Ardern in a Flap as Wren Rocks N. Zealand’s Bird Beauty Contest

A tiny mountain-dwelling wren was the surprise winner Monday of New Zealand’s controversial bird of the year competition, which even had Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a flap.    The piwauwau rock wren punched above its 20-gram weight, flying under the radar to win the annual contest ahead of popular fellow native contenders, the little penguin and the kea.    Fans of the wren set up a Facebook page to help the outsider soar up the final rankings when the fortnight-long poll closed Monday.    “It’s not the size, it’s the underbird you vote for that counts,” wrote one supporter.    The annual competition ruffled voters’ feathers in years past after a native bat was allowed to enter, then won, the 2021 title.    There was also outcry this year after the flightless kakapo — a twice previous winner dubbed the world’s fattest parrot — was barred from running to give others a chance.    The annual avian beauty contest run by environmental group Forest and Bird is popular with New Zealanders, including the country’s top politicians.    The leader of the opposition, Christopher Luxon, took to Twitter — where else? — over the weekend to endorse the wrybill, a river bird with a distinctive bent beak.    On Monday, New Zealand’s prime minister was momentarily ruffled live on air when asked if she had voted for her favorite bird.    “No I haven’t yet — you can’t just chuck a controversial question at me without a warning!,” Ardern said with a smile.    New Zealand’s leader revealed she will “always and forever” be loyal to the …

Clashes as Thousands Protest French Agro-industry Water ‘Grab’

Thousands of demonstrators defied an official ban to march Saturday against the deployment of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation in western France, some clashing with police. Clashes between paramilitary gendarmes and demonstrators erupted with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin reporting that 61 officers had been hurt, 22 seriously. “Bassines Non Merci,” which organized the protest, said around 30 demonstrators had been injured. Of them, 10 had to seek medical treatment and three were hospitalized. The group brings together environmental associations, trade unions and anti-capitalist groups against what it claims is a “water grab” by the “agro-industry” in western France. Local officials said six people were arrested during the protest and that 4,000 people had turned up for the banned demonstration. Organizers put the turnout at 7,000. The deployment of giant water “basins” is underway in the village of Sainte-Soline, in the Deux-Sevres department, to irrigate crops, which opponents claim distorts access to water amid drought conditions. Around 1,500 police were deployed, according to the prefect of the Deux-Sevres department Emmanuelle Dubee. Dubee said Friday she had wanted to limit possible “acts of violence,” referring to the clashes between demonstrators and security forces that marred a previous rally in March.  The Sainte-Soline water reserve is the second of 16 such installations, part of a project developed by a group of 400 farmers organized in a water cooperative to significantly reduce water usage in the summer. The open-air craters, covered with a plastic tarpaulin, are filled by pumping water from surface …

US Fishermen Face Shutdowns as Warming Hurts Species

Fishing regulators and the seafood industry are grappling with the possibility that some once-profitable species that have declined with climate change might not come back. Several marketable species harvested by U.S. fishermen are the subject of quota cuts, seasonal closures and other restrictions as populations have fallen and waters have warmed. In some instances, such as the groundfishing industry for species like flounder in the Northeast, the changing environment has made it harder for fish to recover from years of overfishing that already taxed the population. Officials in Alaska have canceled the fall Bristol Bay red king crab harvest and winter snow crab harvest, dealing a blow to the Bering Sea crab industry that is sometimes worth more than $200 million a year, as populations have declined in the face of warming waters. The Atlantic cod fishery, once the lifeblood industry of New England, is now essentially shuttered. But even with depleted populations imperiled by climate change, it’s rare for regulators to completely shut down a fishery, as they’re considering doing for New England shrimp. The Northern shrimp, once a seafood delicacy, has been subject to a fishing moratorium since 2014. Scientists believe warming waters are wiping out their populations and they won’t be coming back. So the regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is now considering making that moratorium permanent, essentially ending the centuries-old harvest of the shrimp. It’s a stark siren for several species caught by U.S. fishermen that regulators say are on the brink. Others include softshell …

