Study reveals famous California redwood is 777 years young

Picture for representation

A new study to determine the age of iconic old-growth redwoods in California’s Muir Woods has revealed that one of the tallest and most famous trees in the forest is much younger than many assumed given its massive size, scientists said on Tuesday.

Tree 76, so named because it towers 76 meters or 249 feet above the forest floor, is 777 years old, much younger than the oldest known redwood, according to a study by Humboldt State University, which has long been working with conservation group Save the Redwoods League on the impact of climate change on the trees.

“Tree 76 is one of the larger trees that you can walk near so I think people have been guessing about its age for a long time,” Save the Redwoods League Science Director Emily Burns said. “We know Redwoods can live quite a long time. The oldest one that we know of is 2,500 years old.”

Redwoods include the tallest living trees on Earth.

Though visitors often ask the age of the tree in Muir Woods, located in the same area that famously played host to a 1945 United Nations meeting, this is the first time scientists can give an accurate answer, Burns said.

Researchers from Humboldt were able to climb the massive trees last year to take various pencil thin core samples that they can use to compare and determine not only the age of the tree but the structure and biodiversity as well.

The research is aimed at better understanding how climate change and major weather events such as drought impacted the redwoods in the past and how they might be affected in the future.

Burns said that large trees are often thought of as being at least 1,500 years old, but that smaller trees can be much older than the giant redwoods, named for the reddish color of their bark.

“Age and size don’t correlate well,” Burns said, adding that this is the first time the age of 76 age has been determined by scientists.

Humboldt State University researcher Allyson Carroll, an author of the study, said that previously researchers could not get the age of a standing tree from the ground, primarily because they cannot reach the center of the tree from the ground.

Using the core samples taken from higher up and a formula developed by the researchers, they can now determine a tree’s age as well as its climate history, she said.

Evolutionary leap from fins to legs was surprisingly simple

New research reveals that the limbs of the earliest four-legged vertebrates, dating back more than 360 million years ago, were no more structurally diverse than the fins of their aquatic ancestors.

The new finding overturns long-held views that the origin of vertebrates with legs (known as tetrapods) triggered an increase in the anatomical diversity of their skeletons.

The research was carried out by Dr Marcello Ruta from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln and Professor Matthew Wills from the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath in the UK. The authors found that fish and early tetrapods developed similar levels of anatomical diversity within their fins and limbs, despite the fact that their skeletons were constructed in very different ways.

Published in the leading scientific journal Palaeontology, the findings challenge some long-standing assumptions about evolution. It is generally expected that when organisms evolve new features — or ‘key innovations’ — that enable them to exploit new environments, the rate of evolution and diversification will speed up. This is believed to have happened with the evolution of birds from dinosaurs and, most iconically of all, in the transition from finned aquatic fish to limbed tetrapods.

The evolution of limbs was thought to have opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for tetrapods, so the scientists set out to examine just how substantial the evolutionary transition from fish to tetrapods really was by analysing a variety of different fin and limb skeletons from the fossil record.

Dr Marcello Ruta said: “Our work investigated how quickly the first legged vertebrates blossomed out to explore new skeletal constructions, with surprising results. We might expect that early tetrapods evolved limbs that were more complex and diverse than the fins of their aquatic predecessors. However, although radically different from limbs, the fins of the distant fish-like forerunners of tetrapods display a remarkable array of subtly varying traits.

“This variation may point to a previously unsuspected range of biomechanical functions in their fins, despite the fact that those ancestors lived exclusively in water.”

Professor Matthew Wills explained: “It has usually been assumed that when organisms evolve novel attributes that enable them to colonise fundamentally new environments — as in the move from water to land — this should trigger rapid evolutionary diversification and be accompanied by an increase in structural variety. Our work challenges this received wisdom, and shows that, at least in the case of the evolution of early tetrapods, key innovations did not quickly lead to greater anatomical variety.

“For the first time, legs had evolved to fulfill new functions. Not only must they be able to support the weight of the body on land, but they also needed to enable the animal to walk. Perhaps these dual requirements limited the number of ways in which these first legs could function and evolve, thereby constraining their range of variability.”

Dr Ruta concluded: “This study has profound implications for the analyses of biological systems, past and present, especially when we deal with major diversification events. Perhaps early tetrapods did something different from other organisms, and this makes this finding even more fascinating and challenging. Or perhaps we are forced to recast our notions of evolutionary success and concede that, in some cases, key innovations enable changes that have nonetheless taken many millions of years to play out.”

