Report Warns of Dangers From Deep-Sea Mining

Scientists and environmentalists are urging an international moratorium on deep-sea mining after releasing a report indicating its impact on the Pacific Ocean and island states would be severe, extensive and last for generations.The report also said mining for polymetallic nodules, potato-sized lumps found in the seabed that contain metals used in battery manufacturing and high-tech industries, would cause “essentially irreversible damage” to the region, including Kiribati the Cook Islands, Nauru, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu.Entitled “Predicting the Impacts of Mining Deep Sea Polymetallic Nodules in the Pacific Ocean,” the 52-page report represents a scientific consensus based on 250 peer-reviewed articles, and 80 NGOs are now calling for a moratorium as a result.“There’s the removal of the nodules themselves and the sediment that will be stirred up and also the waste that’s going to be discharged from the mining process,” said Helen Rosenbaum, coordinator for the Deep Sea Mining Campaign.“At this point we don’t know what’s going to be in that sediment, what kind of heavy metals might be there, how bio-available they are, that is how readily they might be taken up in the food chain.”Exploration licensesIncreased demand for the metals — cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese — has bolstered deep-sea mining for polymetallic nodules.The International Seabed Authority, an intergovernmental organization based in Kingston, Jamaica, has issued about 30 exploration licenses – 25 in the Pacific Ocean, and 18 of those in the Clarion Clipperton Zone, which stretches from Kiribati to Mexico, where DeepGreen — a Canadian mining company that plans to mine these metals with an eye toward electric vehicles — hopes to be the first to begin operations by 2024.DeepGreen Chief Executive Officer Gerard Barron was unimpressed by the report, saying deep-sea mining offers the best alternative to surface mining, which has a long history of pollution and the destruction of forests, habitats and wildlife.“I think it was a bias, narrow view, which doesn’t address any the issues, by a group of people that have their hearts set on trying to stop the progress of this industry,” he said.He added, though, that severe shortfalls in metals used in high-tech industries are emerging. Some were available under rainforests in countries such as Indonesia but extracting those metals would exact an enormous toll on the local environment, he said.“The argument should be what has the lowest impact from an environmental and a societal perspective,” he said, adding the Clarion Clipperton Zone contained “enough nickel and cobalt there to electrify a billion electric vehicles.”“We have a choice to continue to go into these biodiverse areas and destroy these biodiverse habitats.“Or we can ramp up ocean science studies and say: ‘Look if ever Mother Nature was to put a large abundant resource somewhere out of harm’s way, 4,000 meters below sea level, a thousand miles from the nearest land mass would seem to be a pretty good place.'”Unrealistic financial expectationsHowever, environmentalists remain skeptical, warning cash-strapped island states – already feeling the effects of climate change – against unrealistic financial expectations from mining and the poor track record of surface miners in the region.That includes a nine-year war fought on Bougainville which emerged from a dispute over a copper mine, extensive damage to the Fly River system in Papua New Guinea caused by the Ok Tedi open pit gold mine and long-running disputes over phosphate mining on Nauru.Last year Canadian company Nautilus Minerals went bankrupt, abandoning its deep sea mining ambitions, which cost PNG about $120 million.“We don’t know if there’s going to be other toxic substances such as processing agents in the mine-ways,” Rosenbaum added. “One thing we know is, it’s going to be constant plume of sediment and whatever the sediment is carrying for the life of the mine.”The report found sperm whales, whale sharks, Leatherback turtles and bird life could be at as much risk from nutrient enrichment and metal toxicity as commercial fish such as tuna.“Also, local communities in the Pacific are worried about their way of life being disrupted because they’re very connected to the ocean environment,” she said.Emeline Siale Ilolahia, executive director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, echoed her sentiments.“For me it was really like, ban the whole system from any mining until we have more scientific information available for our decision makers,” Ilolahia said.“We are now in a situation of COVID-19 and we see in our countries are struggling to have funds to support the response in-country and then you always question in your mind, thinking; where has the money coming from mining gone?” she said. 

