Arctic nations meet amid drilling concerns

Senior officials from the world’s eight Arctic nations will meet in Alaska amid concerns about the future of the sensitive region after President Donald Trump called for more oil drilling and development.

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Among those expected to attend the meeting of the Arctic Council beginning on Thursday in Fairbanks are US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who met on Wednesday with Trump and Tillerson in Washington.

No formal discussions were set in Alaska but key issues such as climate change, development and drilling will provide a backdrop as the chairmanship of the council passes from the US to Finland.

“We are unsure what the Trump administration thinks about the Arctic region in general, about the Arctic Council in particular and about its role,” said Victoria Herrmann, president of The Arctic Institute, a Washington, DC-based group that provides research to shape Arctic policy.

The Arctic Council is an advisory body that promotes co-operation among member nations and indigenous groups. Its focus is sustainable development and environmental protection of the Arctic.

It does not make policy or allocate resources and its decisions must be unanimous.

“In terms of being a reflection of a nation’s priorities, it can only go so far since all eight have to agree to the same thing,” said Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Anchorage-based Institute of the North, a non-partisan organisation focused on Arctic resources.

Tillerson arrived late on Wednesday afternoon in Fairbanks and immediately held a meeting with a congressional delegation as well as Arctic representatives from Alaska’s indigenous people.

Protesters gathered in a city park nearby to denounce the presence of the former president of Exxon Mobil Corp.

“My message for Rex Tillerson is: Alaska shouldn’t be for sale for what’s in our earth,” said Hannah Hill, 36, who works at a Fairbanks soup kitchen.

“This place is beautiful and this place is delicate and what already is happening on in the Arctic will affect the rest of the Earth. And that is science.”

Pat Lambert, a retired University of Alaska math professor, attended the rally because he believes climate change is a serious problem.

He suggested Tillerson “should get away from his cronies in the oil business and start listening to the people of Alaska, for instance, and the people of the world who are so interested in these issues.”

After the rally, the protesters marched behind a sign reading, “Welcome to the frontline of climate change,” to the building where the Arctic Council welcoming celebration was being held.

The United States – an Arctic country because of the state of Alaska – is joined on the council by Canada, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

Heavy drinking harms poor most: study

Drinking heavily is more harmful to the poorest people in society, according to a UK medical study.

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A marked link between socio-economic status and the harm caused by drinking alcohol excessively was found by research published in medical journal The Lancet Public Health on Wednesday.

Researchers said alcohol consumption was “disproportionately harmful” to the poorest in society, who were at greater risk of illness or death because of drinking.

Compared to light drinkers in advantaged areas, excessive drinkers were seven times at risk of an increase in alcohol harm.

This contrasts with excessive drinkers in deprived areas, who were 11 times at risk of an increase.

Harmful impacts of alcohol are higher in socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

Researchers defined harm based on deaths, hospital visits and prescriptions attributable to alcohol.

However, until now it was unclear whether those were as a result of differences in drinking or as a result of other factors.

“The poorest in society are at greater risk of alcohol’s harmful impacts on health, but this is not because they are drinking more or more often binge drinking,” said lead author Dr Vittal Katikireddi of the University of Glasgow.

“Experiencing poverty may impact on health, not only through leading an unhealthy lifestyle but also as a direct consequence of poor material circumstances and psychosocial stresses.

“Poverty may, therefore, reduce resilience to disease, predisposing people to greater health harms of alcohol.”

The authors linked different sets of data from Scottish Health Surveys and electronic health records, studying more than 50,000 people.

It suggested even when other factors are accounted for, including smoking and obesity, living in deprived areas was consistently associated with higher alcohol-related harms.

“Heavier drinking is associated with greater alcohol-related harm in all individuals,” study co-author Dr Elise Whitley said.

“However, our study suggests that the harm is greater in those living in poorer areas or who have a lower income, fewer qualifications or a manual occupation.”

Suns back Thompson’s AFL return in China

Rory Thompson is ready, meaning a potent boost for Gold Coast’s defence ahead of the Shanghai AFL match against Port Adelaide.

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Suns coach Rodney Eade has no qualms about bringing back Thompson for the overseas match, saying the key defender’s training gives them confidence he is right.

Thompson has been out of action for a month with a quad muscle injury.

Eade said there were no doubts about bringing Thompson back for this match, regardless of the unusual circumstances.

They arrived early on Thursday morning after nearly 24 hours of travel from door to door, with a two-hour delay in Singapore adding to the trip.

“I suppose there’s a gamble for bringing anyone back, who’s been out for three or four weeks,” Eade said when asked if Thompson’s recall was a gamble.

