Independent UK

The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon

Colonel Thomas Veale has had the unenviable task of announcing the first official Western attempt to partition Syria on ethnic-sectarian lines. Whether or not he realises the implications of his extraordinary statement a few days ago, Colonel Veale – a Kansas University and US Military Academy graduate who rejoices in the title of “Public Affairs Director at Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve” – was quite open about the creation of another new and largely Kurdish force which will, in theory, control tens of thousands of square kilometres of Syria. Arab members of the same 30,000-strong “Border Security Force” will man checkpoints further south along the Euphrates river valley.

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Honeybees Are Being Killed off in Europe by 57 Different Pesticides, Study Finds

Honeybees across Europe are being poisoned by up to 57 different pesticides, a scientific study has found.

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The Female Force Awakens as Star Wars Has Four Strong Women Roles

The Bechdel Test is a far from perfect measurement of the accuracy and integrity of gender portrayal, as Alison Bechdel herself has admitted, but it’s one that has firmly stuck in film parlance and criticism.

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Chef Alain Ducasse Has Removed All Meat From the Menu at His Famous Paris Restaurant

Alain Ducasse is to French cuisine what Ronseal is to fence paint. No one can really match Alain, he of 18 Michelin stars. He is the rum in the rum baba, the foie gras spread thick, the very essence of Gallic culinary joie de vivre.

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Style for Smog: Fashionable Anti-Pollution Masks Make Their U.K. Debut

Keys? Check. Mobile phone? Check. High-fashion, anti-pollution facewear? Strapped on and ready for the morning commute. 

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Heat Wave 2015 Update: August Was the Hottest August Ever Recorded

Last month was the hottest August ever recorded on Earth, according to U.S. scientists.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the month was 0.88° Celsius warmer than the average temperature for the month during the 20 century. That figure was 0.09°C higher than the previous record hottest August, which was last year. The records date back to 1880.

Last month Professor Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, told The Independent that this year was on course to be the hottest year on record “by a mile."

In a statement on Thursday, NOAA said: “The August average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.58°F (0.88°C) above the 20th-century average — the warmest August on record, surpassing the previous record by +0.16°F (+0.09°C).

“This was the sixth month in 2015 that has broken its monthly temperature record (February, March, May, June, July, and August).”

There are also signs that the warmer temperatures are starting to impact Antarctica.

“Antarctic sea ice extent during August 2015 was 30,000 square miles (0.5 percent) below the 1981–2010 average,” NOAA said. “This marks a shift from recent years when Antarctic sea ice extent was record and near-record large. This is the first month since November 2011 that the Antarctic sea ice extent was below average.”

NOAA said the area of Arctic sea ice in August was 620,000 square miles -— 22.3 percent — less than the average for 1981 to 2010. “This was the fourth smallest August extent since records began in 1979,” it said.

The UK was cooler than average during August with a national mean temperature of 14.7°C.


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Air Pollution Kills More People Than HIV/AIDS

Air pollution from outdoor sources kills about 3.3 million people per year worldwide and the numbers are likely to double by 2050 even if every country imposes existing air-quality legislation, a study has found.

Scientists have estimated that outdoor air quality is leading to millions of premature deaths especially in east and south Asia as a result of emissions of damaging microscopic particles into the air that penetrate deep into the lungs.

Most of the air pollutants in Asia come from the burning of fuel for heating and cooking. The estimates do not include the number of deaths from indoor pollution, estimated to be another 3 million or so each year, the scientists said.

While emissions from heating and cooking are most important in India and China, the greatest impact in the United States is from traffic and power-generation pollution whilst in Europe it is mainly from agricultural emissions due to the use of fertilizers, which produces ammonia, the study found.

The researchers used computer models to estimate the health impacts of a range of outdoor air pollutants such as ozone and tiny particles less than 0.0025mm wide, which are known to cause cardiovascular problems and lung disease, said Jos Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, who led the study published in the journal Nature.