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This Week’s Space News

The United States almost sent two astronauts into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly a decade.  Circumstances on the ground and in the skies changed flight plans for the public-private partnership between NASA and commercial flight company, SpaceX.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi spoke with NASA to understand what happened and what happens next in This Week in Space.Camera: NASA/AP/REUTERS/SpaceX/SKYPEProducer: Arash Arabasadi

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Larry Kramer Focused World’s Attention on AIDS Through Protests, Writing

Larry Kramer, the grandfather of fierce protests demanding action to fight the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s, died Wednesday at age 84. The author and activist founded the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, known as ACT UP, in 1987.ACT UP mounted dramatic and angry demonstrations credited with raising awareness of the plight of those suffering from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. They were also aimed at pressuring the U.S. government to devote resources to stop the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and to find an effective treatment for the disease. AIDS primarily struck gay men in America, an often-reviled group with little political clout before Kramer launched his unique brand of unapologetically confrontational activism.Tributes have poured in for Kramer, including from those with whom he had a stormy relationship, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, who served as the first director of the U.S. government’s Office of AIDS Research.Kramer granted his last on-camera media interview to VOA’s Carolyn Presutti in April, when his health was failing. Here are selected clips, in Kramer’s words, recorded as he struggled to hold his cellphone to speak.Larry Kramer: The first cases included several of my friends who died. So I was involved then [from the beginning] with AIDS activism really since 1981.ACT UP was one of the most successful grassroots organizations that was ever founded. It was enormously successful. We never stopped working and fighting, and moving and doing all kinds of things to call the world’s attention to AIDS. You have to remember that Ronald Reagan, who was president, never even said the word AIDS. So we were operating “on our own” to bring the world the message that we were dying from this mysterious virus.Fauci was someone we were very angry with because he wasn’t doing anything.VOA: Larry, Fauci is actually quoted as saying, “You can divide medical research into before Larry and after Larry.”Kramer: I know he said that and that was very nice of him. I certainly had a lot of fights with him, as did ACT UP, to get him to the point where he paid attention to us. Now we are all buddy-buddy.VOA: Why was it so hard to get him and the government to pay attention?Kramer: Because it was happening mostly to gay people.VOA: Going back to the battles then, the battles of the ’90s, do you feel like you won that battle?Kramer: No. We still don’t have a cure. We have some drugs that keep us alive longer. They cost a good bit of money if you don’t have insurance. The fight is never, ever over.

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UN warns of Latin America Hunger Crisis Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) is warning that at least 14 million people could go hungry in Latin America, with the COVID-19 outbreak continuing to rise as jobs and economies decline under the weight of the pandemic.The WFP Latin America regional director, Miguel Barreto, has dubbed COVID-19 the “hunger pandemic. He said social protection networks are now necessary for people who normally didn’t need it.Many governments across Latin America are providing food assistance for the most vulnerable groups.While insisting the government do more, many people in poor communities are organizing soup kitchens, sharing what they have to try and sustain themselves.Pan American Health Organizations say the hunger situation is a major concern as Latin America becomes the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.Brazil leads the region with more than 400,000 confirmed cases. Other Latin America countries struggling to contain the virus include Mexico, Peru and Chile. 

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This Shared Fear Unites Us During Pandemic

The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, recently called for mental health treatment to be given to millions of people around the world who are suffering from psychological distress triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not just about those who are sick – but for all of us, the fear of what might happen if we do get the virus. And it’s especially acute for caregivers. VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias has this penetrating firsthand report.
Camera: Veronica Balderas Iglesias  Producer: Veronica Balderas Iglesias

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NASA Postpones 1st Commercial Space Flight

