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New July 2013

Breast cancer ‘personal drugs’ hope

Breast cancer research scientists at Cardiff University say they are a step nearer understanding why the disease has at least 10 different forms.

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How did Vancouver get so green?

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Vancouver is supremely green, in both senses of the word. Set between ocean and mountains and lined with verdant trees, Vancouver also has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any major city in North America. In 2007, the most recent year for which comparisons are available, Vancouver had annual emissions of 4.9 tons of CO2 equivalent per capita. By 2012, according to Vancouver’s city government, it had dropped to 4.4 tons per person. “Vancouver has done really well at decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and showing leadership on climate change,” says Ian Bruce, science and policy manager at the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental research organization. “Vancouver is bucking the trend of a lot of North American cities when it comes to how quickly the city is growing in population — it’s increasing quite dramatically, its economy and jobs have increased — while greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 9 percent in the last decade.” How did Vancouver achieve that? It’s an outlier in even the green-friendly Pacific Northwest: While Seattle and Portland look and feel a lot like Vancouver, their per capita emissions are roughly three times as high. The U.S.’s closest competitor to Vancouver is New York, followed by San Francisco, then Philadelphia. All of those cities are older, with many dense, walkable rowhouse neighborhoods developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the car rose to dominate the landscape and city planning. Like its Pacific Northwest peers, Vancouver was built later, with more detached houses and parking garages. In part, Vancouver is just lucky. British Columbia is rich in hydroelectric power, so keeping the lights on in all those coffee bars pumps a lot less CO2 into the atmosphere than in cities where power comes from fossil fuels. It also helps that Vancouver has a relatively mild West Coast climate. Inland cities like Minneapolis and Denver, with more weather extremes, need more fuel for heat in the winter and electricity for air conditioning in summer. But Vancouver has also made a lot of smart public policy choices. Even as the Canadian national government backslides on environmental protection, Canada’s more liberal localities are making progress. Ontario banned coal-fired electricity this year. Vancouver has been committed to sustainability, and creating policies to advance that goal, for several decades. Mayor Gregor Robertson keeps raising the bar on his predecessor’s successes. He developed the comprehensive “Greenest City 2020 Action Plan,” which lays down benchmarks that each sector of the city’s government must achieve. According to environmental advocates, the city has pursued three main agendas that account for its success: 1. Offering transportation alternatives. Vancouverites are eager to ditch their cars, and the city is trying to help them do so. In 2010 Vancouver started building separated bicycle lanes and it is launching a bikeshare system this year. “Continuing to shift people out of cars to walking, biking, and transit is crucial,” said Mayor Robertson in a phone interview with Grist. Robertson boasts that Vancouver has reached 44 percent of its trips being made without a car. That’s the third-highest percentage in North America, after New York City and Washington, D.C. His administration has also encouraged carsharing, which helps reduce car ownership and total driving, with free dedicated parking spaces for the Car2Go car-sharing service. Winston WongVancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson, IRL.Even as the city grows, its number of car trips decreases. That means its drops are even more impressive when adjusted for population. “In the past decade, the population in Vancouver has increased 18 percent, the number of jobs has gone up 16 percent, while vehicles entering downtown have decreased by 20 percent,” notes Bruce. The proportion of all trips taken into and within Vancouver by car have each dropped around 5 percent during the same timeframe. “It’s not based on breakthrough technology,” Bruce explains, “just planning decisions to invest in transit, bike, and walking infrastructure.” “Vancouverites have chosen to shift out of cars for 20 years in a row now,” says Robertson. The city’s average decline in car mode share is 1 percent per year. In addition to pedestrian and bike safety, Robertson is trying to expand mass transit. But without sufficient investment at the provincial and federal level, the biggest projects may not be completed. Right now, Roberston is lobbying Ottawa for help building a $3 billion subway line that would go to the University of British Columbia (UBC) and unclog traffic on Broadway, a major road through the city. 2. Density, building codes, and transit-oriented development. Walk around downtown Vancouver and you’ll see a lot of skyscrapers. But unlike the downtowns of many big cities, these aren’t all just office buildings. Vancouver has encouraged building housing upwards in its downtown and along transit corridors. This manages the population growth so that most new residents are living in dense, walkable, transit-accessible environments. Denser buildings also tend to be more energy-efficient. “Vancouver has been designed around the notion of building complete communities,” says