“The total number of people who die worldwide together from HIV/AIDS and malaria is 2.8 million per year. So that is half a million less than from air pollution, which is a very significant source of premature mortality,” Dr. Lelieveld said.

The model predicts that if there is “business as usual” and no significant tightening of pollution laws, the mortality rate from outdoor air pollution could jump to 6.6 million deaths per year by 2050, with most of them occurring in Southeast Asia.

“This means a doubling of the number. If this growth in particulate matter is to be avoided, intensive control measures need to be implemented especially in south and east Asia,” Dr. Lelieveld said.

“Our study clearly shows that it’s important to reduce pollution from residential energy use, especially in Asia,” he said.

Some of the most dangerous air pollutants in the U.K. come from mixing traffic fumes with the agricultural pollutants, which causes reactive particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs, Dr. Lelieveld said.

“Much of the particulates in cities like London are actually coming from outside the city,” he said.


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New York, London, Hong Kong and Tokyo Will Be Under Water If All Fossil Fuel Is Burned

London, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong are some of the cities that would be submerged under the sea if the world burns all of its accessible fossil fuel reserves, a new report has warned.

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How Global Warming Could Lead to Smaller Loaves of Bread

Global warming could leave loaves of bread diminished in size due to a reduction in the amount of protein in grains, scientists say.

Researchers for the state government of Victoria, Australia, in cooperation with the University of Melbourne, baked loaves based on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels for 2050 predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The scientists at the Australian Grains Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment facility in Victoria found that rising carbon dioxide will increase the size of wheat plants and make them more efficient at using water, which in turn will affect the quality of the grain.

Dr. Glenn Fitzgerald, a senior researcher for the state government of Victoria said the amount of protein in the grain is set to reduce by anywhere between 2 and 14 percent if carbon dioxide levels increase as anticipated.

He and his colleagues used grain harvested in December to bake loaves, finding them to be much smaller than those baked in the current climate.

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The research group is now attempting to establish whether it can reverse the protein decline through the selection of new varieties of wheat.

"It can take 10 to 15 years for a new trait to be worked into a new variety [of grain] so if we're looking ahead at 35 years, that means we can do several generations of testing. It gives us lots of time," Dr. Fitzgerald said.

"There are positives, and we're trying to accentuate those," he said.

Yields increase by about 25 percent, on average, under elevated carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide levels reached 400 parts per million last year, up 120 ppm since pre-industrial times. By 2050, the level is expected to be at 550ppm.

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Pope Francis Pulls No Punches in Leaked Climate Change Encyclical

Pope Francis warned that the world is heading for “unprecedented destruction” unless mankind confronts climate change and reforms the way it treats the planet, as the most eagerly anticipated papal document in living memory was leaked.

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Pester Power: Kids Guilt-Tripping Adults Is the New Weapon in Global Warming Fight

Climate-change campaigners have a new weapon in the fight against global warming: pester power.

The world’s leading climate economist is urging children and young people to guilt-trip their parents and other adults into doing more to save the world.

“Today’s young people can and should hold their parents’ generation to account for their present actions. They can elicit an emotional response that can motivate action,” argues Lord Stern, a respected London School of Economics professor who wrote a hugely influential review on the financial implications of climate change in 2006.

“If thinking about the lives of unborn future generations seems too abstract to motivate you to act, try instead looking a young child or grandchild in the eye and asking yourself what sort of future you are leaving for them,” he writes in a new book .

Children have significant leverage with their parents, Lord Stern argues, because they will suffer the most from the older generations’ inaction. “There is something that, on reflection, many adults would surely find repugnant in the idea that they will leave their children a damaged planet that will radically affect their life possibilities,” he writes. 

“Children can teach their parents: I am reminded of the song ‘Teach Your Children Well’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, which also says ‘Teach your parents well’. Education goes both ways.”

Other climate change campaigners backed Lord Stern’s call.

