Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Nasa: Earth is warming at a pace 'unprecedented in 1,000 years'

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Climate authority split is no surprise – Australia has fought the same battle for 10 years

The split in the Climate Change Authority is a rerun of the climate policy fight Australia has been having for the past 10 years – the clash between what is undeniably necessary and what is politically possible.
The CCA report, to be released on Wednesday, lands exactly on the spot where the major parties might, just might, be able to reach a compromise and finally end the barren years of climate policy “war”, policy reversal and time-wasting gridlock.

Guardian Australia understands the report recommends a type of emissions trading scheme for the electricity sector where generators are penalised for polluting above an emissions-intensity baseline.
It’s the policy Labor took to the last election and exactly what most observers assumed the Coalition’s Direct Action would morph into after next year’s review shows what everyone already knows, that it isn’t fit for purpose in its current form.
The CCA is also understood to recommend a strengthening of the current “safeguards mechanism” for other big polluters.
The dissenters argue the authority is supposed to make recommendations based on what is scientifically necessary and leave it up to the politicians to make the political compromises – and that the recommended policy cannot meet the increasingly ambitious greenhouse gas reductions that Australia agreed to in Paris last year.
They are probably right.
But over the past decade the undeniably necessary task of doing our part to avert global warming has become ever-bigger and the politically-possible solutions seem to have shrivelled. We’ve actually done very little.

The new energy and environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, started out in his new job saying Direct Action needed no change at all because it was “very successful”. An authority report pushing for change – backed by board members mostly appointed by the Coalition – could help make the case that that starting point was never tenable.
The last time a politically possible policy was defeated because it wouldn’t achieve the scientifically-necessary greenhouse gas cuts was when the parliament voted down Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme. And that started the long and sorry story that led us here.

Climate Change Authority splits over ETS report commissioned by Coalition

Extract from The Guardian

Exclusive: Top climate advisers divided over report, which recommends a policy that could break the political gridlock over climate change

Climate Change Authority members Anthea Harris, Professor David Karoly and Professor Clive Hamilton in 2012.
Climate Change Authority members Anthea Harris, Professor David Karoly and Professor Clive Hamilton in 2012. Karoly and Hamilton plan to issue a dissenting report on how the government can meet its emissions reduction target. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP
A Climate Change Authority review charged with advising the government on how to meet its climate change commitments has led to an unprecedented split in its top ranks, with two of the body’s 11 members writing a dissenting “minority report”.
Guardian Australia understands the official Climate Change Authority report will recommend Australia adopt an intensity-based trading scheme for electricity generators.
A similar scheme was taken to the 2016 election by the Labor party, and was also proposed by Malcolm Turnbull in 2009 when he was opposition leader. Many believe it is a promising way to form a bipartisan approach to climate policy.
It is understood the report will also recommend the government introduce something like a strengthened “safeguards” mechanism, which forms part of the government’s Direct Action policy.
That mechanism has already been in force, and sets emissions “baselines” for 140 of Australia’s biggest polluters, which are supposed to cap their emissions, but is currently so generous it will not lead to a cut in carbon emissions.
The “special review” was commissioned by the former environment minister Greg Hunt in December 2014, after the government failed to pass legislation to abolish the Climate Change Authority through the Senate.
The review was primarily intended to assess whether Australia should have an Emissions Trading Scheme and what conditions should trigger it.
In doing that, the authority was ordered to consider what other countries were doing, as well as what Australia’s international commitments were under international agreements.
The report will be released publicly on Wednesday afternoon, but two authority members – the economist Clive Hamilton and the climate scientist David Karoly – were so unhappy with its contents they will be writing a dissenting minority report.
Hamilton told Guardian Australia he and Karoly will be preparing the report, but declined to comment further.
The point of contention between the dissenting members is understood to be over what level of emissions cuts the recommendations are designed to achieve.
It is understood the dissenters believe the current report is not consistent with the terms of reference of the review, which requires the recommendations to consider Australia’s international commitments, including those made at Paris.
The minority report is expected to be published on Friday on the website of the Climate Council – the body that emerged from the Climate Commission after it was abolished by the Abbott government in 2013.
The CCA report was expected to put pressure on the new energy minister Josh Frydenberg, who recently indicated the Direct Action policy didn’t need to be changed significantly.
Guardian Australia understands the CCA’s review was backed by all other members of the Authority, including:
  • former federal National party parliamentarian John Sharp
  • former head of the Productivity Commission Wendy Craik
  • associate director of the ANU Centre for Climate Law & Policy, Andrew Macintosh
  • Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel
  • Managing director of economics consulting firm Frontier Economics, Danny Price
  • economist and Australian laureate fellow at the University of Queensland, John Quiggen
  • currently acting chief executive of the Climate Change Authority, Shayleen Thompson
  • former Liberal chief minister of the ACT and former chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kate Carnell
  • energy consultant and manager Stuart Allinson

