France To Shut Down All Its Coal Power Plants By 2023

The tone at the UNs annual climate change meeting taking place this year in Marrakech in Morocco appears to be one of defiance, both at Trumps election and, it seems, at coal.

One of the keynote speakers, Frances President Hollande, has just stood before the delegates to announce that the Republic will shut down all its coal-fired power plants no later than 2023. At the same time, he praised Obama and snubbed Trump, much to the approval of the crowd.

The role played by Barack Obama was crucial in achieving the Paris agreement, he said, adding that it is irreversible. He went on to add, as per the groundbreaking pact, that we need carbon neutrality by 2050, and for Frances part, coal will not form part of their energy mix in six to seven years time.

This is welcome news thatcomes alongside a host of hopeful statements from other nations. With or without Americas help, all other current signatories to the climate pact will stick to their pledges. Germany hopes to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 95 percent by 2050, and the UK is due to shut all its coal-fired power plants by 2025.

France is already a world leader when it comes to a low-carbon energy mix. Investing heavily in nuclear power a few decades back, the country now gets more than 75 percent of its electricity from the wonders of nuclear fission. It produces so much energy, in fact, that it exports much of it to nearby nations to the annual tune of $3.2 billion.

Make no mistake Trump and his legion of doom cronies are a very real threat to the environment. Apart from the fact that they deny climate change actually exists, they are also quite big fans of coal.

Burning coal is phenomenally bad for not just the environment, but for your health and the climate. In fact, nothing produces more carbon dioxide and toxic particulates per gram than burning coal. Its literally the worst.

Fortunately, global use of coal is dropping quite rapidly for a variety of reasons, including the fact that renewable energy is getting cheaper and more commonplace, and that the damage coal is doing to the world is becoming too much of a burden to bear, both economically and environmentally.

Developing countries like India are still taking advantage of how cheap it is, but it will not be long before most of the world finds that cleaner energy is the way forwards. France, in this respect, is a snapshot of the future, regardless of what happens under the future Trump administration one where coal is left in the ground, where it belongs.

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The Smart Garden 9 is a self-contained kitchen garden for your herbs and vegetables

When we last met Click & Grow they were selling a massive wall garden designed for indoor gardening. Their new product, called the Smart Garden, is a self-contained kit pod for growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs that costs $129 on Kickstarter

The system is quite simple. You fill the water tank, place in small pods of soil, nutrients, and seeds and then turn it on. Its automatically lit by a set of LEDs and all you have to do is raise the lights when the plants get too high. The entry level gets you all lettuce pods but there are also seedless pods so you can grow anything you want.

The kit can grow nine plants and automatically waters your pods as necessary.

Mattias Lepp, founder of Click & Grow, was an orchestra conductor who went into IT. Telia acquired his first IT company in Estonia and he decided to return to his long-term interest in plant cultivation.

We have over 300,000 active users for our products thus far, he said. The main volume of users today is made up by our second generation product users, the Smart Herb Garden, but were seeing a lot of traction happening already for the larger wall farms directed at consumers as well.

The Smart Garden 9 got its start from surveys we made among our clients, he said. More than 80% indicated an interest in having a bigger garden than our previous one. The bigger bulk of the 9-hole product specific wishes came from the backers of our last project on Kicsktarter. So we decided to give people what they want and also improved some key features on the new garden: we featured high-end LED lights that offer plants the perfect spectrum to induce photosynthesis while focusing the lenses in a way that theres much less light pollution coming from the LEDs.

The company raised $4.1 million from a number of investors including Jaan Tallinn and Ruchi Sanghvi. Theyve also received some government funding to make the smart soil product. The Smart Garden 9 ships next July but I saw an early version and it looks like what Apple would make if it really liked tiny peppers. I approve.

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These Bizarre Creatures Defy What We Think We Know About Plants And Animals

The ConversationYou might have played the game called animal, vegetable, mineral. One player thinks of an object or organism and the other players ask questions to try to guess what it is starting with this simple classification. But nature isnt this simple. There are dozens of groups of living species that are neither plants nor animals.

We tend to think of plants as organisms that stand still and use photosynthesis to produce energy from sunlight and make their own organic molecules from the soil. And we see animals as creatures that move and feed on other organisms to obtain the energy and molecules they need.

But many organisms challenge those descriptions. The Venus flytrap, despite being a plant, feeds on other organisms and some of its parts move faster than its unfortunate animal prey. Many groups of animals do not move and live attached to a surface for most of their life, including sponges, corals, mussels and barnacles to name a few.

