A court in the Netherlands ruled Friday that a group of Dutch families can conduct DNA tests to determine whether their children were fathered by the deceased director of a fertility clinic who’s suspected of substituting his own sperm for that of listed donors. Midway through the BBC’s write-up of this strange case is this doozy of a sentence:
Eventually, if the DNA profile matches, the children, most of them born in the 1980s, hope to sue the doctor, possibly on the grounds that they should not exist.
As the father of a child and a resident of the perverse plane of existence in which we all find ourselves, I must object to the potentially dangerous precedent that could be set here. If you can sue a lying sperm doctor simply for creating your existence, what’s to stop you from suing someone who “donated” the sperm required to create you in the more traditional way? (Humblebrag!) Are we really going to let some batty European socialist court put us all at risk of being sued when our kids find out that we had the option not to yank their consciousnesses out of ethereal nonexistence into a physical world in which Andy Borowitz articles exist?
Mexican gray wolf pup. Courtesy Endangered Wolf Center
Posted: Saturday, May 27, 2017 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:05 pm, Sun May 28, 2017.
By Rebecca Moss
The New Mexican
In February, an adult male from the Dark Canyon Pack, a Mexican gray wolf troop that roams through the west-central countryside of the Gila National Forest, was found dead.
It had stalked an expanse of federal land that borders Catron County, where livestock frequently become prey, with roughly three cows killed each month and regular reports of wolves lurking near chicken coops or alpaca herds. Some residents there condemn the wolves as destructive, expensive and dangerous beasts. And they have a right to shoot one if the animal is directly threatening their property or life.
But roughly every other month, a Mexican wolf is found dead or disappears without an explanation.
A new study published earlier this month suggests the untimely death of endangered wolves throughout America may more frequently be the result of illegal poaching than federal agencies and wildlife biologists realize or are reporting — and might be contributing to stalled recovery efforts for the species.
The Journal of Mammalogy published the peer-reviewed study, a joint effort by authors at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Earth2Ocean Research Group, the University of Victoria in Canada and Albuquerque-based Project Coyote.
The study found that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials who manage the Mexican wolf recovery program in New Mexico are underestimating the rate of poaching by up to 21 percent.
“It means that the government has been underestimating an illegal activity,” said Adrian Treves, a professor and researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the lead author on the study. Without accurate information about poaching, he said, “you don’t target your policy intervention or your management intervention accurately — the things you do to protect endangered species.”
Between 1998 and 2015, there were 155 deaths and disappearances in New Mexico and Arizona of radio-collared Mexican wolves. Of these wolves, 53 had “unknown fates.”
The wolves were first reintroduced in 1998.
John Oakleaf, a field projects coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, said most wolf deaths are caused by humans. But, he said, many human-caused deaths are from hunting errors, such as mistaking a wolf for a coyote, or from car accidents, rather than malicious acts.
“It doesn’t have to be malicious for humans to be the primary cause of death for animals,” Oakleaf said. “… Sometimes people are out there and maliciously do stuff, but you’d have to know the specifics of every single case to figure that out.”
Treves said his research came to a different conclusion.
The study found that agencies in four endangered wolf management areas have been measuring mortality in a way that has significantly underestimated the role of poaching, and these false estimates “have obscured the magnitude of poaching as the major threat to endangered wolf populations.”
Treves was researching radio-collared gray wolves in Wisconsin in 2011 when he realized that almost half of the monitored wolves had disappeared and that their fates had been determined “unknown” by management agencies there. After further analysis, his research determined that the wolves disappeared long before their collars would have malfunctioned and well before the average life expectancy for a wolf.
He posited that illegal poaching was contributing to these disappearances, and his studies were backed up by similar findings by researchers in Sweden and in the greater Yellowstone area.
“The assumption was that the collared animals go off the air or the collar breaks, but they live their lives just like any other radio-collared animal,” he said, “but it turns out that assumption is false. That means … the government and the agencies and the scientists are making a systematic error.”