On Timor, Australia looks like it's denying an impoverished neighbour its birthright

Extract from The Guardian

This week’s conciliation talks in The Hague give Australia a new chance to do the right thing by East Timor to help it secure its future

An Australian soldier in East Timor, 2006.
‘The present dispute overshadows Australia’s positive contributions to East Timor.’ In 2006, East Timor handed over security to Australian troops in the capital to restore order in the streets. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
Australia and East Timor start conciliation talks in The Hague on Monday in an effort to resolve their bitter legal dispute over maritime boundaries – and $40bn of petroleum rights. Timor argues that Australia refuses to recognise Timor’s rights under international law.
The conciliation is compulsory under the UN law of the sea convention, but it will not produce a binding decision. The independent conciliators may nonetheless help both countries to clarify the legal issues and reflect on their claims – and adjust them to reach a fair solution.
Lately Australia has been on the nose in Timor. Anti-Australia graffiti is sprinkled around the capital, Dili. Thousands of Timorese protested outside the Australian embassy earlier this year. The dispute threatens the goodwill from Australia’s support for Timor’s independence since 1999. Things are not helped by espionage claims that paint Australia as the neighbourhood cheat and bully.
Australia denies breaching international law. The legal issues are not clear cut. Timor and Australia agreed on three treaties from 2002 and 2006 to share resources in adjacent maritime areas and to suspend maritime boundary claims for 50 years. Timor has amassed a $16bn Petroleum Fund as a result.
Australia may be right to argue that it is lawful to manage disputes in this way. In practice, however, Timor had little choice but to cut a deal. In 2002, Australia cunningly withdrew its consent to the compulsory settlement of maritime boundary disputes at the international court of justice and under the UN law of the sea convention.
This was technically legal. Countries may give or withhold their consent in advance to international adjudication. Timor was thus prevented from suing Australia in an independent court – even if its substantive legal claims to maritime boundaries were correct.
Australia prefers negotiation on boundary disputes to adjudication. Negotiation has some advantages. But it also often benefits a country with more bargaining power, as in the huge imbalance between Australia and Timor. China similarly prefers negotiation over courts in the South China Sea because it has more leverage over its neighbours.
When negotiation breaks down, there is then no independent court to apply international law, which provides the underlying rules on where boundaries should be drawn. An obstructive country can simply refuse to reach agreement or to recognise another country’s rights.
Timor now argues that the 2006 treaty is invalid because Australia spied on its treaty negotiators, thus gaining an unfair advantage. While spying alone does not invalidate a treaty, fraud can. It is untested whether espionage constitutes fraud.
That claim is being tested in another case, a binding arbitration between Australia and Timor – itself tarnished by Australia’s seizure of documents from Timor’s lawyer in Canberra, Bernard Collaery. In 2014, the international court of justice ordered Australia not to interfere with Timor’s legal communications, since doing so may undermine the equality of parties to a dispute under the United Nations Charter.
If the treaty is invalid it would reopen the boundary and resource issues. Timor claims that determining the maritime boundary in accordance with international law would give it exclusive ownership over certain resources currently shared with Australia.
Experts differ on where the boundary might actually be drawn, including if Indonesia could extend its boundary at Timor’s expense. There are practical concerns too about the economic and environmental feasibility of Timor’s ambitious development plans.
Timor’s boundary claims are nonetheless strong. Australia’s last minute, peremptory removal of international judicial oversight in 2002 may well indicate that it privately agrees.
Ultimately, what is technically legal may not necessarily be wise, just, or ethical foreign policy. There is an inescapable perception that Australia is denying its tiny, impoverished neighbour its sovereign birthright to determine its boundaries, control its own resources, and shape its own destiny.
This dynamic contaminates the wider bilateral relationship. The dispute cannot be viewed in isolation but is part of a long history of bad faith by Australia that continues to poison relations and corrode trust.
From the late 1970s, successive Australian governments illegally recognised Indonesian sovereignty over Timor. Timor’s resistance museum displays an infamous photo of the then foreign ministers, Gareth Evans and Ali Alatas, toasting champagne in flight above the Timor Sea, after carving up the resource spoils far below in 1988.
Australia also did little to protest Indonesian atrocities, which left up to 183,000 dead, including six Australian journalists murdered at Balibo and Dili in 1975.
This legacy and the present dispute overshadow Australia’s positive contributions. Australian military forces resisted the Japanese invasion of Timor in 1942 and led the UN intervention in 1999. Ever since, Australia has stabilised Timor by supporting democracy, development, nutrition, public health and security.
Australia should be faithful to the spirit as well as the letter of the law – and be more generous. The modest benefits to Australia of the current arrangements are far outweighed by the diplomatic damage they inflict.
For Timor, determining its boundaries is about completing its sovereignty and ensuring its economic future. That has been a long, painful journey over 450 years, outlasting Portuguese colonialism and Indonesian occupation.
Australia should stop obstructing Timor and help it to secure its borders and its future. This week’s conciliation gives Australia a new chance to do the right thing.
Ben Saul is Challis Chair of International Law at the University of Sydney. He recently visited Timor and was a barrister in the Balibo Five inquest in 2007.

