Scientists have just made a massive discovery that could have major implications for fighting dementia in old age.
Scientists have just made what could be the most important discovery about brains in a very long time, as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a report released this past week that exercise, controlling blood pressure, and some brain training may be the magic formula to preventing mental decline, Alzheimer’s or dementia in old age.
While there are no proven ways to keep this mental deterioration from happening, this new report is an exciting indication that we may have more power to stop cognitive decline than we think. However, the government will need to do more research before such strategies are pushed as a viable method for ordinary citizens.
At the very least, these three strategies appear to do no harm, and at least two are really good for you even if they ultimately don’t work for preventing dementia. The report is based on a belief that changes in the brain begin long before symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other diseases, and it’s possible to catch the disease early on.
Cognitive training, blood pressure management for people with hypertension, and increased physical activity all show modest but inconclusive evidence that they can help prevent cognitive decline and dementia, but there is insufficient evidence to support a public health campaign encouraging their adoption, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Additional research is needed to further understand and gain confidence in their effectiveness, said the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report.
“There is good cause for hope that in the next several years much more will be known about how to prevent cognitive decline and dementia, as more clinical trial results become available and more evidence emerges,” said Alan I. Leshner, chair of the committee and CEO emeritus, American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Even though clinical trials have not conclusively supported the three interventions discussed in our report, the evidence is strong enough to suggest the public should at least have access to these results to help inform their decisions about how they can invest their time and resources to maintain brain health with aging.”
An earlier systematic review published in 2010 by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and an associated “state of the science” conference at the National Institutes of Health had concluded that there was insufficient evidence to make recommendations about any interventions to prevent cognitive decline and dementia. Since then, understanding of the pathological processes that result in dementia has advanced significantly, and a number of clinical trials of potential preventive interventions have been completed and published. In 2015, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) contracted with AHRQ to conduct another systematic review of the current evidence. NIA also asked the National Academies to convene an expert committee to help inform the design of the AHRQ review and then use the results to make recommendations to inform the development of public health messaging, as well as recommendations for future research. This report examines the most recent evidence on steps that can be taken to prevent, slow, or delay the onset of mild cognitive impairment and clinical Alzheimer’s-type dementia as well as steps that can delay or slow age-related cognitive decline.
Overall, the committee determined that despite an array of advances in understanding cognitive decline and dementia, the available evidence on interventions derived from randomized controlled trials – considered the gold standard of evidence – remains relatively limited and has significant shortcomings. Based on the totality of available evidence, however, the committee concluded that three classes of interventions can be described as supported by encouraging but inconclusive evidence. These interventions are:
cognitive training – which includes programs aimed at enhancing reasoning and problem solving, memory, and speed of processing – to delay or slow age-related cognitive decline. Such structured training exercises may or may not be computer-based. blood pressure management for people with hypertension – to prevent, delay, or slow clinical Alzheimer’s-type dementia. increased physical activity – to delay or slow age-related cognitive decline.
Cognitive training has been the object of considerable interest and debate in both the academic and commercial sectors, particularly within the last 15 years. Good evidence shows that cognitive training can improve performance on a trained task, at least in the short term. However, debate has centered on evidence for long-term benefits and whether training in one domain, such as processing speed, yields benefits in others, such as in memory and reasoning, and if this can translate to maintaining independence in instrumental activities of daily living, such as driving and remembering to take medications. Evidence from one randomized controlled trial suggests that cognitive training delivered over time and in an interactive context can improve long-term cognitive function as well as help maintain independence in instrumental activities of daily living for adults with normal cognition. However, results from other randomized controlled trials that tested cognitive training were mixed.
Managing blood pressure for people with hypertension, particularly during midlife – generally ages 35 to 65 years – is supported by encouraging but inconclusive evidence for preventing, delaying, and slowing clinical Alzheimer’s-type dementia, the committee said. The available evidence, together with the strong evidence for blood pressure management in preventing stroke and cardiovascular disease and the relative benefit/risk ratio of antihypertensive medications and lifestyle interventions, is sufficient to justify communication with the public regarding the use of blood pressure management, particularly during midlife, for preventing, delaying, and slowing clinical Alzheimer’s-type dementia, the report says.
It is well-documented that physical activity has many health benefits, and some of these benefits – such as stroke prevention – are causally related to brain health. The AHRQ systematic review found that the pattern of randomized controlled trials results across different types of physical activity interventions provides an indication of the effectiveness of increased physical activity in delaying or slowing age-related cognitive decline, although these results were not consistently positive. However, several other considerations led the committee to conclude that the evidence is sufficient to justify communicating to the public that increased physical activity for delaying or slowing age-related cognitive decline is supported by encouraging but inconclusive evidence.
None of the interventions evaluated in the AHRQ systematic review met the criteria for being supported by high-strength evidence, based on the quality of randomized controlled trials and the lack of consistently positive results across independent studies. This limitation suggests the need for additional research as well as methodological improvements in the future research. The National Institutes of Health and other interested organizations should support further research to strengthen the evidence base on cognitive training, blood pressure management, and increased physical activity, the committee said. Examples of research priorities for these three classes of interventions include evaluating the comparative effectiveness of different forms of cognitive training interventions; determining whether there are optimal blood pressure targets and approaches across different age ranges; and comparing the effects of different forms of physical activity.
When funding research on preventing cognitive decline and dementia, the National Institutes of Health and other interested organizations should identify individuals who are at higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia; increase participation of underrepresented populations; begin more interventions at younger ages and have longer follow-up periods; use consistent cognitive outcome measures across trials to enable pooling; integrate robust cognitive outcome measures into trials with other primary purposes; include biomarkers as intermediate outcomes; and conduct large trials designed to test the effectiveness of an intervention in broad, routine clinical practices or community settings.
The study was sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The National Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.
A planet-size object may be orbiting the sun in the icy reaches of the solar system beyond Pluto.
Scientists at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) have determined that an unseen object with a mass somewhere between that of Earth and Mars could be lurking in the Kuiper Belt, a region beyond Neptune filled with thousands of icy asteroids, comets and dwarf planets.
In In January 2016, a separate group of scientists predicted the existence of a Neptune-size planet orbiting the sun far, far beyond Pluto — about 25 times farther from the sun than Pluto is. This hypothetical planet was dubbed “Planet Nine,” so if both predictions are correct, one of these putative objects could be the solar system’s 10th planet.
The so-called “planetary-mass object” described by the scientists from LPL appears to affect the orbits of a population of icy space rocks in the Kuiper Belt. Distant Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) have tilted orbits around the sun. The tilted orbital planes of most KBOs average out to something called the invariable plane of the solar system.
But the orbits of the most distant KBOs tilt away from the invariable plane by an average of 8 degrees, which signals the presence of a more massive object that warps its surroundings with its gravitational field, researchers said in a study due to be published in The Astronomical Journal.
