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The Guardian

Twice a week, the Guardian brings you the latest science and environment news

Twice a week, the Guardian brings you the latest science and environment news


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The Guardian


Twice a week, the Guardian brings you the latest science and environment news




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‘A possible extinction event’: the UK’s worst bird flu outbreak

The UK is in the middle of its worst outbreak of bird flu. The current strain of H5N1 avian influenza has devastated wild bird populations, killing thousands and affecting threatened species such as puffins and hen harriers. Bird flu has also been wreaking havoc on poultry, and since 7 November, all captive birds in England have been kept indoors to prevent them catching the virus. How are both wild and captive bird populations coping with the current strain of avian flu? And is the UK...


What are leap seconds, and why have we scrapped them?

At a recent conference in France, scientists and government representatives voted to scrap the leap second by 2035. Leap seconds are added periodically to synchronise atomic time and astronomical time, which get out of sync because of variations in the Earth’s rotation. Madeleine Finlay speaks to JT Janssen, the chief scientist at NPL, the National Physical Laboratory, about the differences between these two times, and what can go wrong when leap seconds are added to our clocks. Help support...


How should we prepare for an ageing global population?

On 15 November the world’s population reached 8 billion, according to the UN. Much of that growth is because we’re living longer. As a species we will continue to age, but eventually stop growing. The UN predicts that in the next century humanity will begin to go into decline. So what happens when societies get older and smaller – a problem some countries are already encountering? Ian Sample speaks to Prof Vegard Skirbekk about how humanity got here, and how we prepare for future demographic...


Will the Qatar World Cup really be carbon neutral?

It’s supposed to be the first ever carbon neutral World Cup. Organisers Fifa and host Qatar say they have implemented sustainability initiatives, taken measures to limit carbon output and will offset greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing credits. Fifa has admitted, however, that the tournament’s carbon footprint will bigger than any of its predecessors, and experts believe emissions have been underestimated, calling into question the claim of carbon neutrality. Madeleine Finlay speaks to...


Cop27: where do climate scientists find hope?

A year ago at Cop26, global environment editor Jonathan Watts caught up with two climate scientists to hear what they thought about the progress made. A lot has happened in the intervening 12 months, and the world hasn’t stayed on track with its previous promises and pledges. Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are expected to increase by 1% in 2022, hitting 37.5 billion tonnes – a record high. Ian Sample called them both up to find out how they’re feeling now. Speaking to Prof...


Cop27: has there been any progress in Sharm el-Sheikh?

Cop27 got off to a difficult start last week. Attendees struggled with a lack of food and drink, civil society group events were curtailed, and more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists hit the conference halls – more than the delegations of many of the most vulnerable countries combined. As we head into the second week, Madeleine Finlay hears from biodiversity reporter Patrick Greenfield about what it’s been like in Sharm el-Sheikh, and from environment editor Fiona Harvey about what’s happened...


Cop27: Is it time to rethink endless economic growth?

A key goal of governments around the world is economic growth – continually increasing production and consumption to keep GDP rising. But can our economies grow on a rapidly warming planet with finite resources? According to a recent UN report, the only way left to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis is a “rapid transformation of societies”. In our third Cop27 special, Ian Sample speaks to ecological economist Tim Jackson about the myth of eternal growth, other ways to think about...


Cop27: Who are the real climate leaders?

As world leaders began to gather at Cop27 yesterday, speeches began on the main stage in Sharm el-Sheik. Presidents and prime ministers spoke of the need to rapidly reduce carbon emissions and the horrendous impacts of climate breakdown. But, if previous years are anything to go by – these words may not turn into concrete actions. Instead, indigenous and community groups are leading the charge on saving the planet. Madeleine Finlay speaks to Nina Lakhani about the need for climate justice,...


Cop27: a chance for change – or more of the same?

On Sunday, world leaders, negotiators and industry representatives will begin to arrive in Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt for Cop27, the UN’s climate change conference. A UN report set the stage for talks last week, stating that there is “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” and that progress on limiting global temperature rises has been “woefully inadequate”. So will governments take the opportunity to press ahead with their promises or could the conference live up to accusations of greenwashing?...


Could a prescription of surfing help with depression?

A new trial is exploring if prescriptions of surfing, gardening and dance classes can reduce anxiety and depression in people aged 11 to 18. NHS mental health trusts in 10 parts of England will use a range of sports, arts and outdoor activities with 600 young people to see if it can stop conditions worsening while the sufferers are on waiting lists for care. This kind of support is known as ‘social prescribing’, allowing health professionals to refer patients to a range of community groups...