Bruce. Shopping, housing, office space, parks, and public amenities are all found in the same neighborhoods, especially downtown. “A lot of downtown cores are ghost towns after businesses close at 5 p.m.,” adds Bruce. “Vancouver has tried to redesign the downtown and build enjoyable places. That has made public transit more efficient and a better investment — with more people living in the downtown core it made more sense to invest in things like mass transit.” Or, as Robertson concisely puts it: “We’ve battled hard against suburban sprawl.” All that development has its environmental challenges. “A lot of the new development is in high-rise condos. Their actual energy performance does not look like it’s as good as anticipated,” notes Ellen Pond, senior policy advisor at the Pembina Institute, a Canadian environmental think tank. Buildings are the largest source of Vancouver’s emissions. And while density is preferable to sprawl, luxury high-rises encased in glass are not necessarily more efficient than, say, compact low-rise brick apartment buildings or townhomes. “The modeled energy performance and actual performance can be quite different,” Pond explains. “For example, sometimes there is no thermal barrier between an apartment’s concrete balconies and the floor inside. So, basically you’re building a building with fans that transmit energy in or out.” That can make it colder in winter and hotter and summer, and thus less energy-efficient. The city is working on these issues. Last fall the city council adopted amendments to the city’s building code requiring all new large buildings to be designed to meet strict energy standards and use 20 percent less energy – below 2007 benchmarks – by 2020. Pond says she expects these new regulations to help make future high-rises more efficient. 3. Clean, productive waste management. Trucking garbage to landfills uses energy. Burning garbage may be even worse. Vancouver also tries to make efficient use of its waste. “Our waste goal of diverting waste away from landfills and incinerators is crucial,” says Robertson. The city has introduced compost pick-up for single family homes and is now working on doing the same for multi-unit buildings. “Vancouver has a really aggressive waste management strategy to divert organics from the waste stream,” says Pond. Food waste and yard waste go to a large composting facility. The city’s compost materials are then sold to gardeners. Vancouver even makes use out of leaky gas (although not the kind that comes out when you’ve eaten a burrito). The city captures methane at the landfill and use it to heat greenhouses. They even take the warmth that naturally accumulates in sewers and use it to heat homes. The biggest problem with Vancouver is that this high quality of life attracts too many people. Last year, The Economist ranked Vancouver the most expensive city in North America [sub req]. Robertson argues that his environmental initiatives also make it less expensive. “Greening a city makes it more affordable,” says Robertson. “You have more affordable transportation, with walking, biking, and transit. Healthier buildings burn less fuel. You get more success by investing in a green city — both [in] quality of life and affordability.” Certainly, Vancouver’s high cost of living is a byproduct of its success. If local governments elsewhere were smart — never a safe assumption — they will seek to emulate it. Robertson is also working on climate adaption, as any responsible mayor must these days. Vancouver, like so many coastal cities, is experiencing adverse effects from climate change and CO2 emissions, and could face much worse problems if CO2 pollution continues unchecked. The city’s harbor has become increasingly acidic due to CO2 pollution, and that may be why its shellfish are dying in droves. Vancouver has adopted a Climate Change Adaptation Plan, which is leading to policies such as flood-proof building regulations and developing plans to deal with extreme heat. And that illustrates the most daunting fact of all: While Vancouver is doing great comparatively, it still needs to do more if it is to meet the generally accepted goal of an 80-percent reduction in greenhouse emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. While environmentalists have almost nothing but praise for Vancouver’s existing policies, they want to see the city go farther, faster. “The greenhouse gas emission targets need to be more ambitious than they are today,” says Stephanie Goodwin, Greenpeace’s director for British Columbia. Vancouver may not even meet its own goals. “We’re less than halfway to our emissions targets,” says Goodwin. “They want to reduce emissions by 33 percent from 2007 by 2020. They’ve made less than a 10 percent reduction so far. How far will the city really get over the next 6 years? I have hope but whether they’ll get from single digit reductions up to 33 percent? I’m sitting on pins and needles waiting for that.” Goodwin notes that while the city is following its roadmap to make its buildings carbon neutral by 2020, it is not yet on pace to get there. And so Vancouver’s status as a global warming mitigation leader is both encouraging and discouraging, depending on how you look at it. It shows how much can be done with the strongest political will and the boldest leadership – but is also uncovers a concerted strategy’s limits. At the end of the day, even most liberal Vancouverites don’t want to stop heating their homes or using electricity, and all that energy has to come from somewhere. Says Goodwin of the Vancouver government, “They’ve achieved what’s politically feasible, not what’s ecologically necessary.”Filed under: Article, Cities, Climate & Energy