“The most likely explanation for our results is that there is some unseen mass,” Kat Volk, a postdoctoral fellow at LPL and the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “According to our calculations, something as massive as Mars would be needed to cause the warp that we measured.”
These KBOs act a lot like spinning tops, Renu Malhotra, a professor of planetary sciences at LPL and co-author of the new study, said in the statement.
“Imagine you have lots and lots of fast-spinning tops, and you give each one a slight nudge … If you then take a snapshot of them, you will find that their spin axes will be at different orientations, but on average, they will be pointing to the local gravitational field of Earth,” she said. “We expect each of the KBOs’ orbital tilt angle to be at a different orientation, but on average, they will be pointing perpendicular to the plane determined by the sun and the big planets.”
It may sound a lot like the mysterious Planet Nine, but the researchers say the so-called planetary-mass object is too small, and too close, to be the same thing. Planet Nine lies 500 to 700 astronomical units (AU) from Earth, and its mass is about 10 times that of Earth. (One AU is the average distance at which Earth orbits the sun — 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers. Pluto orbits the sun at a maximum distance of just less than 50 AU.)
“That is too far away to influence these KBOs,” Volk said. “It certainly has to be much closer than 100 AU to substantially affect the KBOs in that range.”
Though no planet-size objects have been spotted in the Kuiper Belt so far, the researchers are optimistic that the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which is currently under construction in Chile, will help find these hidden worlds. “We expect LSST to bring the number of observed KBOs from currently about 2,000 to 40,000,” Malhotra said.
“There are a lot more KBOs out there — we just have not seen them yet,” Malhotra added. “Some of them are too far and dim even for LSST to spot, but because the telescope will cover the sky much more comprehensively than current surveys, it should be able to detect this object, if it’s out there.”
Updated | Scientists in the Netherlands have reported the first known sighting of conjoined twin porpoises. The animals were dead when fishers in the North Sea caught them in a net.
The porpoises were male babies, their age clear by their not-yet-firm dorsal fin, small hairs on their upper jaws and an open umbilicus from where they had been attached to their mother. Their peculiar anatomy was unmistakable: The porpoises each had fully formed heads. Their heads were connected to a single body with the usual two pectoral fins. They were about 2 feet long and weighed about 13 pounds. They were found about 15 nautical miles (about 17 regular miles) west of Hook of Holland, a small town in the southwestern corner of the country.
According to a report about the porpoises by Erwin Kompanje, a scientist at the Natural History Museum of Rotterdam, and colleagues, the fishers threw the porpoises back into the water because they feared keeping the dead animals was illegal. They did, however, take a few photographs to document their existence.
Very rare conjoined twin porpoises swept into a net in the Netherlands were dead when caught.HENK TANIS
Normal twinning is extremely rare among cetaceans, the authors of the report note. “There is simply not enough room in the body of the female to give room to more than one fetus,” Kompanje told New Scientist. Adult harbor porpoises give birth to one baby every one to two years, on average. The first known instance of normal harbor porpoise twins was reported in 2014.
This report of conjoined twin porpoises is the 10th known instance of symmetrical conjoined twins among cetaceans, the scientific name for the marine animal group including whales, dolphins and porpoises. Such twinning also has been found among baleen whales and toothed whales.
Scientists believe that symmetrical conjoined twins, such as these North Sea porpoises, are the result of either embryonic cells that had been separated fusing together or the incomplete separation of cells from a fertilized ovum. But what causes conjoined twins “remains enigmatic,” the scientists write in Deinsea.
These conjoined newborn male harbor porpoises were found in the North Sea on May 30. This photo shows a frontal view of both heads, with visible hairs on both upper jaws.HENK TANIS
This image of the conjoined porpoises shows the dorsal fin, which is still pliable, a sign that they were newborns.HENK TANIS
This image of the underside of the conjoined newborn porpoise twins shows a still-open umbilicus and a visible male genital slit.HENK TANIS
This story has been updated with additional images and to emphasize that these porpoises were two animals sharing one body, not one animal with two heads.
It hasn’t been a good week for America’s endangered species. The Trump administration has been taking aim at protections for some of the country’s most vulnerable creatures: Last week, it was the imperiled sage grouse; this week, it’s endangered whales and sea turtles off the Pacific Coast.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries division announced on Monday that it is tossing out a pending rule meant to protect marine mammals and sea turtles, including several endangered species, from swordfishing gill nets off the West Coast.
Environmental experts are calling the move a declaration of “war” by the Trump administration against threatened marine life.
“The Trump administration has declared war on whales, dolphins and turtles off the coast of California,” Todd Steiner, director of the California-based Turtle Island Restoration Network, told the Los Angeles Times. “This determination will only lead to more potential litigation and legislation involving this fishery. It’s not a good sign.”
Proposed in 2015 by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which includes representatives from the fishing industry, tribal representatives, federal and state officials and other conservation experts, the gill net rule sought to impose a cap on the number of marine mammals and turtles that could be killed or injured by the long, near-invisible gill nets used to catch swordfish. Some of the animals covered by the rule are endangered fin, humpback, and sperm whales, common bottlenose dolphins and endangered leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles.
Under the proposed regulation, gill net fishing for swordfish would have been banned for up to two years if too many marine mammals and turtles were caught in the nets as by-catch.
According to The Associated Press, the rule would have applied to 20 fishing vessels or fewer operating off the coast of California. But the rule could have had a profound effect on sea life.
Gill net fishing poses a grave threat to marine mammals and other creatures. Citing NOAA data, the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity said last year that the California-based gill net fishery targeting swordfish “catches and discards more than 100 protected whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions each year, in addition to thousands of sharks and other fish.”
“This fishery kills more whales and dolphins than any other fishery off the U.S. West Coast and Alaska combined,” the organization said in 2014.
Michael Milstein, a NOAA spokesman, cited economic reasons for the decision, saying the rule would have had “a much more substantial impact on the [gill net fishing] fleet than we originally realized,” according to the AP.
He added that the swordfish fishery has already implemented several protective measures, including attaching sound warnings to fishing nets, to reduce the risk of by-catch. The number of whales, dolphins and sea turtles killed by fishing nets had significantly decreased since the early 1990s, Milstein said.
Environmental groups rejected NOAA’s reasoning, however.
Steiner, of Turtle Island Restoration Network, noted that falling by-catch figures could also be attributed to the decline of the gill net fishing fleet in California, which has dropped from 129 vessels in 1994 to just 20 vessels or fewer in 2016.
Katherine Kilduff, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, stressed that even if by-catch numbers are decreasing, gill nets continue to kill and injure many species, including endangered leatherback turtles and humpback whales.
