Ardern in a Flap as Wren Rocks N. Zealand’s Bird Beauty Contest

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A tiny mountain-dwelling wren was the surprise winner Monday of New Zealand’s controversial bird of the year competition, which even had Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a flap.   

The piwauwau rock wren punched above its 20-gram weight, flying under the radar to win the annual contest ahead of popular fellow native contenders, the little penguin and the kea.   

Fans of the wren set up a Facebook page to help the outsider soar up the final rankings when the fortnight-long poll closed Monday.   

“It’s not the size, it’s the underbird you vote for that counts,” wrote one supporter.   

The annual competition ruffled voters’ feathers in years past after a native bat was allowed to enter, then won, the 2021 title.   

There was also outcry this year after the flightless kakapo — a twice previous winner dubbed the world’s fattest parrot — was barred from running to give others a chance.   

The annual avian beauty contest run by environmental group Forest and Bird is popular with New Zealanders, including the country’s top politicians.   

The leader of the opposition, Christopher Luxon, took to Twitter — where else? — over the weekend to endorse the wrybill, a river bird with a distinctive bent beak.   

On Monday, New Zealand’s prime minister was momentarily ruffled live on air when asked if she had voted for her favorite bird.   

“No I haven’t yet — you can’t just chuck a controversial question at me without a warning!,” Ardern said with a smile.   

New Zealand’s leader revealed she will “always and forever” be loyal to the black petrel, which only breeds on the North Island but can fly as far as Ecuador, and she hopes the 2023 competition “will be its year”.  

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Clashes as Thousands Protest French Agro-industry Water ‘Grab’

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Thousands of demonstrators defied an official ban to march Saturday against the deployment of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation in western France, some clashing with police.

Clashes between paramilitary gendarmes and demonstrators erupted with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin reporting that 61 officers had been hurt, 22 seriously.

“Bassines Non Merci,” which organized the protest, said around 30 demonstrators had been injured. Of them, 10 had to seek medical treatment and three were hospitalized.

The group brings together environmental associations, trade unions and anti-capitalist groups against what it claims is a “water grab” by the “agro-industry” in western France.

Local officials said six people were arrested during the protest and that 4,000 people had turned up for the banned demonstration. Organizers put the turnout at 7,000.

The deployment of giant water “basins” is underway in the village of Sainte-Soline, in the Deux-Sevres department, to irrigate crops, which opponents claim distorts access to water amid drought conditions.

Around 1,500 police were deployed, according to the prefect of the Deux-Sevres department Emmanuelle Dubee.

Dubee said Friday she had wanted to limit possible “acts of violence,” referring to the clashes between demonstrators and security forces that marred a previous rally in March. 

The Sainte-Soline water reserve is the second of 16 such installations, part of a project developed by a group of 400 farmers organized in a water cooperative to significantly reduce water usage in the summer.

The open-air craters, covered with a plastic tarpaulin, are filled by pumping water from surface groundwater in winter and can store up to 650,000 square meters of water. 

This water is used for irrigation in summer, when rainfall is scarcer. 

Opponents claim the “mega-basins” are wrongly reserved for large export-oriented grain farms and deprive the community of access to essential resources.

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US Fishermen Face Shutdowns as Warming Hurts Species

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Fishing regulators and the seafood industry are grappling with the possibility that some once-profitable species that have declined with climate change might not come back.

Several marketable species harvested by U.S. fishermen are the subject of quota cuts, seasonal closures and other restrictions as populations have fallen and waters have warmed. In some instances, such as the groundfishing industry for species like flounder in the Northeast, the changing environment has made it harder for fish to recover from years of overfishing that already taxed the population.

Officials in Alaska have canceled the fall Bristol Bay red king crab harvest and winter snow crab harvest, dealing a blow to the Bering Sea crab industry that is sometimes worth more than $200 million a year, as populations have declined in the face of warming waters. The Atlantic cod fishery, once the lifeblood industry of New England, is now essentially shuttered. But even with depleted populations imperiled by climate change, it’s rare for regulators to completely shut down a fishery, as they’re considering doing for New England shrimp.

The Northern shrimp, once a seafood delicacy, has been subject to a fishing moratorium since 2014. Scientists believe warming waters are wiping out their populations and they won’t be coming back. So the regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is now considering making that moratorium permanent, essentially ending the centuries-old harvest of the shrimp.

It’s a stark siren for several species caught by U.S. fishermen that regulators say are on the brink. Others include softshell clams, winter flounder, Alaskan snow crabs and Chinook salmon.

Exactly how many fisheries are threatened principally by warming waters is difficult to say, but additional cutbacks and closures are likely in the future as climate change intensifies, said Malin Pinsky, director of the graduate program in ecology and evolution at Rutgers University.

“This pattern of climate change and how it ripples throughout communities and coastal economies is something we need to get used to,” Pinsky said. “Many years are pushing us outside of what we have experienced historically, and we are going to continue to observe these further novel conditions as years go by.”

While it’s unclear whether climate change has ever been the dominant factor in permanently shutting down a U.S. fishery, global warming is a key reason several once-robust fisheries are in increasingly poor shape and subject to more aggressive regulation in recent years. Warming temperatures introduce new predators, cause species to shift their center of population northward, or make it harder for them to grow to maturity, scientists said.

In the case of the Northern shrimp, scientists and regulators said at a meeting in August that the population has not rebounded after nearly a decade of no commercial fishing. Regulators will revisit the possibility of a permanent moratorium this winter, said Dustin Colson Leaning, a fishery management plan coordinator with the Atlantic States commission. Another approach could be for the commission to relinquish control of the fishery, he said.

The shrimp prefer cold temperatures, yet the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than most of the world’s oceans. Scientists say warming waters have also moved new predators into the gulf.

But in Maine, where the cold-water shrimp fishery is based, fishermen have tried to make the case that abundance of the shrimp is cyclical and any move to shutter the fishery for good is premature.

“I want to look into the future of this. It’s not unprecedented to have a loss of shrimp. We went through it in the ’50s, we went through it in the ’70s, we had a tough time in the ’90s,” said Vincent Balzano, a shrimp fisherman from Portland. “They came back.”

Another jeopardized species is winter flounder, once highly sought by southern New England fishermen. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has described the fish as “significantly below target population levels” on Georges Bank, a key fishing ground. Scientists with University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management wrote that the fish have struggled to reach maturity “due to increased predation related to warming winters” in a report last year.

On the West Coast, Chinook salmon face an extinction risk due to climate change, NOAA has reported. Drought has worsened the fish’s prospects in California, at the southern end of its range, scientists have said.

