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Menopausal Mother Nature

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Astraphobia is a fear of thunder and lightning

Astraphobia: Old buildings of Valencia below lightning streak out across the sky.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Miguel Sala in Valencia, Spain, captured this image on November 1, 2022. Miguel wrote: “Strong electrical storm in the Mediterranean Sea, but visible even from the center of the city of Valencia.” Thank you, Miguel! Below we discuss astraphobia, the fear of lightning and thunder.

Thunderstorms are unpredictable. They can sometimes intensify fast and produce damaging winds, cloud-to-ground lightning that comes crashing downward, tornadoes, or perhaps flooding. Some people are terrified by loud thunder and lightning, especially at night. It’s the unknown that scares people … and pets. If you fear lightning and thunder, as many children, indoor pets and some adults do, then you (and they) have astraphobia.

The symptoms of astraphobia lists the following as symptoms of astraphobia. They are similar to those of any phobia:

overwhelming fear
anxiety and worry
tremors or shaking
shortness of breath
heart racing or palpitations
nausea or vomiting
chest pain

Additionally, astraphobia can cause someone to want company and reassurance during a storm. They may seek shelter beyond what’s necessary for a thunderstorm. Someone suffering from astraphobia may close the curtains and attempt to block out the sounds of the storm. Or they become obsessed with weather forecasts, wanting to be certain there are no storms near them. Astraphobia can even lead to agoraphobia, the fear of leaving your home.

The fear of storms in animals

According to the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association, thunder and lightning are some of the most common phobias experienced with dogs.

Behaviorists are not yet sure what part of the storm frightens dogs most, whether they’re reacting to lightning flashes, the sound of thunder, wind blowing around the house, or the sound of rain on the roof. Some dogs even start to pace and whine half an hour or more before a storm. They may be reacting to a sudden drop in air pressure or the electrical charge of the air.

City with tall buildings and lightning in the darkly clouded sky.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Vermont Coronel Jr. of Quezon City, Philippines, captured this image on May 31, 2023, and wrote: “Start of the rainy seasonal in the Philippines. Thunderstorms are very frequent every afternoon. When I saw the first flash, my reflex told me to press it, by then a second flash happened, and this third flash was the one recorded. Lightning during daytime is hard to capture unless you have sensors that trigger the shutter automatically.” Thank you, Vermont!
Many thin white parallel lines in dark sky above white clouds with lightning bolts reaching the ground below.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Mike Lewinski captured this image from Tres Piedras, New Mexico. Mike wrote: “This shows the progression of a storm across the Sangre de Cristo mountains from 10:15 to 11:15 p.m. on August 14, 2019. The full moon lit the foreground nicely.” Thank you, Mike!

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What is there to be scared of?

Most storms are harmless, even soothing to some, and nurturing to plants and wildlife. Thunder can’t hurt us, of course, but lightning strikes can be deadly. According to the CDC, about 28 people die from lightning per year in the U.S.

There are other weather related deaths. According to the National Weather Service (reported by CBS News), an average of 71 people die in the U.S. every year from tornadoes. And approximately 200 in the U.S. die annually due to flash flooding, according to

However, the deadliest weather phenomenon is heat waves. A recent study suggested that an average of 400 deaths occur annually due to heat in the U.S., with the highest death rates occurring in persons aged 65 years or more.

Still, lightning strikes are deadly, which is why you should go indoors when you hear thunder. The majority of lightning fatalities typically occur in the spring and summer, when there is ample unstable air to create strong updrafts and potent thunderstorms containing dangerous cloud-to-ground lightning.

What’s the treatment for astraphobia?

If your child or pet is afraid, soothe and snuggle them. Being held tightly seems to help some people. In a similar way, some people swear by thundershirts for dogs. But you don’t have to buy an expensive one. Any old tightly wrapped t-shirt for your pet might work just as well. If your child’s fear is severe, or lasts longer than six months, you might want to seek professional treatment so that a childhood fear of storms doesn’t become a full-blown phobia in adulthood.

Bottom line: If your heart starts to race when a thunderstorm comes near, and you want to hide from the thunder and lightning, you might have astraphobia.

In oil-rich New Mexico, officials restrict new drilling

Decisions by federal and state officials last week will limit where New Mexico’s powerful oil and gas industry is able to drill. 

On Friday, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced that the department will soon ban new oil and gas leases on more than 330,000 acres of public lands within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site of deep cultural importance to the region’s Pueblo and Tribal nations. 

The day before, the New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands instituted a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on state trust lands within one mile of schools, daycare centers, and sporting fields used by students. 

New Mexico is currently the second-largest crude oil-producing state in the country, and the seventh-largest for natural gas, cumulatively generating about $2 billion a year in revenue. Royalties, rental income, and tax revenue from fossil fuel operations account for as much as one-third of the state’s general fund, and finances about a third of the state’s education budget

The measures taken last week won’t significantly curb fossil fuel production in the state — the new restrictions impact relatively small portions of land — but they will partially reshape where it is done and with what amount of oversight. They also represent a win for the growing movement to limit the impacts of oil and gas on public and environmental health in New Mexico. Last month, for example, a coalition of Indigenous, youth, and environmental groups sued state lawmakers, officials, and the governor for “violating their state constitutional duty to control the rapidly growing pollution from the oil and gas industry.”

