Waddling into History: Huge Ancient Penguin Inhabited New Zealand

Scientists have unearthed in New Zealand fossil bones of what might be the heavyweight champion of the penguin world, a bird nearly 6 feet tall (1.77 meters) that thrived 55 to 60 million years ago, relatively soon after the demise of the dinosaurs.

Researchers said on Tuesday the ancient penguin, called Kumimanu biceae, weighed nearly 225 pounds (101 kg), and was much bigger than the largest of these flightless seabirds alive today, the emperor penguin, which grows to about 4-1/4 feet (1.2 meters) and about 90 pounds (40 kg).

The only ancient penguin yet discovered that might have been larger than Kumimanu is known only from a leg bone, said ornithologist Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt.

“Gigantism in penguins evolved more than once,” Mayr said.

Kumimanu, named after a creature from Maori folklore and the Maori word for bird, is the second-oldest known penguin. The older one, also from New Zealand, was 61 million years old.

Kumimanu’s partial skeleton lacks the skull. Mayr said other fossils indicate that the earliest penguins possessed much longer beaks than their modern relatives, useful for spearing fish.

“It would have been very impressive: as tall as many people, and a very solid, muscly animal built to withstand frequent deep dives to catch its prey,” said Alan Tennyson, vertebrate curator at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, another of the researchers in the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

“It would not have been the kind of bird that someone could catch alive. It would have been considerably more powerful than a person.”

Kumimanu and other early penguins had already developed typical penguin features including flipper-like wings and an upright stance. Studies suggest early penguins were brownish, not the trademark black and white of today’s penguins, Mayr said.

Penguins are thought to have evolved from a flying ancestor perhaps resembling a cormorant, Mayr said. The asteroid that doomed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago also eliminated the large marine reptiles that dominated the seas, clearing the way for fish-eating divers like penguins.

Kumimanu lived long before Antarctica’s glaciation. At the time, New Zealand and Antarctica were subtropical.

“It’s a common myth that penguins only live in very cold environments such as the Antarctic region,” Tennyson said.

“Today, Galapagos penguins live at the equator, and many fossils show that early forms of penguins lived in warm seas.”


US, EU, Japan Slam Market Distortion in Swipe at China

The United States, European Union and Japan vowed Tuesday to work together to fight market-distorting trade practices and policies that have fueled excess production capacity, naming several key features of China’s economic system.

In a joint statement that did not single out China or any other country, the three economic powers said they would work within the World Trade Organization and other multilateral groups to eliminate unfair competitive conditions caused by subsidies, state-owned enterprises, “forced” technology transfer and local content requirements.

The move was a rare show of solidarity with the United States at a World Trade Organization meeting dominated by differences over U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” trade agenda and U.S. efforts to stall the appointment of WTO judges.

It reflected growing frustration among industrial countries over China’s trade practices, along with concerns that other developing countries will follow Beijing’s lead.

The statement said protectionist practices “are serious concerns for the proper functioning of international trade, the creation of innovative technologies and the sustainable growth of the global economy.”

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said China’s industry subsidies, including for aluminum and steel, were flooding global markets and hurting European workers in a “very, very dramatic” way.

“There’s no secret that we think that China is a big sinner here, but there are other countries that are as well,” Malmstrom told reporters on the sidelines of a business forum.

In the opening session of the WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires on Monday, the United States and Japan criticized a lack of transparency in some WTO members’ trade practices, a thinly veiled swipe at Beijing.

China, meanwhile, appealed for members to “join hands” and uphold WTO rules to protect globalization in the face of rising protectionism.

The joint statement came after Japan approached the European Union and the United States about overcapacity, according to an EU source, with both Tokyo and Brussels concerned about the possibility the Trump administration could act unilaterally.

“There is a thought that if we bring them into the fold, and can work jointly with them, then it reduces the risk of them going alone,” the source said.

​’Playing by the rules’

Washington, Brussels and Tokyo have previously raised complaints about China’s excess production capacity in a number of industrial sectors that has pushed down world prices and caused layoffs elsewhere.

The United States recently sided with the EU in arguing that such distortions mean the WTO should not grant China market economy status, a move that would severely weaken their trade defenses.

“We have been … reaching out to China to tell them they really must start playing by the rules,” Malmstrom told reporters.

The EU’s and Japan’s willingness to cooperate with the Trump administration comes despite disagreements over the role of the WTO and the future of multilateral trade deals. 

Trump has expressed his preference for bilateral negotiations, and his trade rhetoric has cast a cloud over the WTO meeting.

