Archive | February 2015

“Gerbils and squirrels, not rats, may have been responsible for the Black Death”


The political and cultural impact of the Black Death, which is usually seen as beginning in the period 1347-1353, on European life was immense. At least a hundred million people were killed (and possibly more than twice that by some estimates), reshaping the economy of feudalism and influencing the wars and politics that followed for at least the next four centuries, as plague outbreaks struck cities and villages over and over again. The bacteria responsible, Yersinia pestis, has long been believed to have originated in China, and to have been carried from east to west in fleas living on black rats that migrated with the merchants moving along the Silk Road, first by camel across central Asian steppes and deserts, and then across the Black Sea and Mediterranean by ship to major trading ports like Venice.

This distributional jigsaw may be missing some pieces, however – a new study by Norwegian and Swiss bioscientists and climatologists instead points the finger at some different rodents as bearing some of the responsibility for spreading plague: grey marmots, long-tailed squirrels, camels and Mongolian gerbils.

“Sperm whale rams fishing boat in Chile”

A man fishing off the coast of Chile recorded the moment a sperm whale rammed his boat and circled the vessel several times.


Peru planning highway through most biodiverse place on earth


Manu national park in the Amazon under threat from extension of national ‘jungle highway’

The Manu national park and its buffer zone in Peru was international news early last year after scientists found it is “top of the [world’s] list of natural protected areas in terms of amphibian and reptile diversity”, beating off stiff competition from the Yasuni national park in neighbouring Ecuador. What these news reports didn’t acknowledge, not surprisingly, are the immense threats facing Manu – a Unesco biosphere reserve in the south-east Peruvian Amazon where Unesco states the biodiversity “exceeds that of any other place on earth”.

The first such threat, to the park itself, is from oil and gas exploration and exploitation. For years Manu has been believed to hold significant hydrocarbon deposits, and numerous oil and gas industry maps depict “undrilled prospects”, “seeps” and a “spring” lying under the park. According to Peru’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, five distinct “geological structures” in Manu could hold more than 14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Just a thought

The other day I was day dreaming about all the places in the world I want to one day visit. After a morning of imaging I began to realise how much damage that would do to the environment. Planes produce A LOT of emissions. After bursting my own bubble I began to think of ways I could still do some travelling in a carbon neutral way. My mind explored the ideas of walking, rowing and biking but these all were a bit unrealistic. Eventually though I arrived at a rather simple solution. What if I were to plant a tree each time a flew abroad? That would surely minimise the impacts. I thought this would be a great scheme for airlines to partake in. If they were to offer the customer the chance to plant a tree for an extra cost on top of their ticket price how many people would? It would clear the conscience of many environmentalists I’m sure. So what do you think? Let me know if you have any opinions on the idea (even if you think its just plain stupid).

Siberian tiger video suggests species is returning to China, conservationists say


A family of rare tigers has been caught on film deep inside China, more than 65 years after the species was largely wiped out in the country.

Conservationists said the video footage of a mother Siberian tiger and her two cubs playing 30km from the Russian border was a sign the endangered species could be making a comeback in China.

The Number of Elephants in Parts of Zimbabwe Is Plunging


Elephants are under threat from poachers in Zimbabwe, where the population has plummeted in the wildlife sanctuaries and hunting reserves that are home to most of the animals, according to a conservation group.

The number of elephants in the northern Sebungwe district fell to 4,000 last year from 13,000 in 2001, while in Middle Zambezi Valley the population declined to 11,500 from 18,000, according to the Zambezi Society. In Hwange National Park, in western Zimbabwe, the population climbed by a “statistically insignificant” 10 percent to 54,000, the society said.

Fossil-Fuel Limits Emerge as Target for Deal on Warming


Envoys from some 190 nations are taking more seriously the idea of setting a goal for phasing out the pollution from fossil fuels, lending support to the movement against investments in oil and coal companies.

After a week of discussions in Geneva, delegates convened by the United Nations adopted an 86-page draft document with options including the near-elimination of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 or 2100 — or to suck the most destructive fumes out of the atmosphere by 2080.

“Geoengineering: The Bad Idea We Need to Stop Climate Change”


Maybe the problem with climate change isn’t that we’ve messed with the earth too much. Or maybe we haven’t messed with it enough.

The National Research Council, which writes fat, independent reports on complicated topics for policymakers, has at last weighed in on the utility— and possible consequences—of re-engineering the planet to ease global warming’s worst impacts. It’s called geoengineering, and with a name like that, what could go wrong?

Geoengineering has provided a shock of fresh air to climate debates in recent years because it’s complicated, and that means it has initially resisted being deformed into either political party’s talking points. It’s a question fraught with moral, political, and scientific uncertainties.

“Barrier Reef coral genetically altered in hope of surviving climate change”


Coral species from different climes being mixed as a form of ‘assisted evolution’ to see if it will help them adapt more quickly to rising sea temperatures.

The Australian government’s marine research agency is looking to genetically alter species of coral to help them cope with rising sea temperatures, as new modelling showed the coverage of living corals on the Great Barrier Reef could decline to less than 10% if warming continued.

“South Sudan Animals Decimated as Troops Fuel Poaching Crisis”


South Sudanese soldiers have killed wild animals for food and financial gain during the country’s 14-month civil war, ignoring requests to halt the practice, the head of the national wildlife service said.

Government troops, rebel forces and civilians have targeted animals such as Mongalla gazelle, white-eared Kob and tiang, also known as topi, antelope, Major-General Philip Chol Majak, director-general of South Sudan’s wildlife service, said in a Feb. 2 interview in the capital, Juba.