Given the low numbers of some of these populations, every single death or injury is significant. The Pacific leatherback turtle, for example, is the world’s most endangered marine turtle, with as few as 2,300 adult females left in the wild.
“If they catch one, it’s a huge problem for the population,” Kilduff told the AP.
WASHINGTON — The campaign ad appeared during the presidential contest of 2008. Rapid-fire images of belching smokestacks and melting ice sheets were followed by a soothing narrator who praised a candidate who had stood up to President George W. Bush and “sounded the alarm on global warming.”
It is difficult to reconcile the Republican Party of 2008 with the party of 2017, whose leader, President Trump, has called global warming a hoax, reversed environmental policies that Mr. McCain advocated on his run for the White House, and this past week announced that he would take the nation out of the Paris climate accord, which was to bind the globe in an effort to halt the planet’s warming.
The Republican Party’s fast journey from debating how to combat human-caused climate change to arguing that it does not exist is a story of big political money, Democratic hubris in the Obama years and a partisan chasm that grew over nine years like a crack in the Antarctic shelf, favoring extreme positions and uncompromising rhetoric over cooperation and conciliation.
“Most Republicans still do not regard climate change as a hoax,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist who worked for Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. “But the entire climate change debate has now been caught up in the broader polarization of American politics.”
“In some ways,” he added, “it’s become yet another of the long list of litmus test issues that determine whether or not you’re a good Republican.”
Since Mr. McCain ran for president on climate credentials that were stronger than his opponent Barack Obama’s, the scientific evidence linking greenhouse gases from fossil fuels to the dangerous warming of the planet has grown stronger. Scientists have for the first time drawn concrete links between the planet’s warming atmosphere and changes that affect Americans’ daily lives and pocketbooks, from tidal flooding in Miami to prolonged water shortages in the Southwest to decreasing snow cover at ski resorts.
That scientific consensus was enough to pull virtually all of the major nations along. Conservative-leaning governments in Britain, France, Germany and Japan all signed on to successive climate change agreements.
Yet when Mr. Trump pulled the United States from the Paris accord, the Senate majority leader, the speaker of the House and every member of the elected Republican leadership were united in their praise.
Those divisions did not happen by themselves. Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil.
Government rules intended to slow climate change are “making people’s lives worse rather than better,” Charles Koch explained in a rare interview last year with Fortune, arguing that despite the costs, these efforts would make “very little difference in the future on what the temperature or the weather will be.”
Republican leadership has also been dominated by lawmakers whose constituents were genuinely threatened by policies that would raise the cost of burning fossil fuels, especially coal. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, always sensitive to the coal fields in his state, rose through the ranks to become majority leader. Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming also climbed into leadership, then the chairmanship of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, as a champion of his coal state.
Beyond the White House, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, chairman of the House Science Committee, held a hearing this spring aimed at debunking climate science, calling the global scientific consensus “exaggerations, personal agendas and questionable predictions.”
A small core of Republican lawmakers — most of whom are from swing districts and are at risk of losing their seats next year — are taking modest steps like introducing a nonbinding resolution in the House in March urging Congress to accept the risks presented by climate change.
But in Republican political circles, speaking out on the issue, let alone pushing climate policy, is politically dangerous. So for the most part, these moderate Republicans are biding their time, until it once again becomes safe for Republicans to talk more forcefully about climate change. The question is how long that will take.
“With 40 percent of Florida’s population at risk from sea-level rise, my state is on the front lines of climate change,” said Representative Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida. “South Florida residents are already beginning to feel the effects of climate change in their daily lives.”
‘The Turning Point’
It was called the “No Climate Tax” pledge, drafted by a new group called Americans for Prosperity that was funded by the Koch brothers. Its single sentence read: “I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.” Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, was the first member of Congress to sign it in July 2008.
The effort picked up steam the next year after the House of Representatives passed what is known as cap-and-trade legislation, a concept invented by conservative Reagan-era economists.
The idea was to create a statutory limit, or cap, on the overall amount of a certain type of pollution that could be emitted. Businesses could then buy and sell permits to pollute, choosing whether to invest more in pollution permits, or in cleaner technology that would then save them money and allow them to sell their allotted permits. The administration of the first President George Bush successfully deployed the first national cap-and-trade system in 1990 to lower emissions of the pollutants that cause acid rain. Mr. McCain pushed a cap-and-trade proposal to fight climate change.
“I thought we could get it done,” recalled Henry A. Waxman, a retired House Democrat who led the cap-and-trade push in 2009. “We just had two candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties who had run for president and agreed that climate change was a real threat.”
Conservative activists saw the legislative effort as an opportunity to transform the climate debate.
Myron Ebell, a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, worked behind the scenes to make sure Republican offices in Congress knew about Mr. Horner’s work — although at the time, many viewed Mr. Ebell skeptically, as an extremist pushing out-of-touch views.
Unshackled by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and other related rulings, which ended corporate campaign finance restrictions, Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity started an all-fronts campaign with television advertising, social media and cross-country events aimed at electing lawmakers who would ensure that the fossil fuel industry would not have to worry about new pollution regulations.
Their first target: unseating Democratic lawmakers such as Representatives Rick Boucher and Tom Perriello of Virginia, who had voted for the House cap-and-trade bill, and replacing them with Republicans who were seen as more in step with struggling Appalachia, and who pledged never to push climate change measures.
But Americans for Prosperity also wanted to send a message to Republicans.
Until 2010, some Republicans ran ads in House and Senate races showing their support for green energy.
“After that, it disappeared from Republican ads,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. “Part of that was the polling, and part of it was the visceral example of what happened to their colleagues who had done that.”
What happened was clear. Republicans who asserted support for climate change legislation or the seriousness of the climate threat saw their money dry up or, worse, a primary challenger arise.
“It told Republicans that we were serious,” Mr. Phillips said, “that we would spend some serious money against them.”
By the time Election Day 2010 arrived, 165 congressional members and candidates had signed Americans for Prosperity’s “No Climate Tax” pledge.
“The midterm election was a clear rejection of policies like the cap-and-trade energy taxes that threaten our still-fragile economy,” said James Valvo, then Americans for Prosperity’s government affairs director, in a statement issued the day after the November 2010 election. Eighty-three of the 92 new members of Congress had signed the pledge.
Even for congressional veterans, that message was not missed. Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who once called climate change “a serious problem” and co-sponsored a bill to promote energy-efficient light bulbs, tacked right after the 2010 elections as he battled to be chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee against Joe Barton, a Texan who mocked human-caused climate change.
Mr. Upton deleted references to climate change from his website. “If you look, the last year was the warmest year on record, the warmest decade on record. I accept that,” he offered that fall. “I do not say that it’s man-made.”