Fishermen on the East Coast, from Virginia to Maine, have dug softshell clams from tidal mud for centuries, and they’re a staple of seafood restaurants. They’re used for chowder and fried clam dishes and are sometimes called “steamers.”

But the clam harvest fell from about 3.5 million pounds (1.6 million kilograms) in 2010 to 2.1 million pounds (950,000 kilograms) in 2020 as the industry has contended with an aging workforce and increasing competition from predators such as crabs and worms. Scientists have linked the growing predator threat to warming waters.

The 2020 haul in Maine, which harvests the most clams, was the smallest in more than 90 years. And the 2021 catch still lagged behind typical hauls from the 2000s, which were consistently close to 2 million pounds (907,000 kilograms) or more.

Predicting what the clam harvest will look like in 2022 is difficult, but the industry remains threatened by the growing presence of invasive green crabs, said Brian Beal a professor of marine ecology at the University of Maine at Machias. The crabs, which eat clams, are native to Europe and arrived in the U.S. about 200 years ago and have grown in population as waters have warmed.

“There seem to have been, relative to 2020, a ton more green crabs that settled,” Beal said. “That’s not a good omen.”

One challenge of managing fisheries that are declining due to warming waters is that regulators rely on historical data to set quotas and other regulations, said Lisa Kerr, a senior research scientist with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, Maine. Scientists and regulators are learning that some fish stocks just aren’t capable of returning to the productivity level of 40 years ago, she said.

Back then, U.S. fishermen typically caught more than 100 million pounds (45.4 million kilograms) of Atlantic cod per year. Now, they usually catch less than 2 million pounds (907,000 kilograms), as overfishing and environmental changes have prevented the population from returning to historical levels.

The future of managing species that are in such bad shape might require accepting the possibility that fully rebuilding them is impossible, Kerr said.

“It’s really a resetting of the expectations,” she said. “We’re starting to see targets that are more in line, but under a lower overall target.”

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Swedes Find 17th Century Sister Vessel to Famed Vasa Warship

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Marine archaeologists in Sweden say they have found the sister vessel of a famed 17th century warship that sank on its maiden voyage and is now on display in a popular Stockholm museum.

The wreck of the royal warship Vasa was raised in 1961, remarkably well preserved, after more than 300 years underwater in the Stockholm harbor. Visitors can admire its intricate wooden carvings at the Vasa Museum, one of Stockholm’s top tourist attractions.

Its sister warship, Applet (Apple), was built around the same time as the Vasa on the orders of Swedish King Gustav II Adolf.

Unlike the Vasa, which keeled over and sank just minutes after leaving port in 1628, the sister ship was launched without incident the following year and remained in active service for three decades. It was sunk in 1659 to become part of an underwater barrier mean to protect the Swedish capital from enemy fleets.

The exact location of the wreck was lost over time but marine archaeologists working for Vrak — the Museum of Wrecks in Stockholm — say they found a large shipwreck in December 2021 near the island of Vaxholm, just east of the capital.

“Our pulses spiked when we saw how similar the wreck was to Vasa,” said Jim Hansson, one of the archaeologists. “Both the construction and the powerful dimensions seemed very familiar.”

Experts were able to confirm that it was the long-lost Applet by analyzing its technical details, wood samples and archival data, the museum said in a statement on Monday.

Parts of the ship’s sides had collapsed onto the seabed but the hull was otherwise preserved up to a lower gun deck. The fallen sides had gun ports on two different levels, which was seen as evidence of a warship with two gun decks.

A second, more thorough dive was made in the spring of 2022, and details were found that had so far only been seen in Vasa. Several samples were taken and analyses made, and it emerged that the oak for the ship’s timber was felled in 1627 in the same place as Vasa’s timber just a few years earlier.

Experts say the Vasa sunk because it lacked the ballast to counterweigh its heavy guns. Applet was built broader than Vasa and with a slightly different hull shape. Still, ships that size were difficult to maneuver and Applet probably remained idle for most of its service, though it sailed toward Germany with more than 1,000 people on board during the Thirty Years’ War, the Vrak museum said.

No decision has been taken on whether to raise the ship, which would be a costly and complicated endeavor.

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Study: Heat Waves Cost Poor Countries the Most, Exacerbating Inequality

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Heat waves, intensified by climate change, have cost the global economy trillions of dollars in the past 30 years, a study published Friday found, with poor countries paying the steepest price.

And those lopsided economic effects contribute to widening inequalities around the world, according to the research. 

“The cost of extreme heat from climate change so far has been disproportionately borne by the countries and regions least culpable for global warming,” Dartmouth College professor Justin Mankin, one of the authors of the study published in the journal Science Advances, told AFP. “And that’s an insane tragedy.”

“Climate change is playing out on a landscape of economic inequality, and it is acting to amplify that inequality,” he said.

Periods of extreme heat cost the global economy about $16 trillion between 1992 and 2013, the study calculated. 

But while the richest countries have lost about 1.5% of their annual per capita GDPs dealing with heat waves, poorer countries have lost about 6.7% of their annual per capita GDPs. 

The reason for that disparity is simple: poor countries are often situated closer to the tropics, where temperatures are warmer anyway. During heat waves, they become even hotter.

The study comes just days ahead of the start of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, where the question of compensation for countries that are disproportionately vulnerable to but least responsible for climate change is expected to be one of the key topics. 

The costs of heat waves come from several factors: effects on agriculture, strains on health systems, less productive workforces and physical damage to infrastructure, such as melting roads. 

Study researchers examined five days of weather considered extreme for a specific region each year. 

“The general idea is to use variation in extreme heat, which is effectively randomly assigned to all these economic regions and see the extent to which that accounts for variation in economic growth” in a given region, Mankin explained. 

“Then the second part is to say, ‘OK, how has human-caused warming influenced extreme heat?'” he added.

Despite these calculations, the study results almost certainly underestimate the true cost of extreme heat, according to the paper — only studying five days per year does not reflect the increased frequency of such heat events, and not all potential costs were included. 

Previous studies on the subject had focused on the costs of heat to specific sectors, though scientists say it is important to look at the price tag of climate change wholistically. 

“You want to know what those costs are, so that you have a frame of reference against which to compare the cost of action,” Mankin said, such as establishing cooling centers or installing air conditioners, versus “the cost of inaction.”

“The dividends economically of responding to the five hottest days of the year could be quite great,” he said.

But according to Mankin, the most important response is to reduce carbon emissions to slow global warming at the source. 

