World’s first flu-resistant GM chickens ‘created’ (video) UK scientists have created the world’s first genetically modified chickens that do not spread bird flu. Writing in Science journal, the team says their work demonstrates it is possible to create a variety of GM farm animals resistant to viral diseases. The research team inserted an artificial gene into chickens; this introduces a tiny part of the bird flu virus into chicken cells. These birds become infected but render the virus harmless to other poultry. The team believes that the genetic modification they have introduced is harmless to the chickens and to people who might eat the birds.
Lower corn and soybean output sends prices surging – A surprising drop in the U.S. corn and soybean crop sent grain prices surging to their highest levels in 2 1/2 years Wednesday. The price increases stoked concerns about higher food prices and tighter supplies of feedstock for food and biofuels. Wet weather and abnormally high temperatures contributed to lower U.S. corn production in 2010, according to a report from the U.S. Agriculture Department. The report also showed declines in soybean, wheat and grain sorghum production. March corn futures jumped 4 percent to settle at $6.31 a bushel. Soybean prices jumped 4.3 percent to $14.15 a bushel. The report confirmed traders’ fears that historically low stockpiles of grain and oilseeds could leave little buffer in coming months as demand rises with a growing global economy. Prices reached their highest points since the financial crisis of 2008 caused a collapse in global demand for food and fuel.
GM and Chrysler, owned by the government, lobby the government – General Motors and Chrysler, the bailed-out automakers still partially owned by the government, have joined an industry coalition that this week lobbied against proposed federal rules on fuel efficiency. The attempt to push back against regulations pursued by environmental groups follows the automakers’ efforts last year in which they opposed measures in an auto safety bill, which had been supported by the Obama administration. The notion of federally owned companies lobbying the government – at times on the opposite side of the architects of their bailout – has drawn repeated criticisms from environmental organizations, safety advocates and watchdog groups. They say the government should have used its influence to block the companies from interfering with legislation that could improve the public welfare, such as environmental controls and safety enhancements.
Auditors See Rising Defaults in Rural Loans – Seeking to buoy a strained rural economy in the midst of the recession, Congress ordered up a huge increase in federal mortgage guarantees for small-town home buyers as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package. Now, a newly released audit has found that the rural loan program, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, was plagued by lax government oversight and many of the same sloppy banking practices that fed the broader mortgage debacle. Although the auditors looked at only a tiny sample of the 133,053 loan guarantees made in 2009, they estimated that tens of thousands might have been done improperly and warned that a wave of defaults might be looming.
SEC Probes Financial Firms on Sovereign Fund Bribes – The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission started a broad investigation involving several financial firms to determine whether they made improper payments to secure investments from sovereign wealth funds, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter. The sweep in part focuses on whether banks, hedge funds and private equity firms paid placement agents to win access to the state-owned money, said the people, who declined to be identified because the investigation isn’t public. An agent working with a sovereign wealth fund may be considered a government official, making interactions with that person subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “The SEC takes a broad view of who is considered a government official,” said Gary DiBianco, an attorney at Skadden Arps in London. “Accordingly, we can expect the SEC will view sovereign wealth fund employees as government officials under the FCPA, and the SEC will closely scrutinize relationships with consultants or agents who may have connections to state-controlled entities.”
60% Of New Jobs In 2010 Were In Low-Paying Industries – Following last week’s disappointing job report, investment research group TrimTabs brings us an even sharper picture of an economy not on the verge of an economic recovery. (Hat tip to Zero Hedge.) TrimTabs drills into the Labor Bureau’s data for new jobs added in last year, to reveal some unsetting details: "Of the 1.1 million private jobs gained in the last year, 650,000 or 60% are jobs that have absolutely no real wealth creation capacity, nor do they provide any real benefits." 60% of new jobs went to Temporary Help, Leisure & Hospitality and Retail trade. Leisure and hospitality pays an average hourly wage of $13.14, while a retail salesperson brings in an average of $11.84 an hour, according to the BLS’ database. Temporary help services can be slightly more lucrative at the higher end (Registered Nurses earn $32.77 an hour), but packers and packagers only earn an average of $8.62 per hour.
