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Puerto Rico officials struggle to translate Zika virus fears into action

A quarter of the population may have the disease by the end of mosquito season, but efforts to control it have been thwarted by apathy and misinformation

Every time it rains in San Juan, Dr Brenda Rivera-García walks around her home emptying containers of standing water, probably wearing long sleeves, and almost certainly wearing mosquito repellent. Rivera-García is the state epidemiologist in Puerto Rico, a woman tasked with tracking every single Zika-infected pregnant woman in the US territory.

Less than two weeks after the US health and human services administration declared the spread of Zika on the island an epidemic, Rivera-García said it’s not frustration or anger that overtakes her when she adds a new woman’s name to a list of roughly 700 confirmed to be infected with the disease.

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Source: Guardian Environment

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Sunrise to sunset: stunning timelapse video of America's national parks

In honor of the National Park Service’s centennial this week, the Guardian has compiled scenes from around the country. President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service 100 years ago. From coast to coast, Hawaii to Maine, the beauty, nature and scope of US national parks are breathtaking

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Source: Guardian Environment

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The political crusades targeting national parks for drilling and exploitation

Hailed as ‘America’s best idea’, the parks are hugely popular with the public but face political efforts to lift federal protection and allow private development

“It’s easy to feel besieged here,” said Wendy Ross, superintendent of the Theodore Roosevelt national park. Ross’s park, named after the “conservationist president” who helped to keep America’s natural treasures unspoiled, is surrounded by oil and gas drilling that has transformed the landscape.

Related: 100 years of America’s national parks – in pictures

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Source: Guardian Environment

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Share your encounters with elephants

As part of a new series on elephant conservation we’d like to hear about your experiences with the world’s largest land mammal

Over the next year we’re going to be covering the plight of elephants around the world. The numbers of these beautiful animals – now our largest land mammal – have been in steep decline for a century and now face more serious challenges than ever, due to poaching, habitat destruction, and conflict with man.

Please help with our coverage by getting in touch and telling us your own stories, encounters and campaigns. Are you a wildlife campaigner in Asia? A grassroots activist in Africa? Whoever you are, we want to hear from you about your own encounters with elephants.

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Source: Guardian Environment

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Badger cull protesters change tactics in response to expansion

Demonstrators focus on driving up policing costs as anti-bovine TB programme is expanded across south-west England

Protesters against the badger cull in England have said they plan to change tactics by undertaking direct action to drive up policing costs, after reports of an expansion of culling to new areas.

The BBC has reported that the cull will be extended to five new areas in south-west England – south Devon, north Devon, north Cornwall, west Dorset and south Herefordshire – where badger shooting will begin in early September as part of government efforts to eradicate bovine TB.

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Source: Guardian Environment

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Why Google is using machine learning to optimise its data centres

When Google acquired British Artificial Intelligence (AI) company DeepMind for over $500 million in 2014, it was part of a wave of increasing hype about the potential of machine learning to transform societies and economies worldwide. Two years later and commercial opportunities for DeepMind and AI tech are beginning to be explored more.

Beating humans at notoriously complex board games and within hospitals on healthcare projects has ensured that DeepMind remains in the headlines, but in terms of commercial value, the technology’s full potential is still relatively unexplored.

However, Google has announced that it has now unlocked one of those initial possibilities applying an AI system to control energy use in parts of its data centres. Power consumption is typically extremely high in data centres, where large electrical servers are prevented from overheating by a network of cooling units. During a testing phase in the first part of 2016, Google reportedly achieved a 40% reduction in energy use at its data centres through employing DeepMind to optimise consumption.

The reduction was achieved by training the self-learning algorithms to predict heat patterns within data centres, meaning that the buildings didn’t need to provide any more cooling than necessary.

Extrapolated out globally and the impact of applying this technology could be significant for Google. Its data centres are found worldwide, each containing over 10,o00 servers, which power services like Search, Gmail and Youtube.

It is still very early days for the commercial applications of machine learning, and reducing energy use is unlikely to be the most ambitious or inspiring example. However, Google’s recent announcement seems to confirm the general perception that machine learning is a technology that could have a significant impact across a range of different business, societal and economic activities.

Source: Google harnesses the power of AI to cut energy use

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Sea Shepherd will keep harassing Japanese whaling boats despite US court ruling

Conservation group says it is committed to upholding Australian federal court ruling banning the slaughter of whales in the Australian sanctuary

A United States court ruling preventing conservationists from attacking Japanese whaling boats will not stop the annual protection campaign in the Southern Ocean.

The Japanese Times newspaper reported on Tuesday that a settlement declaring the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was “permanently enjoined from physically attacking the [Japanese] research vessels and crew and from navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger their safe navigation”.

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Source: Guardian Environment

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The deaths on the British coastline are a reminder of the sea’s awful power | Philip Hoare

Fear of the water is ingrained in many, but our connection with nature also appears to be ebbing away

As the summer slips towards its close with the triumph of our aquatic athletes in Rio, there is a terrible contrast in the fate of six lost souls around the British coast this past weekend. On the one hand, absolute control and exultation in what a human body can achieve in the water; on the other, the appalling tragedy that can result when we lose control – all the more awful because it can happen so quickly – in the act of having fun.

I never learned to swim until I was in my late 20s. Despite being born and brought up in a city by the sea, I feared it, and its power. I know many people share that trauma: pretending you’ve got a cold when everyone else goes to the swimming baths. Yet even Adam Peaty, who proved himself to be one of the fastest swimmers on earth when he won his gold medal, was scared witless of the water as a boy. That tension stays with us, in our relationship to the water.

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Source: Guardian Environment

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Timing of NT government's secret deal with Tri-Star coal company queried

One day before Northern Territory government went into caretaker mode for Saturday’s election it arranged for Texas company to potentially extend its explorations licence

A day before the Northern Territory government went into caretaker mode, it secretly arranged for a Texas-based coal company to potentially extend its explorations licence over 15,000 sq km in central Australia.

The arrangement, under a rarely used mechanism which allows legislative requirements including public submissions to be bypassed, was the result of more than 18 months’ work, the Australian reported.

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Source: Guardian Environment

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Fear of the light: why we need darkness | Amanda Petrusich

Light pollution conceals true darkness from 80% of Europe and North America. What do we lose when we can no longer see the stars?

Every civilisation we know of has devised a system – scientific, religious, what have you – to make sense of the night sky. The mystery of what’s up there, where it came from, and what it means has been inherited and puzzled over for generations. Those questions may be the most human ones we have.

Due to pervasive light pollution – glare from excessive, misaimed and unshielded night lighting – 80% of Europe and North America no longer experiences real darkness. For anyone living near a major metropolis, a satellite image of the Milky Way seems abstract: we understand it to be a document of something true, but our understanding is purely theoretical. In 1994, after a predawn earthquake cut power to most of Los Angeles, the Griffith Observatory received phone calls from spooked residents asking about “the strange sky”. What those callers were seeing were stars.

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Source: Guardian Environment

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