“We need to adapt to the climate we have now, and we also need to deeply invest in mitigation,” he said.

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YouTube to Help Users Make Informed Health Care Decisions

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YouTube announced Thursday it wants to help people make informed health care decisions by allowing more medical sources to share videos on its platform.  

“At YouTube, we’re working to make it easier for people to find authoritative information to help answer their questions, and we’re putting health professionals at the core of our efforts to connect people with helpful content,” the company said on its website. 

Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals can now apply to have their video channels certified to participate in You Tube’s health features, something that, until now, has only been available to educational institutions, public health departments, hospitals and government entities.

“The reality is that the majority of healthcare decisions are made outside the doctor’s office, in the everyday lives of our patients,” YouTube said.  “That’s why YouTube Health has been working on additional ways to help doctors, nurses, mental health professionals and health care information providers to bring high quality health information into the spaces that people visit throughout their day – like their favorite video-sharing app. 

“This new step will allow us to expand to include high quality information from a wider group of health care channels,” the company said.

YouTube has been criticized in the past for being home to some misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines but has since banned the misleading information.

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Tuberculosis Cases on Rise After COVID-19, Reversing Years of Progress

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Tuberculosis case numbers increased from 2019 to 2021, reversing years of progress as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted access to treatment and testing, the World Health Organization said Thursday. 

“For the first time in nearly two decades, WHO is reporting an increase in the number of people falling ill with TB and the drug-resistant tuberculosis, alongside an increase in TB related deaths,” said Tereza Kasaeva, director of the U.N. health agency’s global TB program. 

A WHO report released Thursday stated that more than 10 million people got tuberculosis in 2021, a 4.5% increase from 2020. Roughly 450,000 cases involved individuals infected with the drug-resistant TB strain, a 3% increase from 2020 to 2021. Most of these cases were reported in India, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines.

The COVID-19 pandemic “continues to have a damaging impact on access to TB diagnosis and treatment,” WHO said. COVID-19 restrictions, such as lockdowns and physical distancing, resulted in fewer people being diagnosed and getting the necessary treatment. With fewer people being diagnosed and treated for TB, more patients unknowingly spread the disease to others. As a result, more than a decade of progress was lost, said Dr. Mel Spigelman, president of the nonprofit TB Alliance. 

Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that attack the lungs. The disease is mainly spread through the air and, after COVID-19, tuberculosis is the world’s deadliest infectious disease. It primarily affects adults, particularly those who are malnourished or immunocompromised, in developing countries. More than 95% of cases are in developing countries.

The downturn of the global economy during the pandemic worsened the problem, as families faced unbearable costs due to their treatment, especially in developing countries. 

Dr. Hannah Spencer, with Doctors Without Borders in South Africa, suggested lowering the prices of tuberculosis treatment to no more than $500 to help low-income patients. WHO also suggested that more countries should cover the cost of TB diagnosis and treatment. 

“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that with solidarity, determination, innovation and the equitable use of tools, we can overcome severe health threats,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a news release Thursday. “Let’s apply those lessons to tuberculosis. It is time to put a stop to this long-time killer.” 

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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Hawaii’s Big Island Gets Warning as Huge Volcano Rumbles

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Hawaii officials are warning residents of the Big Island that the world’s largest active volcano, Mauna Loa, is sending signals that it may erupt.

Scientists say an eruption isn’t imminent, but they are on alert because of a recent spike in earthquakes at the volcano’s summit. Experts say it would take just a few hours for lava to reach homes closest to vents on the volcano, which last erupted in 1984.

Hawaii’s civil defense agency is holding meetings across the island to educate residents about how to prepare for a possible emergency. They recommend having a “go” bag with food, identifying a place to stay once they leave home and making a plan for reuniting with family members.

“Not to panic everybody, but they have to be aware of that you live on the slopes of Mauna Loa. There’s a potential for some kind of lava disaster,” said Talmadge Magno, the administrator for Hawaii County Civil Defense.

The volcano makes up 51% of the Hawaii Island landmass, so a large portion of the island has the potential to be affected by an eruption, Magno said.

There’s been a surge of development on the Big Island in recent decades — its population has more than doubled to 200,000 today from 92,000 in 1980 — and many newer residents weren’t around when Mauna Loa last erupted 38 years ago. All the more reason why Magno said officials are spreading the word about the science of the volcano and urging people to be prepared.

Mauna Loa, rising 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) above sea level, is the much larger neighbor to Kilauea volcano, which erupted in a residential neighborhood and destroyed 700 homes in 2018. Some of its slopes are much steeper than Kilauea’s so when it erupts, its lava can flow much faster.

During a 1950 eruption, the mountain’s lava traveled 15 miles (24 kilometers) to the ocean in less than three hours.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, which is part of the U.S. Geological Survey, said Mauna Loa has been in a state of “heightened unrest” since the middle of last month when the number of summit earthquakes jumped from 10 to 20 per day to 40 to 50 per day.

Scientists believe more earthquakes are occurring because more magma is flowing into Mauna Loa’s summit reservoir system from the hot spot under the earth’s surface that feeds molten rock to Hawaii’s volcanoes.

The temblors have declined in frequency in recent days but could rise again.

More than 220 people attended a community meeting last weekend that county civil defense officials held in Ocean View, a neighborhood that lava could reach in hours if molten rock erupts through vents on Mauna Loa’s southwest flank.

Bob Werner, an Ocean View resident who didn’t attend the meeting, said it’s wise to be aware of a possible eruption but not to fear it. He’s not concerned that the neighborhood would be completely cut off, if lava flows across the only road connecting it to the bigger towns of Kailua-Kona and Hilo, where many people do their shopping.

The “greater concern is it will be extremely annoying to drive an extra hour or two hours to get the same stuff,” he said.

Ryan Williams, the owner of the Margarita Village bar in Hilo, said the volcanic unrest wasn’t worrying customers who are used to warnings.

There could still be a heightened sense of urgency since officials have been holding town hall meetings, urging people to prepare.

“But everything I’ve read or heard, they trying to kind of assure people that conditions have not changed,” Williams said. “There’s no imminent eruption, but just to be alert.”

Magno said his agency is talking to residents now because communities closest to vents likely wouldn’t have enough time to learn how to respond and prepare once the observatory raises its alert level to “watch,” which means an eruption is imminent.

The current alert level is “advisory” meaning the volcano is showing signs of unrest yet there’s no indication an eruption is likely or certain.

Residents in other parts of the island would have more time to react.