Efforts on Tuesday to make progress on a ministerial statement from all 164 WTO members were unsuccessful, since one country could not agree on the language, WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters, declining to name that country.

U.S. officials last month blocked WTO efforts to draft a statement of unity over the “centrality” of the global trading system and the need to aid development.

A spokeswoman for the office of the U.S. trade representative could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Trump administration is considering several unilateral tariff actions on steel, aluminum and China’s intellectual property practices that are likely to draw disputes from WTO members.


Afreximbank Pledges Up to $1.5B to Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe

The African Export and Import Bank has pledged up to $1.5 billion in new loans and financial guarantees to Zimbabwe in a major boost for new President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, the bank’s president and chairman said Tuesday.

Mnangagwa, who took over last month after veteran autocrat Robert Mugabe quit following a de facto military coup, has vowed to focus on reviving the struggling economy and provide jobs in a nation with an unemployment rate exceeding 80 percent.

Afreximbank was the only international lender that stood by Zimbabwe throughout Mugabe’s repressive 37-year rule, but its quick announcement of a fresh package of loans and guarantees appeared to be a vote of confidence in the new government.

Cairo-based Afreximbank was a major funder of Zimbabwe while the country was cut off from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for having defaulted on its debt in 1999.

Bank president and chairman Okey Oramah told reporters after a meeting with Mnangagwa and senior government officials that Afreximbank would provide $150 million to local banks to help them pay for outstanding critical imports.

“We also discussed a number of other areas that involve additional investment from us for something that will be in the order of $1 billion to $1.5 billion that will include certain kinds of guarantees to encourage investors to come to Zimbabwe.

“We … want to make sure that we support the stabilization of the economy, that means providing liquidity to make sure that the situation where people are rushing every time to look for cash is dealt with,” Oramah said.

In August, before Mugabe’s ouster, Afreximbank provided $600 million to help Zimbabwe pay for imports and $300 million to allow it to print more “bond notes,” a quasi-currency that officially trades on par with the U.S. dollar.

Zimbabwe has a foreign debt of more than $7 billion and in September said it would not be able to pay $1.8 billion in arrears to the World Bank and African Development Bank until economic fundamentals improved.

The southern African nation, which dumped its hyperinflation-hit currency in 2009, is struggling with a severe dollar crunch that has seen banks fail to avail cash to customers while importers struggle to pay for imports.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa promised in a budget speech last week to re-engage with international lenders, curb spending and attract investors to revive the economy.

On Tuesday, Chinamasa described Afreximbank as a “pillar of strength” and said the economy was “in for some very good times.”


Trump’s Climate Politics Propel US Scientist to New Start in France

When U.S.-based scientist Christopher Cantrell heard President Donald Trump pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, he did not imagine that six months later he would be shaking the French leader’s hand and starting anew in France.

Hours after Trump’s announcement in June, President Emmanuel Macron made a dramatic TV announcement in English, responding that he would not give up the fight against climate change and adding in a dig: “Make our planet great again.”

That later became the name of a research grant program sponsored by the French presidency to attract U.S.-based scientists — like Cantrell, 62, an expert in atmospheric chemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“It was all over the news in the United States and on social media,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of a summit in Paris marking the Paris accord’s two year anniversary.

“I found out about a week ago that I was successful. This is going to be fun,” he said.

Moving for the funding

For Cantrell, the decision to move to France is not a political one, but a response to a gradual decline in public funds in his field, which he did not expect to get better under Trump.

“I’ve been disappointed with this whole administration, as to how they … view the world of science and policy-making,” Cantrell said.

“I wouldn’t say I’m coming to France to get away from the Trump administration, but it was an opportunity that wasn’t available in the United States,” he added.

Macron, who repeatedly tried to persuade the U.S. leader to reverse his decision, also sees an opportunity to raise the profile of French research institutes and attract top talent.


Some 1,822 researchers applied for the program, the French presidency said, with almost two thirds of them coming from the United States.

Thirteen of the initial 18 grants awarded on Monday were given to U.S.-based scientists, including some from prominent Ivy League universities such as Princeton, Stanford and Harvard.

A second batch of grants will be awarded early next year.

Cantrell, who works on air quality and what happens to pollution when the atmosphere tries to process it, will be based at the University of Paris-Est in the suburb of Creteil. He will study the Paris plume — the cloud of pollution that regularly shrouds the French capital. 

“This laboratory that I’m going to be associated with has world-class expertise, state-of-the-art computer models to simulate the atmosphere, so this place I’m going to is actually perfect for the kind of work I’m interested in,” he said.

