OTTAWA—Environment Canada’s enforcement branch asked a spokesman to “limit information” given to reporters about how long it took to launch a federal investigation into a serious Alberta oilsands leak last summer.

The comments were included in more than 100 pages of emails obtained by the Star that were generated in response to questions from journalists last summer about the mysterious leak in Cold Lake, Alta., that now totals about 1.2 million litres of bitumen emulsion, a mixture of heavy oil and water.

The incident itself was not publicly disclosed until a report by the Star in July 2013. More than 100 animals died near the site of the spill, which continues to release heavy oil above the surface, one year later.

The company, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, had reported three other leaks in May and June 2013 from nearby sites using technology involving high-pressure steam in deep wells to pump out bitumen, the heavy oil mixed with sand beneath forests in northern Alberta.

After the spill came to light, reporters began pressing both provincial and federal authorities for more information. One of the media requests, sent to Environment Canada on Aug. 15, asked a series of questions about law enforcement in the oilsands and whether the ministry’s officers were at the site to investigate.

The questions and the proposed answers from the ministry’s enforcement branch triggered a flurry of emails between public relations specialists, assistant deputy ministers and a Justice Department lawyer. It also led up to an Aug. 26 briefing, requested by the office of Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

On Aug. 28, the department responded to the media questions, confirming it had opened an investigation. The next day, the department asked Aglukkaq’s office to approve sending additional details to reporters confirming it learned about the incident on June 27 and that its enforcement officers arrived at the site on July 3.

The enforcement branch then suggested withholding dates.

NDP environment critic and Halifax MP Megan Leslie said the correspondence shows that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is “hard-wired” to see all issues as a communications exercise.

“They just logically go to media relations instead of looking at the facts or what the issues are,” said Leslie in an interview. “The responses (to media) don’t need to be beefed up. Our environmental enforcement needs to be beefed up. The investigation process needs to be beefed up.”

(via Emails show secrecy on federal oilsands probe | Toronto Star)

Higher Ground ~ Playing for Change

(Reblogged from cognitivedissonance)

Black bears have demonstrated counting abilities, in a first for the species.

Three captive bears took a series of number-based tests on a touch-screen computer, research published in the journal Animal Behaviour showed.

They had to choose between two different-sized sets of dots and were rewarded with food for correct answers.

"People don’t generally understand them to be as intelligent as they probably are," said Jennifer Vonk, the researcher who led the study.

Although bears have the largest relative brain size of any carnivore, their cognition is not well understood.

Dr Vonk, an assistant professor in psychology at Oakland University said that the North American black bears were first trained to understand the process and equipment involved in the tests.

"This is the first published work with bears working on a touch screen," she said. "It hasn’t been done with any large carnivores."

The experiment then involved presenting the bears with two sets of dots or “arrays”.

"Basically we were looking to see if they can understand to choose less or choose more," she said.

(via BBC Nature - Black bears show counting skills on computers)

(Reblogged from azspot)

Relaxed Zebra by Chris Hitchcock (via 500px)

redshift-13:

(“Elephants and other large animals face an increased risk of extinction in what Stanford Biology Professor Rodolfo Dirzo terms “defaunation.” (Claudia Paulussen/Shutterstock)”)

July 24, 2014

Stanford biologist warns of early stages of Earth’s 6th mass extinction event

Stanford Biology Professor Rodolfo Dirzo and his colleagues warn that this “defaunation” could have harmful downstream effects on human health.

BY BJORN CAREY

The planet’s current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But it may be reaching a tipping point.

In a new review of scientific literature and analysis of data published in Science, an international team of scientists cautions that the loss and decline of animals is contributing to what appears to be the early days of the planet’s sixth mass biological extinction event.

Since 1500, more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates have become extinct. Populations of the remaining species show a 25 percent average decline in abundance. The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life.

And while previous extinctions have been driven by natural planetary transformations or catastrophic asteroid strikes, the current die-off can be associated to human activity, a situation that the lead author Rodolfo Dirzo, a professor of biology at Stanford, designates an era of “Anthropocene defaunation.”

Across vertebrates, 16 to 33 percent of all species are estimated to be globally threatened or endangered. Large animals – described as megafauna and including elephants, rhinoceroses, polar bears and countless other species worldwide – face the highest rate of decline, a trend that matches previous extinction events.

Larger animals tend to have lower population growth rates and produce fewer offspring. They need larger habitat areas to maintain viable populations. Their size and meat mass make them easier and more attractive hunting targets for humans.

Although these species represent a relatively low percentage of the animals at risk, their loss would have trickle-down effects that could shake the stability of other species and, in some cases, even human health.

For instance, previous experiments conducted in Kenya have isolated patches of land from megafauna such as zebras, giraffes and elephants, and observed how an ecosystem reacts to the removal of its largest species. Rather quickly, these areas become overwhelmed with rodents. Grass and shrubs increase and the rate of soil compaction decreases. Seeds and shelter become more easily available, and the risk of predation drops.

Consequently, the number of rodents doubles – and so does the abundance of the disease-carrying ectoparasites that they harbor.

"Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents, and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission," said Dirzo, who is also a senior fellow at theStanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “Who would have thought that just defaunation would have all these dramatic consequences? But it can be a vicious circle.”

