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Air Force Error Allowed Texas Gunman to Buy Weapons

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Tex. — A day after a gunman massacred parishioners in a small Texas church, the Air Force admitted on Monday that it had failed to enter the man’s domestic violence court-martial into a federal database that could have blocked him from buying the rifle he used to kill 26 people.Under federal law, the conviction of the gunman, Devin P. Kelley, for domestic assault on his wife and toddler stepson — he had cracked the child’s skull — should have stopped Mr. Kelley from legally purchasing the military-style rifle and three other guns he acquired in the last four years.“The Air Force has launched a review of how the service handled the criminal records of former Airman Devin P. […]

The Science of Why Republicans Are Dead Wrong About Climate Change and National Security

The Science of Why Republicans Are Dead Wrong About Climate Change and National Security

Posted by on Tuesday, March 3, 2015

New research links climate change to Syria’s devastating civil war.

Rebels prepare a mortar cannon to shell regime forces in Aleppo, Syria. Karam Almasri/ZUMA

At last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, GOP chairman Reince Priebus had some strong words about how President Barack Obama prioritizes threats to national security.

“Democrats tell us they understand the world, but then they call climate change, not radical Islamic terrorism, the greatest threat to national security,” he said. “Look, I think we all care about our planet, but melting icebergs aren’t beheading Christians in the Middle East.”

The comment came after the president, in a lengthy interview with Vox, said that the media often overplays the danger of terrorism relative to climate change. It’s not the first time Obama has made a point along those lines. In his State of the Union address in January, he said that “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations” than climate change. A few weeks later, in his 2015 national security strategy, the president referred to global warming as an “urgent and growing threat” to national security.

But while Priebus’s jab earned him a hearty round of applause at CPAC, new research indicates that his iceberg comment doesn’t hold water.

For the last couple years, Middle East experts have pointed to the ongoing civil war in Syria as a prime example of how climate change can contribute to violent conflict. The country’s worst drought on record arrived just as widespread outrage with President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorial regime was reaching critical mass; as crops failed, an estimated 1.5 million people were driven off rural farms and into cities. While grievances with the Assad regime are many, from economic stagnation to violent crackdowns on protesters, the impacts of the drought were likely the final straw.

The narrative in Syria fit perfectly with what many top military leaders, including at the Pentagon, were beginning to project: In parts of the world where tensions are already high, the impacts of natural disasters and competition for resources are increasingly likely to ignite violence. A 2013 study by analysts at Princeton found that in some parts of the world, global warming could lead to a 50 percent increase in conflict by mid-century.

But in Syria, there was some uncertainty about whether that drought in particular was a product of man-made climate change. In other words, is the climate-driven conflict there merely representative of what might happen more often in the future, or is it an actual consequence of burning fossil fuels?

An answer to that question was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Colin Kelley, a geographer at the University of California-Santa Barbara, found that a multiyear drought as severe as the one that hit Syria from 2007 to 2010 was made two to three times more likely because of climate change, compared to natural variability alone.

The study is the first to examine a century’s worth of precipitation and temperature data for the Fertile Crescent (the lush region surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that was hit hardest by the drought) for clues about a possible human fingerprint on the recent drought. Sure enough, the data shows that “three of the four most severe multiyear droughts have occurred in the last 25 years, the period during which external anthropogenic forcing has seen its largest increase.” Here’s the relevant data from the study:

Kelley et al, PNAS 2015

The lines in both charts proceed chronologically, starting at 1900, with a tick mark every 20 years. In the top chart, a regional warming trend is clearly visible, with the red box highlighting the recent period where temperatures were consistently above the long-term average. The bottom chart shows the Palmer Drought Severity Index, a standard metric for measuring drought in agricultural areas that combines temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture data (lower numbers are more severe). The brown boxes show droughts (where the PDSI is below the long-term trend) of at least three years.

The study also includes data from a model that compared two sets of projected temperatures in the Fertile Crescent, one with greenhouse gas influence and one without. The observed record matches closely with the greenhouse gas model, suggesting that climate change played a critical role in shaping conditions in the region.

“The bottom line is, what we’re trying to show is that these trends are due to the climate change signal,” Kelley said of the charts above. “There’s no natural signal for that.”

In other words, Kelley said, there’s a clear line of causation from human-caused greenhouse gas emissions to the deaths of 200,000 Syrians in the civil war.

With that said, Kelley added that there are a number of other factors at play here. The impact of the most recent drought was made worse by the fact that it came on the heels of two other severe droughts, so groundwater supplies were already low and farmers already struggling. Moreover, Assad’s predecessor and father, Hafez al-Assad, instituted a system of agricultural policies that encouraged farming in water-scarce areas, setting farmers there up to be highly vulnerable to future drought. And it’s impossible to know how the drought would have affected the political climate in the absence of Assad’s other unpopular practices; it’s possible that a more stable government would have been able to better weather the drought.

Still, the study carries important implications for the future of the region, said Francesco Femia, co-director of the Center for Climate and Security. The climate trends highlighted in this study indicate that replacing Assad won’t be enough to secure stability in the region.

“If or when the conflict in Syria comes to an end, will its farmers and herders be able to regain their livelihoods?” Femia said. “Given the continued instability and a forecast of increased drying in the region, this issue should be better integrated into the international security agenda.”

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Medical Waste Used To Generate Electricity In Oregon May Contain Fetal Tissue

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon county commission has ordered an incinerator to stop accepting boxed medical waste to generate electricity after learning the waste it’s been burning may include tissue from aborted fetuses from British Columbia.

Sam Brentano, chairman of the Marion County board of commissioners, said late Wednesday the board is taking immediate action to prohibit human tissue from future deliveries at the plant that has been turning waste into energy since 1987.

“We provide an important service to the people of this state and it would be a travesty if this program is jeopardized due to this finding,” he said in a statement. “We thought our ordinance excluded this type of material at the waste-to-energy facility. We will take immediate action to ensure a process is developed to prohibit human tissue from future deliveries.”

Kristy Anderson, a British Columbia Health Ministry spokeswoman, told The Associated Press that regional health authorities there have a contract with a company that sends biomedical waste, such as fetal tissue, cancerous tissue and amputated limbs, to Oregon, where it’s incinerated in the waste-energy plant.

The B.C. Catholic, a Vancouver-based newspaper, identified the plant as Covanta Marion, based in Brooks, Ore. When contacted by The AP on Wednesday, a Covanta Marion representative said he did not know if fetal tissue was included in shipments from Canada or elsewhere.

The facility is owned and operated by Covanta in a partnership with Marion County. According to its website, it processes 550 tons per day of municipal solid waste, generating up to 13 megawatts of energy sold to Portland General Electric.

Marion County estimates that the facility processes about 700 tons of in-county medical waste each year and about 1,200 tons from elsewhere, making it a small percentage of the total waste burned. Out-of-town medical waste is charged a higher fee.

County spokeswoman Jolene Kelley said medical waste has been included in the program for some time, but the commissioners never had any indication that fetal tissue might be included.

“We learned that today,” she said.

Commissioners did not say why they believe medical waste shipped to the plant should be free of fetal tissue.

Since they have no idea what’s been arriving in the sealed shipments, the commissioners decided to temporarily suspend all medical waste, Kelley said. They’ve scheduled an emergency hearing for Thursday and might rewrite an ordinance to clarify what type of material can be accepted.

Covanta Marion is believed to be the only plant generating energy from waste in Oregon.

The Environmental Protection Agency says medical waste from hospitals is generally excluded from the municipal solid waste used to generate electricity.