About Exposing the Big Game

Jim Robertson

Studies show a link between bird flu and climate change

MORTON OBRIEN MAY 30, 2023 LEAVE A COMMENTTweet on TwitterShare on FacebookGoogle+Pinterest

The world is now facing the worst bird flu outbreak in history, with more than 140 million domestic birds killed since October 2021. In the UK alone, over 4 million farmed birds have been destroyed and around 50,000 wild birds have died.

The true number of wild bird deaths is likely to be much higher, as many die at sea on an island with a vast range of seabirds such as England and their carcasses are never found.

There are fears that the UK’s world-famous sea lion population could be irretrievably reduced. Since 1986, local populations of breeding seabirds have declined by nearly a quarter, and they are already under tremendous pressure from overfishing, habitat loss and climate change.

Birds are not the only ones affected by this virus. Bird flu experienced a so-called “spillover event” and affected many mammals, including otters, foxes, domestic cats and sea lions.

Stretching 2,500 kilometers, the Peruvian coast is one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. However, the bird flu outbreak has decimated the local sea lion population, with 3,500 bodies found on their beaches in recent months.

At this time, Chile was the most affected country. A bird flu that has hit Chile’s northern coast has killed 9,000 fur seals, Humboldt penguins, sea otters and small cetaceans so far this year.

According to data from the National Fisheries Service (Cernabesca), the disease – which has been able to spread to marine mammals – is present in 12 of the country’s 16 regions. The last affected species was the huilin, a type of otter, a marine mammal that washed ashore in the Magellan region, the southernmost part of the country.

Dead sea lions off the coast of Arica, Chile on April 1, 2023. Nearly 9,000 sea lions, Humboldt penguins and small cetaceans died from bird flu, which hit Chile’s northern coast in particular. | Arica City Hall/AFP/Metsul Meteorology

Technicians analyze the remains of dead sea lions on the beaches of Peru’s Paracas National Reserve, where the H5N1 bird flu virus killed more than 500 sea lions and 55,000 wild birds earlier this year | SERNANP/AFP/METSUL Meteorology

In late March, Chile reported its first case of bird flu infection in humans: a 53-year-old man with “severe” influenza. According to Chilean health officials, there is no person-to-person transmission. Humans can only contract bird flu through contact with sick animals. The country has also found the virus in wild birds.

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At a farm in Spain, more than 50,000 mink that came into contact with infected wild birds were euthanized. The outbreak is a significant moment because the bird flu virus is believed to be spread from mink to mink, indicating mammal-to-mammal transmission, raising fears that humans could become more susceptible in the future.

Studies have found that changes in weather affect the way birds behave, which in turn affects the spread of the bird flu virus. Rising temperatures and seasonal changes are forcing birds to adjust their migration patterns.

Rising sea levels affect bird nesting and egg-laying sites, causing species that normally don’t interact to interact and share diseases.

Warning signs are displayed on roads leading to Bernard Matthews Farm in Holton, Suffolk, UK. Government veterinarians closed the area to control the spread of the deadly H5N1 bird flu. The factory began slaughtering about 160,000 turkeys. | Leon Neill/AFP/Metzul Meteorology

“In the last two to three years, we have seen a drastic change in the H5N1 virus cycle in wild bird populations, with massive outbreaks and a wide range of species involved,” said space epidemiologist Marius Gilbert. at the National Fund for Scientific Research in Brussels.

The expert says that scientists have been able to make connections between climate change and bird migration, but figuring out how climate change might affect the spread of bird flu is a more complex and difficult task.

In general, research shows that climate change threatens to restructure existing animal networks, creating new hosts and conditions for infection, known as “viral spillover.”

See also Liz Truss wins the race to become UK Prime Minister

Greater opportunities for disease sharing among a wide range of species, not just birds, could lead to more disease from animals to humans, a major concern of scientists.

A few days ago, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock declared a state of zoo emergency across the national territory after bird flu was detected in wild birds. The order, signed by Minister Carlos Favaro, was published in the supplementary edition of the official gazette on the night of May 22 and is valid for 180 days.

The move, according to the folder, is aimed at protecting wildlife and human health and preventing it from reaching subsistence and commercial poultry production. And according to the ministry, the declaration of an animal health emergency makes it possible to mobilize funds from the Union and talk to other ministries, government agencies in the three cases and non-governmental organizations.

The orientation of the folder is that people do not collect sick or dead birds and call the nearest veterinary service to prevent the spread of disease. Yet according to the government, there has been no change in Brazil’s status as free of highly pathogenic avian influenza before the World Organization for Animal Health, as there has been no record of commercial production.

