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Updated: 18 min 13 sec ago
It was a PR nightmare for Sochi, the picturesque Russian resort town hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics: the revelation that the city government intended to exterminate the packs of stray dogs that roam its streets as a part of its beautification process. Now these dogs are admittedly a rag-tag group – small and large, furry and hairless – with a genetic heritage consisting of a-little-of-this this and a little of Who-Knows-What? Much like strays you find in your local shelter. Independent and sometimes spooky, these street dogs are mostly feral and tend to shy away from people – preferring instead to scavenge at garbage or construction sites. But they are dogs – those trusting creatures with the soulful eyes that the world loves. Or most of it anyway.
When confronted with questions about the canine pogroms, the director of the pest control company tasked with the job told reporters that the dogs had been “biting children.” Dog bites or no, street dog removal had long been an unofficial policy in the town. And besides, what would the world think if a stray dog sauntered through a live Olympic telecast, as it did during a rehearsal of opening night ceremonies in the Fisht Olympic Stadium? It would be, as one official put it, “a disgrace to the whole country.”
The disgrace, as it turned out, was shooting the strays with poison darts and carting them off for an undignified disposal. The story was one of the biggest to emerge from the Games, generating widespread condemnation from animal lovers and rivers of indignant ink in the global media.
Stung by the criticism, Sochi officials grudgingly acknowledged that there might be a more humane way to keep its dog population in check. Et voila…within days of the opening ceremony, the city announced on its website that it had opened its own showcase shelter for 100 dogs. Funny thing though, animal activists could find no evidence of that city-run shelter.Russians and Dogs: A Love-Hate Story
There are other international capitals – Bangkok and Mexico City for example – where you will see dogs wandering the streets. But in no other megalopolis is the stray population bigger than in Moscow where it is estimated that there are about 35,000 homeless dogs. Of those, about 500 or so have become residents of the Metro, the city’s sprawling subway system. There they perambulate the stations, negotiating escalators and automatic doors just like other seasoned riders. These are dogs that “commute” from one location to another – usually in the search of food, but sometimes, it is believed, simply to explore new places. And then there are the more laid-back types that stake out their territory in a particular car or station and spend their waking hours ingratiating themselves with humans in hopes of being rewarded with a little touch, or better yet, a snack.
It was not always this way in Russia’s capital. During the Soviet era, the stray population was tightly controlled by government teams. This policy didn’t offend the average citizen. On the contrary, they were often responsible for calling in the hit squads. While dogs weren’t a part of the Russian cuisine as they are in some Asian cultures, it was not unusual back then for them to end up as a fur cap.
In the unregulated civil aftermath of the Soviet Union, there were no longer controls in place to manage the packs. In Moscow, most could be seen roaming the city, but other more resourceful types began to winter underground in the tunnels of the subway. They soon became known as “Metro Dogs.”
Russia’s burgeoning oil economy of the 90s was not only good for the average Russian citizen, but for its canine citizens as well. More consumption brought more garbage, which meant more food for canine scavengers. With more to eat and less harassment by the law, the strays’ numbers expanded and they became a familiar site both above and below ground. In the Metro, workers and riders fed and petted them, and their mutual affection grew.
Though there is still no formal agenda for regulating the population of Russia’s homeless dogs, the future of Moscow’s Metro dogs appears to be growing grim and grimmer. For now, the day-to-day strategy is simply to make them less welcome. Subway guards chase them away from escalators and gates instead of letting them slip by. And above ground, vigilante squads take animal control into their own hands, scattering poison in parks and other canine gathering places. As a result, the overall stray population appears to be declining and fewer dogs are seen riding the subway.How Smart Are Russian Mutts?
