Text 23 Aug 6 notes Microsoft Bails on Climate Denier Lobby Group ALEC

The American Legislative Exchange Council—the now infamous ALEC—has lost yet another member.

Microsoft announced this week that it’s severing its relationship with the group, which writes and pushes so-called “model legislation” that’s very conservative, pro-big business and anti-environment. Microsoft was a member of ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force, but said it is no longer participating in this group.

In a statement published by Common Cause, Microsoft said:

In 2014 Microsoft decided to no longer participate in the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Communications and Technology Task Force, which had been our only previous involvement with ALEC. With this decision, we no longer contribute any dues to ALEC…we are no longer members of ALEC and do not provide the organization with financial support of any kind.

The statement was sent to The Sustainability Group of Loring, Wolcott and Coolidge and Walden Asset Management when the Boston-based socially responsible investment group questioned Microsoft’s ALEC membership. It wondered why, given Microsoft’s support of renewable energy, it belonged to an organization lobbying for such measures as the rollback of renewable energy standard—an initiative which was recently successful in Ohio thanks to ALEC, unregulated fracking, surcharges on solar energy and building the Keystone XL pipeline.

ALEC, which formed in 1973, operated under the radar for almost four decades, signing up businesses, nonprofits and legislators as members. Since its unpopular agenda, which includes voter suppression, privatizing public education, eliminating unions and shredding the social safety net, including Medicare and Social Security, began to attract widespread attention, hundreds of legislators, some nonprofits and at least 80 companies have fled the organization. Some of the major ones include Coca Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Kraft Foods, General Electric, Wells Fargo, Procter & Gamble, Sprint, General Motors, Walgreens, Best Buy, Hewlett-Packard, MillerCoors, Amazon.com and even WalMart.

Other prominent companies, such as Google, Yahoo, eBay and Facebook, are still dues-paying members.

Greenpeace senior IT policy analyst Gary Cook told CNET:

Microsoft deserves praise for living up to its sustainability values by ending its membership in ALEC, an organization which has attacked clean energy and climate policies in nearly all 50 states. Microsoft has demonstrated a commitment in recent years to clean energy and climate action by introducing an internal carbon fee and purchasing large amounts of wind energy to power two of its data centers.

Greenpeace’s David Pomerantz is cautiously optimistic about the direction Microsoft is going.

He posted on the Greenpeace blog:

Microsoft remains a member of other groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, CEI and State Policy Network, that continue to attack clean energy and climate policies, so it still has work to do to ensure that its political activities aren’t undermining its carbon and renewable energy goals, but ALEC has led the charge against the clean energy revolution in recent years, so Microsoft’s dumping its membership is a big move in the right direction.

(Source: care2.com)

Text 22 Aug 27 notes Oil Exploration Threatens the World’s Rarest Dolphin

New Zealand has been facing pressure from conservationists to save one of the rarest dolphins in the world from the threats they continue to face. Now, proposed oil and gas exploration in their habitat has renewed calls urging the government to get serious about protecting them.

The Maui’s dolphin, a distinct subspecies of Hector’s dolphins, can only be found off the west coast of the North Island where there are only an estimated 55 individuals over the age of one left in existence.

They’re listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and continue to struggle against some major threats, including commercial and recreational gillnet fishing and trawling, which have caused their numbers to drop dramatically and are believed to kill an average of five every year.

In 2008, a special sanctuary was set up for them, but it hasn’t been enough to help these little dolphins recover, and they still continue to face other threats that include pollution, boat strikes and a lack of genetic diversity.

Earlier this spring the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee released a report citing “extreme concern” for these dolphins and urged the government to boost protection for them by banning trawling in their habitat, warning that they could face imminent extinction in the next three decades if action isn’t taken.

Wildlife advocates and organizations have also been supporting calls for the government to do more and raising concerns that it’s doing as little as possible to protect them instead of as much as it can. In May, the World Wildlife Fund-New Zealand launched the Last 55 campaign to gain support for their protection.

“The government has been woefully inadequate at protecting Maui’s, despite overwhelming public support for action and strong recommendations from the world’s leading whale and dolphin scientists. It must act decisively,” said WWF-New Zealand’s Executive Director Chris Howe.

