing the state from receiving an estimated $100 billion in federal cash over the next decade. 

I don’t want to pick on Texas. Its officials are not alone in hating the federal government, denying climate change, and refusing to insure its poor. 

And I certainly don’t want to suggest all Texans are implicated. Obviously, many thoughtful and reasonable people reside there. 
Yet Texans have elected people who seem not to have a clue. Indeed, Texas has done more in recent years to institutionalize irrationality than almost anywhere else in America – thereby imposing a huge burden on its citizens.

How many natural disasters will it take for the Lone Star State to wake up to the disaster of its elected officials?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Stunning Images of Volcanic Eruption on Japan's Kuchinoerabu-jima Island

Eyewitness footage of Mount Shindake erupting on Kuchinoerabu-jima. YouTube screencap from JiJi Press.
Mount Shindake on the isolated Japanese island of Kuchinoerabu-jima erupted suddenly without warning on May 28, forcing all 137 residents of the island to be quickly evacuated.

Residents left the island so quickly that there appears to have been little time to collect belongings, much less take pictures of the eruption to upload to social media.

However, one boy was able to film spectacular first-hand video of the eruption, which was picked up by JiJi, one of Japan's main news wire services:

Video caption: Just before this video was taken, the earth rumbled and the sky suddenly filled with ash as the boy's mother screamed.

The eruption occurred just seconds before this young boy started filming. During the video, he urges his frightened mother to hurry, telling her to forget about the laundry as the volcano has just erupted.

The severity of the eruption meant that most residents escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs:

From Mainichi News footage: As seen from the air above Kuchinoerabu-jima: New eruption – Mainichi News http://t.co/rHClcXK8Wb Amidst fears of a new eruption, residents have been evacuated. Images taken from Mainichi News helicopter (video and stills available).

 It's unclear if or when Kuchinoberu-jima's residents will be able to return home:
口永良部噴火:避難「年単位」も 牛とイモの島、募る不安
Kuchinoerabu eruption: evacuation of residents could last as long as one year; now an “island of cows and potatoes.” Residents’ unease over fate of their home deepens.
The volcanic eruption has produced some fantastic images that are being shared all over social media.

Luckily for residents of the large regional center of Kagoshima to the northeast, for the time prevailing winds have sent the ash plume away from the Kyushu mainland:

According to information published by the Japan Meteorological Agency about fallout from the Kuchinoerabu-jima volcanic plume, ash will be carried from the crater by prevailing winds to the southwest.
A number of Kyushu volcanoes are due to erupt at any time, or are already active. This tweet from nearly a year ago highlighted the risk of a volcanic eruption on Kuchinoerabu-jima:

 [From image, chart from top to bottom] Kyushu volcanic activity:
  • Kuju (Green)
  • Unzen (Green)
  • Aso (Yellow)
  • Kirishima (Yellow)
  • Sakurajima (Red)
  • Satsuma Iojima (Green)
  • Kuchinoerabu (Red)
  • Suwanose (Yellow)
Volcanic activity: 3 = Red, 2 = Yellow, 1 = Green
Sakurajima (in Kagoshima) and Kuchinoerabu have been added to the list of active volcanoes. The Sakurajima volcano has been experiencing increasing volcanic activity since 2000 and has continuously erupted more than 800 times over the past four years.
While Mount Shindake on Kuchinoerabu-jima is the latest volcano to capture the imagination of people around the world, the nearby city of Kagoshima on the southwestern end of the island of Kyushu has had to deal with frequent eruptions from Sakurajima, a nearby resident volcano whose shape dominates the skyline of the city.

A series of eruptions in the week prior to the Kuchinoerabu eruption had already blanketed the city with ash.

Even as Kuchinoberu-jima residents were being evacuated, Sakurajima was blanketing the streets of Kagoshima with ash:

This is what it looks like on campus thanks to volcanic ash from Sakurajima.
Sakurajima's eruptions may be at best a nuisance for locals, but are quite spectacular for visitors to Kagoshima:

On the last day of our stay at the Kinko Highlands Hotel we took a dip in the outdoor bath. Clouds of ash billowed from Sakurajima. As there was no one else in the bath I'm pretty sure no one minded if we snapped a photo. (*^^*)
The explosive power of Sakurajima is nothing new. Besides causing a tsunami and killing hundreds of people, a major eruption in 1914 transformed Kagoshima Bay, creating a peninsula that joined the former island of Sakurajima and its volcano to Kagoshima and the Kyushu mainland:


Monday, June 1, 2015

Envision 2050: The future of oceans

 Writer Mary Hoff   Ensia editor in chief

Oceans cover more than two thirds of Earth’s surface. They are home to millions of species, provide a key source of protein to people on every continent, and play an enormous role in regulating our planet’s climate, water cycle and more. They also are facing tremendous disruption from human action, from altered temperature and circulation to overfishing to acidification to plastic pollution.