Spiders also like an occasional vegetarian meal

Spiders are known to be the classic example of insectivorous predators. Zoologists from the University of Basel, the US and UK have now been able to show that their diet is more diverse than expected. Their findings show that spiders like to spice up their menu with the occasional vegetarian meal. The Journal of Arachnology has published the results.

Although traditionally viewed as a predator of insects, researchers have become increasingly aware that spiders are not exclusively insectivorous. Some spiders have been shown to enrich their diets by occasionally feasting on fish, frogs or even bats. A new study by Zoologists from the University of Basel, Brandeis University (US) and Cardiff University (UK) now shows evidence of spiders eating plant food as well.

Plants as diet supplement

The researchers gathered and documented numerous examples from literature of spiders eating plant food. According to their systematic review, spiders from ten families have been reported feeding on a wide variety of different plant types such as trees, shrubs, weeds, grasses, ferns or orchids. They also show a diverse taste when it comes to the type of plant food: nectar, plant sap, honeydew, leaf tissue, pollen and seeds are all on the menu.

The most prominent group of spiders engaged in plant-eating are Salticidae – a diurnal spider family with characteristically large anterior median eyes. Salticidae were attributed with up to 60 percent of all plant-eating incidents documented in this study. As plant-dwelling, highly mobile foragers with excellent capability to detect suitable plant food, these spiders seems to be predestined to include some plant food in their diets.

Global feeding behavior

Spiders feeding on plants is global in its extent, as such behavior has been reported from all continents except Antarctica. However, it is documented more frequently from warmer areas. The researchers suggest that this might be due to the fact that a larger number of the reports relate to nectar consumption which has its core distribution in warmer areas where plants secreting large amounts of nectar are widespread.

“The ability of spiders to derive nutrients from plants is broadening the food base of these animals; this might be a survival mechanism helping spiders to stay alive during periods when insects are scarce”, says lead author Martin Nyffeler from the University of Basel in Switzerland. “In addition, diversifying their diet with plant is advantageous from a nutritional point of view, since diet mixing is optimizing nutrient intake.” However, the extent to which the different categories of plant food contribute to the spiders’ diet is still largely unexplored.

Dodging Wind Farms and Bullets in the Arctic

Picture of reindeer

A lone reindeer emerges from the forest, prompting the Sami herders to bring their snowmobiles to a stop in the middle of a clearing. All three are bundled in sheepskin hats and wool capes, called luhka, against the chill wind of a late-January morning in the Norwegian Arctic.

Johann Anders Oskal scans the snowy hills with binoculars, on the lookout for stragglers from the herd, while his younger brother Danel shovels food pellets from a sled. Their cousin, Aslak Tore Eira, hops back on his snowmobile to round up animals as they trot into the clearing. Within moments, dozens of reindeer gather for a mid-winter snack, their antlers silhouetted against white mountain slopes and a twilight-blue sky.

“The animals are looking good,” Danel Oskal says as he tosses another shovelful of feed onto the fresh snow. “They’re healthy.”

After an unusually warm autumn brought forth clouds of biting insects that relentlessly pursued their reindeer, the early weeks of 2016 have been a herder’s dream. Light, powdery snow blanketed the undulating hills and mountains that make up the Oskal family’s winter grazing grounds in central Troms County, a few hours’ inland drive from the Norwegian Sea coast. The dry snow makes it easy for the family’s 2,000 reindeer to reach nutritious grasses and lichens buried beneath the surface.

Picture of Sami herder Aslak Tore Eira

The daily feeding runs into the backcountry serve not only to bolster the animals’ winter diet. They also discourage the semi-domesticated reindeer from straying too far into the woods, where bobcats, lynx and wolverines lurk. “One lynx can kill up to 100 reindeer in a year,” says Johann, who then describes a particularly violent lynx attack on a doe as she was giving birth.

Death by a Thousand Cuts?

Troms County is a sprawling region of broken coastline, labyrinthine fiords, and rugged alpine forests, situated some 700 miles (1,150 km) north of Oslo. This is the heart of Sami country, where Lapp nomads once moved their herds across vast distances to the rhythm of the seasons, oblivious to national borders. Those days are long gone. Of the estimated 100,000 Sami spread out across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia’s Kola Peninsula, only about 10,000 still herd reindeer for a living. Reindeer meat is an important part of a herder’s diet, as well as the sole source of income for some families. For part-time herders, the animals’ meat and hides augment their earnings from other sources.

