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Popular push for Austrian smoking ban gathers pace
20 February 2018 - More than 200,000 Austrians have signed a petition calling for a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, campaign organizers said . . . Under the current system, parliament must hold a debate on any issue that draws 100,000 signatures. The rush to sign has been so great that there have been queues at local government offices and the Interior Ministry's computer system that manages online signatures has frequently collapsed. (more)

US: Court upholds Arkansas' ban on Monsanto farm chemical
20 February 2018 - An Arkansas judge on Friday (16 February) dismissed a Monsanto Co lawsuit aiming to stop Arkansas from blocking the use of a controversial farm chemical the company makes, dealing a blow to its attempts to increase sales of genetically engineered seeds. Monsanto, which is being acquired by Bayer AG, filed the lawsuit last year in a bid to halt the state's ban on sprayings of the weed killer known as dicamba from the period spanning April 16 to October 31. (more)

Togo charity wins award for improving access to safe drinking water
19 February 2018 - An African charity that improved access to drinking water and sanitation and reduced the chance of cholera deaths in a village in Togo was on Monday (19 February) awarded the Kyoto World Water Grand Prize. The award is granted every three years for outstanding grassroots projects to solve water issues in developing nations. (more)

'Migrant TripAdvisor' app helps new arrivals navigate Italy
19 February 2018 - A new smartphone app aims to help migrants in Italy find hospitals, schools, and police stations at the press of a button -- and quickly seek help ... More than 600,000 migrants have reached Italy from North Africa in the last four years, many fleeing war and poverty. Many migrants struggle to adapt when they arrive, said Oliviero Forti of aid group Caritas, which developed the app. 'They need a travel companion,' he said, adding that migrants tend to arrive with nothing apart from a phone. The app is available in four languages -- English, Italian, French, and Arabic -- and has been downloaded more than 500 times since it was launched earlier this month, Forti said. (more)

Unilever lays bare palm oil supply chain in rare industry move
19 February 2018 - Consumer goods giant Unilever said on Friday (16 February) it had laid bare its entire palm oil supply chain, including all the suppliers and mills it sources from, to boost transparency in a rare industry move. Unilever said it was the first consumers goods company to publish such details, having disclosed the location of more than 1,400 mills and over 300 direct suppliers of the oil used in products from snacks and soaps to cosmetics and biofuels. Marc Engel, Unilever's chief supply chain officer, said the company hoped sharing the information would be the start of a new industry-wide movement towards supply chain transparency. (more)

New antibiotic family discovered in dirt
18 February 2018 - US scientists have discovered a new family of antibiotics in soil samples. The natural compounds could be used to combat hard-to-treat infections, the team at Rockefeller University hopes. Tests show the compounds, called malacidins, annihilate several bacterial diseases that have become resistant to most existing antibiotics, including the superbug MRSA. Soil is teeming with millions of different micro-organisms that produce lots of potentially therapeutic compounds, including new antibiotics. (more)

The country breeding a generation of chess whizz kids
18 February 2018 - Since 2011, all children in Armenia from six to eight years old have compulsory chess lessons. It's the first country in the world to include it on the national curriculum. Armenia now has more than 3,000 qualified trained chess teachers in its schools. Many other countries want to follow suit, according to Smbat Lputian, president of the Armenian Chess Academy. He tells me excitedly about a new chess scientific research institute, due to open in Yerevan (Armenia's capital) later this year, where scientists and psychologists will research the impact of chess in the learning process. (more)

UK air pollutants continue decline
18 February 2018 - Total emissions from motor vehicles fell 12 per cent from 2012 to 2016, according to UK government figures. Environmentalists have welcomed the overall drop in pollutants from cars and lorries (trucks). The reduction is thought to have been propelled by tightening restrictions. The one emission going in the wrong direction is ammonia from farming. (more)

UK unveils new technology to fight extremist content online
18 February 2018 - The British government is unveiling new technology designed to remove extremist material from social media, amid mounting pressure on companies like Facebook and Twitter to do more to remove such content from their platforms. ... Unilever, a global consumer products company and one of the world's largest advertisers, on Monday (12 February) demanded results, saying it wouldn't advertise on platforms that do not make a positive contribution to society. ... (more)

US: Hot major on campus? At schools big and small, it's computer science
18 February 2018 - Leah Brumgard majors in studio art at Swarthmore College, Jeff Novak in math, and William Colgan in biology. But all three have a second major: Computer science. Computer science has become the second most popular major on the 1,620-student campus , behind economics. It's a far shift from as recently as 2010, when there were fewer than a dozen computer-science graduates. Across the country, the number of computer science majors at doctoral institutions has more than tripled in the last decade. It's much hotter than it was during the dot-com blitz in the late 1990s, according to the national Computing Research Association. (more)

AP Photos: People in Asia and beyond welcome Lunar New Year
16 February 2018 - People in Asia and around the world are celebrating the Lunar New Year on Friday with festivals, parades and temple visits to ask for blessings. This year marks the year of the dog, one of the 12 animals in the Chinese astrological chart. People in Beijing celebrated with family feasts and visits to bustling temple fairs amid the mid-winter chill. Ethnic Chinese and others around the world also marked the holiday with celebrations. (more)

