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Clowning Around for Climate Action

Can an army of pranksters spur interest in the climate fight?

“Laughter is the best medicine.” Like every cliché, this old adage springs from a kernel of truth. And in these distressing political times, a good dose of laughter may be just what the doctor ordered, particularly when it comes to the challenging task of addressing climate chaos.

photo of clownsPhoto courtesy of Stepping Up PodcastClimate change is serious business, but some climate clowns are donning red noses to turn the public's attention to global warming.

The Stepping Up podcast is taking laughter very seriously in its third episode, “Clowning Around.”

“I like to think of it as a lifestyle. Being a prankster activist is a lifestyle choice,” says Larry Bogad, the star of the “Clowning Around” story and a veteran political prankster. He has spent a lifetime creating spectacles on the street, in the halls of government, and in corporate board rooms. Bogad always shows up with his First Amendment tote bag, packed with the costumes and paraphernalia he might need to create a scene.

And a lot of his foolishness is laser focused on the climate conundrum. His Clown Army, dressed in classic red noses and rainbow wigs, shows up at a climate protest to shower the police with flowers and kisses. In a black cassock, Bogad plays the priest, leading a funeral procession for the last ice on Earth. Posing as an officer of the fictitious Oil Enforcement Agency, he slips into an auto trade show to wrap gas guzzling SUVs in police tape. A thrift store suit and a business card serve as entrée into a meeting of oil execs, or a press conference, or a TV talk show where Bogad and his pals have slipped in under the guise of legitimate company VPs to denounce drilling and pronounce the end of oil. 

Clowning around, creative pranksterism, collective buffoonery, beautiful trouble, serious play; these are various ways in which Bogad characterizes what he is doing. On the surface, it all looks like fun and games. But the underlying goal is to get our attention and get us to take action. People turn away from a flier proffered on the street and doze off during a power point presentation. But Bogad’s wild and crazy antics, which point to the contradictions and lies embedded in American climate policy, may just get us to stop, laugh, and join the conversation.

These pranks occur in a specific time and place. But their effect is magnified by what Bogad calls “earned media coverage.” …more

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Nebraska Approves Keystone XL Pipeline, Despite Opposition

Pipeline opponents have 30 days to appeal the decision

Less than five minutes into this morning’s meeting of the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC), regulators voted three to two to approve the “mainline alternative route” of the Keystone XL pipeline. And with that, the last hurdle facing Canadian company TransCanada was cleared leaving, paving the way for construction of the controversial pipeline. Nebraska was the last state reviewing the pipeline – the other states through which KXL will pass have already approved the project.

 SOLAR XL #2Photo by Alex Matzke / Bold NebraskaIn September, Bold Nebraska and Pipeline Fighters installed solar panels in the path of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, on Diana and "Stix" Steskal's Prairierose Farm near Atkinson, NE.

Before the vote, Nebraska District 2 Commissioner Crystal Rhoades spoke for two minutes against the pipeline route citing six main areas of concern including the fragile ecosystem through which the pipeline would travel, the lack of positive economic impact for the state, and the lack of consultation with the Native American tribes in the region.

TransCanada submitted three routes for approval including the company’s preferred route as well as a mainline alternative route and a Sandhills route. Commissioners Frank E. Landis Jr., Tim Schram, and Rod Johnson voted to approve the mainline alternative route, while Rhoades and Mary Ridder voted against. 

The 1,179-mile Keystone XL pipeline will transport more than 800,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska where it will be connected to the Keystone pipeline system and run to refineries and export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama blocked the project in 2015 citing its impacts on climate change, but President Trump reversed his decision earlier this year.

Approval of the $8-billion project came despite a section of the Keystone pipeline leaking almost 800,000 liters of oil in nearby South Dakota just last week before being shut down by TransCanada on November 16.

Opponents have vigorously fought the pipeline, including through the construction of solar panels in Nebraska along its proposed route. Despite the loss, environmental and Indigenous groups vowed to continue the fight against the Keystone XL.

“Today’s decision is no guarantee that this pipeline will ever be built. Nebraska opted not to give TransCanada its preferred route through the state, so the company now has more hurdles in front of its beleaguered pipeline,” said Greenpeace Canada Climate and Energy Campaigner Mike Hudema. “Given last week's reminder of the dangers pipelines …more

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Bonn Climate Summit Makes Progress But Leaves Much To Do

UN negotiations lay the groundwork for implementing the landmark Paris deal, though difficult decisions lay ahead

The world’s nations were confident they were making important progress in turning continued political commitment into real world action, as the global climate change summit in Bonn was drawing to a close on Friday.