Malcolm Turnbull, please don't break the nation's heart over marriage equality

He divided a movement. Majority support, once strong, is no longer assured. He is the prime minister who broke this nation’s heart.
John Howard and the republican referendum?
No, Malcolm Turnbull and marriage equality.
Oh, the irony. The depressing, excruciating irony.
Consider the similarities.
Polls told us back in the late 1990s that the republican movement enjoyed majority support. Polls tell us today that marriage equality enjoys majority support.
History tells us that using tactics and process to divide a movement is effective at defeating it. Howard divided the republicans over questions of model – direct election vs. parliamentary selection of the president. Turnbull is dividing supporters of marriage equality over the process – plebiscite vs. parliamentary vote.
Here’s the difference: Howard was not a republican. It’s hard to judge him too harshly. A scorpion does what a scorpion does. A politician using political tactics to defeat his political opponents is not new.
But Turnbull tells us he is in favour of marriage equality. Yet now that he is the prime minister he’s using Howard’s tactics with little thought for the consequences. No one – including Turnbull – should be surprised when marriage equality ends up in the same place as a republic: defeated at the ballot box in a plebiscite and off the agenda for years.
This is most likely exactly what certain Coalition MPs had in mind when proposing a plebiscite on same sex marriage.
Turnbull is all over the shop when it comes to relying on a public vote to deliver significant legal and social change. On the one hand, he is incredibly alive to challenges: publicly and in conversations with the Referendum Council advising on constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, Turnbull is constantly reminding that success is difficult and should not be taken for granted. Polls indicate that upwards of 85% Australians support constitutional recognition – and yet Turnbull is rightly quite concerned that Australia only holds a referendum if and when it can succeed.
As Turnbull says, the only successful referendums have been ones that were “uncontroversial and had little to no opposition.”
On the other hand, Turnbull seems an absolute Pollyanna when it comes to a same sex marriage plebiscite – despite the fact that the issue is controversial and does have opposition. On Sunday he told the ABC Insiders program:

"There is no question that the fastest way, the way you guarantee that there is a vote in the parliament on gay marriage – in this parliament – is to support the plebiscite. Personally I have no doubt the plebiscite will be carried, and the same sex marriage legislation will sail through the parliament."