Renault opens its first electric-vehicle-only showroom, in Sweden
16 February 2018 - Today (16 February) , Renault will open its first electric-car-only showroom ... The 'Renault Electric Vehicle Experience Center' will open in Stockholm, in one of the Swedish capital's largest shopping centers, known as Taby Centrum. Different zones within the space display the cars themselves and educate visitors on charging stations and how public charging works. They also provide information both on local subsidies and financial incentives and the various ways drivers can purchase, lease, or pay for EVs and related services. Outside, visitors can test-drive Renault's range of battery-electric vehicles ... (more)

US: Generation Z will demand more organic, better-for-you and globally-inspired food and beverage, Acosta says
15 February 2018 - For the first time, Generation Z is emerging as an influencer in grocery spending and early indications suggests that they will favor more organic, healthy products as well as authentic and multicultural offerings, according to new research from Acosta. (more)

Laser scanning reveals 'lost' ancient Mexican city 'had as many buildings as Manhattan'
15 February 2018 - Archaeology might evoke thoughts of intrepid explorers and painstaking digging, but in fact researchers say it is a high-tech laser mapping technique that is rewriting the textbooks at an unprecedented rate. The approach, known as light detection and ranging scanning (lidar) involves directing a rapid succession of laser pulses at the ground from an aircraft. Now, researchers have used the technique to reveal the full extent of an ancient city in western Mexico, about a half an hour's drive from Morelia, built by rivals to the Aztecs. (more)

Afghan province declared landmine-free after 10-year clearance drive
15 February 2018 - Afghanistan's deadliest province for landmines has been declared free of the explosive devices after a decade-long clearance effort, the demining group HALO Trust said on Thursday (15 February). HALO spokesman Paul McCann said nearly 80 percent of the country's minefields had been cleared in the past three decades. (more)

US: EVgo, Chargepoint annual reports show growth in electric-car charging
15 February 2018 - Usage of public charging stations rises every year in the U.S. Recent summaries of 2017 activity by two large charging networks, ChargePoint and EVgo, show healthy growth in use of their stations as they add more sites and customers. Adding more than 1,000 new charging locations each month, ChargePoint entered 2018 with more than 45,000 charging locations . . . Similarly, EVgo CEO Cathy Zoi called 2017 'an extremely successful year' for the network in a press release. (more)

Portugal tourist arrivals spike 12 percent to new record in 2017
14 February 2018 - The number of foreign tourists visiting Portugal rose nearly 12 percent last year to a record 12.7 million people, contributing to the once-bailed out country's strongest economic growth since 2000, official data showed on Wednesday (14 February). The tourism sector is also a key source of employment and big component of exports of services. Preliminary data ... also showed that total hotel revenues in the Atlantic coast country, including domestic tourism, soared nearly 17 percent to 3.4 billion euros ($4.20 billion). (more)

Traditional music returns in Syria's war torn Aleppo
14 February 2018 - Traditional musicians in Syria's Aleppo say their art is flourishing again 13 months after fighting in the city ended, as new students learn the techniques of 'Qoudud' singing. At the National Choral Institute in Aleppo, singing coach Ahmed Kedah said he has between 30 and 50 pupils, including both school children and university students. The Qoudud style has a long history in Aleppo and is famous across Syria. (more)

German cities to trial free public transport to cut pollution
13 February 2018 - 'Car nation' Germany has surprised neighbours with a radical proposal to reduce road traffic by making public transport free, as Berlin scrambles to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines. The proposal will be tested by 'the end of this year at the latest' in five cities across western Germany, including former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim. (more)

Millions in China journey home for Lunar New Year
13 February 2018 - Millions in China were boarding trains, planes, and automobiles Wednesday (14 February)as the Lunar New Year travel rush, the world's largest seasonal human migration, reached its climax. China's most important festival falls on Friday and people were traveling to either return to their hometowns or flock to vacation destinations. (more)

How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets
13 February 2018 - Copenhagen consistently sits at the very top of the UN's happiness index and is one of the star performers in the Healthy Cities initiative of the World Health Organization. It is a model for how healthy cities might be created across the world. Promoting health in everyday life is first, says the city's plan, 'by making it attractive to cycle, by serving nutritious lunches in our institutions, or by enabling educational institutions to offer quit-smoking programmes. Healthy thriving people are ... more likely to complete an education and find employment. In other words, health enables us to live the life we want.' (more)

The good news is ... people like to read good news
12 February 2018 - A strange thing happens when you write about something going right. People take notice. They read to the end. They share it with their friends. ... Eighteen months ago, the Guardian launched a pilot project to see how readers would respond if we deliberately sought out the good things happening in the world. More than 150 pieces of journalism later ... we have proof of concept. (more)

Australia's solar power boom could almost double capacity in a year, analysts say
11 February 2018 - A record-breaking month of rooftop installations and a flood of large-scale solar farms could almost double Australia's solar power capacity in a single year, industry analysts say. A massive solar energy boom is being predicted for 2018, after an unprecedented number of industrial solar farms were approved by the New South Wales and Queensland governments last year. (more)

Plant-based and organic diets have significant benefits for the environment, study confirms
9 February 2018 - New research is the first to examine the environmental effects of both diet and farm production systems. A landmark new study has provided the strongest evidence yet that a predominantly plant-based diet has less environmental impact than one that is high in animal products. In addition, the research indicated that organic food was also beneficial for the planet, but only for those who consume a plant-based diet. (more)

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