Here’s how smart: it was a stray dog named Leika, collected from streets of Moscow and trained for space travel, that became the first Russian cosmonaut. As for the Metro dogs, their survival mechanisms have become so sophisticated that they almost seem to be evolving before human eyes. Take, for example, behavior observed by many subway riders wherein smaller, cuter members of a pack are dispatched to panhandle. Those most likely to be approached are often single older women whom the dogs evidently see as a soft touch. They may not be cosmonauts like Laika, but they are pretty darned smart.A Touching Postscript
It was recently reported that a local woman has now opened a shelter for 100 dogs outside of Sochi. Hearing of her efforts, a billionaire oligarch, who had been involved in the lucrative Olympics construction, unexpectedly came through with substantial financial support. The sad story of Sochi’s strays, which had come to his attention via a Facebook campaign, prompted him to organize a team of workers to save as many of the dogs and cats as possible. So far, 140 have been rescued and all because the oligarch had grown up with a stray he found on the streets of his small village, a dog that had become his “good friend.”
Maybe these rescue missions shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Except when they don’t, Russians have a live-and-let-live attitude toward the homeless dog population. And the Metro dogs have practically attained the status of personal pets with subway riders – so much so that they erected a statue of Malchik (Little Boy), a Metro dog that was stabbed to death by a mentally unbalanced woman in a subway station. For years now, it’s been deemed good luck to touch the statue on the way through the station. That is the reason why, they point out, his nose is so shiny.
Courtesy of Nation of Change
By Christina Sarich
Utilizing huge samples of sea kelp taken off the California Coast a program titled “Kelp Watch 2014” will keep vigil on the highly fragile ecosystem of the Pacific Ocean, and the fallout to this region caused by the Fukushima disaster.
The short term monitoring system comprised of scientists from California State University and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, initiated by CSULB Biology Professor Steven L. Manley and the Berkeley Lab’s Head of Applied Nuclear Physics Kai Vetter, will measure kelp which could be contaminated by radioactive waste being brought in by sea currents from Del Norte to Baja.
Kelp vitality is a good measure of the overall health of the Pacific Ocean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states:“. . .kelp may experience reduced growth rates and reproductive success in more toxic waters and sediments. Studies on microscopic stages of kelp suggest that kelp is sensitive to sewage, industrial waste discharges, and other causes [radioactive disasters] of poor water and sediment quality.”
Samples will be taken many times throughout the year and sent to the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab Low Background Facility to be analyzed. Findings will be published for the public to see.
Dr. Vetter commented on the objectives on the project:“UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab’s analysis within the new Kelp Watch initiative is part of a larger, ongoing, effort to measure Fukushima related radionuclides in a large variety of objects. We have two main objectives—to learn more about the distribution and transport of these materials in our world, and to make the results and explanations available to the public.”
If the team of scientists and over 19 government and academic agencies involved in the project follow through with their promise, this will be some of the first transparency involved in reporting Fukushima contamination on our own shorelines. Dr. Vetter elaborated:“Making our results available is a critical aspect of our work as it allows us to address concerns about Fukushima radiation levels and to explain the meaning and potential impact of these levels,” he added, “particularly in the context of the natural radiation background we are exposed to in our daily lives.”
Governments worldwide, however, have raised the ‘safe’ radiation contamination levels, and many argue that this has been done without a sound scientific basis. Even low –levels of radiation exposure can be lethal. The National Research Council of the National Academies talks about the problems with ‘high level radiation exposure’ and ‘absorption rates’ taking into consideration breaks in exposure that would allow an ecosystem or human being to ‘recover’ from said exposure, but if the estimates of 93 billion becquerels of cesium 137, strontium 90, and other radioactive particles being dumped into the ocean daily at Daiichi are even slightly correct, the measurements of sea kelp along the California Coast will indeed be telling.
By Andy Butler
Courtesy of YES! Magazine
In recent years, fishermen have gathered each year off the coast of Taiji, Japan, to corral dolphins into a small cove to be killed for their meat or sold to aquariums around the world. The group Whale and Dolphin Conservation estimates that more than 18,000 dolphins have been killed or captured in Taiji since the year 2000.Social media and documentary films effect social change
The hunt has taken place every year since 1969, but this year it met a different reception—one that suggests changing public attitudes toward the hunting and capture of dolphins. The U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, tweeted that she was “deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing,” and added that the United States government opposes such hunts. German and U.K. officials made similar statements, while the artist Yoko Ono published an open letter.
