Tag Archives: conference

Global wildlife meeting approves ban on trade in pangolins

The pangolin is described as the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world. The nocturnal, ant-eating animal got a much-needed boost this week at a U.N. wildlife conference that approved a ban on trade in all eight species of Asian and African pangolins.

The small creature is heavily poached for its meat and scales that are used in traditional medicine in parts of Asia. There is also a market for pangolin products in Africa.

Delegates approved a ban on trade in seven pangolin species by consensus at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

Debate on trade in one of the Asian species of pangolin went to a vote, and only Indonesia objected. China, a major consumer of pangolins, as well as Oman, Japan, Namibia and Madagascar, abstained.

The pangolin decision is expected to be approved at a plenary session next week.

The meeting of CITES, which regulates wildlife trade, ends Oct. 5. About 180 countries are participating in the conference.

CITES previously required controls on any trade in Asian pangolins in an effort to ensure their survival. The new decision effectively prohibits virtually all commercial trade, allowing it only in what CITES calls “exceptional circumstances.”

Pangolins are the most “heavily trafficked mammal in the world,” said Colman O’Criodain, an expert with the WWF conservation group. He said the next step is for countries to implement the ban on trade, as well as move against illegal trafficking in pangolins.

More than one million pangolins have been slaughtered in the past decade, according to some estimates.

Pangolin scales are made of keratin, a protein also found in human fingernails.

Nearly 20 tons of pangolin scales were seized from illegal shipments originating from Africa between 2013 and this year, according to U.S. officials. They said the scales came from as many as 39,000 pangolins.

The CITES meeting seeks to protect “iconic” species such as the lion and elephant, but it also debates the survival of lesser-known species such as the pangolin, said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“There are literally dozens to hundreds of species being considered here that you or I would probably not even recognize,” Ashe said in an interview with The Associated Press. “That’s the magic of this convention.”

White House to hold LGBT housing, homeless conference

The White House will continue a series on LGBT issues with a housing and homelessness conference in Detroit on March 9.

The event will include a speech by Housing & Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

The White House Office of Public Engagement is organizing the event in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Ruth Ellis Center.

The first White House LGBT conference took place in Philadelphia on Feb. 16 with a focus on health issues.

About 300 people from 22 states attended the event at Jefferson University, where Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius delivered a keynote address.

John Berry, OPM director and the highest-ranking openly gay official in the federal government, opened the conference.

Sebelius spoke about efforts to guarantee hospital visitation and medical decision-making protections for LGBT families and emphasized the impact of the Affordable Care Act and health reform on the LGBT community.

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UN officials warn of climate disaster if Paris pact fails

Talks on a universal climate pact shifted to a higher gear this week, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging governments to set off an “energy revolution” to rein in heat-trapping carbon emissions and avert disastrous global warming.

The European Union appeared to be softening its position on its demand that emissions targets in an eventual Paris climate accord need to be legally binding. And U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that even if it’s not legally binding, a deal could still change the way world business thinks about energy.

Foreign and environment ministers joined the talks outside Paris after lower-level negotiators who met last week delivered a draft agreement with all crunch issues left unresolved.

Warning that “the clock is ticking toward climate catastrophe,” Ban told ministers the world expects more from them than “half-measures.”

“Your work here this week can help eradicate poverty, spark a clean energy revolution and provide jobs, opportunities and hope for tomorrow,” he said.

The Paris conference is the 21st time world governments have met to seek a joint solution to climate change — and is aiming at the most ambitious, long-lasting accord yet. The talks are focused on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, primarily by shifting from oil, coal and gas to cleaner sources of energy.

Kerry, after arriving in Paris to join the talks, said that if the more than 190 countries in attendance agree to a plan, the private sector will then take the reins and create sustainable power technologies that will ease climate change.

“Even without a fixed number and a legal shell, we are going to see an enormous amount of movement without creating political obstacles that prevent us from being able to send that signal,” Kerry told a gathering on the sidelines of the climate conference in the French capital.

“I have absolute confidence in the ability of capital to move where the signal of the marketplace says `go’ after Paris,” he said.

The EU has been among the most outspoken advocates of binding targets.

However, EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete told reporters Monday that he understands “the political situation in the United States,” where Republicans in Congress would be unlikely to approve binding targets for carbon dioxide emissions. Many U.S. Republicans question whether climate change is happening and oppose emissions limits out of concern that it would hurt U.S. industry and jobs.