Mr. Upton, who has received more than $2 million in campaign donations from oil and gas companies and electric utilities over the course of his career, won the chairmanship and has coasted comfortably to re-election since.
Two years later, conservative “super PACs” took aim at Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, a senior Republican who publicly voiced climate concerns, backed the creation of a Midwestern cap-and-trade program and drove a Prius. After six Senate terms, Mr. Lugar lost his primary to a Tea Party challenger, Richard E. Mourdock. Although Mr. Lugar says other reasons contributed, he and his opponents say his public views on climate change played a crucial role.
“In my own campaign, there were people who felt strongly enough about my views on climate change to use it to help defeat me, and other Republicans are very sensitive to that possibility,” Mr. Lugar said in an interview. “So even if they privately believe we ought to do something about it, they’re reticent, especially with the Republican president taking the views he is now taking.”
Obama Feeds the Movement
After winning re-election in 2012, Mr. Obama understood his second-term agenda would have to rely on executive authority, not legislation that would go nowhere in the Republican-majority Congress. And climate change was the great unfinished business of his first term.
To finish it, he would deploy a rarely used provision in the Clean Air Act of 1970, which gave the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to issue regulations on carbon dioxide.
The result was the Clean Power Plan, which would significantly cut planet-warming emissions by forcing the closing of hundreds of heavy-polluting coal-fired power plants.
The end run around Congress had consequences of its own. To Republican (and some Democratic) critics, the Clean Power Plan exemplified everything they opposed about Mr. Obama: He seemed to them imperious, heavy-handed, pleasing to the elites on the East and West Coasts and in the capitals of Europe, but callous to the blue-collar workers of coal and oil country.
“It fed into this notion of executive overreach,” said Heather Zichal, who advised Mr. Obama on climate policy. “I don’t think there was a good enough job on managing the narrative.”
Republicans who had supported the climate change agenda began to defect and have since stayed away.
“On the issue of climate change, I think it’s happening,” Mr. McCain said in a CNN podcast interview last April. But, he said, “The president decided, at least in the last couple years if not more, to rule by edict.”
Mr. Obama’s political opponents saw the climate rules as a ripe opportunity. “When the president went the regulatory route, it gave our side more confidence,” Mr. Phillips said. “It hardened and broadened Republican opposition to this agenda.”
Starting in early 2014, the opponents of the rule — including powerful lawyers and lobbyists representing many of America’s largest manufacturing and industrial interests — regularly gathered in a large conference room at the national headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, overlooking the White House. They drafted a long-game legal strategy to undermine Mr. Obama’s climate regulations in a coordinated campaign that brought together 28 state attorneys general and major corporations to form an argument that they expected to eventually take to the Supreme Court.
They presented it not as an environmental fight but an economic one, against a government that was trying to vastly and illegally expand its authority.
“This is the most significant wholesale regulation of energy that the United States has ever seen, by any agency,” Roger R. Martella Jr., a former E.P.A. lawyer who then represented energy companies, said at a gathering of industry advocates, making an assertion that has not been tested.
Attorneys General Step In
Republican attorneys general gathered at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia in August 2015 for their annual summer retreat, with some special guests: four executives from Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal mining companies.
Murray was struggling to avoid bankruptcy — a fate that had befallen several other coal mining companies already, given the slump in demand for their product and the rise of natural gas, solar and wind energy.
The coal industry came to discuss a new part of the campaign to reverse the country’s course on climate change. Litigation was going to be needed, the industry executives and the Republican attorneys general agreed, to block the Obama administration’s climate agenda — at least until a new president could be elected.
West Virginia’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, led the session, “The Dangerous Consequences of the Clean Power Plan & Other E.P.A. Rules,” which included, according to the agenda, Scott Pruitt, then the attorney general of Oklahoma; Ken Paxton, Texas’ attorney general; and Geoffrey Barnes, a corporate lawyer for Murray, which had donated $250,000 to the Republican attorneys general political group.
That same day, Mr. Morrissey would step outside the hotel to announce that he and other attorneys general would sue in federal court to try to stop the Clean Power Plan, which he called “the most far-reaching energy regulation in this nation’s history, drawn up by radical bureaucrats.”
Mr. Pruitt quickly became a national point person for industry-backed groups and a magnet for millions of dollars of campaign contributions, as the fossil fuel lobby looked for a fresh face with conservative credentials and ties to the evangelical community.
“Pruitt was instrumental — he and A.G. Morrisey,” said Thomas Pyle, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries, an adviser to Mr. Trump’s transition team and the president of a pro-fossil fuel Washington research organization, the Institute for Energy Research. “They led the charge and made it easier for other states to get involved. Some states were keeping their powder dry, but Pruitt was very out front and aggressive.”
After the litigation was filed — by Mr. Morrissey and Mr. Pruitt, along with other attorneys general who attended the Greenbrier meeting — Murray Energy sued in the federal court case as well, just as had been planned.
In February 2016, the Supreme Court indicated that it would side with opponents of the rule, moving by a 5-4 vote to grant a request by the attorneys general and corporate players to block the implementation of the Clean Power Plan while the case worked its way through the federal courts.
Trump Stokes the Fires
When Donald J. Trump decided to run for president, he did not appear to have a clear understanding of the nation’s climate change policies. Nor, at the start of his campaign, did he appear to have any specific plan to prioritize a huge legal push to roll those policies back.
Mr. Trump had, in 2012, said on Twitter, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” But he had also, in 2009, joined dozens of other business leaders to sign a full-page ad in the The New York Times urging Mr. Obama to push a global climate change pact being negotiated in Copenhagen, and to “strengthen and pass United States legislation” to tackle climate change.
However, it did not go unnoticed that coal country was giving his presidential campaign a wildly enthusiastic embrace, as miners came out in full force for Mr. Trump, stoking his populist message.
And the surest way for Mr. Trump to win cheers from coal crowds was to aim at an easy target: Mr. Obama’s climate rules. Hillary Clinton did not help her cause when she said last spring that her climate policies would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
“I’m thinking about miners all over the country,” he said, eliciting cheers. “We’re going to put miners back to work.”
“They didn’t used to have all these rules and regulations that make it impossible to compete,” he added. “We’re going to take it all off the table.”
Then an official from the West Virginia Coal Association handed the candidate a miner’s hat.
As he put it on, giving the miners a double thumbs-up, “The place just went nuts, and he loved it,” recalled Barry Bennett, a former adviser to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign. “And the miners started showing up at everything. They were a beaten lot, and they saw him as a savior. So he started using the ‘save coal’ portions of the speech again and again.”
Mr. Trump’s advisers embraced the miners as emblematic of the candidate’s broader populist appeal.
“The coal miners were the perfect case for what he was talking about,” Mr. Bennett said, “the idea that for the government in Washington, it’s all right for these people to suffer for the greater good — that federal power is more important than your little lives.”
