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Environment And Nature

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New Zealand’s government says it will hand out an extra few hundred dollars to more than 2 million lower-income adults to help them navigate what it describes as “the peak of the global inflation storm.” The payments are part of a package of new measures announced in the government’s annual budget. Other plans include increasing health spending by a record amount, putting more money into reducing greenhouse gas emissions and boosting defense spending. A report by Treasury painted a rosy picture of the nation’s economy through next year but warned growth would slow markedly from 2024 due to rising interest rates, a reduction in the government’s pandemic spending, and supply issues made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Sydney businesswoman Allegra Spender has an impeccable pedigree for a career in Australian politics. She is the daughter of a conservative federal lawmaker and granddaughter of a conservative cabinet minister. More surprising than her decision to run for office, she has chosen to become a candidate of a breakaway political grouping that has emerged as a threat to the ruling conservative Liberal Party. Spender is known as a “teal independent,” a greener shade than the Liberal Party’s traditional blue color. The conservatives brand them “fake” independents because they are partially funded by a campaign war chest formed by a wealthy former Liberal Party donor. But the teal candidates insist their funding comes with no strings attached, leaving them truly independent.

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President Joe Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to speed production of infant formula and has authorized flights to import supply from overseas. He is facing mounting political pressure over a domestic shortage caused by the safety-related closure of the country’s largest formula manufacturing plant. The Defense Production Act order requires suppliers of formula manufacturers to fulfill orders from those companies before other customers. Biden is also authorizing the Defense Department to use commercial aircraft to fly formula supplies that meet federal standards from overseas to the U.S., in what the White House is calling “Operation Fly Formula.”

Officials say a climber from Japan is presumed dead following a fall into a crevasse near Mount Hunter in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve. The park in a statement says a 43-year-old climber from Kanagawa, Japan, was unroped from his teammates when he fell through a weak ice bridge near their camp at approximately 8,000 feet on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. Mountaineering rangers with the park were notified late Tuesday of the fall, which happened at the base of Mount Hunter’s North Buttress. Meanwhile, the park says it has recovered the body of an Austrian solo climber following his death earlier this month on Denali.

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — More than 2,000 firefighters battling the largest U.S. wildfire are digging back-up fire lines and rearranging fire engines around homes in northeast New Mexico. Fire officials say they expedited efforts Wednesday to get ahead of the flames in anticipation of a return to windy, dangerous conditions in the days ahead. High fire danger alerts go back in effect Thursday from southern Nevada through parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. Crews dug contingency lines east of Taos south of the Colorado line. No new evacuations were ordered Wednesday, and some were relaxed. But a fire behavior analyst said: "The next three days are going to be the giddy-up days."

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President Joe Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to speed production of infant formula and has authorized flights to import supply from overseas. He is facing mounting political pressure over a domestic shortage caused by the safety-related closure of the country’s largest formula manufacturing plant. The Defense Production Act order requires suppliers of formula manufacturers to fulfill orders from those companies before other customers. Biden is also authorizing the Defense Department to use commercial aircraft to fly formula supplies that meet federal standards from overseas to the U.S., in what the White House is calling “Operation Fly Formula.”

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A woman who was attacked by a mountain lion in Northern California says her dog jumped to her defense and was badly wounded in protecting her. Erin Wilson says her Belgian Malinois named Eva is a hero for grappling with the cougar on Monday near the Trinity River during a walk. Wilson was scratched when the animal lunged but Eva jumped in and was grabbed by the head and dragged. Wilson says the animal wouldn't let go even when she attacked it with rocks, sticks and her fists. Wilson and another woman finally managed to drive it off but authorities say Eva is in guarded condition.

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Federal forecasters say Hawaii and the Central Pacific basin should expect two to four hurricanes, tropical depressions or tropical storms this year. The annual National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration outlook predicts there is about a 60% chance of a below-average season. The Central Pacific region sees about four to five tropical cyclones on average annually. Hurricane season in Hawaii lasts from June 1 until the end of November. August and September are historically active months. Officials said below-average sea temperatures associated with La Nina east of Hawaii where storms form factored into this year’s prediction. The last major hurricane to strike the state was Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

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Officials in a North Carolina town on the Outer Banks are pleading with beachgoers to think twice before digging deep holes on the beach. They posted a warning on Facebook on Tuesday just hours before a man died at a New Jersey beach when a hole collapsed on him. The town of Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks posted a picture of ocean rescue supervisor David Elder standing in a large hole that he said was as much as 7 feet deep. Elder says because the ocean water is cold, beachgoers tend to look for “alternate entertainment” — such as digging holes.

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She has four limbs, expressive eyes and likes to stroll through greenery in New York City. Happy, by species, is an Asian elephant. But is she also a person? That’s the question before New York’s highest court Wednesday in a closely watched case over whether a basic human right can be extended to an animal. Her advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project say yes: Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant worthy of the right reserved in law for “a person.” The Bronx Zoo, where Happy resides, says no. The zoo argues Happy is neither imprisoned nor a person, but a well-cared-for elephant “respected as the magnificent creature she is.”

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A federal judge has ruled the Trump administration acted illegally in 2020 when it withdrew an earlier proposal to list as threatened a hen-sized bird found only in the high desert along the California-Nevada line. It’s the latest development in the on-again, off-again protection of the bi-state sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act over the past two decades. U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco said Monday the agency erroneously concluded in 2020 that the ground-dwelling bird “is not likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future." Threats to its survival of include urbanization, livestock grazing and wildfires.

An aquarium and environmental organization are working together to collect better data about shark sightings and help keep people informed of when the animals are nearby. The New England Aquarium in Boston and Chatham, Massachusetts-based Atlantic White Shark Conservancy said Wednesday their expansion of the conservancy’s “Sharktivity” smartphone app will help protect both the humans and the sharks. The conservancy has used the app since 2016 to collect information from the public about the presence of sharks. Now, the conservancy is contracting with the aquarium to employ a shark expert to verify shark sighting reports that arrive via Sharktivity.