Lava from Mauna Loa’s northeast flank could take days or weeks to reach residential communities. That’s because the mountain’s slopes on that side are relatively gentle and because towns are farther from volcanic vents.

Frank Trusdell, research geologist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said all of Mauna Loa’s eruptions in recorded history have started in its summit crater. About half of them stayed there, while the other half later spewed lava from vents lower down the mountain.

Lava erupting from the summit generally doesn’t travel far enough to reach residential areas.

Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times since 1843. It last erupted in 1984 when lava flowed down its eastern flank only to stop 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) short of Hilo, the Big Island’s most populous town.

Mauna Loa also has a history of disgorging huge volumes of lava.

In the 1950 eruption, which lasted for 23 days, Mauna Loa released 1,000 cubic meters (1,307 cubic yards) of lava per second. In contrast, Kilauea released 300 cubic meters (392 cubic yards) per second in 2018.

The earthquakes could continue for a while before any eruption: increased seismic activity lasted for a year before a 1975 eruption and a year-and-a-half before the 1984 one. Alternatively, the temblors could subside and Mauna Loa may not erupt this time.

Trusdell said residents should look at his agency’s maps and learn how quickly lava may show up in their neighborhood. He also urged people living in one of the short-notice areas to pay attention if the summit turns red.

“All you got to do is look up there and see the glow. You grab your stuff, throw it in the car and drive. Go!” he said.

They can always go home after if the lava ultimately doesn’t flow into their neighborhood, he said.

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Timeline of Billionaire Elon Musk’s Bid to Control Twitter

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On Oct. 4, Elon Musk reversed himself and offered to honor his original proposal to buy Twitter for $44 billion — a deal he had spent the previous several months trying to wriggle out of. He posted a video of himself arriving at Twitter headquarters Wednesday, and Thursday evening new outlets announced the deal had been completed and Musk had fired at least two top Twitter executives.

If the case has your head spinning, here’s a quick guide to the major events in the saga featuring the billionaire Tesla CEO and the social platform.

January 31: Musk starts buying shares of Twitter in near-daily installments, amassing a 5% stake in the company by mid-March.

March 26: Musk, who has tens of millions of Twitter followers and is active on the site, says he is giving “serious thought” to building an alternative to Twitter, questioning the platform’s commitment to “free speech” and whether Twitter is undermining democracy. He also privately reaches out to Twitter board members including his friend and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.

March 27: After privately informing Twitter of his growing stake in the company, Musk starts conversations with its CEO and board members about potentially joining the board. Musk also mentions taking Twitter private or starting a competitor, according to later regulatory filings.

April 4: A regulatory filing reveals that Musk has rapidly become the largest shareholder of Twitter after acquiring a 9% stake, or 73.5 million shares, worth about $3 billion.

April 5: Musk is offered a seat on Twitter’s board on the condition he amass no more than 14.9% of the company’s stock. CEO Parag Agrawal said in a tweet that “it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our Board.”

April 9: After exchanging pleasantries and bonding by text message over their love of engineering, a short-lived relationship between Agrawal and Musk sours after Musk publicly tweets “Is Twitter dying?” and gets a message from Agrawal calling the criticism unhelpful. Musk tersely responds: “This is a waste of time. Will make an offer to take Twitter private.”

April 11: Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal announces Musk will not be joining the board after all.

April 14: Twitter reveals in a securities filing that Musk has offered to buy the company outright for about $44 billion.

April 15: Twitter’s board unanimously adopts a “poison pill” defense in response to Musk’s proposed offer, attempting to thwart a hostile takeover.

April 21: Musk lines up $46.5 billion in financing to buy Twitter. Twitter board is under pressure to negotiate.

April 25: Musk reaches a deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion and take the company private. The outspoken billionaire has said he wanted to own and privatize Twitter because he thinks it’s not living up to its potential as a platform for free speech.

April 29: Musk sells roughly $8.5 billion worth of shares in Tesla to help fund the purchase of Twitter, according to regulatory filings.

May 5: Musk strengthens his offer to buy Twitter with commitments of more than $7 billion from a diverse group of investors including Silicon Valley heavy hitters like Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison.

May 10: In a hint at how he would change Twitter, Musk says he’d reverse Twitter’s ban of former President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, calling the ban a “morally bad decision” and “foolish in the extreme.”

May 13: Musk declares his plan to buy Twitter “temporarily on hold.” Musk says he needs to pinpoint the number of spam and fake accounts on the social media platform. Shares of Twitter tumble, while those of Tesla rebound sharply.

June 6: Musk threatens to end his $44 billion agreement to buy Twitter, accusing the company of refusing to give him information he requested about its spam bot accounts.

July 8: Musk says he will abandon his offer to buy Twitter after the company failed to provide enough information about the number of fake accounts.

July 12: Twitter sues Musk to force him to complete the deal. Musk soon countersues.

July 19: A Delaware judge says the Musk-Twitter legal dispute will go to trial in October.

August 23: A former head of security at Twitter alleges the company misled regulators about its poor cybersecurity defenses and its negligence in attempting to root out fake accounts that spread misinformation. Musk eventually cites the whistleblower as a new reason to scuttle his Twitter deal.

October 5: Musk offers to go through with his original proposal to buy Twitter for $44 billion. Twitter says it intends to close the transaction after receiving Musk’s offer.

October 6: Delaware judge delays Oct. 17 trial until November and gives both sides until Oct. 28 to reach agreement to close the deal.

October 20: The Washington Post reports that Musk told prospective Twitter investors that he plans to lay off 75% of the company’s 7,500 employees.

October 26: Musk posts a video of himself entering Twitter headquarters carrying a kitchen sink, indicating that the deal is set to go through.

October 27: In a message to advertisers, Musk says Twitter won’t become a “free-for-all hellscape.”  News organizations report the deal to buy Twitter has been completed.

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Elon Musk Completes $44 Billion Acquisition of Twitter

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Elon Musk became Twitter Inc’s new owner on Thursday, firing top executives he had accused of misleading him and providing little clarity over how he will achieve the lofty ambitions he has outlined for the influential social media platform.

The CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc TSLA.O has said he wants to “defeat” spam bots on Twitter, make the algorithms that determine how content is presented to its users publicly available, and prevent the platform from becoming an echo chamber for hate and division, even as he limits censorship.

Yet Musk has not offered details on how he will achieve all this and who will run the company. He has said he plans to cut jobs, leaving Twitter’s approximately 7,500 employees fretting about their future. He also said on Thursday he did not buy Twitter to make more money but “to try to help humanity, whom I love.”