Swedes Find 17th Century Sister Vessel to Famed Vasa Warship

Marine archaeologists in Sweden say they have found the sister vessel of a famed 17th century warship that sank on its maiden voyage and is now on display in a popular Stockholm museum. The wreck of the royal warship Vasa was raised in 1961, remarkably well preserved, after more than 300 years underwater in the Stockholm harbor. Visitors can admire its intricate wooden carvings at the Vasa Museum, one of Stockholm’s top tourist attractions. Its sister warship, Applet (Apple), was built around the same time as the Vasa on the orders of Swedish King Gustav II Adolf. Unlike the Vasa, which keeled over and sank just minutes after leaving port in 1628, the sister ship was launched without incident the following year and remained in active service for three decades. It was sunk in 1659 to become part of an underwater barrier mean to protect the Swedish capital from enemy fleets. The exact location of the wreck was lost over time but marine archaeologists working for Vrak — the Museum of Wrecks in Stockholm — say they found a large shipwreck in December 2021 near the island of Vaxholm, just east of the capital. “Our pulses spiked when we saw how similar the wreck was to Vasa,” said Jim Hansson, one of the archaeologists. “Both the construction and the powerful dimensions seemed very familiar.” Experts were able to confirm that it was the long-lost Applet by analyzing its technical details, wood samples and archival data, the museum said in a …

Study: Heat Waves Cost Poor Countries the Most, Exacerbating Inequality

Heat waves, intensified by climate change, have cost the global economy trillions of dollars in the past 30 years, a study published Friday found, with poor countries paying the steepest price. And those lopsided economic effects contribute to widening inequalities around the world, according to the research.  “The cost of extreme heat from climate change so far has been disproportionately borne by the countries and regions least culpable for global warming,” Dartmouth College professor Justin Mankin, one of the authors of the study published in the journal Science Advances, told AFP. “And that’s an insane tragedy.” “Climate change is playing out on a landscape of economic inequality, and it is acting to amplify that inequality,” he said. Periods of extreme heat cost the global economy about $16 trillion between 1992 and 2013, the study calculated.  But while the richest countries have lost about 1.5% of their annual per capita GDPs dealing with heat waves, poorer countries have lost about 6.7% of their annual per capita GDPs.  The reason for that disparity is simple: poor countries are often situated closer to the tropics, where temperatures are warmer anyway. During heat waves, they become even hotter. The study comes just days ahead of the start of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, where the question of compensation for countries that are disproportionately vulnerable to but least responsible for climate change is expected to be one of the key topics.  The costs of heat waves come from several factors: effects on agriculture, strains …

YouTube to Help Users Make Informed Health Care Decisions

YouTube announced Thursday it wants to help people make informed health care decisions by allowing more medical sources to share videos on its platform.   “At YouTube, we’re working to make it easier for people to find authoritative information to help answer their questions, and we’re putting health professionals at the core of our efforts to connect people with helpful content,” the company said on its website.  Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals can now apply to have their video channels certified to participate in You Tube’s health features, something that, until now, has only been available to educational institutions, public health departments, hospitals and government entities. “The reality is that the majority of healthcare decisions are made outside the doctor’s office, in the everyday lives of our patients,” YouTube said.  “That’s why YouTube Health has been working on additional ways to help doctors, nurses, mental health professionals and health care information providers to bring high quality health information into the spaces that people visit throughout their day – like their favorite video-sharing app.  “This new step will allow us to expand to include high quality information from a wider group of health care channels,” the company said. YouTube has been criticized in the past for being home to some misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines but has since banned the misleading information. …

Tuberculosis Cases on Rise After COVID-19, Reversing Years of Progress

Tuberculosis case numbers increased from 2019 to 2021, reversing years of progress as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted access to treatment and testing, the World Health Organization said Thursday.  “For the first time in nearly two decades, WHO is reporting an increase in the number of people falling ill with TB and the drug-resistant tuberculosis, alongside an increase in TB related deaths,” said Tereza Kasaeva, director of the U.N. health agency’s global TB program.  A WHO report released Thursday stated that more than 10 million people got tuberculosis in 2021, a 4.5% increase from 2020. Roughly 450,000 cases involved individuals infected with the drug-resistant TB strain, a 3% increase from 2020 to 2021. Most of these cases were reported in India, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines. The COVID-19 pandemic “continues to have a damaging impact on access to TB diagnosis and treatment,” WHO said. COVID-19 restrictions, such as lockdowns and physical distancing, resulted in fewer people being diagnosed and getting the necessary treatment. With fewer people being diagnosed and treated for TB, more patients unknowingly spread the disease to others. As a result, more than a decade of progress was lost, said Dr. Mel Spigelman, president of the nonprofit TB Alliance.  Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that attack the lungs. The disease is mainly spread through the air and, after COVID-19, tuberculosis is the world’s deadliest infectious disease. It primarily affects adults, particularly those who are malnourished or immunocompromised, in developing countries. More than 95% of cases are in developing countries. …