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Updated: 2 hours 56 min ago

The next generation: mice can reproduce after space stints, study finds

Thu, 09/26/2019 - 04:25

There have been some signs that spending time in space could negatively affect sperm, including radiation damage seen in freeze-dried mouse sperm that spent nine months in outer space, and decreased sperm counts in rats that spent 13 days in orbit. Upon their return to Earth, the researchers used sperm from the mice to fertilise eggs from female mice who had not experienced space travel, and found the astronaut rodents produced healthy offspring. The team, led by Masahito Ikawa, a professor at Osaka University, also examined the reproductive organs of the space-travelling mice, and checked their offspring for any signs that their parentage had negative effects.

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The U.S. Army Is Working on Body Armor That Is 14 Times More Powerful

Thu, 09/26/2019 - 01:13

A game-changer or a dud?

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Climate Scientists May Not Be the Best Communicators of Climate Threats

Thu, 09/26/2019 - 00:59

Many climate controversies today are not about whether the climate is changing, but how should people change their behavior and the causes of climate change itself.

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Bloomberg, California team on climate satellites

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 16:43

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is teaming up with California to use satellites to track climate pollutants. Bloomberg Philanthropies announced its partnership with the state and the San Francisco Earth-imaging company Planet on Wednesday. It builds on former California Gov. Jerry Brown's declaration last year the state would launch its "own damn satellite" as the federal government receded from global climate commitments.

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Trio’s arrival boosts space station’s population to nine, including first Emirati

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 16:43

Three more spacefliers arrived at the International Space Station today in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, increasing the orbital outpost's population from its usual six to a crowded nine. One of the new arrivals is Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, the first citizen of the United Arab Emirates to fly in space. The 35-year-old fighter jet pilot was sent to the final frontier under the terms of a contract with the Russian Space Agency, and will be returning to Earth on a different Soyuz in just eight days. The cost to the UAE hasn't been reported, but for what it's worth, NASA has… Read More

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The world's first floating nuclear power plant, which activists dubbed 'Chernobyl on ice,' has docked in Russia. Photos show its journey.

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 09:14

Environmentalists have criticized the concept of floating nuclear plants, arguing that they could be harder to reach during an accident.

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Greta Thunberg and 15 other kids have filed a legal complaint against 5 countries, joining a growing group of young people bringing the climate fight to court

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 07:38

Greta Thunberg and 15 other young activists allege that not tackling climate change constitutes a violation of children's rights.

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Sneaky Lions in Zambia are Moving Across Areas Thought Uninhabitable for Them

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 06:55

Where has this Zambian lion been?

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This Is Why Russia's Rocket Organs Are to Be Feared

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 06:05

They pack a powerful punch.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Next Big Effort: Tackling Poverty