Musk terminated Twitter Chief Executive Parag Agrawal, Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal and legal affairs and policy chief Vijaya Gadde, according to people familiar with the matter. He had accused them of misleading him and Twitter investors over the number of fake accounts on the social media platform.

Agrawal and Segal were in Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters when the deal closed and were escorted out, the sources added.

Twitter, Musk and the executives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The $44-billion acquisition is the culmination of a remarkable saga, full of twists and turns, that sowed doubt over whether Musk would complete the deal. It began on April 4, when Musk disclosed a 9.2% stake in the San Francisco company, making him its largest shareholder.

The world’s richest person then agreed to join Twitter’s board, only to balk at the last minute and offer to buy the company instead for $54.20 per share, an offer that Twitter was unsure whether to interpret as another of Musk’s cannabis jokes.

Musk’s offer was real, and over the course of just one weekend later in April, the two sides reached a deal at the price he suggested. This happened without Musk carrying out any due diligence on the company’s confidential information, as is customary in an acquisition.

In the weeks that followed, Musk had second thoughts. He complained publicly that he believed Twitter’s spam accounts were significantly higher than Twitter’s estimate, published in regulatory filings, of less than 5% of its monetizable daily active users. His lawyers then accused Twitter of not complying with his requests for information on the subject.

The acrimony resulted in Musk giving notice to Twitter on July 8 that he was terminating their deal on the grounds that Twitter misled him on the bots and did not cooperate with him. Four days later, Twitter sued Musk in Delaware, where the company is incorporated, to force him to complete the deal.

By then, shares of social media companies and the broader stock market had plunged on concerns that the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes, as it seeks to fight inflation, will push the U.S. economy into recession. Twitter accused Musk of buyer’s remorse, arguing he wanted to get out of the deal because he thought he overpaid.

Most legal analysts said Twitter had the strongest arguments and would likely prevail in court. Their view did not change even after Twitter’s former security chief Peiter Zatko stepped forward as a whistleblower in August to allege that the company failed to disclose weaknesses in its security and data privacy.

On Oct. 4, just as Musk was set to be deposed by Twitter’s lawyers ahead of the start of their trial later in the month, he performed another u-turn and offered to complete the deal as promised. The Delaware judge gave him an Oct. 28 deadline to close the transaction and avoid the trial.

‘Chief Twit’

Since then, Musk has indulged the deal hype. He walked into Twitter’s headquarters on Wednesday with a big grin and carrying a porcelain sink, subsequently tweeting “let that sink in.” He changed his description in his Twitter profile to “Chief Twit.”

He also tried to calm fears among employees that major layoffs are coming and assured advertisers that his past criticism of Twitter’s content moderation rules would not harm its appeal.

“Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!” Musk said in an open letter to advertisers on Thursday.

Musk has indicated he sees Twitter as a foundation for creating a “super app” that offers everything from money transfers to shopping and ride hailing.

“The long-term potential for Twitter in my view is an order of magnitude greater than its current value,” Musk said on Tesla’s call with analysts on Oct 19.

But Twitter is struggling to engage its most active users who are vital to the business. These “heavy tweeters” account for less than 10% of monthly overall users but generate 90% of all tweets and half of global revenue.

Musk said in May he would reverse the ban on Donald Trump, who was removed after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, although the former U.S. President Donald Trump has said he won’t return on the platform. He has instead launched his own social media app, Truth Social.

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US Rolls Out Voluntary Cybersecurity Goals

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The United States is trying to make it easier for companies and organizations to bolster their cybersecurity in the face of growing attacks aimed at crippling their operations, stealing their data or demanding ransom payments.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) rolled out their new Cybersecurity Performance Goals on Thursday, describing them as a critical but voluntary resource that will help companies and organizations make better decisions.

“Really what these cybersecurity performance goals present is a menu of options to advance one’s cybersecurity,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters, describing the rollout as a “watershed moment” for cybersecurity.

“They are accessible, they are easy to understand, and they are identified according to the cost that each would entail, the complexity to implement the goal, as well as the magnitude of the impact that the goal’s implementation would have,” he added.

For months, U.S. officials have been warning of an ever more complex and dangerous threat environment in cyberspace, pushing the government’s “Shields Up” awareness campaign, driven in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

They have also called attention to cyberattacks by Iran and North Korea, while warning that both nation states and non-state actors have increasingly been scanning and targeting U.S. critical infrastructure, from water and electric companies to airports, which were struck by a series of denial-of-service attacks earlier in October.

Private cybersecurity companies have likewise warned of a growing number of attacks against health care companies and education and research organizations.

While some bigger U.S. companies and organizations have been able to devote time, money and other resources to confront the growing dangers, U.S. officials are concerned that others have not.

In particular, CISA has worried about small to mid-sized businesses, along with hospitals and school systems, often described by officials as target rich but resource poor because they do not have the money or resources to defend systems and data from hackers.

Officials said the new guidelines, which focus on key areas like account security, training, incident reporting, and response and recovery, and come with checklists, are designed to ease the burden. The officials also said they anticipate the goals will change and evolve along with the threat.

The newly unveiled goals “were developed to really represent a minimum baseline of cyber security measures that if implemented, will reduce not only risk to critical infrastructure but also to national security, economic security and public health and safety,” said CISA Director Jen Easterly, calling them a “quick start guide.”

“[It’s] really a place to start to drive prioritized investment toward the most critical practices,” she said.

According to CISA, many of the new goals are already resonating, including with state and local officials running U.S. elections.

“We’ve been working with them to implement several of these best practices, as well as ensuring that they have the tools and resources and the capabilities to ensure the security and resilience of election infrastructure,” Easterly told reporters Thursday. “I’ve met with election officials even just over the past few days … and they all expressed confidence in particular in the cybersecurity across all of their systems.”

CISA also said Thursday that U.S. states and territories needing more help can take advantage of $1 billion in grants that are being made available over the next four years.

The grants, designed specifically to help protect U.S. critical infrastructure, were first announced last month.

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UN: Greenhouse Gas Cuts Needed to Prevent Climate Catastrophe

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GENEVA – A U.N. report warns the window for preventing a climate catastrophe is fast closing. The U.N. Environment Program’s latest Emissions Gap Report urges unprecedented cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and a rapid transformation of societies to head off the worst.

The U.N. report finds the world is falling far short of the Paris climate goals agreement, with no credible pathway for limiting a temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said progress since last year’s climate change conference, COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, has been woefully inadequate. She said nations have failed to deliver on their pledges for greater emissions cuts.

