As heroin epidemic rages, Hep C cases soar - cincinnati.com - Hepatitis C infections soared in 2015 in Hamilton County, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky with more than 1,000 new cases reported. The region now has nearly 4,000 cases of hepatitis C, which is costly to treat and can be deadly if untreated. What's worse, the spread of hepatitis C – a direct impact of the raging heroin epidemic – shows no sign of stopping, public health officials say.  Its spread also raises the specter of the potential for an HIV outbreak, since the bloodborne illnesses are typically spread the same ways. Between the five counties and Cincinnati, the local areas together saw a 43 percent jump over 2014 for a disease often associated with intravenous drug use.   Roughly a quarter of those infected with hepatitis C will recover. But at least 75 percent will develop chronic hepatitis C, which can lead to severe liver damage, liver cancer, liver failure and death. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 3.5 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. Approximately 15,000 people die every year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. One course of hepatitis C medication costs $80,000, according to the Northern Kentucky Health Department. To provide an idea of costs the public pays through Medicaid for hepatitis C treatment, the health department provided this example: In 2014, Kentucky's Medicaid program spent more than $50 million to treat just 800 of the people infected with hepatitis C in the commonwealth. Northern Kentucky had been struggling with one of the nation's highest rates of hepatitis C even before its 2015 count of newly diagnosed cases. The region tallied 1,132 such cases, up from 891, or a 27 percent jump from 2014, health records show.

Urging Openness About Superbug Infections, Doctor Omits Cases In Own Hospital | Kaiser Health News: As superbug outbreaks raised alarm across the country last year, a prominent doctor at a Philadelphia cancer center wrote in a leading medical journal about how to reduce the risk of these often-deadly patient infections. Dr. Jeffrey Tokar, director of gastrointestinal endoscopy at Fox Chase Cancer Center, pointed to recent outbreaks from contaminated medical scopes and discussed steps doctors and hospitals should take to ensure patient safety his Sept. 22 article in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  “Health care facilities and providers should strive to establish an environment of open information exchange with patients about what is being done to maximize their safety,” Tokar and his two co-authors wrote. What Tokar didn’t mention was that a tainted device at his own cancer center may have infected three patients with drug-resistant bacteria. In accordance with federal rules, the hospital reported the possibility to the manufacturer, Fujifilm, in May 2015, and the manufacturer filed the information with U.S. regulators. But the public was none the wiser. The information only came to light last month when a U.S. Senate committee unveiled the results of a yearlong investigation into scope-related infections that sickened nearly 200 patients across the country from 2012 to 2015, including those potential cases at Fox Chase in Philadelphia.

The growing life-expectancy gap between rich and poor - Brookings --There's nothing particularly mysterious about the life expectancy gap. People in ill health, who are at risk of dying relatively young, face limits on the kind and amount of work they can do. By contrast, the rich can afford to live in better and safer neighborhoods, can eat more nutritious diets and can obtain access to first-rate healthcare. People who have higher incomes, moreover, tend to have more schooling, which means they may also have better information about the benefits of exercise and good diet. Although none of the above should come as a surprise, it's still disturbing that, just as income inequality is growing, so is life-span inequality. Over the last three decades, Americans with a high perch in the income distribution have enjoyed outsized gains. Using two large-scale surveys, my Brookings colleagues and I calculated the average mid-career earnings of each interviewed family; then we estimated the statistical relationship between respondents' age at death and their incomes when they were in their 40s. We found a startling spreading out of mortality differences between older people at the top and bottom of the income distribution. For example, we estimated that a woman who turned 50 in 1970 and whose mid-career income placed her in the bottom one-tenth of earners had a life expectancy of about 80.4. A woman born in the same year but with income in the top tenth of earners had a life expectancy of 84.1. The gap in life expectancy was about 3½ years. For women who reached age 50 two decades later, in 1990, we found no improvement at all in the life expectancy of low earners. Among women in the top tenth of earners, however, life expectancy rose 6.4 years, from 84.1 to 90.5. In those two decades, the gap in life expectancy between women in the bottom tenth and the top tenth of earners increased from a little over 3½ years to more than 10 years. Our findings for men were similar. The gap in life expectancy between men in the bottom tenth and top tenth of the income distribution increased from 5 years to 12 years over the same two decades.

