Archives for June 2013

Motor-traction gives townspeople the chance to see rural life: Country diary 100 years ago

Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 5 July 1913

The gardens, the beautifully wooded towns, and the lovely country in the immediate neighbourhood of Bristol do not show many signs of the drought. Perhaps the only serious indication of the dry time they have had here is the dead appearance of the grass on Durdham Down even before the Show had brought thousands to walk over it. Those who come from these western counties all give a poor account of their hay crop, and one who has an intimate knowledge of South Wales tells me that there they have fared badly on the heavy land, which has become so hard on the surface that nothing will grow properly, though on some of the lighter soils there is something nearer an average crop. Foliage in this part of the country is particularly luxuriant this season, and even the gardens of Bristol City are full of healthy trees and flowering plants.

Here there is not the trade need of motor-traction, which has made a wonderful advance in northern business centres in the last six months, but they have developed to far greater extent the excursion and general passenger traffic, and convey large numbers of people to places which before now have only been served by the railways. If this, too, is to come in the North, the chances of townspeople seeing something more of rural life and country pleasures are certain. With the increasing charges of the railway companies it cannot perhaps be long delayed.

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Book Review: 'Shining Girls' by Lauren Beukes

Not a fresh idea: a suspense novel whose principal characters are a relentless serial killer, a vulnerable but tough young woman and a cynical male veteran reporter. Make the villain a time traveler, though, and things could get interesting. That's the
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Surprise! Megaquakes Caught Sinking Volcanoes

Megaquakes have now been implicated in the sinking of volcanoes.
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Palm oil’s forgotten victims: Sumatran elephants suffer in rush for ‘liquid ivory’

Western consumers are inadvertently driving the Sumatran elephant to extinction by eating, washing and wearing – in cosmetics – the derivatives of a fruit that is destroying the animal’s last remaining forest habitat. Jim Wickens reports
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The Ecologist

Available Now! ONW: Week of June 24, 2013 – Number 207


Consortium for Ocean Leadership

President Obama Announces Second Term Climate Change Agenda

In a speech at Georgetown University on June 25, 2013, President Barack Obama unveiled his administration’s climate change agenda for its second term, featuring a series of rules and initiatives that can implemented by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and other federal agencies without congressional action. While the details of these proposals will be determined through subsequent rulemaking, the plans and timeframes set forth in the speech signal a major expansion of federal climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, with potentially significant impacts upon electric utilities and other regulated entities as well as units of state and local government most affected by the impacts of global warming. The centerpiece of President Obama’s speech is a new Presidential Memorandum directing EPA to finalize proposed greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions standards for new and significantly modified power plants by September 2013, to propose the nation’s first GHG emissions guidelines for existing power plants by June 2014, and to finalize those guidelines by June 2015.
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'Revolutionary Summer' by Joseph J. Ellis

What was the most remarkable summer in American history? The one 150 years ago when Gettysburg and Vicksburg altered the course of the Civil War? The one in 1944 when the Allies invaded Europe and began the march toward victory against the Axis 
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UK government launches ‘urgent’ review

Defra pledges to introduce a national pollinator strategy after huge pressure for a bee action plan from scientists and public

The government has launched an “urgent” review of the crisis facing bees and other pollinators in the UK and pledged to introduce a national pollinator strategy.

“As we all recognise, pollinators play a vital role in the security of our food supply and the quality of our natural environment,” said Lord Rupert de Mauley, minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). “In safeguarding their future, we can secure our own.”

Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins said: “We’re delighted that enormous pressure for a bee action plan from scientists, businesses and the public has stung the government into action. The minister’s plan of action must be in place when bees emerge from hibernation next spring: we can’t afford to gamble any longer with our food, countryside and economy.”

