Tag Archives: landmark

The Greatest Story Ever Told–So Far – Lawrence M. Krauss


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The Greatest Story Ever Told–So Far – Lawrence M. Krauss

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Blue Mind – Wallace J. Nichols & Céline Cousteau


Blue Mind

The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do

Wallace J. Nichols & Céline Cousteau

Genre: Life Sciences

Price: $3.99

Publish Date: July 22, 2014

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Seller: Hachette Digital, Inc.

A landmark book by marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols on the remarkable effects of water on our health and well-being. Why are we drawn to the ocean each summer? Why does being near water set our minds and bodies at ease? In BLUE MIND, Wallace J. Nichols revolutionizes how we think about these questions, revealing the remarkable truth about the benefits of being in, on, under, or simply near water. Combining cutting-edge neuroscience with compelling personal stories from top athletes, leading scientists, military veterans, and gifted artists, he shows how proximity to water can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety, and increase professional success. BLUE MIND not only illustrates the crucial importance of our connection to water-it provides a paradigm shifting "blueprint" for a better life on this Blue Marble we call home.

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Blue Mind – Wallace J. Nichols & Céline Cousteau

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Environmentalists stand divided on California cap-and-trade.

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Environmentalists stand divided on California cap-and-trade.

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Here’s how no-slaughter meat goes mainstream.

In a new report, Grist 50-er Liz Specht identifies the obstacles that prevent earth-friendly meat from taking over the world. If meat stopped coming from cows and was instead grown in the lab, she argues, it would slash meat production’s environmental footprint.

So, Specht and her colleagues at the Good Food Institute hope to midwife the birth of a new clean-meat industry. To get there, we’d need some crucial innovations. Here’s a taste:

Better bioreactors: Bioreactors are big tanks that slowly stir meat cells until they multiply into something burger sized. They already exist, but we need the a new generation that do a better job at filtering out waste, adding just the right nutrients, and recycling the fluid that the cells grow in.

Scaffolding: If you want nice tender meat, instead of a soup of cells, you need a scaffold — a sort of artificial bone — for meat cells to cling to so they can take shape. People are experimenting with spun fiber, 3D-printed grids, and gels that cue cells to form “the segmented flakiness of a fish filet or the marbling found in a steak.”

Growth fluid: At the moment, meat cells are mostly raised in fluid taken from cattle embryos. But there won’t be enough embryonic fluid if reactor meat replaces the livestock industry. So scientists are working to mass produce fluid that nurture’s developing cells.

For more detail, see the report here.

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Here’s how no-slaughter meat goes mainstream.

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South Korea turns its back on coal and nuclear power.

To compensate, they want to build more natural gas-powered plants and dams. (Well, the first part sounded like a solid plan.)

According to Reuters, by 2030, the country’s current leadership wants coal and nuclear to contribute about 22 percent each to South Korea’s energy mix. Currently, coal and nuclear are responsible for 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively, of the nation’s electricity.

The plan also calls for burning more natural gas — increasing its share from 18 percent to 27 percent of the electricity pie. But South Korea will also rely more on renewables, mainly hydro — upping it from 5 percent of the country’s power to 20 percent.

If they follow through, they’d be walking in America’s footprints. Here, fracking sank the fortunes of nuclear and coal — though President Trump’s entire environmental platform seems to be geared to out-of-work coal miners.

Ironically, South Korea is right now the fourth biggest coal importer and one of the top 3 importers of U.S. coal. So even if Trump breathes new life into that industry, there could be one fewer buyer for its wares.

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South Korea turns its back on coal and nuclear power.

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Donald Trump’s Vision of Pittsburgh is Sooooooo 80s

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by Slate and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Donald Trump officially announced the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change on Thursday, framing the 2015 deal as a kind of global plot to sabotage America.

“The Paris Agreement handicaps the United States economy in order to win praise from the very foreign capitals and global activists that have long sought to gain wealth at our country’s expense,” Trump said. “They don’t put America first. I do, and I always will.”

And if Paris was the symbol of that ideology, the alternative, a nation of miners and pipelines, belching smoke like a charcoal grill, was represented by…Pittsburgh? “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump said.

It was a bad comparison, since citizens of both Pittsburgh and Paris share an interest in averting a minimum projected sea level rise of 2.4 feet by 2100, in the scenario in which the climate accord’s goals aren’t met.

But it was an especially bad comparison because Pittsburgh isn’t the burned-out steel town Trump thinks it is. In fact, it’s a pretty good example of how a city can recover and adapt to changing economic circumstances. Pittsburgh’s doing OK.

Once again, Donald Trump has shown himself a man who has acquired little to no new knowledge since the 1980s. And during the 1980s, Pittsburgh was indeed having a very tough time. The city lost 30 percent of its population between 1970 and 1990; in 1983, unemployment in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area hit 17 percent. Neighboring counties fared even worse. Deindustrialization and globalization slammed the Monongahela Valley. But that was 35 years ago.