“At this very politically sensitive time,” Ono wrote, the hunt “will make the children of the world hate the Japanese.”
And the difference wasn’t just about the high-profile objections, says Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with a Ph.D. in cetacean biology. This year’s dolphin hunt reached the attention of a larger and more global audience than earlier hunts have done due to increased discussion in social media.
Louie Psihoyos, executive director of the nonprofit Oceanic Preservation Society and director of The Cove—the Oscar-winning documentary film that made the Taiji hunts famous when it was released in 2009—adds that this increased media attention is helping change the discussion around the hunting of whales and dolphins.Signs of hope
“We’re getting toward a tipping point with this,” Psihoyos says. “You see hope everywhere.”
Psihoyos has faith in the ability of documentary films to effect social change. “I call them weapons of mass construction,” he says. “You make a good documentary and it keeps rippling around the world. Our movie is five years old now; it’s still doing its work.”
A second, more recent, documentary film has reinvigorated the movement against the captivity of whales and dolphins. Blackfish, released in 2013, follows the life of the orca Tilikum, a performing animal at a SeaWorld theme park that was involved in the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. The film documents the negative effects of a long life of captivity or orcas and enjoyed exposure to a large audience over 17 airings on CNN’s broadcast network.
SeaWorld reacted defensively to the film. For example, a headline at the company’s new “Truth About Blackfish” website reads “Why ‘Blackfish’ is Propaganda, not a documentary.” SeaWorld goes on to say that the claims made in Blackfish are illegitimate because it relies on information from “animal rights activists masquerading as scientists” and “former SeaWorld employees, most of whom have little experience with killer whales.” SeaWorld has also published full-page ads in several national newspapers to refute claims made by the film.
Rose says that she sees SeaWorld’s reaction as a sign of hope.
“We’ve been bandying about in the advocacy circles this Gandhian idea: first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. SeaWorld is putting a lot of money into their PR,” Rose says. “So next is the win.”
Andy Butter wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Andy is an intern at YES!
President Obama’s Science and Technology Advisor, Dr. John Holdren, clearly explains the polar vortex in 2 minutes — and how this phenomenon relates to climate change and extreme weather patterns.
Learn more at http://wh.gov/climate-change.
Courtesy of Yes! Magazine
By Erika Lundahl
In March 2011, an unknown amount of radiation was released into the atmosphere after a powerful tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors on the Pacific coast in Japan. Because people had little access to detailed information about radiation levels, they bought up every Geiger counter they could find in stores and online. Soon the counters were all but sold out worldwide, and in Japan a grey market of shoddy Geiger counters sprouted up, some with faulty or fake parts.
Now, as workers at the plant attempt to move 1,500 highly radioactive spent fuel rods from Unit 4, the most heavily damaged reactor, the risk of radioactive contamination is escalated. The rods, housed in a damaged and leaking concrete pool 100 feet above the plant’s floor, are being moved to a second enclosed pool where it’s hoped they’ll be secure if another earthquake hits Japan’s coast.
The situation at Fukushima has received limited coverage in the Western media, but many scientists have grave concerns about the health and safety ramifications of the procedure—which has never been tried before—should something go wrong.
In a phone interview, Harvey Wasserman of Nukefree.org emphasized the gravity of the situation.
“God forbid they drop a rod, or another earthquake occurs,” he said.
A mistake in the procedure could be catastrophic. The tightly packed rods together contain 14,000 times the radiation released by the Hiroshima bomb, according to Reuters.
Fortunately, the world will not be in the dark should this happen. Hundreds of ordinary people are contributing to a crowd-sourced effort to collect data on radiation levels for scientists and ordinary citizens to use and interpret. The project was launched by SafeCast, an organization formed in the wake of the 2011 earthquake to supplement the sparse data provided by the Japanese government on radiation travel patterns.