Chaco Canyon
There are more than 4,700 archaeological sites within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, according to the Department of the Interior. Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The withdrawal of lands around Chaco Canyon will apply to federal parcels and mineral estates and not to land owned by private, state, or tribal entities. It will ban new leases but still allow production from existing drill sites and on existing leases.

“Tribal communities have raised concerns about the impacts that new development would have on areas of deep cultural connection,” Haaland said in a statement, calling Chaco Canyon, “a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors have called this place home since time immemorial.” 

The area contains archaeological artifacts and cultural sites significant to the Pueblo and Tribal nations, including 4,700 known archaeological sites within the 10-mile radius outside the park. Some Chacoan structures date back thousands of years. 

While the department touted what it said were extensive efforts to gather community input, and the withdrawal does not apply to tribal mineral rights, the Navajo Nation issued an emailed statement denouncing the decision.

Nation members have their own land allotments in the area, which generate revenue through leasing. “The Biden administration has undermined the position of the Navajo Nation with today’s action and impacted the livelihood of thousands of Navajo allotment owners and their families,” said Navajo Nation Speaker Crystalyne Curley. The tribe could not be reached for additional comment.

At the state level, New Mexico Commissioner on Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard issued a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on trust lands near schools “and other educational institutions, including day care centers, preschools, and sports facilities used by students.”

State trust lands were granted by the federal government with the primary purpose of generating revenue for schools, according to the commission’s order, but Garcia Richard argues that the office maintains the right to withhold land tracts from leasing and that it is the responsibility of her department “to help ensure that communities are free from pollution and harmful effects of such activities.”

New Mexico oil drilling near school.
While existing drilling sites like this one would not be impacted by the rule, new leases with 1 mile of schools will be banned. New Mexico State Land Office

New Mexico state law does not currently mandate a minimum health setback for the siting of oil and gas wells, and Garcia Richard invited state lawmakers to take related action in response to her decision. 

“A moratorium on new oil and gas leasing near schools … will provide an opportunity to engage the Governor and the state agencies under her purview, state legislature, and other interested stakeholders regarding potential legislative and administrative options,” she said in the order.

While the moratorium only applies to new leases, it also orders a study on all current drilling activities on state trust lands to assess their compliance with regulations, “including the requirement to plug inactive wells, remediate spills, and adhere to relevant air quality standards.”

About 144,000 New Mexico residents live within one half-mile of oil and gas production in the state, according to research by Earthworks and FracTracker Alliance, nonprofit groups that work to curb fossil fuel extraction. And air quality in several of the state’s oil- and gas-producing counties fails to meet federal standards.

The new state-level regulations are “a first step to protecting our kids from oil and gas pollution, but it’s only on state land,” Gail Evans, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said in a statement. “We need health and safety setbacks across New Mexico.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline In oil-rich New Mexico, officials restrict new drilling on Jun 5, 2023.


Connecticut activists fight for animal rights

Christine Cummings remembers the cold, drizzly day last year that she saved two baby great-horned owls. The rescue itself was routine for Cummings, who is the president of A Place Called Hope, a rehabilitation center for birds of prey. But the circumstances were unique: The owls’ mother was dead at the bottom of a tree, with blood in her eyes and mouth and under her skin—symptoms that, to an expert like Cummings, obviously indicate poison.

Cummings took in the orphaned babies, nurturing them until they could be rereleased into the wild. Even after she freed them, she continued to leave food on her rooftop so that she could monitor them and ensure their smooth transition into the wilderness. Every few days they’d come back to the rehab center to retrieve some food, like a grown-up child just stopping by for a quick visit. One day, Cummings found one of the owls, now an adult, on the ground. She picked it up and watched it die in her arms. When she tested the body, she realized that the poison that had killed its mother was responsible for this death, too.

The killer was a second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide, a chemical used to exterminate rats. Because of its widespread effects on ecosystems, some activists are fighting to ban its use. This is one of several legal battles being waged by passionate animal-lovers in Connecticut to advance the welfare of species across the state.

Building out the legal system for animal rights advocacy

Connecticut Votes for Animals is one political organization where these animal-lovers unite. Its members are pushing State Bill 962 in hopes of preventing future instances like Cummings’ poisoned great-horned owls. The bill would prohibit the use of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides. The chemicals produce a slow death for rodents, said Adria Henderson, a member of the CVA advisory council. In the time after a rat has been poisoned but is still alive, it can be eaten by a raptor, or other predator, which will then also die.

“If you kill mice and rats, and the owls eat the mice and rats, they’re gonna die,” Henderson explained. “It’s a horrible death for any animal, and even if you don’t like rats, they are a food source for other animals.”

“It works its way into the food web and it’s causing all sorts of damaging effects,” Cummings said.

At a wildlife clinic run by Tufts University in Massachusetts, researchers found traces of anticoagulant rodenticides in every one of the 43 red-tailed hawks they tested. The Tufts University website explains that many of the hawks were also found with second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides, which are more powerful and harmful than first-generation ones.