Genetic change increased bird flu severity during US spread, shows study

by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital


Genetic change increased bird flu severity during U.S. spread
Pathogenicity of North American HPAI Influenza A(H5N1) clade Wigeon/SC/21 and Eagle/FL/22 viruses in ferrets. A Experimental design of ferret pathogenesis and transmission. At 0 dpi, ferrets (n = 9 per virus) were inoculated with 106 EID50 units of A(H5N1) virus. Three inoculated ferrets were individually co-housed with 3 naïve contact ferrets beginning 1 dpi. Clinical course of infection was monitored, and nasal wash samples were taken at indicated time points from both inoculated and contact ferrets. The remaining inoculated ferrets were euthanized at 3 dpi and 5 dpi (n = 3 per time point per virus) for viral titration in tissues. B Survival and C weight changes of inoculated ferrets (n = 3 per virus). Ferret weights every ≈48 h were used to calculate percentage of weight change from the initial mean weight at 0 dpi. Ferret weight values are the average ± SE for each group. P values for weight change were calculated using an unpaired t-test. **P < 0.01. D Infectious viral titers from nasal washes (n = 3–9 ferrets per virus, mean virus titer [log10 TCID50/mL] ±SD) and E infectious viral titers from tissues (n = 3 ferrets per virus, mean virus titer [log10 TCID50 per g of wet tissue]). Symbols represent each individual animal’s titer. Dashed lines indicate the lower limit of virus titer detection (1.0 log10 TCID50/mL). P values for viral titers were calculated using two-way ANOVA with Tukey’s multiple-comparison post hoc test. ***P < 0.001, ****P < 0.0001. Credit: Nature Communications (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-38415-7

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists discovered how the current epizootic H5N1 avian influenza virus (bird flu) gained new genes and greater virulence as it spread west. Researchers showed that the avian virus could severely infect the brains of mammalian research models, a notable departure from previous related strains of the virus.

The researchers genetically traced the virus‘ expansion across the continent and its establishment in wild waterfowl populations to understand what makes it so different. The study was recently published in Nature Communications.

“We haven’t seen a virus quite like this one,” said corresponding author Richard Webby, Ph.D., St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases. “In 24 years of tracing this particular H5N1 flu lineage, we haven’t seen this ability to cause disease but also be maintained in these wild bird populations.”

When the scientists tested the newer avian flu strains for their ability to cause disease in mammals by infecting a ferret model, they found an unexpectedly high amount of pathogenicity.

“Some of these are really nasty viruses,” Webby said. “There’s a huge amount of the virus in the brain of infected animals. That’s the hallmark of what we saw with these flu strains—increased pathogenicity associated with high virus load in the brain. That’s not the first time we’ve seen H5 viruses in the brain, but these are probably some of the most virulent we’ve looked at over 24 years of following these viruses.”

Previous influenza viruses that caused severe disease in North America “burned out” in their main host bird population, and the outbreaks ended quickly. This current strain was detected at high levels in sick chickens but has expanded into other species.

“This is not just a chicken virus now,” Webby said. “It’s also infecting other avian and mammal species in the U.S. It’s a higher exposure risk for humans and other mammals than we’ve ever had in North America. We’ve never really been exposed to this level of circulation of these highly pathogenic flu viruses.”

A low risk to humans (for now)

While the newer strains of this H5N1 influenza show a greater ability to cause disease in mammals than earlier viruses, the scientists found it to be low-risk to humans. This is because the virus appears well-adapted to transmit between birds rather than between mammals.

“Overall, their risk to humans is still low,” Webby said. “But that risk does seem to be changing, and these viruses are doing things that we haven’t seen H5s do before. They’ve come into the continent’s wild bird population, they’ve reassorted, and they’ve been maintained over time. There are now many different types out there, and they’re very nasty.”

Even though the risk of spreading infection is low, the research suggests humans should be cautious interacting with wildlife.

“Someone would have to work pretty hard to infect themselves with this virus. But if they do happen to be infected, there’s a real chance of getting a severe disease from it,” Webby said. “People just need to be careful and remember that some of the wild animals out there potentially harbor these highly pathogenic viruses.”


Genetic change supercharges spread and severity

In the past, similar strains of influenza viruses have not caused similarly severe diseases, nor have they become far-flung in wild bird populations. Since the new strains have done so much more damage, the scientists looked for what was different.

The group identified the direct ancestor to the current strains, which spread from Europe to the Americas after gaining a different version of the viral protein, neuraminidase. This new protein increased the virus’s ability to transmit between birds. Then it arrived on the East Coast of Canada and traveled to the United States.

As the researchers studied the virus further, they pinpointed which viruses—distinct from previous ones —caused the current outbreaks. They found that after reaching North America, the virus rapidly changed again to become more virulent. It mixed with flu viruses in North American wild birds, swapping several genes.

This reassortment of genes had two effects. One, the virus seemed to become even more adapted to the bird population, infecting many different types of birds. This included atypical hosts, such as buzzards and eagles, which typically do not get the flu. Second, the virus gained its severe disease-causing properties.

“The surprising thing was that just a few reassortment events did change these viruses’ ability to cause disease in our models,” Webby said. “And those events generated many different genotypes from that mixing. Then those viruses spread and have now become established in the North American wild bird population.”

Webby’s group and others continue to monitor the ongoing avian flu pandemic globally to assess its continually evolving risk to both humans and birds.

