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Australians will go to the polls Saturday following a six-week election campaign that has focused on pandemic-fueled inflation, climate change and fears of a Chinese military outpost being established less than 1,200 miles off Australia’s shore. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition is seeking a rare fourth three-year term in the election. Recent opinion polls have put the center-left Labor Party narrowly ahead of the coalition. But pollsters’ credibility has yet to recover since their spectacular failure in the 2019 election. The split of votes between the government and Labor in 2019 was 51.5% to 48.5% — the mirror opposite of the result that Australia’s five most prominent polls had predicted.

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The federal government is investing in machines that suck giant amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air in the hopes of reducing damage from climate change. The Department of Energy says it will release $3.5 billion to groups developing direct air capture and other technologies that remove carbon dioxide, which when released into the atmosphere causes global warming. Climate scientists say humans have already allowed too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to prevent dangerous rises in global temperatures. They say on top of curbing emissions we must also remove carbon dioxide from the air that’s already been released.

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President Joe Biden’s order to protect the nation’s oldest woodlands is raising a simple but vexing question: When does a forest grow old? The answer could affect millions of acres of federally-managed forests where environmentalists want logging restricted as climate change, wildfires and other problems devastate vast forests. Scientists say there's no simple formula for what's old — in part because growth rates among species can vary greatly. That’s likely to complicate Biden’s efforts to protect older forests as part of his faltering climate change fight, with key pieces stalled in Congress. Underlining the issue's urgency are wildfires that have killed thousands of California's giant sequoias in recent years.

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Sydney businesswoman Allegra Spender has an impeccable pedigree for a career in Australian politics. She is the daughter of a conservative federal lawmaker and granddaughter of a conservative cabinet minister. More surprising than her decision to run for office, she has chosen to become a candidate of a breakaway political grouping that has emerged as a threat to the ruling conservative Liberal Party. Spender is known as a “teal independent,” a greener shade than the Liberal Party’s traditional blue color. The conservatives brand them “fake” independents because they are partially funded by a campaign war chest formed by a wealthy former Liberal Party donor. But the teal candidates insist their funding comes with no strings attached, leaving them truly independent.

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Federal forecasters say Hawaii and the Central Pacific basin should expect two to four hurricanes, tropical depressions or tropical storms this year. The annual National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration outlook predicts there is about a 60% chance of a below-average season. The Central Pacific region sees about four to five tropical cyclones on average annually. Hurricane season in Hawaii lasts from June 1 until the end of November. August and September are historically active months. Officials said below-average sea temperatures associated with La Nina east of Hawaii where storms form factored into this year’s prediction. The last major hurricane to strike the state was Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

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The European Union’s executive arm is moving to jump-start plans for the EU to abandon Russian energy amid the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. The European Commission proposed Wednesday a nearly 300 billion-euro package that includes more efficient use of fuels and faster deployment of renewable power. Russia is the EU’s main supplier of oil, natural gas and coal, accounting for around a quarter of the bloc’s total energy. The investment initiative is meant to help EU countries start weaning themselves off Russian fossil fuels this year. The goal is to deprive Russia of tens of billions in revenue and strengthen EU climate policies.

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Danish media say four European Union countries plan to build North Sea wind farms capable of producing at least 150 gigawatts of energy by 2050. Under the plan, wind turbines would be raised off the coasts of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, daily Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported. The project would mean a tenfold increase in the EU’s current offshore wind capacity. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo are scheduled to attend a North Sea Summit on Wednesday in Esbjerg, 260 kilometers (162 miles) west of Copenhagen.

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The megadrought fueled by climate change that has long gripped the western U.S. is moving eastward. And that's behind a simmering dispute over how much water Colorado and Nebraska are entitled to take from the South Platte River, which supplies both metro Denver's booming population and expansive agriculture on both sides of the border. Nebraska stunned Colorado when it said it wants to invoke an old compact that allows it to seize Colorado land and build a canal to divert water from the river. Nebraska’s plan underscores an increasing appetite throughout the West to preemptively secure water as the drought persists. 

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Australia’s opposition leader Anthony Albanese says he will begin rebuilding trust in his nation if he wins weekend elections and attends a summit with U.S., Indian and Japanese leaders in Tokyo just three days later. Albanese says he would be “completely consistent” with the current administration on Chinese strategic competition in the region if he travels to the summit of the Indo-Pacific strategic alliance known as the Quad. Prime Minister Scott Morrison will not say who might represent Australia in Tokyo. Morrison said there were “conventions in place” to deal with the election but it's not clear what happens if the results are close. Albanese said he'd want to take office as soon as Sunday or Monday in order to attend the summit.