Mr. Trump took on as an informal campaign adviser Robert E. Murray — chief executive of the same coal company that had been working closely for years with the Republican attorneys general to unwind the Obama environmental legacy.
Mr. Murray, a brash and folksy populist who started working in coal mines as a teenager, is an unabashed skeptic of climate science. The coal magnate and Mr. Trump had a natural chemistry, and where Mr. Trump lacked the legal and policy background to unwind climate policy, Mr. Murray was happy to step in.
“I thank my lord, Jesus Christ, for the election of Donald Trump,” Mr. Murray said soon after his new friend won the White House.
Mr. Trump appointed Mr. Ebell, the Competitive Enterprise Institute fellow who had worked for years to undermine the legitimacy of established climate science, to head the transition team at E.P.A. Mr. Ebell immediately began pushing for an agenda of gutting the Obama climate regulations and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.
When it came time to translate Mr. Trump’s campaign promises to coal country into policy, Mr. Murray and others helped choose the perfect candidate: Mr. Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general.
Mr. Trump, who had never met Mr. Pruitt before his election, offered him the job of E.P.A. administrator — putting him in a position to dismantle the environmental rules that he had long sought to fight in court.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump wanted to be seen delivering on the promises he had made to the miners. As controversies piled up in his young administration, he sought comfort in the approval of his base.
In March, Mr. Trump signed an executive order directing Mr. Pruitt to begin unwinding the Clean Power Plan — and he did so at a large public ceremony at the E.P.A., flanked by coal miners and coal executives. Mr. Murray beamed in the audience.
Meanwhile, a battle raged at the White House over whether to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement. Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, urged him to remain in, cautioning that withdrawing could be devastating to the United States’ foreign policy credentials.
Murray Energy — despite its enormous clout with Mr. Trump and his top environmental official — boasts a payroll with only 6,000 employees. The coal industry nationwide is responsible for about 160,000 jobs, with just 65,000 directly in mining, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
By comparison, General Electric alone has 104,000 employees in the United States, and Apple has 80,000. Their chief executives openly pressed Mr. Trump to stick with Paris, as did dozens of other major corporations that have continued to support regulatory efforts to combat climate change.
But these voices did not have clout in Washington, either in Congress or at the White House, when it comes to energy policy.
Mr. Trump’s senior adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, backed by Mr. Pruitt, told the president that pulling out of the deal would mean a promise kept to his base.
“It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — along with many, many other locations within our great country — before Paris, France,” Mr. Trump said in his Rose Garden speech on Thursday. “It is time to make America great again.”
The Science Gets Stronger
The recognition that human activity is influencing the climate developed slowly, but a scientific consensus can be traced to a conference in southern Austria in October 1985. Among the 100 or so attendees who gathered in the city of Villach, nestled in the mountains along the Drava River, was Bert Bolin, a Swedish meteorologist and a pioneer in using computers to model the climate.
Dr. Bolin helped steer the conference to its conclusion: “It is now believed that in the first half of the next century a rise of global mean temperature could occur which is greater than any in man’s history,” he wrote in the conference’s 500-page report.
While the politics of climate change in the United States has grown more divided since then, the scientific community has united: Global warming is having an impact, scientists say, with sea levels rising along with the extremity of weather events. Most of the debate is about the extent of those impacts — how high the seas may rise, or how intense and frequent heavy storms or heat waves may be.
But in Congress, reluctance to embrace that science has had no political downsides, at least among Republicans.
“We don’t yet have an example of where someone has paid a political price being on that side of it,” said Michael Steel, who served as press secretary for the former House speaker John A. Boehner, the Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and the current House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, during his 2012 run as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential choice.
Instead, the messages of Mr. Pruitt still dominate.
“This is an historic restoration of American economic independence — one that will benefit the working class, the working poor and working people of all stripes,” Mr. Pruitt said on Thursday, stepping to the Rose Garden lectern after Mr. Trump. “We owe no apologies to other nations for our environmental stewardship.”
American voters — even many Republicans — recognize that climate change is starting to affect their lives. About 70 percent think global warming is happening, and about 53 percent think it is caused by human activities, according to a recent study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. About 69 percent support limiting carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.
But most public opinion polls find that voters rank the environment last or nearly last among the issues that they vote on. And views are divided based on party affiliation. In 2001, 46 percent of Democrats said they worried “a great deal” about climate change, compared with 29 percent of Republicans, according to a Gallup tracking poll on the issue. This year, concern among Democrats has reached 66 percent. Among Republicans, it has fallen, to 18 percent.
Until people vote on the issue, Republicans will find it politically safer to question climate science and policy than to alienate moneyed groups like Americans for Prosperity.
There will be exceptions. The 2014 National Climate Assessment, a report produced by 14 federal agencies, concluded that climate change is responsible for much of the flooding now plaguing many of the Miami area’s coastal residents, soaking homes and disrupting businesses, and Representative Curbelo is talking about it.
“This is a local issue for me,” Mr. Curbelo said. “Even conservatives in my district see the impact. It’s flooding, and it’s happening now.”
Mr. Curbelo is confident that as the impact of climate change spreads, so will the willingness of his Republican colleagues to join him.
Outside of Congress, a small number of establishment conservatives, including a handful of leaders from the Reagan administration, have begun pushing Washington to act on climate change. Earlier this year, James A. Baker III, one of the Republican Party’s more eminent senior figures, met with senior White House officials to urge them to consider incorporating a carbon tax as part of a broader tax overhaul package — a way to both pay for proposed cuts to corporate tax rates and help save the planet. A Reagan White House senior economist, Art Laffer; a former secretary of state, George P. Shultz; and Henry M. Paulson Jr., George W. Bush’s final Treasury secretary, have also pushed the idea.
“There are members from deep-red districts who have approached me about figuring out how to become part of this effort,” Mr. Curbelo said. “I know we have the truth on our side. So I’m confident that we’ll win — eventually.”
While exploring the depths of a massive abyss off the coast of Australia over the weekend, a group of scientists came upon an odd-looking creature — a large, faceless fish.
The brownish white fish was unrecognizable, without eyes or anything that resembled gills.
A group of 40 scientists from Museums Victoria and the Australian government’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), who are traveling on a research vessel for a month-long journey that began on May 15, caught the creature in the Jervis Bay Commonwealth Marine Reserve some 13,000 feet below the surface. The temperature of the water was barely above freezing.
“Everyone was amazed,” one CSIRO scientist described in a blog post Tuesday. “We fishos thought we’d hit the jackpot, especially as we had no idea what is was.”
They sent in tissue samples and emailed several images of the mystery fish to experts who work on abyssal fishes.
“We even conjured up possible new scientific names,” an enthusiastic CSIRO scientist added.