More information: Ahmed Kandeil et al, Rapid evolution of A(H5N1) influenza viruses after intercontinental spread to North America, Nature Communications (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-38415-7

Journal information: Nature Communications 

Provided by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital 

A new interpretation regarding the origin of Homo sapiens

Philip Guelpa28 May 2023

Newly published research appearing in the journal Nature (Ragsdale, A. P. et al., “A weakly structured stem for human origins in Africa,” Nature [2023]) proposes a new interpretation regarding the origin of our species—Homo sapiens

The current dominant theory holds that Homo sapiens evolved from a single, local population of a previous species of the genus Homo somewhere in Africa, between roughly 300,000 and 100,000 years ago. According to this scenario, the new species then spread widely, eventually replacing the other existing species of genus Homo. However, the relatively small number of human fossils known from Africa and the lack of ancient DNA during that time period have made a more precise tracing of the evolution of modern humans problematic. The new interpretation, based primarily on detailed genetic studies of recent populations, posits that Homo sapiens emerged from the interaction of a number of regional populations which, despite some morphological differences, engaged in sufficient contact with each other that gene flow between them resulted in roughly simultaneous evolution. 

The authors of the new study characterize human evolution as a “weakly structured stem” which more closely resembles a tangled vine, consisting of multiple, interacting regional populations, rather than the more traditional “tree of life” model, in which local populations branch off and become genetically isolated, giving rise to new species. Although not explicitly called out in the Nature article, if supported by continuing research, this new model has significant implications for understanding how human evolution was based on a complex dialectic between culture and biology, rather than the more purely biological mechanisms of natural selection which govern the evolution of other species. This tangled vine view resembles what has been known as the “single-species hypothesis,” which had fallen out of favor in recent decades but has now received new support.  

This new interpretation is based on statistical analysis of a large database of genetic information drawn primarily from African and some Eurasian populations as well as from Neanderthal fossils. It employs modeling of genetic variation between contemporary populations which can be projected back in time to trace migrations and interactions between groups over the last 150,000 years to a greater degree than was possible for earlier studies. The result demonstrates a significant amount of gene flow between regions over time. This finding reinforces the view that current physical variations between populations are superficial and merely represent the temporary state of a constant shuffling of populations that has been ongoing for hundreds of thousands of years. 

A composite reconstruction of the earliest known Homo sapiens fossils from Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) dated to 300,000 years ago. [Photo: Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig ]

Although the theory that H. sapiens originated in one local population and then spread has been the dominant interpretation for some time, according to the authors it does not fit well with either the archaeological or fossil evidence. Indeed, the physical record indicates a relatively synchronous (on a geological time scale) appearance of both artifacts and fossils attributable to modern humans across a wide area of Africa, rather than a single point of origin followed by a gradual dispersal. 

The existing model, postulating one local point of origin, had gained favor since it conforms to the general pattern of biological evolution in which geographically dispersed groups of a given species are largely genetically isolated, with little or no mating between individuals belonging to these distinct populations. This lack of gene flow promotes what is known as “genetic drift,” the gradual accumulation of random mutations which tend to differ from one population to the next. This combines with different selective pressures created by variations in local environments. Together, over time, genetic differences tend to increase to the point where members of these different populations become genetically incompatible and can no longer produce viable offspring with each other. This is known as “speciation.” 

Mules are a good example of this process in an advanced but not completed stage. The offspring produced by matings between horses and donkeys, mules are viable as individuals but are almost always reproductively sterile. Therefore, there is no effective gene flow between the two parent species. Coydogs, on the other hand, the products of matings between coyotes and domestic dogs, do produce reproductively viable offspring. Therefore, the two are not distinct species. Donate to the WSWS 25 Year FundWatch the video of workers internationally explain why you should donate to the WSWS.DONATE TODAY

The newly proposed theory of modern human origins supports the view (not explicitly referenced in the Nature article) that the genus Homo, at least in the later period of its evolution, does not entirely conform with the standard model of speciation. This is likely due to the fact that humans rely to a large extent on changes in culture rather than the modification of their physical features to adapt to their environment. The former (culture) is much more flexible and rapid than the latter (biology) and can more easily be shared between populations. Tools and techniques as well as patterns of social organization can be modified using abstract thought to interpret the features of novel environments and develop appropriate adaptations. This has allowed humans to successfully occupy a wide range of environments, from the arctic to tropical rainforests and deserts with relatively little physical adaptation and, therefore, without speciation. 

Other research in recent years tends to support the view that many, though not necessarily all earlier populations of the genus Homo (e.g., Homo naledi and the Flores “hobbits”), even in far flung regions, while exhibiting some genetic variation, did not undergo the degree of change resulting in speciation. A prime example of this is the finding that modern Eurasian populations of Homo sapiens carry approximately 2 percent of Neanderthal DNA, thus demonstrating that these populations, despite morphological differences, were not genetically isolated and were able to successfully interbreed when modern humans migrated out of Africa. Therefore, they did not represent distinct species.

As indicated, the proposed “tangled vine” model of Homo sapiens evolution not only is more in accord with the available archaeological and biological evidence, it supports the view that modern humans are the product of a complex, dialectical interaction between physical and cultural adaptation to a degree qualitatively distinct from all other animals. 

Will the World Hit Net Zero by 2050?

by Andreas Exarheas


Rigzone Staff



Tuesday, May 30, 2023




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Will the World Hit Net Zero by 2050?

‘We view the next decade as critical’.

Image by NVS via iStock

BMI currently does not see enough progress on the decarbonization of the power mix, emissions reduction, or adoption of low carbon technology to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

That’s what Thomas van Lanschot, BMI’s Head of Power and Low Carbon Energy Research, told Rigzone, adding that BMI views the current spread of renewable targets and pledges to not reduce the share of high emitters significantly enough in multiple sectors, “leaving a substantial demand for mitigating emissions from sources such as coal”.