Today, reindeer herders find themselves increasingly boxed in by powerful interests competing for their traditional grazing lands. Dams, roads, live-fire military drills, high-voltage power lines, even green energy projects such as wind farms all have nibbled away at grazing territory. Of particular concern to the Sami leadership are a proposed copper mine in Finnmark County to the north and a windmill park just to the south.

So far, no single project has posed an existential threat to the herding culture of the Sami, Western Europe’s only indigenous people who inhabit the Arctic. But the cumulative impacts–a road here, a pipeline there–have reduced Norway’s undisturbed reindeer habitat by 70 percent in the past century and reshaped the way reindeer herding is done.

Technology a Double-Edged Sword

Technology is a double-edged sword for the Sami. On the one hand, it provides herders with the comforts of modern life–warm houses, GPS collars and smartphone apps to track their animals, snowmobiles and ATVs to round them up. On the other, the steady encroachment of industrial infrastructure has reduced their range and freedom of movement, requiring them to move herds by truck and boat between summer and winter pastures. It’s an expensive undertaking, and herders receive just a one-time payout to compensate losses when courts override their objections and approve large-scale projects.

As Norway, one of the world’s wealthiest countries per capita, pushes forward with plans to extract more resources and build more industry in the Arctic, Sami leaders fear their languages and culture, largely sustained by herding families, will be sacrificed to produce wealth for the larger society.

“As all traditional livelihoods of the Sami are nature-based, all activities that disrupt that way of life will be a challenge,” says Aili Keskitalo, the first woman president of the Sami Parliament, which represents indigenous interests before government and industry, though it has no say in final decisions. “We are used to having to adapt. But we cannot adapt ourselves to death.”

Keskitalo said the proposed Kalvvatnan wind farm and associated power lines in Nordland County will severely impact the summer grazing lands of a core group of reindeer herders who still speak South Sami, one of five Uralic languages traditionally spoken by the Sami that are listed by UNESCO as endangered. The wind farm is still under judicial review. A final decision is expected later this year.

Picture of Sami herder Johann Anders Oskal with his brother

The Norwegian government says it’s sensitive to Sami concerns, but warns that to meet its ambitious targets for renewable energy, more hydroelectric and wind power projects will be built.

Such projects often have an impact on reindeer herding, as well as on biological diversity and wilderness landscapes, Minister of Petroleum and Energy Tord Lien acknowledged. In a statement provided by the ministry, Lien said that “thorough discussions with all affected parties are of great importance in the licensing process for applications” of renewable energy projects.

Finnmark County’s proposed Nussir mine holds a potential of 66 million tons of copper ore and lesser amounts of silver and gold. The government green-lighted the project after the company agreed to dump waste tailings into a nearby fjord, rather than into open pits on land. That was meant to minimize the loss of reindeer habitat, but dumping the waste at sea could affect small-scale fishermen, who are also Sami.

Picture of herders tending to reindeer

“It will still impact the reindeer herders, though not as much,” says Oyvind Ravna, a law professor at University of Tromso and legal expert in indigenous affairs. “Now it will be much more of a challenge for the local fishermen. So they just moved the problem from one place to another.”

Gunfire Across the Tundra

The Oskal brothers and their cousin Aslak have been locked in a long-running battle over land and grazing rights with the Norwegian Armed Forces. Since the Cold War, soldiers have been training here for a possible Russian thrust across the top of Scandinavia. The crackle of gunfire echoes across the hills on a daily basis as troops in white winter camouflage stage exercises in Arctic warfare within earshot of the reindeer. The drills often force the three herders to take circuitous routes through the forests to stay safe while tending to their animals.

“These are the guys who are going to protect us from the Russians,” Johann Oskal darkly jokes as a caravan of snowmobiles bearing soldiers in helmets and winter jumpsuits zooms past. For the Oskal family, the presence of Norwegian troops represents a more immediate challenge to their livelihoods than a Russian invasion that may never come.

Picture of reindeer

Like other indigenous reindeer herders in Norway, the Oskals enjoy the right to use their traditional lands for grazing animals but the land belongs to the government. The case dragged on for 20 years before the court ruled that military expansion could proceed with the Oskal’s receiving a cash payment.

