Sunday, November 17, 2013

The controversy of who is responsible for climate change and thus who must pay for it goes on in light of the latest natural disaster that is linked to climate change. Unless we learn to look at this issue, among others, through communal eyes instead of self interest then no meaningful solution is possible. Each actor thinks that he/she is doing what is good for themselves when in effect they are contributing to a strengthening of the calamitous outcome.


Growing Clamor About Inequities of Climate Crisis

WARSAW — Following a devastating typhoon that killed thousands in the Philippines, a routine international climate change conference here turned into an emotional forum, with developing countries demanding compensation from the worst polluting countries for damage they say they are already suffering.
Calling the climate crisis “madness,” the Philippines representative vowed to fast for the duration of the talks. Malia Talakai, a negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, a group that includes her tiny South Pacific homeland, Nauru, said that without urgent action to stem rising sea levels, “some of our members won’t be around.”
From the time a scientific consensus emerged that human activity was changing the climate, it has been understood that the nations that contributed least to the problem would be hurt the most. Now, even as the possible consequences of climate change have surged — from the typhoons that have raked the Philippines and India this year to the droughts in Africa, to rising sea levels that threaten to submerge entire island nations — no consensus has emerged over how to rectify what many call “climate injustice.”
Growing demands to address the issue have become an emotionally charged flash point at negotiations here at the 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which continues this week.
“We are in a piece of land which is smaller than Denmark, with a population of 160 million, trying to cope with this extreme weather, trying to cope with the effect of emissions for which we are not responsible,” Farah Kabir, the director in Bangladesh for the anti-poverty organization ActionAid International, said at a news briefing here.
With expectations low for progress here on a treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, widely seen as having failed to make a dent in worldwide carbon emissions, some nations were losing patience with decades of endless climate talks, particularly those who see rising oceans as a threat to their existence.
“We are at these climate conferences essentially moving chess figures across the board without ever being able to bring these negotiations to a conclusion,” Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said in a telephone interview.
Although the divide between rich and poor nations has bedeviled international climate talks for two decades, the debate over how to address the disproportionate effects has steadily gained momentum. Poor nations here are pressing for a new effort that goes beyond reducing emissions and adapting to a changing climate.
While they have no legal means to seek compensation, they have demanded concrete efforts to address the “loss and damage” that the most vulnerable nations will almost certainly face — the result of fragile environments and structures, and limited resources to respond.
The sheer magnitude and complexity of the issue make such compensation unlikely. The notion of seeking justice for a global catastrophe that affects almost every country — with enormous implications for economic development — is not only immensely complicated but also politically daunting.
It assumes the culpability of the world’s most developed nations, including the United States and those in Europe, and implies a moral responsibility to bear the costs, even as those same nations seek to draft a new treaty over the next two years that would for the first time compel reductions by rapidly emerging nations like China and India. As a group, developing countries will within a decade have accounted for more than half of all historical emissions, making them responsible for a large share of the continuing impact humanity will make, if not the impact already made.
Assigning liability for specific events — like Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines with winds of at least 140 miles an hour, making it one of the strongest storms on record — is nearly impossible. It can take scientists years just to determine whether global warming contributed to the severity of a particular weather event, if it can be determined at all.
Many negotiators here have pressed to create a new mechanism that effectively accepts the idea that the results of climate change are irreversible and that the countries that are hit hardest first must be compensated.
“We’ve reached a stage where we cannot adapt anymore,” said Ronald Jumeau, the United Nations representative for the Seychelles, who is his country’s chief negotiator here. He noted the devastating effects not only of extreme storm events, but also of creeping desertification, salinization and erosion that could result in financial losses and even territorial issues that the modern world has never had to face.
“This is new,” he said. “This is like, ‘The Martians are landing!’ What do you do?”
John Kioli, the chairman of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group, a consortium of nongovernmental organizations, called climate change his country’s “biggest enemy.” Kenya, which straddles the Equator, faces some of the biggest challenges from rising temperatures. Arable land is disappearing and diseases like malaria are appearing in highland areas where they had never been seen before.
Developed countries, Mr. Kioli said, have a moral obligation to shoulder the cost, considering the amount of pollution they have emitted since the Industrial Revolution. “If developed countries are reasonable enough, they are able to understand that they have some responsibility,” he said.
How to compensate those nations hardest hit by climate changes remains divisive, even among advocates for such action. Some have argued that wealthy countries need to create a huge pool of money to help poorer countries recover from seemingly inevitable losses of the tangible and intangible, like destroyed traditions.
Mr. Jumeau noted that Congress allocated $60 billion just to rebuild from one storm, Hurricane Sandy, compared with the $100 billion a year that advocates hope to see pledged to a Green Climate Fund by all nations. The fund, intended to help poorer countries reduce emissions and prepare for climate changes, has remained little more than an organizing principle since its creation in 2010, its fund-raising goals unmet.
Others have suggested a sort of insurance program.
The United States and other rich countries have made their opposition to large-scale compensation clear. Todd D. Stern, the State Department’s envoy on climate issues, bluntly told a gathering at Chatham House in London last month that large-scale resources from the world’s richest nations would not be forthcoming.
“The fiscal reality of the United States and other developed countries is not going to allow it,” he said. “This is not just a matter of the recent financial crisis. It is structural, based on the huge obligations we face from aging populations and other pressing needs for infrastructure, education, health care and the like. We must and will strive to keep increasing our climate finance, but it is important that all of us see the world as it is.”
Appeals to rectify the injustice of climate change, he added, will backfire. “Lectures about compensation, reparations and the like will produce nothing but antipathy among developed country policy makers and their publics,” he said.
Juan Pablo Hoffmaister Patiño, a Bolivian who represents the alliance of developing nations known as the Group of 77 and China, said the issue was not so much about assigning culpability for the looming climate disaster as doing something to help those nations hardest hit.
“Trying to assign the blame is something that even scientifically could take us a very long time, and the challenges and problems are actually happening now,” he said in an interview here. “And we need to begin addressing them now rather than identifying who is guilty and to what degree. We can’t make this issue hostage to finding the responsible ones or not.”
Meanwhile, global emissions continue to rise. A report this month by the United Nations Environment Program warned that immediate action must be taken to reduce emissions enough to limit the rise in average global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels. That is the maximum warming that many scientists believe can occur without causing potentially catastrophic climate change.
The current global turbulence, consistent with what scientists expect to happen as the climate changes, is already taking a toll.
As the hundreds of diplomats and advocates assembled for talks here, Justus Lavi was waiting for rain in Kenya. The wheat, beans and potatoes he planted on his farm in Makueni County sprouted, but the rainy season brought only two days of showers, threatening to ruin his yield.
In northern Somalia, Nimcaan Farah Abdi’s 10 acres of corn, tomatoes and other vegetables were ruined as violent storms swept the Horn of Africa. A typhoon last weekend in nearby Puntland killed more than 100 people, a disaster overshadowed by the far more destructive one in the Philippines.
“My farm has been washed away,” Mr. Abdi said. It was the second year in a row of unusually heavy storms to have destroyed his livelihood, leaving him uncertain about how he will provide for his six children. “God knows,” he added, “but I don’t have anything to give now.”
Steven Lee Myers reported from Warsaw, and Nicholas Kulish from Nairobi, Kenya. Justin Gillis contributed reporting from New York, David Jolly from Paris, and Mohammed Ibrahim from Mogadishu, Somalia.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Super Typhoon

Although it is too early to pass any judgements on the potential causes for super typhoon Haiyan but yet we must keep in mind the warnings of the climate scientists about some of the possible effects of warmer oceans .