“We view the next decade as critical as the development of key technologies will need to be accelerated to have a meaningful impact over that time frame,” Lanschot said.

“These include commercializing and scaling up low carbon gas (such as hydrogen), energy storage, carbon mitigation, grid infrastructure and renewables in general,” he added.

Lanschot told Rigzone that “a major concern is the limited bilateral approach being taken between global economic leaders with counterproductive policy being developed”.

“Given net zero requires global cooperation we see the current geopolitical fragmentation as a major roadblock to substantially meaningful policy making,” the BMI representative said.

Back in May 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a “special report” it described as the world’s first comprehensive study of how to transition to a net zero energy system by 2050 “while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth”.

In that report, the IEA noted that the number of countries announcing pledges to achieve net zero emissions over the coming decades continued to grow but highlighted that the pledges by governments at the time, even if fully achieved, “fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050”.

The world has a viable pathway to building a global energy sector with net-zero emissions in 2050 but it is narrow and requires an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported, and used globally, the IEA said in the report, which set out more than 400 milestones “to guide the global journey to net zero by 2050”.

These included, from the date of the report’s publication, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants, the IEA highlighted in a statement accompanying the report.

In an opinion piece published on Wood Mackenzie’s (WoodMac) website in February this year, WoodMac’s Vice President of Multi-Commodity Research, Prakash Sharma, and its Energy Transition Practice Director, David Brown, outlined that energy related emissions in WoodMac’s pledges case scenario decline eight percent from 2019 levels by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

Global net zero arrives around 2060 in that scenario, the WoodMac representatives highlighted in the piece. This means the world stays on track to reach 1.7 degrees Celsius warming with 33 percent probability and two degrees Celsius warming with 67 percent probability, the WoodMac representatives noted in the piece.

According to a climate action segment on the UN website, the world is not on track to reach net zero by 2050.

“Commitments made by governments to date fall far short of what is required,” the UN site states.

“Current national climate plans, for 193 Parties to the Paris Agreement taken together, would lead to a sizable increase of almost 11 percent in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 2010 levels,” it added.

“Getting to net zero requires all governments, first and foremost the biggest emitters, to significantly strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and take bold, immediate steps towards reducing emissions now,” it continued.

The site notes that transitioning to a net zero world is one of the greatest challenges humankind has faced.

“It calls for nothing less than a complete transformation of how we produce, consume, and move about,” the UN site states.

In a report published in January last year, McKinsey stated that the transformation of the global economy needed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 would be universal and significant, “requiring $9.2 trillion in annual average spending on physical assets, $3.5 trillion more than today”.

“To put it in comparable terms, that increase is equivalent to half of global corporate profits and one-quarter of total tax revenue in 2020,” McKinsey added in the report.

“Accounting for expected increases in spending, as incomes and populations grow, as well as for currently legislated transition policies, the required increase in spending would be lower, but still about $1 trillion,” McKinsey went on to state.

AI could pose “risk of extinction” akin to nuclear war and pandemics, experts say


MAY 30, 2023 / 12:44 PM / MONEYWATCH



Artificial intelligence could pose a “risk of extinction” to humanity on the scale of nuclear war or pandemics, and mitigating that risk should be a “global priority,” according to an open letter signed by AI leaders such as Sam Altman of OpenAI as well as Geoffrey Hinton, known as the “godfather” of AI.

The one-sentence open letter, issued by the nonprofit Center for AI Safety, is both brief and ominous, without extrapolating how the more than 300 signees foresee AI developing into an existential threat to humanity. 

In an email to CBS MoneyWatch, Dan Hendrycks, the director of the Center for AI Safety, wrote that there are “numerous pathways to societal-scale risks from AI.”

“For example, AIs could be used by malicious actors to design novel bioweapons more lethal than natural pandemics,” Hendrycks wrote. “Alternatively, malicious actors could intentionally release rogue AI that actively attempt to harm humanity. If such an AI was intelligent or capable enough, it may pose significant risk to society as a whole.”

ChatGPT founder at the TU Munich
Sam Altman (center), CEO of OpenAI and inventor of the AI software ChatGPT, chats with the audience after a panel discussion at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in May 2023.SVEN HOPPE/PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Longer-term risks also pose threats to humanity, such as if AIs automate parts of the economy and humans give up control to the tech in order to remain competitive, he added. 

“In this scenario, we increasingly rely on AIs to navigate the increasingly fast-paced and complex landscape,” he noted. “This increasing dependence could make the idea of simply ‘shutting them down’ not just disruptive, but potentially impossible, leading to a risk of humanity losing control over our own future.”

Altman earlier this month told lawmakers that AI could “go quite wrong” and could “cause significant harm to the world” unless it is properly regulated. Generative AI can create text, photos and videos that can be difficult to distinguish from human-generated creations, leading to problems like the AI-generated song that cloned the voices of musicians Drake and The Weeknd. 


That song was ultimately pulled from streaming platforms after publishing giant Universal Music Group said it violated copyright law. 

More immediately, experts are highlighting the risks that AI poses to certain types of workers, with researchers noting the technology could eliminate millions of jobs. Adoption of AI in the workplace comes with uncertainty and risks — and not only for jobs at the companies that employ the tech, according to a new report from UBS analysts. 