Chris Christie Takes On Education Reform: ‘The Time To Eliminate Teacher Tenure Is Now’ – In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie is taking a firm stance on education reform, hoping to put his state on track to be the national example of new policies. In his recent State of the State address, Christie explained "perhaps the biggest thing of all for the future of our State — is education reform." Christie went on to outline a familiar list of reforms — including closing low performing schools, adding more charter schools and introducing merit pay for teachers — that have been touted by controversial reformers such as Michelle Rhee, who was in attendance for Christie’s speech. The proposals fit into the Republican governor’s vision of drastically slashing education costs to help balance the state’s budget without increasing taxes. In one of his most contentious announcements, Christie declared he is pushing for the complete abolition of teacher tenure. The governor explained: The time for a national conversation on tenure is long past due. Teaching can no longer be the only profession where you have no rewards for excellence and no consequences for failure to perform.
Conservative Statehouses Hand Out Corporate Tax Breaks While Raising Taxes On Low-Income Citizens – Just days after calling for unity and “shared sacrifice” in their inaugural speeches, conservative governors, joined by legislators across the county, have proposed new tax cuts for business and top-earners alongside cuts to critical expenditures for low-income working families and tax increases on the working poor. As the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy writes, in the face of massive budget shortfalls and declining revenue, many states “are poised to enact harmful cuts in existing state taxes that could weaken states’ ability to provide core public services for years to come.” “The threats to state tax fairness and adequacy are mounting by the day,” ITEP noted. Budget proposals in the following states are particularly alarming:
Brazil death toll rises as rescuers battle floods (Reuters) – The death toll from massive flooding and landslides in Brazil topped 500 on Friday as renewed rainfall threatened to complicate efforts by rescue teams to reach survivors trapped in isolated areas. In one of the country’s worst natural disasters, rivers of mud tore through towns in the mountainous Serrana region outside Rio de Janeiro, leveling houses, throwing cars atop buildings and leaving thousands of people seeking shelter. "The rain did not stop at dawn and is continuing in the morning, which is making the rescue efforts more difficult," said Lieutenant Rubens Placido, a fireman in the hard-hit town of Nova Friburgo. "The number of deaths is going to rise quite a bit. There are still a lot of people buried." The flooding killed at least 529 people, according to local and state authorities, but rescuers are uncovering more victims buried under wrecked homes and toppled buildings. More than 13,500 people have been left homeless.
Flooded Brisbane ‘like a war zone’ – The devastating floods that have killed at least 19 people in Queensland have left parts of Brisbane looking "like a war zone" that will require years of expensive reconstruction, the state premier has said. Although the waters that have pummelled Australia‘s third-largest city this week peaked below the disastrous levels predicted, the torrent has flooded 12,000 homes in the city and left 118,000 buildings without power. Officials have warned there could be further severe flooding in the coming weeks, with two months of the wet season ahead and already overflowing dams needing seven days to fall to normal levels to cope with more heavy rain. The premier, Anna Bligh, described the flood crisis as "the worst natural disaster in our [state] history and possibly in the history of our nation", adding that clean-up and rebuilding costs could reach A$5bn (£3.1bn).
Brazil landslides death toll rises – The death toll from some of the deadliest landslides in Brazilian history has continued to rise with at least 482 confirmed victims. Nearly all of those killed were buried alive when avalanches of mud and debris smashed down on to their homes in the early hours of Wednesday. At least 13,000 people have been left homeless by the disaster, which focused on three towns in the mountains north of Rio de Janeiro. "It is a very dramatic moment. The scenes are very powerful, the suffering is very visible and the risk is very serious," Brazil‘s president, Dilma Rousseff, said after a brief visit to the affected region. Teresópolis, a bucolic tourist town about 60 miles north of Rio, was one of the hardest-hit areas: by tonight, at least 200 deaths had been confirmed. Local authorities were preparing to erect floodlights in the cemetery in order to hold round-the-clock burials. The town’s streets filled with pick-up trucks packed with fleeing residents, carrying mattresses, duvets and pets.