A fairly normal typhoon season in the western Pacific has spawned a real monster—supertyphoon Haiyan—which made landfall in the Philippines at around 5 a.m. local time.

The storm, described by some as "tropical cyclone perfection" and "off the charts," packed sustained winds of 195 miles (315 kilometers per hour), with gusts as strong as 235 miles (380 kilometers per hour). Experts predict the typhoon—also known as Yolanda in the Philippines—could end up being the strongest storm to ever make landfall since modern record-keeping began, according to The Washington Post.

"It's knocking our socks off," said Jim Kossin, an atmospheric scientist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climatic Data Center. (Related: "What's a Typhoon, Anyway?")
But what happens to create such a megastorm?

There are several environmental factors that play into how strong a storm can get, Kossin explained. The storms thrive on warm water that goes deep into the ocean and consistent wind speeds in the atmosphere, he said.

"When all those things align in a certain way, then you're going to get something like [Haiyan]," Kossin added.

More Storms on the Horizon
Haiyan is a strange storm in both its strength and because it comes very late in the typhoon season, which officially ended November 1, said Colin Price, head of the geophysical, atmospheric, and planetary sciences department at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

Although the overall number of hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons—all the same weather phenomenon—hasn't increased over the past decades, the proportion of more intense storms has, Price explained. 

"All typhoons feed off the warm ocean waters," he said. The moisture-laden air above these regions is the fuel that fires the engines in these storms.

"We've seen in the past decades the oceans are warming up, likely due to climate change," said Price. "So warmer oceans will give us more energy for these storms, likely resulting in more intense storms."
Haiyan dipped down near the Equator, where it likely picked up some more steam, before heading to the Philippines, he said.

It's similar to what happened when Hurricane Katrina picked up steam as it passed over the warm pool of water in the Gulf of Mexico in August 2005.

National Geographic.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

President Obama had to resort to an executive order so that he could get some elements of his Climate Change  implemented. Executive orders will force all US agencies to take the potential of climate change into consideration. Alas the order is also an indirect way of acknowledging the fact that climate change will have many negative impacts and that we have to adapt to these changes.

President Obama issued an executive order Friday directing a government-wide effort to boost preparation in states and local communities for the impact of global warming.

The action orders federal agencies to work with states to build “resilience” against major storms and other weather extremes. For example, the president’s order directs that infrastructure projects like bridges and flood control take into consideration climate conditions of the future, which might require building structures larger or stronger — and likely at a higher price tag.

“The impacts of climate change — including an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification and sea-level rise — are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies and public health across the nation,” the presidential order said. “The federal government must build on recent progress and pursue new strategies to improve the nation’s preparedness and resilience.”

There’s no estimate of how much the additional planning will cost. Natural disasters including Superstorm Sandy cost the U.S. economy more than $100 billion in 2012, according to the administration.

The White House is also setting up a task force of state and local leaders to offer advice to the federal government, with several Democratic governors having agreed to serve and at least one Republican governor, from the U.S. territory of Guam.

Mr. Obama has a goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020, and the Environmental Protection Agency is working on rules that would impose tougher regulations on coal-burning power plants. But much of the president’s climate-change agenda has stalled in Congress, and the administration says the new order recognizes that global greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, making further damage from global warming inevitable.

At a speech at Georgetown University in June, Mr. Obama outlined executive actions he would take to require government and private industry to prepare for the effects of climate change.

“The question is not whether we need to act,” Mr. Obama said at the time. “The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Soda vs Bottled Water!!!

Should nature care whether it is one or the other?


Bottled Water Sales Rising as Soda Ebbs

Few things are more American than Coca-Cola.

But bottled water is washing away the palate trained to drain a bubbly soda. By the end of this decade, if not sooner, sales of bottled water are expected to surpass those of carbonated soft drinks, according to Michael C. Bellas, chief executive of the Beverage Marketing Corporation.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Mr. Bellas, who has watched water’s rise in the industry since the 1980s.

Sales of water in standard lightweight plastic bottles grew at a rate of more than 20 percent every quarter from 1993 to 2005, he said. The growth has continued since, but now it has settled into percentages within the high single digits.

If the estimated drinking of water from the household tap is included, water consumption began exceeding that of soda in the mid-2000s.

That significant shift has posed a tough challenge for the Coca-Cola Company and rival PepsiCo in recent years. While both companies sell bottled water lines, Dasani for Coke and Aquafina for Pepsi, they have had trouble establishing dominance in the more profitable business of so-called enhanced waters — including flavored and carbonated waters and those with added vitamins and minerals — where a horde of new beverage companies like TalkingRain, Hint water and Fruit2O are giving them a run for the money.

“Given where pricing has gone, I would assume that on the average 24 pack of bottled water, Coke and Pepsi are selling at break-even at best,” said John Faucher, who tracks the beverage and household products businesses at JPMorgan Chase. “The one thing keeping them in plain, old bottled water is that both have a very large and highly profitable single-serve business in it.”
Plain bottled waters are little more than purified tap water with a sprinkle of minerals tossed in, which makes the business one of producing bottles and filling them.

Factors as varied as innovations in bottling technology that have helped drive down the price of water as well as continuing concern about obesity and related diseases are also driving the trend. A recent study by North Dakota State University, for instance, used dietary intake data collected by the federal government to draw correlations between decreased consumption of soda from 1999 through 2010 and improvements in the biomarkers that indicated cholesterol and other chronic diseases.

A study by Coca-Cola asserted that the government’s data, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, was flawed, but that had not stopped public health officials from encouraging greater consumption of beverages with less sugar.

Last month, Michelle Obama heavily endorsed water, teaming up with Coke, Pepsi and Nestlé Waters, among others, to persuade Americans to drink more of it. Health advocates complained that Mrs. Obama had capitulated to corporate partners by not explaining the benefits of water over the sodas they sell and that her initiative promoted even greater use of plastic bottles when she could have just recommended turning on the tap.

Bottled water has also grown cheaper, adding to its attraction. Cases of 24 half-liter bottles of store-brand water can be had for $2, or about 8 cents a bottle, and some grocery store chains even are using waters as loss leaders to attract customers, teeing up shopping carts with a case already on board.

Companies like Niagara Water, a privately held company that is the largest private-label water bottler in the country, have a fully integrated, highly automated production system that starts with plastic pellets that are made into bottles and goes all the way through to filling the bottles, making caps and screwing them on.