Salary covered for five years

The 1.5-million-euro ($1.76-million) French grant means the constant hunt for funds to finance his research that was part of his daily life in the U.S. was now less of a concern.

“It’s been tough. Now I’ll be able to not have to worry about that part of it. My salary is covered for five years, I can focus on science,” he said.

He and his wife are now busy brushing up on their French.

“I came for a week to visit the lab, see the kind of things they did, I got to meet the staff, English works fine for all the people that work there,” he said.



Filipino Houses From Debris, Californian Fruit Pickers’ Homes Win Major Award

A project in the Philippines that used debris to rebuild typhoon-ravaged houses and Californian homes providing year-round housing for migrant workers won one of the world’s most prestigious housing awards on Tuesday.

The development charity CARE used innovative techniques, such as teaching building skills to residents and using wreckage from destroyed homes, to rehouse more than 15,000 Filipino families devastated in 2013 by Typhoon Haiyan.

“This is the first time self-recovery has been used on such a large scale,” said David Ireland, director of British charity World Habitat, which co-hosts the World Habitat Awards together with the United Nations (U.N.) settlement program, UN-Habitat.

“It has helped more people, more quickly, than traditional disaster recovery programs. The potential of this approach to be used elsewhere is absolutely huge.”

The winners of the competition, which was established in 1985, received 10,000 pounds and opportunities to share their ideas around the world.

The second winner was Mutual Housing, a not-for-profit affordable housing developer in Yolo County in northern California, which built the first permanent year-round homes for seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers.

Tens of thousands of workers are brought in from Central America at harvest time to do low-wage jobs, often living in sub-standard houses in government-funded migrant centers.

“It has been a complete 180 degree turn since we’ve been living here,” said Saul Menses, who moved into one of Mutual Housing’s 62 apartments and houses in Spring Lake, some 60 miles (97 km) northeast of San Francisco, in 2015.

“For five years, we lived in an apartment there that was very cold and in poor condition. My wife had to board the windows up with tape and unclog the sink daily.”

The Spring Lake houses are the United States’ first certified zero-energy rental homes, meaning they consume less energy than they produce, using solar power, efficient lights and drought-resistant landscaping.

Seasonal work also disrupts family life for the estimated 6,000 migrants who come to Yolo County for the harvest, making it difficult for children to stay in one school. The new houses are less than 1 km from a secondary school and other services.

“Seasonal agricultural laborers are one of the most marginalized groups in the USA,” said World Habitat’s Ireland. “Mutual Housing California have managed to help a group not normally reached and proven that you don’t have to be a homeowner or on a high income to embrace green lifestyles.”


Arctic Report Card: Permafrost Thawing Faster Than Before

Permafrost in the Arctic is thawing at a faster clip, according to a new report released Tuesday.


Water is also warming and sea ice is melting at the fastest pace in 1,500 years at the top of the world.


The annual report released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed slightly less warming in many measurements than a record hot 2016. But scientists remain concerned because the far northern region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe and has reached a level of warming that’s unprecedented in modern times.


“2017 continued to show us we are on this deepening trend where the Arctic is a very different place than it was even a decade ago,” said Jeremy Mathis, head of NOAA’s Arctic research program and co-author of the 93-page report.


Findings were discussed at the American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans.


“What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic; it affects the rest of the planet,” said acting NOAA chief Timothy Gallaudet. “The Arctic has huge influence on the world at large.”


Permafrost is the permanently frozen layer below the Earth’s surface in frigid areas. Records show the frozen ground that many buildings, roads and pipelines are built on reached record warm temperatures last year nearing and sometimes exceeding the thawing point. That could make them vulnerable when the ground melts and shifts, the report said. Unlike other readings, permafrost data tend to lag a year.


Preliminary reports from the U.S. and Canada in 2017 showed permafrost temperatures are “again the warmest for all sites” measured in North America, said study co-author Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.


Arctic sea ice usually shrinks in September and this year it was only the eighth lowest on record for the melting season. But scientists said they were most concerned about what happens in the winter — especially March — when sea ice is supposed to be building to its highest levels.


Arctic winter sea ice maximum levels in 2017 were the smallest they’ve ever been for the season when ice normally grows. It was the third straight year of record low winter sea ice recovery. Records go back to 1979.


About 79 percent of the Arctic sea ice is thin and only a year old. In 1985, 45 percent of the sea ice in the Arctic was thick, older ice, said NOAA Arctic scientist Emily Osborne.