Today, Pittsburgh’s biggest employer is the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Its other university, Carnegie Mellon, is home to a world-renowned robotics laboratory. The Golden Triangle is a landmark of downtown renewal. And Homestead, site of the great American labor battle of the 19th century, is a mall.

Before Pittsburgh was the poster child for a midsized, postindustrial city, it was a symbol of the ills of pollution. The soot from the steel mills hung so thick in the air the streetlights had to be on during the day. In 1948, 25 miles south of the city, the town of Donora was enveloped in a thick yellow smog that killed 20 people and sickened half the town. It was the worst air pollution disaster in US history and led to the passage of the Clean Air Act.

There’s no city in America that stands to benefit from climate change, whose enormous costs are and will continue to be borne mostly by the federal government (and hence distributed among us). But as a symbol for withdrawal from a global climate treaty, Pittsburgh is an especially poor choice.

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Donald Trump’s Vision of Pittsburgh is Sooooooo 80s

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EPA cutbacks are real, and they’re here.

In seemingly choreographed lockstep with President Trump’s revelation that the U.S. would exit the Paris Agreement, the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Thursday a buyout program to begin the process of cutting its staffing levels. 

According to an internal memo from Acting Deputy Administrator Mike Flynn (not that Mike Flynn), the EPA’s offer encourages “voluntary separations” that would cause “minimal disruption to the workforce.”

The workforce was plenty disrupted, however, by the budget proffered earlier this year by the Trump administration. It basically suggests taking a blowtorch to the agency — proposing a 31 percent budget cut and the elimination of 3,200 out of the EPA’s 15,000 jobs.

The proposed buyout will cost $12 million, and will first have to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget. The agency hopes to complete the cuts by September.

If approved, the buyouts may be popular. After Trump was elected, some EPA career staff cried, others set up rogue Twitter accounts, some quit, and others just waited anxiously for what would come next. Now we know: The newly arrived EPA honchos are sharpening their knives.

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EPA cutbacks are real, and they’re here.

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Trump Railed Against China While Abandoning Paris. His Views Are Wildly Outdated.

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump announced Wednesday afternoon that the US will abandon the historic Paris climate agreement—promising to “begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States.”

In doing so, Trump characteristically railed against China—labeling it an economic foe and arguing it got the best end of the deal. “They can do whatever they want in 13 years, not us,” he said of China’s emissions plans. Casting the deal as an erosion of US sovereignty, Trump added that “the rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris agreement. They went wild. They were so happy. For the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.”

But here’s the reality: In the Paris agreement, China, for the first time, set a date at which it expects its climate emissions will “peak,” or finally begin to taper downward: around 2030. That goal came about after the US and China finally brokered a landmark bilateral climate deal in 2014 to work together. China has always argued it’s unfair for developed countries—who have already enjoyed the economic growth that comes with spewing carbon into the atmosphere—to curtail the growth of developing countries like China. So getting China to agree to “peaking” emissions was a major diplomatic break-through that turned out to be the secret sauce the world needed to come together in Paris.

The president’s view of China is outdated. Here’s what Trump left out:

China is already ahead of schedule. As we reported in March 2016, Chinese emissions may have actually peaked in 2014, and if those emissions didn’t peak in 2014, researchers say, they definitely will by 2025, years ahead of China’s official 2030 goal. Chinese coal consumption dropped 3.7 percent in 2015, marking two years in a row that coal use in the country declined. That meant 2015 was the first year in 15 years that carbon emissions dropped in China, according to the World Resources Institute.

China is far surpassing the US on investment to create clean energy jobs. In February, China announced that it would spent $361 billion over the next couple of years to create 13 million green jobs, according to the country’s National Energy Administration.

China is winning on clean energy technology. In 2016, a Chinese firm topped a global ranking for wind energy production for the first time, beating America’s General Electric. China leads the world in solar energy production—and has done so for some time. (Go inside one of the world’s biggest solar manufacturing plants with me, here.)

This year China is slated to launch the world’s biggest national carbon trading marketstitching together seven pilot carbon trading markets which have been up and running since 2013.

China overtook the US as the world’s biggest market for electric vehicles in 2015—and has a big plans for expansion. “We are convinced China will become the leading market for electro-mobility,” said Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess at a recent Shanghai car show.

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Trump Railed Against China While Abandoning Paris. His Views Are Wildly Outdated.

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Obama Slams Trump’s Withdrawal From Paris Deal

Mother Jones

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As President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement on Thursday, former president Barack Obama released a statement denouncing the move as one that “rejects the future” and reduces American leadership on the international stage.