The study examined the deaths of Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves, Wisconsin gray wolves, red wolves on the East Coast and the Mexican gray wolf in New Mexico and Arizona.
The Mexican wolf program in New Mexico and Arizona was found to have the lowest rate of error of all the wolf management programs, Treves said, but all the endangered wolf programs were making some systematic errors.
Research found “that poaching is the major cause of death for all the endangered U.S. wolf populations we studied,” he said.
Federal officials said the endangered species, as a whole, are still seeing growth.
“You can strip away complex stuff like mortality and the causes of mortality and just focus on what the numbers are,” said Oakleaf, who has been with the Mexican wolf recovery program since 2002. “We have been successful in growing the numbers since 2009.”
Between 2015 and 2016, the Mexican wolf population in New Mexico and Arizona is believed to have grown from 97 to about 113, according to the latest federal survey.
That success of the Mexican wolf recovery program is partly because of cross-fostering efforts — releasing newborn pups bred in captivity into wild litters — a practice that began last year and has continued this spring. The state of New Mexico, which opposes the releases, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service in an attempt to stop the practice.
Six Mexican wolves have died of unknown causes in New Mexico in the past year, each incident spurring an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wildlife officials track wolves via monitoring collars. Each wolf is identified by a six-digit code. Their movements are watched to keep them from hunting livestock and to monitor their health and breeding activity.
Some animals go missing as a result of a collar failure or unrecorded death, Oakleaf said, adding that investigations into a wolf death can remain open for up to five years and still go unsolved.
He said the federal agency has been working with Catron Country, where the majority of wolf recovery efforts occur, since 1996 to educate and communicate with the community about the program. A number of residents are critical of wolf releases there and have called the Fish and Wildlife program poorly managed. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., is one of these critics and has advocated returning wolf management to the oversight of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
Oakleaf said the community’s objections to the program aren’t an indication that residents would illegally hunt wolves.
“People can argue the specifics of that without committing illegal acts,” he said.
Michael Robinson,a Silver City-based conservation advocate who focuses on wolf recovery for the Center for Biological Diversity, agreed with the new report’s findings.
“There is a lot of evidence that more wolves are dying from illegal causes than are reported by Fish and Wildlife services,” he said.
Robinson said he would like to see law enforcement efforts stepped up to stop the killings. He is also among advocates who want Fish and Wildlife to end a program that allows ranchers to track wolves that are being monitored. The program is intended to help protect livestock, but Robinson and others believe it also helps would-be poachers find wolves.
Robinson said Mexican wolf disappearances have been most common in the New Mexico’s Beaverhead range of wilderness, about 25 miles from where the Dark Canyon Pack wolf was found dead in February.
One such disappearance occurred in 2013, when a mating pair of Mexican wolves, whose den was in Beaverhead, went missing at the same time in early January. Robinson said the incident stuck in his memory because each member of the pair had a missing leg — one removed after a gunshot wound and the other from a trapping injury — but they still managed to survive in the wild for years.
Fish and Wildlife hunted for the pair for five months before pronouncing their fate unknown, saying their collars had likely stopped functioning.
“A lot of animals have gone missing there, but typically they are not counted as illegal mortalities. They are just disappeared wolves,” he said. “… Frankly, I’m worried.”
“As citizens from around the world we are horrified that
Maui’s Dolphin could vanish from the face of the earth, we urge you to establish and enforce an immediate, permanent ban on deadly gillnet fishing in New Zealand. As there are only 43 Maui’s left, we call on you to do all you can to save this beautiful species from extinction before it’s too late.”
Maui’s are known as Hobbits of the sea, they are diminutive aquatic mammals that look like mini‐dolphins ‐‐ and there’s only 43 of them left! But if we act fast, we can still stop this beautiful species from vanishing forever.
They’re dying because they get trapped in “gillnets” and drown, also they are caught by Commercial fishers as by catch. But New Zealand government refuses to save these iconic dolphins.
Together, we can tip the decision in favour of the Maui’s. Let’s show these Ministers that the people of the world care. Sign this urgent petition and share it with everyone.