The Norwegian military has settled four such cases with reindeer herders since 1990, according to Maj. Vegard Finberg, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense. In one case, the herders were forced off the land for good. In the other three, the Sami were awarded compensation. “The main intention,” says Maj. Finberg, “has been to secure the interests for reindeer husbandry co-existing with the Norwegian Armed Forces.”

“We got compensated,” Johann Oskal acknowledges, warming his hands by the fire in a hut on a hilltop deep in the forest. “But you can’t really compensate for the land. It’s gone forever.”

Nicholas Tyler, a wildlife biologist at the University of Tromso, says that such compromises will diminish the reindeer herding culture. “The problem is that you’re compromising on a downhill slope,” he says. “It’s the cumulative effect of all the encroachments that is eroding the basis for reindeer husbandry.”

Danel Oskal stirs the ashes of the fire, his face aglow in its flickering light. He pulls a Bowie knife from a sheath and carves pieces of dried reindeer meat off a bone. More and more, he says, he finds himself thinking about his infant daughter and what life will be like when she is grown.

“I fear the government is taking more and more of our land,” he says. “I’m afraid that in the future, there will be no more land for the reindeer.”

Like ‘Deadpool,’ This Jellyfish Has Amazing Superpowers

Picture of a moon jellyfish

A hole rips through his body, but seals up and heals completely. An appendage is sliced off; the tissues grow back perfectly. He is capable of extreme regeneration, perhaps even immortality.

Those are the astonishing powers of Deadpool, the wise-cracking superhero whose movie is now a box office wonder.

Yet there’s a one squishy marine invertebrate can do all that—and more, according to a recent study in the journal PLOS ONE.

Emblazoned with a four-leaf clover on its back and lined with a fringe of thin tentacles, the moon jellyfish, Aurelia, is a veritable pantheon of power.

It not only regenerates like Deadpool, it ages backward like Benjamin Button and forms hordes of clones like Jamie Madrox the Multiple Man.

Superpowers from the Scrap Heap

 Heroes need sidekicks, and the moon jelly’s is a graduate student in marine biology at China’s Xiamen University named Jinru He. In the spring of 2011, he collected a baby male moon jellyfish from the ocean and raised it into a full-grown medusa, or adult. Eighteen months later, the jellyfish reached old age and expired.

Jinru transferred the corpse to a new tank with new water, and exercised the scientific superpowers of careful observation and patient waiting.

Although moon jellyfish are the world’s most widespread, not many live where Jinru works in eastern China. “I treasure the samples,” he says. “When they become old I tend to keep them because I always hope for a miracle.”

He got one. Three months later, a sea anemone-like polyp rose like a phoenix from the degraded jellyfish. He says, “It was very, very amazing!”

It was amazing precisely because it had never been seen before.

Typically, a fertilized jellyfish egg becomes a larva, which grows into a polyp. Later, the polyp buds, release many swimming medusae that then spawn and die. The life cycle has been compared to a butterfly’s, in which a caterpillar is like a polyp. What Jinru observed was sort of like a scrap of butterfly wing sprouting a caterpillar.

And this wasn’t their only superhero-like trait. As Jinru raised the polyps into medusae, they settled on the tank’s floor. Instead of dying, they morphed into the younger polyp stage, Benjamin Button-like.

In some medusae, calluses formed in their mouths if they were overfed or injured. Miniature polyps grew outside those calluses. The polyps burst free, forming multitudes of clones, à la Jamie Madrox.

Cancer Fighters?

Although such drastic morphing in moon jellies is new, the creatures are known for their powers of transformation.

In the 1990s Italian researchers discovered that Turritopsis dorhnii, a jellyfish the size of a pen tip, reverts back and forth from a medusa to a polyp, earning the nickname the immortal jellyfish.

Whether the moon jellyfish is reverse aging in the same way as the immortal jellyfish or undergoing extreme regeneration is unclear. Research into the fates of cells and genes during morphing is needed to tell the difference.

That could also provide new insights into cures for cancer, which was also Deadpool’s motivation for enduring the DNA-changing procedure that gave him the power of regeneration.

“In Turritopsis, reverse development is part of a controlled pathway,” says Stefano Pirano, a biologist at Italy’s University of Lecce who has studied the immortal jellyfish but wasn’t involved in the new study.

