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California lawmakers propose ban on fracking by 2027

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California lawmakers propose ban on fracking by 2027

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — New legislation would ban all fracking in California by 2027, taking aim at the powerful oil and gas industry in the state already planning to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035.

Progressive California has long been a leader in combating climate change, requiring solar panels on new homes and passing a law to make the nation’s most populated state rely entirely on renewable energy by 2045.

But environmental groups say California officials — particularly governors — have long had a blind spot for the oil and gas industry, which has wielded its immense political power many times to kill or weaken legislation aimed at curtailing production.

That could be changing. Last year, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced steps to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars and called on lawmakers to go further by banning new permits for fracking, a technique to extract oil and gas embedded in rock deep beneath the surface that climate groups say harms the environment and threatens public health.

Two state senators answered that call Wednesday, announcing a measure that would halt new fracking permits or renewals by Jan. 1 and ban the practice altogether by 2027. Democratic state Sens. Scott Wiener of San Francisco and Monique Limon of Santa Barbara also say they will change the bill next month to halt new oil and gas permits within 2,500 feet (762 meters) of homes or schools by Jan. 1.

“This is real. It is harming so many people, and the time to deal with it in the future is over. We need to deal with it now,” Wiener said.

The oil and gas industry quickly pushed back. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president and CEO of the Western States Petroleum Association, said the legislation was “so broad and ambiguous” it would “lead to a total (oil) production ban in California.”

Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, called the measure “legally questionable.”

“Shutting down energy production under the toughest regulations on the planet will devastate the economies of oil-producing regions,” Zierman said.

Newsom, speaking at an unrelated news conference in the Coachella Valley, said he had not read the proposal yet and was “unable to comment on it.”

California was among the top oil-producing states in the country, reaching a peak of 394 million barrels in 1985. But by 2017, production had dropped significantly, and it now ranks behind Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and Alaska, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Part of the reason is the industry has exhausted much of California’s easily extractable oil reserves. What’s left is embedded deep in rock underground that requires immense energy to extract. That includes using processes like fracking, cyclic steaming, acid well stimulation and water and steam flooding to separate the oil from the rock — all processes that would be banned by 2027 under the new legislation.

“It’s some of the dirtiest oil in the world,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.

Environmental groups say those methods can cause significant harm to air quality and water supplies. Research published this month by a team at Harvard University estimated that 8.7 million people worldwide died prematurely from fossil fuel pollution in 2018, including 34,000 people in California, the Desert Sun in Palm Springs reported.

“We must stop doing what we know causes death and disease,” said Dr. Karina Maher, a pediatrician in Los Angeles who works with the advocacy group Climate Health Now.

But critics say halting the state’s oil production won’t stop the state’s reliance on oil because millions of people still drive gas-powered cars. State Sen. Shannon Grove, a Republican whose district includes parts of Kern County, said that if the bill becomes law, it would force the state to “rely on foreign countries with dismal human rights records that barely let women drive and have little to no regard for the environment.”

Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong, who also represents Kern County, said California produces oil “in the most environmentally responsible way.”

“At a time like now, when we need to be revitalizing our economy, I don’t quite understand why we would be pushing legislation that eliminates jobs in our state,” he said.

California has more than 5,500 oil wells that have likely been abandoned and could cost more than half a billion dollars to clean up, according to an assessment by the California Council on Science and Technology. For companies that eventually do that work, the legislation would require the state to offer them undefined “incentives” to hire laid-off oil and gas workers.

Wiener says it makes sense to start preparing for the eventual decline of the oil and gas industry and try to avoid the fate of the coal industry, whose decline has devastated communities in the Appalachian region.

“It’s a declining industry. And instead of waiting for it to eventually decline and fall apart, let’s get ahead of it, facilitate the phasing out and help the workers,” Wiener said.

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New poll shows 50% drop in fear of dying from COVID-19

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New poll shows 50% drop in fear of dying from COVID-19

Americans are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey.

The national Harris Poll conducted over the weekend found a significant uptick in positive sentiment about the pandemic — and a drop in fears of the virus.

“The last year has certainly been difficult for many Americans and their families, but in the face of all the hardships and social distancing efforts, many have remained optimistic and resilient when it comes to their mental health,” John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll, said in a statement.

More than half, or 52 percent, of the 2,000 adults surveyed said they are not afraid of dying as a result of catching COVID-19, the highest mark since July 2020.

For most of the year, the number of people who said they were frightened of being killed by the virus outnumbered the alternative.

More than 516,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, but both deaths and cases have recently been on the decline.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20 percent of the adult population is now vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The poll found a 15 percent increase in how many Americans approve of how the COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed.