“We were completely appalled that there was no way to get this data,” SafeCast co-founder Sean Bonner said, “and that people couldn’t see what was happening to their environment.”
Through online collaboration with scientists and programmers, Bonner and his collaborators engineered an easily reproducible and highly accurate GPS-enabled Geiger counter, which they call the bGeigie. They distributed the first batch of 100 to volunteers who crisscrossed Japan in cars, delivery vehicles, and on foot, collecting data on radiation unmatched in scope and accuracy. To make the information from the bGeigies widely available, SafeCast publishes copyright-free maps of the readings that come in from the devices.
The maps, which can be viewed online or on smart phones and tablets via the free SafeCast app, provide large amounts of real-time radiation data that can be compared to previous readings. The maps can also be adjusted to display data provided by government agencies on radiation levels. (In case you’re wondering, SafeCast data currently shows no significant increase in radiation on the Pacific Rim since the Fukushima disaster.)The project has produced almost 14 million data points so far.
The project has produced almost 14 million data points so far, making it the preferred reference for Yahoo! Japan and the Fukushima Prefecture government, which both used SafeCast data to create their own maps.
Data from independent groups like SafeCast along with data from the United States Department of Energy aerial monitoring helped correct the poorly planned evacuation zones hastily put together in the weeks after the accident, said SafeCast co-founder Pieter Franken in an interview with Boston Public Radio. The organization has also stepped into the role of unofficial watchdog on the decontamination efforts, and released a detailed report on the Japanese government’s efforts to clean up several highly contaminated areas.
The maps bring a level of detail that Bonner says was missing in the past, when radiation readings were published as averages for entire cities. This breadth of data offered by SafeCast, said Michael Bradbury, CEO of Seattle-based science news site RealScience, will make it possible to react more efficiently the next time a nuclear crisis occurs.
“When you have a large number of people collecting samples,” Bradbury said in an email, “a form of crowdsourcing helps to confirm numbers and provide a more accurate picture of what’s really happening on the ground.”
Erika Lundahl is a freelance writer living in Seattle.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
Few Long-Lasting Impacts Found
The latest independent monitoring report, plus $2m of Government funding to help improve New Zealand’s maritime response capability, coming two years after the wreck of MV Rena, is welcome news. The report shows few long-lasting impacts on Bay of Plenty maritime habitats. MV Rena, a Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned container ship that grounded on Otaiti (Astrolabe Reef) just 7 km off the coast of Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty on the North Island.
According to University of Waikato Chair in Coastal Science Professor Chris Battershill, “While there is still some evidence from time to time of heightened Rena-sourced contaminant levels in kaimoana (seafood) species on some of the beaches, and northern parts of Motiti [Island], the vast majority of kaimoana and other species have survived, and no evidence has been found of any catastrophic die-off,” he said.
The monitoring is part of the Government’s $2.4 million Rena Long Term Environmental Recovery Plan. The 460-page report’s main goal is an unusual one in the existing world view, which generally focuses on the monetary aspects of any major project that involves government agencies, NGO’s, the public and especially, indigenous people.
In this case, it is heart-warming and in keeping with New Zealand’s strong environmental consciousness. The Report’s opening paragraphs spell it out.
“The Rena Long-term Environmental Recovery Plan sets the goal and objectives of the long-term environmental recovery following the grounding of Rena on Otaiti (Astrolabe Reef). It describes the environmental issues and outlines the action that will be undertaken to address them.‘Toitu te Moana a Toi. Toitu te Iwi’: if the mana (force) of Te Moana (the sea) a Toi (summit) is restored, so the mana of the iwi (tribe) is strengthened. The Long-term Environmental Recovery Plan is critical to restoring the affected environment, including its people. ‘Whakarongo ki a Tangaroa. He tohu.’ Listen to Tangaroa (god of the sea). He will give a sign. This saying means you must stay in touch with the environment.”