What kind of oceans will we pass along to future generations of humans and other living things? The answer to that question starts with two others: What kind of oceans would we like to pass along? And what would it take to do so?

For this fourth installment of our Envision 2050 series (read the first three here), Ensia asked seven individuals with special connections to the ocean to share their hopes for the world’s oceans — and what it would take to achieve them. Here are their responses:

Margaret Leinen: Keep Learning

Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
Put simply, the oceans are key to the future of our planet and its health.

Margaret LeinenMy hope is that by 2050 we can all look back and say that in 2015 we began to make the serious changes necessary to address — and even reverse — the challenges facing the oceans: pollution, rising seas, ocean warming, oxygen depletion, and acidification, to name a few. These issues are not isolated in their reach. The food and precious resources the oceans provide to global society have been bountiful, but we see them diminishing. We must act strategically going forward. It serves all of us, as a global society, to maintain the stability of the oceans as a natural system.
My colleagues at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, and across the oceanographic and earth science communities have employed instruments and observation networks to explore the oceans and track the troubling trends afflicting the ocean’s habitats, from coral reefs in decline to low-oxygen zones that choke out productive ecosystems.

One urgent area of concern is the world’s rising seas. No longer an issue isolated to far-off island nations, sea-level rise will be a sobering wake-up call for many in our crowded coastal cities by 2050. We must act now to develop adaptation solutions for the global community. We at Scripps are working with the world’s leading thinkers and researchers to share knowledge and develop sea-level rise solutions. From these efforts we look to develop a plan of action to help cities and states adapt to rising seas.

By 2050 our seas will be viewed as more than a platform for tourism and recreation and rather an ocean for solutions. Our sustainable energy solutions will be aided by marine algae–derived biofuel, while new medicines to treat modern diseases will be derived from sea creatures with novel chemical structures.
There is still so much we don’t know. We need to keep learning about our water world, especially the deep sea and the immense role of the oceans in global climate change.

All of us need to do our part. We are all stewards of the ocean and the planet. We must continue to explore. We must continue to study the things we don’t yet understand and protect the resources we have for future generations.

Shared oceans, protected by all, hold the solutions for the planet’s future.

Michael Conathan: Promoting a Robust Blue Economy
Director of Ocean Policy, Center for American Progress

Michael ConathanWhile humans rely on the ocean to support our existence, we must learn to use the maritime domain in ways that reverse the global decline in ocean health and ensure that the ocean’s bounty is available for future generations. One way the United States has already begun to do this is through ocean planning, an idea similar to traditional land use planning. The National Ocean Policy established by President Barack Obama provides U.S. regions with support to develop “regional ocean plans” that empower local ocean stakeholders to represent their interests in decision making. Other nations, including China, Australia, the Philippines and various European nations, have implemented similar practices.

Yet, to truly achieve a sustainable vision for the future of the world’s oceans, we must go beyond simple spatial planning. The ocean provides a great deal more than fish, fossil fuels and free trade. This generation’s legacy must include protecting and restoring robust, functioning marine ecosystems.

The oceans make the planet’s climate livable, absorbing 90 percent of the additional heat trapped by our ever-thickening atmospheric blanket of carbon pollution. They generate more than half of the oxygen we breathe. And they serve as the primary source of protein for over a billion people.

As oceans warm and acidify as a result of runaway carbon pollution, we put all of these ecosystem benefits at risk. Yet none of them will continue unless we incorporate their financial worth into the cost of doing business.

Putting a price tag on the value of a healthy marine environment will help political and business leaders arrive at more efficient and more sustainable decisions and develop a new Blue Economy that links economic growth with ocean health. Moving development away from the dirty industries of the past that profit from degrading our natural resources and toward a future that promotes efficiency and environmental stewardship can be a win for the planet and our pocketbooks.