MINNEAPOLIS — Gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan could again find themselves in hunters’ crosshairs — possibly as soon as this fall if federal protections are removed for the predators.
A ruling is expected soon from an appeals court that recently lifted protections for wolves in Wyoming.
In Congress, wolf-hunting supporters aren’t giving up even though a Minnesota representative was instrumental in killing an effort that would have allowed the three western Great Lakes states to resume wolf hunting.
Gray wolves were once hunted to the brink of extinction in most of the country, but they recovered under Endangered Species Act protections and reintroduction programs. They now number more than 5,500 in the lower 48 states, including nearly 3,800 in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly tried to remove wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan from the endangered species list, but courts have stymied those efforts.
Now, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is looking at the issue. The same appeals court in March took wolves off the list in Wyoming.
Wisconsin and Minnesota each held three wolf seasons before a federal judge put their wolves back on the list in December 2014. Michigan held one.
Backed by farm groups upset about depredation of livestock, and hunters who would like the chance to bag a wolf, lawmakers from the region have tried to attach riders to various bills in Congress that would ‘‘delist’’ wolves, return management responsibilities to the states, and bar further court challenges.
EXCLUSIVE: A powerful earthquake measuring up to nine on the Richter scale could strike Earth THIS WEEK potentially bringing a huge tsunami, because of the alignment of the planets, it has shockingly been claimed.
WHITEHORSE, May 1, 2017 /CNW/ – Atlantic Walrus and Eastern Migratory Caribou are at risk of extinction. So concluded the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which met in Whitehorse, April 23-28. The number of Canadian northern wildlife species considered to be at risk now stands at 62.
“A new area of study is the field that some of us are beginning to call social traps.
The term refers to situations in society that contain traps formally like a fish trap,
where men or whole societies get themselves started in some direction or some
set of relationships that later prove to be unpleasant or lethal and that they see
no easy way to back out of or to avoid.”
John Platt. Social Traps. American Psychologist, August 1973
“Booms have consequences.”
Grant, James. Money of the Mind : Borrowing and Lending in America from
the Civil War to Michael Milken. Farrar Straus Giroux. 1992
“It is no coincidence that the deepest and most protracted recessions in
recent decades have taken hold in countries that experienced booms …”
I am not a hate-filled person by nature, but I have what I consider a realistic view of Homo sapiens as a technologically over-evolved—yet morally under-evolved—ape that supersedes any blind allegiance to the species I might otherwise ascribe to. My disdain for humanity—hereby referred to as my misanthropy—knows no borders, boundaries, colors or cultures, aside perhaps from the emerging culture of do-no-harm veganism.
I’m not so enamored by the modest achievements and advancements we hear so much about that I don’t clearly see that mankind’s ultimate claim to fame is the “undoing” of the most incredible and diverse epoch in the history of life on earth.
My misanthropy is not aimed at individuals per se, but at an entire misguided species of animal with an arrogance so all-consuming that it views itself as separate—and above—the rest of the animal kingdom.
It’s not like humans can’t afford a little resentment once in a while, there are entire religions built specifically on the worship of mankind and its father figure—the maker made in the image of man. But sometimes someone needs to step back and see this species in perspective…
Ever since hominids first climbed down out of the trees and started clubbing their fellow animals, humanoids have been on a mission to claim the planet as their own. No other species could ever live up to man’s over-inflated self-image; therefore they became meat. Or if not meat, a servant or slave in one way or another. If their flesh isn’t considered tasty, they’re put to use as beasts of burden, held captive for amusement or as literal guinea pigs to test drugs and torturous procedures for the perpetual prolongation of human life. Those who don’t prove themselves useful are deemed “pests” and slated for eradication.
Because, for whatever rationale, the human species sees itself as the top dog—all others: the underlings. My misanthropy is not really about a hate of humanity. I just tend to root for the underdog.
Bernard Keane did well to summarise the recent Productivity Commission“Regulation of Agriculture” report’s chapter on animal welfare. It’s 61 pages in an 800-page report, but there were a few more relevant chapters that are crucial to understanding how agriculture is and isn’t regulated in Australia. Probably the most important is that on biosecurity, and it demonstrates how easily the Productivity Commission can be led astray.