Then eel expert John Pogonoski, who works for CSIRO’s Australian National Fish Collection, examined the fish while onboard the vessel and shared some shocking news with the crew — the fish wasn’t a new species after all.
It’s actually a cusk eel with the scientific name Typhlonus nasus, which is derived from Greek, meaning “blind hake.”
“So, it’s not a new species, but it’s still an incredibly exciting find, and we think ours is the largest one seen so far,” CSIRO explained in the blog post.
The fish, which scientists dubbed the “Faceless Cusk,” has not been spotted in the area for more than a century.
Dr. Tim O’Hara, the chief scientist and expedition leader for CSIRO, told The Guardian it was the first time the fish had been seen in waters off Australia since 1873, when one was dredged up by a British ship near Papua New Guinea.
According to CSIRO, the Faceless Cusk is known from the Arabian Sea, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Japan and Hawaii. Living at depths between 13,000 to 14,000 feet, it’s a rare sight.
“This little fish looks amazing because the mouth is actually situated at the bottom of the animal so, when you look side-on, you can’t see any eyes, you can’t see any nose or gills or mouth,” O’Hara told The Guardian. “It looks like two rear-ends on a fish, really.”
The faceless fish went viral on Facebook and Twitter this week — with thousands of people sharing photos of the 17-inch-long sea creature.
“If he only knew how famous he’d become, imagine the look on his face! Oh…wait,” CSIRO joked on Twitter Wednesday.
While the Faceless Cusk was a great catch, O’Hara said it just one of many unique creatures the team expects to find during their voyage.
“Scientists expect to find a range of animals, including new species, of fish, starfish, molluscs, crabs, sponges, marine worms and sea spiders,” O’Hara said in statement online. “The data gathered on this trip will be crucial to understanding Australia’s deep-sea habitats, their biodiversity and the ecological processes that sustain them.”
Roughly 6 percent of the world’s population consists of people with Neanderthal genes. Jews fall into this category. This is why Jews have always been a problem: because their Neanderthal genes make them twice as aggressive as the rest of the world’s Cro-Magnon derived races.
Edited and presented with pictures, captions, and an endnote by Lasha Darkmoon on the sexual proclivities of the Jews.
“Basically, I estimate that about seventy percent of the present crisis on this planet can be fairly attributed to the machinations of Neanderthal-Semitic elements of the human population against the Cro-Magnon majority.” — Michael Bradley, Esau’s Empire
Quite independent of Arthur Koestler, whose work he had never read, Michael Bradley, a Canadian-based writer of Jewish origin, released his own 1978 work, The Iceman Inheritance, followed up by its sequel, Chosen People From the Caucusus. In both these books, Bradley put forth his thesis that the modern day people known as the Jews were descendants from the Khazars and that, indeed, the Khazars could trace their origins back to the Neanderthals.
Bradley’s website at michaelbradley.info describes Bradley’s findings in part: In Chosen People from the Caucasus, Bradley focuses on the two separate groups of people who came from the Caucasus Mountains of the Middle East: the Biblical Hebrews who emerged from the southern Caucasus between 3000-2000 BC to invade Palestine, and the northern Caucasus “Khazars” who were converted to Judaism about 740A.D.
The Khazars were pushed into Central and Eastern Europe by Mongol invasions, and their descendants comprise the vast majority of modern Jewry. Although these have no direct historical or genetic connections with the Semitic Jews of the Holy Land, both groups shared a Neanderthal origin in the Caucasus Mountains in the far distant pre-Judaic past.
Bradley contends that people and cultures emerging from the Caucasus Mountains — a known refuge of late lingering Neanderthal populations — in proto-historical and historical times, would have remained highly intelligent, highly aggressive and psychosexually maladapted, promoting a high level of in-group cohesion. These traits, Bradley contends, explain the survival of Biblical Hebrews against all odds and also the inordinate social influence of modern Western Jews.
Bradley contends that there is no mystique of “the chosen people.” Monotheism— a purely male and abstract Godhead— is merely a result of Neanderthal glacial physical and mental adaptations or “maladaptations.”
Proven Neanderthal in-group cohesion and extreme aggression together resulted in a fiercely parochial “chosen people” perspective.
The cultural fusion of the two separate streams of “Jews” has, since the 16th century, played an important role in the evolution of Western Civilization and thus in the molding of the entire world’s present cultural profile.
Bradley contends that a uniquely high level of lingering Neanderthal aggression, perpetuated by ethnic prohibitions against outside marriage, has been responsible for the major role played by those calling themselves Jews in the discovery and conquest of the Americas, the transatlantic trade in Black Africans as slaves and cultural colonization of non-Whites by the West. It has been a role too often distorted and disguised by loud lamentations of “anti-Semitism.”
Bradley writes further of his own research and the subsequent controversy that erupted when many media outlets (and Jewish sources) which had previously hailed his writing on the topic of the Neanderthals came to realize that his work pointed toward Neanderthal origins for the Jewish people:
The “Jewish” Ashkenazim had come from a region of known late-lingering Neanderthals, the Caucasus Mountains and the neighboring Russian steppes. Some typically “Jewish” physical traits were very obviously vestigial Neanderthal ones – generally a short stature and a plump physique, many very short wide-hipped and big- breasted women, extremely hairy men and a tendency toward beetling brows and large beaky “hooked” noses in both genders. Many Ashkenazim have crinkly-curly head hair tending toward dark reddish brown or mahogany in color.
Among Ashkenazi “Jews” there is also a genetic tendency toward beaky faces, not only just noses, and big mouths (in more ways than one) that “wrap around” the lower face.
Barbara Streisand and Julia Roberts provide two lovely and very well known examples of how attractive this genetic trait can be. But these are not “Semitic” physical traits. They are Neanderthal physical characteristics. And maybe some Neanderthal emotional and behavioral traits persisted among the Ashkenazim along with the physical ones.
Their “chosen people” pretension is a typical Neanderthal in-group obsession that is actually a genetic racist predisposition against all other humans. It is a genetically determined “us against them” mentality.Their higher level of known Neanderthal aggression against outsiders is responsible for their disproportional social influence wherever they have settled in the West. . . .
The Ashkenazi Jews, as a group, exhibit lingering Neanderthal traits most strongly among living Caucasians because of Jewish prohibitions against marriage with outsiders. Their Neanderthal genes have been kept “all in the family”, as it were. These Neanderthal genes were not diluted by intermarriage nearly as much as with most other Caucasians.
This Russian steppe origin of today’s Ashkenazi “Jews” was not just a “theory” based on squibs by medieval Christian, Moslem and Jewish chroniclers. It was solid and objective historical reality based on linguistics and hard archaeological artifacts.
And, with The Iceman Inheritance, my unforgivable crime had been to add very persuasive anthropological data to all the other evidence. And this “data” was also something that anyone could actually see by simply taking a close look at many North American “Jews.”