Technically speaking, the fastest way to guarantee a vote in the parliament on gay marriage is if the prime minister brought forward a bill on the subject and let his party room have a free vote. No plebiscite is needed to give the parliament permission to have a vote.
I have previously supported a plebiscite, if for no other reason than there seemed to be no other way to advance the cause.
But the longer the debate drags on, the more difficult it becomes. If anything, look at the campaign for constitutional recognition. It’s an initiative that’s been formally underway for nearly a decade: expert panels, Senate reports, a taxpayer-funded campaign and now a Referendum Council (of which I am a member). Yet the longer it takes the more out of reach the goal seems. Expectations are raised and frustrated, opposition becomes entrenched, and events overtake the original idea.
If we’d had a marriage equality plebiscite within a year of Tony Abbott’s original proposal, I think there would have been less angst and fear, more hope and momentum, and (maybe) more civility. But now the issue is growing more politically charged and the same infections that beset constitutional recognition – expectations, fear, weariness, anger and other events – risk contaminating the debate on marriage equality.
Turnbull, of all people, should not be so sanguine about succeeding with a “yes” vote at a marriage equality plebiscite. There’s a lot of support for same sex marriage, but there’s a soft middle in that support that will be vulnerable to a “no” campaign. Some people may not be fussed if same sex couples marry, but those same people might not be fussed enough to rouse themselves on a Saturday to go vote for it – especially if their vote isn’t binding on MPs. With the likes of Cory Bernardi suggesting he will not consider himself bound by a “yes” result, why bother to express your view in a plebiscite if your senator or local member is going to ignore it anyway?
But Turnbull should be well aware that his Howard-esque divide-and-conquer tactics pose the greatest danger to the “yes” vote getting up in a plebiscite. Already supporters of same sex marriage are splitting: Australian Marriage Equality convenor Rodney Croome has resigned, for good reasons and in good conscience, to fight the plebiscite. Michael Kirby , Dr Kerry Phelps and Patrick McGorry raise legitimate concerns about the legal, emotional and mental health consequences of a plebiscite. The Greens are going to oppose the enabling legislation and Labor looks inclined to do the same.
If the plebiscite does get up, a movement divided by the prime minister’s political tactics will need to unite for a “yes” campaign. Malcolm Turnbull should know how that is likely to end: he will be the prime minister who broke the nation’s heart.

The Anthropocene epoch: scientists declare dawn of human-influenced age

 Extract from The Guardian

Experts say human impact on Earth so profound that Holocene must give way to epoch defined by nuclear tests, plastic pollution and domesticated chicken

Nuclear test explosion in Mururoa atoll, French Polynesia, in 1971.
Nuclear test explosion in Mururoa atoll, French Polynesia, in 1971. The official expert group says the Anthropocene should begin about 1950 and is likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across Earth by nuclear bomb tests. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared, according to an official expert group who presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town on Monday.
The new epoch should begin about 1950, the experts said, and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.
The current epoch, the Holocene, is the 12,000 years of stable climate since the last ice age during which all human civilisation developed. But the striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, the global mass extinction of species, and the transformation of land by deforestation and development mark the end of that slice of geological time, the experts argue. The Earth is so profoundly changed that the Holocene must give way to the Anthropocene.
“The significance of the Anthropocene is that it sets a different trajectory for the Earth system, of which we of course are part,” said Prof Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester and chair of the Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA), which started work in 2009.
“If our recommendation is accepted, the Anthropocene will have started just a little before I was born,” he said. “We have lived most of our lives in something called the Anthropocene and are just realising the scale and permanence of the change.”
Prof Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and WGA secretary, said: “Being able to pinpoint an interval of time is saying something about how we have had an incredible impact on the environment of our planet. The concept of the Anthropocene manages to pull all these ideas of environmental change together.”

High levels of nitrogen and phosphate in soils, derived from artificial fertilisers, could be taken as evidence of the onset of the Anthropocene.
High levels of nitrogen and phosphate in soils, derived from artificial fertilisers, could be taken as evidence of the onset of the Anthropocene. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Prof Chris Rapley, a climate scientist at University College London and former director of the Science Museum in London said: “The Anthropocene marks a new period in which our collective activities dominate the planetary machinery.
“Since the planet is our life support system – we are essentially the crew of a largish spaceship – interference with its functioning at this level and on this scale is highly significant. If you or I were crew on a smaller spacecraft, it would be unthinkable to interfere with the systems that provide us with air, water, fodder and climate control. But the shift into the Anthropocene tells us that we are playing with fire, a potentially reckless mode of behaviour which we are likely to come to regret unless we get a grip on the situation.” Rapley is not part of the WGA.
Martin Rees, the astronomer royal and former president of the Royal Society, said that the dawn of the Anthropocene was a significant moment. “The darkest prognosis for the next millennium is that bio, cyber or environmental catastrophes could foreclose humanity’s immense potential, leaving a depleted biosphere,” he said.
But Lord Rees added that there is also cause for optimism. “Human societies could navigate these threats, achieve a sustainable future, and inaugurate eras of post-human evolution even more marvellous than what’s led to us. The dawn of the Anthropocene epoch would then mark a one-off transformation from a natural world to one where humans jumpstart the transition to electronic (and potentially immortal) entities, that transcend our limitations and eventually spread their influence far beyond the Earth.”
The evidence of humanity’s impact on the planet is overwhelming, but the changes are very recent in geological terms, where an epoch usually spans tens of millions of years. “One criticism of the Anthropocene as geology is that it is very short,” said Zalasiewicz. “Our response is that many of the changes are irreversible.”

