Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A drug lord’s exotic animals are helping Colombia’s environment

The infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar brought violence, crime, and terror to Colombia and much of the region during his reign.

But Escobar also brought in exotic pets for his estate, that have now escaped and are roaming the Colombian countryside.

Of particular interest are the hippopotamuses that now roam free, which have grown from the original four Escobar kept in an impressive herd of 80 animals. While some consider them to be a nuisance, others say they are actually filling a needed role in Colombia’s environment and ecosystem.

This is because the hippos eat the same food, weigh about the same, and act generally similar to the now extinct Hemiauchenia paradoxa, which was not unlike today’s llama.

The llama-like creature roamed the region of Colombia about 100,000 years ago and was much bigger than its contemporary brothers.

Now, with hippos on the scene, there is another large herbivore trampling vegetation into grasslands, eating excess vegetation, and excreting similar compounds to help fertilize the area.

Popular Science reports:

But could the species that we consider ‘invasive,’ like Escobar’s hippo tribe, be filling the glaring gap they left behind?

A new study published Monday in PNAS that compares qualities of ancient fauna with their newly introduced counterparts argues that creatures that have ended up far from their evolutionary homes, like camels in Australia or feral horses in the Americas, are stepping in the ecological shoes of animals long extinct.

“While they might look really different, in terms of how they influence ecosystems, they are actually not that different,” says study author John Rowan, a paleontologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. A hippo and an ancient llama might sound pretty distinct from one another, but they eat equivalent food, weigh about the same, and digest their meals similarly.

In fact, this example may prove to be an instructive moment to scientists and conservationists – as from now on they may take a second look at attempting to remove a species that isn’t necessarily residing today in the same precise location from which it originally came.

Some unintended consequences of bioplastics that hurt marine life

According to a study performed by Tel Aviv University, “environmentally friendly” cutlery like utensils and plates made with bioplastics are actually posing a threat to marine species.

Previously, it was thought that disposable tableware made out of bioplastics was much better for the environment than normal plastic because it would decompose quicker and pose fewer risks to fish, birds, and other sea creatures.

Now, this study from Tel Aviv University claims that bioplastics decompose at a similar rate to traditional plastics, negating any huge environmental benefit.

What’s worse, is that these bioplastics pose the most severe threat to marine life with how they are disposed of. Ocean critters are already under threat from enough plastic debris and overfishing.

ScienceDaily reports:

“At least in the short term, both types of plastic have a similar detrimental effect, Prof. Shenkar says. ‘Bioplastics are made of natural materials and, in that sense, they are more beneficial environmentally speaking. But they may also contain toxins just like regular plastic dishes and they do not biodegrade quickly in the aquatic habitat. In fact, the standard appearing on the label is dated. It doesn’t refer at all to different kinds of plastic additives and speaks of biodegrading within 180 days, but that is specifically under conditions available only in industrial composting settings.’”

Scientists Discover Coral Reefs Recovered Quickly After Bleaching

It was a depressing if expected inevitability when Western Australia’s Rowley Shoals showed the first signs of mass coral bleaching earlier this year, but a follow-up survey has found a remarkable recovery looks likely to preserve the reef’s near-pristine health — at least for now.

Tom Holmes, the marine monitoring coordinator at the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation, and Attractions, said that while his team was still processing the data, it appeared the coral had pulled off an “amazing” return towards health over the past six months.

“We were expecting to see widespread mortality, and we just didn’t see it … which is a really amazing thing,” Dr. Holmes said.

The survey was a follow-up to one conducted in April that found as much as 60 percent of corals on some Rowley Shoals reefs had bleached after the most widespread marine heatwave since reliable satellite monitoring began in 1993.

It has long been known that high sea temperatures cause coral bleaching which can kill coral — as seen by the devastation of the Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast — but what is less well known is that bleached corals do not die immediately.

“So when a coral bleaches, it’s actually just a sign of initial stress,” Dr. Holmes said.

However, corals rely on these microscopic algae as a food source and cannot survive for long without them.

“If that stress continues for a long time and those corals remain white, then it can lead to mortality,” Dr. Holmes said.

“But there are some cases of bleaching around the world where … that stress hasn’t continued for a long time, and the corals have been able to take that alga back in from the water.”

Dr. Holmes believes that the vital time gap between bleaching and dying created a chance for the reefs to recover at the Rowley Shoals, a chain of three coral atolls 300 kilometers off Broome on the edge of Australia’s continental shelf.

Australia: The ghost of former PM Tony Abbott paralyses Canberra on climate policy

The climate has moved on. Companies have moved on. State governments have moved on. Australia's biggest trading partners have, too. But the ghost of Tony Abbott inhabits Parliament House, Canberra. It scares the government. And it scares the opposition.

It was Abbott who broke Australia's national approach to climate and energy policy. It was a decade ago that he drove the knife of political conflict so deep and so effectively into federal politics that both sides of Parliament remain traumatised. They struggle to move on.