Keane notes that the commission brings animal welfare within its remit by putting numbers on the costs and benefits to the community of changing the way factories treat animals. I use the word “factories” because well over half of the meat eaten here comes from animals you’d never see in any drive through the Australian bush, except perhaps on the back of trucks. But to economists, animal suffering is of no consequence unless consumers put a monetary value on it.
Even if you choose to play by these commission rules, there are clear costs associated with factory (and traditional) farming of animals that the Commission simply ignores. Swine flu emerged from a mix of human, pig and chicken viruses on factory farms in the US in the late 1990s. It percolated away, picking up little bits of RNA here and there, before starting to kill people en masse in 2009. RNA viruses like influenza are intrinsically less stable and more prone to mutation than DNA viruses.
Swine flu might not have been born here, but it could have been, and the next pandemic influenza may well be. The relative sizes of the US, Australian and Chinese industries mean that such diseases are more likely to emerge there than here. But we all have to pay when it hits our shores.
What’s the cost? In it’s first 12 months swine flu killed 284,000 people globally. Unlike ordinary flu, it didn’t just kill the elderly on the cusp of death anyway, but 80% of its victims were under 65 years old. So we aren’t talking about future risks of events that have never happened. These risks have a real body count. Australia has a good hospital system and did better than many countries, but this influenza still killed an estimated 300 people younger than 65.
Economists aren’t normally shy about putting a value on human deaths, but the commission fails to do so.
How did swine flu emerge? And why is this relevant to commission considerations? To answer that, you need to understand some of the kinds of processes that can yield a new disease.
Here’s a method scientists use to reliably breed killer diseases. Infect a chicken with a harmless flu virus isolated from a waterbird. The chicken’s immune system will begin to kill the viral particles. After a few days, the particles that aren’t dead are the ones that have evaded the chicken’s immune system. Kill the chicken, grind up the lungs and you have something where the virus particles are, on average, a little more dangerous than the initial population you used to infect the chicken. Use this to infect a second chicken. In the time it takes the chicken to mobilise its immune system, the virus will multiply, and after a few days, the particles that are still poor at evading the immune cells will be dead, leaving just the nastiest viral particles. Do this over and over and eventually the virus will start to kill. In one such experiment, by the 24th passage through the 24th batch of chickens, the virus had evolved into a killer that killed 100% of the last batch of chickens.
Once a virus enters a chicken or pig factory, it begins a similar kind of cycling. It may arrive with the pigs or chickens and start off harmless, but it might not stay that way. A factory farm isn’t quite as efficient as a laboratory, but it is still very good at providing excellent conditions to encourage a virus to become deadly. Crowding causes stress and stress depresses immune function. Chickens in a broiler shed live in their feces for their entire lives. One gram of droppings from a chicken infected with bird flu can contain enough virus to infect the entire shed.
As of March this year, 77 countries were infected with 13 strains of avian influenza. Perhaps the next human pandemic will come from one of these, or, more likely, from some currently benign virus that isn’t yet causing enough symptoms to be noticed. Australia has had its own outbreaks of avian influenza in 1976, 1985, 1992, 1995, 1997, and 2010 and 2012.
So the commission chapter on biosecurity is an exercise in inverted logic. The issue isn’t how do we protect factory farms from things that might infect them. These are intrinsically leaky facilities and this is a distributed problem. Distributed problems are, by their nature tough to solve. You could protect one facility with robust safeguards, or perhaps 50, but there are more than 2500 chicken sheds in Australia, each holding 40,000 birds.
The real biosecurity challenge is how to protect people from the new diseases that evolve on factory farms; these are a potent source of totally new viral strains, not simply a conduit. The environment supplies the viral raw material, that’s true, but the factory farming conditions provide the conditions to amplify pathogenicity. This is not a particularly subtle distinction, and it shouldn’t have been missed by the commission.