She noted greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by 45 percent by 2030 to stop climate change. However, instead of stabilizing global temperatures at 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial level, she said temperatures will likely rise 2.4 to 2.6 degrees by 2100.

“We are sliding from climate crisis to climate disaster. This report is sending us a very, very clear message. If we are serious about climate change, we need to kickstart a system-wide transformation now. We need a root and branch redesign of the electricity sector, of the transport sector, of the building sector, and food systems.”

Additionally, she said financial systems must be reformed so they can bankroll the required transformations. She says incremental changes no longer are an option. Bold action must be taken now.

Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization Peterri Talaas called the transformational changes doable. He noted the IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, earlier this year reported that prices of climate-friendly energy solutions have been dropping.

“Nowadays, it is cheaper to invest in solar or wind energy as compared to the fossil energy. And the good news is also that 32 countries have reduced their emissions during the past 15 years, whereas their economies have been growing. So, there is not an automatic connection between economic growth and emissions growth.”

He mentioned European countries, the United States, Japan, and Singapore as some of the countries that have managed to grow their economies while reducing emissions.

Environmental experts estimate a global transformation to a low-emissions economy is expected to require investments of at least $4 trillion to $6 trillion a year. They are urging nations attending next week’s COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to agree to foot the bill and to up their pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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MSF Warns of Measles, Cholera Outbreaks at Kenya Refugee Complex

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The charity Doctors Without Borders said Thursday that Kenya’s Dadaab Refugee Complex faces a high risk of measles and cholera outbreaks as thousands of new refugees arrive from areas of Somalia where the diseases are circulating. 

More than 233,000 refugees live in three overcrowded camps in the complex.  

Doctors Without Borders, best known by its French acronym MSF, reported a sharp rise since January in the number of people fleeing to Kenya to escape drought, hunger and violence. 

Many of the new arrivals are from southern Somalia, where measles and cholera outbreaks recently have occurred, the charity said.  

MSF’s deputy program manager for Kenya, Adrian Guadarrama, said Thursday in Geneva that many are being received by refugee communities inside camps, but many more are living in very poor conditions on the outskirts of the camps. 

Last week, he said, MSF teams recorded three cases of measles and two suspected cases of cholera in Dagahaley, one of Dadaab’s three refugee camps. 

“This should be an alarm for all the actors and stakeholders involved in the response in Dadaab. Because we know that just one case of any of these diseases can cause a full-blown outbreak very quickly, affecting not only the refugee community, but also the host community,” Guadarrama said. 

Kenya’s Health Ministry last week issued a cholera alert following confirmation of 61 cases in six counties. 

Guadarrama said Kenya stopped registering new arrivals in Dadaab in 2015.  

Unregistered refugees, he said, cannot get basic services and assistance. He said clean drinking water is scarce, and toilets and handwashing points lacking. These conditions, he said, make the unregistered refugees highly vulnerable to life-threatening diseases. 

Guadarrama said the need for measles and cholera vaccination campaigns is urgent, but that devising a strategy is complex. Some people are scattered in the outskirts, he said, while others are inside Dagahaley camp. 

“We talk about a camp of 115,000. So, just to identify them is quite a challenge,” he said. “And this is why having screening, or a reception center or a registration center — that would be ideal — would allow us to cope with those activities and provide access to basic services including vaccination, for example.” 

Guadarrama said the humanitarian situation in the camps and in the surrounding communities is not yet at the breaking point and there is still time to avoid an emergency in a long and protracted crisis. 


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Musk Says He Doesn’t Seek ‘Free-for-All Hellscape’ for Twitter

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Elon Musk is telling Twitter advertisers he is buying the platform to “help humanity” and doesn’t want it to become a “free-for-all hellscape” where anything can be said with no consequences.

The message to advertisers posted Thursday on Twitter came a day before Musk’s deadline for closing his $44 billion deal to buy the social-media company and take it private.

“The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence,” Musk wrote, in an unusually-long message for the billionaire Tesla CEO who typically projects his thoughts in one-line tweets

He continued: “There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society.”

The message reflects concerns among advertisers — Twitter’s chief source of revenue  that Musk’s plans to promote free speech by cutting back on moderating content will open the floodgates to more online toxicity and drive away users.

Friday’s deadline to close the deal was ordered by the Delaware Chancery Court in early October. It is the latest step in an epic battle during which Musk signed an April deal to acquire Twitter, then tried to back out of it, leading Twitter to sue the Tesla CEO to force him to conclude the deal. If the two sides don’t meet the Friday deadline, the next step could be a November trial that would likely lead to a judge forcing Musk to complete the deal.

But Musk has been signaling that the deal is going through by Friday, paying a visit to Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters Wednesday and changing his Twitter profile to “Chief Twit.”

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Germany to Become One of Europe’s First Countries to Legalize Cannabis

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Germany on Wednesday unveiled plans to legalize cannabis, potentially making it one of the first countries in Europe to make marijuana legal.

Presenting his plans to the cabinet of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the proposal aims to achieve “the most liberal cannabis liberalization in Europe, and, on the other hand … the most tightly regulated market.”

Germany’s federal Cabinet reportedly approved the plan, kicking off a lengthy process to legalize growth, cultivation and distribution of the plant.

German laws must comply with European legislation, and under the proposal, the government would regulate cannabis production, sale, and distribution as part of a controlled, legalized market, said Lauterbach, describing the reform as a possible “model” for other European countries.

Although many European countries have decriminalized small amounts of cannabis for recreational purposes, only one, Malta, has fully legalized it.

The proposed plan would also legalize the acquisition and possession of 20 to 30 grams of cannabis for personal consumption, cultivation of up to two or three plants per person, and sales through specialized stores. Use of cannabis would remain prohibited for anyone under 18.

According to the plan, the government would also introduce a special consumption tax and develop education and abuse prevention programs, while ongoing investigations and criminal proceedings connected to cannabis would be terminated.

Legalizing cannabis would push out Germany’s cannabis black market and could increase annual tax revenues, create 27,000 new jobs, and generate cost savings of about $4.7 billion, according to a report by Reuters.

Wednesday’s announcement was met with mixed reactions throughout the country. A national pharmacists association warned of potential health risks of legalizing cannabis, while some regional officials expressed concerns that Germany would become a drug-tourism destination, similar to the Netherlands, where some coffee shops are allowed to sell cannabis under strict conditions.