According to Bradley, the Neanderthal heritage of modern-day Jewish people explains much about their ongoing problems with not only the native people of Palestine but with other people on the planet. He writes:
This unfortunate combination of high aggression combined with a tendency toward emotional instability and hysteria when they feel nervous or threatened… which is all the time when they are not in absolute control. And they are arrogant, but uneasy, even then.
An ethnic symptom of this emotional instability is the Jewish tendency toward hypochondria. Even they cannot control death. This unfortunate combination of high aggression combined with a tendency toward hysteria and emotional instability has proved to be a dangerous and tragic situation over the course of Western history.
Their aggression encourages continual Jewish attempts to control societies, while the emotional instability makes it difficult for most Jews to distinguish reasonably between justified social criticism by their non-Jewish neighbors and attacks.
Insensitive even to objective concerns about inordinate Jewish influence in societies, and reacting with hysterical aggression to any such supposed “attack” on their behavior and pleas from non-Jews to limit it, Jews have always provoked violence against themselves. And then they, with much emotional satisfaction, feel victimized and attribute the situation to innate “anti-Semitism” among their neighbors.
On his website, in an essay entitled “A frightening publication history of Jewish media suppression”, Bradley explores the amazingly negative reaction against his writings and the determined efforts to discredit his work.
Endnote: On the sexual proclivities of Jews
by Lasha Darkmoon
This is related tangentially to the above article. It poses the question: are the Jews’ Neanderthal genes, which account for their double-than-average rate of aggression, also responsible for their high libido and sexual hyperactivity?
It has always been an “antisemitic canard”, or perception among anti-Semites, that Jews are given to excessive amounts of lechery compared to non-Jews. The “Jew as Lecher” featured frequently in Nazi Germany Der Stürmer cartoons showing the Jew lusting after young Aryan women. When the Jews took over Weimar Germany, they flooded the country with pornography and made it the most sexually decadent country in Europe. Today, Jews dominate the world porn industry and produce roughly 90 percent of American porn in the San Fernando Valley, California. (See here)
Again, the Talmud’s obsession with sex is well-known. I have dealt with this subject in great detail in my article, Secret Sex Life of the Jews. Amazingly, the Talmud has to be the only religious text in the world to discuss and compare the penis size of its most venerated sages. (See The Passionate Talmud, Introduction, p. 1).
The Jewish appetite for non-Jewish women, especially blondes, is apparently insatiable. All these appear to be Neanderthal characteristics — a huge libido, excessive testosterone, seething aggression — with the hairy Neanderthal-type male lusting darkly after the Cro-Magnon type female with her regular features and honeyblond flesh.
“I have not yet met a Jewish guy who wasn’t a horny rabbit,” porn star Nina Hartley once revealed. Nina should know, being Jewish herself — and having kicked up her heels for endless legions of lecherous Jews during her lubricious life time.
Here is Jewish novelist Philip Roth, who would undoubtedly have Neanderthal genes, going into raptures over the physical charms of Cro-Magnon woman. This is his hymn to the Aryan Blond Goddess from Portnoy’s Complaint:
“But the shiksas, ah, the shiksas are something else…. I am so awed that I am in a state of desire beyond a hard-on. My circumcised little dong is simply shriveled up with veneration…. How do they get so gorgeous, so healthy, so blond?”
Many treasures have been found in the mummy-laden crypts of ancient Egyptians, such as items made of gold, silver and other precious metals. But the mummies themselves contain a very valuable material—DNA—holding important information about the ancient Egyptians and whence they came. Now, for the first time, researchers have analyzed DNA from a large number of mummies, using a method they say avoids the potential for contamination, shedding light on the mysteries of old Egypt.
In a study published May 30 in the journal Nature Communications, scientists looked at DNA from 151 mummified Egyptians, which were entombed from about 1400 B.C. to just after 400 A.D., in the Roman period. They found that the genetic material within the mummies was more similar to ancient peoples of the Near East and the Levant (an area of the eastern Mediterranean including Israel and Palestine) than it is to modern Egyptians. Their analysis suggests that conquests by Alexander the Great and other foreigners didn’t have as large a genetic influence on ancient Egyptians as some have thought, says study first author Verena Schuenemann, with the Institute for Archaeological Sciences at Germany’s University of Tübingen. The study also shows genetic linkage between ancient Egyptians and Neolithic peoples from modern-day Turkey and Europe, Schuenemann says.
Three mummies had enough DNA preserved to allow the scientists to look at genes from throughout their genome. One of these had a gene “which contributes to lighter skin pigmentation and was shown to be at high frequency in Neolithic Anatolia,” or modern-day Turkey, the researchers wrote.
The sarcophagus of Tadja, from the ancient Egyptian site of Abusir el-Meleq, contained one of the mummies whose DNA was analyzed. BPK/AEGYPTISCHES MUSEUM UND PAPYRUSSAMMLUNG, SMB/SANDRA STEISS
The researchers obtained mitochondrial DNA—genetic material found outside a cell’s nucleus, which is passed down from mothers to their offsprings—in 90 individuals. “We were surprised to observe [such] good mitochondrial DNA preservation,” Schuenemann says. “We did not expect this due to environmental conditions and chemicals used in mummification process.” The authors suggest using these techniques could help others study DNA from a wide sample of mummies.
The research “succeeds where previous studies on Egyptian mummies have failed or fallen short,” Hannes Schroeder, a paleogeneticist at the University of Copenhagen who wasn’t involved in the study, toldNature.
Scholars have debated whether Egyptian DNA might be too degraded to analyze, and the degree to which this material might be contaminated with modern genetic material. To avoid contamination, the researchers did their work in a clean room and treated mummified parts with UV light to remove recently deposited DNA, and scraped off exteriors of bones to get to the genetic material within.
The mummies come from the archaeological site of Abusir el-Meleq, situated on the Nile River in what was ancient Middle Egypt. Since all the mummies were from this area, the scientists note that their results cannot be generalized to the south or north of Egypt (Upper or Lower Egypt), which may have been more or less affected by foreign conquest.
The study also suggests that gene flow from Sub-Saharan Africa to Egypt has significantly picked up in the last 1,500 years, likely facilitated by the slave trade, which began early in this time period.
The world is a scary place without knowing that snakes hunt in packs. But one biologist in Cuba just couldn’t leave well enough alone, so he proved for the first time ever that reptiles don’t just hunt near each other, they hunt with each other.