New research looking into the Arctic’s past using ice cores, fossils, corals and shells as stand-ins for temperature measurements show that Arctic ocean temperatures are rising and sea ice levels are falling at rates not seen in the 1,500 years. And those dramatic changes coincide with the large increase in carbon dioxide levels in the air from the burning of oil, gas and coal, the report said.


This isn’t just a concern for the few people who live north of the Arctic Circle. Changes in the Arctic can alter fish supply. And more ice-free Arctic summers can lead to countries competing to exploit new areas for resources. Research also shows changes in Arctic sea ice and temperature can alter the jet stream, which is a major factor in U.S. weather.


This is probably partly responsible for the current unusual weather in the United States that brought destructive wildfires to California and a sharp cold snap to the South and East, according to NOAA scientist James Overland and private meteorologist expert Judah Cohen.


“The Arctic has traditionally been the refrigerator to the planet, but the door of the refrigerator has been left open,” Mathis said.


Outside scientists praised the report card.


“Overall, the new data fit with the long-term trends, showing the clear evidence of warming causing major changes,” in the Arctic, said Pennsylvania State University ice scientist Richard Alley.


Фільм про війну на Донбасі, показ якого скасували в Москві, презентують на іншому фестивалі – продюсерка

Документальний фільм War for Peace («Війна заради миру») про війну на Донбасі українця Євгена Тітаренка, показ якого скасували на фестивалі «Артдокфест-2017» у столиці Росії Москві, буде презентований на іншому міжнародному фестивалі, повідомила Радіо Свобода продюсер фільму, волонтерка із Дніпра Наталія Хазан.

За її словами, творці фільму подали кілька заявок на участь фільму в міжнародних фестивалях кіно – в Європі, США, Канаді й Ізраїлі.

Водночас Хазан повідомила, що презентувати в Україні, попри численні прохання, стрічку поки що не будуть: за умовами участі в міжнародних фестивалях, до фестивалю стрічка не може бути продемонстрована в країні, де зроблена.

«Ми подали заявки на кілька західних фестивалів. Умови всіх західних фестивалів – фільм не може бути показаний у країні, де зроблений. У нас зараз є багато пропозицій організувати закритий показ у Києві, у Дніпрі, ще десь, але ми не будемо цього робити. Історія з фільмами, як правило, довга – це не місяць, не два. Але тут у нас є певний «карт-бланш» у зв’язку з цим промо, яке нам зробили в сусідній державі», – сказала Наталія Хазан.

За її словами, скасування показу стрічки в Росії не було неочікуваним для творців.

«Навпаки – ми були здивовані, що його взагалі збирались показати. А те, що не покажуть, – ну що ж. У «дружній» державі нам зробили гарне промо, ми вдячні, у нас немає коштів на таке промо. По-друге, те, що не покажуть, – для фільму краще, ніж показали б. У фільму тепер вже є історія. Все, що заборонили, – набагато цікавіше. Якби фільм був прохідним, його б спокійно показали в кінотеатрі на 150 місць, і ніхто б не помітив. А так нам зробили колосальне промо», – сказала Наталія Хазан.

Як зазначила продюсер, попри те, що в Росії фільм пов’язували із українською владою і називали «замовним», створений він винятково зусиллями ентузіастів.

«Фільм зроблений без жодної підтримки жодного представника влади. Ми звертались до понад 300 народних депутатів, які є на Фейсбуці, з проханням перекинути нам по одному долару на фільм, але жоден не відповів», – додала Наталія Хазан.

Як розповіла продюсер, на презентацію фільму в культурному центрі посольства Чехії в Москві були заброньовані всі місця, але потім організатори вибачились і поставили в програму інший фільм.

Документальний фільм War for Peace знімався упродовж 12 місяців в зоні бойових дій на Донбасі парамедиком Євгеном Тітаренком, який у складі батальйону «Госпітальєри» пройшов найгарячіші точки Донбасу. Зйомки тривали упродовж 2014-2015 років.

9 грудня організатори фестивалю «Артдокфест-2017» у Москві повідомили, що були змушені остаточно відмовитися від показу одного фільму про війну на Донбасі «Війна заради миру». Раніше намір показати цей фільм на фестивалі поза конкурсом викликав невдоволення прихильників проросійських бойовиків на частині українського Донбасу, і організатори спершу були змушені перенести показ цього фільму в інше приміщення, до Чеського культурного центру в Москві.


Paris Summit Focused on Boosting Funding for Climate Change Fight

French President Emmanuel Macron gathered business leaders and 50 world leaders in Paris for a summit Tuesday focused on boosting funding to fight climate change.