About 66 percent gave the nation’s inoculation efforts the thumbs up, compared to 51 percent just one month ago.

The findings came as President Biden on Tuesday said the US will have enough vaccines for every US adult by the end of May, two months earlier than previously anticipated.

Despite the stepped-up pace of vaccine production, the massive effort to get every American jabbed could extend well into the summer, officials said.

Biden said he hoped that the nation would be back to normal sometime before “this time next year.”

Still, when asked if they currently think there is light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic, nearly 6 in 10 respondents said yes, according to the poll.

They were also more optimistic about the effects of the pandemic, with 66 percent overall saying their mental health has been affected in a positive way.

About 30 percent of those respondents said they’ve found more things to be grateful for during the crisis; 28 percent said they’ve taken more “me time” to do things for themselves; and 25 percent said they’ve been praying more.

“While Americans remain vigilant over the pandemic,” Gerzema said, “it is an encouraging sign to see greater acceptance of the vaccine, a belief that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and a declining sentiment in fear of dying from the virus.”

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Deep Nostalgia tool animates photos with creepy results

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Deep Nostalgia tool animates photos with creepy results

This technology was built in the name of nostalgia but is being used in the name of nonsense.

Late last month, genealogy website MyHeritage announced a new tool for animating photos called “Deep Nostalgia.” But while the tech was intended to let users “bring beloved ancestors back to life” and “experience your family history like never before,” many internet denizens have been finding other far less wholesome applications for it. 

“So I wanted to know how the recent #DeepLearning facial animations services do with busts and decided to give that botched Christiano Ronaldo statue a spin,” one Twitter user captioned a “#DeeplyDisturbed” video created with the MyHeritage software to show the bronze bust uncannily moving about. 

An animated version of the Mona Lisa is less disturbing, but still unsettling. 

“Since that #DeepNostalgia thing is gaining popularity, I found something that #InternetNeverForgets,” tweeted another user who experimented with the software to animate Beyoncé’s face mid-performance. 

“Frederick Douglass, the mighty abolitionist, was the single most photographed person in the United States during the nineteenth century. Here’s how he might’ve looked in motion. Brace yourself and press play,” tweeted a user who decided to use the tool for something closer to its intended purpose. 

MyHeritage is aware that the tool — created using tech developed by deep-learning company D-ID — could thrust photos deep into weird territory.

“Some people love the Deep Nostalgia™ feature and consider it magical, while others find it creepy and dislike it,” the company wrote in Deep Nostalgia’s FAQ section. “Indeed, the results can be controversial and it’s hard to stay indifferent to this technology.” 

With that in mind, MyHeritage invites users to “please use this feature on your own historical photos and not on photos featuring living people without their permission.” As well, the ability to include speech in the videos has purposefully not been included in order to “prevent abuse.” 

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Benefits of microdosing LSD are purely placebo: study

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Benefits of microdosing LSD are purely placebo: study

The positive impacts of microdosing hallucinogens may be no more than a hallucination, researchers have found.

Microdosing — or the practice of regularly using low doses of psychedelic drugs including LSD and psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms — has become a relatively mainstream practice thanks to its trendiness in Silicon Valley, where CEOs, including Steve Jobs, have endorsed it as a productivity hack. A new study, however, has found that the purported benefits of taking a very small amount of hallucinogenics daily may in fact be more placebo than reality. 

In findings published Tuesday in the scientific journal eLife, researchers with the Imperial College London reported that their study of 191 participants — the largest placebo-controlled trial on psychedelics to date — found that “anecdotal benefits of microdosing can be explained by the placebo effect.” 

Researchers virtually guided study participants — all of whom were already regularly microdosing — through the process of preparing themselves four week’s worth of envelopes containing either a placebo gel capsule or one with a low LSD dose, each envelope bearing a QR code they logged following consumption. 

At the end of the trial period, researchers found that participants reported an improvement in psychological well being across the board, whether they were taking actual acid or placebos. 

“All psychological outcomes improved significantly from baseline to after the four weeks long dose period for the microdose group; however, the placebo group also improved and no significant between-groups differences were observed,” the scientists wrote. 

The report is full of numerous concessions regarding the the study’s weaknesses, including that it had a small participant pool and was performed by citizens, who were not in a clinical setting. 

Still, the citizen-science approach was vital as “restrictive drug policies make placebo-controlled studies on psychedelics difficult and expensive, in particular for microdosing, which involves taking psychedelics over a longer time period.” Unaffiliated scientists agree that the findings should be respected.

“This suggests that the perceived beneficial effects of microdosing psychedelics in this group are more likely to be a result of positive expectation than the capacity of the drug to induce a beneficial effect,” scientist James Rucker told the Guardian of the findings.  

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