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Crimea switches to Moscow time amid incorporation celebration

<!– google_ad_section_start –> The hands of a clock at the main railway station in Simferopol jumped from 10pm to midnight as Crimea switched to Moscow time, symbolically finalising its incorporation into Russia. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Former George W. Bush aide rips Jeb Bush for ‘kissing the ring’ of billionaires

Matthew Dowd, who was chief strategist for George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, on Sunday ripped Republican presidential hopefuls for lowering themselves to “kiss the ring” of billionaires like Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson. During a Sunday panel segment on ABC’s This…

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Medical association: Frequent texting can lead to abnormal, painful spinal curvature

By Luisa Dillner Texting is bad for your health. Do it while walking and you can bump into walls or step out into traffic. Studies have linked excessive texting with insomnia, stress and painful tendons (BlackBerry thumb). Now the United Chiropractic Association (UCA) has warned that texting for…

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There’s a gene in your saliva that determines how your body breaks down carbs: scientists

British researchers have discovered a link between a gene that breaks down carbohydrates and obesity, which may pave the way for more effective, individually tailored diets for people wanting to lose weight. Researchers at King’s College London and Imperial College London found that people…

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New Alabama food truck regulations prevent local churches from feeding the homeless

Food truck regulations that went into effect on January 1, 2014 are preventing churches in Birmingham, Alabama from feeding the homeless. Minister Rick Wood of the Lords House of Prayer told ABC 3340 that police informed him that he would not be able to provide food for the homeless in Linn Park…

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Twenty-one dead in attempted escape from headquarters of Nigerian secret police

21 dead in attempted jail break: Nigerian secret police (via AFP) Nigeria’s secret police on Sunday said that 21 detainees died during an attempted jail break from custody at its headquarters in the capital, Abuja. Department of State Services spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar said in an emailed…

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Hammer-wielding robbers terrorize shoppers at Philippine mall

Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Philippine mall (via AFP) A band of robbers armed with guns and hammers shot it out with Philippine police inside one of the world’s largest shopping malls Sunday, sending Manila shoppers scrambling for safety, police and witnesses said. Waves of police…

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Rick Santorum: Uninsured people are deadbeats and ‘won’t make a payment’ for Obamacare

Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Sunday suggested that “many” people who had purchased private insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act were basically deadbeats who “won’t make a payment.” In an interview on Meet the Press, guest host…

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Freed Putin critic Khodorkovsky granted asylum in Switzerland

Kremlin critic Khodorkovsky granted residency in Switzerland (via AFP) Former Russian oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, freed after a decade in prison in Russia, has been granted a one-year resident permit in Switzerland, migration authorities said Sunday. “His application…

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Far-right National Front gains ‘significant foothold’ in French elections

Far right poised for breakthrough in France (via AFP) France on Sunday held a second round of voting in local elections that are set to result in a breakthrough by the far right and trigger a reshuffle of the beleaguered Socialist government. With his party facing a drubbing in the first electoral…

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Alabama sex offender accused of using grandson as excuse to visit pediatrician offices

An Alabama grandfather is behind bars after being accused by parents at a pediatrician’s office of becoming too familiar with the young patients. According to WTVM, Gary Lynn Morgan, a registered sex offender, began behaving suspiciously in the waiting area of Phenix City’s Preferred…

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GOP lawmakers scramble to court Tesla