Tom Burke, chairman of the E3G sustainable development charity, told The Independent: “Young girls have enormous influence on their fathers. In the work I have done I would say that the most influential group of people of all are 12-year-old girls; they have their fathers wrapped around their little fingers.”

Experts said that to really maximize the potential offered by pester power, schools needed to play a bigger role in influencing students.

“Pester power and education very much go together. Schools can do more to educate children, who can then go on and pester their parents,” said Andy Deacon, managing partner of the environmental charity Global Action Plan.

Cecily Spelling, of the 10:10 climate-change group, is managing a campaign to help schools raise money for solar panels. “The kids get very heavily involved in the fundraising and it really makes them think about the environment – to the point where they have told off head teachers for not turning off the lights in their offices,” she said.

“Then they go home and tell their parents they don’t need to boil a full kettle of water for one cup of tea. It’s quite inspiring and the parents take notice,” she added.

As a crucial UN gathering in Paris to tackle climate change is planned for December, Lord Stern’s new book Why Are We Waiting? The Logic, Urgency and Promise of Tackling Climate Change also calls for businesses and cities to put much more pressure on world leaders to create “political tipping points” for action.

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Bahraini Aristocrat Accused of Repeatedly Beating Imprisoned Poet for Lack of Loyalty to Al-Khalifa Family

 A female member of the al-Khalifa royal family in Bahrain has been accused of repeatedly beating the 20-year-old student poet Ayat al-Gormezi when she was in prison accused of reciting a poem at a pro-democracy protest rally criticising the monarchy.

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Mideast Dictators Making the Same Fatal Mistakes

The despots who have ruled the Arab world for half a century are not giving up without a fight. In the southern Syrian city of Dara, security forces last week machine-gunned pro-democracy protesters in a mosque, killing 44 of them, and then faked evidence to pretend they were a gang of kidnappers. In the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, a few days earlier, snipers firing from high buildings shot dead or wounded 300 people at a rally demanding the President step down.

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Why Disasters Make the Vast Majority of Us Better People

Before the Second World War, the Ministry of War confidently predicted what would happen when London was bombed from the air by Nazi planes. There would be, they warned, "a mass outbreak of hysterical neurosis among the civilian population". For every one person injured, there would be dozens who lose their morals or lose the plot. They would howl and they would loot and they would rape. Humans couldn't take it. They would break. They would turn on each other.

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How Much Longer Can Autocrat Mubarak Cling on to Power?

The old lady in the red scarf was standing inches from the front of am American-made M1 Abrams tank of the Egyptian Third Army, right on the edge of Tahrir Square. Its soldiers were paratroops, some in red berets, others in helmets, gun barrels pointed across the square, heavy machine guns mounted on the turrets. "If they fire on the Egyptian people, Mubarak is finished," she said. "And if they don't fire on the Egyptian people, Mubarak is finished." Of such wisdom are Egyptians now possessed.

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Oceans of Blood and Profits for the Masters of War

Since there are now three conflicts in the greater Middle East; Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/"Palestine" and maybe another Lebanese war in the offing, it might be a good idea to take a look at the cost of war.

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What Really Happened in the Flotilla Attack?

Jamal Elshayyal, a journalist with al-Jazeera, woke with a start to the opening salvos of an Israeli assault that would transform the decks of the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish vessel bound for Gaza, into a bloodbath.

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Global Warming Makes Trees Grow at Fastest Rate for 200 Years

Forests in the northern hemisphere could be growing faster now than they were 200 years ago as a result of climate change, according to a study of trees in eastern America.

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Huge Toll Feared in Haiti Earthquake

A powerful earthquake struck Haiti's capital with withering force, toppling everything from simple shacks to the ornate National Palace.