Israeli Researchers Find Mobile Phones Cause Male Fertility Problems -- Men who carry their mobile phone in a trouser pocket or talk on it for just an hour a day risk suffering with fertility problems, scientists warn. Research shows that sperm count can also be reduced by talking on a phone that is charging, or even keeping it close by on a bedside table at night. The quality of sperm among men in Western countries is steadily decreasing, and is considered the factor in 40 per cent of cases in which couples have difficulty conceiving a child. Heat and electromagnetic activity which emanate from a mobile phone are thought to be ‘cook’ sperm, causing them to die. The findings have led to a leading British fertility expert to warn men about the risks of being ‘addicted’ to mobile phones. Israeli scientists monitored 106 men attending a fertility clinic for a year. The study revealed that men who chatted on the phone for more than an hour daily were twice as likely to have low sperm quality as those who spoke for less than an hour, while those who talked on the phone as it charged were almost twice as likely to suffer problems. It also found that 47 per cent of men who kept their phones within 20 inches of their groin had sperm levels that were seriously affected, compared with just 11 per cent of the general population. The findings, published in Reproductive BioMedicine, support a long-feared link between dropping male fertility rates and the prevalence of mobile phones.

Organic Panty Liners Pulled From Shelves After Traces of Glyphosate Found - The French consumer rights group 60 Million Consumers has released a report warning women that a number of feminine care products such as tampons, sanitary napkins and panty liners may contain trace amounts of potentially toxic substances such as pesticides, dioxins and glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto‘s Roundup weedkiller that has been linked to cancer. The report, published Tuesday in the group’s magazine, said that glyphosate was detected in five of 11 feminine hygiene products they tested, according to The Guardian. Popular brands such as O.B., Tampax, Always and the European brand Nett were faulted in the report. A “surprising” discovery, as the report noted, was the detection of pesticides and insecticides in Always sanitary napkins even though they are made of viscose and cellulose, not cotton. Small amounts of glyphosate were also found in panty liners sold by the brand Organyc, which touts only using organic cotton. Although the traces of chemicals were small, this does not completely reassure the consumer group, which is demanding these brands shed light on the composition and manufacturing process of their products.“It’s not because the rates are low we can guarantee zero risk,”

Johnson & Johnson to Pay $72 Million in Lawsuit Linking Talcum Powder to Ovarian Cancer  --  On Monday, Johnson & Johnson lost a case brought against them by a woman who claimed that her daily use of Johnson & Johnson products caused ovarian cancer. Jacqueline Fox, who lived in Birmingham, Alabama, said that she used the company’s talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products for more than 35 years. Unfortunately, the Johnson & Johnson-caused cancer took Fox’s life before the ruling on her case could be given. Johnson & Johnson has been ordered by a Missouri state jury to pay a hefty $72 million fine for damages to the family of the woman, but is that enough for the company that knowingly exposed generations of Americans to a dangerous product?  Several studies have been conducted which link talc powder to ovarian cancer and talc is a common ingredient in many Johnson & Johnson products. In 23 case-controlled studies conducted by the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer in May of 2015 found that talc use increased the risk of ovarian cancer by 30-60 percent in “almost all well-designed studies.” While studies had been previously unable to determine whether talc played a role in ovarian cancer, International Journal of Gynecological Cancer concluded that their results “suggest that talc use causes ovarian cancer.” Several other recent studies, including one conducted by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, confirmed those same results.

Wal-Mart, Kraft Sued Over Selling Parmesan Cheese With Wood Pulp Filler -- Wal-Mart‘s “Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” is at the center of new litigation that accuses the brand of, well, not being 100 percent cheese. Tests shows that the big box retailer’s cheese contained as much as 10 percent cellulose, a wood-based additive that prevents clumping in pre-shredded cheese according to a complaint filed yesterday in Manhattan federal court, Bloomberg reported.  The lawsuit—Moschetta v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.—was filed at the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York on behalf of customer Marc Moschetta. He claims that the 100 percent representation of the Wal-Mart’s cheese “was false and mis-characterized the amount and percentage of Parmesan cheese in the container.”  Cellulose has been called “wood pulp” because it is extracted from ground-up wood. The additive is OK’d by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for consumption and is actually pretty standard in many shredded cheese varieties and other foodstuffs such as ice cream, puffed snack foods, baked goods and more.