Human activity has left a permanent layer of airborne particulates in sediment and glacial ice.
Human activity has left a permanent layer of airborne particulates in sediment and glacial ice. Photograph: Pool/Reuters

To define a new geological epoch, a signal must be found that occurs globally and will be incorporated into deposits in the future geological record. For example, the extinction of the dinosaurs 66m years ago at the end of the Cretaceous epoch is defined by a “golden spike” in sediments around the world of the metal iridium, which was dispersed from the meteorite that collided with Earth to end the dinosaur age.
For the Anthropocene, the best candidate for such a golden spike are radioactive elements from nuclear bomb tests, which were blown into the stratosphere before settling down to Earth. “The radionuclides are probably the sharpest – they really come on with a bang,” said Zalasiewicz. “But we are spoiled for choice. There are so many signals.”
Other spikes being considered as evidence of the onset of the Anthropocene include the tough, unburned carbon spheres emitted by power stations. “The Earth has been smoked, with signals very clearly around the world in the mid-20th century,” said Zalasiewicz.

Another candidate to be considered as evidence of the Anthropocene is plastic pollution.
Another candidate to be considered as evidence of the Anthropocene is plastic pollution. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images
Other candidates include plastic pollution, aluminium and concrete particles, and high levels of nitrogen and phosphate in soils, derived from artificial fertilisers. Although the world is currently seeing only the sixth mass extinction of species in the 700m-year history of complex life on Earth, this is unlikely to provide a useful golden spike as the animals are by definition very rare and rarely dispersed worldwide.
In contrast, some species have with human help spread rapidly across the world. The domestic chicken is a serious contender to be a fossil that defines the Anthropocene for future geologists. “Since the mid-20th century, it has become the world’s most common bird. It has been fossilised in thousands of landfill sites and on street corners around the world,” said Zalasiewicz. “It is is also a much bigger bird with a different skeleton than its prewar ancestor.”
The 35 scientists on the WGA – who voted 30 to three in favour of formally designating the Anthropocene, with two abstentions – will now spend the next two to three years determining which signals are the strongest and sharpest. Crucially, they must also decide a location which will define the start of the Anthropocene. Geological divisions are not defined by dates but by a specific boundary between layers of rock or, in the case of the Holocene, a boundary between two ice layers in a core taken from Greenland and now stored in Denmark.

The domestic chicken is a serious contender to be a fossil that defines the Anthropocene for future geologists.
The domestic chicken is a serious contender to be a fossil that defines the Anthropocene for future geologists. Photograph: Alamy
The scientists are focusing on sites where annual layers are formed and are investigating mud sediments off the coast of Santa Barbara in California and the Ernesto cave in northern Italy, where stalactites and stalagmites accrete annual rings. Lake sediments, ice cores from Antarctica, corals, tree rings and even layers of rubbish in landfill sites are also being considered.
Once the data has been assembled, it will be formally submitted to the stratigraphic authorities and the Anthropocene could be officially adopted within a few years. “If we were very lucky and someone came forward with, say, a core from a classic example of laminated sediments in a deep marine environment, I think three years is possibly viable,” said Zalasiewicz.
This would be lightning speed for such a geological decision, which in the past would have taken decades and even centuries to make. The term Anthropocene was coined only in 2000, by the Nobel prize-winning scientist Paul Crutzen, who believes the name change is overdue. He said in 2011: “This name change stresses the enormity of humanity’s responsibility as stewards of the Earth.” Crutzen also identified in 2007 what he called the “great acceleration” of human impacts on the planet from the mid-20th century.
Despite the WGA’s expert recommendation, the declaration of the Anthropocene is not yet a forgone conclusion. “Our stratigraphic colleagues are very protective of the geological time scale. They see it very rightly as the backbone of geology and they do not amend it lightly,” said Zalasiewicz. “But I think we can prepare a pretty good case.”
Rapley also said there was a strong case: “It is highly appropriate that geologists should pay formal attention to a change in the signal within sedimentary rock layers that will be clearly apparent to future generations of geologists for as long as they exist. The ‘great acceleration’ constitutes a strong, detectable and incontrovertible signal.”