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 05:51

WASHINGTON -- For a House freshman and political neophyte, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has proved to be remarkably adept at shaping the debate on her Democratic Party's left flank, boosting the visibility of single-payer health care through her support of "Medicare for All" and elevating climate change with her Green New Deal.On Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez hopes to do for the nation's poor what she has done with health care and climate politics with the unveiling of an ambitious anti-poverty package that, among other things, would cap annual rent increases, ensure full access to social welfare programs for people with convictions and unauthorized immigrants, pressure federal contractors to offer better wages and benefits, and update official poverty measurements by taking into account geographic cost-of-living variations and access to health insurance, child care, and "new necessities" such as internet access."I think this really starts to approach, head-on, economic injustice in America," Ocasio-Cortez said. "We are at our richest point that we've ever been, but we've also been our most unequal."She added, "It's something that we have to talk about."Since defeating Rep. Joe Crowley, a senior member of the Democratic leadership, during the 2018 primaries, Ocasio-Cortez, 29, has used her social media following -- 4 million followers on Instagram and more than 5 million on Twitter -- and strong ties to the party's progressive wing to shift the party leftward. Her Green New Deal would move the nation's energy economy rapidly away from fossil fuels, with vague promises of guaranteed job security. Medicare for All would replace all private insurance with one government-run health care system like Britain's or Canada's.Such ideas would have once been dismissed as fringe initiatives on the far left, but many members of Congress and Democratic presidential candidates have rushed to embrace them, seeking the approval of Ocasio-Cortez and her supporters."She's a lightning rod," said Dianne Enriquez, a director at the Center for Popular Democracy, a liberal advocacy group. "I think the boldness, the ability to be innovative, the willingness to go out on a limb for what she believes is right is really what makes her an ideal champion for a lot of the issues that have gone largely ignored at the federal level."Establishment Democrats have worried that Ocasio-Cortez has moved the conversation too far to the left too fast, becoming the policy face of the party and jeopardizing the political futures of more moderate members elected last year in Republican-leaning districts.But in recent weeks, Ocasio-Cortez has pushed out her chief of staff, who had picked fights with moderate Democrats, and moved her combative communications director to her campaign. Unlike the Green New Deal, which is a gauzy congressional resolution, her anti-poverty initiative, "A Just Society," is six fully formed bills, written in legislative language -- another sign of serious legislative intent.She had good reason to make overtures to fellow House Democrats, who had grown weary of her staff's antagonism. Matt Bennett, the executive vice president of Third Way, a centrist Democratic organization, said Ocasio-Cortez is "vastly more influential" than most freshman House members.But, he added: "Legislating is an inherently group activity. The question is, if she wants to move this legislation, or any that she's sponsoring, can she attract co-sponsors and votes? We'll see if she has the ability to do that as well."As the Green New Deal looked to Franklin D. Roosevelt's signature initiative, "A Just Society" echoes Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society."With the Green New Deal, we weren't just talking about climate change; we're talking about the systems that got us to climate change," Ocasio-Cortez said. "We're addressing root causes.""And similarly," she added, "with our Just Society package, we're not simply addressing poverty or wages. We're addressing some of the basic structural reasons that are resulting in those outcomes."Nearly 40 million people in the United States live in poverty. Even middle-class workers face a shortage of affordable housing and stagnant wages. The problems are worse for people of color, including immigrants, and people who were formerly incarcerated. The Trump administration's response has been to tighten access to some federally funded low-income programs.The bills in Ocasio-Cortez's package seek to change the federal response. She conceded that because Democrats do not control the Senate or the White House, her intention is to lay "down a vision for when we take back both of those bodies."The Recognizing Real Poverty Act requires the secretary of health and human services, in collaboration with the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to work with the National Academy of Sciences to change the poverty line, adjusting for family size and geographic differences in the cost of goods and services. The poverty threshold would be raised to account for health insurance costs, work expenses, child care, and consideration of new necessities such as internet access.Poverty has been "a taboo word in our politics for so long," Ocasio-Cortez said. Even if they are officially above the poverty line, there are "people who are living a quality of life on par" with the impoverished, she added, "but you wouldn't see that based on our numbers because we choose not to measure it."Enriquez said housing has not been a central topic of the Democratic presidential debates, even though several contenders have released full-fledged affordable housing plans. She said she hopes that Ocasio-Cortez can help elevate the issue with one of the bills in her package, the Place to Prosper Act, which would provide tenant protections and regulate corporate landlords.That bill would cap rent increases at 3% a year and restrict the reasons that landlords could evict tenants. For instance, tenants could be evicted only if they have not paid rent for two or more consecutive months or have wrecked a property, or if the landlord needs a unit to house an immediate relative. The bill would prohibit discrimination because of the source of a tenant's income and would provide funding for tenant legal representatives.The act would also mandate that landlords keep rental units in good repair. It would allocate $10 billion for fiscal years 2020 through 2029 for removing toxins.Housing in America "is a crisis," she said, "and it's not one that we are discussing enough at the level that we need to be discussing it."Two other bills, The Embrace Act and The Mercy in Re-Entry Act, would outlaw the denial of any federal benefit because of immigration status or a past criminal conviction.The Uplift Our Workers Act would create a "worker-friendliness score" for federal contractors which would consider, for example, whether the contractor offers paid overtime for those who work more than 40 hours per week, or provides predictable scheduling, paid sick leave and paid parental and family leave.None of this will be enacted in the foreseeable future."No one questions her ability to raise awareness around an issue," Bennett said, "just because she wields her social media and mainstream media platforms very effectively. But that's not the same as getting votes on a bill."Ocasio-Cortez acknowledged the package's ambitions. "I don't think there's any shortage of obstacles that we have ahead of us, but I don't think that we not do things just because they're hard," she said. "In fact, sometimes the hard things to do are the most worthwhile."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company