What's in your food? Nobody really knows | Center for Public Integrity -- Why doesn’t government know what’s in your food? Because industry can declare on their own that added ingredients are safe. It’s all thanks to a loophole in a 57-year old law that allows food manufacturers to circumvent the approval process by regulators. This means companies can add substances to food without ever consulting the Food and Drug Administration about potential health risks. Read the investigation. So how do new ingredients get from the lab to your dinner table? When companies create new food additives – to improve their product’s texture, taste, appearance, or to extend their shelf life – they have two choices: The “Food Additive Highway” is a gridlocked route marked by government potholes. Traffic here is policed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - the federal agency that regulates 80 percent of the nation’s food supply. Companies traveling this path must submit their food additives to extensive review. Then the FDA may issue its formal approval. This journey can take years -- even decades -- to complete. So it’s no surprise that companies often take an alternative route. This road is paved by a legal loophole that hinges on what counts as a “food additive.” Changes to the law in the fifties created this two-lane system where anything “Generally Recognized As Safe,” or GRAS, travels down a much smoother road to market. These “GRAS” ingredients are not considered food additives and effectively get a pass to the fast lane. This “GRAS” clause means companies can determine on their own that what they’re adding to our food is safe. Then it’s up to the company to inform the FDA if they want to. That’s right. Companies have no legal obligation to tell the FDA what they’re putting in our food.

Under Pressure the FDA Says It Will Test for Glyphosate Residues In Food  The FDA is required by law to test and regulate food additives. As part of the product design and intended use of herbicide tolerant GMOs such as the Roundup Ready system, pesticide residues such as those of glyphosate suffuse the cells of the crops including any eventual food products. These are food additives according to any reasonable definition. The same is true of the insecticidal endotoxins in Bt crops. The FDA has directly flouted the law in refusing to regulate these highly toxic additives or even to require their listing among the ingredients of food. One reason why the FDA has refused to test glyphosate residues is to help give it the pretext of ignorance. A surprisingly common excuse among regulators is to say in effect, “We can’t do anything, because we don’t have any information, because we refuse to test for that information (and reject it when others test for it and offer it to us).” Listen to what the likes of the FDA and EPA say and you’ll come across it frequently. So it is with glyphosate levels in food. But as the political pressure mounts against regulator dereliction and collaboration where it comes to pesticides, glyphosate especially, we see regulators scrambling to make weak or sham concessions. Wherever direct defiance is looking politically ineffective, the goal becomes delay at all costs. So it is with the FDA’s announcement that it will start testing glyphosate levels in food, forced in part by strong criticism from GAO auditors. The FDA’s lack of willingness is clear, given how it calls the matter “sensitive” and only now admits that such testing won’t break the bank.  Although in theory the FDA and USDA split the duty of testing for pesticide residues in food, with USDA testing meat and dairy, FDA fruits and vegetables, in practice neither tests for glyphosate precisely because it’s likely the most prevalent poison in the food, and is certainly the most commonly used in agriculture.

FDA Officially Belongs to Big Pharma With Senate Confirmation of Dr. Robert Califf  -- It is hard to believe only four senators opposed the confirmation of Robert Califf, who was approved Wednesday as the next Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner. Vocal opponent Bernie Sanders condemned the vote from the campaign trail. But where was Dick Durbin? Where were all the lawmakers who say they care about industry and Wall Street profiteers making money at the expense of public health? Califf, chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke University until recently, received money from 23 drug companies including the giants like Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Merck, Schering Plough and GSK according to a disclosure statement on the website of Duke Clinical Research Institute. Not merely receiving research funds, Califf also served as a high level Pharma officer, say press reports. Medscape, the medical website, discloses that Califf “served as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for Genentech.” Portola Pharmaceuticals says Califf served on its board of directors until leaving for the FDA. In disclosure information for a 2013 article in Circulation, Califf also lists financial links to Gambro, Regeneron, Gilead, AstraZeneca, Roche and other companies and equity positions in four medical companies. Gilead is the maker of the $1000-a-pill hepatitis C drug AlterNet recently wrote about. This is FDA commissioner material? Califf has gone on record that collaboration between industry and regulators is a good thing. He told NPR, “Many of us consult with the pharmaceutical industry, which I think is a very good thing. They need ideas and then the decision about what they do is really up to the person who is funding the study.”