Evidence of the Anthropocene

Human activity has:
  • Pushed extinction rates of animals and plants far above the long-term average. The Earth is on course to see 75% of species become extinct in the next few centuries if current trends continue.
  • Put so much plastic in our waterways and oceans that microplastic particles are now virtually ubiquitous, and plastics will likely leave identifiable fossil records for future generations to discover.
  • Doubled the nitrogen and phosphorous in our soils in the past century with fertiliser use. This is likely to be the largest impact on the nitrogen cycle in 2.5bn years.
  • Left a permanent layer of airborne particulates in sediment and glacial ice such as black carbon from fossil fuel burning.

Family tree fall: human ancestor Lucy died in arboreal accident, say scientists

Extract from The Guardian

Researchers claim analysis of 3.2m-year-old skeleton of ‘grandmother of humanity’ shows injuries consistent with those of humans falling on hard ground, but others query findings

Still from reconstruction video of human ancestor Lucy the ape falling from tree to sustain leg injuries
Branching off … a still from a reconstruction video of human ancestor Lucy the ape falling from tree to sustain injuries. Photograph: John Kappelman/University of Texas at Austin
The ancient human ancestor known as Lucy may have met her death more than 3m years ago when she tumbled out of a tree and crashed to the woodland floor, a team of US researchers claim.
A fresh analysis of the “grandmother of humanity” points out a number of cracks in the fossil bones that the scientists say match traumatic fractures seen in humans who suffer serious injuries from high falls on to hard ground.
“The consistency of the pattern of fractures with what we see in fall victims leads us to propose that it was a fall that was responsible for Lucy’s death,” said John Kappelman, an anthropologist who led the study at the University of Texas in Austin. “I think the injuries were so severe that she probably died very rapidly after the fall.”
A hypothetical scenario for Lucy’s fall out of a tall tree and the subsequent vertical deceleration based on the patterning of bone fractures. The first segment depicts about the last half of the fall from 7.4 m with a real time duration of 0.45 seconds. The second segment shows a close-up of the last 2.2 m of the fall. The third segment shows as low-motion (about 1/5 speed) close-up of the last 1.7 m of the fall. The last frame illustrates the fractures. Credit: John Kappelman, University of Texas at Austin
But the claims, published in the prestigious journal Nature, were roundly dismissed by scientists who spoke to the Guardian. They point out that a lot can happen to a skeleton in 3.2m years. Lucy’s body may have been trampled by stampeding beasts before sediment covered the bones and gradually encased them in rock.
“There is a myriad of explanations for bone breakage,” said Donald Johanson at Arizona State University, who discovered Lucy more than 40 years ago in the Afar region of Ethiopia. “The suggestion that she fell out of a tree is largely a “just-so story” that is neither verifiable nor falsifiable, and therefore unprovable.”
Tim White, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California in Berkeley, said the cracks were no more than routine fossil damage. “If paleontologists were to apply the same logic and assertion to the many mammals whose fossilised bones have been distorted by geological forces, we would have everything from gazelles to hippos, rhinos, and elephants climbing and falling from high trees,” he said.
Lucy was discovered in 1974 when Johanson and his student, Tom Gray, were searching for ancient animal bones on the parched terrain near the village of Hadar in northern Ethiopia. The chance finding of a piece of arm bone led them to uncover more remains of an ape-like animal. Eventually, they gathered about 40% of the skeleton.
That evening as the team celebrated at camp the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds came on providing the scientists with a name for their discovery. The species, Australopithecus afarensis, meaning “southern Ape from Afar”, walked upright, but had long, strong arms and curved fingers, making Lucy more adept at life in the trees than modern humans.
Kappelman became intrigued by some of the cracks in Lucy’s bones after examining high resolution x-ray scans of the fossils. The cracks had been described before and put down to natural processes such as erosion and fossilisation. But Kappelman thought there might be another explanation.
Working with Stephen Pearce, an orthopaedic surgeon, the scientists identified cracks in more than a dozen bones, ranging from the skull and spine to the ankles, shins, knees and pelvis, which look like compressive fractures sustained in a fall. One injury to the right shoulder matches the kind of fracture seen when people instinctively put their arms out to save themselves, the scientists believe. Kappelman calls it “a unique signature” for a fall and evidence that the individual was conscious at the time.

