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Are plants intelligent? New book says yes

Beech Tree, on the North Downs near Dorking, Surrey, UK. Photograph: Derek Croucher

A new book, Brilliant Green, argues that not only are plants intelligent and sentient, but that we should consider their rights, especially in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction

by Jeremy Hance
Tuesday 4 August 2015 04.43 EDT

Plants are intelligent. Plants deserve rights. Plants are like the Internet – or more accurately the Internet is like plants. To most of us these statements may sound, at best, insupportable or, at worst, crazy. But a new book, Brilliant Green: the Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, by plant neurobiologist (yes, plant neurobiologist), Stefano Mancuso and journalist, Alessandra Viola, makes a compelling and fascinating case not only for plant sentience and smarts, but also plant rights.

For centuries Western philosophy and science largely viewed animals as unthinking automatons, simple slaves to instinct. But research in recent decades has shattered that view. We now know that not only are chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants thinking, feeling and personality-driven beings, but many others are as well. Octopi can use tools, whales sing, bees can count, crows demonstrate complex reasoning, paper wasps can recognise faces and fish can differentiate types of music. All these examples have one thing in common: they are animals with brains. But plants don’t have a brain. How can they solve problems, act intelligently or respond to stimuli without a brain?


Protesters in Portland dangle from bridge in a bid to block Shell icebreaker

Environmental activists have rappelled off a Portland bridge in an attempt to block a Shell icebreaker from leaving.

By Evan Bush 
Hal Bernton 
Associated Press staff

Seattle Times enterprise producer

Trying to delay Shell’s Arctic icebreaker in Portland, 13 protesters are dangling from the St. Johns Bridge, spanning the Willamette River in North Portland.

The protesters rappelled from the bridge deck at about 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday as a group of about 50 kayakers looked on, said Michael Foster, a kayaker from Seattle and veteran of earlier protests against Shell that took place in Washington state. Foster said the protesters are now suspended from the bridge, which is about 200 feet above the water, in hammocks and bivouacs, the same gear used for rock climbing. The dangling activists have enough supplies to hang for several days and plan to re-supply, Foster said.


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Green – It Seems

Despite all the fine print on consumer labels, we still know very little about what goes into the products we use everyday

By Elizabeth Grossman

Walk down the cleaning products or toiletries aisle in any supermarket these days and you’ll find rows of soaps, lotions, window-cleaners and other products proclaiming their concern for the environment. “Green,” “natural,” “safe for you, and safe for the planet,” “gentle on the earth,” the product labels declare. They promise they are made with ingredients that are “98% naturally derived” and “non-toxic.” As public concern has grown in recent years about the effects of exposure to industrial chemicals, so has consumer demand for products free of ingredients that are hazardous to human health and the environment. The presence of such products now extends well beyond the confines of high-end and specialty stores.


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Seattle 'kayaktivists' protest Shell drilling rig as it leaves for the Arctic - video

Hundreds of activists in kayaks and small boats fanned out on a Seattle bay on Saturday to protest plans by Royal Dutch Shell to resume oil exploration in the Arctic and to keep two of its drilling rigs stored in the city's port. Several were detained on Monday for violating the safety zone around the vessel carrying the rig, police say

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Saying “S-Hell No!” as a Buddhist peacemaker

Puget Sound tribal canoes leading the way to the 307 foot high Shell oil rig in Seattle’s Duwamish waterway.

Our flotilla of several hundred kayaks was appropriately led into the Duwamish River waterway – Chief Seattle’s home ground – by five native canoes representing Puget Sound First Nations people. On Saturday, May 16th, I joined a flotilla of several hundred “kayaktivists” to say “S-Hell No!” to Seattle’s back room decision to provide home port facilities to Shell Oil’s fleet of Arctic oil rigs. Shell’s first rig – the “Polar Pioneer” – arrived on Seattle waterfront on Thursday. It’s progress down Admiralty Inlet past my home on Whidbey Island, under tow of several large tugs, had the feel of Mordor itself arriving in our midst.

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Slick With Denial: ‘Self-Regulation’ and the Latest Oil Spill

By Judith Lewis Mernit
May 22, 2015

On Wednesday, May 20, the day after a Santa Barbara County fire inspector discovered a stream of contaminated crude oil flowing onto a pristine segment of the Southern California coast, a group of researchers published a study linking the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to a mass die-off of bottlenose dolphins. The 46 carcasses examined for the study had suffered from “rare, life-threatening and chronic adrenal gland and lung diseases.” The researchers concluded that these diseases were “consistent with exposure to petroleum compounds as seen in other mammals.”

46 years after the first oil spill that wrecked the Santa Barbara coast, not much has changed

Hearing this, the casual observer might say duh, and wonder why such a study makes the news at this late date, a full five years after British Petroleum’s oil rig exploded and sank, gushing oil for 87 days into Barataria Bay. And indeed, the study is not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last, because there’s just no underestimating the persistence of scientific denial in the oil industry when science threatens to force responsibility upon its corporate leaders for environmental disasters. Among the defenses BP mounted against past studies is that Barataria Bay’s dolphins were already suffering from pesticides and other toxic chemicals, so there’s no way to tell for sure whether it was oil or something else that had sickened them.