After a nearly 2-1/2-year hiatus, the Swiss town of Davos is set to again host global elites from business, government and activist groups for the World Economic Forum. Russia’s war in Ukraine and climate change worries are expected to be on many minds at the event starting Monday as concern over the pandemic ebbs. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy plans to pipe in virtually. Organizers say the biggest delegation of top Ukrainian government officials to leave the country since the war started are set to attend Davos in person. The hosts invited no Russian officials or business leaders. The last forum took place in 2020 as the pandemic was emerging, and then-U.S. President Donald Trump attended. 

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The European Union’s executive arm is moving to jump-start plans for the EU to abandon Russian energy amid the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. The European Commission proposed Wednesday a nearly 300 billion-euro package that includes more efficient use of fuels and faster deployment of renewable power. Russia is the EU’s main supplier of oil, natural gas and coal, accounting for around a quarter of the bloc’s total energy. The investment initiative is meant to help EU countries start weaning themselves off Russian fossil fuels this year. The goal is to deprive Russia of tens of billions in revenue and strengthen EU climate policies.

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Danish media say four European Union countries plan to build North Sea wind farms capable of producing at least 150 gigawatts of energy by 2050. Under the plan, wind turbines would be raised off the coasts of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, daily Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported. The project would mean a tenfold increase in the EU’s current offshore wind capacity. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo are scheduled to attend a North Sea Summit on Wednesday in Esbjerg, 260 kilometers (162 miles) west of Copenhagen.

A 168-year-old company in New Hampshire known for its handwoven, hardwood baskets is closing its factory and stopping production, partly because of an insect pest that has been destroying ash trees. The Peterboro Basket Company has been in business since 1854. The company said in a recent announcement that the baskets are principally made of U.S.-grown Appalachian White Ash, the same wood used in ax handles and baseball bats. It said the emerald ash borer beetle has reduced the availability of the wood. The company said other extreme labor shortages, ongoing supply chain issues, and owners who are “ready to retire,” were other considerations. 

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The megadrought fueled by climate change that has long gripped the western U.S. is moving eastward. And that's behind a simmering dispute over how much water Colorado and Nebraska are entitled to take from the South Platte River, which supplies both metro Denver's booming population and expansive agriculture on both sides of the border. Nebraska stunned Colorado when it said it wants to invoke an old compact that allows it to seize Colorado land and build a canal to divert water from the river. Nebraska’s plan underscores an increasing appetite throughout the West to preemptively secure water as the drought persists. 

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Australia’s opposition leader Anthony Albanese says he will begin rebuilding trust in his nation if he wins weekend elections and attends a summit with U.S., Indian and Japanese leaders in Tokyo just three days later. Albanese says he would be “completely consistent” with the current administration on Chinese strategic competition in the region if he travels to the summit of the Indo-Pacific strategic alliance known as the Quad. Prime Minister Scott Morrison will not say who might represent Australia in Tokyo. Morrison said there were “conventions in place” to deal with the election but it's not clear what happens if the results are close. Albanese said he'd want to take office as soon as Sunday or Monday in order to attend the summit.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is launching a five-point plan to jump-start broader use of renewable energies as the U.N. weather agency reported that greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification hit new records last year. The World Meteorological Organization issued its State of the Climate Report for 2021. It said the last seven years were the seven hottest on record. The impacts of extreme weather have led to deaths and disease, migration, and economic losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars — and the fallout is continuing this year.

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Three of New Mexico’s five national forests will be off limits to the public starting this week due to active wildfires and extreme fire danger. The announcement came Tuesday as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the damage from a record-setting fire burning in northern New Mexico will be significant with estimates of burned structures likely to range between 1,000 and 1,500 as more assessments are done. The governor stressed that was a rough estimate. The fire has charred more than 468 square miles over the last 42 days and evacuation orders remain in place for some surrounding villages. Wildfires also are burning elsewhere in New Mexico as hot and dry conditions persist.

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A co-owner of the Boston Celtics is donating $2 million toward protecting the Florida manatees and their habitat following two seasons of record-breaking manatee mortalities in the state. Fox Rock Foundation will give $1 million each to the nonprofits Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida and Save the Manatee Club. The foundation is a family charity overseen by Celtics co-owner Rob Hale and his wife, Karen. Last year, a record 1,100 manatees died largely from starvation because water pollution from agricultural, septic tank, urban runoff and other sources has diminished their main winter food source along Florida’s east coast.

State regulators considering whether to approve Dominion Energy Virginia’s plans for a nearly $10 billion offshore wind farm are being asked to consider extra protections to shield customers from possible cost overruns and other project risks. No party to the regulatory proceeding is asking that the State Corporation Commission reject outright the planned 176-turbine project off the coast of Virginia Beach. But attorneys representing the interests of the utility’s customers and environmental groups have sought to make the case that because of the project’s enormous cost and complexity, commissioners should consider various protections, such as a cost cap or independent monitor. An evidentiary hearing in the case opened Tuesday. 

A new study says pollution of all types is killing 9 million people a year. About three quarters of that is air pollution. Tuesday’s study says overall pollution deaths haven’t changed much from 2015 to 2019. But that’s because household old-fashioned pollution from primitive stoves and waste-filled water pollution is down. Air pollution deaths from cars, trucks and industry is up 55% from 2000. Scientists say pollution deaths are increasing especially in poorer nations. While pollution deaths are dropping in the United States, dirty air, water, lead and pollution at work still kills 140,000 Americans a year, more than in any other industrialized nation.

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