The UN talks were tasked with the vital, if unglamorous, task of converting the unprecedented global agreement sealed in Paris in 2015 from a symbolic moment into a set of rules by which nations can combine to defeat global warming. Currently, the world is on track for at least 3C of global warming — a catastrophic outcome that would lead to severe impacts around the world.

photo of COP23 climate action now signphoto by Takver, FlickrActivists outside the conference center in Bonn push for strong climate action. As the summit came to an end on Friday, delegates were confident they were making progress.

The importance of the task was emphasized by Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s prime minister and president of the summit: “We are not simply negotiating words on a page, but we are representing all our people and the places they call home.”

The Paris rulebook, which must be finalized by the end of 2018, now has a skeleton: a set of headings relating to how action on emissions is reported and monitored. Nations have also fleshed this out with suggested detailed texts, but these are often contradictory and will need to be resolved next year. “The worst outcome would have been to end up with empty pages, but that is not going to happen,” said a German negotiator.

One issue that did flare up during talks was the action being taken by rich nations before the Paris deal kicks in in 2020. Developing nations argued not enough is being done and, with the UN climate negotiations running largely on trust, the issue became unexpectedly serious before being defused by commitments to a “stocktake” of action in 2018 and 2019.

The final hours of the negotiations were held up by a technical row over climate funding from rich nations, always a sensitive topic. Poorer and vulnerable nations want donor countries to set out in advance how much they will provide and when, so recipient nations can plan their climate action. Rich nations claim they are not unwilling, but that making promises on behalf of future governments is legally complex.

Progress in raising the importance of gender, Indigenous …more

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Trump Administration Reverses Ban on Elephant Trophy Imports

Campaigners condemn reversal, fear it will set back global efforts to stem the ivory trade

The Trump administration has agreed to allow the remains of elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back to the US, a reversal of an Obama-era ban.

photo of elephants in zimbabwephoto by Steven dosRemediosElephants in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. The Trump administration has reversed a ban elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

In 2014, the President Obama's administration banned the imports of elephant trophies to protect the species. "Additional killing of elephants in these countries, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species," they said at the time.

African elephant populations had once numbered between three to five million in the last century, but have been severely reduced to its current levels of 415,000 animals due to hunting and the illegal ivory trade, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

But the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), an agency within the Department of Interior, said Tuesday that reversing the ban would help preserve the species.

“The hunting and management programs for African elephants will enhance the survival of the species in the wild," a FWS spokesperson said.

“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation."

Under the new change, hunters who legally hunt or hunted an elephant in Zimbabwe from Jan. 21, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2018, or in Zambia between 2016 to 2018 can apply for a permit to import their trophy into the US.

Incidentally, the policy switch was first announced by Safari Club International, a hunting advocacy group that teamed up with the National Rifle Association to sue to block the 2014 ban.

“These positive findings for Zimbabwe and Zambia demonstrate that the FWS recognizes that hunting is beneficial to wildlife and that these range countries know how to manage their elephant populations," said Safari Club International President Paul Babaz.

“We appreciate the efforts of the Service and the US Department of the Interior to remove barriers to sustainable use conservation for African wildlife."

But Elizabeth Hogan, World Animal Protection US Wildlife Campaign Manager, said she was “appalled" at the decision by the Department of the Interior and is urging the Trump administration to reconsider.

“Trophy hunting causes prolonged, immense suffering for elephants and fuels demand for wild animal products, opening …more

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From the War in Iraq to the War against Poaching

Damien Mander’s fight to protect African wildlife

Eight years ago, Damien Mander was trekking through the bush in Zimbabwe when he saw something harrowing — a half-dead buffalo floundering on the ground, trying to free herself from a wire snare gripping her legs. The ranger accompanying Mander said the buffalo must have been there for three days. 

photo of Damien manderPhoto by Erico HillerConservation wasn't always at the forefront of Damien Mander's life, but he found new purpose in the fight to protect wildlife in Southern Africa.

“She’d ripped her pelvis in half,” Mander, a 38-year-old Australian conservationist, told me when we met in Washington DC. “Up close, you could hear the bones grinding against each other. She wanted to be put out of her misery, so we did it.”

The ranger raised his rifle and shot the buffalo, and as the life went out of her, she gave birth to a stillborn calf. Mander often refers to this moment — as well as the time he came across a dead elephant with its tusks hacked from its face — as what spurred him to action. In 2009, he founded the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), an organization dedicated to protecting African wildlife. “I saw a problem and I wanted to do something about it,” Mander said. “So this was my solution.”

Conservation wasn’t always at the forefront of Mander’s life. Prior to founding the IAPF, he spent ten years in the military. Mander, who hails from Mornington, Victoria, joined the Royal Australian navy as a clearance diver when he was 19; then he trained to become a sniper for a special operations unit. In 2005, he left for Iraq, where he worked as part of a management team that trained Iraqi special police for war. Each of these training sessions lasted only six weeks.

