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The first ‘negative emissions’ carbon-capture plant is up and running.

In a memo leaked last week, Department of Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert recommended White House staff pivot to a “theme of stabilizing” with regard to messaging around the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

President Trump, however, appears to have missed that particular update. On Thursday morning, he threatened to pull federal relief workers from the devastated island just three weeks after Maria made landfall.

Meanwhile, most of Puerto Rico is still without power, hospitals are running out of medical supplies, and clean water remains scarce.

Trump isn’t the only prominent Republican refusing to recognize the severity of the crisis. In an interview with CNN on Thursday morning, Representative Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, accused host Chris Cuomo of fabricating reports of the severity of the disaster.

“Mr. Cuomo, you’re simply just making this stuff up,” Perry said. “If half the country didn’t have food or water, those people would be dying, and they’re not.”

45 Puerto Rican deaths have been officially confirmed so far, and reports from the ground indicate the unofficial number of deaths due to the storm is higher.

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The first ‘negative emissions’ carbon-capture plant is up and running.

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The world’s largest volcanic region was just discovered in Antarctica.

That’s all kinds of scary. If there’s one place on Earth that would be the worst possible spot for a giant volcanic chain, it’s beneath West Antarctica. Turns out, it’s not a great situation to have a bunch of volcanoes underneath a huge ice sheet.

In a discovery announced earlier this week, a team of researchers discovered dozens of them across a 2,200-mile swath of the frozen continent. Antarctica, if you’re listening, please stop scaring us.

The study that led to the discovery was conceived of by an undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, Max Van Wyk de Vries. With a team of researchers, he used radar to look under the ice for evidence of cone-shaped mountains that had disturbed the ice around them. They found 91 previously unknown volcanoes. “We were amazed,” Robert Bingham, one of the study’s authors, told the Guardian.

The worry is that, as in Iceland and Alaska, two regions of active volcanism that were ice-covered until relatively recently, a warming climate could help these Antarctic volcanoes spring to life soon. In a worst-case scenario, the melting ice could release pressure on the volcanoes and trigger eruptions, further destabilizing the ice sheet.

“The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible,” Bingham said.

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The world’s largest volcanic region was just discovered in Antarctica.

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Here are the countries that are the best — and worst — at protecting the environment

Here are the countries that are the best — and worst — at protecting the environment

By on 4 Mar 2016commentsShare

It’s usually best to avoid listicles. No one needs to know the top 10 popsicle flavors from 1997 or the 25 worst celebrity tweets about peanuts. But a ranking of how well countries are doing to protect the environment? Now that’s a listicle we can get behind here at Grist.

Yale’s 15th annual Environmental Performance Index comparing 180 countries’ performance on “high priority environmental issues in two areas: protection of human health and protection of ecosystems” just came out, and it’s mostly what you’d expect: Countries up top tend to be heavily Nordic; countries at the bottom tend to be heavily unstable.

The top five are Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Slovenia. Finland already gets two-thirds of its electricity from renewables or nuclear power and plans to get 38 percent of its total energy from renewables by 2020. Iceland gets 85 percent of its energy from renewables and has great air quality. Sweden has great water quality and plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. And Denmark has great water quality, as well as high marks for biodiversity.

But Slovenia? The central European nation might seem out of place in the top five, but it’s apparently kind of a boss when it comes to biodiversity. And with the third largest forest-to-land ration in the European Union, it’s doing a bang-up job of forest preservation.

The next five on the list are Spain, Portugal, Estonia, Malta, and France. The U.S. is way down at 26 — right below Canada, which is precisely where we like to be.

The bottom five countries are Afghanistan, Niger, Madagascar, Eritrea, and Somalia for a lot of the reasons you might expect: illegal hunting and poaching, poor air and water quality, deforestation, failure to protect biodiversity, over-fishing.

Check out this write-up by some of the researchers over at Scientific American for more details on the best and worst performing countries. Or go watch this nice little video. Then, I promise, you can go read that listicle about whether or not your relationship is doomed.