So how did the PC miss this? There are 34 mentions of “trespass” in the 800-page report, including sub-sections devoted entirely to this topic. In contrast, avian influenza gets two passing references and no sections. So the commission wasted a whole lot of time on a trivial issue and totally missed an issue with literally fatal consequences. Clearly, the bleating and moaning by factory farming bodies about people exposing what goes on behind closed doors has distracted the commission from the main game.
Similarly missing in action is any systematic treatment of food poisoning. It gets a single mention in relation to salmonella from eggs, but what about the 31,000 hospitalisations for food poisoning, the majority of which will have been from animal products, either directly or indirectly when infection is spread to plant materials on cutting boards, knives and the like.
There is a significant part of our health sector that is no more than a hidden subsidy for our animal industries. Again, this is perfectly capable of being analysed and costed within the PC framework, but it wasn’t. Keane highlights the excellent treatment in the commission report of the way in which the animal industries control and subvert any attempt at regulation. But the commission itself has fallen victim to the tricks of the industry in letting them set the agenda on biosecurity and waste so much time on trespass and the resulting ag-gag laws while neglecting much bigger issues.
President Trump, with help from his administration and Republicans in Congress, has reversed course on nearly two dozen environmental rules, regulations and other Obama-era policies during his first 100 days in office.
Citing federal overreach and burdensome regulations, Mr. Trump has prioritized domestic fossil fuel interests and undone measures aimed at protecting the environment and limiting global warming.
1. Approved the Dakota Access pipeline.Feb. 7
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Republicans in Congress criticized President Barack Obama for delaying construction of the pipeline — which they argued would create jobs and stimulate the economy — after protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Mr. Trump ordered an expedited review of the pipeline, and the Army approved it.
2. Revoked a rule that prevented coal mining companies from dumping debris into local streams.Feb. 16
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? The coal industry said the rule was overly burdensome, calling it part of the war on coal. Congress passed a bill revoking the rule, which Mr. Trump signed into law.
3. Canceled a requirement for reporting methane emissions.March 2
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Republican officials from 11 states wrote a letter to Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, saying the rule added costs and paperwork for oil and gas companies. The next day, Mr. Pruitt revoked the rule.
4. Approved the Keystone XL pipeline.March 24
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Republicans, along with oil, gas and steel industry groups, opposed Mr. Obama’s decision to block the pipeline, arguing that the project would create jobs and support North American energy independence. After the pipeline company reapplied for a permit, the Trump administration approved it.
5. Revoked an update to public land use planningprocess. March 27
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Republicans and fossil fuel industry groups opposed the updated planning rule for public lands, arguing that it gave the federal government too much power at the expense of local and business interests. Congress passed a bill revoking the rule, which Mr. Trump signed into law.
6. Lifted a freeze on new coal leases on public lands.March 29
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Coal companies weren’t thrilled about the Obama administration’s three-year freeze on new leases on public lands pending an environmental review. Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, revoked the freeze and review, though he promised to set up a new advisory committee to review coal royalties.
7. Rejected a ban on a potentially harmful insecticide.March 29
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? The company that sells the insecticide, Dow Agrosciences, strongly opposed a risk analysis by the Obama-era E.P.A., which found that the insecticide Chlorpyrifos poses a risk to fetal brain and nervous system development. Mr. Pruitt rejected the E.P.A.’s previous analysis and denied the ban, saying that the chemical needed further study.
8. Overturned a ban on the hunting of predators in Alaskan wildlife refuges. April 3
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Alaskan politicians opposed the law, which prevented hunters from shooting wolves and grizzly bears on wildlife refuges, arguing that the state, not the federal government, has authority over those lands. Congress passed a bill revoking the rule, which Mr. Trump signed into law.
9. Withdrew guidance for federal agencies to include greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews. April 5
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Republicans in Congress opposed the guidelines, which advised federal agencies to account for greenhouse gas emissions and potential climate effects in environmental impact reviews. They argued that the government lacked the authority to make such recommendations, and that it would be impossible to plan for the uncertain effects of climate change.