This poses a problem for the big beverage companies selling branded waters. “Coke and Pepsi can compete in convenience stores where water is being sold one bottle at a time, but they can’t make money on selling cases at $1.99 apiece,” said John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest.
In a conference call with analysts last week, PepsiCo’s chief financial officer, Hugh F. Johnston, said that the company had no plans to invest in increasing its bottled water offerings. “We don’t think it creates value over time,” Mr. Johnston said.

Some of the things that have made Pepsi and Coke formidable competitors in the soda business work against them in water. The companies, for instance, stock grocery store shelves directly off their trucks. That gives them more extensive and timely information about how their products are doing and greater control over marketing, but it also is much more expensive than the distribution system used by companies like Niagara and Nestlé Waters, which has a private label business in addition to marketing brands like Poland Spring and Ozarka.

Those companies let retailers handle stocking, shipping pallets of their waters to warehouses.
Coke sold 5.8 billion liters of waters abroad and 253 million liters in the United States and Canada from 2007 to 2012. Pepsi’s water sales in North America actually declined by 636 million liters over that period, but it still sold 4.7 billion liters overseas, according to Euromonitor.
Both companies’ soda sales fell in North America over that time but grew internationally. Volume sales of soda, however, may be deceptive. “The volume growth is there, but when we’re talking about international markets like China, India and Latin America — prices are lower,” said Jonas Feliciano, an industry analyst at Euromonitor.

The TalkingRain Beverage Company, a bottled water business that started in the Pacific Northwest, is getting out of the plain water business altogether because the economics are so bad. “The water business has become very commoditized,” said Kevin Klock, its chief executive. “Folks in that business have to produce high quantities at fast speed in very light bottles, and it requires a huge investment to be in that game.”

TalkingRain makes Sparkling ICE, a bubbly water that comes in flavors like kiwi strawberry and blackberry with no calories and “vitamins and antioxidants.” The brand had developed strong consumer loyalty in the company’s back yard, consistently generating about $10 million in sales a year when Mr. Klock decided to bet big on it after taking the helm in 2010.

Last year, TalkingRain sold $200 million worth of Sparkling ICE, and sales this year are on track to exceed $400 million, Mr. Klock said. “There’s a large market out there that wants something sparkling, something flavored, something without a controversial sweetener, and we hit that market,” he said.
Now Pepsi and Coke are scrambling to dip their toes into it, too. They are fighting back with investments in flavored and enhanced waters and, in Coke’s case, packaging. Dasani, Coke’s primary water business, comes in the company’s PlantBottle, at least 30 percent of which is made from plant materials.

“First, consumers who purchase Dasani are looking for a high quality product that delivers a high quality taste time and time again,” said Geoff Henry, brand director of Dasani. “Beyond what the brand stands for, we are looking to lead in packaging and sustainability because those things also matter to our consumers.”

On Thursday, Coke introduced its first sparkling Dasani drinks in four flavors, and Pepsi is expected to take the wraps off a premium bottled water product called OM this year, according to Beverage Digest.
Coca-Cola has also been successful with Smartwater, which was part of its $4.1 billion purchase of Glaceau, the maker of Vitaminwater. Smartwater is little more than distilled water with added electrolytes, but volume sales were up by 16.2 percent in the first half of this year, according to Beverage Digest.

Dasani also has introduced Dasani Drops, with flavors like cherry pomegranate and pink lemonade, which consumers add to the drink to fit their taste, a quality especially prized by millennials.
A bumper crop of flavor drops has been coming onto the market ever since Kraft introduced Mio in 2011. SweetLeaf and Stur, for instance, are Stevia-based sweeteners for water that impart flavor. Pepsi recently began selling Aquafina FlavorSplash drops.

Sales of most branded enhanced water, however, were down in the first half of 2013, and whether giving consumers the option to flavor plain water will change that equation remains to be seen. Vitaminwater’s volume sales slid 17.3 percent, for instance, while SoBe Lifewater, a line of flavored waters owned by PepsiCo, dropped 30.3 percent, according to Beverage Digest.
On the other hand, Nestlé and bottlers like Niagara, which carry lower prices, saw sharp increases in volume sales of their enhanced waters.

“Is it a great idea? Not necessarily,” Mr. Faucher said of the big companies’ push into enhanced waters. “Do they have much of a choice? Not necessarily. People want variety and so Coke and Pepsi are going where the opportunity is. There aren’t a lot of other options.”


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Price Carbon Correctly

 Dana Smillie/World Bank
 by Karin Rives On Thu, 10/10/2013

This was not the time to discuss the science of climate change, or ways to protect coastal cities against monster storms.
The development experts, journalists, policy wonks and investment professionals who gathered at the Center for Global Development [1] in Washington this week were there to sort out a much thornier issue: How to mobilize and spend the $700 billion [2] or so the world will need annually – above what’s already being spent – to slow and adapt to climate change.
Their consensus: Current levels of public and private finance won’t even begin to do the job.
Four years after advanced countries promised in Copenhagen to raise $100 billion annually by 2020 to fight climate change – in addition to the $30 billion they pledged to raise through 2012 in “fast-start” financing for developing nations ­– the road forward is murky at best.
Fiscal constraints make governments less willing, or able, to spend money on a long-term problem, no matter how critical.
“We should have no illusions that public money is going to come rushing back to solve this,” said John Morton, chief of staff at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation [3], the United States development finance agency. “Therefore the role of the private sector is absolutely critical.”
So what will it take to get risk-averse, institutional investors with trillions of dollars in clout to enter climate finance in emerging economies?
A technology revolution? New investment strategies that take the risk out of green projects? The elimination of $485 billion in fossil fuel subsidies [4] and other policy reforms?
Or perhaps a pact between those forward-looking countries that are willing to set a price on carbon, once and for all? By banding together, they could create the size market investors are looking for.
The U.S., the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, likely won’t be leading such a coalition effort any time soon. But China might.
Xueman Wang, team leader for the World Bank’s Partnership for Market Readiness, noted that five cities and two provinces in China are now piloting emissions trading systems [5] with the goal of eventually building a national market.
It’s also working with South Africa, which is planning to implement a carbon tax in 2015. South Africa wants to position itself as a leader in a new world where polluters must pay for each kilo of carbon dioxide they emit into the air, Wang said.
In all, the Partnership for Market Readiness is working with 16 emerging economies that are looking to emissions trading, carbon taxes and other instruments to scale up their greenhouse-gas mitigation efforts.
A price on carbon, as leaders of the World Bank Group [6] and the OECD [7] noted this week, will send a signal to private investors that renewable energy and low-carbon projects are, in fact, very profitable. It may be the game changer everybody’s waiting for.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Dogs Are people Too