He also expressed hope that cities and states would take the lead in the fight against climate change, even without the administration’s support.

“I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack,” Obama said. “But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”

The statement, which was released as Trump was speaking from the White House Rose Garden, was a rare rebuke from the former president, who has largely avoided criticizing his successor.

Trump defended his decision to pull the country out of the historic accord, claiming the treaty was “very unfair to the highest level” to Americans. He said he was “elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Trump’s exit from the Paris accord is his most consequential move so far to undo his predecessor’s legacy in combating global warming. The decision adds the United States to a group of just two countries, Nicaragua and Syria, that have rejected the landmark agreement.

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Obama Slams Trump’s Withdrawal From Paris Deal

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I Talked to a Man on Alabama’s Death Row. The State Plans to Kill Him Tonight.

Mother Jones

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Alabama has been trying to put Thomas Arthur to death for more than 30 years. The 75-year-old inmate, who has consistently maintained his innocence for a 1982 murder, has had three trials and survived seven execution dates since 2001. On Thursday, Alabama will attempt to execute him again.

“I didn’t have anything to do with this,” he tells Mother Jones from the Holman Correctional Facility, where Alabama houses most of those on death row. “I gave ’em hair and spit and everything…and they found nothing.”

I spoke with Arthur the week he is scheduled to die. His lawyers arranged for a 30-minute phone conversation to give him a chance to tell his story, maybe for the last time. He spoke rapidly, stumbling over some sentences in a rich Southern accent that sometimes blurred the clarity of his words. But there was no lack of clarity in his reflections of what it has been like to be one of the first inmates sent to death row in Alabama—after the practice was reinstated after a 1976 landmark Supreme Court ruling—and to live there for 34 years.

During that time, his health has deteriorated, and he has stood by while 58 other inmates were executed. Holman, like many of Alabama’s prisons, became overcrowded and crumbling and was the scene of a riot in 2016. He has watched the methods of execution change, from the electric chair to midazolam, a controversial drug that will be used on him, despite efforts his lawyers have made to convince the courts that given his heart condition, the drug might not be effective and would likely cause undue suffering. He has also had a lengthy education in the criminal justice system from three different trials and the seven times he believed he would die, only to have his execution postponed. At this point, Arthur still hopes for DNA evidence to prove his innocence. “If they just let my lawyers in a courtroom,” he says, “we wouldn’t be at this juncture.”

Arthur’s journey to death row began on February 1, 1982, when Troy Wicker was shot and killed in his bed in the northwest Alabama city of Muscle Shoals. On the day of the murder, his wife, Judy Wicker, told police that she came home after taking her children to school to find a black man in her home. She claimed that the intruder raped her, knocked her unconscious, and shot her husband. Police found bullets but no murder weapon. Wicker went to the hospital and her rape kit was subsequently lost.

Judy was a suburban mom and Arthur was a convicted criminal—he was serving time for having shot and killed his common-law wife’s sister in 1977. “When I took her life, alcohol was a factor,” he says. “I shouldn’t have shot that girl.” Arthur had been given a life sentence, but after just four years he was participating in a prison work-release program, where an inmate is let out of the prison facility during the day for employment and trusted to return to prison in the evening. That’s when Judy Wicker and Thomas Arthur began having an affair.

Police didn’t find Wicker’s description of the circumstances of her husband’s death credible and charged her with murder-for-hire. They also arrested Arthur and charged him with aggravated murder. At her 1982 trial, where Wicker testified that Arthur was not involved in the murder, she was given a life sentence. At a separate 1983 trial, prosecutors argued Arthur shot and killed Wicker for $10,000—part of the life insurance Wicker received upon her husband’s death. Despite his incriminating record, Arthur insisted he had nothing to do with this crime. Nonetheless, he was convicted, sentenced to death, and taken to Holman Correctional facility.

The Holman Correctional Facility is nearly 50 years old and located in rural Escambia County. On death row, the cells are tiny. “We’re, like, sandwiched in here,” Arthur says. “I live in a cell you can’t put a baboon in.” A heart condition prevents him from exercising or spending time in the yard like other death row inmates do. “I’m in here 24 hours a day. Been like that for 10 years.” He spends most of his days watching the news and daytime soap operas—Days of our Lives, for instance, and the Young and the Restless—on the TV that his lawyers bought for him in 2003. In its last session, the Alabama Legislature took up a bill to build up to four new state prisons by borrowing up to $800 million. “We got toilet water running down the walls all over death row,” Arthur claims. “They want to spend $800 million for new prisons when they could spend $200 million to fix the ones they already have!” he says incredulously.

Arthur was granted a retrial after his first conviction was overturned because details of his previous murder conviction were introduced in the trial. In 1986, while awaiting retrial, Arthur was held in a county jail. He escaped after shooting a jail official in the neck, but the guard survived. Arthur got as far as Knoxville, Tennessee, where FBI agents found him a month later after he robbed a bank. The following year, he was convicted and sentenced to death again.