“Cancer, using probably highly similar mechanisms, is uncontrolled cell proliferation without rules. There is no plan for what to do with the new cells.”

Because jellyfish appear to have roles for new cells, their biology might teach us what those rules are.

What’s already clear is that moon jellyfish are experts at staying alive. “Their life cycle is not a simple circle,” Jinru says, “it’s more like a web.”

British ministers tried to block EU moves to clean up air quality

Traffic in Oxford Street, LondonThe British government sought to block new EU legislation that would force member states to carry out surprise checks on the emissions of cars, raising fresh questions over ministers’ attitude to air pollution and their conduct in the Volkswagen scandal.

A document obtained by the Observer reveals that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been advising British MEPs to vote against legislation that would oblige countries to carry out “routine and non-routine” inspections on vehicles’ “real-world” emissions.

The revelation will add to the growing concerns over the government’s commitment to tackling air pollution. It follows the admission last week that the Department for Transport had ignored significant evidence of the fraudulent practices being employed by the car industry when this was sent to it a year ago.

About 29,000 deaths in the UK are hastened by inhalation of minute particles of oily, unburnt soot emitted by all petrol engines and an estimated 23,500 by the invisible but toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) discharged by diesel engines.

Volkswagen has been engulfed in a scandal after it emerged that some of its diesel cars had been fitted with devices that could detect when they were being tested, concealing the real level of pollutants being emitted by them when on the road.

Now it has emerged that Defra has been lobbying against part of a proposed EU directive that would force member states to establish national testing regimes to catch out those who tried to conceal the damage they were doing. The proposed legislation – the national emissions ceiling directive – is designed to “ensure that policies and measures are effective in delivering emission reductions under real operating conditions”, according to the European commission.

A Defra briefing document circulated among European parliamentarians in July, and seen by the Observer, says that, while the British government agrees in principle to the need for tough checks to enforce emission limits of NO2, MEPs should vote against the imposition on member states of “market surveillance and environmental inspections” as the legislation is unclear and legally unnecessary.

The British government has been seeking to water down legislation in the directive which seeks to limit the emission of a series of pollutants other than NO2, including methane and ammonia. Officials claim that some of the measures proposed would unnecessarily increase the “administrative burden for industry and government”, according to the briefing paper. The European parliament is due to vote on the proposals at the end of October.

Alan Andrews, a lawyer based in Brussels for ClientEarth, a firm of environmental legal experts, said ministers were not matching their rhetoric with action. He said: “It is politically easy to say you agree in principle with reducing emissions, but without the mechanisms to enforce the law companies will breach it with impunity.

“The government says it supports in principle measures to ensure that the Euro 6 standard [current emissions rules] for diesel delivers real-world emissions cuts. But this clause they oppose is about a broader principle – requiring member states to have proper inspection and systems in place at the national level to ensure that technologies, products and pollution-reduction measures are really delivering reductions in the real world.

“This is important because it applies across the board, not just to diesel cars. We need to know that measures to cut pollution from farms, ships, trains, tractors etc are all doing what they say on the tin.”

In April, the supreme court ordered the government to make plans for tackling the UK’s air pollution problem, which has been in breach of EU limits for years and is linked to thousands of premature deaths each year.

London and several other British cities have failed to meet EU standards on NO2levels since 2010. Yet when proposals were published earlier this month by the environment secretary, Elizabeth Truss, they were widely condemned as weak and ineffective.

The consultation document suggested individual emission limits for four different vehicle types but also passes the responsibility on enforcement to local authorities, which would then be liable to EU fines if limits were breached.

ClientEarth, which forced the supreme court to rule against the government, said it was now considering taking further legal action to push ministers into delivering on their responsibilities.

Meanwhile, air pollution is swiftly becoming a key issue for the London mayoral contest, in which Labour’s Sadiq Khan is expected to be pitched against Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park.

Khan told the Observer: “The Tories in government, and Boris Johnson, have stood by as London’s air has become dangerously polluted. We are now facing a health crisis – with air pollution responsible for as many as 10,000 deaths a year in the capital.

“I’ll make cleaning London’s air a top priority for City Hall – an expanded ultra-low emission zone, cleaner buses, more support for cycling, opposition to Heathrow expansion and a pedestrianised Oxford Street, turning one of Europe’s most polluted streets into a worldm class, tree-lined public space.”