According to The Guardian, Germany’s health minister said the Dutch system “combined two disadvantages: liberal use but not a controlled market. What we have learned from the Dutch experience is that we don’t want to do it that way. We want to control the entire market.”

Some information from this report came from Reuters.

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US Technology Helps Improve Crop Yields in Drought-stricken Africa

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More frequent and severe droughts in Africa are hampering food production, especially in arid parts of the continent, where farmers struggle to eke out a living. A water retention system developed in the United States is helping African farmers fight the trend and improve crop yields in drought-affected areas.

Under the scorching sun in the Ulilinzi village of southeastern Kenya, farmers are engaging in unique land preparations.

They are installing in the ground specially designed polyethylene membranes that look like clear covers, to prevent the loss of moisture and nutrients from the soil.

Exacerbated by drought from climate change, the sandy soil in this area, like in most arid and semi-arid areas, has made it nearly impossible to produce abundant crops.

However, this new water retention technology developed in the U.S. is giving farmers here new hope.

Alvin Smucker is a professor of soil biophysics at Michigan State University who developed the technology.

“We had a lot of government funding, going into millions and millions of dollars to put all these systems together. And then test it in Texas, Arizona, California and Michigan. And these … we … all four universities that worked with us. So, this is not something that we just put a little container in the backyard — my backyard — and now we are saying it is the best in the world. It has been tested,” he said.

Shem Kuyah, a researcher at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, is one of the scientists leading the trials of the technology in Kenya.

“We have tested the technology with cowpea[s]. We have also tested the technology with maize, and we realized that farms where we had installed these membranes were more productive,” said Kuyah.

The technology has so far been tested in Zimbabwe and Kenya and is getting good reviews.

Florence Mutisya, a farmer in Ulilinzi village, has deployed the technology in her farm.

She said when the technology came, she was trained on how to make her sandy soil farm fertile. “I saw the benefits and deployed it in my farm. And I can say that this technology is working very well because now, I get [a] good harvest.”

A few meters away, Ann Mutunga is harvesting kales at her farm.

“This technology is very good.” She poses before she continues. “I can say it is good, because when it was used in my farm for trials, I harvested a lot of maize,” Mutunga explains. “Even now, we are very happy because as you can see, we have vegetables which you can’t find anywhere else around here,” she says, beaming with a smile.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture is among the organizations spearheading trials of the subsurface water retention technology in the sub-Saharan region and says it can bring about a green revolution in the long run, as Sylvia Nyawira, a researcher at the center, explains.

“In addition to the technology, farmers, if they continue to apply, for instance, manure,  retain their crop residues in the soil, reducing tillage in the soils. Then there’s buildup of organic matter. So, even in five years to come, the yields that we have been witnessing in plots that have the technology are expected to be much higher.”  

Apart from improving crop yields, experts say the technology can also help in climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration.

“As you increase productivity, the crops are able to take carbon from the atmosphere and fix it into their biomass. And when this material is incorporated into the soil, it increases soil organic matter. And by increasing the organic matter in the soil, you are able to fix carbon dioxide that was once in the atmosphere. You are able to lock it into the soil,” said Kuyah. 

A key drawback of this new water retention technology is the high cost and labor involved. It costs between 1,250 to 2,000 U.S. dollars to buy the specialized membranes to cover one hectare of land.

The challenge now is making this technology available for farmers in remote areas who need it the most.


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CDC Warns of Possible Surge of Flu Cases

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After two years of low influenza case numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns of a possibly harsh flu season.  

“The United States has experienced relatively little influenza activity since 2020, thanks, in part, to community mitigation measures used to control the spread of COVID-19, making the country ripe for a severe influenza season,” the CDC told VOA in an email.  

According to the CDC, the flu is already spreading in parts of the South, with relatively high activity levels in Georgia and Texas, compared to the same period last year.  

Although the influenza season in the U.S. is just beginning, “based on what we have seen in parts of the Southern Hemisphere, flu has the potential to hit us hard this year,” Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said earlier this month.

Researchers often look to the Southern Hemisphere because its flu season hits first, usually from May to October, to foreshadow what will happen in the north, where flu season usually starts in October, peaks in December and can last through May. 

Australia’s flu season hit that country two months earlier than usual and caused one of its worst seasons in recent years, with cases peaking about three times higher than average, according to the Australian government’s Department of Health and Aged Care. During Australia’s 2022 flu season, of the 225,332 laboratory-confirmed cases, there have been 308 influenza-associated deaths, the agency reported. In comparison, in 2020, of the 21,266 laboratory-confirmed cases, there were 37 influenza-associated deaths. 

The flu hit younger people especially hard in Australia. Although COVID-19 has been relatively mild for younger people, experts caution that children may be at especially high risk this year. That’s because many children have not been exposed to the flu due to COVID-19 safety precautions, including the use of masks, remote learning and social distancing taken in recent years, leaving them without natural immunity. 

Influenza A, which causes more serious illness than other strains of the virus, is more prevalent this year, according to CDC data. It also spreads about two to three times more rapidly than Influenza B, a less common type of influenza.  

Although influenza symptoms are similar to those of a common flu, they are typically more intense and begin more abruptly. The symptoms include common cold symptoms, such as a cough or runny nose, but also range to symptoms such as a fever or body aches. Some people also experience vomiting or diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults.  

The CDC urges that Americans ages 6 months and older get a flu shot by the end of October. Experts say it’s the best way to be protected from the ailment. 

“Over the past two years, we’ve seen some worrisome drops in flu vaccination coverage, especially in some groups of people who are at the highest risk of developing serious flu illness,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a news conference earlier this month.  

Health officials fear fewer people will be vaccinated because of the anti-vaccine sentiment that increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases found that fewer Americans said they will get the flu shot compared to years before.  

The CDC told VOA News in an email that to help avoid the flu, “people should continue to practice the everyday preventive actions that we saw work so well during the pandemic like social distancing, frequent handwashing, staying home when you are sick, and covering coughs and sneezes.”   

“With a potentially challenging flu season ahead, I urge everyone to protect themselves and their families from flu and its potentially serious complications,” Walensky said. 


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US Technology Helps Improve Crop Yields in Drought-stricken Africa 

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More frequent and severe droughts in Africa are hampering food production, especially in arid parts of the continent where farmers struggle to eke out a living. A water retention system developed in the U.S. is helping African farmers fight the trend and improve crop yields in drought-affected areas. Juma Majanga reports from Kibwezi, Kenya.  

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Europe’s Bees Stung by Climate, Pesticides and Parasites

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Bees pollinate 71 of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of food worldwide. They also pollinate wild plants, helping sustain biodiversity and the beauty of the natural world.

