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The Ebola-poverty link
January 11, 2016 10:06 AM - Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos, SciDevNet

Last year’s Ebola outbreak spread fastest and was hardest to control in poor communities, says a study which argues that future efforts to combat highly infectious diseases should target such areas.
 
A paper published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases at the end of 2015 showed that people in poorer parts of Montserrado county in Liberia — which contains the capital, Monrovia — were more likely to both catch Ebola and pass it on than those in wealthy neighbourhoods. Residents in areas of extreme poverty need rapid and high-quality healthcare interventions during outbreaks to contain epidemics quickly, it concludes. 

“The paper implies a need for more investment, time and effort spent on improving health and education in urban communities.” Elizabeth Hamann, International Rescue Committee

California Methane Leak leads to State of Emergency
January 11, 2016 07:26 AM - Mike Gaworecki, MONGABAY.COM

An ongoing methane gas leak at a facility in Southern California — what’s been called “the nation’s biggest environmental disaster since the BP oil spill” — has officially been declared an emergency by Governor Jerry Brown.

Natural gas, or methane, first started leaking from Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage facility on October 23 last year.

Some 2,300 homes have been evacuated in nearby Porter Ranch, a neighborhood of Los Angeles, after residents began experiencing nosebleeds, rashes, headaches and other serious health impacts due to the gas leak and the sulfur-like smell that is blanketing their community.

Recycling on the ropes, France has a plan to fix the industry
January 11, 2016 05:29 AM - EurActiv

Low raw material costs have dealt a heavy blow to the recycling industry. The French recycling federation (FEDEREC) believes the sector needs a complete overhaul to stay afloat in the coming years.

FEDEREC published its view of the future of recycling in a white paper entitled "The recycling industry by 2030." In the preface to this 70-page document, a frank discussion of the problems facing the industry and how they might be solved, Corinne Lepage, a Republican politician, evoked a sector "devastated by an oil price that is so low that it is driving us back towards a linear economy, as it is cheaper today to buy primary raw materials than recycled raw materials".

Natural carbon sinks and their role in climate
January 10, 2016 11:32 AM - Mark Dwortzan | MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

Protected areas such as rainforests occupy more than one-tenth of the Earth’s landscape, and provide invaluable ecosystem services, from erosion control to pollination to biodiversity preservation. They also draw heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in plants and soil through photosynthesis, yielding a net cooling effect on the planet.

Determining the role protected areas play as carbon sinks — now and in decades to come — is a topic of intense interest to the climate-policy community as it seeks science-based strategies to mitigate climate change. Toward that end, a study in the journal Ambioestimates for the first time the amount of CO2 sequestered by protected areas, both at present and throughout the 21st century as projected under various climate and land-use scenarios.

Changing climate and reforestation
January 10, 2016 08:24 AM - AsociaciĆ³n RUVID via ScienceDaily

For the past six years, researchers at the Universitat Politènica de València (Polytechnic Univeristy of Valencia, UPV) have been studying the performance of twelve Aleppo pine varieties native to different regions of Spain in reforestation campaigns across three national forest areas. Different varieties or genotypes have different levels of resistance to cold and drought, which influence how well they perform in a given geographical region, and researchers wanted to find out which varieties worked best and where.

To do so, the different national varieties or genotypes were used to repopulate forest areas in La Hunde, Valencia (as the control region), in the drier Granja d'Escarp, Lleida, to the north and further inland in Tramacastiel, Teruel, where the climate is much cooler.

"The varieties from Inland Levante and La Mancha performed the best overall, while those from further south seem to be perfect for reforestation efforts in regions already affected by climate change," observes Antonio del Campo, researcher at the UPV's Institute of Water and Environmental Engineering (IIAMA).

As gas prices fall, consumers going back to less fuel efficient vehicles
January 9, 2016 08:04 AM - Scott Horsley, NPR

There were high-fives this week from Detroit to Washington, D.C., as carmakers celebrated record auto sales.

Americans bought 17.5 million cars and trucks in 2015. That's a huge turnaround from 2009, and the Obama administration cheered the rebound as vindication of the president's decision to rescue General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy.

"Because of the policy decisions that were made by this administration to place a bet on those workers, America has won, and our economy has been better for it," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday.

Testing chemical toxicity challenge announced by USEPA + National Institutes of Health
January 8, 2016 05:19 PM - USEPA

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), and NIH’s National Toxicology Program (NTP) within the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) are announcing a new challenge that will award up to $1 million to improve the relevance and predictivity of data generated from automated chemical screening technology used for toxicity testing.

Out of thousands of chemicals in commerce today, very few have been fully evaluated for potential health effects. Scientists from EPA, NIEHS/NTP, and NCATS are using high-throughput screening (HTS) assays to evaluate the potential health effects of thousands of chemicals. High-throughput screening uses automated methods that allow for a large number of chemicals to be rapidly evaluated for a specific type of biological activity.

How competition for sunlight shapes forest structure
January 8, 2016 07:20 AM - Princeton University via EurekAlert!

Despite their diversity, the structure of most tropical rainforests is highly predictable. Scientists have described the various sizes of the trees by a simple mathematical relationship called a power law.

In a new study using data from a rainforest in Panama, researchers determined that competition for sunlight is the underlying cause of this common structure, which is observed in rainforests around the globe despite differences in plant species and geography. The new finding can be used in climate simulations to predict how rainforests absorb excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

New Federal dietary guidelines recommend eating less meat
January 7, 2016 12:17 PM - NRDC

Many Americans, especially men and teenage boys, eat too much red meat, poultry and eggs, and should reduce their consumption, according to new federal dietary guidelines jointly released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. Reducing Americans’ meat consumption will not only help improve public health, but reduce climate and water pollution from the meat industry.

This is the first time federal dietary guidelines have included a recommendation to reduce meat consumption. The report advises that cutting back on meat can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.

The new dietary advice, however, did not include the recommendation from the agencies’ expert scientific advisors that the FDA explicitly link the science-based benefits of adopting diets lower in red meat, and higher in plant-based foods, to additional benefits to environment sustainability and to food security.

Anthropogenic nitrogen being added to oceans far less than previously assumed
January 7, 2016 07:20 AM - Brown University via EurekAlert.

A new study finds that human activities are likely contributing far less nitrogen to the open ocean than many atmospheric models suggest. That's generally good news, but it also nullifies a potential side benefit to additional nitrogen, says Meredith Hastings, associate professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown University and one of the study's co-authors.

"People may not be polluting the ocean as much as we thought, which is a good thing," said Hastings, who is also a fellow at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. "However, additional nitrogen could potentially stimulate the ocean's ability to draw down carbon dioxide out the atmosphere, which might counteract carbon emissions to some extent. But if we're not adding as much nitrogen, we're not getting that potential side benefit in the carbon cycle."

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