FOR the past two years, my colleagues and I have been training dogs to go in an M.R.I. scanner — completely awake and unrestrained. Our goal has been to determine how dogs’ brains work and, even more important, what they think of us humans.
Now, after training and scanning a dozen dogs, my one inescapable conclusion is this: dogs are people, too.
Because dogs can’t speak, scientists have relied on behavioral observations to infer what dogs are thinking. It is a tricky business. You can’t ask a dog why he does something. And you certainly can’t ask him how he feels. The prospect of ferreting out animal emotions scares many scientists. After all, animal research is big business. It has been easy to sidestep the difficult questions about animal sentience and emotions because they have been unanswerable.
Until now.
By looking directly at their brains and bypassing the constraints of behaviorism, M.R.I.’s can tell us about dogs’ internal states. M.R.I.’s are conducted in loud, confined spaces. People don’t like them, and you have to hold absolutely still during the procedure. Conventional veterinary practice says you have to anesthetize animals so they don’t move during a scan. But you can’t study brain function in an anesthetized animal. At least not anything interesting like perception or emotion.
From the beginning, we treated the dogs as persons. We had a consent form, which was modeled after a child’s consent form but signed by the dog’s owner. We emphasized that participation was voluntary, and that the dog had the right to quit the study. We used only positive training methods. No sedation. No restraints. If the dogs didn’t want to be in the M.R.I. scanner, they could leave. Same as any human volunteer.
My dog Callie was the first. Rescued from a shelter, Callie was a skinny black terrier mix, what is called a feist in the southern Appalachians, from where she came. True to her roots, she preferred hunting squirrels and rabbits in the backyard to curling up in my lap. She had a natural inquisitiveness, which probably landed her in the shelter in the first place, but also made training a breeze.
With the help of my friend Mark Spivak, a dog trainer, we started teaching Callie to go into an M.R.I. simulator that I built in my living room. She learned to walk up steps into a tube, place her head in a custom-fitted chin rest, and hold rock-still for periods of up to 30 seconds. Oh, and she had to learn to wear earmuffs to protect her sensitive hearing from the 95 decibels of noise the scanner makes.
After months of training and some trial-and-error at the real M.R.I. scanner, we were rewarded with the first maps of brain activity. For our first tests, we measured Callie’s brain response to two hand signals in the scanner. In later experiments, not yet published, we determined which parts of her brain distinguished the scents of familiar and unfamiliar dogs and humans.
Soon, the local dog community learned of our quest to determine what dogs are thinking. Within a year, we had assembled a team of a dozen dogs who were all “M.R.I.-certified.”
Although we are just beginning to answer basic questions about the canine brain, we cannot ignore the striking similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region: the caudate nucleus.
Rich in dopamine receptors, the caudate sits between the brainstem and the cortex. In humans, the caudate plays a key role in the anticipation of things we enjoy, like food, love and money. But can we flip this association around and infer what a person is thinking just by measuring caudate activity? Because of the overwhelming complexity of how different parts of the brain are connected to one another, it is not usually possible to pin a single cognitive function or emotion to a single brain region.
But the caudate may be an exception. Specific parts of the caudate stand out for their consistent activation to many things that humans enjoy. Caudate activation is so consistent that under the right circumstances, it can predict our preferences for food, music and even beauty.
In dogs, we found that activity in the caudate increased in response to hand signals indicating food. The caudate also activated to the smells of familiar humans. And in preliminary tests, it activated to the return of an owner who had momentarily stepped out of view. Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.
The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child. And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.
DOGS have long been considered property. Though the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 and state laws raised the bar for the treatment of animals, they solidified the view that animals are things — objects that can be disposed of as long as reasonable care is taken to minimize their suffering.
But now, by using the M.R.I. to push away the limitations of behaviorism, we can no longer hide from the evidence. Dogs, and probably many other animals (especially our closest primate relatives), seem to have emotions just like us. And this means we must reconsider their treatment as property.
One alternative is a sort of limited personhood for animals that show neurobiological evidence of positive emotions. Many rescue groups already use the label of “guardian” to describe human caregivers, binding the human to his ward with an implicit responsibility to care for her. Failure to act as a good guardian runs the risk of having the dog placed elsewhere. But there are no laws that cover animals as wards, so the patchwork of rescue groups that operate under a guardianship model have little legal foundation to protect the animals’ interest.
If we went a step further and granted dogs rights of personhood, they would be afforded additional protection against exploitation. Puppy mills, laboratory dogs and dog racing would be banned for violating the basic right of self-determination of a person.
I suspect that society is many years away from considering dogs as persons. However, recent rulings by the Supreme Court have included neuroscientific findings that open the door to such a possibility. In two cases, the court ruled that juvenile offenders could not be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. As part of the rulings, the court cited brain-imaging evidence that the human brain was not mature in adolescence. Although this case has nothing to do with dog sentience, the justices opened the door for neuroscience in the courtroom.
Perhaps someday we may see a case arguing for a dog’s rights based on brain-imaging findings.
Gregory Berns is a professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University and the author of “How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain.”

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Can Corporations Act as Good Environmental Citizens?

 (So it is not only the US car manufacturers that have dragged their feet in meeting new emission standards.  Could it be that profits are more important than the environment? :-))


Exclusive: French carmakers back German bid to delay CO2 curbs - sources

Fri, Sep 27 2013
By Barbara Lewis and Laurence Frost
BRUSSELS/PARIS (Reuters) - Germany has enlisted French carmakers' support for a last-ditch bid to delay new EU vehicle emissions limits by four years as it battles to win more time for its luxury auto industry, government officials and diplomats said.
Berlin wants to re-open and water down draft carbon dioxide goals agreed in June by introducing the phase-in period, under a proposal circulated by diplomats on Friday and seen by Reuters.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is engaged in an uphill struggle to weaken the measures cutting new car emissions to 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer by 2020 - a major challenge for upmarket German automakers Daimler and BMW.
Germany has so far been unable to secure support from a blocking minority of EU governments to dilute the new rules, ahead of a vote expected next week.
But Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroen have broken ranks with Paris to side with their German industrial partners Daimler, BMW and Opel, officials said.
"We became aware of this common industry position last week," a French government official said. Germany is expected to "use it to press the new demands", the official added.
Merkel intervened in June to prevent an earlier scheduled EU vote after Berlin unsuccessfully pressured other governments to oppose the draft, warning of possible consequences for cooperation in other areas.
The latest German move would result in effective emissions of 104 g/km in 2020, 10 percent above the target, according to Brussels-based campaign group Transport & Environment.
"Germany's real motivations for preventing a vote are now clear - to give its luxury carmakers four more years to keep selling gas-guzzlers," policy coordinator Greg Archer said.
Renault and Peugeot declined to comment on whether they now supported Germany's bid to loosen the rules.
Both French carmakers have previously said they stand to gain competitive advantage from tighter CO2 limits, thanks to the below average size and fuel consumption of the cars they sell.
"Peugeot has already taken the 2020 targets into account and is well on track to meet them - while also aware that they are tough," a spokeswoman said.
But the French carmakers have come under pressure from their respective German industry partners to adopt a common stance.
Renault and Japanese affiliate Nissan share a growing number of engines and vehicle architectures with Daimler's Mercedes-Benz and Smart models.
Peugeot hopes to renew a major engine-sharing deal with BMW while developing future vehicles with 7-percent shareholder General Motors and its Opel division.
Renault executives often discuss regulatory issues with Daimler counterparts, a source close to the French carmaker said. "Renault and Daimler talk a lot about this kind of stuff."
Under the latest German counter-proposal, the 95 gram limit would apply only to 80 percent of new cars in 2020, rising by 5 percentage points each year to full implementation in 2024.
The rules should be "designed (so) that manufacturers are enabled to reach the 2020 target in the most cost-effective way", the document says. "Therefore they need more flexibility in the transition phase."
Most carmakers are on course to achieve CO2 emissions comfortably below the interim EU target of 130 g/km for 2015.
Germany has so far won backing from Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - not enough to block the vote. A French reversal could change that.
But Socialist President Francois Hollande is under pressure from Green deputies and ministers to stand firm.
France will study the German initiative "just as we would any other proposal", the government official said.
"But as things stand we remain in favor of the agreed deal," the official added. The French carmakers' 11th-hour position is "not something we would take into account".
Paris has yet to respond, a German government official said. "It's not clear if they will support the French carmakers' position."
Germany's renewed determination to torpedo the CO2 legislation is irking many European partners, officials from several EU states and institutions said.
"It's as if after a football match with a given result, the losing team decides to change the rules and everyone has to restart the match until they win," one diplomat said.
Berlin's approach "bodes badly for the future" of EU decision-making, said Chris Davies, a member of the European Parliament for Britain's Liberal Democrats.
"Special pleading by Germany on behalf of the most lucrative carmakers has to be resisted, or there's a risk of undermining EU industrial policy across the board."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