“Six weeks is not enough time [for those] who have an almost-zero background in what we’re about to ask them to do — to go into a war zone,” Mander said. “So three things happened to those people — they either deserted, joined the militia and fought back against us, or they got killed.”

By 2008, Mander had completed 12 tours of Iraq, and the nature of the work had taken a toll on him. “I ended up in South America,” Mander said. “I went off the rails. Lots of drugs and alcohol.” But Mander eventually pulled his life back together, and found new purpose with his mission to protect African wildlife. 


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Miniature Robots Could Cut Pesticide Use on Farms in the Future

Robots could also reduce food waste and help harvest crops, but they may not be commercially available for some years to come, say experts

Miniature robot farmers may be the answer to concerns over chemical use on farms and cutting down on food waste, as well as easing labour shortages, academic farming experts have said.

small weeding robotPhoto courtesy of Naio TechnologiesNaio Technologies, a French company, has a robot that can weed a field all on its own.

The drawback is that the machines in question, while developed in laboratories to an advanced stage, are not yet commercially available in the UK. In an optimistic scenario, they could become available in as little as three years, but that would be likely to take large investment and a high degree of entrepreneurialism in the private sector, the experts said on Monday.

Robots set to work in the fields would be able to target pesticides to the plants that need them, in contrast to current practices, dubbed “spray and pray”, which waste 95 percent to 99 percent of pesticides and herbicides because they are blanketed across entire fields. Most of this is wasted, but it promotes resistance among pests and weeds, rendering the harsh chemicals ineffective and encouraging farmers to use more. Some pesticides used in this way are also harmful to pollinators, such as bees, and their blanket use has been banned.

“Farmers have been heavily reliant for decades on the heavy use of pesticides. Some spraying is very desperate,” said Toby Bruce, professor of insect chemical ecology at Keele University. “Farmers are spraying [chemicals] to which there is resistance. They will not be killing pests as the pests have evolved resistance. They will be killing other insects [such as pollinators].”

If instead such products were used in tiny quantities and directed by robots so that 100 percent of the pesticide was going straight to the plant needed, then it might be possible to resume the use of banned or restricted pesticides, said Prof Simon Blackmore, head of robotic agriculture at Harper Adams University. Such targeted use would prevent pests from taking a hold on crops, but would be so small it would cause minimal harm to bees, and be less likely to give rise to resistance.

Robots would also be able to detect when fruit and vegetables were becoming malformed, which gives them a lower market value, and when they were too small to be harvested, allowing the harvesting to wait …more

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See a Jaguar, Save a Jaguar

Conservationists ponder pay-to-protect program to safeguard South America’s biggest cat

Picture the scene. You are floating down a river in Brazil’s Pantanal region, the world’s largest wetland. There you spot the muscular frame of a jaguar prowling on a far bank, South America’s biggest feline is out for a stroll. The next day that same jaguar happens to kill a cow at a nearby ranch and in return is shot by a rancher. Would you pay to save that cat?

Most ecotourists would, according to a study by Panthera. The non-profit, which is dedicated to the conservation of wild cats, found that 80 percent of tourists are willing to donate to offset the costs of jaguar predation. The study was part of an effort to assign a monetary value to South America’s biggest cat, the first of its kind to do so.

photo of pantherPhoto by Steve Winter/Panthera Brazil's Pantanal region is a stronghold for the panther, which is considered threatened across its range.

It’s an important finding, says Fernando Tortato, Jaguar Research Fellow for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, as conflict with jaguars is the main threat to their survival in the Pantanal. Showing ranchers that living with the beast is worth much more than killing it could be the key to staying rancher’s guns, he says.

The plan now is to develop a scheme to put this into action.


Along its range, which stretches from the bottom of South America all the way up to the Mexican border with the US, the jaguar is considered threatened, much more so in some places than others. However, the Pantanal, which spans 140,000-square-kilometers across Brazil and small parts of Paraguay and Bolivia, is considered a stronghold for the species.  

For Panthera, the region is an important step in the organization’s Journey of the Jaguar, a trans-continental trek that will take scientists by air, land, and water across the jaguar’s range, and aims to bring attention to the urgent need to conserve the continent-spanning jaguar corridor. Recent studies have shown that there is only one species of jaguar, which means that for centuries, until human beings came along, jaguars have been connected throughout their range and able to maintain genetic flow. The jaguar corridor is the key to maintaining this flow.

“The Pantanal is like a hub,” explains Tortato. An abundance of prey and good quality, connected habitat has resulted in an incredibly high density of jaguars, he says. From the Pantanal, the cats can disperse to other …more

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