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Highlights from the Week's News

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A Beverage That Slows Aging

January 28, 2024

Biden Administration Pauses New LNG Exports to Study Impacts

The Biden administration announced on Friday, January 26, that it would pause the approval process for new exports of liquefied natural gas or LNG to give the Energy Department time to study the impacts. Currently, the U.S. is the largest LNG exporter in the world and has helped Europe to be less reliant on natural gas from Russia. 

An LNG Terminal in Japan |  Credit: 利用者 / Creative Commons

Pushing the pause button on new liquefied gas terminals was seen as a major win for environmentalists, activists, and scientists, who had been urging the government not to approve a planned LNG port in Louisiana that is budgeted to cost $10 billion. The action will delay more than ten fossil fuel projects until after the November 2024 election.

Natural gas is predominantly made up of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, which in the short-term, traps more heat in the atmosphere than CO2. The administration said that the current method used by the Department of Energy to analyze LNG exports is no longer adequate to assess the impact of greenhouse gas emissions and the risks to communities that bear the brunt of pollution from new facilities.

According to the Louisiana Illuminator, LNG operations underreport and miscalculate the amount of toxic air that is released from their facilities. Five new projects were being built along the Gulf Coast, with more proposed mostly in low-income and minority communities that have already been impacted by oil and gas operations.

One of the projects now delayed by Biden’s action is the immense CP2 facility on the Louisiana coast, which spurred a nationwide movement against it. A major demonstration and sit-in was planned in Washington, DC, next month. Last year, 170 scientists signed a letter to President Biden to stop the increase in exports of  LNG.

The oil and gas industry criticized the administration, saying that, among other things, the decision was a win for Russia and a loss for U.S. jobs.

The head of the Sierra Club, Ben Jealous, said in a statement, “This decision is a major win for communities and advocates that have long spoken out about the dangers of LNG and makes it clear that the Biden administration is listening to the calls to break America’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels and secure a livable future for us all.”

Uranium Mine Restarts Operations Near Grand Canyon National Park

Just seven miles south of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, a uranium mine has been dormant for some years, but now the price of the mineral has climbed to the point where it is profitable for a company to operate the facility. Local Indigenous tribes and environmentalists are concerned about water contamination and damage to cultural sites.

Baaj Nwaavjo I'tah Kukveni—Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument  |  Credit: U.S. Forest Service

The Pinyon Plain Mine is the first of its kind to open in eight years and comes as the U.S. government moves to increase the domestic production of uranium needed for nuclear energy.  It’s part of the plan to phase down fossil fuels.

For decades, tribes along with environmental groups, have challenged and sued to halt the uranium extraction. The site is inside the boundary of the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument, which was designated by President Biden last year. However, the project was officially grandfathered into the monument and allowed to operate under the 1872 Mining Law. The uranium will be transported to a milling facility in Utah, where, according to Colorado Public Radio, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe fears it will contaminate the air.

It is expected that the mine, which is owned by Denver-based Energy Fuels, Inc., will operate for a little over two years, but Amber Reimondo, a spokesperson for the Grand Canyon Trust, told the Navajo-Hopi Observer that it will bring risks and damage to critical water and cultural resources forever.

A Tiny Ant Species Can Make Life Difficult for Lions

New research reminds us that you should never underestimate the power of the little guy. Scientists led by the University of Wyoming have revealed how one tiny ant species can cause an ecological chain reaction that makes life difficult for lions.

Young lions stalk prey within a “pristine” savanna not invaded by ants. The whistling-thorn trees in the foreground provide cover for lions to stalk and ambush zebra. |  Credit: Victoria Zero/University of Wyoming

It starts with whistling-thorn trees (Acacia drepanolobium) of central Kenya and their small but mighty bodyguards, native acacia ants (Crematogaster). In a relationship that scientists called “mutualism,” the ants, which nest in the trees’ thorns, get nectar and shelter in exchange for protecting the trees by biting and stinging any elephants and giraffes that might try to eat the leaves. Things were going well until the invasive “big-headed” ants (Pheidole megacephala) showed up.

Big-headed ants, which are believed to have stowed away on ships from Indian Ocean islands such as Mauritius, have been decimating native acacia ant colonies by killing adults and eating their eggs and larvae—leaving the trees defenseless against elephants, which can then munch, break, or even topple trees at five to seven times the rate of uninvaded areas, transforming savannahs into open grasslands.
 
Having fewer trees is bad news for lions, who counted on them for cover to ambush zebra, their favorite prey. In response, lions, which are listed as endangered, are switching their menu to African buffaloes. However, the researchers say buffaloes are much bigger than zebras and hang out in groups, so they take a lot more time and energy to stalk and kill.

So far, lion populations have not declined, but the study’s lead author Douglas Kamaru told H2O Radio that the change of diet could have unknown long-term consequences for the animals and the ecosystem more broadly.

The study was published in the journal Science.

An Anti-Aging Beverage Might Already Be in Your Kitchen

Explorers have long searched for the elusive fountain of youth with waters purported to prevent aging, but according to new research, seekers could have spared themselves time and effort by just drinking tea.

Black, green, oolong, and white tea come from the Camellia sinensis plant.  |  Credit: BalukuBrian/Creative Commons

A new study from Sichuan University in China says three cups of green or black tea daily might help delay biological aging. Your biological age is how old your cells are, which can be influenced by diet, exercise, and genetics, versus your chronological age, which is the number of years you’ve lived.

Previous studies have shown that polyphenols in green and black tea have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and that tea can protect against age-related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, dementia, and cancer. Animal studies have suggested that tea flavonoids may extend life expectancy in worms, flies, and mice. This new research is the first to suggest just how much tea you should drink.

Study participants in Britain and China recorded their tea-drinking habits and tracked biomarkers that determine biological age such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body fat. After three years, data showed that there was slower biological aging for participants who drank moderate amounts of tea. If people started drinking tea during the study period, their biological age decreased, whereas those who stopped drinking tea increased their biological age. Furthermore, moderate tea drinkers were less likely to experience insomnia, depression, and anxiety.

The study was published in the journal The Lancet Regional Health-Western Pacific.