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Here are the countries that are the best — and worst — at protecting the environment

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Do we really need to spend money on social science?

Do we really need to spend money on social science?

By on 29 Jun 2015commentsShare

When it comes to budgeting out a pittance to cover a range of activities, I probably should be an expert by now (hello, journalism salary in a rapidly expanding and expensifying city!), but I am most definitely not. Did I need to spend approximately $200 on farmers market strawberries last month? No, but they were goddamned delicious. If only I didn’t also have to pay for rent and electricity and internet — you know, the important, if somewhat less fun, stuff.

The National Science Foundation seems to be having a similar problem, says Stanford physician and molecular biologist Henry Miller in an LA Times op-ed. Instead of prioritizing hard science with definite social utility — like research into Alzheimer’s, or, say, the physical science of climate change — one sub-group of the NSF has been funneling that funding into more, er, questionable uses:

Here are some doozies: the veiling-fashion industry in Turkey, Viking textiles in Iceland, the “social impacts” of tourism in the northern tip of Norway, legal careers in transition following law school, and whether hunger causes couples to fight (using the number of pins stuck in voodoo dolls as a measure of aggressive feelings). …

Several academics and others have recently written commentaries praising the value of social science projects and condemning congressional attempts to rein them in. The wrongheaded notion that social science projects are inherently just as worthy as basic research in the physical and biological sciences and engineering has distorted and diminished the value of public investment in scientific research.

Do the mandarins of the social sciences really believe that a study of depictions of animals in National Geographic magazine (which the foundation funded) should take precedence over research to identify markers for Alzheimer’s disease or pancreatic cancer? A large fraction of highly ranked, important grant proposals are not accepted because of limited resources.

As for the geosciences, research on climate change is legitimate — when it is performed by meteorologists, oceanographers, physicists and biologists. But the NSF and other federal agencies have been funding redundant, politically overheated and even ludicrous climate change boondoggles. For example, the NSF has wasted millions of dollars on projects that include a climate change musical ($697,177), a series of games ($449,972) and art shows ($2.51 million).

I do have to disagree with Miller on that point. While the number of open questions about the climate (What happens in the deepest parts of the sea? What do clouds even do?) is significant, the main part is pretty well-trod territory: Human-caused carbon pollution is cluttering up the atmosphere, and heating it up at a truly alarming rate.

We know all this — what we don’t know is how to translate fact into definite action. For that — sorry, science hardliners — we are going to have to delve into the messy world of people. And, yes, that might just mean we need Climate Change: The Musical after all.

With NSF funds limited, is $697,177 for climate change musical worth it?

, LA Times.



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Can Concerts in Bars and Cafés Save Classical Music?

Mother Jones

It’s Monday evening, and as the light wanes, the din of Revolution Café spills onto the street. An eclectic crew has been gathering here—hoodies, tattoos, leather jackets, and high heels all in one room. Their owners sip beer and sangria from tall glasses as they chat and look for spare tables in the dim, cramped room. Finding all seats filled, newcomers stand outside on the porch.

Standing room only on Monday nights is par for the course at this café/bar in San Francisco’s Mission district, because on Mondays, the café hosts live chamber music. The musicians, a mix of freelancers, conservatory students, and techies who play on the side, are volunteers with Classical Revolution, a program that brings high-level classical music into intimate public spaces.

A violinist announces that they’re getting started with the Mendelssohn octet. He and seven other string players sit at a makeshift “stage”—really just a spot where tables have been replaced by music stands. They bring their instruments to the ready as the buzz quiets to a murmur. They pause, bows hovered over strings. From outside the wall-length window, you can hear a motorcycle whizzing by. But when the musicians start to play, the crowd is enraptured.

I have been playing violin since I was four, performing in more classical concerts than I can remember. Whether I was screeching away at Hot Cross Buns or playing “The Rite of Spring” with an orchestra, the players and listeners followed an unspoken set of rules. The musicians, almost exclusively white or East Asian, walked on stage quietly. While we performed, the listeners certainly didn’t chatter, they didn’t eat or drink, and they tried not to cough or squirm. Yet not once did I glance down to find a crowd as captivated—or as diverse—as the one here.

