Category: Government

Bees get a boost from Welsh action plan

The impact our bees have on the environment is no secret; their work pollinating crops is a crucial eco-system service, and without our furry friends we’d lose a third of our food stock. Sadly, they’ve been in severe decline for the last 30 years, raising fears for both the environment and the economy.

However, an ambitious new plan is committed to halting this decline and boosting the bee population. Welsh Environment Minister John Griffiths has announced a Pollinator Action Plan for Wales – the first of its kind within the UK. As part of the programme, road verges and embankments will be planted with pollinator-friendly plants, and the planning system will be altered so that future developments support and nurture the airborne buzzers.

In light of the proposed plan, the Minister said that Wales will be leading the way on this “vitally important” issue, adding that the value of pollinators to the UK Government is “conservatively estimated to be £430 million”.

The plan will be implemented in line with the Welsh Government’s ‘Sustaining a Living Wales’ programme.

Could genetically engineered plants put an end to drug factory livestock?

The use of animals in drug manufacturing has always been a necessary evil, but new developments in the field of genetic engineering could well mark the end of the practice in some fields.

Gaucher disease –  a condition resulting from the lack of a particular enzyme – is traditionally treated with drugs derived from hamster cells. Now, however, Israeli scientists from biotech firm Protalix Biotherapeutics, have discovered a way to grow the required enzymes in carrot cells instead, by inserting specific genes into them.

Patients that received the ‘bio-pharmed’ version of the drug reportedly showed the same levels of improvement as those given the treatment derived from hamster cells.

The US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has given its approval for the plant-derived treatment, potentially the marking the beginning of the end of genetically modified livestock in drug factories.

Brazilian prisoners produce energy to reduce sentences

Convicted criminals are not generally known for ‘giving something back to the community’, but an innovative new programme at a Brazilian prison is set to change that, for the benefit of prisoners and the environment.

On the suggestion of a local judge, Brazil’s Santa Rita do Sapucaí prison has installed electricity-generating stationary bikes, allowing them to keep active while producing energy to power city streetlights, thereby enriching the community for everyone.

Their incentive? For every 16 hours spent pedalling, prisoners can shave a day off their sentences.

The initiative isn’t mandatory, but has proven so popular that the prison is adding eight new bikes. The total 10 bikes will produce enough energy to illuminate an entire avenue in the city centre.

New poll finds climate change is not a big issue for Americans

In news that will neither shock nor surprise, a poll has found that Americans don’t care as much about global warming as they used to.

The survey, snappily titled “Every single climate poll done since that Al Gore movie came out”, conducted by the Washington Post and Stanford University, found that climate change is no longer the top concern for Americans, and now ranks second to air and water pollution as the planet’s biggest environmental worry.

Just 18 percent named climate change as their top concern, compared to 33 percent in 2007.

Nonetheless, Americans do see the issue as a threat: three-quarters say they believe the Earth is getting warmer and will continue to do so if nothing is done.

Findings from the poll indicate that Washington’s decision to can action on climate policy means that the issue has receded from the public consciousness. Similarly, President Obama has slowed down on pushing a bill that would limit greenhouse gas emissions, after the proposal stalled in the Senate in 2010.

Governments look to cash in on melting Arctic

The temperature of the Arctic is increasing twice as fast as the rest of planet, which will play a key role in the shaping of future geopolitics, according to a new report.

As the ice melts, more opportunities in shipping, tourism and oil and gas extraction are unlocked, and the world’s largest economies are waiting to cash in on control of the region. The report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) says that the rapidly-melting Arctic is a “bellweather for how climate change may reshape geopolitics in the post-Cold War era”.

An absence of ice will open up waterways allowing for expanded shipping routes, and allow greater opportunities for extracting fossil fuels, which are believed to lie beneath the Arctic waters. So, ethical implications aside, the question is: who will take control of the area? The International Institute for Strategic Studies has produced a comprehensive map illustrating the intentions of neighbouring regions.

The report from C2ES indicates some areas of debate. In it, the authors say that while countries seem “focused on building a cooperative security environment in the region”, there is also an “apparently contradictory trend toward modernizing their military forces in the Arctic”. This means that if political cooperation fails, most of the Arctic nations have no qualms about sending in troops ready to compete in the Arctic’s formidable environment.

Furthermore, the USA is absent from the Law of Sea treaty – the one document that provides a framework for resolving territorial disputes in the Arctic, as well as detailing the rights of nations in using the world’s oceans. It is unlikely that the States would forfeit a claim on this enormous commercial opportunity because of a detail like this, and therefore conflict is likely to arise in this area, too.

The report also notes that the ability of the eight circumpolar nations to respond to disasters in the Arctic area is extremely limited. Should the emerging Arctic experience an ecological crisis from gas or oil exploration, or a humanitarian crisis from a shipwreck, for example, response capabilities are likely to be highly inadequate. This, according to the report, poses a greater threat than the potential militarisation of the area.

Yet the overall environmental implications can’t be overlooked. The very fact that these controversies are being discussed is because the Arctic’s environment is being destroyed by climate change. Surely adding new, damaging infrastructures to the area will only accelerate its progress to extinction?