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Animals
The Amur tiger is the extinct Caspian tiger's closest living relative. Mathias Appel / Flickr

After a Half-Century, Tigers May Return to Kazakhstan

Wild tigers may be on their way back to Kazakhstan.

This news is surprising for a few reasons. First, most people associate tigers with the jungles of India or Sumatra, even the snowy slopes of eastern Russia—not the dry landscapes of Central Asia. But Iran, Turkey and Kazakhstan were once home to thriving populations of Caspian tigers. Unfortunately, sometime between the 1940s and '70s, this subspecies went extinct due to widespread trapping, hunting, poisoning and habitat degradation.

Second, Kazakhstan isn't a nation that often comes up in conversations about conservation. In fact, if Americans recognize the world's largest landlocked nation for anything, it's probably the movie Borat.

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Klaus Nigge

One of These Images Could Bring Home the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award

By Clara Chaisson

A red squirrel pauses in its search for spruce cones on a frigid winter morning; a rain-soaked bald eagle boldly looks straight into the camera; a seahorse clutches at a Q-tip in sewage-choked waters. These are a few of the moments captured by the finalists for Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017.

Since 1965, the Natural History Museum in London has held this annual celebration of nature photography. Selected from a pool of nearly 50,000 entries from 92 countries, this year's 13 finalists were announced by the museum earlier this month. The stunning images hint at both nature's beauty and its devastation.

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Americans Red and Blue Unite Against Trump's Plan to Drill the Atlantic

By Jeff Turrentine

President Trump, to put it mildly, hasn't worked too hard to bring Democrats and Republicans together on many issues. By almost any account, the partisan divide in this country today is wider than it's been in living memory, certainly wider than it was before he took office.

But on one issue, at least, the president seems to have bridged that divide and fostered some much-needed unity. When it comes to endorsing Trump's plan to open up the Atlantic coast to oil and gas drilling, citizens in both red and blue states—as well as their elected officials—are speaking with one voice.

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Chard grown in Ouroboros's aquaponics system reveals its colorful roots. Ouroboros Farm

6 Innovative Farmers That Will Change Your Perception of What It Means to Grow Food

By Tracie McMillan

How do you feed a hotter, drier, more inequitable world? A new generation of American farmers are coming up with answers that rarely resemble the cornstalks and cattle pens of mainstream agriculture.

Today's American farmers are less white. They're also increasingly experimental. Even as our biggest farms get bigger, small producers are innovating in countless ways as they grapple with the serious questions that face our food system. Some prioritize making high-quality food affordable to folks on minimum wage and accessible in places where fresh produce is scarce; others are learning how to farm with far less water on drought-prone fields. They may be discovering hidden super fruits, reinvigorating coal country or bringing urban farming to the mountains. Here are six who will change your mind about what it means to farm.

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5 Ways Trump Continues His Assault on People and Planet

By Brian Palmer

1. Henhouse, meet foxes.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt renewed his science denier vows on Thursday, telling CNBC that human activity is not a "primary contributor" to the observed warming of the planet in recent decades. So it should come as no shock that he's stocking the upper levels of the EPA with fellow climate change deniers, according to a report by Coral Davenport in the New York Times.

Pruitt has started by borrowing personnel from his fellow Oklahoman, Sen. James Inhofe. To call Inhofe a climate change denier is inadequate. Inhofe is a climate change ridiculer. He is the Don Rickles of climate change, and he relishes his role as pantomime villain for climate change advocates, throwing snowballs in Congress and using the word hoax the same way Trump uses "SAD!" Pruitt's chief of staff and his chief of staff's deputy both come from Inhofe's orbit. Andrew Wheeler, Pruitt's candidate for deputy administrator at EPA, another Inhofe loyalist, has called the Paris climate agreement a "sweetheart deal" for China. It will be interesting to see how a team of science deniers will manage an agency of scientists.

If we must slash the EPA's staff and budget, can we at least keep the real experts and get rid of these guys?

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A beer can at 3,780 meters depth near the Mariana Trench. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.

The Most Unexplored Habitat on Earth Is Packed With Pollution

By Jason Bittel

In Disney's latest animated release, titular character Moana and a demigod named Maui dive to the bottom of the ocean to do battle with a giant, David Bowie–channeling crab in a place called the Realm of Monsters. But it's not just for kicks and a catchy dance number, of course. Maui has lost his magical hook and of all the places it could be in the deep blue sea, he suspects that the glam-rock crab called Tamatoa has scooped it up.