Now wildlife advocates and a number of politicians are questioning the government’s plan to allow oil and gas exploration in their habitat, with 3,000 square kilometers, or nearly 2,000 square miles, of the proposed area overlapping with the Maui’s dolphin sanctuary – which kind of undermines the point of having a designated sanctuary for them.

“The Government’s failure to fully protect Maui’s dolphins from net-fishing across their range is already putting them at risk of extinction, and this situation is made worse by opening up their habitat to seismic surveying and a greater chance of oil spills,” said WWF-Head of Campaigns Peter Hardstaff.

Nick Smith, New Zealand’s conservation minister, told the Guardian that the government is taking care to ensure they don’t disappear and that a “robust process” would ensure that other projects wouldn’t harm them, but dolphin advocates aren’t convinced.

Gareth Hughes, a Greens MP, raised concerns that seismic blasts would deafen them or drive them out of the sanctuary and urged the government to listen to the recommendations of scientific experts to do more to protect them.


Please sign and share the petition urging New Zealand to help protect Maui’s dolphins from extinction by shutting down oil and gas exploration in their habitat. Putting them in further harm’s way and raising the potential for disaster with so few left just so oil companies can profit isn’t going to help them survive.

Text 21 Aug 25 notes Why Our Future Depends on Spider Conservation

How much do you know about spiders? The superhero Spider-Man is awesome, but the role of actual spiders in diverse ecosystems around the world is just as captivating.

“If spiders disappeared, we would face famine,” declares Norman Platnick, who studies arachnids at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, where a live spider exhibit opened in July. “Spiders are primary controllers of insects. Without spiders, all of our crops would be consumed by those pests.”

Just to clarify: although insects and spiders are often grouped together, they belong to different animal groups. Spiders are arachnids – technically Class Arachnida, which includes ticks, mites, and scorpions. The most obvious way to distinguish insects from spiders is to count their legs. Insects have six legs, while arachnids have eight.

The importance of spiders to agriculture may be well known, but did you know that the spiders on one acre of woodland alone consume more than 80 pounds of insects each year? Clearly, those insect populations would explode without their spider predators.

That’s what Platnick is talking about.

Aside from chemical control, predation is the only way to limit herbivorous pests. And spiders are excellent at this task. Spiders are particularly crucial in organic farming, which relies heavily on biological pest control.

A few more fascinating facts about spiders:

*  Spiders were around more than 300 million years ago, long before dinosaurs walked the Earth.

*  Only about 50 percent of known spider species make webs. Others hunt their prey or burrow underground.

*  You are unlikely to be bitten by a spider, since they are very shy. They generally prefer to run away rather than bite.

Scientists are also exploring other ways in which spiders could be helpful to humans. That’s because a spider’s venom contains hundreds of different chemical compounds, some of which may be medically active.

So researchers are testing many of these chemicals. At Yale, scientists are examining whether chemicals in the venom of the Australian funnel-web spider could be used to improve pain-control medications. At the University of Buffalo, a researcher is working on healing muscular dystrophy patients with a compound in the venom of a South American spider. In Seattle, a doctor is working on a project that involves a scorpion-venom concoction that makes brain tumors glow.

Then of course there is spider silk: spiders make many different kinds of silk in their webs, each with a property, such as toughness, flexibility, stickiness. Perhaps this too could have important uses in the future.

There are indeed many unknowns about spiders.

“Scientists have identified almost 45,000 different spider species,” says Platnick, “and that’s at best one-half of what actually exists. When we lose a spider species, we may lose a compound that could have cured epilepsy. We may lose a silk that could have produced a strong and lightweight material.”

But Platnick is most concerned about the vital importance of spiders to agriculture since, like many animals, spiders are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation of habitat, as well as by introduced species. Spiders may often be overlooked in conservation planning, just because they are so small.

That is a huge mistake, Platnick believes. For him, it is quite simple: without spiders, our crops will be eaten by insects and we humans will starve.

Spiders have been fascinating writers for a long time: remember Shelob, Tolkien’s giant evil spider in “The Lord of the Rings”? Or E.B. White’s Charlotte the spider?

So look kindly on the next spider you see; our future depends on these eight-legged creatures.

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