Category Archives: Nature

Bees Are Even Smarter Than We Realized

Annalee Newitz reports for Arstechnia:

You can now add bees to the rarefied list of tool-using animals, which already includes primates, crows, octopods, otters, porpoises, and more. A fascinating set of experiments has revealed that bees can be taught to use tools, even though they don’t use them in the wild.

Queen Mary University of London biologist Olli J. Loukola and his colleagues wanted to find out more about how bee intelligence works. Previous experiments with the insects have shown that they can count, communicate with each other using “waggle dances” that reveal the direction of food, and pull strings to get access to food. Loukola’s new tool use test showed that not only are bees good with tools, but they can also extemporize to use them more effectively.

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Nature Videos Make Prisoners Less Violent

Coby McDonald reports for PopSci:

Prison cell at Pelican Bay State Prison with projected bird images on the wall. Imprisonment in America often means complete seclusion from nature. Take the case of the maximum security inmates at Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon: they spend 23 hours a day locked in 7 X 12 foot concrete cells. The only windows face inside the unit. Four or five times a week they can spend an hour in an exercise yard that is about twenty times smaller than a basketball court. From the yard, prisoners can glimpse the sky—the only “nature” they ever see. And this is typical.

Of course, prisons weren’t designed for comfort, and one could argue that access to nature is one of many pleasures that convicted criminals forfeit. But mental illness is a growing problem in prisons, the impacts of which society at large bears when inmates are released. Solitary confinement (a staple of maximum security units) has been shown to cause mental health issues, or when preexisting, exacerbate them. And it turns out that isolation from other human beings might not be the only factor. Researchers in the field of ecopsychology believe that nature deprivation can also damage mental well-being.

That concept resonated with the administrators at Snake River who were struggling to address violence and suicide among their most troubled inmates. The superintendent of the prison, Mark Nooth, encouraged his staff to explore novel solutions.

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U.S. Navy Secretly Conducting Electromagnetic Warfare Training on Washington Roads

Dahr Jamail reports for Truthout:

(Photo: Olympic Park Road via Shutterstock; Edited; LW / TO)Without public notification of any kind, the US Navy has secretly been conducting electromagnetic warfare testing and training on public roads in western Washington State for more than five years.

An email thread between the Navy and the US Forest Service between 2010 and 2012, recently obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Oregon-based author and activist Carol Van Strum in November 2014, revealed that the Navy has likely been driving mobile electromagnetic warfare emitters and conducting electromagnetic warfare training in the Olympic National Forest and on public roads on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula since 2010.

[…] As Truthout previously reported, the Navy itself has produced a medical study showing that exposure to electromagnetic radiation causes a myriad of human health problems, including corneal damage, tubular degeneration of testicles, brain heating, sterility, altered penile function, death, cranial nerve disorders, seizures, convulsions, depression, insomnia, chest pain, and even sparking between dental fillings.

Other reports by the US Air Force, NASA, medical doctors and scientific publications confirm these and other deleterious health effects that would result from the Navy’s electromagnetic weaponry arsenal, in addition to large-scale negative impacts on birds, aquatic life and other biota.

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BBC’s 2015 in Science

Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history

Yuval Noah Harari reports for The Guardian:

Pig carcasses hanging in an abattoir[…] The fate of animals in such industrial installations has become one of the most pressing ethical issues of our time, certainly in terms of the numbers involved. These days, most big animals live on industrial farms. We imagine that our planet is populated by lions, elephants, whales and penguins. That may be true of the National Geographic channel, Disney movies and children’s fairytales, but it is no longer true of the real world. The world contains 40,000 lions but, by way of contrast, there are around 1 billion domesticated pigs; 500,000 elephants and 1.5 billion domesticated cows; 50 million penguins and 20 billion chickens.

In 2009, there were 1.6 billion wild birds in Europe, counting all species together. That same year, the European meat and egg industry raised 1.9 billion chickens. Altogether, the domesticated animals of the world weigh about 700m tonnes, compared with 300m tonnes for humans, and fewer than 100m tonnes for large wild animals.

This is why the fate of farm animals is not an ethical side issue. It concerns the majority of Earth’s large creatures: tens of billions of sentient beings, each with a complex world of sensations and emotions, but which live and die on an industrial production line. Forty years ago, the moral philosopher Peter Singer published his canonical book Animal Liberation, which has done much to change people’s minds on this issue. Singer claimed that industrial farming is responsible for more pain and misery than all the wars of history put together.