In a statement, Canete said the EU still favors internationally binding targets, but “at the same time, we have signaled our readiness to discuss alternative approaches which would ensure that the Paris agreement can provide a robust legal framework and maximum certainty in parties delivering on their targets.”

The envisioned Paris agreement is supposed to be the first deal to ask all countries to rein in their emissions; earlier pacts only required wealthy nations to do so.

“Developed countries must agree to lead, and developing countries need to assume increasing responsibility in line with their capabilities,” Ban said.

How to define those responsibilities is the biggest challenge in the Paris talks. India and other major developing countries insist on their right to use some fossil fuels to advance their economies _ just like Western nations have done since the Industrial Revolution. They argue the West therefore is historically responsible for raising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“India is here to ensure that rich countries pay back their debt for overdraft that they have drawn on the carbon space,” Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said.

Meanwhile, in China, Beijing issued its first ever red alert for smog, urging schools to close and invoking restrictions on factories and traffic. While that’s different from greenhouse gas emissions, much of the air pollution is blamed on coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions which also are key sources of carbon emissions.

Another major issue is helping poor countries cope with dangerous warming effects, from rising seas to intensifying droughts and heat waves.

More than 180 countries have already presented national pledges for reining in carbon emissions. But scientific analyses show that won’t be enough to meet the international goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), compared to pre-industrial times.

Many countries have called for a review of all targets within five years to see if there are ways of ramping them up. The draft, however, sets 2024 as the earliest date of such a reappraisal.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enela warned that his island nation and others face potential extinction if temperatures continue to rise.

“Let’s achieve a legally binding agreement,” he said. “Let’s do it for Tuvalu. If we save Tuvalu, we save the world.”

U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said she’s kept up at night by a vision of “the eyes of seven generations beyond me asking me, `What did you do?’

“The same question will be asked of each of you,” Figueres told the ministers. “May we all be able to stand tall and clearly say we did everything that was necessary.”

Kerry said he was hopeful that the negotiations would reach an agreement by a Friday deadline, but would not be surprised if the talks continued into the weekend.

“I think the stage is set, I think the attitude is currently there,” he said. 

Dear future: Answering a national call for letters on climate change

The Paris Climate Project has launched “Letters to the Future,” a national effort to encourage authors, scientists, artists, activists and citizens to write letters about climate change to six generations hence.

The letters will be presented to U.S. delegates and others attending the Paris Climate Talks in December.

“‘Letters to the Future’ invites everyone, young and old, to write their future offspring, community, friends — what was it like to be alive when this most consequential summit on climate change occurred? … What do you wish to say, from your heart or your head, to those who weren’t yet here to speak for themselves, as you are?” Welsh notes.

Letter writers to date include Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists Jane Smiley and Geraldine Brooks; Penn/Faulkner award-winner T.C. Boyle; 350.org founder Bill McKibben; U.S. Sen. Harry Reid; Hugo award-winner Kim Stanley Robinson; activist-journalist Michael Pollan; former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and NASA astronaut Stephen Robinson.

And this is just the beginning: People from all walks of life are encouraged to submit a letter and join the conversation. 

The project was envisioned and organized by Melinda Welsh, founding editor of the Sacramento News & Review. Other partners in the project include the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and many member newspapers, including the Wisconsin Gazette. The project also involves the Media Consortium, a network of leading progressive media outlets, such as Mother Jones, Grist, The Nation, Texas Observer and Democracy Now. 

Letters — 400 words in length along with author photos — can be submitted to www.letterstothefuture.org by Nov. 13 in order to be considered for publication in WiG and other newspapers and magazines, in mid-November — before the Paris Climate Talks begin. All letters will be published online. 

On the Web …

To participate in the project, go to www.letterstothefuture.org. And please, also share your letter directly with WiG.

Email Lisa Neff at

WiG will publish letters in print editions in November and online at www.wisconsingazette.com.

They believe: Bigfoot enthusiasts gather at retreat to swap stories

Bigfoot believers gathered over the weekend in western New York, convinced the legendary Sasquatch has left its footprints all over the region.

About 100 people sported buttons saying “I believe” and swapped stories at the fourth annual Chautauqua Lake Bigfoot Expo.

Organizer Peter Wiemer knows it may not be the first topic that comes to mind in the rural county, best known for the Chautauqua Institution, a summer retreat devoted to scholarly and artistic pursuits.

“You say Bigfoot in a room full of people and watch everyone stop and look to see who’s talking,” he said with a laugh.