EPA and Carbon Emissions.


U.S. environment chief uses humor, health argument to sell carbon plan

Fri, Sep 20 2013
By Environment Correspondent Deborah Zabarenko
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When U.S. environment chief Gina McCarthy talked about cutting climate-warming carbon emissions on Friday, she offered a translation for those unfamiliar with the dropped "R" of her thick Boston accent.
"I should make sure that everybody knows that when I say cahbon, it's c-a-r-b-o-n," McCarthy told a standing-room-only gathering at the National Press Club in Washington.
As the chuckles subsided, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who was sworn into office in July, added, "I'll be talking about cahs later too, which is c-a-r."
McCarthy's self-deprecating humor is a new asset in the Obama administration's push to sell its climate plan - in Friday's case, regulations that will use the Clean Air Act to severely limit greenhouse gas emissions from yet-to-be-built power plants.
She also emphasized, for the second time this week, that the climate policies do not add up to a "war on coal," a persistent charge from many Republican lawmakers, Democrats from energy-producing states and many in the fossil fuels industry.
"Cutting climate change just makes good business sense," McCarthy said, adding that "setting fair Clean Air Act standards does not cause the sky to fall."
Beyond the business case, McCarthy cited links between a changing, warming climate and risks to public health and safety from smoggy air, with lower income and urban communities particularly at risk.
McCarthy became emotional at times when she discussed the health problems caused by smog, such as the life-threatening Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) that afflicts Daniel Dolan-Laughlin, a retired railroad executive from Wheaton, Illinois.
"Daniel's health has improved significantly after he received a double lung transplant," she said. "Last year Daniel came to EPA to tell his story. He made a specific plea: he asked us to act on climate change."
McCarthy's down-to-earth communications style has been on display for three days in Washington as part of a very public rollout of the carbon-cutting regulations.
On Wednesday, she faced pointed questions from Republicans on the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce at a hearing to examine current and future regulations which it said cost $22 billion this year.
At that hearing, McCarthy parried questions about whether the proposed regulations would be so tough that they would effectively prevent new power plant construction.
McCarthy sat for interviews with publications ranging from the mainstream - the Washington Post - to the partisan - Grist, an environmental news and commentary website. Her speech to the National Press Club was carried live on C-SPAN.
McCarthy's path to this spotlight has been a bumpy one.
Confirmed after more than four months of partisan wrangling, she came to the job after overseeing rules on mercury and soot pollution as EPA's top air official.
Before coming to the federal agency, McCarthy earned bipartisan stripes as the top environmental regulator in Massachusetts and Connecticut under Democratic and Republican governors.
She was the environmental policy adviser to then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
(Editing by Ros Krasny and Jim Loney)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Japan: No Nukes ???

Japan:Japan to switch off nuclear power, may be some time before it's on again

7:17pm EDT
By Osamu Tsukimori
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan is set to be nuclear power-free, for just the third time in more than four decades, and with no firm date for re-starting an energy source that has provided about 30 percent of electricity to the world's third-largest economy.
Kansai Electric Power Co's 1,180 MW Ohi No.4 reactor is scheduled to be disconnected from the power grid late on Sunday and then shut for planned maintenance. It is the only one of Japan's 50 reactors in operation after the nuclear industry came to a virtual halt following the March 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Japan last went without nuclear power in May-June 2012 - the first shutdown since 1970 - a year after a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered reactor meltdowns and radiation leaks at the Fukushima facility. The country's nuclear reactors provided close to a third of the electricity to keep the $5 trillion economy going before the Fukushima disaster, and utilities have had to spend billions of dollars importing oil, gas and coal to make up for the shortfall.
In 2011, Japan suffered its first trade deficit in more than three decades, and in July of this year it logged its third-biggest trade deficit on record, at 1.02 trillion yen ($10.5 billion), as a weak yen and rising oil prices made energy imports more expensive.
Several nuclear operators applied in July to re-start reactors under new rules drawn up following the Fukushima disaster, but approvals are likely to be tough to get as the industry regulator strives to show a skeptical public it is serious about safety.
Industry projections for a re-start vary from as early as December to mid-2014. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the utilities are keen to get reactors up and running again, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe singling out reducing soaring fuel costs as a key plank of his economic reform plans.
But opinion polls show a majority of Japanese want to end reliance on atomic power, and oppose re-starts.
"The argument that no nuclear power dents the economy would be myopic, considering that if by mistake we had another tragedy like Fukushima, Japan would suffer from further collateral damage and lose global trust," said Tetsunari Iida, head of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, and a renewable energy expert.
"In the new economy, the less you use energy, the more value-added you become. The big chorus for nuclear power is hampering the efforts to move to a new, more open economy."
Japan consumes about a third of the world's liquefied natural gas (LNG) production, and will likely boost LNG demand to record levels over the next couple of years. LNG imports rose 4.4 percent in volume to a record 86.87 million tonnes, and 14.9 percent in value to a record 6.21 trillion yen ($62.1 billion) in the year through March.
Imports are likely to rise to around 88 million tonnes this year and around 90 million tonnes in the year to March 2015, according to projections by the Institute of Energy Economics Japan based on a mid-scenario that 16 reactors will be back on-line by March 2015.
Thirty months on from the Fukushima disaster, such is the level of public concern about nuclear safety that the government is struggling to come up with a long-term energy policy - a delay that is having a profound impact on the economy and underlining just how costly a nuclear-power-free future may be.
People in the industry reckon Shikoku Electric Power's Ikata plant, Kyushu Electric's Sendai plant and Hokkaido Electric's Tomari plant are among those likely to be the first to re-start.
"There's talk the Abe administration is putting heavy pressure on the regulator (to re-start reactors)," said Osamu Fujisawa, a Japan-based independent oil economist.
"It's obviously the economy the administration is after (rather than safety). Otherwise, the business community will look away, dealing an end to the Abe administration."
I hope that Japan never restarts the nuclear power plants and that Westchester shuts down Indian Point.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Betting on the Apocalypce