The easy exposure to classical music, up close and casual, is exactly what Classical Revolution is shooting for, says Chardith Premawardhana, the group’s 34-year-old founder, a violist himself. The reason that more young people aren’t interested in classical isn’t the music, he explains, but the setting: tickets are expensive, and you have to dress up and be quiet for hours. “It’s restricting for a lot of young people.” His goal for Classical Revolution is simple: “It’s high art, but it’s not high brow. We’re taking it seriously and playing passionately, but we’re taking out all the other stuff that you get in a normal classical music setting: the formal dress, the formal attitude, the stuffy environment. The music is kept at a high level but the rest is chill.”

Of the dozen or so people I spoke with on my first visit to Revolution Café, only one had ever been to a formal classical music concert. Premawardhana says this is often the case: “They say things like ‘I never realized how much I liked Mozart!'” In a more intimate atmosphere, he says, “You can see the musicians’ fingers move. You can see their facial expressions. It makes the audience feel like they’re more involved.”

Classical Revolution got its start in 2006 when Premawardhana, a recent grad from San Francisco Conservatory, found a cheap room in the Mission and was looking for places to play. He would often walk to Revolution Café—”back then, it was genuinely bohemian”—to hear live music, often jazz or rock, and mingle with fellow musicians. One week, the café’s manager, wanting to mix things up a little, invited Premawardhana’s chamber group to play. Soon enough, musicians in his network of friends were playing chamber music there every week. New players, hearing about a chance to perform with other skilled musicians for a fun audience, were welcomed into the fold. The musicians began performing on Mondays instead of on weekends, because too many people were coming to watch them play. Now, Classical Revolution has volunteer musicians playing regularly or semi-regularly in 30 cities across the world.

Whether Classical Revolution, as its name suggests, will truly rejuvenate the classical world is up in the air. I can hear the complaints of professional musicians already: How are you supposed to play with the murmur of the bar and the background noise of the street? How can you expect listeners to really hear the subtleties of the phrasing and the dynamics if they’re constantly hearing the tinkle of drinks being poured—especially if they’ve already downed a glass themselves?

The program also has some organizational issues to sort out: It have no institutional funding—it’s all volunteer work, not counting the modest cash musicians and organizers get from venues and tips. Currently affiliated with San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music, Classical Revolution is in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. But the skyrocketing interest from musicians and listeners—and the frequent line out the door of their two regular San Francisco venues (they also play at Salle Pianos)—is undeniable. Premawardhana estimates that in this city alone, CR musicians have played more than 1,200 concerts. In recent weeks, he’s heard from groups in Korea and Iceland wanting to start new chapters.

Many of today’s orchestras and symphonies are struggling with budget cuts and dwindling ticket sales, and professional musicians worry that classical music is dying. But here at Revolution Café, it seems more alive than ever. The octet moves into the final movement of Mendelssohn, a fiery, romantic, jaw-dropping piece of music. Some people have taken out their phones, sipping their beer with one hand and collecting video with the other. Just in front of me, a guy in a hoodie and sneakers nods with the beat. The woman next to me, with short hair and big earrings, has closed her eyes, a smile drifting across her face. When the piece is finished, the audience roars unabashedly, and passersby on the sidewalk stop and stand outside, wondering what’s causing all the commotion.

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Can Concerts in Bars and Cafés Save Classical Music?

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Dot Earth Blog: Should Fin Whales Be a Source of Wonder or Meat?

A fresh look at Iceland’s fin whale hunts and meat exports to Japan. Originally posted here: Dot Earth Blog: Should Fin Whales Be a Source of Wonder or Meat? ; ; ;


Dot Earth Blog: Should Fin Whales Be a Source of Wonder or Meat?

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Should Fin Whales Be a Source of Wonder or Meat?