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The American Desire to Be Loved as Well as Feared Has Long Misled the CIA

In the vast American embassy in the hills outside the Jordanian capital Amman a senior US Special Forces officer runs an equally special office. He buys information from Jordanian army and intelligence officers -- for cash, of course -- but he also helps to train Afghan and Iraqi policemen and soldiers. The information he seeks is not just about al-Qa'ida but about Jordanians themselves, about the army's loyalty to King Abdullah II as well as about the anti-American insurgents who live in Jordan, primarily Iraqi but also Iraqi al-Qa'ida contacts with Afghanistan.

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How CIA Was Fatally Duped by Jordanian Double Agent

The Central Intelligence Agency was bracing yesterday for a fresh barrage of questions about its competence following reports that the man who blew himself up at its main operating base in Afghanistan on 30 December, killing seven of its employees, had been recruited by the US but had, in fact, been a double agent for al-Qa'ida all along.

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What Makes a Young Person Embrace Death and Murder? Former Jihadists Speak Out

Ever since I started meeting jihadis, I have been struck by one thing -- their Britishness. I am from the East End of London, and at some point in the past decade I became used to hearing a hoarse and angry whisper of jihadism on the streets where I live. Bearded young men stand outside the library calling for "The Rule of God" and "Death to Democracy."

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Chaos In Afghanistan as Abdullah Abdullah Pulls Out of Election

Afghanistan has been thrown into fresh political crisis after the presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah withdrew yesterday from a poll run-off scheduled for Saturday. The move in effect clears the way for Hamid Karzai to retain power despite the fact that he was stripped of his first round election majority because of rampant fraud. A weakened Karzai administration, shorn of electoral legitimacy, represents a major blow to Western powers as they consider whether to send more troops to Afghanistan for the military campaign against the Taliban.

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UN to Teach Palestinian Children About Holocaust in Gaza Schools

The United Nations' refugee agency is planning to include the Holocaust in a new human-rights curriculum for pupils in its Gaza secondary schools despite strident opposition to the idea from within Hamas.

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Our Thinness Obsessed Culture Is Destroying Women

When did it die? When did our collective disgust at the sickness and sicked-up stomach juices that fuel the fashion industry get replaced by an oh-so-ironic appreciation? When did even most liberals and feminists stop snubbing it and start wrestling their way to the rope-line in search of a goody bag?

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Have Republicans Turned Into a Weird Religious Cult?

Something strange has happened in America in the nine months since Barack Obama was elected. It has best been summarised by the comedian Bill Maher: "The Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved to a mental hospital."

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Millions of Tons of Plastic Debris Floating in Oceans Is Now Thought to Be Toxic

Scientists have identified a new source of chemical pollution released by the huge amounts of plastic rubbish found floating in the oceans of the world. A study has found that as plastics break down in the sea they release potentially toxic substances not found in nature and which could affect the growth and development of marine organisms.

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Are Mind-Enhancing Drugs a Dangerous Fad or a Great Way to Get Ahead?

In the middle of the exam season, the offer of a drug that could improve results might excite students but would be likely to terrify their parents. Now, a distinguished professor of bioethics says it is time to embrace the possibilities of "brain boosters" -- chemical cognitive enhancement. The provocative suggestion comes from John Harris, director of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

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Can a Lack of Sleep Really Drive You Mad?

How long could you manage without sleep? The current record-holder is Randy Gardner, who as a 17-year-old Californian high-school student back in 1964 managed a staggering 265 hours -- or 11 days -- without so much as a nap.

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Iraq Faces the Mother of All Corruption Scandals

Iraq plans to arrest 1,000 officials for corruption after a scandal which has forced the resignation of the Trade Minister and is threatening the food supply of millions of Iraqis.

Corruption at the Trade Ministry is an important issue in Iraq because the ministry is in charge of the food rationing system on which 60 percent of Iraqis depend. Officials at the ministry, which spends billions of dollars buying rice, sugar, flour and other items, are notorious among Iraqis for importing food that is unfit for human consumption, for which they charge the state the full international price.