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is launching a five-point plan to jump-start broader use of renewable energies as the U.N. weather agency reported that greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification hit new records last year. The World Meteorological Organization issued its State of the Climate Report for 2021. It said the last seven years were the seven hottest on record. The impacts of extreme weather have led to deaths and disease, migration, and economic losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars — and the fallout is continuing this year.

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A new study says pollution of all types is killing 9 million people a year. About three quarters of that is air pollution. Tuesday’s study says overall pollution deaths haven’t changed much from 2015 to 2019. But that’s because household old-fashioned pollution from primitive stoves and waste-filled water pollution is down. Air pollution deaths from cars, trucks and industry is up 55% from 2000. Scientists say pollution deaths are increasing especially in poorer nations. While pollution deaths are dropping in the United States, dirty air, water, lead and pollution at work still kills 140,000 Americans a year, more than in any other industrialized nation.

Major energy producing states from Alaska to Pennsylvania are reaping a windfall from soaring oil and natural gas prices, stoked by the war in Ukraine and the U.S.-led ban on Russian oil imports. The boost threatens to increase state and local governments' entrenched reliance on fossil fuels in their budgets, revenue that pays for schools, roads and policing. Officials say they realize the need to move toward cleaner energy sources that don’t contribute to climate change, but also say they will need a way to replace the tax revenue their states and communities receive from fossil fuel extraction.

Major energy producing states from Alaska to Pennsylvania are reaping a windfall from soaring oil and natural gas prices, stoked by the war in Ukraine and the U.S.-led ban on Russian oil imports. The boost threatens to increase state and local governments' entrenched reliance on fossil fuels in their budgets, revenue that pays for schools, roads and policing. Officials say they realize the need to move toward cleaner energy sources that don’t contribute to climate change, but also say they will need a way to replace the tax revenue their states and communities receive from fossil fuel extraction.

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Major energy producing states from Alaska to Pennsylvania are reaping a windfall from soaring oil and natural gas prices, stoked by the war in Ukraine and the U.S.-led ban on Russian oil imports. The boost threatens to increase state and local governments' entrenched reliance on fossil fuels in their budgets, revenue that pays for schools, roads and policing. Officials say they realize the need to move toward cleaner energy sources that don’t contribute to climate change, but also say they will need a way to replace the tax revenue their states and communities receive from fossil fuel extraction.

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New Zealand will help pay for lower-income families to scrap their old gas guzzlers and replace them with cleaner hybrid or electric cars as part of a sweeping plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The government said it plans to spend 569 million New Zealand dollars ($357 million) on the trial program. It's part of a larger plan that includes subsidies for businesses to reduce emissions, a switch to an entirely green bus fleet by 2035 and curbside food-waste collection for most homes by the end of the decade. The plan represents a step toward the pledges the nation made under the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change.

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Lighter winds allowed for the most intense aerial attack this week on multiple wildfires in New Mexico, including the biggest U.S. wildfire burning northeast of Santa Fe. In Southern California, where a fire that has destroyed at least 20 homes in the coastal community of Laguna Niguel, the mandatory evacuation area was scaled back Friday from 900 residences to 131. West of Santa Fe, residents remain on alert as a fire slowly creeps toward the city of Los Alamos. That's where scientists at a U.S. national security lab are charged with assessing apocalyptic threats, including wildfires. Public schools remained closed there Friday as many residents prepared for possible evacuations.

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The California Coastal Commission has rejected a long-standing proposal to build a $1.4 billion seawater desalination plant to turn ocean water into drinking water. The commission on Thursday unanimously voted to deny a permit for construction of a plant designed to produce 50 million gallons of water a day in Huntington Beach, southeast of Los Angeles. Gov. Gavin Newsom had supported the plant, arguing it was needed as the state grapples with persistent drought that is expected to worsen in coming years. But opponents said it would kill billions of tiny marine organisms that form the basis of the food chain and called the plant costly and unnecessary. Poseidon said it was disappointed in the decision.

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Wildfires in the West are on a furious pace early this year. Wind-driven flames tearing through vegetation that is extraordinarily dry from years-long drought exacerbated by climate change has made even small blazes a threat to life and property. A fast-moving blaze in Southern California is the latest example, where 20 multimillion-dollar homes lay in smolders Thursday. In New Mexico, the largest blaze burning in the U.S. has now consumed an area bigger than Dallas. That fire east of Santa Fe has churned through mountainous forests for more than a month. Nationally, more than 2,000 square miles already have burned this year. That's the most at this point since 2018.

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The Biden administration says it is canceling three oil and gas lease sales scheduled in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska. That will remove millions of acres from possible drilling as U.S. gas prices reach record highs. The Interior Department announced the decision Wednesday night, citing a lack of industry interest in drilling off the Alaska coast and “conflicting court rulings” that have complicated drilling efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, where the bulk of U.S. offshore drilling takes place. The decision likely means the Biden administration will not hold a lease sale for offshore drilling this year.

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