Assessing the cumulative risk of pesticides on people: The cumulative risks from exposure to pesticides on people is often discussed, but there is limited information. Now a new European study will consider the impact on the thyroid and nervous systems. The study has been commissioned by the European Food Safety Authority and the objective, when the findings are published early in 2017, will consider the effect on people of long-term exposure to pesticides.  The study will take into account 100 different substances found in a range of common pesticides. These are listed in the European Food Safety Authority Panel on Plant Protection Products and their Residues. The statistical tool used in based on Monte Carlo Risk Assessment and a special database is being generated so that data from member states can be captured. A key focus will be with running mathematical and experimental approaches that allow assessment of the links between the effects of pesticides in individuals and ecological changes in regions where intensive farming is practiced. There will also be an assessment of pesticide residues on food.   Once the report has been published, irrespective of the outcome, the European agency intends to have an annual risk assessment in place that will report on the chronic and acute risks that pesticides pose to consumers. If the outcome requires changes to the maximum residue levels of pesticides in food, this will take the form of a recommendation to the European Commission.

DARK Act Is Back With New Bill in the Senate  - Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has released a draft bill that can best be described as the Denying Americans the Right to Know ((DARK) Act. The bill would prevent states from requiring labeling of genetically engineered (GMO) foods and stop pending state laws that require labeling from going into effect.  We urge senators to oppose this bill that will ensure that big food processing companies and the biotechnology industry continue to profit by misleading consumers or any version that would result in anything less than mandatory on-package labeling.  The vast majority of the public wants to know if the food they buy contains GMO ingredients. It’s time for Congress to create a mandatory on-package labeling requirement so people can decide for themselves whether they want to eat a food that has been produced using genetic engineering. Instead, Sen. Roberts’s bill would strip away the power of the states to protect the public’s right to know what is in their food.We urge senators not to support this bill. The majority of Americans support labeling for GMOs and will hold their elected officials accountable if they vote to strip away transparency about how their food is produced.

What if They Pass the DARK Act?  What would the preemption of labeling mean in itself? Labeling is not sufficient, and is conceptually flawed if envisioned as a worthwhile goal in itself. It implies the continuation of industrial agriculture and food commodification, and globalization as such. It merely seeks Better Consumerism within that framework. If people saw labeling as a temporary measure within the framework of an ongoing movement to abolish industrial agriculture and build Food Sovereignty, that would be good. If people saw the campaign for labeling as primarily a movement-building action, an occasion for public education, for democratic participation in a grassroots action, and to help build a permanent grassroots organization, that would be good. But labeling never could be a panacea. Especially the claim that we can expect miracles from it: Labeling = the end of Monsanto. This is highly doubtful. GMO labeling only indirectly tells us some things about the pesticide content, which is a far worse crisis. I think the most meaningful labeling campaign would have to fight for pesticide residues to be labeled/listed among the ingredients, since by any objective measure they’re intentionally inserted food additives. Also, just because a labeling initiative or law is passed doesn’t mean it will be enforced with any alacrity. It’s still the same old pro-Monsanto government which would be in charge of enforcement. That’s why getting an initiative or law passed would be just the first and easiest step. Then the real work of vigilance, forcing the enforcers to follow through, would begin. That, too, was a reason why the campaign needs to be, even more than just an intrinsic campaign, the building ground of a permanent grassroots organization.

Epic Drought and Food Crisis Prompts South Africa to Ease Restrictions on GMOs -  In the face of a food crisis and a devastating drought, South Africa is planning to relax its rigid laws over genetically modified (GMO) crops and boost imports of its staple food, maize, from the U.S. and Mexico, government officials told Reuters.Government officials said that South Africa needs to import about 1.2m tonnes of white maize and 2.6m tonnes of yellow maize from the U.S. and Mexico.Despite being the world’s eighth largest producer of GMO crops, South Africa has very strict regulations over GMOs. The nation requires that GMO food carry a label, strains entering the country must be government-approved and imported GMO crops are not allowed to be stored. Instead, the crops must be transported immediately from ports to mills.  Makenosi Maroo, spokeswoman at the Department of Agriculture, told Reuters that the country is planning to allow importers to temporarily store consignments of GMO maize at pre-designated facilities, to allow much bigger import volumes.“In anticipation of the volumes expected to be imported into South Africa, the (GMO) Executive Council has approved the adjustment of a permit condition which relates to the handling requirement,” Maroo told the news agency. “There is therefore no intention to relax safety assessment or risk management procedures prescribed.”Since U.S. crops contain a significantly higher amount of genetically modified strains, South African ports could reject suspect shipments even if the import is slightly contaminated.The country has a “zero tolerance” policy for unapproved GMOs and only allows the cultivation of certain strains of white maize, yellow maize, soy and cotton. GMO fruit or vegetables are not allowed on the market.