But climate change, pesticides and parasites are taking a terrible toll on bees, and they need protecting, said European beekeepers, who held their annual congress in Quimper, western France, this week.

The congress, which said some European beekeepers were suffering “significant mortalities and catastrophic harvests due to difficult climatic conditions,” was an opportunity for beekeepers and scientists to respond to the major concerns.

The European Union, the world’s second-largest importer of honey, currently produces just 60% of what it consumes.

French beekeepers, for example, expect to harvest between 12,000 and 14,000 metric tons of honey this year, far lower than the 30,000 tons they harvested in the 1990s, according to the National Union of French Beekeepers (UNAF).

“I’ve been fighting for bees for 30 years, but if I had to choose now, I don’t know if I’d become a beekeeper,” said UNAF spokesman Henri Clement, who has 200 hives in the mountainous Cevennes region in southeastern France.

Clement is 62 and not far off retiring.

“But it’s not much fun for young people who want to take up the profession,” he said.

Many of the topics buzzing around the congress were evidence of this — pesticides, climate change, and Asian hornets, parasitic varroa mites and hive beetles, all invasive alien species in Europe.

Challenges includes rain, drought

With climate change, “the bigger issue is just the erratic weather and rain patterns, drought and things like that,” said U.S. entomologist Jeff Pettis, president of Apimondia, an international federation of beekeeping associations in 110 countries.

“In certain places, the plants had been used to a certain temperature. And now it goes up, and you have a hot dry summer, and there are no flowers,” Pettis told AFP.

No flowers means no pollen, which means bees dying of hunger.

Climate scientists say human-induced global heating is intensifying extreme weather events such as flooding, and heatwaves that exacerbate wildfires.

“The fires seem to be a big issue,” Pettis said. “They come sporadically, and we lose hives directly from flooding and fires.

Pettis, a former scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, published a study in 2016 on the quality of pollen produced by goldenrod, a hardy perennial also known as solidago that produces a myriad of small yellow daisy-like flowers.

The study showed that the more carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — that accumulates in the atmosphere, the lower the amount of protein in goldenrod pollen.

North America bees are dependent on nourishment from goldenrod pollen to get through the winter, Pettis said.

“Getting inferior food … should affect wintering. It could happen with other pollen sources. We don’t know.”

As in France, 30% to 40% of hives in the United States are dying every winter, Pettis said, decimated by varroa mites, pesticides and the destruction of wild spaces where wild plants grow

“Today, there are even American startups that are developing drones to pollinize plants in the place of bees. It’s utterly appalling,” said Clement.

Toxic threat

Toxic pesticides are another factor decimating bee colonies and other pollinating insects.

French molecular biophysics scientist Jean-Marc Bonmatin said parasites such as varroa were “boosted by the presence of neonicotinide pesticides, which directly poison pollinators.”

Neonicotinoids, chemically similar to nicotine, are systemic pesticides.

Unlike contact pesticides, which remain on the surface of the treated leaves, systemic pesticides are taken up by the plant and transported to its leaves, flowers, roots and stems, as well as to its pollen and nectar.

These toxic substances can remain in the soil for between five and 30 years, Bonmatin said.

The EU restricted the use of three neonicotinoids — but not all — in 2013 and banned them outright in 2018.

But since 2013, several EU states have repeatedly granted “emergency authorizations” to use noxious insecticides on major crops.

He said open-source software called Toxibee was being launched soon to help farmers protect bees by identifying the least toxic molecules to use on their crops.

“Before they spray the crops with pesticides, they can try to limit their noxious effect,” he said. “Because what kills bees will one day damage people’s health, too.”

Pettis strove, however, to remain upbeat, pointing to some of the ways people can help bees.

“[We should] diversify agriculture and try not [to] be driven by chemically dependent agriculture, support organic and more sustainable farming.”

He also stressed the incredible resistance of some bee species, helped by factors in the natural world.

He cited the example of a black bee found on the Ile de Groix in Brittany, which has survived varroa attacks without beekeepers treating them for mites or giving them supplementary feeding.

“We think the bees are dependent on us, but in reality, they survive pretty well even without us,” he said. “And you still have the beauty of the bees. It’s such a good thing to work with bees.”

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Kenyan Museums, Farmers Conserve Indigenous Seeds as GMOs Are Legalized

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Kenya’s museums and partners are conserving and promoting indigenous seeds after the government lifted a ban on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, for farming. The museum says the native seeds are at risk because of the GMO seeds, which the government and some farmers say will help them to produce more crops faster as the region suffers a historic drought. Victoria Amunga reports from Nairobi, Kenya. Videographer: Jimmy Makhulo

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WHO Says a Polio-Free World Within Grasp

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In marking World Polio Day, advocates for a polio-free world are urging nations to commit to a new five-year strategy to eradicate this crippling disease and consign it to the trash bin of history.

An estimated 350,000 children were paralyzed by polio when the World Health Organization launched its Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988. In the world today, polio is endemic only in Pakistan, and Afghanistan. So far this year, 29 cases have been recorded, putting the possibility of a polio-free world within reach.

The WHO notes the final stretch is the most difficult and cautions nations against letting down their guard too soon. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the 29 recorded cases include a small number in southeast Africa linked to a strain originating in Pakistan.

“While it does not affect the WHO African region’s wild polio free certification, it shows us that as long as polio continues to circulate anywhere, it is a threat to children everywhere. Despite this news, we have a unique window of opportunity right now to end polio for good.”

The WHO warns polio also can spread within communities through circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses. These variants, it notes, can emerge in places where not enough people have been immunized against this crippling disease. It reports these variants continue to spread across parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe and new outbreaks have been detected in Britain, Israel and the United States in recent months.

UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell says the new polio eradication strategy is designed to take the world to the finish line. She says the strategy includes tactics to protect children from variant outbreaks and stop their spread to other countries.

“We are also working with governments to speed up our response to these outbreaks, acting immediately to ensure that they do not harm more children,” Russel said. “And we continue working to integrate polio activities with other immunization and health programs so we can reach high-risk children who have never received vaccines before. The new strategy will help us end all forms of polio. It will also help prepare countries to respond to future health threats.”   

If this goal is reached, polio will become only the second disease after smallpox to have been wiped off the face of the Earth. U.N. health agencies say it will cost $4.8 billion to achieve this historic milestone.    

The economic returns, they say, will be significant. They estimate eradicating polio would result in savings of more than $33 billion.    

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