Its still relatively easy to say whether these creatures are plants or animals. But there are other organisms whose nature is more mystifying. Here are a few of the most intriguing creatures who defy our simple categories.

Hungry sea anemones

Pick a flower, lose a finger. Shutterstock

Sea anemones are technically animals, but they look so much like plants that they are named after a group of flowers. Even Aristotle, the ancient Greek who produced one of the worlds first systems for categorising life, was puzzled by them. He classified anemones as zoophytes, organisms bearing traits of both groups.

The truth is that they are animals because they can (very slowly) move and feed on other unsuspecting organisms that get trapped in their tentacles. In fact, sea anemones belong to a group of animals called cnidarians, which also includes jellyfish. Interestingly, there are even components of their nervous system that are the same as humans, although their anatomy is very different.

To make things even more confusing, there is a cnidarian called the Venus flytrap sea anemone that completely looks the part. It is a brilliant example of convergent evolution, where unrelated organisms independently evolve similar adaptations (for example, the wings of birds and bats). In this case, it is an animal that looks like a plant that imitates a carnivorous plant that feeds like an animal.

Leafy sea slugs

Elysia chlorotica. Karen N. Pelletreau/Wikimedia, CC BY

Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plant cells that enables photosynthesis to happen, and is one of the defining traits of plants. But some animals use a very clever trick: they steal those solar-powered factories and use them to their benefit, a process aptly named kleptoplasty.

The gorgeous sea slug Elysia chlorotica was once described as a leaf that crawls. They can borrow chloroplasts from its algal snacks, sucking them with a structure that pretty much looks like a straw, pushing the concept of veganism to the limit. These sea slugs have specialised cells that can keep those chloroplasts for months. Whats more, they also use the stolen chlorophyll for camouflage. The blue dragon slug, Pteraeolidia ianthina, can go a step further. Instead of keeping chloroplasts from is food, is able to enslave whole algal cells.

Creatures that are not animals or plants are often informally called protists. Many in this category are in the habit of robbing plastids from algae or subjugating other single-celled organisms. These include dinoflagellates, ciliates and foraminiferans. In this way, all these organisms are able to use an animal-like behaviour (eating other organisms) to acquire plant-like traits (photosynthesis), getting a higher return from their sunbathing sessions than their peers.

Algae forests

Kelp forest. Shutterstock

Algae are mostly aquatic organisms that we often think of as single-celled lifeforms that appear as a kind of growth or slime on top of bodies of water in a range of colours. But there are also multicellular types of algae that look far more like plants even though they often dont have roots or leaves as we traditionally think about them. Even though they have evolved separately, algae are like plants in that they dont move and can photosynthesise.

If you have been to a beach, you most likely have run or swam into the sea lettuce Ulva, which despite its name is not a vegetable but a green alga. Nori seaweed is commonly used in Japanese cuisine to wrap delicious bits of sushi and rice and red dulse is a snack in Ireland and Iceland that some claim tastes like bacon when fried. But in spite of their plantlike appearances and animal-like tastes, nori and dulse are scrumptious red algae.

Another example is kelp, which forms astonishing massive underwater forests some specimens reach the impressive length of 80 metres and is also a key ingredient in many Asian meals. Despite its size, kelp belongs to the brown algae, and is unrelated to plants.

Town-sized mushrooms

Armillaria. Shutterstock

Mushrooms are often treated like vegetables but fungi (which includes yeast and mould) are actually closer to animals than plants, and form an entirely separate kingdom. Like plants, they do not move, but they also dont perform photosynthesis. Instead their source of molecules and energy are other organisms. But instead of hunting them like animals, they either grow on top of them (soil, trees, human feet) or on top of decaying dead organisms (dead bark, dead animals, your bread). Due to their close evolutionary relationship to animals, eating a portabello mushroom in a bun is much closer to eating a hamburger than other veggie substitutes.

Whats more, they can grow much bigger than any plant (or animal, for that matter), with the individual heads all part of one giant organism spread out underground. The humungous honey fungus, Armillaria, is allegedly able to cover up to nine square kilometres of forest, weigh up to 35,000 tons and live up to 2,400 years. These fungi are agents of a major forest pest, the white rot root disease, which slowly kills numerous trees.

Nature is diverse, beautiful and complicated, always defying simple definitions. Human perception can be easily deceived by the intricacy of live beings. But none of this complexity impedes us from making delicious food out of almost every organism we encounter.