For instance, generative AI can “hallucinate” answers, or a term for spitting out incorrect information that appears believable, a trait that could not only spread misinformation but pose a risk to the credibility of companies that use it, UBS noted. Such a case occurred recently when a lawyer submitted a brief based on research done by ChatGPT — which invented cases that didn’t exist and insisted they were real.

Other signees to the open letter include luminaries such as philosopher Daniel Dennett of Tufts, environmentalist Bill McKibben of Middlebury College and musician Grimes. 

LOME’s Twist: Ancient Mass Extinction Event May Not Be So Strange After All


TOPICS:BiodiversityExtinctionExtinction EventGlobal Warming



Planet Earth Extinction Event Abstract

Contrary to the long-held belief that the Late Ordovician mass extinction event (LOME), which occurred 443 million years ago and eliminated about 85% of all species, was primarily caused by a short-lived ice age, a new study suggests that global warming also played a significant role.

The Late Ordovician mass extinction event (LOME) has long been viewed as odd compared to other mass extinction events in Earth’s history. Contrary to nearly all other major extinction phases known from the fossil record it appears to be instigated by an ice age. A new study, however, shows that the LOME was probably governed by mechanisms like those seen during most other events – including global warming.

Textbooks written during the last 50 years will tell you that 443 million years ago upwards of 85% of all species disappeared towards the end of the Ordovician Period because of a short-lived ice age in what is known as the oldest and probably second most severe mass extinction event in all of Earth’s history. However, a new study just published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution by researchers of the universities of Copenhagen, Ghent, and California-Berkeley questions this long-standing view because – as the study points out – the massive loss of biodiversity started millions of years earlier than hitherto believed during a warming phase that preceded the well-known glacially associated extinction pulses.


The LOME has long been a bit of a conundrum. Strangely two mass extinction pulses seem associated with the waxing and waning of major ice sheets. This is unique as all other extinction events of similar scale later in the fossil record appear to be associated with global warming – a scenario which is also like that observed during the current biodiversity loss. The new study points out that new, temporally better-resolved fossil biodiversity data through the LOME-event show the extinctions to occur in at least three pules during an up to nine million yearlong interval. This fundamentally changes the Late Ordovician extinction scenario and thus likely also the drivers behind it.

Did volcanoes instigate the Ordovician biodiversity loss?

Within the Earth Sciences community, many hypotheses circulate as to what drove the event. These disagreements are also reflected within the author group of the paper. However, the authors do agree that the classic hypothesis now is outdated and in need of revision. One revised scenario, for instance, suggests the LOME to be associated with some of the largest volcanic eruptions ever recorded in Earth’s history. All evidence points to a much more complex climate history at play during the LOME than previously recognized. And, that extinction triggers could well have been global warming induced by greenhouse gas overloading through volcanic outgassing, as well as deoxygenation of the oceans. Whereas some of this had already been explored for the classic ice age interval, this has not been studied in any detail during this new first wave of the LOME extinctions.

Analogs to the Anthropocene?

Today anthropogenic activities have led to a major loss of biodiversity through first and foremost CO2 overloading of the atmosphere, causing global warming and acidification of global oceans, and habitat loss through overexploitation of natural resources.

The current biodiversity loss occurs at concerning speeds, likely far outpacing most major extinction events known from the fossil record. So, although perhaps still not at the scale of past mass extinctions, the current rates of extinctions are certainly alarming. The new study highlights these differences in extinction rates, arguing that the LOME exhibits some of the same extinction drivers as seen today albeit naturally induced and thus apparently operating at slower temporal scales than the current human-induced biodiversity crisis. However, fossil biodiversity data through extinction events becomes increasingly better temporally resolved and with that, some concerning new evidence is emerging.

Are we currently facing a prolonged biodiversity crisis?

The better-resolved data shows that even though these naturally induced extinctions known from the fossil record may be nested in prolonged million-year phases of biodiversity decline, they are punctuated by sudden, catastrophic extinction pulses of just a few millennia in duration. This new evidence from the fossil record may be an indication that once biodiversity loss accelerates, ecosystems fall out of balance, causing much greater and irreversible disruption. This has a concerning resemblance to what is seen during the past few centuries – not least if this means that we are facing a prolonged, irreversible loss of biodiversity similar to what has occurred previously in Earth’s history.

Reference: “Was the Late Ordovician mass extinction truly exceptional?” by Christian M.Ø. Rasmussen, Thijs R.A. Vandenbroucke, David Nogues-Bravo and Seth Finnegan, 12 May 2023, Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2023.04.009

Dangerous slowing of Antarctic ocean circulation sooner than expected



Melting Antarctic ice and rising temperatures are forecast to significantly effect ocean currents
Melting Antarctic ice and rising temperatures are forecast to significantly effect ocean currents.

Climate change-driven shifts in the circulation of waters to the deepest reaches of the ocean around Antarctica, which could reverberate across the planet and intensify global warming, are happening decades “ahead of schedule”, according to new research.


Scientists have said that an acceleration of melting Antarctic ice and rising temperatures, driven by the emission of planet-warming gases, is expected to have a significant effect on the global network of ocean currents that carry nutrients, oxygen and carbon.

This could not only threaten marine life, but it also risks changing the ocean’s crucial role in absorbing carbon dioxide and heat.