Bees and other pollinators fertilise three-quarters of global food crops and have seen severe declines in recent decades, due to loss of habitat, disease and harmful pesticides. In the UK, wild honey bees are nearly extinct, solitary bees are declining in more than half the areas studied and some species of bumblebee have been lost altogether. Poor weather last winter led to the death of a third of all honeybee colonies in England. In April, the European Union suspended the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides linked to serious harm in bees, despite the opposition of the UK ministers.

De Mauley said: “We know there are gaps in the evidence. That is why I am launching an urgent and comprehensive review of current policy, evidence and civil society action on pollinators to identify what needs to be done to integrate and step up our approach. This urgent review will form the basis of a national pollinator strategy, which will bring together all the pollinator-friendly initiatives already underway and provide an umbrella for new action.”

An independent group of experts convened by Defra’s chief scientific adviser, Prof Ian Boyd, met for the first time earlier in June to identify gaps in knowledge about the state of the UK’s pollinators.

De Mauley noted existing government initiatives including 12 new Nature Improvement Areas to create more and better-connected habitats at a landscape scale and the promotion and funding of the sowing of nectar flower mixes on farmland. On pesticides, he said: “I do not deny for a moment that it is important to regulate pesticides effectively and to avoid unnecessary pesticide use. However, we all know that bees will be vulnerable, whether or not we put more restrictions on insecticides.”

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Martyring the white-throated needletail

The death of any bird is tragic, but when it comes to climate change we are talking about extinction of whole species

This week an extraordinary animal paid a visit to our shores. The elegant and lightning-fast white-throated needletail breeds mostly in China and migrates to Australia, so it was unusual sight dancing around the Isle of Harris in Scotland. The spectacle attracted birders from across the country and created a flurry of activity online as the lucky few shared their extraordinary images.

Sadly, the poor bird met an untimely end. A long way from home, presumably disoriented and exhausted from its journey that had brought it to the other side of the world from its kin, it flew into a small community wind turbine and died immediately.

Predictably, some people, who have shown little interest in bird conservation before, have sought to martyr this poor bird for their anti-windfarm cause. This is as offensive as it is irrational.

The fact is that the infrastructure that supports the kind of lives we have become accustomed to kills wildlife. Since 1980 we have lost 300 million birds from Europe’s farmland, victims of ever more intensive farming. Barn owls, suffering from a lack of suitable hunting grounds, can often be seen hunting alongside major roads; as a result, about 30% of the species’ deaths are attributed to collisions with vehicles.

Energy infrastructure in particular is a killer. One study compared the fatalities as a result of wind power with nuclear and fossil fuels. It looked at deaths across the full lifecycle, including extraction of raw materials and the impacts of any pollution it causes, and found that for every gigawatt-hour of electricity generated by wind power there are about 0.3 fatalities. For nuclear it was 0.4 and for fossil fuels it was 5.2 – 17 times greater than wind.

We don’t accept these deaths, however. We work to keep impacts to a minimum. In the case of windpower, for example, casualty rates range from zero to 60 per turbine per year. Our staff work tirelessly across the country to ensure windfarms are built in the right place and designed appropriately, keeping fatality rates to the bottom of that range. Where a proposal fails to address our concerns, we will, however, object and do what we can to prevent the development from going ahead.

We need wind power to work, alongside everything else that will cut our climate-changing emissions. The death of any bird is tragic, but when it comes to climate change we are talking about extinctions, here in the UK and globally. One synthesis study in the journal Nature estimates that 15-37 per cent of species would be ‘committed to extinction’ by 2050 under a mid-range global warming scenario.

So, if you’re mourning for the needletail that died this week, don’t blindly lash out at windpower. Do something about it. Insulate your home, install some solar panels, drive less, buy wildlife-friendly food – because every single act we take to reduce our footprints will save lives.

Harry Huyton is the RSPB’s head of climate change policy and campaigns

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Obama Meets Family of Ailing Hero Mandela

President Barack Obama met the family of Nelson Mandela, but was unable to visit the anti-apartheid legend who remains critically ill in the hospital.
Discovery News