10. Ordered review and “elimination” of rule that protected tributaries and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. Feb. 28
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Farmers, real estate developers, golf course owners and many Republicans opposed this clarification of the Clean Water Act, arguing that it created regulatory burdens. Mr. Trump called it a “massive power grab” by the federal government and instructed the E.P.A. and the Army to conduct a review.
11. Reopened a review of fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. March 15
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Automakers said it would be difficult and costly to meet fuel economy goals they had agreed upon with the Obama administration and noted rising consumer demand for sport utility vehicles and trucks. A standards review had been completed by the Obama administration before Mr. Trump took office, but the auto industry argued that it was rushed. The E.P.A. and Department of Transportation have reopened the review.
12. Ordered “immediate re-evaluation” of the Clean Power Plan. March 28
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Coal companies and Republican officials in many states strongly opposed the plan, which set strict limits for carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal- and gas-fired power plants. Republicans argued the plan — Mr. Obama’s signature climate change policy — posed a threat to the coal industry, and had mounted a legal challenge. Mr. Trump signed an executive order instructing the E.P.A. to review and re-evaluate the rule. An appeals court recently approved the Trump administration’s request to put the lawsuit on hold during the review process.
13. Rolled back limits on toxic discharge from power plants into public waterways. April 12
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Utility and fossil fuel industry groups opposed the rule, which limited the amount of toxic metals — arsenic, lead, and mercury, among others — power plants could release into public waterways. Industry representatives said complying with the guidelines would be extremely expensive. The E.P.A. has delayed compliance deadlines while it reconsiders the rule, which had been challenged in court.
14. Ordered review of rule limiting methane emissions at new oil and gas drilling sites. April 18
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Lobbyists for the oil and gas industries petitioned Mr. Pruitt to reconsider the rule, which went into effect last August, limiting emissions of methane, smog-forming compounds and other toxic pollutants from new and modified oil and gas wells. They argued the rule was technologically infeasible.
15. Ordered review of national monuments created since 1996. April 26
16. Ordered review of offshore drilling policies and regulations. April 28
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Lobbyists for the oil industry were opposed to Mr. Obama’s use of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently ban offshore drilling along the Atlantic coast and much of the ocean around Alaska, as well as regulations around oil rig safety.
17. Withdrew a rule that would help consumers buy more fuel-efficient tires. Jan. 26
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? The rule required tire manufacturers and retailers to provide consumers with information about replacement car tires. The tire industry opposed several aspects of the rule, but had been working with the government to refine it. The Trump administration withdrew the proposed rule from consideration, but has not confirmed whether it may be reinstated.
18. Voted to revoke limits on methane emissions on public lands. Feb. 3
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? The oil and gas industry said that the rule, which required companies to control methane emissions on federal or tribal land by capturing rather than burning or venting excess gas, would have curbed energy development. The House voted to revoke the rule under the Congressional Review Act, and Senate Republicans have until May 8 to take action.
19. Postponed changes to how oil, gas and coal from federal lands are priced. Feb. 22
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry said the changes, meant to ensure fair pricing on oil, gas and coal on federal or tribal land and to reduce costs, were redundant since the government already has the power to impose penalties. They also argued that it created a lot of uncertainty in the market.
20. Delayed a rule aiming to increase safety at facilities that use hazardous chemicals. March 13
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Chemical, agricultural and power industry groups said that the new rule, a response to a 2013 explosion at a fertilizer plant that killed 15 people, did not increase safety and would have undermined oversight. The rule is delayed until June 19, and industry groups have said that they may sue.
21. Delayed rules increasing energy efficiency standardsfor some appliances and some federal buildings. March 15
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Republicans in Congress opposed the rules, which applied to ceiling fans, heating and cooling appliances and other devices, as well as residential buildings owned by the federal government, saying that they would place an unfair cost on consumers.
22. Delayed rules modernizing the federal highway system, including environmental standards. March 15
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? The trucking industry supported the changes for bridge and pavement condition guidelines, but strongly opposed measures aimed at environmental sustainability and mitigating climate change.