Speaking at her party’s autumn conference in Bournemouth on Saturday, Green party MP Caroline Lucas described air pollution in the UK as a public health crisis. “If you look at the cost [of air pollution] to the NHS, it’s been estimated to be between £10bn and £15bn every single year,” she said.

“Just because air pollution is invisible, it’s almost as if successive governments have felt they can just afford to ignore it. They haven’t taken it seriously enough, but this is an absolute public health crisis. It’s nothing less than that. We need this government now to treat it as such.”

Lucas said the government needed be taking the lead in the EU on vehicle emissions regulations and should be investing in public transport which, in many towns and cities across the country, was “a creaking relic from decades ago”.

“[This government is] ideologically undisposed to regulation,” said Lucas. “They assume that markets are going to be able to sort this out. Well, they absolutely can’t, and while they dither kids die. They need to sit up and take notice.”

The health cost

Seven million premature deaths are caused by air pollution each year, according to the World Health Organisation. This includes indoor and outdoor pollution such as smoke from cooking stoves in developing countries.

About 80% of deaths related to outdoor pollution are linked to heart disease and strokes, 14% to lung or respiratory diseases, and 6% to cancer, says WHO.

29,000 deaths a year in the UK are thought to be caused by air pollution, Public Health England estimates.

1,148 of London’s schools are within 150 metres of pollution hotspots, according to campaign group Clean Air in London.

100m working days are lost across the EU every year through illnesses such as asthma.

In London, the EU limits for nitrogen dioxide will not be met until after 2025.

Why are Britain’s green movements an all-white affair?

The People’s Climate March rally in London last year. If you were to trust what you see in the UK media you would think that climate change is a white issue that speaks to and is populated by one demographic alone.

The reality is that from Seattle to Beijing the international climate movement is a dynamic, multicultural, multi-class and intergenerational force using a diversity of tactics to challenge the root causes of climate change. It’s just the British movement that is a bit, shall we say, stuck in its ways.

I watched the premier of This Changes Everything in London over the weekend, as part of a global series of screenings and live chats with film-makers, Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis. The film starts in Alberta Tar Sands, one of the world’s largest ticking carbon bombs. Klein and Lewis amplify the stories of communities such as the Beaver Lake Cree, who are taking on the Canadian government and an army of energy giants for the rights to assert their traditional rights to live on the land, and leading the way with the transition to community-led solar projects.When we switched to the panel discussion in London I experienced cognitive dissonance. We had just been watching all these incredible stories about this multicultural global movement, only to be suddenly met with an all white panel. Hosts Friends of the Earth recently made a big fuss about addressing the lack of diversity in the movement, with its chief executive Craig Bennett calling it a “white middleclass ghetto”. So it was embarrassing but not surprising, to see that at the launch of this international event, there was not a person of colour, or anyone from the ‘global south’ on the panel.

I met with Klein last year at a gathering of NGOs and climate movers and shakers in a workshop for the launch of the book of the same title. We were there to explore “broadening the climate movement in the UK.” She has been working with some of the same inspiring indigenous activists who have redrawn the map for environmentalism in Canada.

The movement in Canada has gone through a seismic shift with a generation of indigenous activists demanding a seat at the table. At the People’s Climate March in New York last year they were at the front alongside indigenous leaders from across Turtle Island, and representatives from a diverse range of communities from hurricane Sandy survivors to the Philippines.

Klein has been inspired by what’s been happening in Canada to bring social and environmental movements together, so I hated to break it to her that this was not the case in the UK. At the last UK climate march people of colour like myself were poorly represented, if not invisible.

Britain should wake up to a new environmental movement that jives with new global realities. The Leap Manifesto which launched in Canada last week is a testament to the movement-building taking place in Canada. It sees an incredible coming together of First Nations, civil society, artists, unions of fossil fuel workers and ngo’s calling for a just transition from fossil fuels. We are no longer working in the development paradigm where the global south is waiting to be saved by the north.

The panel for ‘Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another’ at a conference in Toronto.
The panel for ‘Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another’ at a conference in Toronto. Photograph: Mark Blinch/Reuters

Back in the cinema, the activist in me wanted to jump on the stage with a Black Lives Matters banner. Luckily, I looked over at my friend who’s new to the phenomenon of the all-white speaker panel, and has a Filipino background. She was laughing at the situation, saying it was almost like we were back in 1984. She joked about a Band Aid mindset – “Do They Know It’s Climate Change?”