And while he may have started the event as a way to draw people to the tourist-dependent region and his family’s rental cottages, he said he has since met dozens of people who are certain they’ve seen one of the ape-like creatures in the area, far from the oft-cited Pacific Northwest.

Wiemer is now enough of a devotee that he’s tried to get New York state to put Sasquatch on its list of endangered species, alongside the mud turtle, the golden eagle and the cougar.

The Department of Environmental Conservation isn’t convinced. Its 2012 response in part: “This mythical animal does not exist in nature or otherwise. … No program or action in relation to mythical animals is warranted.”

Don’t tell that to Julia Karanasky, who was afraid she had a peeping Tom when she became aware of a large figure clearing his throat outside her bedroom window on her second night in her Niagara Falls home in 2009. Then she heard the stories of regular Bigfoot sightings on the nearby Tuscarora Indian Reservation.

“I keep telling people, ‘I think he came to my house that night,”” said Karanasky, who sat in the front row for the expo’s lectures.

Speakers included Steve Kulls, an Adirondacks-based Sasquatch detective who debunks Bigfoot hoaxes while seeking out credible reports, and Ken Gerhard, a cryptozoologist in pursuit of evidence of mystery creatures including the Loch Ness Monster, the chupacabra and werewolves.

Dave Wargo said that years ago he smelled the pungent beast before he saw it standing on railroad tracks near the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania.

“People make fun of you,” said Wargo, who has appeared on Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” series. “But I know what I saw.”

Yeti, Sasquatch, Ape-Man, Bigfoot. No matter the name, sightings have been reported in virtually every state, with more than 100 listed in New York and more than 250 in neighboring Ohio. Washington state leads, with more than 600 reports, according to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Association.

GOP presidential candidates scramble for anti-abortion voters

Trying to distinguish themselves in front of an important group of social conservative activists, Republican White House hopefuls used the National Right to Life Convention to share personal stories and detail the abortion restrictions they’ve helped write into law.

The question now is whether the scramble helps or hinders an anti-abortion movement seeking unity as Republicans look to win back the presidency next November.

An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in January and February found that 51 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 45 percent think it should be illegal in most or all cases.

At NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading abortion rights advocacy group, Sasha Bruce said that means Republicans “are fighting over a slice of the minority,” putting them at a disadvantage in November.

National Right to Life political director Karen Cross urged the assembly to “make a decision right now that the issue of life trumps all else.”

“There is no such thing as the perfect candidate,” she warned.

Carol Tobias, the group’s president, argued in an interview that President Barack Obama benefited in both of his national victories from social conservatives who didn’t back John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012.

“The quickest way to defeat a pro-lifer,” Tobias said, “is to fall in love with your candidate and then get your feelings hurt when they don’t win the nomination.”

The candidates gave repeated nods to those sentiments, praising each other and hammering Democratic favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton, a strong pro-choice candidate. Still, they spent most of their energy asserting their own conservative supremacy on the issue.

Santorum boasted of how he sponsored the federal law that bans certain late-term abortion procedures after initially soft-pedaling his abortion stance because of Pennsylvania’s closely divided electorate.

“You know me; there’s no quit in this dog,” he said. “Go ahead and nominate somebody who’s just going to go along. Then try to convince yourself you’ll make a difference.”

Rick Perry predicted the next president will nominate as many as four Supreme Court justices — who could presumably overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationally. “If I have the opportunity to put justices on the Supreme Court, they will not be squishy,” the former Texas governor said.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio explained his abortion opposition as “inseparable from the effort to reclaim the American dream … for every child,” and recalled abortion restrictions he helped pass as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Jeb Bush, whose tenure as Florida governor overlapped Rubio’s speakership, mentioned some of the same laws in a video presentation. He did not physically attend the convention.

Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, has never held elected office, but he blasted abortion providers as “evil.”

Tobias said her group doesn’t wade into primaries in part because it’s hard to find meaningful distinctions between candidates, though she acknowledged the campaigns will find them.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie supported abortion rights earlier in his career, something he generally avoids talking about now.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker celebrated passage of a new state ban on most abortions beyond the 20th week of pregnancy.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has sponsored a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. But some conservatives blast him for voting to confirm Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees.

Rubio and Perry talked about seeing their children on ultrasounds during pregnancy. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, talked about how he gravitated to pediatric surgery because of how much he values children.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal talked about having to defend his anti-abortion stance in his interviews for medical school.