The new study, as a consequence, has meticulously ruled out every other cause.

The Santa Barbara oil spill, on the shores of Refugio State Beach, has so far released only a small fraction of the Deepwater Horizon’s 206 million gallons of oil, and this time from a pipeline onshore, not a rig situated nearly a mile beneath the sea. But it has blighted an ecosystem of global importance, at the very top of the Southern California Bight, the fecund expanse of California coast that begins at Point Conception and extends into Baja California. It’s in the channel between the mainland and a chain of islands 20 miles out that dolphins assemble in schools of hundreds and migrating whales collect their krill. The coast is home to shorebirds and waders that thrive on its abundant fish. It’s also beautiful.

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Peabody Energy exploited Ebola crisis for corporate gain, say health experts

Public health experts outraged after world’s largest privately-held coal company promotes its product in the fight against Ebola in Africa as part of a PR campaign to rebrand the fossil fuel as a solution to global poverty

A nurse walks with a little girl suffering from Ebola, at the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) compound in Monrovia. Peabody suggested more energy access with coal generation could have helped with the distribution of an Ebola vaccine, had there been one. Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images

Public health experts involved in the response to the Ebola crisis have condemned what they described as a ludicrous, insulting and opportunistic attempt to exploit the disease for corporate gain by the world’s largest privately-held coal company.

As part of a PR offensive to rebrand coal as a “21st-century fuel” that can help solve global poverty, it has emerged that at the height of Ebola’s impact in Africa, Peabody Energy promoted its product as an answer to Africa’s devastating public health crisis.

Greg Boyce, the chief executive of Peabody, a US-based multinational with mining interests around the world, included a slide on Ebola and energy in a presentation to a coal industry conference in September last year. The slide suggested that more energy would have spurred the distribution of a hypothetical Ebola vaccine – citing as supporting evidence a University of Pennsylvania infectious disease expert.

The World Health Organisation believes nearly 27,000 people contracted Ebola in an outbreak of the virus in West Africa last year, and more than 11,000 died – although the international agency believes that is probably an underestimate.

Public health experts who were involved in fighting the spread of Ebola were outraged at Peabody’s suggestion that expanding energy access with coal generation could have hindered the spread of Ebola and helped with the distribution of a vaccine – especially as there is no approved vaccine against the disease.

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Chevron Making a Killing with Water in California—But at What Cost?

Chevron Making a Killing with Water in California—But at What Cost?
May 12, 2015 by Klaus Marre
Categories: Earth

The Kern River Fields in California are just one area where Big Oil pumps oil in the Golden State. Photo credit: Antandrus / Wikimedia

The drought in California is bad news for residents, farmers and authorities—but not for Chevron, which is making a killing by selling treated oil-field wastewater to the state. It wouldn’t be the first time Chevron had engaged in shady environmental activity that resulted in a killing, both financially for Chevron and literally, in that case, for some Ecuadorian citizens.

The Chevron water is being sold for irrigation purposes, not personal consumption. That’s because it would likely not be safe to drink the millions of gallons that the oil giant recycles daily. But irrigation water is, of course, intimately involved with agricultural products, Which raises the question: can it be dangerous to consumers, even if it’s not consumed directly?

Toxic Chemicals and Oil Found in Chevron Water

The non-profit group Water Defense tested the wastewater and the results are alarming. The analysis revealed high levels of the potentially dangerous chemicals acetone and methylene chloride.

The water also contained oil, despite assurances that it would be filtered out.

“All these chemicals of concern are flowing in the irrigation canal,” said Water Defense’s chief scientist Scott Smith, in an interview with ThinkProgress. “If you were a gas station and were spilling these kinds of chemicals into the water, you would be shut down and fined.”
With California contemplating expanding the wastewater program to other companies, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, experts warn that the toxic chemicals used in the production of oil may eventually end up in the human food chain.

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A Project to Turn Corpses Into Compost


Katrina Spade, the founder and director of the Urban Death Project, monitoring the temperature of a mound of wood chips that contains a human body.Credit Mike Belleme for The New York Times

Cullowhee, N.C. — The body of the tiny 78-year-old woman, gray hair falling over stiffened shoulders, was brought to a hillside at Western Carolina University still clad in a blue hospital gown and chartreuse socks.

She was laid on a bed of wood chips, and then more were heaped atop her. If all goes as hoped, the body will turn into compost.

It is a startling next step in the natural burial movement. Even as more people opt for interment in simple shrouds or biodegradable caskets, urban cemeteries continue to fill up. For the environmentally conscious, cremation is a problematic option, as the process releases greenhouse gases.

Armed with a prestigious environmental fellowship, Katrina Spade, a 37-year-old Seattle resident with a degree in architecture, has proposed an alternative: a facility for human composting.

The idea is attracting interest from environmental advocates and scientists. The woman laid to rest in wood chips is a first step in testing how it would work.

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