NASA postponed Wednesday’s scheduled launch of a Space X rocket ship, the first manned commercial space flight in history.NASA canceled the launch 16 minutes before takeoff because of the threat of lightning near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.NASA will try again Saturday to send the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station.The launch will be the first time since the space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011 that Americans will fly into space from U.S. soil. Astronauts have been using Russian Soyuz spacecraft to travel to the space station.Led by veteran NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, the flight marks a new era in piloted space flight.Space X will join Gemini, Apollo and the space shuttle in space aviation history. The difference is that those rockets were built by U.S. government contractors.Space X was built by Tesla CEO Elon Musk and is the first time any space agency anywhere in the world used a private commercial company to fly humans into space.“We’re doing it differently than we’ve ever done it before,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “We’re transforming how we do space flight in the future.”Speaking on NASA’s livestream, Musk said, “This is a dream come true, I think for me and everyone at SpaceX. This is not something I ever thought would happen. When starting SpaceX in 2002, I really did not think this day would occur.”NASA’s aim is to have a cost-effective and safe system to send crews to space. Boeing also has a spacecraft in the testing phase for crewed missions. For cargo deliveries, both SpaceX and Northrop Grumman have sent multiple spacecraft to the ISS in recent years. 

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Historic SpaceX Launch Postponed Because of Stormy Weather

The launch of a SpaceX rocket ship with two NASA astronauts on a history-making flight into orbit was called off with 16 minutes to go in the countdown Wednesday because of thunderclouds and the danger of lightning. Liftoff was rescheduled for Saturday afternoon.The commercially designed, built and owned spacecraft was set to blast off in the afternoon for the International Space Station, ushering in a new era in commercial spaceflight and putting NASA back in the business of launching astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly a decade. But thunderstorms for much of the day threatened to force a postponement, and the word finally came down that the atmosphere was so electrically charged that the spacecraft with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken aboard could get hit by a bolt of lightning.”No launch for today — safety for our crew members @Astro_Doug and @AstroBehnken is our top priority,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted, using a lightning emoji.The SpaceX Falcon 9, with the Crew Dragon spacecraft on top of the rocket, sits on Launch Pad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., May 27, 2020.The two men were scheduled to ride into orbit aboard the SpaceX’s bullet-shaped Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, taking off from the same launch pad used during the Apollo moon missions a half-century ago. Both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had arrived to watch.The flight — the long-held dream of SpaceX founder Elon Musk — would have marked the first time a private company sent humans into orbit.It would also have been the first time in nearly a decade that the United States launched astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil. Ever since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.During the day, thunder could be heard as the astronauts made their way to the pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and a tornado warning was issued moments after they climbed into their capsule.The preparations took place in the shadow of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed an estimated 100,000 Americans.”We’re launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. We haven’t done this really since 2011, so this is a unique moment in time,” Bridenstine said.With this launch, he said, “everybody can look up and say, ‘Look, the future is so much brighter than the present.’ And I really hope that this is an inspiration to the world.”The mission would put Musk and SpaceX in the same league as only three spacefaring countries — Russia, the U.S. and China, all of which gave sent astronauts into orbit.”What today is about is reigniting the dream of space and getting people fired up about the future,” he said in a NASA interview before the flight was scrubbed.A solemn-sounding Musk said he felt his responsibilities most strongly when he saw the astronauts’ wives and sons just before launch. He said he told them: “We’ve done everything we can to make sure your dads come back OK.”President Donald Trump looks at an area on a piece of equipment to sign during tour of NASA facilities before viewing the SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 Launch at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., May 27, 2020.NASA pushed ahead with the launch despite the viral outbreak but kept the guest list at Kennedy extremely limited and asked spectators to stay at home. Still, beaches and parks along Florida’s Space Coast are open again, and hours before the launch, cars and RVs already were lining the causeway in Cape Canaveral.The space agency also estimated 1.7 million people were watching the launch preparations online during the afternoon.Among the sightseers was Erin Gatz, who came prepared for both rain and pandemic. 
Accompanied by her 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, she brought face masks and a small tent to protect against the elements. She said the children had faint memories of watching in person one of the last shuttle launches almost a decade ago when they were preschoolers. “I wanted them to see the flip side and get to see the next era of space travel,” said Gatz, who lives in Deltona, Florida. “It’s exciting and hopeful.”NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to transport astronauts to the space station in a new kind of public-private partnership. Development of SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner capsules took longer than expected, however. Boeing’s ship is not expected to fly astronauts into space until early 2021.”We’re doing it differently than we’ve ever done it before,” Bridenstine said. “We’re transforming how we do spaceflight in the future.”
 

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