Initially, when MV Rena hit the rocky, sacred Maori reef, spewing containers and heavy fuel-oil into the sea, killing hundreds of birds and sending the oil creeping onto the pristine beaches, the Motiti Islanders were devastated. Their island was inundated with press, workers on the salvage rigs and government officials all wanting to see for themselves. Their traditions and their matauranga (traditional wisdom) were ignored all the while their sacred reef was being damaged by the wreck and debris.
That changed over the first few months, as iwi from around the area independently went ahead cleaning beaches and helping in the restoration work, using their innate knowledge of the sea, the area and their culture. Coordinating entities began asking for advice and when the Recovery Plan was presented on 26 January 2012, it was clear the authorities had been listening. Dr Kepa Morgan, a bi-cultural Professor at the University of Auckland launched the project “How do we return the mauri (life principle of the area) to its pre-Rena state?”
Dr Morgan has developed a Mauri Model that “assesses the environmental impact of decision choices as indicators grouped in four equally weighted mauri dimensions: environmental, cultural, social and economic well-being. The impact upon mauri is determined as the change in life supporting capacity of the indicator being considered.” The model combines both scientific knowledge and cultural aspects in equal parts.
Although this model is still not used extensively throughout the New Zealand government, with the Rena Long-term Environmental Recovery Plan, there is hope that these principles will soon be included in many more projects as the results provide proof over the years, that incorporating the Mauri Model, in whatever culture it is used, is beneficial to all.Some Rena Facts Courtesy Maritime New Zealand
- At the height of the response, around 800 people were involved in the oil spill response team, including members of the incident command centre (ICC), and beach clean-up and wildlife response teams.
- Around 500 New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel were involved at the height of the response.
- Around 8,000 volunteers joined the response, contributing more than 19,000 hours to the clean-up.
- Around 150 local businesses and organisations provided support to the response.
- Beach clean-up crews collected more than 1,000 tonnes of oily waste from the coastline.
- A team of about 90 salvors from Svitzer and SMIT were actively engaged in the operation.
- 1,733 tonnes of heavy fuel oil (HFO) on board Rena when it grounded, with around 350 tonnes estimated to have been lost overboard in the first week and further smaller amounts subsequently.
- 1368 containers were listed on the original manifest. Salvors have recovered 1039, with 329 unrecovered, either trapped in inaccessible parts of the wreck or lost to the sea.
- Oiled wildlife treatment and rehabilitation facility set up by The National Oiled Wildlife Response Team, led by Massey University, capable of housing 500 birds.
- 407 birds in care at the facility at the peak of the response,
- A total of 375 little blue penguins cleaned and released in a staged process from 22 November 2011.
- 60 endangered New Zealand dotterels were pre-emptively caught to protect them from oil, and progressively released from 25 November 2011.
- A total of 2030 dead birds collected, of which 1367 were oiled.
Typhoon Haiyan, the thirtieth named storm of the 2013 Pacific typhoon season, slammed the central Philippine provinces on November 8, with winds peaking around 314 km/h (195 mph) and a six meter (20 ft) storm surge. Known in the Philippines as Yolanda, Haiyan is the strongest tropical cyclone making landfall on record, surpassing Atlantic Hurricane Camille’s record of 305 km/h (190mph) in 1969. It is also the second deadliest, and the toll of human loss and damage continues to rise.
Today people are just trying to survive after all that was built by human hands had been destroyed by one of nature’s fiercest climatic events. Yet, the extent of the devastation remains unknown as local officials claim the death toll in Leyte, the worst hit province, exceeds 10,000, while President Benigno Aquino III estimated the overall death toll was more likely between 2,000 and 2,500. As devastating as the loss of life is with either estimate, it could have been much worse if not for the efforts of PAGASA, the Philippines’ meteorological agency, which broadcast warnings two days before Haiyan hit, leading to the evacuation of approximately 750,000 residents.