An earlier study using computer models suggested “overturning circulation” of waters in the deepest reaches of the oceans would slow by 40 percent by 2050 if emissions remain high.

But new research released on Thursday—based on observational data—found that this process had already slowed 30 percent between the 1990s and 2010s.

“Our data show the impacts of climate change are running ahead of schedule,” said lead author Kathryn Gunn, of the Australian Science agency CSIRO and Britain’s Southampton University.

The implications could be significant, with Antarctica’s deep ocean acting as a key “pump” for the global network of ocean currents.

“As the ocean circulation slows, more carbon dioxide and heat are left in the atmosphere, a feedback that accelerates global warming,” Gunn told AFP.

“In some ways, the fact that this is happening isn’t surprising. But the timing is.”

Gunn said previously it had been difficult to understand the changes happening in the remote region because of a lack of data and a host of challenges for scientific research, from getting funding to facing extreme conditions at sea.

The authors used observational data gathered by hundreds of scientists over decades and then “filled in the gaps” with computer modelling.

Carbon storage

Oceans are a crucial regulator of the climate, absorbing large amounts of the additional planet-warming carbon that humans have pumped into the atmosphere since the mid-1800s, as well as more than 90 percent of the increased heat.

Sea surface temperatures have risen significantly—hitting new records earlier this year—while warming is also melting ice sheets in polar regions, spilling huge quantities of freshwater into the ocean.

This is disrupting a key life support function for marine life.

The new research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that the oxygen reaching the deep ocean has decreased.

“Deep-ocean animals are adapted to low oxygen conditions but still have to breathe,” said Gunn.

“These losses of oxygen may cause them to seek refuge in other regions or adapt their behaviour. Deoxygenation of this kind affects biodiversity and food webs.”

Beyond the impact on animals, changes in these key ocean pumps are also expected to reduce the amount of carbon the ocean can absorb, as well as pulling up to the surface carbon that has been safely stored away in the ocean depths for hundreds of thousands of years.

Ariaan Purich, from the School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment at Australia’s Monash University, said the study was significant because “it provides further support—including observational evidence—that the melting Antarctic ice sheet and shelves will impact the global ocean overturning circulation”.

Purich, who was not involved in the study, said this would have “important impacts on the ocean uptake of heat and carbon”.

More information: Kathryn L. Gunn et al, Recent reduced abyssal overturning and ventilation in the Australian Antarctic Basin, Nature Climate Change (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41558-023-01667-8

Journal information: Nature Climate Change 

© 2023 AFP

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It May Be Too Late to Stop North Korea From Firing Nukes


North Korea’s missile tech advances mean we’ve already passed the point where the U.S. could easily launch preemptive strikes. Pyongyang may even have a first-strike capability.

Sascha Brodsky

Published May. 29, 2023 5:12PM ET


Listen to article10 minutes

North Korea’s latest missile advances mean it is now much harder for the U.S. to prevent Kim Jong Un from launching nuclear weapons.

Pentagon insiders and North Korea watchers on Capitol Hill say Kim’s ability to deploy solid-fuel rockets—if proven—would complicate American efforts to launch preemptive strikes and that the Hermit Kingdom has entered a new phase of nuclear power.

The North recently claimed that it flight-tested a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time. The new missiles would be a breakthrough in the country’s efforts to build a harder-to-detect weapon that threatens the continental United States.

The new solid fuel technology could be an attempt by North Korea to prevent the U.S. from preemptively striking their missiles in the event of a conflict.

“Militarily, this means that there will be a shorter window within which the U.S. (or other countries) can detect preparations for launch and prepare for a response or even preempt the launch,” said Sharon Ann Squassoni, who held senior non-proliferation positions at the State Department and in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

The North Koreans “are acting to shore up their so-called nuclear deterrent,” Squassoni, who is now a professor at the George Washington University, told The Daily Beast.

North Korea’s combination of solid fuel rockets and tactical nuclear missiles might allow what’s known as first-strike capability, said Juscelino Filgueiras Colares, a professor of political science at Case Western Reserve University. The term describes the ability to attack another nuclear power first and destroy enough of its arsenal to prevent effective retaliation.

A first-strike capability, Colares warned, might “cause the North Korean dictators to delude themselves into dreams of glory, a very risky proposition.”

Quick to Launch

North Korea has been testing long-range rockets for years, but analysts reacted with alarm to the April 13 test launch of its Hwasong-18, the first solid-fuelled ICBM developed by the country.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter Kim Ju Ae view a test launch of the Hwasong-18 solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile in April 2023 from an undisclosed location in North Korea in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on May 16, 2023.

If the use of solid fuel technology is confirmed, the new rockets could make North Korea’s nuclear missiles far more deadly. Solid fuel rockets can be fuelled from the point of manufacture and stored for long periods. The more commonly used liquid fuel rockets are more difficult and dangerous to use and take a long time to get ready for launch, potentially giving adversaries the ability to destroy them on the ground.

“North Korea’s recent development and initial testing of a long-range solid-fuel ICBM does represent a significant step forward in its ongoing development of potentially nuclear-capable delivery vehicles,” Robert B. Murrett, a former senior intelligence official and vice admiral in the Navy told The Daily Beast.