Maui, it seems, is a student of marine biology. Plunge more than 36,000 feet below the waves in the real ocean and you will find almost-foot-long crustaceans called amphipods that scuttle about in search of rotting flesh and anything else that plummets into their lightless lair. While they might look like aliens, these guys are actually cousins to the sand hopper, the little, living detritus that pings away as you kick a pile of seaweed.

Now, you might think that a life way under the sea would afford these cryptic crustaceans certain advantages—for one, avoiding humans and all of our waste. After all, it's not as if people are wont to visit a place deeper than Mount Everest is high, a place buried beneath so much black, salty seawater that pressure alone would cause an unprotected human body to implode.

But alas, just as Moana and Maui were able to sneak down and cuss up Tamatoa's day, so have we been able to yet again muck up an ecosystem we've scarcely even explored.

According to research published on Feb. 13 in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, the tissues of deep-sea amphipods are positively teeming with persistent organic pollutants or POPs. These include nasty chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), used for insulators and coolants and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are found in flame retardants. These substances are so toxic, we banned them both back in the 1970s. POPs have a tendency to bioaccumulate, which is a fancy word for what happens when little fish get eaten by big fish and those big fish absorb all the pollution inside all those little fish. It really adds up. Could that be why an apex predator like Tamatoa glows in the dark?

The findings reveal that even areas of the world that we think of as extreme and remote and pristine are anything but, said lead author Alan Jamieson, a marine ecologist at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. "Most of the ocean is, in fact, not exempt from what we do up here."

To get his samples, Jamieson and his team deployed remotely operated lander vehicles to some of the deepest known trenches on Earth: the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific and the Kermadec Trench off New Zealand. At depths of more than six miles, the landers lured in bottom-feeders with mesh bags full of mackerel and then funnel traps captured the tiny beasts. (While some amphipods can grow to the size of foot-long hot dogs, these critters were no larger than an inch or about half a cocktail weenie). Back at the surface, scientists analyzed the tissues from three different species of amphipod for concentrations of POPs. What they found was shocking.

Some of the amphipods the team sampled showed levels of PCBs 50 times higher than crabs that live in the paddy fields along the Liaohe River, one of China's most polluted waterways. This is more than a little surprising, considering that those crabs live their entire lives bathed in toxins while their amphipod cousins could not live farther away from pollution sources. Even worse, the researchers found PCBs and PBDEs "in all samples across all species at all depths in both trenches."

Nobody knows exactly how the pollution wound up in the deepest of deeps, but the researchers suspect that the substances sprinkle down as tiny particulates or stow away on anything large enough to make the descent in one piece, notably dead whales and fish.

It's unclear what effect, if any, the POPs have on amphipods, said coauthor Stuart Piertney, a molecular ecologist the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom, but we know these chemicals are generally endocrine disruptors. So it's possible that the pollutants could be messing with the deep-sea crustaceans' hormone-associated processes. Studies on the effects of endocrine disruptors on humans have linked them to cancers, birth defects and problems reproducing. What they do at the literal bottom of the food chain, we don't know.

According to Jamieson, PCBs affect the reproductive success of crustaceans living in shallower waters. "We can only speculate the same thing occurs in the deep ones," he said. "But again, without being able to study them alive we simply don't know."

Observing life as it naturally operates down in the deep is not easy. Just as a human can't survive the pressures found at the trench floor, deep-sea critters often can't handle the journey to the surface. The best scientists can do sometimes is yank up whatever they can catch and pick through the scraps for meaning.

Whether these polluted amphipods are worse for wear in their home habitat, though, is a little beside the point. They are simply proof that we can't keep treating the sea like a big, black pit. There are currently more than 400,000 tons of PCBs swirling in the seven seas. If the Earth's most inaccessible ecosystems are now coping with the mistakes of nearly half a century ago, how long will it take the environment to bounce back from bad decisions we make today?

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

Climate
People, Planet, Paint / Facebook

Here's How This Artist Is Fighting Against Trump's War on the Environment

By Clara Chaisson

Like so many citizens of the world, Monica Rowand spent the weeks following the presidential election feeling panicked about how the Trump administration could roll back years of hard-fought environmental progress. "I really didn't know what I could do," she said. But as she watched the Trump cabinet fill with climate change deniers, an image of a protester she saw kept coming back to mind: a woman wearing nothing but body paint that spelled out a simple fact, "Climate change is real."

"Polar Bear Plight," painted by Cheryl Ann Lipstreu on Bethany Tuttle.People, Planet, Paint

The photo, from a protest in November, became a symbol of hope to Rowand. She channeled her frustrations into action, and less than a month later, People, Planet, Paint was born. The project is using body painting to spread awareness about environmental issues. It officially went live on Inauguration Day.