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Electric vehicle sales in New Jersey ran out of batteries earlier this month, when the Chris Christie administration voted to ban car manufacturers from selling directly to drivers. The companies must now use third-party dealers. The ban applies to all car manufacturers, but seemed particularly aimed at Tesla, which had been in negotiations with the administration for months to sell electric cars straight from its own storefronts in the state. The move was a win for the state’s surprisingly powerful auto dealer lobby and a loss for one of the country’s biggest electric car makers. But it also cemented New Jersey’s place as a non-contender for the real prize: a $5 billion battery “gigafactory” that Tesla plans to begin construction on later this year. With an estimated 6,500 employees, the factory will likely become a keystone of the United State’s clean energy industry and an economic boon for its host state. Now, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada are scrambling to get picked, and last week Republican legislators in Arizona began to try pushing their state to the top of the pile. It’s the latest sign that, at least at the state level, the clean energy industry’s best friend might be the GOP. Newt Gingrich quickly pounced on Christie after the direct sales ban for “artificially” insulating car dealers, just weeks after calling for John Kerry to resign after Kerry named climate change as a principle challenge of the generation. On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called his state’s direct sales ban “antiquated” nearly a year after a Democrat-backed bill to change the policy was killed. New Jersey and Texas aren’t the only states where you can’t buy a Tesla car directly from the company: Arizona and Maryland also have direct sales bans. But a bill passed out of committee in Arizona’s GOP-controlled Senate last week would reverse the state’s position and allow electric vehicle companies to sell directly out of their showrooms. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Warren Peterson (R-Gilbert) said he was spurred by the New Jersey situation to amend what he sees as a creeping assault on free market principles. “For me, it’s not about Tesla or electric cars,” he said. “For me, a big concern I have now is we are limiting someone’s choice.” But despite backing from some prominent Arizona Republicans (Sen. John McComish told the Arizona Daily Star he didn’t see why the state should “prevent someone else who has a better idea from making an effort to enter that industry”), Warren said he’s faced opposition from others who see the bill as damaging to the state’s traditional car market or a handout to Tesla, arguments that swayed the decision in New Jersey. “I have a tough time understanding why Republicans are opposed to it, because free markets are such a big part of the platform,” he said. “States that moved away from this have made a big mistake.” The Republican-eat-Republican battle over Tesla mirrors another clean energy fight playing out nationwide. Conservatives aligned with large utility companies are squaring off with the solar power industry and libertarian-leaning Republicans over rules to allow homeowners with solar panels to sell excess power back to the grid, a policy known as net metering, which is allowed in more than 40 states. Some utility companies, however, worry the practice will disrupt their business model as more and more homes go solar. That fight has been particularly vicious in Arizona, where the son of conservative icon Barry Goldwater has led the pro-solar charge on free market arguments. “In a lot of ways, [clean energy] is an existential crisis” for Republicans, said Marita Mirzatuny, a Texas-based energy analyst for the Environmental Defense Fund. Some “are fighting on behalf of old entrenched regulations, which seems counterintuitive,” because at the same time “there’s a lot of money and momentum moving into the cleantech realm.” With Tesla’s battery factory on the line, the stakes are now higher than ever, and Arizona is poised to become the first state of the four in line for the factory to clear its regulatory hurdles. “For Texas to lose out because of regulation like that is the ultimate irony,” Mirzatuny said. The proposed factory has implications beyond just electric vehicles. Electricity storage is a central challenge for the renewable energy industry as well. Rooftop solar companies still struggle with how to store excess power, and some are now relying on the car industry to perfect that technology. California’s biggest solar installer, SolarCity, is already using Tesla batteries to store power from homes in that state, and on Tuesday Honda unveiled an experimental carbon-neutral house that relies on car batteries. As cleantech of all kinds matures as a growing market, Mirzatuny said, more conservatives might embrace the economic potential in fighting climate change. “Economics are finally aligned with environmental protection,” she said. “That’s a rare opportunity.” This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Politics

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States struggling to understand frackquakes

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Frackers have been triggering earthquakes across the country by injecting their wastewater at high pressure into disposal wells. That much is certain. The U.S. Geological Survey has linked the practice to a sixfold increase in earthquakes in the central U.S. from 2001 to 2011. It’s also possible that the very act of fracking has been causing some temblors. What isn’t certain, though, is what governments can do about it. Bloomberg reports on a new initiative that aims to manage some of those earth-shaking dangers: Regulators from Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio met for the first time this month in Oklahoma City to exchange information on the man-made earthquakes and help states toughen their standards. “It was a very productive meeting, number one, because it gave the states the opportunity to get together and talk collectively about the public interest and the science,” Gerry Baker, who attended as associate executive director of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a group that represents energy-producing states, said in an interview. “It was a good start in coordinating efforts.” … The goal of the regulators is to develop a set of common procedures to monitor for earthquakes, investigate their cause and draft rules and regulations to prevent them, said Scott Anderson, senior policy adviser for the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin, Texas, who has been in communication with state regulators on the issue. Would we be stating the obvious if we suggested that these states protect themselves from earthquakes by simply stopping fracking — just as New York and countless local municipalities have done — while the drilling risks are better investigated by scientists?Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy

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Is This a Tech Bubble or Not?

