WARMING WARS: With any hope of Congress passing a major climate bill in the near future now formally extinguished, President Obama assured the country Wednesday that he won't give up trying to fight global warming. "Cap-and-trade was just one way of skinning the cat; it was not the only way," Obama said at a news conference, following Democrats' loss of the House to Republicans. "I'm going to be looking for other means to address this problem." Those other means will largely feature the EPA — which plans to begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions in 2011 — and may not please Republicans any more than the failed cap-and-trade bill, which they called "cap-and-tax." Obama's Plan B certainly won't please the GOP's presumed new House speaker, Ohio Rep. John Boehner (pictured), who has expressed skepticism and confusion about climate science in the past. (He told ABC News in 2009, for example, that "the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical" — and he was right, since no climate scientists claim CO2 is a carcinogen.) Boehner fiercely fought the House climate bill last year, and while he ended up losing, the bill ultimately stalled in the Senate, and many Republicans now credit their resurgence to its lingering unpopularity. It is true that some three dozen House Democrats who supported cap-and-trade were run out of office Tuesday, but as the bill's sponsors point out, more than half of the 43 Democrats who voted against it also lost their seats, suggesting the GOP comeback wasn't just a reaction to the climate bill. And even as many voters nationwide seem unconcerned with climate change, Californians are in a different mood: On top of shooting down Prop. 23, which would have suspended their state's landmark climate law, they re-elected Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and elected Democrat Jerry Brown as governor, rewarding two strong supporters of climate action. There were other scattered victories for environmental advocates Tuesday — such as Sen. Michael Bennett in Colorado, or Rep. John Yarmuth in Kentucky — but as Obama said Wednesday, fighting climate change will now require increasingly innovative ideas. "One of the things that's very important for me is not to have us ignore the science," he said, "but rather to find ways that we can solve these problems that don't hurt the economy, that encourage the development of clean energy in this country, that, in fact, may give us opportunities to create entire new industries and create jobs." (Sources: Associated Press, New York Times)
DEATHLY OWLS: Are Harry Potter fans responsible for killing off India's owls? Yes, according to Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who responded to a recent report on the country's owl crisis by blaming fans of the popular British wizardry series, which includes a snowy owl character named Hedwig. "Following Harry Potter, there seems to be a strange fascination even among the urban middle classes for presenting their children with owls," Ramesh said, following a report released this week by the wildlife conservation group Traffic, which highlights the role of live-animal markets in decimating India's owl population. The report cites the killing of owls in "black magic and sorcery driven by superstition, totems and taboos," and says half of India's 30 native owl species are caught and sold alive in street markets. It doesn't specifically mention Harry Potter, but does place some blame on traditional rituals that may involve owl sacrifice. "The sacrifice of owls on auspicious occasions appears to be a regular practice and Traffic warns of a possible increase in owl trade and sacrifice around Diwali, the festival of light," which occurs on Friday. The report also points to "shaman or black magic practitioners" who "prescribe the use of owls and their body parts ... for ceremonial rituals," creating a demand for owls in animal markets that may now be supplemented by fans of the Harry Potter series — which is coincidentally releasing its latest movie, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," in the U.S. on Nov. 19. While black magic isn't the only thing killing Indian owls — the loss of their old-growth forest habitats doesn't help — it's easily preventable, Ramesh says, if people would appreciate owls for what they are. "Diwali should be a time for celebration across our nation, not one when our wildlife is plundered to feed ignorant superstition," he says. "India's wildlife already faces many pressures; the additional burden of being killed out of ignorance and fear is not one that has any place in our modern society. Owls are as important to our ecosystem as tigers are." (Sources: Independent, TIME)
DEBATE BOT: Software developer Nigel Leck has grown tired of constantly arguing with climate denialists on Twitter, but instead of letting their persistence overshadow the science, he came up with a solution: He programmed a Twitter bot called @AI-AGW, aka "Turing Test," to do the dirty work for him. The bot scans Twitter every five minutes for tweets related to climate-change denialism, and automatically responds using a database filled with hundreds of rebuttals — including links to scientific sources and videos. The database was originally stocked with a basic collection of responses that Leck wrote himself, but it has since been expanded to include more nuanced comebacks gleaned from a university source, whom Leck declines to identify. Some of @AI_AGW's debates have dragged on for hours or even days, and the bot's opponents often don't realize they're arguing with a computer (although its handle includes "AI" for "artificial intelligence," and links to the Wikipedia page for Turing test). If the bot "argues them into a corner," as Leck describes it, deniers tend to split into two camps: some resort to a final response along the lines of "God created it that way," Leck says, while some are "skeptics so unyielding they won't be swayed by any amount of argumentation." @AI_AGW does have one major flaw, though: It can't detect sarcasm, which means it sometimes overreacts and tries to shoot down the arguments of people who were only mockingly denying climate change. Leck says he quickly apologizes to anyone who elicits a misguided response from the bot, and he has included an algorithm that helps it learn from false positives to better recognize sarcasm in the future. (Sources: PhysOrg, Discoblog)
FAILURE TO LAUNCH: NASA's Discovery space shuttle won't take off today after all, following the latest in a string of delays that have put off its parting voyage for nearly a week. This most recent postponement is weather-related, triggered by a forecast of thunderstorms near the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., where Discovery is scheduled to take off. The shuttle is trying to make its 39th and final flight — which will carry a storage pod, a prototype humanoid robot and various spare parts and supplies up to the International Space Station — but sudden hiccups keep preventing it from launching at the last minute. The shuttle was originally supposed to take off Monday until leaking nitrogen forced NASA to push takeoff back until Wednesday, but a circuitry glitch then delayed it even further. Air Force meteorologists predict more favorable weather before the weekend, with a 60 percent chance of suitable launch conditions in the next 48 hours, and have rescheduled the launch for 3:04 p.m. Eastern time on Friday. Discovery is slated to take the penultimate NASA shuttle flight before the agency shuts down its shuttle fleet, focusing on more big-picture missions like landing on Mars or an asteroid. The next flight will carry a $2 billion particle accelerator to be installed outside the space station, although NASA is hoping it can receive enough funding from Congress to squeeze in one extra shuttle flight next summer, which would ferry a load of cargo up into orbit. (Source: Reuters)
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Photo (Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Nov. 3): Alex Brandon/AP
Photo (snowy owl): John Foxx/Getty Images
Photo (laptop computer): John Foxx/Getty Images
Photo (storm clouds over Discovery launch pad): John Raoux/AP
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