Over 13 million people have been affected by Haiyan including 9.8 million residents of the Philippine Islands. Nearly a half-million homes were damaged or destroyed. The storm continued to wreak havoc west of the Philippines before dissipating over China on November 11. The loss of human life, lack of sanitation, skyrocketing prices and a shattered economy are only the beginning of the human toll at nature’s hands.
Yet, the full impact of this massive storm is yet to be realized and could have significant environmental impact affecting the human condition for years to come. While the storm leaves in its wake thousands of uprooted trees and untold environmental damage, the carbon dioxide (CO2) the storm released by uprooting trees and topsoil, where CO2 is stored, is massive.
A study from 2007 found that the 320 million trees uprooted by Hurricane Katrina along the northern Gulf coast, released back into the atmosphere half of the CO2 annually absorbed by trees in the US. CO2 release is expected to be even higher in the Philippines, as the string of islands has denser average forest coverage than the region hit by Katrina.
Many scientists believe that such storms act as part of a positive feedback cycle, in that climate change is causing more significant natural disasters, which in turn release more CO2 further contributing to increased climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global CO2 levels surpassed 400 parts per million due in part to human activity but also due to Mother Nature.
According to the World Bank, in 2008 CO2 emissions per capita for the Philippines was nearly one metric ton per year leading to an approximate total of 85,000 kilotonnes (kt). Yet Typhoon Haiyan is expected to have released more than 105,000 kt of carbon, the amount released by Katrina. Only time will tell how much CO2 was actually released and what the continued effects of the storm will be.
It is clear that typhoons and hurricanes are natural parts of Earth’s continuing climate change. The Philippine Islands are located in a region where climate change can significantly alter weather and sea levels and thus the impact of such climatic events are experienced with greater severity than most parts of the world.
Animated gifs courtesy of NOAA
This dramatic mosaic showing Saturn and its backlit rings was created from 141 photographs captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft as it passed behind the planet in July, 2013.
Also visible in the highly detailed image are seven of Saturn’s moons, and in the distance, the inner planets Mars, Venus and Earth (see enlarged, labeled version).
Photographs used to create the mosaic were taken over a 4-hour period when the spacecraft was about 1.2 million kilometers (746,000 miles) from Saturn. Since images were captured over a period of time as the moons, planets and stars were in motion, the positioning of objects relative to one another is not accurate.
The core of the outermost E ring lies about 240,000 km (149,000 mi ) from Saturn; the panorama covers a field approximately 652,000 km (405,000 mi) wide.
Although the mosaic appears in natural color, the faintest rings, moons, planets and stars were brightened to enhance visibility. It is only the third photograph of Earth taken from the outer solar system.
Launched in 1997, the Cassini spacecraft and Huygens probe it carried were designed to explore Saturn and its distinctive system of rings and moons. Of particular interest were the moons Titan and Enceladus. Both have atmospheres and exhibit geological activity.
Titan is the second largest moon in the solar system (after Jupiter’s Ganymede) and composed largely of water ice and rocky material. Enceladus, Saturn’s fifth largest moon, has liquid water beneath its icy surface, which it ejects from cryovolcanos or geysers at its southern pole. Ejected water that does not fall back to the moon as “snow” is believed to have formed Saturn’s outer E ring.
In January of 2005, Cassini launched the Huygens probe, which successfully landed on Titan to return a wealth of new information – including the discovery of liquid hydrocarbon lakes at the moon’s polar regions. Having completed its initial mission, Cassini continues to explore the Saturn system and is now on its second extended mission.
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and after Jupiter is the second largest in the solar system. In addition to its distinctive rings composed of ice and rocky debris, Saturn is surrounded by more than 60 moons and countless moonlets.
With a diameter roughly 9 times that of Earth, Saturn is 95 times more massive, yet its density is so low that it would float in water. Saturn’s distance from Earth varies from 1.2 to 1.7 billion km (0.7 to to 1.0 billion mi).
High-resolution images and a detailed description of objects in the image are available from NASA.