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A Nobel for Sweden's Greta Thunberg? A tough decision for prize committee

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 05:23

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg's shaming of world leaders and air travellers over climate change has won her millions of admirers and attracted many new followers to her cause. Thunberg, one of few people whose nomination has become known before the awards ceremony, is the bookmakers' favourite to win the prize next month. At 16, she would be the youngest recipient of the $930,000 award won by the likes of Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev.

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Sea levels are projected to rise 3 feet within 80 years, according to a new UN report. Hundreds of millions of people could be displaced.

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 03:00

By the end of the century, global sea levels may be 3 feet higher due to melting ice sheets, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.

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How Do Brains Tune In to One Neural Signal out of Billions?

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 21:30

Your brain is conducting multiple orchestras of information at the same time.

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NASA is finally planning to launch a space telescope to detect deadly asteroids before they hit Earth. Here's how it could work.

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 13:39

The asteroid-hunting telescope is "a breakthrough decades in the making," one researcher said. It could protect Earth from a constant threat.

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Birds' Top Danger? Humans

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 13:11

In a catastrophic hurricane like Dorian, the loss of lives and homes can be overwhelming. But even in the midst of devastating sadness and disbelief, a far less urgent but perennial question can tug at the back of the mind. What is the impact of these storms on wild creatures, like birds?It is too soon to know the extent of Dorian's impact, and really too soon to ask. Ecological post-mortems are nowhere near the first order of business. But interviews with scientists and the findings in a paper published last week by Ecology Letters suggest that many birds are resilient, and that when a hurricane does push a species over the brink, it is almost always a species that we have put there in the first place.If what we're worried about is extinction, "we're the driving force," said David Steadman, curator of ornithology at the Florida Museum of Science, who has done a vast amount of research on Caribbean birds.By destroying the environments where birds live, introducing alien predators and damaging the environment in other ways, humans gradually put birds, and of course other species, at risk. A group of scientists reported last week that there were 2.9 billion fewer birds in the United States and Canada then there were in 1970, a drop of 29%. The most significant causes, they said, were habitat loss and wider use of pesticides.A hurricane or another disaster may deliver a final punch, but it is not the underlying cause of extinction. Christopher Elphick, an ornithologist at the University of Connecticut and one of the authors of the new paper, said development and sea level rise, both caused by humans, were the slow and sure killers.He compared it to heart disease: "Eating just a little too much fat in your diet is what causes the heart attack. But shoveling snow is what pushes you over the edge."Birds do die in hurricanes, of course, and suffer other indignities. Dorian blew some to Nova Scotia. And some were spotted hiding out in the hurricane's eye. Who knows where they ended up? Fortunately, Hurricane Humberto, which had people in the Bahamas worried about a second hit, took another path over the weekend.Scientists concentrate on species and subspecies. In terms of the Bahamas, only speculation is possible at the moment. One species on the extreme edge, the Bahama nuthatch, only one or two of which were known to be living before Dorian, may well have been pushed to extinction. Others that are in trouble, like the Bahama parrot, may have suffered little impact.Diana Bell of the University of East Anglia said that researchers from her lab found a Bahama nuthatch last year. That's one single bird. She said another team reported finding two.The Bahama nuthatch was already thought to be extinct before Dorian nailed Grand Bahama, where one or two nuthatches may have still been alive."This could have been the coup de grace for the nuthatch," Steadman said.Steadman, who has been researching birds in the Caribbean and elsewhere for many years, said that in contrast the Bahama parrot -- which is in trouble, but not as severely -- might have done just fine.Much of the parrot population dwells on the south of the island, which was hit but not devastated. And the parrots nest in cavities in the island's limestone, and no doubt would have hunkered down during the storm. "I would doubt if there's so much negative impact on that parrot population at all," he said.Other birds that are struggling there are the Bahama swallow and the Bahama oriole.Past hurricanes have hit certain bird populations very hard, but selectively. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 brought Category 5 winds to the Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina that knocked down the old growth nesting trees of the red-cockaded woodpecker. The bird nests in tree cavities in old-growth forests, and the storm snapped old trees in two; 87% of the forest's 1,765 cavities were destroyed.Joseph M. Wunderle Jr. of the U.S. Forest Service, who is based in Puerto Rico, said the managers of the forest responded with artificial cavities to help save the woodpeckers that remained.Wunderle has studied and written about Caribbean birds and hurricanes for decades. Hurricane Maria, he said may have knocked out a group of Puerto Rican parrots that live at a high elevation. "The official count now is two birds in the Luquillo Mountains," he said. The power of the hurricane played a role. Colleagues of his told him that when Maria struck as a strong Category 4 hurricane in September 2017, it killed 17 of 20 parrots wearing tracking devices. "They found them dead under fallen trees and tree branches," he said.The St. Kitts bullfinch also fell victim to hurricanes in the late 19th century, Wunderle said. The bird survived for a while and disappeared, he said. It had lived in a mountain forest on St. Kitts, feeding on fruits and seeds, and the plants took a long time to recover. Why didn't it move to the lowlands? At lower elevations wild areas had been replaced with fields of sugar cane. By humans.Insect eaters do a lot better, Wunderle said. Even if adult insects are lost in a hurricane, there are eggs, pupae, larvae. And there is a lot of dead wood, which many insects love.The Cozumel thrasher is another example. The island was hit by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 and Hurricane Roxanne in 1995. The introduction of alien predators to the island may have contributed to its disappearance.When bird populations are reasonably widespread, they can, however, be quite resilient in the long term.Elphick, his colleague Chris Field and other researchers from the University of Connecticut were inspired to look at the effects of catastrophic storms on marsh birds because they were in the midst of surveying bird populations in Eastern coastal marshes when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012.They were surprised to see that the effect on bird populations was not that great. Individual birds certainly suffered, and that often prompts an immediate reaction from both the public and scientists. "People see dead birds and say, 'Oh my God,'" Elphick said. But individual deaths don't necessarily mean trouble for the species.Their team wanted to understand the long-term prospects for bird species over 20 years after a disaster. They created a computer model and after putting in data on the size of a population, its pattern of reproduction and other factors, they ran simulations to see how bad a species would have to be hit by a disaster for it to have an effect on its long-term prospects.They looked at four birds: the clapper rail, willet, saltmarsh sparrow and seaside sparrow. For saltmarsh sparrows and clapper rails, almost all adults had to be killed for there to be a change in the long-term prospects of the population. The seaside sparrows and willets weren't quite as robust, but they still needed to experience reproductive failures of more than 75% for their long-term survival to be threatened.In general the team found that the coastal birds they studied were highly resilient to individual storms. They believe their simplified model -- which concentrates on deaths and reproductive failures, not the strength of storms -- could be useful for projecting what is likely to happen to other species facing disasters.Of course, Elphick said, "there are two big caveats to our general result." The species they studied are very small, or very localized. And that is exactly the situation for island birds, particularly where humans have changed the environment.Climate change may bring an increase in frequency and strength of hurricanes that could change their calculations somewhat, Elphick said. But the biggest threats to the birds he studied are the gradual erosion of habitats by human development and, for marsh birds, development of the marshes where they live, and rising sea levels, which make average tides and storms more dangerous during nesting periods.Development and rising sea levels are, of course, caused by us. As Bell put it: "Birds evolved to withstand hurricanes. They didn't evolve to withstand destruction by humans."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company

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Dior says it with wildflowers and Greta Thunberg plaits

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 12:16

Dior went back to nature in its Paris fashion week show Tuesday with Greta Thunberg plaits and a garden-inspired collection that seemed to spring straight from the earth. With climate change biting at the heels of the fashion industry, and the London shows hit by environmental protests, designer Maria Grazia Chiuri said she wanted to create clothes that "were not just about image but action".