It was pathetically obvious this week. In both the Morrison government and the Albanese opposition.

In the government's case, it was when the Prime Minister made his congratulatory phone call to the US President-elect, Joe Biden. They discussed shared priorities including climate change.

The incoming American leader intends committing the US to a policy of zero net-carbon emissions by 2050. This is a policy that Morrison dare not endorse, or even speak. Instead, he told reporters: "I raised with the President-elect the similarity between the President-elect's comments and policies regarding emissions reduction and technologies that are needed to achieve that and we look forward to working on those issues."

So he emphasises the common ground – the obvious fact that all countries need new energy technology to cut carbon emissions. And avoids the difference – that Biden has a long-term target, and Australia does not. The Biden office issued a readout saying the pair discussed "common challenges" including "confronting climate change".

Australia, of course, has remained committed to Paris. And the Morrison government quietly has supported billions of dollars' worth of new renewable investments in the states, granted major project status to the $22 billion Sun Cable project to export solar power from the Northern Territory under the ocean to Singapore, invested in hydrogen technology, and much more.

But rather than being able to welcome home the prodigal son of the global climate effort in a full-throated greeting to post-Trump America, Morrison is suddenly mute when it comes to the forbidden words. It's just sad that a national leader can't speak the taboo words of targets or deadlines in an area of policy on which the fate of his country depends.

Australia's carbon emissions are falling. It's just that, on the current trajectory, we won't hit net zero for another four centuries. Or, more precisely, until 2393, as the Climate Council researcher Tim Baxter told my colleague Mike Foley.

It's not that Morrison is hostile to the concept of going carbon neutral. When asked, he agrees that he would like Australia to hit net-zero emissions "as quickly as possible". He just won't put a date to it, and says it'd be dishonest to do so without being able to specify the cost to the economy.

This runs contrary to two iron rules of politics. One is that the more distant the date, the more likely the commitment, and 2050 is 30 years hence. Morrison will be 82, assuming he lives that long and the planet is still habitable. He'd be long retired and unaccountable.

The other iron rule is to emphasise the benefits of a policy you support, and dissemble on the costs. For instance, the government is raising hundreds of billions of dollars in fresh Commonwealth debt in the bond market. It boasts about how it's supporting the economy today. And what costs will Australia's next generation pay to carry and repay that debt? Crickets.

Morrison's obduracy is even more bizarre when you realise that every state and territory in the Commonwealth has pledged to get to net zero by 2050. The real reason Morrison dare not break the taboo? Two words: Tony Abbott.

Recall that John Howard and Kevin Rudd reached a broad bipartisan agreement in 2007. They converged on the idea of an emissions trading scheme. This remained the consensus under Liberal leaders Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull. Until Abbott decided to break ranks, demonise the policy and lead a conservative insurrection against Turnbull.

Under the Abbott rule, it is illegitimate for politicians to commit to a carbon-cutting target. Even his own. As prime minister Abbott committed Australia to its Paris target. But once he'd been unseated by Turnbull, Abbott started campaigning against his own target.

That approach enabled him to bring down Turnbull, but also Julia Gillard. It was instrumental to his political successes.

No matter the need or the urgency. Morrison knows that to campaign openly, ambitiously, is to risk another conservative insurrection from his own Coalition. Instead he sticks to the safe ground of talking up new technology and more investment.

And then there's Labor. The party's spokesman on resources, Joel Fitzgibbon, had planned to announce his retirement from the opposition frontbench on December 7 under an internal deal in the NSW right faction. He decided to accelerate the plan and go out in a blaze of angry dissent instead.

Since last year's federal election he'd made a point of talking up coal mining. There's a lot of it in his NSW seat of Hunter Valley. He suffered a big swing against him at the 2019 election and blamed Labor's climate activists for being disdainful of coal mining and Labor's traditional blue-collar base.

Anthony Albanese's opening salvo against Scott Morrison in Monday's question time was to point out that 70 countries including Biden's America were committing to net-zero targets by 2050: "Why is the Prime Minister leaving Australia behind by refusing to?"

This was planned as a Labor theme for the week. Fitzgibbon's high-profile dissent within Labor sabotaged that effort and opened Labor to attack from the government. And when Albanese chided Fitzgibbon at Monday evening's shadow cabinet meeting, it erupted into an angry exchange. Without a discussion of the actual policy. Fitzgibbon resigned from the front bench the next morning. Three weeks early. He plans to continue his destabilising campaign of criticism.

Once again, Labor is acting out the Abbott rule – Fitzgibbon by noisily campaigning against climate activism, and Labor as a whole by withholding its climate policy. Still shaken by its loss last year, Labor is postponing announcements of most of its policy plans across the board.


My other blogs. Main ones below

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com TONGUE-TIED)

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://john-ray.blogspot.com (FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC)

http://australian-politics.blogspot.com (AUSTRALIAN POLITICS)

https://heofen.blogspot.com/ (MY OTHER BLOGS)


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