The summit comes two years after nearly 200 nations agreed to the Paris climate accord, which calls for nations to limit greenhouse gas emissions and for rich countries to help developing countries deal with the impacts of climate change.

U.S. President Donald Trump was not among those invited to take part in the conference. Last year, Trump announced was pulling out of the accord saying it “disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries.”

While the U.S. federal government stepped back from the global effort, many of the country’s states and some cities have pledged to move forward with steps consistent with the agreement.

“We have 38 states that have renewable portfolio standard laws,” said former Secretary of State John Kerry, who is attending the summit. “We have 90 cities, the major cities in America, their mayors all committed to meeting Paris. So 80 percent of the population of American is in those 38 states that are committed, and we are going to stay on track.”

The European Union announced a new investment plan aimed at supporting renewable energy production, climate-friendly transportation, sustainable water and sanitation systems, as well as growth in sustainable agriculture.

EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Canete also urged contributors to fulfill their commitments to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to developing nations to help them utilize renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels that boost carbon levels in the atmosphere.

Also Tuesday, a group of 225 investors launched an initiative to push 100 of the world’s largest greenhouse gas-emitting companies to align their business plans with the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

“In few short months a substantial community of institutional investors have coalesced around this initiative because they want to send an unequivocal signal directly to companies that they will be holding them accountable in order to secure nothing less than bold corporate action to improve governance, curb emissions, and increase disclosure to swiftly address the greatest challenge of our time,” said Andrew Gray, senior manager of investments governance at Australian Super.

Ahead of Tuesday’s summit, Macron awarded 18 scientists, including 13 from the United States, grants to relocate to France and carry out climate change research. He announced the initiative after Trump said the United States was withdrawing from the global accord, and the French leader played on Trump’s campaign slogan by naming his own program “Make Our Planet Great Again.”

“I refuse this double fatality, the one that says that there is this global warming that we can do nothing against and the one that says that this world is forced onto us and we cannot make profound changes,” Macron said. “But what you are showing here tonight, through your commitment, these projects that have been selected through your commitment on a daily basis is the exact opposite. We don’t want climate change and we want to produce and create jobs and do things differently if we decide so. There is no fatality.”


Researchers Test Cannabis Drug for Dogs’ Pain, Seizures

Medical marijuana has been used to treat epilepsy in patients for years, and this month, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said it should be studied and treated like other pain relief drugs. A growing body of scientific evidence is leading the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to do that. Meanwhile, researchers at Colorado State University are examining the benefits of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive byproduct of marijuana, for treating dogs with epilepsy and arthritis. Faith Lapidus reports.


‘Groundbreaking’ New Drug Gives Hope in Huntington’s Disease

Scientists have for the first time fixed a protein defect that causes Huntington’s disease by injecting a drug from Ionis Pharmaceuticals into the spine, offering new hope for patients with the devastating genetic disease.

The success in the early-stage clinical trial has prompted Roche to exercise its option to license the product, called IONIS-HTT(Rx), at a cost of $45 million.

Lead researcher Sarah Tabrizi, professor of clinical neurology at University College London, said the ability of the drug to tackle the underlying cause of Huntington’s by lowering levels of a toxic protein was “groundbreaking.”

“The key now is to move quickly to a larger trial to test whether IONIS-HTT(Rx) slows disease progression,” she said in a statement Monday.

Ionis senior vice president of research Frank Bennett said the protein reductions observed in the study “substantially exceeded our expectations” and that the drug was also well tolerated.

However, experts cautioned that the results were still early and the ability of the new medicine to improve clinical outcomes for patients had yet to be demonstrated.

“The question is whether this is enough to make a difference to patients and their clinical course, and for that we will have to wait for bigger trials,” said Roger Barker of the University of Cambridge, who was also involved in the research.

Huntington’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting mental abilities and physical control that normally hits sufferers between the ages of 30 and 50 years before continually worsening over a 10- to 25-year period.

There is currently no effective disease-modifying treatment for the condition, with existing medicines focused only on managing disease symptoms.

Ionis said Roche would now be responsible for all IONIS-HTT(Rx) development, regulatory and commercialization activities and costs.

The drug uses an approach called antisense to stop a gene producing a particular protein. The technique has already led to a drug for spinal muscular atrophy that was approved last year.

Shares in Ionis rose around 2 percent in early Nasdaq trade as did those in Wave Life Sciences, which is also working on antisense medicine.