Alexandra Cousteau: Abundance, Diversity, Purity
Explorer, Filmmaker and Water Advocate

Alexandra CousteauMy vision for the oceans in 2050 is one of abundance, diversity, purity. While most predictions point to a darker future for the oceans, I do believe that it is possible to have more fish, sea turtles, dolphins, whales and sharks in our lifetimes. But we have to start acting now. Scientists report that the amount of fish caught began declining for the first time in recorded history just a few decades ago. That’s obviously bad news, but it is also recent news. If we take action quickly we can have a huge effect on helping the oceans rebound.

The Cousteau family has been chronicling the stories of the oceans for three generations. We’ve seen the changes, we’ve told the stories. Yet in spite of all the damage that humankind has done to the oceans, I remain optimistic. The oceans are a shared resource covering 71 percent of the planet. They play a central role in the world’s natural systems, like regulating our climate and absorbing carbon dioxide. Over a billion people, including some of the poorest in the world, depend on the oceans and wild seafood for survival. Restoring abundance to the world’s fisheries is important not only for the planet but also for the people who live on it. To that end, I have taken action with [the international organization] Oceana to tackle these issues by focusing on the importance of science in identifying problems and solutions.

We need to accomplish three goals: stop overfishing, reduce bycatch and protect marine habitat. Scientists working closely with economists, lawyers and policy experts can achieve tangible results for the oceans. Examples in the Philippines and other countries have demonstrated how to rebuild fish populations: avoid overfishing by setting responsible catch limits, minimize the capture of vulnerable animals like turtles or juvenile fish, and protect habitat. With science-based management in place, the fish, the ecosystem they depend on, and the people whose livelihoods depend on both will rebound. By promoting responsible fishing practices, we can protect the oceans while helping to reduce poverty in coastal communities. If we can save the oceans, we can help feed the world.

David Sheppard: Rays of Hope

Director-General, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme

David SheppardIt’s easy to be pessimistic about the future of the world’s oceans. The 20th century lay to rest myths that the oceans were so vast and their living resources so huge that human activities could never make a significant impact. Instead, we saw destruction in the stocks of the great whales, the collapse of numerous fisheries as more fishing vessels poured onto the seas with increasingly sophisticated technologies, and the creation of dead zones as industrial effluents smothered and poisoned previously rich, productive waters.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report offers little reassurance. Half of all carbon dioxide emissions since 1750 came in the last 40 years with oceans absorbing 90 percent of the resulting heat energy, setting in temperature rises and ocean acidification that will continue for decades even if emissions ceased tomorrow. At current rates, shallow water tropical coral reefs will have vanished by 2050 along with a myriad of species and food for millions of people.

But there are rays of hope — especially in the Pacific island countries and territories with enormous Exclusive Economic Zones effectively making them Large Ocean States with stewardship responsibilities for over 10 percent of the global ocean. Large Marine Protected Areas in the Phoenix Islands of Kiribati and the Coral Sea of New Caledonia protect over 1.5 million square kilometers (580,000 square miles), and a sophisticated planning exercise is underway to protect most of the 1.1 million-square-kilometer (420,000-square-mile) Cook Islands Marine Park. Palau is banning foreign fishing fleets from its 600,000 square-kilometer (230,000-square-mile) EEZ, and shark sanctuaries have been established in the waters of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Cook Islands and Tokelau.

Alone, these bold actions won’t prevent the overwhelming impacts of climate change, but by reducing key stressors such as overfishing, habitat loss and inappropriate development, they give marine biodiversity a better chance. They act as a signal of hope: If developing countries can set aside vast tracts of ocean for conservation, then developed countries can also take a similar approach for the benefit of future generations.

Susan Avery: A Key Cog
President and Director, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Susan AveryI bring an atmospheric scientist’s perspective to the study of the ocean. In many ways the ocean community is positioned to do what atmospheric scientists did in the 1950s when they established a network of weather stations. This network dramatically expanded our predictive capabilities to the benefit of any weather-sensitive business or human endeavor.

Our planet is a complex dynamic system of interactions among the atmosphere, ocean, land surface, snow and ice, and all life on Earth. In that planetary clockworks, the ocean is a key cog. It drives heat, water and nutrients around the globe. It maintains essential ecosystems. In short, it makes our planet habitable.