Stories from a medieval graveyard: worms, wounds, and wonky toes

Crushed by a cart, infected with parasitic worms and painful bunions caused by pointy shoes. These might sound like curses you’d wish on your worst enemy, but a group of researchers have discovered they were probably a part of normal life in medieval Cambridge. Across several archaeological sites, the team have excavated and analysed hundreds of bones to uncover the accidents and afflictions of people in the middle ages. In this Halloween special, Madeleine Finlay hears from Nicola Davis as...


Is it ethical to put human brain cells in a rat?

Researchers have successfully transplanted human neurons into the brains of rats. The recent, groundbreaking study described how the human cells took root inside the rat brains, hooked up to their blood supplies and tapped into neural circuitry. Rather than create a kind of super-rat, the ultimate aim is to better understand neuropsychiatric disorders such as epilepsy and schizophrenia, and examine the effects of drugs in real time. But do the potential benefits outweigh the ethical...


Can rituals help with our grief for the natural world?

Last week, a scientific assessment found wildlife populations have plunged by an average of 69% in just under 50 years. Such rapid and significant losses are leaving many of us with a deep sense of grief and anxiety. To make sense of these emotions and channel them into action, people are increasingly performing rituals and commemorative acts for the natural world. Madeleine Finlay speaks to Prof Claire White about the power of rituals in bringing us together to process grief, and hears from...


How a scientific scandal could force sport to rethink concussion

Dr Paul McCrory is a world-renowned concussion expert whose work shaped concussion policy across global sport for the past 20 years. In his work, and through his role on the influential Concussion in Sport Group, McCrory had previously adopted a sceptical view on the link between concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a progressive brain condition whose symptoms are similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Last week, the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) retracted nine of...


Could moth larvae be the answer to our plastic problem?

Plastic pollution is damaging the health of the environment, wildlife and us. It has been found on remote islands, in Antarctic snow and in human blood, breast milk and lungs. Alongside rapidly reducing how much plastic we produce, we also need to find new ways to tackle the waste we have created. Madeleine Finlay speaks to the Guardian’s environment editor, Damian Carrington, about the discovery of an enzyme that can rapidly break down plastic bags – found inside the saliva of wax worms –...


Why does Elon Musk want to buy Twitter?

Back in April this year, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk signed a $44bn (£40bn) takeover agreement for Twitter. But, in July, the world’s richest man said he was walking away from the controversial deal, arguing Twitter has more spam accounts than it claims. Then, last week, Musk offered to complete the acquisition in a dramatic U-turn. So what might happen next? Ian Sample talks to the Guardian’s global technology editor, Dan Milmo, about why Musk wants to own the social media platform,...


Why is the government in Iran shutting down the internet?

On 13 September Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, was arrested in Tehran for allegedly violating Iran’s hijab rules. Three days later she was dead. Since then, videos of anti-regime demonstrations and acts of resistance have gone viral – leading the government to block internet access in parts of Tehran and Kurdistan. Madeleine Finlay speaks to Azadeh Akbari about why Mahsa Amini’s death has sparked so much anger, and hears from Alp Toker about how governments and regimes around the...

Covid-19: is there a ‘twindemic’ coming?

As the UK heads into autumn, Covid-19 appears to be surging again. According to official data, 40,650 people tested positive in England in the seven days up to and including 24 September. This was an increase of 42% on the week before. But as we brace for another wave, experts are also concerned about a potential rise in influenza. Ian Sample speaks to Prof Peter Openshaw about the Omicron variant, why we’re at risk of a ‘twindemic’ this year and whether it’s time we all start taking more...


Why did Nasa smash its spacecraft into an asteroid?

This week, Nasa scientists smashed a spacecraft into an asteroid, more than 11m km from Earth. Most rocket scientists would wince at the thought, but the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, was purposefully designed to slam head-on into the asteroid Dimorphos. The aim is to nudge it off its current orbit, in an experiment that will assess the possibility of deflecting a killer space rock – if one was ever headed our way. Ian Sample speaks to Prof Colin Snodgrass about why they chose...


How a man and his dogs discovered the cause of narcolepsy

The Breakthrough prizes are described by their Silicon Valley founders as ‘the Oscars of science’, and while they are not as glamorous, they do come with a $3m award. This year, one of the prizes was dished out to Prof Emmanuel Mignot at Stanford University and Masashi Yanagisawa at the University of Tsukuba for their work uncovering the cause of narcolepsy. Their discovery has opened the door to the development of treatments for this chronic and often debilitating condition. Madeleine...