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Climate Change

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Scientists have discovered the oldest known DNA and used it to reveal what life was like 2 million years ago in the northern tip of Greenland. Today, it’s a barren Arctic desert. But back then it was a lush landscape of trees and vegetation with an array of animals, even the now extinct mastodon. The study published Wednesday looks at environmental DNA — bits of genetic material that organisms leave in their surroundings. By studying these tiny pieces, scientists found an unusual mix of species, with reindeer and geese perhaps living alongside mastodons.

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An obscure elected position in Louisiana, with possibly major implications, is receiving national attention over climate concerns. Saturday’s runoff for Public Service Commission pits incumbent Lambert Boissiere III against Davante Lewis, a 30-year-old progressive policy advocate. The race has drawn hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from utility companies and outside political action committees. Over the years, climate activists have become increasingly focused on the commission, which oversees electric utilities and natural gas facilities in a state that has a front row seat to climate change impacts and where tens of thousands of jobs are tied to the oil and gas industry.

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An international conservation organization says populations of a vulnerable species of marine mammal, numerous species of abalone and a type of Caribbean coral are now threatened with extinction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature announced the update Friday during the UN Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Montreal. The IUCN uses its Red List of Threatened Species to categorize which animals are approaching extinction. This year, the union is sounding the alarm about the dugong, which is a large and docile marine mammal that lives from the eastern coast of Africa to the western Pacific Ocean.

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The top United Nations human rights official said Friday that it’s important to protect the “civic space” for young environmental activists to highlight the urgency of tackling climate change. Volker Turk, who heads the U.N.’s human rights office, said that while the world still has much work to do curbing global warming, even the progress made wouldn’t have been achieved without youth protests. He told a Geneva news conference that "we should make sure that the civic space for them is protected and safeguarded, and not crack down in a way that we have seen in many parts of the world.” There are growing calls in Germany, Britain, Australia and elsewhere to stop activists from blocking roads and airports.

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has helped mark a milestone in U.S. history by holding up a newly minted $5 bill signed for the first time ever by two women. Yellen’s signature will appear alongside that of U.S. Treasurer Lynn Malerba, the first Native American in that position. Yellen joked Thursday about the bad handwriting of some of her male predecessors and said, “I will admit, I spent some quality time practicing my signature.” Malerba and Yellen traveled to a Bureau of Engraving and Printing facility in Fort Worth, Texas, to provide their signatures. The new $1 and $5 notes will go into circulation next year.

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Britain’s Conservative government has approved the U.K.’s first new coal mine in three decades. Environmentalists have condemned the decision as a leap backwards in the fight against climate change. Cabinet Minister Michael Gove decided the mine in the Cumbria area of northwest England would have “an overall neutral effect on climate change." The government said coal from the mine would be used to make steel — replacing imported coal — rather than for power generation. Opponents say the mine is a major blow to the U.K.’s status as a world leader in replacing polluting fossil fuels with clean renewable energy. Greenpeace said “the U.K. government risks becoming a superpower in climate hypocrisy rather than climate leadership."

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With many types of wildlife struggling to survive and their living space shrinking, some are finding their way to big cities. The United Nations says up to 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. Development in suburban and even rural areas is gobbling up habitat. The situation is stirring calls for “rewilding” places where wildlife thrived until driven out. Experts say cities offer many opportunities to support rewilding, such as restoring wetlands and planting flowers. In Detroit, scientists place wildlife cameras in woodsy sections of parks. They've recorded images of coyotes, foxes, raccoons and other animals that emerge mostly at night to roam and forage.

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Environmental leaders are gathering on Montreal to hammer out a framework they hope will help provide much-needed protection for the world's biodiversity. Coming less than a month after world leaders gathered to combat climate change, ministers will consider a framework that calls for protecting 30% of land and marine areas by 2030. It also calls for reducing the rate of invasive species introduction by 50%, cutting pesticide use in half and eliminating the discharge of plastic waste. Financing will probably be a big hurdle in reaching these goals, with developing countries likely to demand significant contributions to sign onto any deal.

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Much of the Arctic is in a burst of freak December warming. Temperatures in Alaska’s northernmost community hit 40 degrees Monday morning. That’s not only a record by six degrees but it’s the warmest that region has seen on record from late October to late April. Greenland a couple days ago hit 54 degrees, which is shirtsleeve weather. Scientists say some of it is random weather from storms and some of it is from low sea ice. The low sea ice is due to climate change. Open water acts as a heating pad in the Arctic in the winter.

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A tiny Nevada toad at the center of a legal battle over a geothermal project has officially been declared an endangered species. U.S. wildlife officials had temporarily listed it on a rarely used emergency basis last spring. The Fish and Wildlife Service said in a formal rule published Friday that the Dixie Valley toad is at risk of extinction "primarily due to the approval and commencement of geothermal development” about 100 miles east of Reno. Other threats to the quarter-sized amphibian include groundwater pumping, agriculture, climate change, disease and predation from bullfrogs. The temporary listing in April marked only the second time in 20 years the agency had taken such emergency action.

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French President Emmanuel Macron has paid a visit to Louisiana, the U.S. state most closely aligned with his country historically and culturally. Macron met with political leaders Friday and strolled through New Orleans’ historic French Quarter. He paused next to a street brass band and nodded and clapped as they played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Macron also says he met with billionaire Elon Musk for a “clear and honest discussion” about Twitter, days after a top EU official warned that the company must do more to protect users. It is the first visit to Louisiana by a French president since Valery Giscard d’Estaing traveled to Lafayette and New Orleans in 1976.