Naked bodies slathered in depictions of swirling seascapes and glowing coals are attention grabbing, to be sure. And we need as many eyes on climate change as we can get. But it's more than that. "I feel it's more relatable," Rowand said. "It's an actual human that's delivering the message to you, as opposed to something that's stagnant on a wall or on a computer screen."

Devon Weiland paints CR Hall at the event in Boulder, ColoradoSkyelar Habberfield

Rowand spent three years working in communications for the environmental nonprofit Global Green before enrolling in a sustainability-focused MBA program. "It was really hard to get people to listen" as she tried to communicate the threats of global warming, she said. "I would do the check of 'Wait, would I look at this? Would I read this?'"

The medium of the human form also reminds us that climate change will leave no body untouched. Accordingly, Rowand's project is all-inclusive. "All shapes welcome, all sizes welcome, all colors welcome, definitely," she said. "[It's] just inherent to the art form."

"Drowing Waters" painted by Jocelyn Goode on Amy Hope.Jarrett Robertson

So far, People, Planet, Paint has held two painting events, one in Boulder, Colorado and one in Baltimore. Artists and models in the two cities created "Bodies of Change," which depicts the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and other global environmental issues. Each image is paired with additional information on what's at stake and concrete actions individuals can take.

Rowand takes inspiration from how quickly people came together to make People, Planet, Paint a reality. Artists, models and other volunteers answered the call, a local business in Boulder donated space and photographers pitched in to document the event. "It's not me on an island. Clearly, other people are willing to step up and take action."

"Wood You?" painted by Niazja Rios on Coral LopezJarrett Robertson

Going forward, People, Planet, Paint aims to produce two projects a year, focusing on specific issues related to climate change and sustainable development. Next up: the People's Climate Movement on April 29. Get ready for some skin, Washington, DC.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

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Here's What Elephant Extinction Sounds Like

By Clara Chaisson

Elephants are extinct.

If that sentence became fact, how would you feel? Artist Jenny Kendler's Music for Elephants: A Eulogy for the Future attempts to evoke the grief of such a loss through a seamless combination of piano music, data and symbolism.

The 10-minute song is a translation of projected elephant population numbers over time into a musical score. The notes emanate from an unmanned player piano, adding a ghostly presence to the already haunting tones. The restored 1920s instrument has keys made of ivory—the very substance for which poachers slaughter these animals each year by the tens of thousands. If and when the piano falls silent, the elephant has disappeared from the Earth forever.

Kendler has been striving to combine her two great loves, art and the natural world, her entire life. As a baby, her parents have told her, one of her first words was picture. Kendler grew up in a solar-powered home and "it was only as I got older that I realized other people didn't talk about global warming at the dinner table in the '80s," she said. Her efforts to synthesize creativity and conservation are epitomized by her current role as Natural Resource Defense Council's (NRDC) first-ever artist-in-residence.

Detail of the perforated player piano roll.Jenny Kendler


Kendler says she's been thinking for years about elephants' similarities to humans, with their well-established social structures and emotional complexity. The severity of the poaching crisis inspired her to take creative action. The piano—an instrument with emotional range and keys historically made from elephant tusks—felt like the perfect medium.

With help from wildlife experts at NRDC, Kendler spent months researching elephant birth and death rates and poaching statistics. Along with her husband, a software developer, she used the data to create a predictive model.

Each note of Music for Elephants represents one month and its pitch the number of elephants that have died in those four weeks. Higher notes correspond to fewer poaching incidents, while lower notes mean more elephants are dying. "Nothing is random," Kendler said. "Everything in the way that the score is played is completely derived from the numerical set itself." Her algorithm assumes that poaching will continue to increase at a rate of 1.5 percent each year, culminating in extinction 25 years from now.

Recent hopeful events may make that timeline less likely. In December, China promised to shut down its ivory trade by the end of 2017. An estimated 70 percent of all illegal ivory goes through China, which is why Kendler sees the announcement as "straight-up good news."

But the situation for elephants is still dire. Illegal channels for ivory will likely persist and consumer education is key. At the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, which exhibited Music for Elephants in November, Kendler said, "People would say to me, 'Oh, people are still killing elephants for ivory? I didn't know that.'"

Take a listen to her work below.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

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7 Ways Trump’s First Week in the White House Was a Complete Disaster

By Brian Palmer

1. A Mission Long Since Accomplished

One of Donald Trump's first acts as president will be to solve problems we don't have. His America First Energy Plan promises to free us from "burdensome regulations" and end our "dependence on foreign oil."