The scientists also detailed a troubling trend in invertebrate defaunation. Human population has doubled in the past 35 years; in the same period, the number of invertebrate animals – such as beetles, butterflies, spiders and worms – has decreased by 45 percent.

As with larger animals, the loss is driven primarily by loss of habitat and global climate disruption, and could have trickle-up effects in our everyday lives.

For instance, insects pollinate roughly 75 percent of the world’s food crops, an estimated 10 percent of the economic value of the world’s food supply. Insects also play a critical role in nutrient cycling and decomposing organic materials, which helps ensure ecosystem productivity. In the United States alone, the value of pest control by native predators is estimated at $4.5 billion annually.

Dirzo said that the solutions are complicated. Immediately reducing rates of habitat change and overexploitation would help, but these approaches need to be tailored to individual regions and situations. He said he hopes that raising awareness of the ongoing mass extinction – and not just of large, charismatic species – and its associated consequences will help spur change.

"We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth, and that’s very important, but there’s a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well," Dirzo said. "Ironically, we have long considered that defaunation is a cryptic phenomenon, but I think we will end up with a situation that is non-cryptic because of the increasingly obvious consequences to the planet and to human wellbeing."

The coauthors on the report include Hillary S. Young, University of California, Santa Barbara; Mauro Galetti, Universidade Estadual Paulista in Brazil; Gerardo Ceballos,  Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico; Nick J.B. Isaac, of the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in England; and Ben Collen, of University College London.”

http://news.stanford.edu/pr/2014/pr-sixth-mass-extinction-072414.html

(Reblogged from kp777)

politicalprof:

Barack Obama: the socialist who makes government smaller.

Austerity in action—decline in government jobs and spending (most at the state and local level) compared to previous recessions …]

From the New York Times

(Reblogged from political-fanatic)
This Court doesn’t like to get involved in — in racial questions such as this one. It’s something that can be left — left to Congress. The problem here, however, is suggested by the comment I made earlier, that the initial enactment of [the Voting Rights Act of 1965] in a — in a time when the need for it was so much more abundantly clear was — in the Senate, there — it was double-digits against it. And that was only a 5-year term.

Then, it is reenacted 5 years later, again for a 5-year term. Double-digits against it in the Senate. Then it was reenacted for 7 years. Single digits against it. Then enacted for 25 years, 8 Senate votes against it.

And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same. Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this.

I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, discussing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in oral arguments for Shelby County v. Holder, Feb. 27, 2013.

Why does this matter?

As Suevon Lee explains Aug. 30, 2012 for ProPublica: “A single provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been playing a key role on the election front this year. Section 5 has blocked photo voter-ID laws, prohibited reduced early-voting periods in parts of Florida and just Tuesday barred new redistricting maps in Texas. It’s the reason South Carolina is in federal court this week to try to convince a three-judge panel its photo voter-ID law will not disenfranchise minorities. It’s the reason that Texas went to trial on the same issue last month — and on Thursday, lost.

Not surprisingly, then, Section 5 is increasingly the target of attack by those who say it is outdated, discriminatory against Southern states and unconstitutional.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor smacked down the idea that Section 5 was a racial entitlement, and reminded us all that the right to vote is just that — a right, not a racial entitlement, no matter how desperately some jurisdictions and justices may want to reverse that fact.

(via cognitivedissonance)

(Reblogged from political-fanatic)

Be kind as tomorrow is another day.

thewarroomctv:

VIDEO: watch a Civil Rights legend explain why the Voting Rights Act is just as important today as it was in 1965. Share to educate!

(Reblogged from political-fanatic)

The problem of millions of uninsured has existed in this country since—well, since forever. But as a running news story that the media paid attention to, for the last 25 or 30 years. I remember when the then-horrifying number was 15 million uninsured. Then 20 million, then 30 million, on up to the 46 million figure we often saw bandied about before the Affordable Health Care was enacted (10 million new Americans are insured as a result of it—a very respectable dent, for just one year). So, 30 years, a full generation, tens of millions of people adversely affected. And what, in all that time, has the Grand Old Party proposed to do about it all?

Not. One. Thing. Republican presidents had (if we go back to 1984) 16 years to pass some kind of health-insurance law. But none of the three ever even proposed one. George W. Bush did pass his Medicare law, but that was about adding prescription-drug coverage for seniors; it didn’t insure any previously uninsured citizens. What the GOP did instead, of course, was to fight tooth-and-nail to stop the two Democratic attempts to insure more people, succeeding the first time, failing the second.

And “tooth-and-nail” hardly begins to describe the demented and nearly sociopathic reality of Republican and conservative opposition to trying to make health insurance affordable for working-class people. Opposition to doing so has been one of the four grand accomplishments of the Republican Party of our time, which I would rank as follows, one scratched on each side of the obelisk: one, start disastrous wars and commit torture; two, make people despise the government; three, nearly cause a new Depression; and four, deny health insurance to as many people as possible, as aggressively and nastily as possible. It’s a grim record generally, and with regard to health care specifically, inarguably one that has promoted insalubriousness and suffering and, indeed, deaths that might have been avoided or delayed if people had had insurance.

(Reblogged from kp777)