3D printouts of Lucy’s right humerus reconstructed
3D printouts of Lucy’s right humerus reconstructed Photograph: John Kappelman/University of Texas at Austin
From the scientists’ calculations, Lucy, who weighed less than 30kg, could have suffered similar injuries in a fall from about 15 metres. If Australopithecus afarensis climbed trees to nest, the animals could have spent hours a day at this or even greater heights. “We know that chimps fall out of trees and often it’s because they step on a branch that turns out to be rotten, and boom, down they come,” said Kappelman.
“Based on clinical literature these are severe trauma events. We have not been able to come up with a reasonable way that these could be fractured postmortem with the bones lying on the surface or even if the dead body was being trampled on. If somebody is trampled on the bone breaks in a different way. It doesn’t break compressively,” said Kappelman.
But Johanson is not impressed. The cracks on Lucy’s bones are similar to the damage seen on other early human and ancient mammal fossils throughout Africa and the rest of the world, he said. “We don’t know how long the fossilisation process takes, but the enormous set of forces placed on the bones during the build up of sediments covering the bones is a significant factor in promoting damage and breakage,” he added.
One of White’s major complaints is that the scientists fail to prove beyond doubt that the cracks in Lucy’s bones occurred around the time of death. “Such defects created by natural geological forces of sediment pressure and mineral growth are very common in fossil assemblages. They often confuse clinicians and amateurs who imagine them to have happened around the time of death,” White said. “Every single element of the Lucy fossil has cracks. The authors cherry pick the ones that they imagine to be evidence of a fall from a tree, leaving the others unexplained and unexamined.”
Kappelman concedes that we can never know for sure what happened. “None of us were there. We didn’t see Lucy die,” he said. “Thinking about testing this idea, it’s hard to get someone to fall out of a tree, but we have tests going on every single day in every emergency room on planet Earth when people walk in with fractures from falls,” he said.
In pondering Lucy’s death, she came back to life, Kappelman added. For the first time she became a living, breathing individual, because I could understand what I propose to be her death. We have all fallen down. For an instant in time you can identify with her and imagine exactly what this individual, who lived over 3m years ago, was doing at that instant.”

Timor Leste urges Australia 'not to turn its back on law' over maritime boundary

Extract from The Guardian

Australia brought before permanent court of arbitration in the Hague after refusal to negotiate with northern neighbour over long-running dispute