The scientific study of animals has played a dismal role in this tragedy. The scientific community has used its growing knowledge of animals mainly to manipulate their lives more efficiently in the service of human industry. Yet this same knowledge has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that farm animals are sentient beings, with intricate social relations and sophisticated psychological patterns. They may not be as intelligent as us, but they certainly know pain, fear and loneliness. They too can suffer, and they too can be happy.

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British oil company’s hand behind Congo army action

Marc Santora writes for Business Day Live:

When a British oil company began prospecting in Africa’s oldest national park, drawing worldwide concern and inspiring an Oscar-nominated documentary last year, the company was adamant in denying any wrongdoing.

Though soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo may have engaged in a campaign of intimidation and coercion against residents who were opposed to drilling in the park, the company said it could not be held responsible for their actions.

“We can’t tell the army to go and kiss off,” Roger Cagle, the deputy chief executive director of the oil company, SOCO International, told The Telegraph newspaper. He said the soldiers had been assigned by the Congolese government to keep the company safe.

But according to documents obtained by Global Witness, an advocacy group, SOCO appears to have paid tens of thousands of dollars to an army officer who has been accused of leading a brutal campaign against those objecting to the company’s oil exploration in the Virunga National Park.’

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Stanford researcher Paul Ehrlich warns sixth mass extinction is here

Editor’s Note: Paul Ehrlich is well known for making predictions of doom about the future going back decades starting with his 1968 book ‘The Population Bomb’. You can learn more about his work (including criticisms) in the links below.

Want to Help Nepal Recover from the Quake? Cancel its Debt, Says Rights Group

Kanya D’Almeida writes for IPS News:

[…] Questions abound as to how this impoverished nation, ranked 145 out of 187 on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) – making it one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs) – will recover from the disaster, considered the worst in Nepal in over 80 years.

One possible solution has come from the Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based organisations and 400 faith communities worldwide, which said in a press release Monday that Nepal could qualify for debt relief under the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) new Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCR).

The IMF created the CCR this past February in order to assist poor countries recover from severe natural disasters or health crises by providing grants for debt service relief. Already, the fund has eased some of the financial woes of Ebola-impacted countries by agreeing to cancel nearly 100 million dollars of debt.

Quoting World Bank figures, Jubilee USA said in a statement, “Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders and spent 217 million dollars repaying debt in 2013.”

Nepal owes some 1.5 billion dollars each to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, as well as 54 million dollars to the IMF, 133 million dollars to Japan and 101 million dollars to China.’

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Was 1610 the beginning of a new human epoch?

Hannah Devlin reports for The Guardian:

King James was on the throne, Shakespeare’s Cymbeline was playing in the theatre and Galileo discovered four moons of Jupiter. In future, though, 1610 could be chiefly remembered as the geological time-point at which humans came to dominate Earth.

Scientists have argued that it is time to draw a line under the current geological epoch and usher in the start of a new one, defined by mankind’s impact on the planet.

The year 1610 is a contender for marking the transition, they claim, because this is when the irreversible transfer of crops and species between the new and old worlds was starting to be acutely felt.’

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Why Animals Eat Psychoactive Plants

Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, recently published an excerpt from his book at Boing Boing:

‘The United Nations says the drug war’s rationale is to build “a drug-free world — we can do it!” U.S. government officials agree, stressing that “there is no such thing as recreational drug use.” So this isn’t a war to stop addiction, like that in my family, or teenage drug use. It is a war to stop drug use among all humans, everywhere. All these prohibited chemicals need to be rounded up and removed from the earth. That is what we are fighting for.

I began to see this goal differently after I learned the story of the drunk elephants, the stoned water buffalo, and the grieving mongoose. They were all taught to me by a remarkable scientist in Los Angeles named Professor Ronald K. Siegel.’

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John Perkins on Embracing Cuba, TPP Kiss of Death & Restoring the Life Economy

Abby Martin interviews Author and Activist, John Perkins, discussing the economic impact of the US’ new policy towards Cuba as well as the damage that international free trade agreements do to third world economies.’ (Breaking the Set)

Earth faces sixth ‘great extinction’ with 41% of amphibians set to go the way of the dodo

Robin McKie reports for The Guardian:

‘A stark depiction of the threat hanging over the world’s mammals, reptiles, amphibians and other life forms has been published by the prestigious scientific journal, Nature. A special analysis carried out by the journal indicates that a staggering 41% of all amphibians on the planet now face extinction while 26% of mammal species and 13% of birds are similarly threatened.

Many species are already critically endangered and close to extinction, including the Sumatran elephant, Amur leopard and mountain gorilla. But also in danger of vanishing from the wild, it now appears, are animals that are currently rated as merely being endangered: bonobos, bluefin tuna and loggerhead turtles, for example.