The Lost Years for Alternative Energy? – Oil and gasoline prices, low since 2008, are projected to rise again, rapidly returning our oil addiction to the national spotlight. Analysts say that oil prices are heading toward $100 a barrel, and former Shell Oil chief Carl Larry warns that we could see $5 a gallon gas by 2012. Inevitably, the price increases will inspire calls to reduce our dependence on oil, and Congress will consider some legislation to do just that. But as we try to make progress on oil alternatives, we need to bear in mind the lessons of low gas prices. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat the same debilitating cycle of energy politics we’ve been trapped in for years. Here’s how that cycle goes: High oil prices make energy alternatives a top political priority, as they did before the 2008 price drop, but the urgency is suddenly forgotten when these prices collapse. That’s not just short-sighted — it’s bad policy. Unless we can finally extend our national attention span beyond the latest price rise, the inevitable 2011 push for alternative energy isn’t going to be any more fruitful than the last few times we tried.
Jeffrey Kiehl: if carbon dioxide emissions continue at their current rate through the end of this century, atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas will reach levels that last existed about 30-100 million years ago, when global temperatures averaged about 29 °F (16 °C) above pre-industrial levels – –-The magnitude of climate change during Earth’s deep past suggests that future temperatures may eventually rise far more than projected if society continues its pace of emitting greenhouse gases, a new analysis concludes. The study, by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Jeffrey Kiehl, will appear as a “Perspectives” piece in this week’s issue of the journal Science. Building on recent research, the study examines the relationship between global temperatures and high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere tens of millions of years ago. It warns that, if carbon dioxide emissions continue at their current rate through the end of this century, atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas will reach levels that last existed about 30-100 million years ago, when global temperatures averaged about 29 °F (16 °C) above pre-industrial levels.
Science stunner: On our current emissions path, CO2 levels in 2100 will hit levels last seen when the Earth was 29 °F (16 °C) hotter. Paleoclimate data suggests CO2 "may have at least twice the effect on global temperatures than currently projected by computer models" – Paleoclimate data suggests CO2 "may have at least twice the effect on global temperatures than currently projected by computer models" ClimateProgress readers know that the paleoclimate data is considerably more worrisome than the models (see Hansen: ‘Long-term’ climate sensitivity of 6 °C for doubled CO2). That’s mainly because the vast majority of the models largely ignore key amplifying carbon-cycle feedbacks, such as the methane emissions from melting tundra (see Are Scientists Underestimating Climate Change?). Science has just published an important review and analysis of “real world” paleoclimate data in “Lessons from Earth’s Past” (subs. req’d) by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Jeffrey Kiehl. The NCAR release is here: “Earth’s hot past could be prologue to future climate.”
Half of Worlds Small Glaciers Will Be Entirely Melted by 2100 – But There’s Good News For The Himalayas – A new study in Nature Geoscience examining glaciers melting due to climate change forecasts tough times for the world’s small glaciers, but offers a more hopeful outlook for Himalayan glaciers. The research, the most comprehensive of its kind carried out so far, shows that about half of glaciers under 5 square kilometers in area will disappear entirely by 2100, in the process contributing during that time period the same amount of water to global sea level rise as the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, about 12 centimeters. Glaciers of this size comprise about 40% of the world’s total glaciers. Report co-author Valentina Radic, from the University of British Columbia, comments, ‘While the overall sea level increase projections in our study are on par with IPCC studies, our results are more detailed and regionally resolved. This allows us to get a better picture of projected regional ice volume change and potential impacts on local water supplies, and changes in glacier size distribution’ (Science Codex). As for regional impact of climate change on glaciers, the research projects by 2100 a decline of 50-90% for Europe’s glaciers, 45-90% in the Caucasus Mountains, and 60-85% for New Zealand.