ONE day in October 1990, the iconoclastic economist Julian L. Simon walked out to get the mail at his house in the Washington suburb of Chevy Chase, Md. In a small envelope sent from Palo Alto, Calif., he found a sheet of metal prices, along with a check for $576.07 from the biologist Paul R. Ehrlich. There was no note.
Ten years earlier, Mr. Simon and Mr. Ehrlich, joined by two scientific colleagues, had made a wager on the future prices of five metals: chromium, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten. The bet — in which the loser would pay the change in price of a $1,000 bundle of the five metals — was a test of their competing theories of coming prosperity or doom.
For years Mr. Ehrlich, the author of the landmark 1968 book “The Population Bomb,” had warned that rising populations would cause resource scarcity, even famine, with apocalyptic consequences for humanity. Mr. Simon, who died in 1998, optimistically countered that human welfare would flourish thanks to flexible markets and our collective ingenuity.
Mr. Ehrlich believed the metal prices would rise over the decade; Mr. Simon thought the prices would stay stable or even drop. Mr. Simon won: the prices of the five metals in 1990 hovered at around 50 percent of their 1980 levels, even as the world population grew by 800 million.
Conservatives have celebrated Mr. Simon’s victory ever since, using it to denounce environmentalists for alarmism and to criticize environmental regulation. The columnist George Will recently used Mr. Simon’s triumph to illustrate how “ingenuity thwarts doomsday.” In a sign of the bet’s symbolic value, the Competitive Enterprise Institute created the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award in 2001 to celebrate his “vision of Man as the Ultimate Resource.” The award trophy: a statue of a leaf with its veins made from the five metals featured in the bet.
Environmentalists, in contrast, have tended to deny the significance of the Ehrlich-Simon bet, arguing that commodity prices illustrate little about real environmental threats. Also, they say, Mr. Simon just got lucky: indeed, when economists later ran simulations for every 10-year period between 1900 and 2008, they found that Mr. Ehrlich would have won the bet 63 percent of the time. These sweeping declarations of triumph and insignificance miss the point — and the true lessons of the bet for each side.
Environmentalists need to better understand the ways in which markets for natural resources function. There is rarely a simple linear path from abundance to scarcity.
Mr. Ehrlich’s view of looming scarcity was hardly radical in the years after the 1970s oil shocks. Many investors in the late 1970s shared his faith that rising metal prices reflected finite supply and impending shortages. The Hunt brothers, for example, famously gambled billions of their oil fortune on the rising price of silver, and then lost their shirts in 1980 when prices faltered and they failed to corner the market.
During the 1980s, macroeconomic factors, including falling oil prices and economic slowdowns, far outweighed new pressures from population growth and drove down the prices of many metals. Everyday market forces — technological change, price-driven competition and new sources of supply — also helped reduce prices. The international tin cartel collapsed under pressure from new Brazilian mines. Aluminum, plastic, fiber-optic cables and satellites began to replace copper, even as copper production soared in response to 1970s highs; by 1985, the copper industry struggled to create demand.
This dynamic relationship between scarcity and abundance matters for public policy. Exaggerated fears of resource scarcity can lead to stifling price controls, panicked efforts to limit production or consumption, and public investment strategies predicated on high prices that turn out to be ephemeral.
The same thing is true in business. Solyndra, the now-bankrupt solar-panel company, failed in part because its model depended on the price of polysilicon, used by its competitors, remaining high. When prices instead collapsed, so did its competitive strategy and the company.
YET if environmentalists need to better account for human creativity and adaptability, conservatives, in turn, should better understand the limited nature of Mr. Simon’s victory.
Setting aside the vagaries of market forces, can we continue to increase resource production and adapt to unprecedented environmental changes like global warming? Our past experience should give us some hope, but that hope should be greatly tempered by the realization that climate change is an unprecedented threat, and we really might not keep pace.
Mr. Simon liked to argue that new problems prompt solutions that ultimately leave people better off than before. But we cannot surmount our challenges if we simply deny that they exist.
Instead of using science as a resource for human betterment, conservatives who reject the evidence of human-caused global warming prevent the very creative problem-solving that Mr. Simon advocated. And if environmentalists like Mr. Ehrlich hadn’t urged action back in the 1970s, would all that creativity have been channeled into the cleaner air and water that we enjoy today?
We face choices about our future direction. As Mr. Ehrlich and many other environmental scientists have documented, by pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we put things we value and love in danger, from the coral reefs to the Jersey Shore, from homes threatened by wildfire to farms endangered by drought.
And even if Mr. Simon is right that humans can adapt and prosper on this rapidly changing planet, we have to ask ourselves whether the risks and inequalities of this change are desirable.
Ultimately, humanity’s course will be determined less by iron laws of nature or by unbounded market powers, Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Simon’s dueling lodestars, and more by the social and political choices that we make. Neither biology nor economics can substitute for the deeper ethical question: what kind of world do we want to live in?
Paul Sabin is an associate professor of American history at Yale and the author of “The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth’s Future.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

China : CO2 Trading.

The following news item , as reported by Reuters, speaks to the trading efficiency that we had discussed recently. Unfortunately, it also makes it clear that the EU plan for Cap  and Trade is in shambles.

