In today’s On the News segment: The DC Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that corporations, not taxpayers, should pay to clean up their own disasters; Maine will get to vote on marijuana legalization this November; Canada will protect 85 percent of British Columbia’s rain forest from development and destruction; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Science and Green news …
You need to know this. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals says that it’s time to end the era of “privatize the gains, and socialize the losses.” Last week, the public interest law firm Earthjustice broke the news that one of our nation’s highest courts says it’s time for the EPA to make polluters pay to clean up their own messes. Working on behalf of conservation groups, Earthjustice attorneys filed suit to demand that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalize so-called “financial assurance” rules that require companies stay financially viable enough to pay for the potential cleanup of any toxic substances that they produce. In other words, these rules prevent companies from causing a toxic spill then declaring bankruptcy to avoid the cost of clean up. And these rules have actually been in place since 1983, when they were issued as part of the EPA’s “Superfund” law. But that agency pretty much ignored them until a 2009 court ruling ordered the EPA to start enforcing these regulations. Since that 2009 case, the agency had once again started to ignore these important rules, which left taxpayers picking up the tab for toxic spills. So, Earthjustice and other groups filed suit to force the agency to follow the rules that are already on the books. And the DC Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that corporations – not taxpayers – should pay to clean up their own disasters. Their ruling stated, “It is a common practice for operators [of sites that produce hazardous substances] to avoid paying environmental liabilities by declaring bankruptcy or otherwise sheltering assets.” And they agreed that holding corporations accountable will also give them a financial incentive to make their businesses as safe as possible to begin with. Amanda Goodin, one of the attorneys for Earthjustice, said, “Today’s court ruling is clear – we will no longer see polluters cheating the system, evading their financial obligations, and skipping town on their toxic messes, leaving taxpayers stuck with hefty cleanup bills.” Next time a big company considers skimping on safety in the name of profit, they will have to be willing to back up that decision with corporate dollars.
Artificial intelligence is no longer the stuff of science fiction. Last month, a computer beat a professional player in the ancient eastern board game known as “Go.” While that news may not seem much different than the computer that beat chess champion Garry Kasparov 18 years ago, the game “Go” is much more computationally demanding than the game of chess. In fact, just a decade ago, some researchers thought that a computer could never defeat a human in the game because there can literally be trillions of different options at some points in the game. That’s why this new computer program, known as AlphaGo, uses more than calculations to decide how to move in the game. AlphaGo actually relies on “deep neural networks” which mimic the neurons in the brain and allow the computer to learn which moves will lead to victory. For their experiment, researchers trained the AlphaGo network by feeding it a database of 30 million configurations for the game board and the moves that expert players took in each instance. The computer used that knowledge to beat the 2013 European Go champion, and it will takes on the South Korean Go champion next month in Seoul. We can only imagine how and where this incredible technology will pop up next.
Maine may be stuck with Paul LePage for another two years, but they may get a little help reducing the stress of living under their extreme, right-wing governor. According to Phillip Smith over at AlterNet, Mainers will get to vote for marijuana legalization on the ballot this November. Last week, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 100,000 signatures from voters who want to end marijuana prohibition. They only needed 61,000 to qualify for this year’s ballot. A poll taken last spring found that 65 percent of Mainers support cannabis legalization, and nearly 80 percent of those surveyed said that it should be sold in licensed establishments. This ballot initiative would allow people 21 years and older to posses up to two-and-half ounces of pot or a limited number of plants. And it would set up a system of regulation, licensing and marijuana taxation. Legalized pot has been a huge success in states that have ended prohibition, and the people of Maine should have the right to reap those rewards.
Until recently, scientists believed that early humans ate mostly vegetables and the large game animals that they hunted. But according to researchers studying caves near Tel Aviv, our early ancestors had a taste for roasted tortoise. Scientists discovered the bones and shells while studying the Qasem Cave in Israel, which has a rich record of Paleolithic humans. In addition to the evidence of game animals like deer and cattle, researchers found tortoise shells and bones at various levels throughout the cave. They said that tool marks indicate that most of the tortoises were roasted in their shells, and were likely used to supplement the diets of our ancient ancestors. One of the researchers said, “Our discovery adds a really rich human dimension-a culinary and therefore cultural depth to what we already know about these people.” We tend to think of our ancestors as primitive beings, but discoveries like this prove that early humans were just as complex as the modern version.
And finally … Environmental groups are declaring victory for the Great Bear rain forest. Last week, British Columbia officials announced a landmark deal to protect the Canadian rain forest that’s home to 26 First Nation’s tribes and the “Spirit Bear” – a rare subspecies of black bear that has white fur. That new agreement protects 85 percent of the rain forest from development and destruction, and it subjects the remaining 15 percent to the “most stringent” environmental standards in North America. The Great Bear rain forest is a unique ecosystem that is often called a “Gift to the World.” Thankfully these strong protections will help the First Nations peoples and preserve this wonderful gift for generations to come.
And that’s the way it is for the week of February 8, 2016. I’m Thom Hartmann on Science and Green News.