Many Of The World’s Pollinators Are Facing Extinction, Report Warns - Bees and other pollinators are in trouble — so much so that many of them are facing extinction, according to a new report. The report, released Friday by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), is a two-year assessment of the threats facing pollinators — both vertebrates, such as birds and bats, and invertebrates, such as bees, butterflies, and other insects. It noted that, in some regions, 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species are so threatened by myriad environmental impacts that they’re facing extinction, with butterflies and bees seeing the highest risk. Among vertebrates, 16.5 percent of species are threatened by extinction worldwide. Pollinators are a major group: there are 20,000 species of wild bees across the globe, the report notes, and many of them haven’t been identified yet. Pollinators are also a hugely important group of animals. Almost 90 percent of wild flowering plants depend on pollination by animals, and 75 percent of food crops around the world depend on pollination. Globally, $235 – $577 billion worth of global crops are affected by pollinators each year, the report found. “Without pollinators, many of us would no longer be able to enjoy coffee, chocolate and apples, among many other foods that are part of our daily lives,” said Simon Potts, co-chair of the assessment, said in a statement.

Women infected with Zika should continue to breastfeed: WHO: Women infected with the mosquito-borne Zika virus should continue to breastfeed their babies as there is currently no proof of a risk of transmission, the World Health Organization said Thursday. "In light of available evidence, the benefits of breastfeeding for the infant and mother outweigh any potential risk of Zika virus transmission through breast milk." the WHO said in interim recommendations to authorities in countries affected by the outbreak. The WHO noted that the Zika virus had been detected in the breast milk of two infected mothers, but added "there are currently no documented reports of Zika virus being transmitted to infants through breastfeeding." "A systematic review of evidence will be conducted in March 2016 to revise and update these recommendations," it added. Cases of active Zika transmission have been reported in 28 countries and territories in the Americas and Caribbean, with 1.5 million in Brazil, the hardest-hit country. In nearly all Zika cases, symptoms are mild, resembling those of flu. However, the growing belief that Zika can also trigger microcephaly in babies born to mothers infected while pregnant has spread international alarm. Microcephaly is a congenital condition that causes abnormally small heads and hampers brain development. There is currently no cure or vaccine against the Zika virus.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef (GBR), the world's largest coral bank, is at greater risk than previously thought of dissolving as climate change renders the oceans more acidic, researchers said Tuesday. A decline in aragonite -- the mineral that corals use to build their skeletons -- is likely to accelerate, they found, as oceans absorb carbon dioxide spewed by mankind's burning of fossil fuels. This disturbs ocean chemistry, leading to a drop in the pH level and less aragonite, a crystal form of calcium carbonate. Without this life-sustaining mineral, corals cannot rebuild their skeletons and will disintegrate over time. For the study published in Nature Communications, scientists from Australia and Saudi Arabia created a new model for estimating the level of aragonite saturation -- an indicator of future coral deposits -- at more than 3,000 separate reefs within the larger GBR. Physical measurement of aragonite at each individual reef on the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) structure is an impossible feat. The team used a model of ocean circulation and water chemistry, as well as data from direct observations. They were able to pick up regional differences not observed in previous assessments. Putting it all together, the team estimated that future decline in aragonite saturation "is likely to be steeper on the GBR than currently projected" by the UN's top climate science body, the IPCC. This suggested that even if CO2 emissions are significantly reduced, as countries have pledged to do, it may be too late to prevent "potential losses in coral cover, ecosystem biodiversity and resilience."