In each case, the finger of blame points directly at human activities. The continuing spread of agriculture is destroying millions of hectares of wild habitats every year, leaving animals without homes, while the introduction of invasive species, often helped by humans, is also devastating native populations. At the same time, pollution and overfishing are destroying marine ecosystems.’

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The Ocean Contains Over Five Trillion Pieces of Plastic Weighing More than 250,000 Tons

Rachel Nuwer reports for Smithsonian:

‘Plastic is the most pervasive pollutant in the ocean today. But researchers have struggled to estimate just how much of the 6 billion tons of plastic that has been manufactured since the mid-20th century ultimately winds up in the ocean.

Now a carefully vetted estimate of our oceans’ plastic burden shows that the answer is not pretty. Based on the calculations, at least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic—weighing nearly 269,000 tons—are currently bobbing around in the ocean. A team of researchers from six countries reported the finding today in PLOS ONE.

Revealing this disturbing figure required the team to conduct 24 garbage-collecting expeditions between 2007 and 2013. Those trips to sea included visits to all five sub-tropical gyres—large systems of constantly rotating currents infamous for their roles in creating garbage patches—plus the Mediterranean Sea, the Bay of Bengal and Australia. At all of the sites, teams collected water samples for estimating the amount of microplastic, pieces of plastic smaller than 4.75 millimeters. They also tallied up larger pieces using standardized visual surveys. These data represent the most comprehensive tally yet done for ocean plastic pollution.’

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Construction of Nicaragua canal to begin December 22

Reuters reports:

Nicaragua ChannelConstruction of Nicaragua’s $50 billion Interoceanic Grand Canal, expected to rival the Panama Canal, will begin Dec. 22 after feasibility studies have been approved, the committee overseeing the project said on Thursday.

The route suggested for the 172-mile (278-km) canal, which would be longer, deeper and wider than the Panama Canal, was approved in July. Construction will be led by Hong Kong-based HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co Ltd (HKND Group).

Opponents of the plan are concerned about the canal’s effect on Lake Nicaragua, an important fresh water source for the country, as well as the impact on poorer communities.

Committee member Telemaco Talavera said the feasibility studies were expected to be approved next month. The plan is to finish the canal within five years, with it becoming operational around 2020.’

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The Top Censored Stories of 2014: Interview with Mickey Huff

Abby Martin interviews, Mickey Huff, Director of Project Censored, about some of the top 25 censored stories of 2014, covering everything from the lack of police brutality statistics to the impact of ocean acidification.’ (Breaking the Set)

Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF

Damian Carrington reports for The Guardian:

‘The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London found.

“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” said Professor Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. “But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.” He said nature, which provides food and clean water and air, was essential for human wellbeing.’

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Zeitgeist’s Peter Joseph on Wealth Illusion, Structural Violence & Hope for Survival

Abby Martin interviews the creator of the Zeitgeist Movement, Peter Joseph, covering everything from the upcoming Zeitgeist Festival in Los Angeles on October 4th to economic and societal solutions to global problems ranging from environmental destruction to mass inequality. (Breaking the Set)

FEMA Is Trying To Get Back $5.8M in Hurricane Sandy Aid Money

Alice Speri reports for VICE News:

‘The US disaster response agency is now asking Hurricane Sandy victims to return millions that it accidentally handed out following the devastating storm, which in the fall of 2012 affected the entire eastern seaboard of the US, from Florida to Maine, and as far west as Wisconsin.

The agency is hoping to recoup some $5.8 million in aid it disbursed to households affected by the “superstorm” that flooded several communities and killed dozens of people while damaging or destroying tens of thousands of homes.

FEMA shelled out some $1.4 billion in aid following the storms — but it is now looking into some 4,500 households it has found to be ineligible for the funds, and it has already sent out letters to about 850 of them asking for its money back, the Associated Press found in an investigation of the agency’s records.’

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Illegal land clearing for commercial agriculture responsible for half of tropical deforestation

Science Daily reports:

‘A comprehensive new analysis released today says that nearly half (49%) of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of illegal clearing for commercial agriculture. The study also finds that the majority of this illegal destruction was driven by overseas demand for agricultural commodities including palm oil, beef, soy, and wood products. In addition to devastating impacts on forest-dependent people and biodiversity, the illegal conversion of tropical forests for commercial agriculture is estimated to produce 1.47 gigatonnes of carbon each year — equivalent to 25% of the EU’s annual fossil fuel-based emissions.’