“Having said that, they will have to conduct a good deal of additional testing and development before this system will reach operational status. When that takes place, a booster vehicle of this type will provide additional options, as it will provide flexibility and be easier to launch on short notice.”

North Korea’s solid rockets make their nuclear missiles more maneuverable and harder for U.S. systems to detect, Benjamin R. Young, a professor of homeland security at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in an interview with The Daily Beast.

“It is a game changer for military dynamics on the peninsula,” he added. “It takes much less time to prepare a solid fuel missile versus a liquid fuel missile. Therefore, the U.S. military will have much less time to conduct a pre-emptive strike on the missile site. The North Koreans understand this, which is why they’ve worked so hard to accomplish this goal of having a solid-fuel missile.”

Solid-fuel rockets could up the tempo in a time of heightened tensions. The new missiles would be “easier for the North to mobilize quickly for deployment and use in a major missile attack that could be used against Japan, South Korea, or the U.S.,” said George A. Lopez, a professor of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame.

The fast launch times of North Korea’s solid rockets mean that decisions would have to be made very quickly in the event of a conflict. U.S. commanders might be under pressure to make a quick decision on how to react during an incident.

“The window of opportunity, when they can strike the system before it is launched, will be shorter,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.

From the North Korean perspective, solid-fuel rockets could increase the credibility of their nuclear deterrent by reducing the vulnerability of their launchers, Kristensen said. “But it could also, of course, make the United States forces and South Koreans just become more trigger-happy because they need to get to this thing faster, even faster than before,” he added.

Since solid-fuel rockets don’t take much time to get ready to launch, the short window of time before the notice of a blast-off could lead to confusion during the lead-up to a confrontation, Kristensen said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervises a test launch of a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-18 at an undisclosed location in this still image of a photo used in a video released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) April 14, 2023.

“If the U.S. strategy is to destroy the North Korean launchers before they can launch the missiles, solid fuel missiles that can launch quicker shorten the time between detection of preparations to launch and when the warhead can get to the launcher,” Kristensen said. “That means less time to think and greater risk of overreacting.”

Ankit Panda, an arms expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Daily Beast: “The big benefit of these missiles is promptness and responsiveness: in a crisis, these missiles will be ready to go, which may not be the case for North Korea’s liquid fuel ICBMs… The U.S. and South Korea may seek to preempt these missiles, but time pressures will be significant. Once deployed and in greater numbers, solid fuel ICBMs will generally be a survivable capability for North Korea.”

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the solid fuel rockets “an important step” in an interview with The Daily Beast. He noted that North Korean missiles can already reach the United States.

“And now you’ve got a missile that can be launched on a couple of minutes’ notice rather than more than an hour’s notice,” he added. “And a missile that can be moved around more easily. I don’t think it was ever likely that we were going to try to decapitate their program or launch a first strike or whatever, but clearly, this makes that much more difficult.”

Since they are fast to deploy and hard to detect, solid-fuel rockets create challenges for the United States and its allies, Juscelino Filgueiras Colares, a professor of political science at Case Western Reserve University, said in an interview. The North Korean leadership has “trained” military planners in the U.S. alliance to expect liquid fuel missile tests that allow more lead time for satellite tracking.

“With the potential move to solid-fuel-powered rockets, that window of time disappears, and increases make NORKO missiles less of a deterrent and more of a permanent clear and present danger,” he added.

Is the U.S. Prepared?

While solid-fuel rockets are a concern for the U.S., experts say the American military is ready. Kristensen pointed out that the U.S. has spent decades developing techniques to deal with other potential adversaries, including Russia and China, that have solid-fuel rockets in their arsenals.

“The U.S. has overwhelming military capability, including capabilities to get more hits on target very, very quickly,” he said.

U.S missile defense systems are capable of knocking out attacking North Korean rockets, said Representative John Garamendi (D-CA), a member of the Committee on Armed Services.

“We’re prepared to defend our allies in the region should that be necessary, and a solid fuel intercontinental ballistic missile has not really in any way changed the calculus,” he added. “The amount of time that we would have ahead of a launch is obviously less. So there’ll be a launch we’re certainly in a position to detect it and to determine immediately where that rocket is going.”

Despite such reassurances, North Korea’s new capabilities may be causing the U.S. to reconsider its strategy in the region. On April 26, South Korea and the U.S. agreed to consult on nuclear issues jointly. President Biden separately warned that nuclear aggression from North Korea against U.S. allies would be met with an overwhelming counterattack.

The announcement was “a direct response to the vector of nuclear and missile capabilities coming from North Korea,” said George A. Lopez, a North Korea expert and professor at the University of Notre Dame. “So too is the unprecedented decision of the U.S. to deploy ballistic missile submarines to South Korean waters.”

Solid-fuel rockets aren’t the only North Korean technological innovation worrying U.S. military planners. Another concern, Lopez said, is the recent detonation of a short-range, tactical nuclear weapon by Pyongyang.

“To retain their strategic advantage South Korea and the U.S. will no doubt engage in their own escalation, short of any testing of such weapons, of course. But this level of quid pro quo creates all the wrong conditions for maintaining peace and stability in the region.”

Lopez added: “Such a test is one of the last components of the ‘irreversible nature’ of Mr. Kim’s program.”

There is no turning back now that North Korea has reached this stage.