The crisis facing the European carbon market will not deter China from plans to establish its own emissions trading platform or its other climate pledges, the senior official responsible for climate change said on Thursday.
Xie Zhenhua, vice-director of the National Development and Reform Commission in charge of climate policies, said efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions were a "domestic requirement". They were, he said, designed to address longstanding inefficiency and environmental problems, and did not depend on other nations, or on the state of the economy.
"China has pledged these targets to the international community to deal with climate change and they will not change," he said at an event in Beijing. "Even if other countries say they will do nothing, we will keep to our strategy. No matter what happens to our economy, we cannot make any change."
The global financial crisis has saddled Europe's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) with a crushing oversupply of carbon credits and record low prices, but the EU parliament this week rejected proposals to bail the market out.
The ETS allows enterprises to meet their carbon reduction targets by purchasing carbon credits from the market, enabling them to keep emitting greenhouse gases. Many credits have been generated by low-carbon projects in China as part of a United Nations scheme known as the Clean Development Mechanism.
China is planning a similar domestic scheme in which carbon-intensive enterprises and industries can meet their own targets by acquiring the emission quotas allocated to other firms.
Xie said China ultimately sought to link its carbon trading platforms with those elsewhere, but was focused now on domestic needs.
"In the future we will establish a link, but in the next few years we first need to establish a carbon market according to Chinese conditions and the conditions of developing countries," he said.
He said China would learn from mistakes made in Europe, especially when it comes to prices, with Shanghai set to include a mechanism by which carbon credits can be taken off the market when supplies are too high and prices too low.
Carbon prices on Europe's ETS were trading at an all-time low of 2.46 euros ($3.21) per tonne on Tuesday, down from 18 euros just two years ago. Xie said the problem was that the mandatory emission cuts in Europe had been set too low.
"Why have the prices gone from such a high to such a low? Because of the rate of emissions cuts," he said. "If it was higher, and if there were more pressures, the market would be much more active. It is probably related to the initial design of the exchange and the way emissions targets were allocated."
China is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases on an aggregate basis, but levels are low in per capita terms.
Xie said China's pilot carbon market scheme was on track, with trading to begin in the southeastern city of Shenzhen in June and later in the business hub of Shanghai before year-end.
But he said China would find it increasingly difficult to meet its 2020 climate change pledges. Problems, he said, would "get harder and harder and the costs will be higher and higher".
China has pledged to reduce 2011 levels of carbon intensity -- the amount of climate-warming carbon dioxide produced per unit of GDP growth -- by 40-45 percent by 2020.
It has also vowed to increase the share of non-fossil fuel energy to 15 percent of its total energy mix by the same period and close vast swathes of inefficient industrial capacity.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Are Human Genes Patentable?

By Sharon Begley
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Soon after learning that his son had autism, Hollywood producer Jon Shestack ("Air Force One") tried to get researchers investigating the genetic causes of the disorder to pool their DNA samples, the better to identify genes most likely to cause that disorder. But his approach to scientists at universities across the country in the late 1990s hit a brick wall: They refused to join forces, much less share the DNA.

"Each thought they needed to hold on to it to publish and patent," Shestack said in an interview. "This seemed criminal to us."

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted patents on at least 4,000 human genes to companies, universities and others that have discovered and decoded them. Patents now cover some 40 percent of the human genome, according to a scientific study led by Christopher Mason of Weill Cornell Medical College. But if foes of gene patents have their way, that percentage could be rolled back to zero.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that calls into question whether human DNA can be claimed as intellectual property, and remain off limits to everyone without the permission of the patent holder.

The lawsuit, filed in 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation, challenges seven patents held by Myriad Genetics Inc on two human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. A federal judge said the patents were invalid. An appeals court overruled that decision, and the case landed in the Supreme Court.

The legal issues center on whether the genes that Myriad patented, called BRCA1 and BRCA2, are natural phenomena. The ACLU says human DNA is a product of nature, and as such not patentable under the Patent Act. Myriad argues that its patents are for genes that have been "isolated," which makes them products of human ingenuity and, therefore, patentable.

As scholars debate the legal questions, two parallel issues have emerged: whether patenting genes thwarts scientific research, and whether it harms patients.

A coalition of researchers, genetic counselors, cancer survivors, breast cancer support groups, and scientific associations representing 150,000 geneticists, pathologists and laboratory professionals argue that gene patents can be problematic on both counts. The American Medical Association, the American Society of Human Genetics, the March of Dimes and even James Watson (co-discoverer, in 1953, of the double helix), among others, have filed briefs asking the court to invalidate Myriad's patents on genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2.

On the other side are Myriad and industry groups such as the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and the Animal Health Institute, which say that if gene patenting is ruled invalid, companies - with no guarantee they could profit from their discoveries - would stop investing in genetics research, to the detriment not only of patients but the economy.

Gene patent opponents say studies and surveys show that such patents tie the hands of scientists and thwart research.

A 2010 investigation by an advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that patent holders had barred physicians and laboratories from offering genetic testing for hearing loss, leukemia, Alzheimer's, Huntington's disease, a heart condition called Long QT syndrome and other disorders affected by patented genes.

In a 2003 survey, 53 percent of the directors of genetics labs said they had given up some research due to gene-patent concerns. And in 2001, 49 percent of members of the American Society of Human Genetics said their research had to be limited due to gene patents.

"The overabundance of gene patents is a large and looming threat to personalized medicine," Cornell's Mason said. "How is it possible that my doctor cannot look at my DNA without being concerned about patent infringement? Individuals have an innate right to their own genome, or to allow their doctor to look at that genome, just like the lungs or kidneys."
Mark Capone, president of Myriad's laboratory division, counters that gene patents, by rewarding research, help patients. He said scientific research has not been hindered by the biotechnology company's patents, citing 18,000 scientists who have published 10,000 papers on BRCA.
"These are among the most studied genes in the world," Capone said.
"We've been able to save thousands of patients' lives" by telling patients they have cancer-causing BRCA mutations, he added.

The BIO industry group supports Myriad, saying patents are crucial to "the development of therapeutic, diagnostic, environmental, renewable energy, and agricultural products," and without patent protection such scientific discoveries would not be made.


The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes account for most inherited forms of breast and ovarian cancer. They can be used to detect risk, and aid in treatment options.

Myriad has sole access to its proprietary database of BRCA sequences, which show whether a particular DNA change is dangerous. In 2004, Myriad stopped sharing that information with a breast cancer database run by the National Institutes of Health. Capone said the company was concerned that the information was being used not for research purposes, as intended, but to guide patient care.

Critics say the move has impeded research on BRCA, in particular studies to figure out the significance of rare variants and how such anomalies interact with other genes to increase or decrease the risk of cancer.
"Myriad's exclusive control has led to the misdiagnosis of patients and has precluded the deployment of improved genetic tests," said Lori Andrews, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, who wrote the American Medical Association's brief to the Supreme Court.

Geneticist Wendy Chung of Columbia University Medical Center cites the example of three sisters who sent their DNA samples to Myriad for BRCA analysis several years ago. The result was ambiguous: the women had a "variant of unknown significance" so they elected to have prophylactic mastectomies in case the mutation was cancer-causing. The women were very unhappy when, years later, Myriad re-classified the variant as innocuous.

"I think we could have moved a lot faster if the country's scientific brainpower could have analyzed patients' BRCA" rather than rely on Myriad, said Chung. Independent scientists could have studied not only whether a variant is dangerous or benign but also whether that risk is modified by the presence of other genes — crucial information when a woman is agonizing over whether to have her breasts removed, she said.
Capone said Myriad was not familiar with Chung's patients, but when a woman has a BRCA variant of unknown significance, the company recommends that she be treated according to her family history - aggressively if many close relatives have had breast or ovarian cancer, conservatively if not.

Myriad acknowledges that it has restricted what BRCA tests patients can get. For instance, since 1996 its standard test (which now costs $3,340) has looked for simple mutations in the BRCA genes, analogous to a misspelled word. Until 2006 it did not probe for large rearrangements in the DNA, which are analogous to moving big blocks of text from one page of a book to another.