Oil and gas rig north-west shelf
The legal action centres on a disputed maritime boundary between Timor Leste and Australia, where an estimated $40bn worth of oil and gas lies beneath the sea. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Timor-Leste has urged Australia not to “turn its back on the law” and to negotiate over the Timor Sea maritime boundary, but Australia has claimed the commission it has been brought before has no jurisdiction to hear the matter and said that any decision it makes will be not be binding on Australia.
Australia has been forced to appear before a commission of the permanent court of arbitration in the Hague – the first time any country has been brought before the court for “compulsory conciliation” – by Timor Leste after its consistent refusal to negotiate a permanent maritime boundary, and revelations Australian agents spied on Timor-Leste’s government during earlier treaty talks.
The long-running dispute centres upon the maritime boundary between Timor-Leste and Australia, most pointedly over control of the area where an estimated $40bn worth of oil and gas lies beneath the sea.
Timor-Leste argues the maritime boundary between it and Australia should be a median line equidistant between the two countries, putting the vast majority of the exploitable area in its territory. This position is supported by international law, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which Australia signed and ratified in 1994.
But Australia says a 2006 temporary revenue sharing agreement (known as CMATS) that divides the revenues –significantly in Timor-Leste’s favour, it argues – is valid, and should be honoured.
Timor-Leste argues that treaty should be scrapped because, six years after it was signed, it was revealed Australia had bugged the Timor-Leste government’s cabinet room, with listening devices implanted by Australian Security Intelligence Service (Asis) agents pretending to be aid workers renovating the office.
Xanana Gusmão, the freedom fighter who became Timor-Leste’s first elected president and then its prime minister, led his country’s delegation at the Hague overnight Australian time.
He said he had, in his various roles “tried to persuade consecutive Australian governments to sit down as friends and negotiate”.
“But Australia turns its back on the law,” he told the court.
Gusmão said Timor-Leste’s early years of independence were marked by vulnerability and poverty, and that this was exploited in negotiations. “Our land was scorched, our people were killed ... we had no money, forcing us to beg”.
“We were not aware at the time, that under the cover of an Australian aid program, Australia installed listening devices in the East Timorese cabinet offices. When this came to light, we were shocked and appalled.”
Gusmao said Timor-Leste remained willing to negotiate and that he only wanted an arbitration in line with international law, which, he said, was clear.
“We have not come to the Hague to ask for favours or for special treatment. We have come to seek our rights under international law.”
“The maritime law between two countries should stand at halfway between them.”
Gusmao said Timor-Leste was a young country, and a developing nation, but that it understood, and would insist upon, recognition of its rights.
“We will not rest until we have our sovereign rights over land and sea.”
Australia’s solicitor general, Justin Gleeson, told the commission that the current treaty – CMATS – provide a stable platform for the development and exploitation of the area to the benefit of both nations.
“The treaties are reasonable and they are right and they should be respected,” he said.
“Australia would reject any assertion that the treaties were one-sided or conducted ... under duress.”
Prior to the conciliation beginning, the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, and the attorney general, George Brandis, issued a joint statement saying they did not believe the commission could adjudicate on the matter because the 2006 treaty was in effect.
“In line with our pre-existing, legally binding treaties, which are in full accordance with international law, we will argue that the commission does not have jurisdiction to conduct hearings on maritime boundaries,” they said.
Brandis and Bishop said Australia would abide by the commission’s finding as to whether it has jurisdiction to hear matters on maritime boundaries, but “if the commission ultimately finds that it does have jurisdiction to hear matters on maritime boundaries, then its final report on that matter is not binding”.
“Our statement reaffirms our principled commitment to upholding existing treaty obligations with Timor-Leste. These have benefited both our countries, and enabled Timor-Leste to accumulate a Petroleum Fund worth more than $16bn, more than eight times its annual GDP.”
The dispute over the Timor Sea – more specifically the wealth that lies under it – has pre-empted and then shadowed all of the short and chequered history between the independent Timor-Leste and Australia.
In 1975, Portugal, as part of a broader global movement towards decolonisation, granted independence to Timor-Leste. Nine days later, the newly-free nation was invaded by Indonesia’s military in breach of international law, and to widespread international condemnation.
In 1979, Australia became the only Western nation to offer de jure recognition of Indonesia’s forced annexation, so that the two countries could begin negotiations over the Timor Sea’s resources.
The Timor Gap treaty was signed – then foreign ministers Gareth Evans and Ali Alatas famously clinking champagne glasses in a plane above the Timor Sea – between Australia and Indonesia in 1989. That treaty did not establish a maritime boundary, but provided for shared exploitation of petroleum resources in the part of the Timor Sea seabed claimed jointly by both countries.
Australia was Timor-Leste’s saviour in 1999, leading the Interfet force which restored order in the country following the vote for independence and retribution by pro-Indonesia militias.
However in 2002, just two months before Timor-Leste became independent, Australia secretly withdrew from the maritime boundary dispute resolution procedures of UNCLOS, and the equivalent jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, so that it could not be compelled into legally-binding international arbitration. (Parliament was only told after the withdrawal had occurred).
Timor-Leste’s first treaty – the Timor Sea Treaty – signed in 2002, gave a 90-10 split, in Timor-Leste’s favour, of revenues from a joint development zone in the Timor Sea.
A second treaty, Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea, known as CMATS, was signed in 2006, in which both sides agreed to impose a 50-year moratorium on negotiating a permanent maritime border. CMATS gives Timor-Leste 90% of the current oil revenues from the joint petroleum development area, and Australia 10%, but a further treaty (Sunrise IUA) gives Timor-Leste only limited claim over future exploitation of the larger Greater Sunrise field.
It was during the negotiations over CMATS that Australia bugged Timor-Leste’s cabinet room. Australia has not admitted to the espionage, though it did raid the Canberra offices of Timor-Leste’s lawyer Bernard Collaery, and seized the passport of the intelligence agent who blew the whistle on the spying operation.
Timor-Leste say the spying voids the treaty, which, it argues, was not negotiated in good faith.