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British oil giant accused of bribery in tussle over Africa’s oldest national park

Jim Armitage reports for The Independent:

‘Contractors and agents working on behalf of a major London-based oil company paid bribes to officials and rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo in their bid to explore for oil in Africa’s oldest national park, according to anti-corruption activists.

Soco International has been conducting studies on whether it is feasible to drill for oil in Lake Edward in Virunga, the Unesco world heritage site made famous by Dian Fossey and the movie Gorillas in the Mist. In April, the park’s head, Emmanuel de Merode was shot and seriously injured by unknown assailants.’

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What?! Another Massive BP Oil Spill Cover-Up? Interview with Greg Palast

Abby Martin speaks with investigative journalist, Greg Palast discussing the most recent penalties against BP, and aspects of the company’s criminality that have been largely overlooked by the rest of the media including a massive oil spill cover-up in the Caspian Sea.’ (Breaking the Set)

Bacteria found in bees show potential as an alternative to antibiotics

Fiona MacDonald reports for Science Alert:

bees‘A team of researchers from Lund University in Sweden has identified a unique group of 13 lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that come from the honey stomach of bees, and are found in fresh honey, that have an impressive ability to fight pathogens. The honey stomach is one of two stomachs found in bees, and it stores nectar, which worker bees later suck out and store in the hive.

Together, these live bacteria produce a number of active microbial compounds, such as hydrogen peroxide, fatty acids and anaesthetics, that can kill other harmful bacteria – it’s believed that this is the formula that protects the bee colony against collapse. Unfortunately, these LAB are processed out of the honey we buy in shops, but the researchers now believe they could be used to help treat anitibiotic resistance.’

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Chemical Industry using TTIP ‘to attack the precautionary principle’

Axel Singhofen reports for Chemical Watch:

‘The last 12 months have seen a surge of attacks against the EU’s precautionary principle. Some law firms consider it as a potential obstacle to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and UK Conservative MEP Julie Girling considers that “the EU’s expanding embrace of `precautionary’ regulation… may well be the biggest threat” to an agreement being signed off.

Last October, 12 CEOs of mainly chemical companies wrote to the presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament, calling for the formal adoption of an “innovation principle” as a counterbalance to “precautionary legislation”, because they were concerned that “the necessary balance of precaution and proportion is increasingly being replaced by a simple reliance on the precautionary principle and the avoidance of technological risk.’

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From Pine Beetles to Disappearing Glaciers, NASA Scientists Tell of “Dramatic” Planetary Changes

Dahr Jamail writes for Truthout:

Trees turning red in forests that have been attacked by the mountain pine beetle near a wildfire site in Montana, July 7, 2011. Some scientists are increasingly worried that as the warming accelerates, trees themselves could become climate-change victims on a massive scale. (Josh Haner/The New York Times)Until very recently, popular thinking assumed that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) was in a “slow” period. However, last year, a study published in Geophysical Research Letters showed that the planet had experienced more overall warming in the 15 years leading up to March 2013 than it had in the 15 years before that. In case there was any doubt that the planet is warming more quickly than previously thought, a study published in the August 22, 2014 issue of Science has verified this.

Another study from July addressed how regional climate systems were synchronizing, after which “the researchers detected wild variability that amplified the changes and accelerated into an abrupt warming event of several degrees within a few decades.” Shortly thereafter, yet another study showed that rapid warming of the Atlantic waters, most likely due to ACD, has “turbocharged” the Pacific Equatorial trade winds. Whenever that phenomenon stops, it is highly likely we will witness very rapid changes across the globe, including a sudden acceleration of the average surface temperature of the planet.

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In Chad, elephants make a comeback

Celeste Hicks reports for Al Jazeera:

‘[…] The dire situation facing Africa’s elephants has become headline news. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists last month warned that poaching had caused elephant populations to reach a tipping point on the continent where more animals are being killed than are being born.

In Central Africa, the number of elephants has declined by 60 percent in just a decade. Zakouma, however, is bucking that trend. There has not been a single case of poaching inside the 19,000-square-mile park for nearly three years.

That’s very different from the situation at the end of the last decade, when a wave of killings hit the park, near the border with Central African Republic. The number of elephants that inhabit the park for most of the year fell from about 4,000 in 2006 to just 450 by 2011.’

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Pulitzer-winning scientist warns wildlife face a ‘biological holocaust’

Tom Bawden reports for The Independent:

‘Half the planet should be set aside solely for the protection of wildlife to prevent the “mass extinction” of species, according to one of the world’s leading biologists. The radical conservation strategy proposed by Dr E.O. Wilson, the hugely-influential 85-year old Harvard University scientist, would see humans essentially withdraw from half of the Earth.