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“Are we in a bubble?” is the evergreen topic of tech punditry – the equivalent of the political commentariat’s nonstop speculation about whether Hillary Clinton will run in 2016. Tech writers theorize about bubbles for lots of reasons: because they’re bored, because it gets clicks, because they’re annoyed by Silicon … More »

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Why we can’t seem to stop oil-filled rail cars from going boom

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People — including me — have written a good amount already about how trains have been exploding lately. In 2008, 9,500 carloads of crude oil were shipped by train in the U.S.; in 2012, that number was 234,000 carloads. The oil is packed into freight cars that date back to the 1960s and that normally carry payloads like corn syrup, then shipped along aging freight infrastructure. When the trains fail, they fail hard, and because freight lines were built to run through cities, rather than around them, they fail around people. Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, the Alabama wetlands, and eastern North Dakota are just a few instances of this species of disaster. Most of the ink that’s been spilled over the oil-by-rail shipping boom has dealt with the very understandable question of “How did this happen?” Some blame the fight against Keystone XL — the companies getting crude out of the Alberta tar sands had scaled their oil operations up in anticipation of having a pipeline, and had to get it to market somehow. Others say that we’re drilling for oil in so many places — like North Dakota’s Bakken Shale — that a boom in oil-by-rail would have happened anyway, pipelines or no pipelines. The most interesting thing about a recent article by Natasha Khan, published in the Pennsylvania-based investigative journalism nonprofit Public Source, is that it gets past the “How did all these exploding trains happen?” question and into “How is this awful situation going to improve? How soon before we learn, as a nation, how to not explode so many trains?” In short: It doesn’t look good, folks. For one thing, if you’re a concerned citizen, it’s hard to tell if a train full of explosive crude is moving through your community — or any other community you happen to be concerned about. Railway officials aren’t required to disclose the routes that hazardous materials travel, and so they don’t. The secrecy is for security reasons, they say. They do, however, seem to share that information with state officials, who sometimes share it with reporters, which is how Kahn learned that there were indeed trains full of the particularly explosive Bakken crude going through Pittsburgh, Penn., and that she could expect a lot more trains when a new crude oil terminal opened in Eddystone, Penn., at the end of April. For another: The railroads’ regulatory structure doesn’t make safety decisions quickly. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is one of the groups that has called for new regulations, specifically concerning the DOT-111s, those ’60s-era tanker cars that Fred Millar, a Washington, D.C., consultant to the rail industry, describes in the article as “Pepsi cans on wheels.” The Association of American Railroads estimates that, out of the 92,000 DOT-111 tank cars currently used to transport hazardous chemicals, more than 75,000 of them will need to be retrofitted, or even phased out. But the NTSB only investigates rail accidents – it doesn’t regulate. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is in charge of the actual regulating. PHMSA says that it’s busy analyzing all of the comments that it’s received on how to improve its safety rules, and that it won’t be able to make any changes until early 2015. Understandably, PHMSA has been getting some flak over this, notably from a Senate panel earlier this month, where Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told PHMSA reps that he was “disappointed and disturbed by some of the delays and failures in rulemaking and scrutiny.” Kahn doesn’t get into it in her article, but PHMSA has a bit of a past, especially when it comes to the “safety” part of their acronym. Two years ago, the Office of the Inspector General found that PHMSA had misused the money that it had been given to manage emergency preparedness for hazardous materials. The agency also has a track record of withholding public records like safety inspection reports, even from direct requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Which means that right now, there’s not much going on to prevent more accidents and spills. State agencies do their best to follow and enforce safety regulations that already exist: They step up the inspection of their own rail lines and train their own disaster response crews in potential oil-by-rail accidents. In the absence of a clear regulatory structure, cities that feel they are at risk are casting about for any way to stop the trains moving through their borders. Earlier this week, on March 25, Richmond, Calif., passed a unanimous resolution directing a laundry list of local politicians and agencies to look into how to keep Bakken crude out of Northern California until new regulations are issued. The city council had recently learned that large quantities of it were being shipped from North Dakota to a Kinder Morgan oil terminal in the city. Will local activism be able to put enough pressure on PHMSA to speed up the regulatory process? Hard to say for sure — but for now, the forecast includes more exploding trains.Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy

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