A fresh look at Iceland’s fin whale hunts and meat exports to Japan. See more here:  Should Fin Whales Be a Source of Wonder or Meat? ; ; ;

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Should Fin Whales Be a Source of Wonder or Meat?

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Snowden’s Odd Email to the NSA Deepens the Mystery

Mother Jones

So you’re in the middle of the biggest secrets-blowing caper in the history of the known universe. You’re one of a small number of people who have access to the most classified information about the most classified spying programs of the most powerful superpower—and you’re swiping tens of thousands of pages of these secrets and preparing to hand them over to journalists. You’ve already made contact with your recipients—and it was harder than you thought to do so. You’ve switched jobs, moving from one contractor to another, in order to snatch more of the documents you want revealed to the unknowing public. You’re scraping NSA servers. You’re watching your back. Oh damn, you are certainly watching your back. You know the people you work for can monitor who gets in and out of the system, and though you are one of the few with the keys to the crypt, you have to be worried—scratch that, paranoid, and rightfully so—that someone’s going to wise up. You make a slip—they might be watching right now—and the alarms go off. And it’s no more Hawaiian paradise. It’s federal prison. But you’re committed. You have your plan. You’re about to send a security kit to an American reporter who lives in Brazil and works for a British outlet so you can communicate via a safe and encrypted mechanism. You’re keeping all of this secret from your live-in girlfriend. You’re thinking about your getaway. Iceland, maybe Iceland. You know that you are engaged in risky business. You could end up changing the world. You could end up dead. Yes, dead. On the run, some times things happens. It’s possible. Oh, what was that sound? Did something weird just happen with your laptop? Did a strange car drive past the house not once but twice? Man, this is intense.

And in the middle of this adrenalin-laced stretch—on April 5, 2013, a mere weeks before you start slipping that journalist top-secret docs exposing the USG’s biggest secrets and then head to Hong Kong to meet him and his compatriots—you send an email to the NSA’s general counsel’s office, posing a rather prosaic query. One question: Why?

Today the NSA released an email Edward Snowden sent its general counsel on that date. The spy agency was responding to NBC News reporting that it had confirmed that the NSA had received an email from Snowden before he leaked all those documents expressing “policy and legal” concerns. This report seemed to bolster Snowden’s claim that he had alerted intelligence officials of his profound concerns about the NSA’s extensive surveillance programs before taking matters into his own hand and becoming a whistleblower. But when the NSA put out the email—claiming it was the only communication of this sort it had received from Snowden—there was a surprise: Snowden had not contacted the NSA’s top lawyers about possible abuses within the NSA. He had asked questions regarding information in a training course. The course had covered the “Hierarchy of Governing Authorities” for federal action. At the top of the chain was the US Constitution. Right below were federal statutes and presidential executive orders. Snowden wanted to know which of the two ranked higher. “My understanding is that EOs may be superseded by federal statutes, but EOs may not override statute,” he wrote. ” Am I incorrect in this?” And he had a similar question about Pentagon regulations and Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) rules.

That was it. A simple query about training material.

Someone in the general counsel’s office—the person’s name is redacted—replied quickly and informed Snowden that EOs cannot override a statute and that Defense Department and ODNI regs “are afforded similar precedence.” This NSA official helpfully added, “Please give me a call if you would like to discuss further.” Apparently, if the NSA is to be believed, Snowden was satisfied and did not follow up.

Why would a fellow currently mounting a significant penetration of an intelligence agency choose on his own to contact the lawyers for that agency and ask these questions? Why did he care about this? Why would he want to be on their radar screen at all at this time? Was he trying to establish some sort of paper trail? Was he worried that he had left a clue somewhere about his ongoing operation and thought such a note would divert attention?