The scandal first erupted in April when police, entering the Trade Ministry in Baghdad to arrest 10 senior officials accused of corruption and embezzlement, were greeted with gunfire by the ministry's own guards. The shoot-out allowed several officials, including two brothers of the Trade Minister, Abdul Falah al-Sudany, time to escape out the back gate.

The political crisis over corruption has escalated after a video surfaced showing Trade Ministry officials at a party, apparently drinking alcohol, cavorting with prostitutes, and deriding the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

The voice of the man shooting the video, widely viewed and sent from phone to phone in Baghdad, is heard shouting to the dancing girls: "You before Maliki." Guests at the party who were captured on the video are said to include one of Mr. Sudany's brothers and the ministry's spokesman.

"We have the video of Trade Ministry officials hosting a party that is unethical and out of control," said Sabah al-Saadi, the chairman of the Commission for Public Integrity. "This party represents the impact of nepotism on the government and wasting of funds by senior officials' family members."

Mr. Sudany, who has not been charged and denies all wrongdoing, resigned on Sunday soon after his brother and aide Sabah Mohammed, who had earlier escaped from the police, was arrested with his bodyguards when his car was stopped at Samawa, 140 miles south of Baghdad. Security and police officials said cash, gold and identity cards were found in the car.

Iraq is deemed the third most corrupt country in the world after Burma and Somalia, out of 180 countries, according to the corruption index compiled by Transparency International.

Although it is an important oil producer, many Iraqis are on the edge of starvation; 20-25 per cent of Iraq's 27 million people live below the poverty line on less than $66 (£41) a month.

Amid claims that Mr. Sudany's relatives had made millions out of kickbacks from sugar purchases, Mr. Maliki visited the leaderless Trade Ministry this week saying that his office would take over its functions. A committee is to take charge of Iraq's large import program for grain and foodstuffs. "We will not keep silent about corruption after this day and we will chase all the corrupt and bring them before the judiciary," Mr. Maliki said.

The Integrity Commission says it issued 387 arrest warrants in April, including warrants for 51 officials who are department heads. In addition, it has 997 arrest warrants not yet issued and Mr. Maliki has told the security forces to arrest all those named.

The committee in charge of food purchases will draw its members from the Prime Minister's office, the cabinet secretariat, the corruption watchdog and the audit department. "It will buy foodstuffs in a swift and proper manner and sign agreements with the world's big companies to buy essential foodstuffs without the use of intermediaries," Mr. Maliki said.

Iraqis will be skeptical about the anti-corruption campaign until they see senior officials convicted and punished. It is not only the Trade Ministry which is corrupt but the entire government system. Officials have often purchased their jobs, which they see as a way of making money through bribery or payment for awarding jobs and contracts. The last anti-corruption boss in Iraq was forced to flee the country.

And supply of tainted goods is not confined to the Trade Ministry. Refugees living in Sadr City, the great Shia slum with a population of two million in east Baghdad, were expecting food and clothing from the Ministry of Displacement and Migration but when the shipment arrived, the refugees were enraged to discover that it consisted of scratchy thin grey woollen blankets smelling of mould which were useless in the torrid heat of the Iraqi summer. There were also an assortment of children's shoes and 25 boxes of canned tuna. Locals suspect that officials had pocketed most of the money intended to help them.

The breakdown of the rationing system, started in 1995 under Saddam Hussein, threatens millions of Iraqis with malnourishment. The rations consist of items sold for a small sum of money at retail outlets on production of a ration card. They include rice (3kg a person), sugar (2kg), flour (9kg), cooking oil (1.25kg), milk for adults (250 grams), tea (200g), beans, children's milk, soap, detergents and tomato paste.

A survey by the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation found that 18 percent of people had not received the full food ration for 13 months and 32 per cent had not received it for seven to 12 months. When rations do come, they are often of poor quality and Iraqis say that the tea supplied tastes disgusting.

Is France on the Verge of Banning Scientology?

The Scientology movement went on trial in Paris yesterday for "organized fraud" in a case which could lead to the cult's organizing bodies being outlawed in France.

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