Dependence on foreign energy was a legitimate concern in the 1970s, a decade when oil imports increased fivefold. This is not an issue anymore. During the Obama administration, oil imports dropped 25 percent. Bemoaning our dependence on imported oil in 2016 is to pretend the past eight years never happened. Take a look.

Trump taking credit for American energy independence is the equivalent of storming into the middle of a touchdown celebration, ripping the ball out of the scorer's hands and spiking it.

2. Which America?

When President Trump promises to put "America First," he means the part of America that voted for him. (Not to belabor the point, but that's substantially less than half the U.S. voting population.) The other America, it seems, can take a hike.

For instance, Trump's America First Energy Plan contains no mention of renewable energy. Solar ("very, very expensive," claims Trump, wrongly) now employs more Americans than oil, gas, or coal. Wind (a "very, very poor form of energy," in Trump's estimation) now generates more than 20 percent of the electricity in three states. Nearly two million Americans work full- or part-time jobs in energy efficiency, an industry that Trump undermined on his first day in office.

Of course, those jobs are in states with foreign-sounding names like "California" and "Hawaii." Mr. President, are these places not the America you were talking about?

3. Welcome to America, Censorship!

Speaking of real things that Trump doesn't believe in, the White House website now has virtually zero mentions of climate change. According to reports, the Trump administration has ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a similar information purge. Trump has also banned press releases and social media posts at most agencies with any relationship to science—the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, etc. Shut up, science!

Fortunately, universities around the world have been toiling to preserve existing U.S. government data by copying it onto websites beyond Trump's reach. Meanwhile, someone has set up an uncensored alternative Twitter account for the National Park Service and the EPA (among others), and media outlets are offering how-to pages for aspiring government whistleblowers and document leakers.

Enraged scientists are considering a march on Washington (working title: "the Nerd Pride Parade"). There are more than six million scientists in the United States. If just 10 percent of them attend the march, they will outdraw the Trump inauguration. Do it, nerds!

The whole incident is a classic example of censorship backfire. Trump's attempt to stop people from talking about climate change has only multiplied the chatter. Experts refer to this as "the Streisand Effect."

4. The Trump-ian Inquisition

To further its war on scientific integrity, the Trump administration has ordered the EPA to submit all studies and data to political review before public release.

Extremism has a certain internal logic that you have to respect. Myron Ebell, the professional climate change denier who's leading the EPA transition, believes that "science is having a corrupting influence on politics." That idea is obviously backward. It's the scientists who identify facts and the politicians who take those facts and do unspeakable things to them.

However, in the context of Ebell's bizarre worldview, subjecting scientific studies to political review makes perfect sense. Ebell is the sort of man who looks at the Galileo affair and thinks, "Life at the center of the universe was so much better. They were too easy on him."

5. Participation Trophies?

Moving from censorship to outright lies, a major newspaper finally fact-checked Donald Trump's repeated boast that he has "received many, many environmental awards." The results are in. I hope you're sitting down for this—there is no evidence that Trump has ever won an award for environmental stewardship. The Washington Post gave him four Pinocchios for the whopper.

"I've actually been called an environmentalist, if you can believe that," Trump once said.

I can believe that, because the person doing the calling was Trump himself, and the audience laughed so hard when he said it that the hearing room had to be called back to order.

6. Pipelines: They're Baaack

President Trump signed an order on Tuesday expediting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was under environmental review by the Army Corps of Engineers. He also formally requested that TransCanada reapply to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, an abrupt about-face from the Obama administration's KXL position, which could be summarized in two letters.

Trump, being Trump, had to toss out a falsehood while signing the order, muttering "lot of jobs, 28,000 jobs" in a supervillain voice that almost made it sound like he intended to keep all the jobs for himself. In fact, the KXL project would create a maximum of 4,650 jobs for only two years. Over the long-term, the pipeline would create just a few dozen permanent jobs.

7. It's Getting Chilly

In one of his first acts, President Trump froze all regulations made under the Obama administration that have not yet been finalized. Caught up in the freeze were 30 EPA rules, including the Renewable Fuel Standard and a formaldehyde-emission limit for wood products. Imagine the damage to U.S. businesses if the EPA had been allowed to limit the amount of formaldehyde—a skin irritant and known carcinogen—in the wooden floorboards our babies crawl on. Oh, the humanity. Trump also ordered a hiring and contracts freeze at the EPA, lest the agency try to save us from other dangers.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

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