Connecticut Votes for Animals has also rallied behind State Bill 1060. If enacted, this bill would allow lawyers or law students to act as advocates for abused animals in court.

The proposed legislation builds on “Desmond’s Law,” a 2016 bill that allows court advocates to be appointed for abused dogs and cats. It was championed by Jessica Rubin, an animal rights lawyer and professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law.

With the presence of an advocate, cases of animal abuse are less likely to be dismissed. Rubin explained that in the past, cases were dismissed frequently because of a lack of sufficient evidence.

“The advocate can really play a wide range of roles in an animal cruelty case,” Rubin said, explaining that advocates conduct extra legal and factual research to give recommendations about a case. “It’s…another perspective in the courtroom.”

Now, CT Votes for Animals seeks to expand the idea of court advocates to all abused animals, not just dogs and cats, Henderson said.

“Desmond’s Law doesn’t cover goats…neglected horses…neglected farm animals,” Henderson said. “There’s all that other part of the animal world…that if Desmond’s Law is expanded, they would be protected.”

Honoring the interior lives of animals

JP Farm Animal Sanctuary is a project run by Lynn Printy and Oscar Janssen that aims to protect this other part of the animal world. It provides a safe home to cows, pigs, chickens, and other farm creatures. Some of these animals were rescued from abuse, while others were on the path to being killed for food.

Lynn Printy and Oscar Janssen, owners of JP Farm Animal Sanctuary, with Britt Janssen. (Amanda McCard)

“If we are, as a species, supposed to be kind and loving, how can we not be kind and loving to other beings? Why would we even think it’s okay not to be kind to them,” Printy said. “It’s so weird that we have such a separation…it’s okay to have your dog here, but if it was a pig or a cow, well, let’s just figure out how to kill it or literally abuse it.”

Rubin supports the idea of expanding Desmond’s Law to animals beyond dogs and cats.

“All of the reasons for creating the law are not restricted to dogs and cats,” she explained, highlighting that her moral and scientific opposition to animal cruelty extends beyond household pets.

“I think that there’s a lot of scientific data that shows that animals are capable of reason and social bonds,” Rubin said.

Examples of this data include a 2006 review by Irene Pepperberg from Brandeis University that suggests that crows have a similar understanding of numbers as human children and a 2017 study by scientists including Drew Altschul from the University of Edinburgh that shows that chimpanzees’ performance on touchscreen tasks depends on their personalities.

Two pig residents of JP Farm Animal Sanctuary. (Amanda McCard)

Britt Janssen, the sister of one of JP Farm Animal Sanctuary’s co-founders, explained that she has witnessed animals’ capacity for emotion and logic firsthand through all the time she has spent helping out at the sanctuary.

“They have family. They have best friends. They have people, other animals that they don’t like,” she said. “We can actually visualize it because we’re experiencing it daily.”

Rubin explained that by allowing the appointment of advocates in court, animals are treated more like humans in the legal system, which advances the cause of animal rights.

“The wonderful thing about the court advocate program is that it is not a direct ask for standing, but it’s a way to encourage courts to see animals as legal persons,” she said.

A question of philosophy

A rooster roams the house at JP Farm Animal Sanctuary. (Amanda McCard)

Thomas Bontly, a philosopher at the University of Connecticut, explained that different philosophical streams of thought place varying amounts of emphasis on animal welfare. Utilitarianism centers on the reduction of harm and places value on any being that can suffer.

“Utilitarianism implies that animals do matter,” he explained.

Deep ecology is the thinking that nature is inherently valuable, regardless of its benefits to humans. Arne Næss, a philosopher and mountaineer, coined the term after observing the spiritualities and philosophies of different people around the world.

“He formulated this position that came to be called deep ecology,” Bontly said.

Bontly explained that people’s experiences, circumstances and upbringings impact their views on the environment more than any scholarly theories or ethical analysis. He said that people who feel connected to animals are more likely to want to advance their welfare.

“For most people, it comes down to whether you identify with them or not,” he said. “Very few people are actually motivated by moral reason.”

For Rubin, the idea of any animal being harmed or mistreated is unacceptable.

“I work in animal law because I have had a lifelong connection with animals and see them as deserving of the highest degree of respect, protection, … and empathy,” she said.

Printy explained that legislative change is necessary to protect the animals she loves dearly.

Britt Janssen investigating a bump on Allie the cow’s neck. (Amanda McCard)

“I think if we don’t get the laws in place, we’re not going to make change,” she said. “I can’t be apathetic anymore.”

Cummings expressed a similar passion and desire for change.

“I don’t have any kind of ulterior motive, I’m just trying to save our wildlife,” she said.

Henderson explained that many issues extend beyond one species, often impacting ecosystems in unexpected ways. She stressed the importance of respecting all animals to create a better world.

“Everybody’s connected,” she said. “Let’s put it that way.”

The Austrian winemakers switching grapes to account for climate change

The effects of climate change are changing Austria’s wine industry. Rising summer temperatures mean many wines are losing acidity and tasting less fresh. But some winemakers are hoping alternative grape varieties could save the day. On the shores of Lake…

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