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Britain's Prince William appears to have taken the baton from his father and become a more vocal advocate about pollution and climate change. Those efforts are on full display this week in Boston. That's where the winners of the royal couple's Earthshot Prize for environmental innovators were being announced Friday evening. The announcement at Boston’s MGM Music Hall was part of a glitzy show headlined by Billie Eilish, Annie Lennox, Ellie Goulding, and Chloe x Halle. But William also made time Friday to meet with President Joe Biden and Caroline Kennedy, ambassador to Australia and daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy.

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The Prince and Princess of Wales have visited a green technology startup incubator in suburban Boston and a nonprofit that gives young people the tools to stay out jail and away from violence. William and Kate are in the United States for their first overseas visit since the death of Queen Elizabeth II. On Thursday, they heard about solar-powered autonomous boats and low-carbon cement at the incubator Greentown Labs. The royal couple’s trip comes as they look to foster new ways to address climate change. It culminates Friday with the prince’s signature Earthshot Prize, a global competition aimed at finding new ways to tackle climate change.

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Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron have vowed to maintain a united front against Russia amid growing worries about waning support for Ukraine in the U.S. and Europe. Biden on Thursday also signaled that he may be willing to tweak aspects of his signature climate legislation that have raised concerns with France and other European allies. While Biden honored Macron with a fancy state dinner Thursday evening, the glamour and pomp of the visit has been shadowed by Macron’s criticism of Biden’s climate legislation and the challenges both leaders face amid the mounting costs of keeping military and economic aid flowing to Kyiv.

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The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed increasing ethanol and other biofuels that must be blended into the nation’s fuel supplies over the next three years. Thursday's announcement was welcomed by renewable fuel and farm groups but condemned by environmentalists and oil industry groups. The proposal also includes incentives for the use of biogas from farms and landfills, and biomass such as wood, to generate electricity to charge electric vehicles. It’s the first time the EPA has set biofuel targets on its own instead deferring to Congress. The agency opened a public comment period and will hold a hearing in January.

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Spain’s government has pledged to invest 350 million euros ($368 million) in the country's Doñana wetlands. Ecologists have been clamoring for more action to help the UNESCO world heritage site that experts say is dying due to the misuse of water and climate change. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced the pledge on Thursday when he visited the Doñana National Park. A European Union court ruled last year that Spanish authorities had failed in their duty to protect the wetlands that are a stopover spot for millions of birds migrating from Africa to northern Europe. The World Wildlife Fund applauded the investment but demanded more from regional authorities to control the illegal extraction of water.

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Jacob Harold believes philanthropy needs more “strategic promiscuity” – battling the world’s problems using a variety of approaches. It’s an idea that mirrors his wide-ranging career. Harold was president and CEO of GuideStar before it merged with Foundation Center to form the even larger nonprofit information source Candid, which he co-founded. To boost those chances, Harold wrote “The Toolbox: Strategies for Crafting Social Impact,” which hit bookshelves Thursday. “The Toolbox” offers nine strategies, or tools, philanthropists can use on a problem – from storytelling to behavioral economics to community organizing.

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The Prince and Princess of Wales are making their first overseas trip since the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September. The trip that began Wednesday is an occasion for Prince William and his wife, Kate, to show the world as much about who they are not as who they are. With their three-day visit to Boston, the couple hope to demonstrate that they aren’t the last remnants of a dying institution. Their foray is focused on William’s initiative to find the next generation of environmental entrepreneurs and will be supplemented with trips to an anti-poverty program, child development researchers and local flood defenses.

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Germany’s energy minister says the government has formally decided to abandon an international energy accord that fossil fuel companies had used to oppose measures against climate change. The move follows similar decisions by Italy, France, Spain and other European countries to leave the 1998 Energy Charter Treaty, which includes provisions designed to protect foreign investments in a country’s energy sector. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Wednsday treaty runs counter to the Paris climate accord. He cited cases brought by German utility companies against the Dutch government’s decision to end the burning of coal. Habeck, a member of the environmentalist Green party, backed calls by climate campaigners for the European Union as a whole to withdraw from the pact.

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NASA is canceling a planned satellite that was going to intensely monitor greenhouse gases over the Americas because it got too costly and complicated. But the space agency says it will still be watching human-caused carbon pollution but in different ways. Tuesday's NASA announcement says that its GeoCarb mission, which was designed to monitor carbon dioxide, methane and how plant life changes over North and South America is now looking to cost more than $600 million. It was budgeted at $166 million.

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Australia’s environment minister says her government will lobby against UNESCO adding the Great Barrier Reef to a list of endangered World Heritage sites, arguing that criticisms of government inaction on climate change are outdated. Officials from UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature released a report Monday warning that without “ambitious, rapid and sustained” climate action, the world’s largest coral reef is in peril. The report, which recommended shifting the Great Barrier Reef to endangered status, followed a 10-day mission to the famed reef system off Australia’s northeast coast. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek says the report is a reflection on Australia’s previous government, which was voted out of office in May after nine years in power.

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The Interior Department has proposed rules to limit methane leaks from oil and gas drilling on public lands. It's the latest action by the Biden administration to crack down on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming. The proposal Monday by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management would tighten limits on gas flaring on federal land and require energy companies to better detect methane leaks. The actions follow a methane-reduction plan announced by President Joe Biden earlier this month. The plan targets the oil and gas industry for its role in global warming even as the president has pressed energy producers for more oil drilling.

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