This is a puzzler. Snowden comes across as a smart and thorough fellow who sure knows how to plan well. But how does this email fit into the plan? Marcy Wheeler suggests that Snowden was trying to get the NSA lawyers to admit that the agency saw EOs as top dogs (to prove, in a way, that the NSA was using one particular EO to trump laws that might limit its surveillance activities). Until Snowden explains this email himself, it’s hard to know if this is correct. If so, Snowden would be even a cooler cucumber. It’s hard to imagine a fellow who’s about to sabotage an entire intelligence community deciding that this is a good time to play mind games with the lawyers at the NSA and possibly draw notice. In all his interviews, Snowden hasn’t mentioned that he sought to squeeze this kind of secret out of the NSA as he was filling up disk drives with its most sensitive documents.

So here is a new question about Snowden. And the question remains: whether (and how) Snowden tried to go through channels before going to Greenwald and the Washington Post.

The ACLU, which represents Snowden, says of this email controversy, “This whole issue is a red herring. The problem was not some unknown and isolated instance of misconduct. The problem was that an entire system of mass surveillance had been deployed—and deemed legal—without the knowledge or consent of the public. Snowden raised many complaints over many channels. The NSA is releasing a single part of a single exchange after previously claiming that no evidence existed.” (Mother Jones asked the ACLU if it could share more of this email exchange, and it said it didn’t “have any other info.”)

Yes, the big picture is still there: How far over the line did the NSA go with its surveillance programs, and what ought to be done about that? But Snowden’s tale is also captivating, and the release of this email today adds to the mystery.

UPDATE: Several hours after the NSA released the Snowden email, Snowden told the Washington Post, “Today’s release is incomplete, and does not include my correspondence with the Signals Intelligence Directorate’s Office of Compliance, which believed that a classified executive order could take precedence over an act of Congress, contradicting what was just published. It also did not include concerns about how indefensible collection activities—such as breaking into the back-haul communications of major US internet companies—are sometimes concealed under EO 12333 to avoid Congressional reporting requirements and regulations.”

Snowden insisted that he had tried to work within the system: “If the White House is interested in the whole truth, rather than the NSA’s clearly tailored and incomplete leak today for a political advantage, it will require the NSA to ask my former colleagues, management, and the senior leadership team about whether I, at any time, raised concerns about the NSA’s improper and at times unconstitutional surveillance activities. It will not take long to receive an answer.”

Snowden said there were other relevant emails (presumably sent to the NSA) “not just on this topic. I’m glad they’ve shown they have access to records they claimed just a few months ago did not exist, and I hope we’ll see the rest of them very soon.” He maintained, “I showed numerous colleagues direct evidence of programs that those colleagues considered unconstitutional or otherwise concerning. Today’s strangely tailored and incomplete leak only shows the NSA feels it has something to hide.”

If Snowden did have more extensive correspondence with the NSA, he and/or the agency should be able to resolve the question of what he sought to do before revealing the NSA’s most important secrets..

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Snowden’s Odd Email to the NSA Deepens the Mystery

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U.K. joins the club, vows to curb coal financing

U.K. joins the club, vows to curb coal financing


No longer will British taxpayers have to foot the bill for the climate-unfriendly practice of building coal power plants in developing countries.

Britain pledged Wednesday to end most financing support for coal power projects. The pledge came during U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Poland. The U.S., Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the World Bank, and the European Investment Bank have already made similar promises, which are aimed at curbing carbon emissions. From Bloomberg:

“We will work to get support of more countries and the multilateral development banks,” U.K. Energy Secretary Edward Davey said in Warsaw, where delegates from about 190 countries met for United Nations climate talks. Funding for coal would be allowed under the “rare circumstances” when alternatives aren’t available and there’s a case for reducing poverty.

Reliance on coal moved into focus at the talks after a UN report indicated that humans already burned more than half the amount of fossil fuels that could lead to dangerous changes in the climate. Coal generated 30.3 percent of the world’s primary energy in 2011, the highest level since 1969, according to the World Coal Association. It slipped to 29.9 percent last year.

“Now the Japanese and Germans need to follow suit,” said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Sierra Club commends UK coal financing ban, Sierra Club
U.K. Joins U.S. Pledge to Stop Funding Foreign Coal-Power Plants, Bloomberg

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

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