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Idealists Study World War II; Realists Study World War I

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 10:22

World War I represents reality as it is, not as we wish it to be.

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UN Climate Action Summit: How many countries will step up on the world stage Monday?

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 10:17

With rising protests on climate change, nations will reveal if they'll commit to deep emissions cuts. 130 banks pledged Sunday to join the effort.

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A 12,000-year-old Turkish city is about to disappear underwater. Residents are moving ancestors' bones to dry land.

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 06:49

The Turkish government has called for the evacuation of a 12,000-year-old city, which is about to get flooded with water from the Tigris River.

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Trump Administration Threatens to Cut U.S. Highway Funds From California

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 06:10

WASHINGTON -- The political war between California and the Trump administration escalated Monday with a letter from Andrew Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, warning that Washington would withhold federal highway funds from the state if it did not rapidly address a decades-long backlog of state-level pollution control plans.The letter is the latest parry between President Donald Trump and the liberal West Coast state that he appears to relish antagonizing. California's recent actions on clean air and climate change policy have blindsided and enraged him, according to two people familiar with the matter.While California has angered Trump with its efforts to adhere to stricter state standards on climate change pollution from vehicles even as Trump has sought to roll back such standards nationally, Wheeler's new letter to the state offers a twist on the narrative.It states that California "has the worst air quality in the United States," including 82 areas within the state with air quality that does not meet federal law. It says that by law, the state is required to submit plans for reducing that pollution, but that California has a backlog of about 130 incomplete or inactive plans, "many dating back decades."The letter notes that California has more than 34 million people living in areas that do not meet federal air pollution standards for pollutants like soot and smog -- "more than twice as many people as any other state in the country."Wheeler says in the letter that he is calling attention to California's backlog as part of a broader effort to "dramatically reduce" such backlogs nationally.He says that California's failure to address the backlogged plans may result in penalties such as the withholding of federal highway funds, or the implementation of federal plans.The letter requests a response from the state by Oct. 10.The letter, made public Monday but dated Sept. 24, was first reported by The Sacramento Bee. California officials said Monday night that they had only just received it, and they declined to respond until they had time to review it. A spokesman for the White House referred questions to the EPA, and a spokesman for the agency did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.The letter follows Trump's announcement last week that his administration would revoke California's legal authority to set its own stringent state-level regulations on planet-warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes. On Friday, California and more than 20 other states retaliated by filing a sweeping lawsuit expected to be resolved only before the Supreme Court, accusing Trump of trampling on both states' rights and on major efforts to fight climate change.In fact, one of the key legal arguments made by the California lawsuit last week is that those tailpipe standards are required for the state to control emissions of the other pollutants, like soot and smog, at levels required to meet even federal standards."We need the extra clean cars to meet the standards set by the federal government," Mary Nichols, California's top clean air regulator, said at a news conference last week. "If this prevails, millions of people in California will breathe dirty air. There will be more pollution, more asthma, more hospitalizations, more premature deaths."Trump's move to revoke California's authority to set climate standards from vehicle pollution came after an announcement in July that four automakers that opposed Trump's plan to roll back the national vehicle tailpipe pollution standard signed a deal with California to comply with tighter emissions standards if the broader rollback goes through.Trump, who was surprised and angered by that announcement, according to two people familiar with the matter, has since sought to push policies that would punish California.Earlier this month, the Justice Department opened an investigation into whether the automakers' deal with California violates antitrust laws, although a person familiar with the investigation said that it was not started at the request of Trump or any administration officials.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company

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