Snakes are not social creatures. They don’t live in packs like wolves or chatter to each other like prairie dogs. They join forces for just one thing: to kill. Snakes have long been known to hunt in groupings, it just wasn’t clear how coordinated these efforts were. It makes sense that they would all have a similar sense of where the best spot to hunt is, so many snakes gathering in one area doesn’t necessarily mean they’re coordinating. To prove that, you’d have to prove that the snakes were actually taking each other into account—that if boa #2 shows up and sees boa #1, he’s more likely to stick near that first snake, because being together helps them. And ideally, you would also prove that when snakes hunt together, they’re more successful.
Of course, to do that for the Cuban boa, you have to hang out in a cave all night watching snakes dangle from the ceiling eating bats. And that’s exactly what Vladimir Dinets, an assistant professor at University of Tennessee, decided to do. He published his results in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition. Desembarco del Granma National Park in eastern Cuba has one cave in particular where Dinets set up shop. Nine boas lived inside, which he could apparently tell apart by their markings because he is a snake whisperer, and for eight consecutive days he watched them hunt. The boas would slither up the walls at sunset and just before dawn to catch bats, hanging upside down from the ceiling of the passage that connected the roosting chamber to the exit where their leathery prey would have to pass by.
Keep in mind that all this goes down in almost complete darkness. They’re in a national park with little light pollution, inside a cave, at fairly dark times of the day. Dinets sat in a dark cave filled with snakes and bats and calmly recorded each and every movement that the snakes made. He divided up the passage areas into sections, so he could later monitor how close the snakes were to each other, and noted every time a new snake joined the fray. And then each and every time a snake caught a bat, he recorded that too. Not just the fact that a snake caught a bat, but which snake caught a bat.
The boas themselves aren’t bothered by the dark because they hunt by touch. When bats brush against them, the snakes strike. Dinets wasn’t bothered because he seems to be some kind of superhuman.
Boas who hunted alone were in the very tiny minority, and it’s no wonder—they were much worse at catching bats. With three snakes present, each boa caught an average of one bat per snake and usually did it in under seven minutes (the boas left once they caught a bat, so the maximum bat-ing average was one). If the snake was alone, that average dropped to 0.33 and it took them about 19 minutes to even get the bats they managed to get. Some lone boas actually gave up and went home. So when the boas entered the passage and encountered other snakes, they nearly always chose to set up camp alongside each other. Together they could form a kind of barrier, such that bats had a harder time avoiding the boas.
Unlike wolves, the boas didn’t otherwise hang out together. They’re solitary creatures. Wolves hunt together for primarily social reasons—multiple studies have shown that they don’t necessarily get more food by sticking with a pack. Snakes hunt together for the strategy. How cold-blooded of them.
The common lineage of great apes and humans split several hundred thousand years earlier than hitherto assumed, according to an international research team headed by Professor Madelaine Böhme from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen and Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The researchers investigated two fossils of Graecopithecus freybergi with state-of-the-art methods and came to the conclusion that they belong to pre-humans. Their findings, published today in two papers in the journal PLOS ONE, further indicate that the split of the human lineage occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean and not – as customarily assumed – in Africa.
Present-day chimpanzees are humans’ nearest living relatives. Where the last chimp-human common ancestor lived is a central and highly debated issue in palaeoanthropology. Researchers have assumed up to now that the lineages diverged five to seven million years ago and that the first pre-humans developed in Africa. According to the 1994 theory of French palaeoanthropologist Yves Coppens, climate change in Eastern Africa could have played a crucial role. The two studies of the research team from Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada, France and Australia now outline a new scenario for the beginning of human history.
Dental roots give new evidence
The team analyzed the two known specimens of the fossil hominid Graecopithecus freybergi: a lower jaw from Greece and an upper premolar from Bulgaria. Using computer tomography, they visualized the internal structures of the fossils and demonstrated that the roots of premolars are widely fused.
“While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused – a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans including Ardipithecus and Australopithecus“, said Böhme.
The lower jaw, nicknamed ‘El Graeco’ by the scientists, has additional dental root features, suggesting that the species Graecopithecus freybergi might belong to the pre-human lineage. “We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa,” said Jochen Fuss, a Tübingen PhD student who conducted this part of the study.
Furthermore, Graecopithecus is several hundred thousand years older than the oldest potential pre-human from Africa, the six to seven million year old Sahelanthropus from Chad. The research team dated the sedimentary sequence of the Graecopithecus fossil sites in Greece and Bulgaria with physical methods and got a nearly synchronous age for both fossils – 7.24 and 7.175 million years before present. “It is at the beginning of the Messinian, an age that ends with the complete desiccation of the Mediterranean Sea,” Böhme said.
Professor David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of this study, added, “This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area.”
Environmental changes as the driving force for divergence
As with the out-of-East-Africa theory, the evolution of pre-humans may have been driven by dramatic environmental changes. The team led by Böhme demonstrated that the North African Sahara desert originated more than seven million years ago. The team concluded this based on geological analyses of the sediments in which the two fossils were found. Although geographically distant from the Sahara, the red-colored silts are very fine-grained and could be classified as desert dust. An analysis of uranium, thorium, and lead isotopes in individual dust particles yields an age between 0.6 and 3 billion years and infers an origin in Northern Africa.
Moreover, the dusty sediment has a high content of different salts. “These data document for the first time a spreading Sahara 7.2 million years ago, whose desert storms transported red, salty dusts to the north coast of the Mediterranean Sea in its then form,” the Tübingen researchers said. This process is also observable today. However, the researchers’ modelling shows that, with up to 250 grams per square meter and year, the amount of dust in the past considerably exceeds recent dust loadings in Southern Europe more than tenfold, comparable to the situation in the present-day Sahel zone in Africa.
Fire, grass, and water stress
The researchers further showed that, contemporary to the development of the Sahara in North Africa, a savannah biome formed in Europe. Using a combination of new methodologies, they studied microscopic fragments of charcoal and plant silicate particles, called phytoliths. Many of the phytoliths identified derive from grasses and particularly from those that use the metabolic pathway of C4-photosynthesis, which is common in today’s tropical grasslands and savannahs. The global spread of C4-grasses began eight million years ago on the Indian subcontinent – their presence in Europe was previously unknown.
“The phytolith record provides evidence of severe droughts, and the charcoal analysis indicates recurring vegetation fires,” said Böhme. “In summary, we reconstruct a savannah, which fits with the giraffes, gazelles, antelopes, and rhinoceroses that were found together with Graecopithecus,” Spassov added
“The incipient formation of a desert in North Africa more than seven million years ago and the spread of savannahs in Southern Europe may have played a central role in the splitting of the human and chimpanzee lineages,” said Böhme. She calls this hypothesis the North Side Story, recalling the thesis of Yves Coppens, known as East Side Story.
The findings are described in two studies pubished in PLOS ONE titled “Potential hominin affinities of Graecopithecus from the late Miocene of Europe” and “Messinian age and savannah environment of the possible hominin Graecopithecus from Europe.”