The company, which has a market value of around $2.1 billion, has seen its shares fall about 13 percent since the Supreme Court decided on November 30 to take up the case.

It won a similar case in Australia in February, when the country's Federal Court ruled that Myriad and Melbourne-based Genetic Technologies Ltd had the right to hold a patent on BRCA1. Trial judge John Nicholas found the material could be subject to a patent because it could not exist naturally on its own, inside or outside the human body.

The Australian findings are unlikely to influence the U.S. case. Justice Nicholas said evidence presented in Australia was different to evidence in the U.S. case, and there were also different constitutional settings for patent laws.

The case is Association for Molecular Pathology, et al. v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, et al
(The story refiles correcting paragraph 25 to read "Until 2006" ... instead of "Until last year.)
(Editing by Howard Goller, Tiffany Wu and Gunna Dickson)

Friday, April 05, 2013

Global Warming and the Ice Caps

In Sign of Warming, 1,600 Years of Ice in Andes Melted in 25 Years

Glacial ice in the Peruvian Andes that took at least 1,600 years to form has melted in just 25 years, scientists reported Thursday, the latest indication that the recent spike in global temperatures has thrown the natural world out of balance.

The evidence comes from a remarkable find at the margins of the Quelccaya ice cap in Peru, the world’s largest tropical ice sheet. Rapid melting there in the modern era is uncovering plants that were locked in a deep freeze when the glacier advanced many thousands of years ago.

Dating of those plants, using a radioactive form of carbon in the plant tissues that decays at a known rate, has given scientists an unusually precise method of determining the history of the ice sheet’s margins.
Lonnie G. Thompson, the Ohio State University glaciologist whose team has worked intermittently on the Quelccaya ice cap for decades, reported the findings in a paper released online Thursday by the journal Science.

The paper includes a long-awaited analysis of chemical tracers in ice cylinders the team recovered by drilling deep into Quelccaya, a record that will aid scientists worldwide in reconstructing past climatic variations.
Such analyses will take time, but Dr. Thompson said preliminary evidence shows, for example, that the earth probably went through a period of anomalous weather at around the time of the French Revolution, which began in 1789. The weather presumably contributed to the food shortages that exacerbated that upheaval.
“When there’s a disruption of food, this is bad news for any government,” Dr. Thompson said in an interview.
Of greater immediate interest, Dr. Thompson and his team have expanded on previous research involving long-dead plants emerging from the melting ice at the edge of Quelccaya, a huge, flat ice cap sitting on a volcanic plain 18,000 feet above sea level.

Several years ago, the team reported on plants that had been exposed near a meltwater lake. Chemical analysis showed them to be about 4,700 years old, proving that the ice cap had reached its smallest extent in nearly five millenniums.

In the new research, a thousand feet of additional melting has exposed plants that laboratory analysis shows to be about 6,300 years old. The simplest interpretation, Dr. Thompson said, is that ice that accumulated over approximately 1,600 years melted back in no more than 25 years.

“If any time in the last 6,000 years these plants had been exposed for any five-year period, they would have decayed,” Dr. Thompson said. “That tells us the ice cap had to be there 6,000 years ago.”
Meredith A. Kelly, a glacial geomorphologist at Dartmouth College who trained under Dr. Thompson but was not involved in the new paper, said his interpretation of the plant remains was reasonable.

Her own research on Quelccaya suggests that the margins of the glacier have melted quite rapidly at times in the past. But the melting now under way appears to be at least as fast, if not faster, than anything in the geological record since the end of the last ice age, she said.

Global warming, which scientists say is being caused primarily by the human release of greenhouse gases, is having its largest effects at high latitudes and high altitudes. Sitting at high elevation in the tropics, the Quelccaya ice cap appears to be extremely sensitive to the temperature changes, several scientists said.
“It may not go very quickly because there’s so much ice, but we might have already locked into a situation where we are committed to losing that ice,” said Mathias Vuille, a climate scientist at the State University at Albany in New York.

Throughout the Andes, glaciers are now melting so rapidly that scientists have grown deeply concerned about water supplies for the people living there. Glacial meltwater is essential for helping Andean communities get through the dry season.

In the short run, the melting is producing an increase of water supplies and feeding population growth in major cities of the Andes, the experts said. But as the glaciers continue shrinking, trouble almost certainly looms.

Douglas R. Hardy, a University of Massachusetts researcher who works in the region, said, “How much time do we have before 50 percent of Lima’s or La Paz’s water resources are gone?”

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Feeding the Undernourished ...with Crickets.


The following is from Scientific American and it addresses one potential solution for providing enough food for the over 9 billion mouths that are expected to be around the dinner table in a few decades. Read and comment


A new plan would let people grow their own crickets, which they would then sell to be dried, ground up, and turned into protein-rich flour to enrich baked goods. That cookie you're eating may one day pack an extra cricket-fueled punch.

Insects are not regular fare on Western menus, but a surprising number of people worldwide--perhaps as many as 2.5 billion--eat them happily on a regular basis. High in protein, low in fat, and rich in iron and omega-3, bugs like grasshoppers and cicadas are vital staples--a crunchier, and more sustainable, alternative to beef, pork, and lamb.
Now, a group of students at McGill University, in Montreal, has has a plan to produce edible insects on an industrial scale. The idea is to distribute cricket-producing kits to the world's slums as a way of improving diets, and giving people more income. Families would eat what they needed, while selling the rest for processing into flour, and other products.
We're proposing a factory to grind cricket-flour. "We're proposing a factory to grind cricket-flour with corn, wheat or rice, whatever is local, and then creating very normal looking food that has an additional boost to it," says Zev Thompson, one the students. "The flour is where we see most of our profitability." The cricket-enriched flour could help people lacking protein and iron.
The McGill team is one of five finalists for the 2013 Hult Prize, a global student start-up contest that's focusing on urban food security this year. The winning entry, which is announced this September, will $1 million in funding.
The initial kit design looks like an Ikea laundry basket--a light and cheap collapsible cylinder. The team says it could be capable of producing 11 pounds of crickets every two months. "We will probably charge for the kits, because that creates accountability," says Shobhita Soor, another of the students. "We envision we would weigh the crickets, and swap the kits in and out."
Some people are vegetarian for ecological reasons, but they are not opposed to eating insects. Between now and September, the students need to do more prototyping, and go on a research trip to gather information from its potential users. Soor says they also need to spend time in the kitchen, working on recipes for tortillas and flatbreads using cricket flour.
Thompson says crickets are not nearly as gross as they first appear. He compares them to shrimp or popcorn, and speculates that there might also be opportunities closer to home (something that other start-ups are also looking into, as we wrote about here).
"Having now eaten them, it seems normal," he says. "I wonder if crickets today are what sushi was 20 or 30 years ago--a weird exotic thing that breaks into the mainstream. Some people are vegetarian for ecological reasons, but they are not opposed to eating insects. So, we might find an interesting niche here as well