Santorum tells the story of doctors advising that his daughter, Bella, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder, would not have a good quality of life and could die as an infant. “There is no better way to preach the gospel of life,” Santorum said Friday, than to have school-age Bella “in the White House.”

Feline fans are the cat’s meow at CatConLA

Their cat tails wagging and whiskers twitching, feline fans, some in shirts emblazoned with “Check Meowt,” chattered about their “purrfect” pets as they waited in line for hours for a selfie with a kitty celebrity.

No one was as serious as Laura E. Mart of Los Angeles, who donned a ballgown she crafted from 300 fabric cat photos, its skirt several feet wide. She also wore a tall, furry hat, complete with a long tail she swung about.

“If I see a cat, I have to pick it up and pet it. I was afraid I was going to be a cat lady, so this is my way of having all the cats I want,” she said of the dress.

The first-ever CatConLA brought the cat craze popularized online to life in a big, costumed way June 6-7. It tapped into the Internet memes and clickable videos that have spread on social media as people share their love of cats’ antics and help create stars, including ever-downtrodden Grumpy Cat and eternally tongue-wagging Lil Bub.

More than 12,000 people dusted off old Halloween costumes or cat-patterned clothing to become the most visible part of the cat lovers’ version of ComicCon, the comic book fest that attracts flocks of costumed fans.

Famous feline Lil Bub rubbed up to cat enthusiasts Mayim Bialik of “The Big Bang Theory” and Jack McBrayer of “30 Rock” as panelists entertained and vendors peddled products.

The huge turnout overwhelmed some of the 100-plus sellers. Olivia Mew — seemingly destined for cat commodities — said that by the afternoon of the first day, she had sold all 150 shirts, totes, bags and art prints she brought with her from Montreal.

The Beauty Bar ran out of cat stickers that manicurists pressed on people’s fingernails. Even the food truck fare ran low.

But the crunch didn’t faze the flocks of feline fans. Long lines at booths, autograph signings and seminars at The Reef in downtown Los Angeles just gave them a chance to meet more cat lovers.

Wearing a “Mayim is Purr-fect” T-shirt, one woman waited in line for two-and-a-half hours to be the first to get an autograph and photo of the actress.

“I am always surprised when anybody wants to take a picture with me,” Bialik said, laughing. “But I thanked her for waiting that long.”

The adoptable cats and kittens drew a steady line of more than 100 people. Best Friends Animal Society helped place 74 from several Los Angeles shelters, said Candi Crawford, manager of the no-kill rescue.

At the Lil Bub souvenir booth, blankets and towels quickly sold out. The cat became an online sensation with her big eyes and a tongue that’s always sticking out, which stems from dwarfism that left her without teeth.

At one of two sold-out meet-and-greets benefiting animal charities, owner Mike Bridavsky talked about his special relationship with Bub and their exhausting work. Then, the crowd, limited to 75 people who spent $150 each, got to pet Bub.

“The people who will pay $150 to meet Bub are some of the most wonderful people you’d ever meet,” Bridavsky said. “They are very sweet and protective of her and have this deep love for her.”

Other seminars featured syndicated “Sally Forth” cartoonist and author Francesco Marciuliano, blogger and author Angie Bailey and animator Simon Tofield, who started “Simon’s Cat,” a YouTube series about a mischievous fat cat and his owner Simon.

CatConLA, which will be back next year, raised more than $20,000 for FixNation, a nonprofit spay-and-neuter clinic for feral cats in LA, organizer Susan Michals said.

At the event, cat owners Clarissa Mosher of Carson and boyfriend Freddie Luna of El Monte tried out the selfie station set up with kitty props.

“They give unconditional love in its purest form,” Mosher said. “Cats are more picky than dogs, so if they like you, you know they mean it.’

Rand Paul wins straw poll, Scott Walker places 2nd

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has won the Conservative Political Action Conference’s annual presidential preference straw poll. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker placed second.

Pollsters announced on Feb. 28 that Paul won 25.7 percent of the votes in the annual right-wing survey, giving Paul his third consecutive win in as many years.

Walker came in second, with 21.4 percent. Sen. Ted Cruz came in third in the contest with 11.5 percent, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 11.4 percent and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 8.3 percent. All of the other names listed received under 5 percent.

The three-day CPAC conference in suburban Washington is nonetheless seen as a barometer of certain conservative activists’ early leanings.

Pollsters said just over 3,000 attendees voted. Nearly half identified as between the ages of 18 and 25.