We know the ocean is changing rapidly. It is warming, becoming more acidic and losing sea ice. Sea levels are rising. It is overfished and more polluted by chemicals and noise. These changes will have impacts on agriculture, fisheries, water, food, energy supplies, coastal infrastructure, transportation, and natural disasters such as tsunamis and extreme weather — all of which profoundly affect our economy, health, welfare and security.

At the same time, many nations are developing “blue economies” — expanding into the ocean not only to extract resources such as fish, minerals, and oil and gas, but also for aquaculture, bioprospecting, offshore renewable energy and other economic opportunities.

In my vision of the ocean in 2050, governments are investing in research and development to establish long-term observatories with sensors to monitor ocean conditions and collect the data necessary to help us understand our changing ocean.

Right now the future of the ocean is uncertain, which means our future is uncertain. With greater global investment in research, exploration and innovation, we can reduce uncertainties, improve projections about future conditions for our ocean and planet, and provide information that governments, resource managers, businesses and others can use to save lives, property and money, and to sustain the ocean as a resource. We can improve governance of the ocean and of the entire planetary commons — and help ensure our survival.

Douglas McCauley: Managing Change
Ecologist and Conservation Biologist, UC Santa Barbara

Douglas McCauleyThe decisions we make in the next several decades will more profoundly shape the future of the ocean than any other period in human history. In a recent report, my colleagues and I showed that the oceans are in vastly better shape than terrestrial ecosystems. This makes sense: humans are a terrestrial species and historically it has been harder for us hunt, farm and build in the ocean. But things are changing.

We must address three major challenges in the next 30 years if we wish to preserve the health and wildness of our global oceans.
  1. Marine Industrialization. A marine industrial revolution (alternatively called an emerging blue economy) is welling up in our oceans and represents a dramatic shift in the way we do marine business. Historically we went to sea to fish. By 2050, we are poised to see massive expansions in marine industries like seabed mining, underwater power plant construction (e.g., offshore wind, tidal energy) and oil/gas extraction. On land when we shifted from hunting animals to building our industries in their habitats, we saw a major spike in wildlife extinction. If we don’t carefully plan out marine industrialization, we may face a similar fate for ocean wildlife.
  2. Fishing vs. farming in the oceans. The Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that in less than 20 years fish farming will put more fish on our tables than wild-capture fisheries. We have to carefully ensure this explosive growth in ocean farming happens in a clean, healthy and sustainable way. In parallel to this growth in aquaculture, we must redouble our efforts to be sure that wild fisheries can continue to provide healthy free-range fish by setting aside ocean protected areas and coming up with novel solutions for managing the lawlessness associated with fishing in many settings (e.g., the high seas).
  3. Ocean climate change. None of these actions will have purchase if we don’t slow the rates by which we are warming and acidifying the oceans. Many marine species have demonstrated a very encouraging capacity for adaptation to climate stressors. Anything we can do to slow carbon emissions will buy them time to adapt.
By squarely facing the urgency of the situation in the oceans and prudently managing these new forces of change, we can chart a brighter future for life in the oceans and can avoid making many of the environmental mistakes we made on land.

David Agnew: Sustainable Fishing
Standards Director, Marine Stewardship Council

feature_envision2050_oceans_agnewOceans are like the heartbeat of our planet. They connect us across continents, regulate our climate, supply us with oxygen and serve as the foundation of ecosystems for an incredible array of wildlife. More than 200 million people depend on the oceans for their livelihood and another 3 billion rely on it for nutrition, making oceans crucial to our very existence. But our oceans are under enormous pressure. Fishing in a sustainable manner is critical to the health of this vast natural resource. It is our vision at the Marine Stewardship Council to see our oceans healthy and teeming with life, safeguarded for future generations.

We need to appreciate this important global resource, work together to provide solutions to overfishing and care for the oceans as they are fundamental to the health and well-being of our world and population. We can all start by recognizing and rewarding sustainable fishing practices and choosing to buy and eat seafood sourced from sustainable and well-managed fisheries, such as seafood products with the MSC ecolabel.

The more we learn about the issues facing our oceans, the more we’ll want to help ensure the health and vitality of this resource and then share that knowledge to inspire others to do the same. We are all connected, and we can each make a difference and contribute to the health of the world’s oceans for this and future generations. View Ensia homepage