Florida Officials Drain Lake Full Of ‘Toilet’ Water To Coast -- Lake Okeechobee, a large inland lake in southern Florida, is experiencing its highest water levels in nearly a century due to heavy rains that fell during the month of January.   But after water levels reached a foot above normal, public officials began to worry that the excess water was putting too much stress on the lake’s aging dike. Officials then made the decision to drain the lake out toward Florida’s coasts. There was one problem: Lake Okeechobee’s waters are toxic.  Local industry has long been using Okeechobee’s waters as a dumping ground for an assortment of chemicals, fertilizers, and cattle manure. David Guest, managing attorney of the Florida branch of the environmental law group Earthjustice, called the lake a “toilet.” While the pollution was once confined to the lake, it now flows toward Florida’s coastal communities via local rivers. The water, which is flowing out of the lake at 70,000 gallons per second, will soon pollute the ocean waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. This pollution has immediate consequences for southern Florida’s environment and economy. The untreated water contains toxic chemicals and fertilizers that are harmful to local flora and fauna, and the fertilizers and chemicals found in the water are known to cause algal blooms, which are known to poison shellfish and make life difficult for the marine food chain. Dawn Shirreffs, a senior policy adviser at the Everglades Foundation, told ThinkProgress that there have been reports of dead fish being found along the coastline. This is especially concerning since many species will migrate to Florida to seek comfortable water temperatures this time of year.

Congress Takes Up Bundy Copycat Bills To Dispose Of America’s National Forests -  Less than two weeks after the arrest of Cliven Bundy and the armed militants who were occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, the U.S. House of Representatives will consider three bills that would dispose of vast stretches of national forests and other public lands across the country. The bills, which will be heard in a meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, represent an escalation of the political battle being waged by the Koch brothers’ political network, anti-government extremist groups, and a small group of conservative politicians led by the committee’s chairman, U.S. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT). The first bill, introduced by Representative Don Young from Alaska (R), would allow any state to seize control and ownership of up to 2 million acres of national forests within its borders — an area nearly the size of Yellowstone National Park. A state would then be able to auction off the lands to private ownership or for mining, logging, and drilling. The second bill, written by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), would give states and counties the right to take direct control of up to 4 million acres of national forests across the country for clear-cut logging, without regard to environmental laws and protections. A third bill, written by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), would turn over what the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance estimates to be 6,000 miles of road right-of-ways on U.S. public lands to counties in Utah, opening the door for road construction and development in protected wilderness areas.  These legislative efforts echo the demands of militant rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons, Ryan and Ammon, that the federal government cede ownership of all national forests and public lands to state, county, and private interests. A federal grand jury in Las Vegas last week indicted the Bundys on conspiracy charges for leading armed standoffs with federal law enforcement officials in 2014 and in Oregon earlier this year. Although Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Governor John Kasich (R-OH) are making Bundy-inspired pitches on the presidential campaign trail, their proposals to seize or sell public lands are deeply unpopular among most Westerners. Recent public opinion research from Colorado College found that approximately six in 10 voters in the region — including a majority in Nevada — are opposed to the idea.

House Republicans seek to open up national forests to mining and logging - Congress is to consider two bills that would allow states to hand over vast tracts of federal land for mining, logging or other commercial activities – just weeks after the arrest of an armed militia that took over a wildlife refuge in Oregon in protest at federal oversight of public land.  The legislation, which will be presented to the House committee on natural resources on Thursday, would loosen federal authority over parts of the 600m acres (240m hectares), nearly one-third of the land mass of the US, it administers. A bill put forward by Republican Don Young would allow any state to assume control of up to 2m acres of the national forest system to be “managed primarily for timber production” in order to address what Young claims is a decline in national logging rates. A further bill, written by Republican Raúl Labrador, would allow state governors to assign up to 4m acres of land as “forest demonstration areas”, which would allow logging free from any federal water, air or endangered species restrictions. The bills, which will be heard by a Republican-dominated committee, come just two weeks after the dramatic end to the armed militia occupation of the Malheur national wildlife refuge in Oregon. The 41-day occupation, which resulted in the fatal shooting of the militia’s spokesman before the arrest of the rest of the group, was sparked by the group’s anger at federal land use regulations.