Respondents said economic issues, like jobs and taxes, were most important to them in deciding whom to support as the Republican nominee for president in 2016.

Atheist group puts up ‘Dear Santa’ billboards in Milwaukee, and the South

The nonprofit American Atheists today (Dec. 1) launched a new campaign in Bible Belt cities that features a girl writing a letter to Santa. Her letter reads, “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales.”

The billboards went up in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, St. Louis, and Fort Smith, Arkansas.

A fifth billboard in Milwaukee was co-sponsored by the Southeast Wisconsin Freethinkers.

The billboards are aimed at “in-the-closet” atheists who feel pressured to observe religious traditions during the holidays and who might also want to attend the annual American Atheists National Convention in Memphis next April, according to a news release from the group.

“Even children know churches spew absurdity, which is why they don’t want to attend services. Enjoy the time with your family and friends instead,” said American Atheists president David Silverman. “Today’s adults have no obligation to pretend to believe the lies their parents believed. It’s OK to admit that your parents were wrong about God, and it’s definitely OK to tell your children the truth.”

American Atheists said it was unable to secure a billboard advertising space in Jackson, Mississippi, as area lessors rejected the design due to content.

“The fact that billboard companies would turn away business because they are so concerned about the reaction by the community to a simple message that not everyone goes to church and not everyone believes in gods shows just how much education and activism on behalf of atheists is needed in the South,” said spokeswoman Danielle Muscato.

The billboards will be on display from Dec. 1 to Dec. 24.

The group’s convention will take place during Easter weekend at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Scheduled speakers include Bangladeshi blogger Asif Mohiuddin, Lucien Greaves of The Satanic Temple, HowStuffWorks founder Marshall Brain, poet Jennifer Michael Hecht and Fade au Grau, a fashion designer who appeared on Lifetime’s “Project Runway.”

Research: Experimental HIV-prevention drug shows promise

Exciting research suggests that a shot every one to three months may someday give an alternative to the daily pills that some people take now to cut their risk of getting HIV.

The experimental drug has only been tested for prevention in monkeys, but it completely protected them from infection in two studies reported at an AIDS conference on Tuesday.

“This is the most exciting innovation in the field of HIV prevention that I’ve heard recently,” said Dr. Robert Grant, an AIDS expert at the Gladstone Institutes, a foundation affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco.

“Both groups are showing 100 percent protection” with the drug, Grant said of the two groups of researchers. “If it works and proves to be safe, it would allow for HIV to be prevented with periodic injections, perhaps every three months.”

Until a vaccine is developed, condoms are the best way to prevent infection with the AIDS virus and many other sexually spread diseases. But not everyone uses them, or does so all the time, so public health officials have pursued other prevention options.

A drug used to treat people with HIV – Gilead Science’s Truvada – also is used to help prevent infection in people who don’t have the virus. A big study among gay men a few years ago found it could cut this risk by up to 90 percent, depending on how faithfully people take the daily pills.

The new research tested something that could make this type of prevention much more practical – a long-acting experimental drug made by GlaxoSmithKline PLC. The studies tested it in macaques exposed to a human-monkey version of HIV.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave six monkeys shots of the drug every four weeks; six others got dummy shots. All were exposed to the virus twice a week for 11 weeks.

The monkeys who got the fake treatment were readily infected “but the animals that received the long-acting drug remained protected,” said study leader Gerardo Garcia-Lerma of the CDC.

The results mirror what was seen in the CDC’s early research in monkeys on Truvada, the pill that’s available for HIV prevention now.

In the second study, Chasity Andrews and others at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Rockefeller University in New York gave eight monkeys two shots of the drug, four weeks apart, and dummy shots to eight others. The animals were exposed to the virus weekly for eight weeks. Again, all animals given the fake treatment were quickly infected and those on the drug were all protected.

To see how long a single shot would last, they did a second study. The single shot protected 12 monkeys for about 10 weeks on average.

The dose used in a single shot corresponded to what people would get from a shot every three months, researchers said.

“This is really promising,” said Dr. Judith Currier, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles. The research “supports moving this forward” into human testing, she said.

Currier is on the program committee for the meeting in Boston where the studies were presented – the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. The New York study also was published online by the journal Science.

Grant said the long-acting drug is chemically similar to certain AIDS medicines sold now that are “extremely safe, well tolerated and extremely potent.” A mid-stage trial testing the long-acting shots in people as a treatment, not a prevention, is already underway, he said.