His second conviction was overturned on appeal because in 1982 Arthur was interviewed by an investigator without an attorney present. He was granted yet another trial. According to Amnesty International, an international human rights organization that is against the death penalty, it was then that the prosecutor asked the state’s parole board if Judy Wicker could get an early release if she testified against Arthur. At the 1991 retrial, Wicker changed her story, implicating Arthur in the murder. She was paroled a year later, after serving just 10 years in prison.

In Furman v. Georgia, in 1972, the US Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that capital punishment was unconstitutional, halting executions nationwide. Four years later, the high court reversed course in Gregg v. Georgia and ruled that the death penalty was not cruel and unusual punishment.

The first time Alabama tried to put Arthur to death was in 2001, but he received a stay two days before the scheduled execution date so federal courts could hear challenges concerning the fact that he had no representation when his first execution date was set. This began a period of execution dates and stays of execution. After several legal challenges were dismissed, Alabama set another execution date for Arthur in September 2007. Once more he prepared himself to be executed, but he was spared when the state itself requested a 45-day reprieve in order to change its drug protocol for lethal injections. Around this time, various inmates had challenged lethal injection protocols in their states. A few months later, in December 2007, Arthur received another stay from the US Supreme Court because it was considering a challenge in Kentucky over a very similar lethal injection protocol. His fourth execution date was planned for 2008.

Then an inmate, Bobby Ray Gilbert, at another Alabama prison, confessed to the crime. Arthur filed a petition claiming innocence, and the execution was stayed so the court could hold a limited hearing. No physical evidence linked Gilbert to the crime, and the court concluded Gilbert was lying to protect Arthur. Prosecutors have long held that Troy Wicker’s killer wore a wig, but none of Arthur’s DNA was on that wig or on the clothes Judy Wicker wore on the day of the murder. “I am totally innocent,” Arthur insists. “And DNA could prove it.”

Until 2002, Alabama used the electric chair to execute inmates. “You could smell them,” Arthur says about the inmates being executed. “You could actually smell the flesh burning.” His next two scheduled executions in 2012 and 2015 were stayed because of Arthur’s challenges to the state’s drug protocol, which included the sedative, pentobarbital. But then came the introduction of the controversial sedative midazolam for executions. After multiple states faced a shortage of lethal injection drugs, Alabama began using midazolam early last year with the execution of Christopher Brooks in January. Nearly a year later, in December 2016, the state executed Ronald Bert Smith Jr. After administering the drug, Smith reportedly struggled for breath, coughed, heaved and clenched his left fist for 13 minutes.

Arthur’s seventh execution date was scheduled for November 3, 2016. His case claiming the lethal injection protocol used by the state could cause excruciating pain was dismissed by the federal court. Despite the widespread acceptance that lethal injection is humane, there is no scientific research to prove it.

Under the 2015 Supreme Court case Glossip v. Gross, the usage of midazolam does not violate the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment and rules that states must have a ready and available alternative if one form of execution falls into that category. In his appeal, Arthur proposed the use of firing squad. The court dismissed his case, saying that since Alabama law does not expressly allow firing squads, it was not a viable alternative.

That night, the Supreme Court granted a stay pending a review of his claims. But in February, it declined to hear his appeal. In an 18-page dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the use of midazolam could lead to “prolonged torture” of inmates. “Condemned prisoners, like Arthur, might find more dignity in an instantaneous death,” she wrote, “rather than prolonged torture on a medical gurney.”

In April, Arthur’s lawyers wrote to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in hopes of getting further DNA testing. His counsel noted that more advanced technology was available and they would assume the costs of the test. Ivey turned down their request. A few weeks later, Arthur sent a handwritten note asking Ivey to spare his life. “Please do not let me die for a crime I did not commit,” he wrote.

The decades of confinement have taken a toll on him. “One time I was a halfway decent looking fellow,” he says with a laugh. “Now, I look like I’ve been hit by a truck.”

And now, as he faces his next and likely final execution date, Arthur says ruefully, “I laugh to keep from crying.” But he is troubled about the life he lost, how his four children never truly had a father, and how much he regrets not being there for them. “I want to publicly apologize in case they do kill me,” he says. “I want the public to know that I failed them as a father.” He also has no interest in the usual formalities accompanying executions in America. “I’m not going to the eat the last meal, which would come at taxpayer expense,” he says.

What is it like to face death so many times? “It’s the same thing every time,” he says with a sigh. “Everyone has a fear of dying…but the state of Alabama is going to—and I don’t use this word lightly—murder me for something I didn’t do.”

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I Talked to a Man on Alabama’s Death Row. The State Plans to Kill Him Tonight.

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