Energy, Environment, and Conservation

  • A banana pathogen, a fungus called Tropical Race 4 (TR4), has been detected in South America. The spread of the fungus from Asia into South America has long been expected, and will likely wipe out the current export banana, a variety called Cavendish. No countries that have detected TR4 have been able to prevent its spread, as it can stay dormant in the soil for years. Bananas are grown as a monoculture, making them particularly susceptible to disease. Scientists are now trying to develop a resistant banana plant using CRISPR gene editing (Wired). 
  • Wildfires burning in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil are thought to have been set by farmers and ranchers trying to clear land after Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro promised to open the rainforest for development. After protests and threats of ending trade agreements, Bolsonaro deployed troops to contain the fires. This week, the G7 met and agreed to put at least $22 million toward fighting the fires (NPR). While the Brazilian government initially rejected the aid offer, they subsequently agreed to accept it (CNN).
  • President Trump has ordered senior aides to disregard environmental and eminent domain laws in order to seize land and make progress on the border wall before the 2020 election. He has promised officials he would pardon them for any laws broken in the process.  Trump has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to paint the barrier black (which will cost at least $70 million), remove smooth metal plates that prevent climbing (Customs and Border Protection consider these plates “vital to overall effectiveness”), and add spikes to the top (which he hopes will instill fear of injury). Officials say they are on track to build 450 miles by the election and have been ordered to rush contracts through without thorough vetting (Texas Tribune). 
  • Giraffes will be added to the list of animals protected by the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), marking the first time the giraffe trade will be internationally regulated. Trade in giraffes will continue, but CITES protections aim to prevent impacts to their populations. Between 2006 and 2015, it is estimated that 40,000 specimens from at least 3,700 giraffes were imported into the United States (New York Times)

Higher Education and Academia

  • Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy has agreed to reduce proposed budget cuts for the University of Alaska from $135 in one year, to $70 million over three years.  The agreement means the board of regents will request that amount as a budget each year, but the state legislature ultimately decides how much is appropriated to the university. The university budget has suffered annual cuts since 2014. Dunleavy has backed down from the cuts after protests and an ongoing recall petition (Anchorage Daily News). 

Public Health

  • The state of Oklahoma has agreed to drop its lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company owned by the Sackler family, in exchange for $177 million in funding for a new addiction research center at the Oklahoma State University and rights to thousands of compounds the company had been researching for drug-use but had no longer planned to pursue. The suit alleged Purdue Pharma had used deceptive marketing to sell opioids they manufactured (Science Mag). 

Climate Change

  • Seventy-one counties in the US have already surpassed the 2 degree Celsius mark in averaged increased temperatures, according to a new analysis. This does not include Alaska, which is the most rapidly warming state in the country. Warming to this degree has already led to sea-level rise, drastic phenological shifts, and economic burden across the US (Washington Post). 
  • The first ever drone to circumnavigate Antarctica has successfully returned from its mission. Along the way, the drone collected climate and ocean data which support the hypothesis that the Southern Ocean is actually a source of carbon during part of the year, rather than a carbon sink as was previously thought. Scientists are concerned about potential runaway carbon emissions, but caution that more data are needed (Bloomberg). 
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has officially proposed a new rule on methane emissions, which would maintain current limits for ozone-forming volatile organic compounds, but completely eliminate limits on methane emissions for the energy sector. Although it would save the oil and gas industry $19 million annually, many in the fossil fuel industry are opposed to the rule, since it would hamper their ability to claim that natural gas is a cleaner alternative to coal. It is estimated that methane released from human activities is responsible for 25% of the warming associated with climate change (Texas Tribune; New York Times). 

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that he will ease visa restrictions on scientists coming to the UK after Brexit. This will include visas for the families of scientists in an effort to make the UK more attractive to researchers and counter accusations of anti-immigration policy (The Guardian). 
  • A new genome-wide association study looked for genetic loci associated with humans having ever had sex with a same-sex partner, using 500,000 genomes from the US and the UK. They found 5 loci that were able to predict between 8-25% of the variance in same-sex behavior on a population level, but had <1% predictive ability on the individual level. Conclusions from the study are limited, however, as the cohort is disproportionately older and of European ancestry (Nature). 

Texas News

  • A ruling by the Texas Supreme Court earlier this year prevents municipalities from regulating plastic bag use, but ranchers and farmers in Texas say the plastic pollution leads to livestock deaths. Legislation exempting single-use plastics from solid waste laws would be required to reinstate plastic bag bans in Texas (Texas Tribune).

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