I have decided that we no longer have time to be challenging the non-profits for crumbs at the table or a seat on the panel, so I will be boycotting white-only panels for a while. There’s simply too much work to do.

I also wonder how much of the absence of people of colour though is half our own fault: is the British immigrant population too busy getting ahead to worry about climate change? Are we simply disengaged from the debate, or are we organising in our own communities but just aren’t getting the word out on our terms?

When the big UK green NGOs start to do that personal reflection and wake up to what it means to work in solidarity and side by side with communities then they’re more than welcome to join this global, multicultural, multi-class, vibrant movement that is changing everything.

World’s smallest snail discovered in China

<em>Angustopila dominikae</em>, believed to be perhaps the world’s smallest land snail species, in the eye of a sewing needle.Snails small enough to fit almost 10 times into the eye of a needle have been discovered in Guangxi province, Southern China.

With their shells measuring 0.86mm in height, the researchers believe they are the smallest land snails ever found.

The Angustopila dominikae snail – named after the wife of one of the authors ofthe study published in the journal ZooKeys – is just visible to the naked eye but very difficult to spot.

Barna Páll-Gergely, co-author and scientist from Shinshu university in Japan said he was excited to find the “really really tiny” snails.

“These are very probably extreme endemic species. If we find them in more than one locality that is somewhat surprising,” he said.

The seven species of record-breaking “microsnails” were discovered by the researchers while collecting soil samples from the base of limestone rocks in Guangxi province. They say it is likely they are indigenous to the area, with the most similar species living about 621 miles away in Thailand.

Tiny snail
New snail species, Angustopila dominikae, the only known specimen measuring an astounding 0.86 mm in shell height. Photograph: Dr Barna Páll-Gergely

Páll-Gergely said the extreme size of the snails could not be explained easily by evolution.

“We cannot explain their size by adaptation to the environment. For very tiny insects we can guess the evolutionary reason why they evolved like that, but in the case of snails it is much more difficult. The whole family of species are all very small and their common ancestor, which lived maybe 60 million years ago was also very small. Since then this very tiny species survived somehow in different geographical areas and under different climates. ”

It is not possible for snails to be much smaller than those discovered because the snails’ organs and cells cannot be smaller and a minimum number of cells are needed for the animal to exist, he added.

Brazil pledges to cut carbon emissions 37% by 2025

A rainbow over a tract of Amazon rainforest which has been cleared by loggersBrazil on Sunday became the first major developing country to pledge an absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for an envisioned global pact against climate change.

The world’s seventh biggest greenhouse gas polluter said it would cut its emissions by 37% by 2025 from 2005 levels by reducing deforestation and boosting the share of renewable sources in its energy mix. It also indicated an “intended reduction” of 43% by 2030.

“Our goals are just as ambitious, if not more so, than those set by developed countries,” President Dilma Rousseff said as she announced the targets at the UN in New York.

In talks on a new climate agreement, set to be adopted in Paris in December, developed countries are expected to shoulder the biggest responsibility for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. For example, the US has pledged to reduce its emissions by 26-28% between 2005 and 2025.

Major developing countries such as China and South Africa have pledged to rein in their emissions as their economies expand, rather than to slash them in absolute terms.

Brazil, however, has already achieved significant emissions cuts in the past decade primarily because of efforts to reduce deforestation in the Amazon.

Environmental groups tracking climate policy applauded Brazil for taking absolute reduction targets, but said they could have been even more ambitious.

The targets would reduce Brazilian emissions from the current level of 1.6bn tonnes a year to 1.5bn tonnes by 2025 and 1.3bn tonnes by 2030, said Viviane Romeiro of the World Resources Institute (WRI), an environmental thinktank.

“Ideally, we would have reached 1 gigaton by 2030. This pledge won’t allow us to get to that number,” she said.

Rousseff said that by 2030, Brazil, which has large dams, aims to get 66% of its electricity from hydropower and 23% from other renewable sources including wind, solar and biomass.

That’s an increase from a joint announcement with the US in June, when Brazil said it would double its non-hydropower renewable sources to 20% by 2030.

She also said that Brazil would strive to end illegal deforestation by 2030, a goal that Romeiro said it had previously hoped to achieve by this year.