23. Delayed a lawsuit over a rule regulating airborne mercury emissions from power plants. April 27
WHO WANTED IT CHANGED? Coal companies, along with Republican officials in several states, sued the government over this rule, which regulated the amount of mercury and other toxic pollutants that fossil fuel-fired power plants can emit into the air. They argued that the rule helped shutter coal plants, many of which are already compliant. Oral arguments in the case have been delayed while the E.P.A. reviews the rule.
To be sure, Earth is facing some big problems, including climate change, overpopulation, epidemics, and asteroid strikes. But before we flee this planet like an action hero jumping out of an explosion, let’s think about this for a second. Sure, it’d be great to have a backup civilization somewhere in case asteroids wipe out all life on Earth. And it would be one of the most exciting things humankind has ever done. But what would it actually require.
Finding a second home for humanity
Mars is a somewhat obvious choice because it’s nearby, but it’s not exactly Earth 2.0. In fact, it’s arguably a lot worse off than Earth. It has toxic soil, it’s freezing cold, and the air is unbreathable. Any Martian colony would likely rely on regular care packages from home, which would not work well if Earth was done-zo.
If we really want to find the perfect home away from home, we could look to other star systems: with billions of planets in the Milky Way, there’s a good chance some will have water, land, and breathable air. But so far we haven’t found Earth’s twin, and our telescopes don’t have the kind of resolution that could tell us in detail what an exoplanet is like. Also, it would take hundreds of years to get there, and if those passengers don’t die along the way, they’d likely evolve into a new species before they even got to their new planet.
Bringing enough people
We would need to send significant numbers of people to other worlds in order to ensure the survival of the human species. Small colonies are subject to genetic anomalies from inbreeding, and vulnerable to getting wiped out in accidents.
NASA’s missions to Mars will likely only carry as many as six people at a time to the red planet. SpaceX wants to develop an Interplanetary Transport System to deliver 100 Martian settlers at a time, but at the moment it is nothing more than an imaginary behemoth.
The interstellar route is even more challenging, because we don’t even have an imaginary spacecraft capable of supporting thousands of people for hundreds of years on an interstellar journey.
And in either case, there’s always the politically charged question of: who goes and who stays? Do poor and disadvantaged people get left behind on a hellish world?
Could we make Mars look like Earth?
Making ourselves at home
If we really want to thrive on another planet, we’ll probably have to adapt the environment to suit our needs. Sure, we might be able to terraform Mars, but it would take about 100,000 years for its atmosphere to become breathable. Hope you’re not in a rush to go outdoors without a gas mask anytime soon.
Paying for it
NASA’s Journey to Mars is expected to cost up to $1.5 trillion. And that’s just for the first crews. Later on, launches bringing settlers and supplies to the colony would probably still cost hundreds of millions of dollars each.
And SpaceX’s plan to build the Interplanetary Transport System sounds great, but CEO Elon Musk has been very open about saying the company has no idea how it would pay for such a vessel.
And exactly who would pay to colonize Mars? Why would the U.S. government spend all that money to sustain a colony? What would we get out of it, besides better chances for the survival of our species? Will the Martian colony produce valuable exports, besides the (obviously awesome) scientific discoveries that would come out of it?
Surely there are a few wealthy Earthlings willing to pay millions of dollars each for a ride to and a habitat on an alien world, but the majority of folks who want to go to the red planet hope to come home afterwards.
Solving the problems that are killing Earth
History has a tendency to repeat itself. Even if we do successfully colonize another planet, we’ll still have to solve all the problems that Earth currently faces. Our technologies are just as likely to destroy the environment on other planets, and epidemics and asteroids could wipe out a Martian settlement much easier than they could obliterate the entire population of Earth.
The television show that Stephen Hawking is promoting is all about how human ingenuity is solving the challenges of colonizing Mars. Well, surely if we can figure out how to survive on a completely alien world, then we can figure out how to survive in our own home—possibly a lot more easily and cheaply than the alternative.