Dr Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, warned that we are facing a “biological holocaust” as devastating as the extinction of the dinosaurs unless humans agree to share land more equally with the planet’s 10 million other species. Outlining his audacious “Half Earth” theory, he said: “It’s been in my mind for years that people haven’t been thinking big enough – even conservationists.’

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Iceland raises Bardarbunga volcano alert to orange

BBC News reports:

File photo: Bardarbunga, 7 November 1996 ‘The risk of an eruption at Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano has increased, with signs of “ongoing magma movement”, Iceland’s meteorological office says. The risk level to the aviation industry has been raised to orange, the second-highest level, the met office said. Any eruption could potentially lead to flooding or an emission of gas, the office added in a statement.

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in 2010, producing an ash cloud that severely disrupted European airspace. The Bardarbunga volcanic system is located under the north-west region of Iceland’s Vatnajokull glacier.’

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Effects Of Radiation From The Fukushima Disaster On The Ecosystem Are Being Slowly Revealed

Chris Pash reports for Business Insider:

‘A range of scientific studies at Fukushima have begun to reveal the impact on the natural world from the radiation leaks at the power station in Japan caused by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Biological samples were obtained only after extensive delays following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown, limiting the information which could be gained about the impact of that disaster. Scientists, determined not to repeat the shortcomings of the Chernobyl studies, began gathering biological information only a few months after the meltdown of the Daiichi power plant in 2011.

Results of these studies are now beginning to reveal serious biological effects of the Fukushima radiation on non-human organisms ranging from plants to butterflies to birds. A series of articles summarising these studies has now been published in the Journal of Heredity. These describe widespread impacts, ranging from population declines to genetic damage to responses by the repair mechanisms that help organisms cope with radiation exposure. “A growing body of empirical results from studies of birds, monkeys, butterflies, and other insects suggests that some species have been significantly impacted by the radioactive releases related to the Fukushima disaster,” says Dr Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, lead author of one of the studies.’

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Invertebrate populations have seen a 45% decline over the last 40 years

Kriston Capps reports for CityLab:

‘A recent article in Science found that most known invertebrate populations have seen a 45 percent decline over the last 40 years. That’s a particular problem for cities, where we don’t know nearly enough about the invertebrates that live alongside us. What we do know about their roles tell us that arthropods are critical for all kinds of things that we take for granted. Without urban insects, our lives might be transformed in ways large and small. City bugs nevertheless remain critically understudied.

Amy Savage has devoted her life to myrmecophily, which is an extraordinary word for the interaction between animals and ants, typically denoting positive associations. Her work in entomology focuses on the community-wide consequences of mutualisms, or inter-species interactions and adaptations—like the relationship between ants and aphids, for example. Savage’s work in the more tailored field of urban entomology leads her to believe that invertebrates, and especially insects, play an underexamined role in the human ecosystem.’

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Even the Gorillas and Bears in Our Zoos Are Hooked on Prozac

Laurel Braitman, author of Animal Madness, featured excerpts from her book in Wired:

Excerpted from Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves‘One of the first nonhumans to be given psychopharmaceuticals as a patient (and not as a test subject) was a western lowland gorilla named Willie B., who was famous in Atlanta, Georgia. He was captured in Congo as an infant in the 1960s and sent to Zoo Atlanta, where he lived for 39 years, 27 of them alone in an indoor cage with a tire swing and a television. According to Mel Richardson, who was working as a veterinarian at Zoo Atlanta at the time, Willie broke a glass window in his enclosure in the winter of 1970–71 and had to be transferred to a much smaller cage for six months while the glass was replaced with heavy metal bars.

“He weighed around 400 pounds, and the cage was way too small for him,” said Mel. “If he stood up and stretched each arm all the way out he could almost touch both sides of the cage at once.” The vet staff decided to medicate him so that the six months would be more bearable. They put Thorazine in the Coca-Cola he drank in the morning. According to Mel, Willie responded to the drug as many institutionalized humans do: He shuffled back and forth across his cage with dulled eyes. “It was a little like watching the men in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Mel said.

Dolphins, whales, sea lions, walruses, and other marine creatures in parks like SeaWorld have also been given psychotropic drugs for what their vets see as depression, anxiety, compulsive regurgitation, flank sucking, or other distressing behaviors. Two marine mammal veterinarians who have spent decades on staff or consulting for American animal-display facilities and the military’s marine mammal program told me that antidepressants and antipsychotics are commonly used but that “no one was going to talk to [me] about it.” Even they wouldn’t speak about the subject on the record.’

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