U.S. House of Representatives Approves Bill Slashing Wildlife Protections - In a partisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives today passed the so-called “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act” that would end federal protection for gray wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes. The bill includes a grab bag of additional special-interest provisions that primarily benefit the livestock industry, National Rifle Association and those who peddle elephant ivory. More than 60 conservation organizations signed an open letter opposing the Sportsmen’s Act. “There’s nothing sporting about wolf slaughter, elephant poaching or lead poisoning,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In the Sportsmen’s Bill, House Republicans have once again ignored science and protected special interests instead of wildlife.” One of the many bad provisions of the bill not only strips protection from wolves but forbids court challenges. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally stripped federal protections from gray wolves in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota in 2011 and in Wyoming in 2012. Federal judges overturned both decisions for failing to follow the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, failing to follow the best available science and for prematurely turning management over to state fish and game agencies that are openly hostile to wolves. A provision in today’s bill would preempt those court decisions, stop the current appeal process, and permanently end federal protections for gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes.A separate provision of the Sportsmen’s Act would stop a proposed regulation from the Fish and Wildlife Service designed to curtail the ivory trade inside the United States, which is the second-largest market in the world for ivory, after China. Elephant populations across Africa have plummeted due to the ongoing poaching epidemic, with forest elephants declining by 60 percent over the last decade.

Thirteen Bald Eagles Mysteriously Drop Dead in Heavy-Handed Symbolic Performance - In what seems to be a bit of politically pointed commentary on the sad state of American politics, thirteen bald eagles unexpectedly fell from the sky to their deaths on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Frankly, the whole thing feels a little stale to me—I liked it better when Robert Rauschenberg did it 60 years ago and it was called Canyon. According to WBAL reporter George Lettis, a farmer in Federalsburg discovered the bunch of dead birds on his property over the weekend, and the Maryland Natural Resources police believe they may have been poisoned. Police are offering a $10,000 reward for information about the kill.

El Nino-Linked Drought Is Ethiopia's Worst in 50 Years - More than 10 million (10,000,000) people are in need of food aid in Ethiopia amid a drought worse than the one that triggered the haunting 1984 famine, the U.N. has warned. Crops have withered, animals have died and water sources have dried up in parts of northeastern Ethiopia following the failure of the last two rainy seasons. More than 400,000 children are now at risk of acute malnutrition, according to the U.N. "It is the worst drought as compared to the last 50 years," says Mikitu Kassa, the head of Ethiopia's National Disaster Prevention Committee. In 1984, images of emaciated children were beamed around the world inspiring international donors to reach into their pockets as celebrity musicians trumpeted the call through Live Aid concerts and charity singles including "We Are the World" and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" This year's crisis has been blamed on the massive El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean. The same pattern that has brought extreme wet weather and snowstorms to the United States has delivered blistering heat to much of Africa. However, while the drought might be worse, the country itself is in better shape — this is not the Ethiopia of 1984. Strong economic growth, spurned by development-minded leaders and an influx of foreign aid has better equipped the country to confront the crisis.   But the money only goes so far. The U.N. says $1.4 billion is needed in total humanitarian assistance to support stressed populations in Ethiopia, and has received about half that amount. Aid agencies warn that without emergency funding, existing food stocks could run out by the end of April.

January 2016: Earth still on a hot streak | NOAA -- The planet has been on a hot streak recently. NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information reported earlier today that January 2016 became the ninth month in a row to set a new record-warmest monthly temperature. According to the report: A strong El Niño that evolved in 2015 continued to impact global weather and temperatures at the beginning of 2016. The January 2016 globally averaged temperature across land and ocean surfaces was 1.04°C (1.87°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F), the highest for January in the 137-year period of record, breaking the previous record of 2007 by 0.16°C (0.29°F).  January 2016 also marks the ninth consecutive month that the monthly temperature record has been broken and the 14th consecutive month (since December 2014) that the monthly global temperature ranked among the three warmest for its respective month.The image at right shows how the January 2016 average surface temperature around the planet compared to the rest of the historical record, which dates back to 1880. Most of the tropics was either “much warmer than average” or “record warmest,” including the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans and parts of all major tropical landmasses from South America to Indonesia. The warmth was especially intense in Africa south of the Sahara, where Namibia, Angola, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (labeled DRC on the map), Tanzania, and parts of surrounding countries experienced their record warmest January according to the map.  The graph beneath the map shows how each January since 1880 compared to the twentieth century average temperature, with blue bars showing cooler than average years and red bars showing warmer than average years.  Earth hasn’t had a cooler than average January since 1976.