Jordi Paps, Lecturer, School of Biological Sciences, University of Essex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Highest Living Plants Discovered Six Kilometers Up A Mountain

Not much can live where the Himalayas scrape the sky. The tallest mountain range in the world forms the backdrop for a range of environments, from wet rainforests at the base to glacial snowpack at the summit. But now scientists studying the mountains in India havefound something surprising: the highest living plants in the world.

Discovered growing at 6,150 meters (20,177 feet) above sea level, the six species of cushion plants are now the highest known vascular plants, although algae and mosses have been found even further up the slopes.

The newly found vascular plants, reported in Microbial Ecology, show signs of stress from living at such high altitudes. Even so, they have seemingly been living there for many years, with evidence from the roots suggesting that some have been growing for at least two decades.

Living at such heights is not only limited by the temperature, the higher you go, the higher the levels of radiation, wind, and aridity. So living at such dizzying altitudes requires some pretty serious adaptations. The newly discovered plants are slow growing, and despite some being decades old, they are no larger than a coin. They also have their own natural high-sugar antifreeze and theirleaves are arranged so that they trap warm air.

RoeyAngel et. Microbial Ecology

The researchers also analyzedthe bacteria in the soil surrounding the diminutive roots to determinethe role that the microorganisms play in plant colonization at these altitudes. They found that the ground was dominated by bacteria usually associated with desert soils, which is no doubt related to the aridity of the environment on top of the mountains.

The team suspect that the bacteria arrived with the seeds of the plants as they dispersed up the slopes, and the bacterial communities have developed as the plants then germinated and took root.

As the planet continues to warm, it is thought that the conditions will start to alter, which may allow more vascular plants to colonize higher up the mountain. In the region that the plants were found, which is on the bare slopes of a retreating glacier, the temperature has already risen by a balmy 6C (11F) in the last decade alone. If the temperature continues to rise like this, it is expected that soon well be seeing far more high-livingplants in the future.

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Plants Can Learn By Association, Just Like Pavlov’s Dogs

We don’t want to alarm you but plants have been shown to have Pavlovian responses, able to learn to associate a stimulus with what they want and adapt their behavior appropriately. We might not be facing a Day of the Triffids scenario just yet, but given what humanity is doing to the planet’s largest plants their associations with us may not be favorable.

Dr Monica Gagliano of the University of Western Australia has made a career of showing that plants have amore interesting capacitythan most scientists expect, attracting considerable controversy in the process. Her latest study may be the most ground-breaking yet.

Gagliano grew pea seedlings in a Y-shaped maze. A fan was operated in one arm of the maze for periods of 90 minutes, the last half hour of which overlapped with an hour of pea-friendly blue light. For half the peas the fan and light were in the same arm, while the other half had fan and light in opposite arms. The process was repeated three times, with the location of the light and fan varying between arms.

Naturally, the seedlings grew towards the light. However, in her study published inScientific Reports, Gagliano revealed that when the trained peas were exposed to the fan on its own, they anticipated a new dose of light. Sixty-two percent of seedlings that were used to having the fan in the same arm as the light reached towards it. Sixty-nine percent of seedlings that experienced the fans and light in opposition grew towards the other arm. A control group, which had not experienced the fan, mostly grew towards whichever arm of the Y had most recently contained the light.

The peas had come to associate breezes with the arrival of their energy source, just as Pavlov’s dogs learned that a bell meant food was on its way, a process known as associative learning.

Associative learning has been considered unique to animals.

Proving plants are even more like humans, Gagliano explained to IFLScience how she experimented on some plants in ways she compared to waking someone up in the middle of the night to give them a test, or asking them to perform while jetlagged. Lacking even the comfort of a pre-test coffee, the peas failed to perform under these circumstances.

Gagliano told IFLScience she chose pea plants for the experiment, not only because they grow in an easy to study manner, but as a nod to Gregor Mendel’s studies that gave birth to the science of genetics. It’s like they are saying ‘don’t just look at our genes, look at the organism as a whole,’ she said.

Although her work has overthrown centuries of botanical thinking, Gagliano considers it unsurprising. She argues that plants, lacking animals’ capacity to get away from danger, have needed to learn to preempt threats, which pattern recognition can do.

How the associative learning works is unclear, although the paper notes: Modifications of the patterns of interactions between molecules and communication between cells can be stored in a way rather similar to neural networks.

Gagliano told IFLScience she is not keen to see her work used to encourage crops to grow more quickly in monocultures, but she hopes it will instill more respect, encourage ways to help plants grow in more diverse and respectful ways.

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