A crunch issue in UN climate talks is how to divide the responsibility of fighting climate change between developed countries who have historically released the highest emissions and developing nations whose emissions are growing the fastest.

Environment minister Izabella Teixeira told the Associated Press that Brazil’s targets were consistent with its historical responsibility to deal with the problem.

“We are not increasing our emissions. We are cutting our emissions,” she said.

Without naming anyone, she added that many countries say they want to fight global warming, “but when you check their numbers you see they are increasing their emissions”.

Shell has frozen its Arctic oil drilling – but it’s still hungry for fossil fuels

A protest in Seattle against Shell’s Arctic plans. ‘We were acutely aware of the reputational element to this programme,’ a Shell source said.Shell’s decision to put its Arctic oil exploration plans in deep freeze will have several knock-on effects for global oil exploration, environmental protests and the future of the company itself.

The broader Arctic retreat by energy firms once bullish about polar prospects has now left just two working operations in the region: BP’s Prudhoe Bay field, which feeds the Trans-Alaskan pipeline, and Gazprom’s largely symbolic Prirazlomnoye platform in the Pechora Sea.

Publicly, Shell blames disappointing exploratory results, high operating costs and strict US environmental regulations for its decision to quit Alaska’s Berger field after about $7bn (£4.6bn) of investment. But company sources also accept that Arctic oil polarised debate in a way that damaged the firm. “We were acutely aware of the reputational element to this programme,” one said.

The notion of drilling in some of the world’s most pristine and hazardous regions – which, in the case of the Arctic, was only made accessible by retreating ice cover due to climate change – has also become politically toxic, Greenpeace says.

“It is undeniable that the protests were a factor in Shell’s decision because the Arctic had become a defining environmental story,” Ben Ayliffe, a Greenpeace Arctic campaigner told the Guardian. “A burgeoning and increasingly vocal movement sprung up across the world. The prospects for Arctic oil were never far from the public spotlight and they began to look increasingly toxic.”

Ayliffe added that a strong climate deal was needed at theUN climate summit in Paris later this year to consolidate the current Arctic pull-out. “It is imperative that this victory becomes a long term one for the Arctic itself,” he said.

After a series of high profile environmental demonstrations,Hilary Clinton tweeted out against Shell’s plans to drill in Alaska’s Chuckchi Sea last month.

The issue also forced Shell out of the Prince of Wales’ corporate leaders group on climate change, which it had helped to form, and prompted a rebuke from the head of the International Energy Agency.

Shell officials argue that, despite today’s low oil prices, rising energy demand from a growing world population will continue to oblige new oil field discoveries, to arrest annual decline rates of about 5m barrels of oil per day.

The energy giant hopes to receive regulatory clearance for its proposed $64bn buyout of gas group BG early next year.

“One of the key strategic drivers for that deal is bringing together BG’s deep water portfolio in Brazil with ours,” said Andy Norman, Shell’s VP for media relations. “We also have some attractive acreage in the Gulf of Mexico. But much of our focus now is on completing that [BG] deal and we will reduce exploration spending on the back of that, assuming it completes.”

If this happens, Greenpeace says that the pre-salts oil fields off the coast of Brazil will be the next arena for global protests against environmentally hazardous drills.

“Greenpeace and other NGOs have worked there in the past and I’m sure they will follow Shell,” Ayliffe said. “We have seen from the deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that deepwater drills in Brazil are not without risk.”

They may also carry a risk for company boardrooms. Shell was told by investors to test the firm’s business models against international goals to limit climate change at its last AGM.

Shell’s dirty energy projects in the Arctic and in Alberta’s tar sands have already tarnished a green image that it carefully crafted over several years. The firm has set a $40 a tonne internal price on carbon, and lobbied for higher EU carbon prices to fund the development of its carbon capture and storage technologies.

The Dutch company now produces more gas than oil and was one of the best performing fossil fuels firms in a recent climate performance survey of top corporations. Researchers say that its rating would have been much higher without Arctic oil.

In the past, Shell has largely turned its nose up at wind or solar-powered projects, in favour of first-generation ethanol-based biofuels in Brazil, which have a disputed emissions-reducing potential. But this too could change.

“After 2050, we think that solar will be single most dominant energy source in the global energy system and we are working hard to understand where we can play a role in that transition and where opportunities might exist for us,” Norman said.

In the short-medium term though, the company insists that it is not blanching from its mission to meet current energy demand with hydrocarbons.