El Niño has passed peak strength but impacts will continue, UN warns -- The El Niño that caused record temperatures, drought and floods over the last year has passed its peak strength but will continue to have humanitarian impacts for months to come, the UN has said. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said the event, which plays havoc with weather systems around the world, was still strong and its impacts on communities in southern Africa, the Horn of Africa and Central America were becoming increasingly apparent. El Niño is a global climate phenomenon that occurs every few years when a huge warm patch of water forms in the western tropical Pacific Ocean, affecting rainfall from the the western US and South America to Africa, India, Indonesia, and Australia. The UN World Food programme warned earlier this week that 100 million people were facing food and water shortages as a result of the El Niño. The WMO said that although the current episode was closely comparable in strength with the record event of 1997-98, it was too early to say whether the 2015-16 El Niño was the strongest ever. The agency’s confirmation that the peak has passed follows similar recent announcements by national science agencies. The WMO’s new secretary general, Petteri Taalas, said: “In meteorological terms, this El Niño is now in decline. But we cannot lower our guard as it is still quite strong and in humanitarian and economic terms, its impacts will continue for many months to come.”

Earth is warming 50x faster than when it comes out of an ice age -  Recently,  The Guardian reported on a significant new study published in Nature Climate Change, finding that even if we meet our carbon reduction targets and stay below the 2°C global warming threshold, sea level rise will eventually inundate many major coastal cities around the world: Cities including New York, London, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Calcutta, Jakarta and Shanghai would all be submerged. The authors looked at past climate change events and model simulations of the future.  The issue is that ice sheets melt quite slowly, but because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time, the eventual melting and associated sea level rise are effectively locked in. As a result, the study authors found that due to the carbon pollution humans have emitted so far, we’ve committed the planet to an eventual sea level rise of 1.7 meters (5.5 feet). If we manage to stay within the 1 trillion ton carbon budget, which we hope will keep the planet below 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels, sea levels will nevertheless rise a total of about 9 meters (30 feet). If we continue on a fossil fuel-heavy path, we could trigger a staggering eventual 50 meters (165 feet) of sea level rise.  However, two other studies just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the Antarctic ice sheet could melt more quickly than previously thought, and thus contribute to relatively rapid sea level rise. Over the past century,global sea level has risen faster than at any time in the past two millennia, and most of the recent sea level rise is due to human-caused global warming. The Nature Climate Change study didn’t just look at sea level rise; it also looked at global temperature changes. Earth’s sharpest climate changes over the past half million yearshave occurred when the planet transitions from a ‘glacial’ to ‘interglacial’ period, and vice-versa.  Right now we’re in a warm interglacial period, having come out of the last ice age (when New York City and Chicago were under an ice sheet) about 12,000 years ago. During that transition, the Earth’s average surface temperature warmed about 4°C, but that temperature rise occurred over a period of about 10,000 years. In contrast, humans have caused nearly 1°C warming over the past 150 years, and we could trigger anywhere from another 1 to 4°C warming over the next 85 years, depending on how much more carbon we pump into the atmosphere.

Sea levels are rising at their fastest rate in 2000 years: Global sea levels appear exquisitely sensitive to changes in temperature and greenhouse gas levels, according to a set of new studies that examines up to 6 million years of climate change data. The four papers, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), illustrate the growing power of computers to simulate complex interactions between climate, polar ice, and the planet’s oceans. They also underscore the effects that rising greenhouse gases and global temperatures could have on future sea level. “The big takeaway is that the modern rate of sea level rise in the 20th century is faster than anything we’ve seen in the previous two millennia (2,000 years),” says Benjamin Horton, a Rutgers University, New Brunswick, in New Jersey geologist who helped direct one of the studies. “This isn’t a model. This is data.” ... They [the studies] also add to a growing body of research that suggests sea level can change more dramatically over a short time than previously suspected, says Andrea Dutton, a University of Florida in Gainesville geologist and a leading expert on reconstructing ancient sea levels. The first study found that small temperature fluctuations have led to measurable changes in ocean levels over the past 3000 years. As the global thermostat turned down just 0.2°C between 1000 and 1400 B.C.E., for example, the world’s seas dropped an estimated 8 centimeters. By contrast, they have risen about 14 centimeters [5.5 inches] in the 20th century. At least half of that increase is due to human-induced climate change, say the researchers, who add that sea levels are very likely to rise another 0.24 [9.4 inches] to 1.3 meters [51.2 inches = 4.3 feet] during this century.

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