Colares said that the new rockets improve North Korea’s ability to conduct “surprise” launches that might be actual first strikes, particularly against Japan.

“This is not about deterrence, as the North Koreans would have us believe, but an improvement in their offensive capabilities and an attempt to improve their ability to exploit divisions in the democratic regimes of Japan and South Korea to obtain ransom payments in the future,” he added.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: ‘No one gives a s— about’ climate change — this is what it should be called instead




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  • “As long as they keep talking about global climate change, they are not gonna go anywhere. ‘Cause no one gives a s— about that,” Arnold Schwarzenegger said in an interview on CBS’ “Sunday Morning.”
  • “We’re talking about pollution. Pollution creates climate change, and pollution kills,” he said.
  • While global investment in clean tech is increasing, so too are greenhouse gas emissions. And while concern among Democrats is rising, only 23% of Republicans say climate change is a major threat to the country’s well-being, according to the Pew Research Center.
Austrian-US actor, filmmaker, politician and activist Arnold Schwarzenegger gives a speech during the opening ceremony of the R20 Regions of Climate Action Austrian World Summit in Vienna, Austria, on May 28, 2019.

Austrian-US actor, filmmaker, politician and activist Arnold Schwarzenegger gives a speech during the opening ceremony of the R20 Regions of Climate Action Austrian World Summit in Vienna, Austria, on May 28, 2019.

Georg Hochmuth | Afp | Getty Images

Arnold Schwarzenegger says the global effort to mitigate the effects of climate change is being crippled by its fundamental communication problem.

“As long as they keep talking about global climate change, they are not gonna go anywhere. ‘Cause no one gives a s— about that,” Schwarzenegger told CBS’ “Sunday Morning” correspondent Tracy Smith in a profile that aired Sunday

“So my thing is, let’s go and rephrase this and communicate differently about it and really tell people — we’re talking about pollution. Pollution creates climate change, and pollution kills,” Schwarzenegger said.

The 75-year-old bodybuilder, actor, and former governor of California has become a public voice about climate change through his role as the host of the Austrian World Summit, a global climate change conference.

“I’m on a mission to go and reduce greenhouse gases worldwide,” Schwarzenegger told CBS, “because I’m into having a healthy body and a healthy Earth. That’s what I’m fighting for. And that’s my crusade.”

Anthropogenic global warming is caused by an increase of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is released when fossil fuels such as coal and oil are burned.

As long as they keep talking about global climate change, they are not gonna go anywhere. ’Cause no one gives a s—about that.

Arnold Schwarzenegger


The momentum toward fighting climate change has grown in recent years. The global investment in producing clean energy — that is, energy that doesn’t generate greenhouse gases — is surpassing the global investment in fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency. In 2023, $1.7 trillion is expected to go into clean technologies, including renewables, electric vehicles, nuclear power, grids, storage, low-emissions fuels, efficiency improvements and heat pumps. That’s more than the approximately $1 trillion expected to go into coal, gas and oil, the IEA said in a report released Thursday.

Still, the emissions generated from energy globally are still rising, although by only 1% in 2022, which was less than feared, the IEA said in March.

With global carbon emissions at record highs, there is a 50% chance that in nine years global warming will exceed the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels that was established by the Paris Climate Accord, according to the annual update published in November by the Global Carbon Project, an international scientific collaboration that measures carbon emissions.

Efforts to address climate change have increased substantially but are still insufficient.

In the United States, 54% of adults view climate change as a major threat to the country’s well-being, according to survey data from Pew Research Center. That nationwide average includes a substantial split along party lines. Almost 8 in 10 Democrats, 78%, say climate change is a major threat to the country’s well-being, and that’s up from 58% a decade ago. Meanwhile, only about 1 in 4 Republicans, 23%, say climate change is a major threat to the country’s well-being. That’s nearly unchanged from the 22% of Republicans who said climate change was a major threat in 2013, according to Pew Research Center data.

On May 16, USA Today published an op-ed Schwarzenegger wrote in which he called for the environmental movement to adapt to changing times, which he said includes rebranding of communications surrounding climate change and embracing growth that involves clean energy projects.

“We need a new environmentalism based on building and growing and common sense. Old environmentalism was afraid of growth. It hated building. Many of you know this style — protesting every new development, chaining yourself to construction equipment, and using lawsuits and permitting to slow everything down,” Schwarzenegger wrote in the op-ed.

″[T]oday I call for a new environmentalism, based on building the clean energy projects we need as fast as we can. We have to build, build, build,” Schwarzenegger wrote.

Montana delegation responds to ‘cottonwood decision’ regarding endangered species

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting Blog

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Canadian lynx

A judge has ruled in favor of tighter regulations on trappers meant to protect the Canada lynx population.

  • Associated Press


Log piles smolder after being harvested and burned as part of the Marshall Woods Restoration Project at the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area in the Lolo National Forest on Sept. 19, 2019, in Missoula, Montana.

  • Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images via Tribune News Service

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester addresses a joint session of the Legislature on Feb. 20 in the state Capitol.

  • THOM BRIDGE, Independent Record

Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., nominates Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., for speaker of the House on the ninth vote on Thursday.



Tom Lutey

Montana’s congressional delegation is reviving bills to undo the consequences of a 2015 Endangered Species Act lawsuit that’s angered the state’s logging…

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