“But we’re certainly confident in the work that he’s done.

“He plays in a unique position where it’s one end of the ground, so he doesn’t have to run around (for) 15km.

“He’s trained well and he’s quite key to our set-up, so we’re certainly more than pleased to have him back.”

Thompson will join Suns co-captain Steven May as key defenders for Sunday’s match.

His return and the development of Jack Leslie give Gold Coast more options, with Thompson certain to spend some time on Port key forward Charlie Dixon.

They became friends when Dixon was at the Suns.

“Rory is definitely a key pillar for us and, with big Charlie Dixon dominating at the moment, it’s a timely return,” May said.

“I’m sure he’ll enjoy that (match-up), potentially at some stage.

“It does provide me with a little bit of flexibility, but the emergence of Jack Leslie has helped that.

“We’re really starting to become a more-versatile backline.”

Hinkley says no AFL China crisis for Gray

Port Adelaide star Robbie Gray has left training early as intrigue persists about his fitness ahead of the historic AFL match in Shanghai.

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Power coach Ken Hinkley insists Gray will play and they have another training run ahead of Sunday’s match against Gold Coast.

But Gray’s training is being managed, amid speculation he has a groin niggle.

He also iced his right calf as teammates completed Thursday’s training run at Jiangwan Stadium.

Gray is coming off a poor game in last weekend’s home loss to West Coast.

“He’s fine; he’s here; he’s in Shanghai; he’s ready to play,” Hinkley said earlier in the day at a promotional function for the match.

“Rob is no different to any other player. He has niggles that he deals with and he’ll be fine to play.”

Hinkley was asked about the ongoing speculation over Gray’s fitness.

“Robbie was beaten by his opponent on the weekend,” the Power coach said.

“I’ve had that conversation with Rob – he gets embarrassed by some of the hysteria that goes around about his groins or not his groins.

“Rob is just a normal player and he can have bad games … hopefully, not again on Sunday.”

Apart from the history surrounding Sunday – the first AFL match outside of Australia or New Zealand for premiership points – there will be several personal milestones.

It will be the 100th game for Ken Hinkley as Port coach and the same for Travis Boak as their captain.

This will also be the first time key forward Charlie Dixon will play against his old club.

“He’s in great form – that’s one good thing,” Hinkley said.

“Charlie’s played the best football I’ve seen him play in his career in the last couple of weeks, particularly, but over the course of this year.

“Obviously, it’s a first-time opportunity to play against his old club. He doesn’t need to do anything extra; he just needs to be part of the Port Adelaide team.”

Hinkley smiled when it was pointed out the venue meant a less-hostile reception for Dixon from the home crowd than if it was at Metricon Stadium.

“We’ll have a good number of our people in the crowd, so he’ll feel at home,” Hinkley said.

Myles not confident of Qld Origin call-up

The famous Queensland State of Origin loyalty card only goes so far, veteran Maroons prop Nate Myles says.

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Myles – 32 next month – concedes he is not confident of extending his remarkable Origin career ahead of Manly’s Saturday night clash with Brisbane as part of the NRL doubleheader at Suncorp Stadium.

Queensland’s age old “pick and stick” selection policy regardless of NRL form has helped the Maroons claim 10 of the past 11 series wins.

Coach Kevin Walters says Queensland selectors will stay loyal again when they name their squad for the May 31 series opener.

It should be music to the ears of Myles, who can join the great Mal Meninga on 32 Origin games if selected.

Myles says he was not taking anything for granted after starting just two games for Manly this season.

“I am never confident,” Myles said of Origin selection.

“A lot of people may not believe that but I never go in to a series thinking I am going to get automatically picked.

“I don’t think it would be wise considering the calibre of talent in the front row stocks we’ve got.”

Myles may be relegated to the Sea Eagles bench but he appears as important as ever to Queensland.

The Maroons appear set to retain the 11-year Origin forward in the starting front row against NSW, to help guide a new-look pack.

Queensland must find a replacement for Test prop Matt Scott (knee) and inspirational lock Corey Parker (retired).

However, Myles says he wants to be picked on form – not reputation.

“I don’t want to be picked just on experience,” he said.

“If I feel I am not going to contribute on and off the field I would not feel comfortable being picked.”

Myles may have his doubts about his Origin future but no one can question his longevity.

He has missed just two matches since making his Origin debut in 2006.

And Myles is two games shy of equalling the record of Origin’s longest serving prop – former teammate Petero Civoniceva – who played 33 games from 2001-12.

That would put Myles equal fifth in most Origin games by a Queenslander, behind only Cameron Smith (39), Darren Lockyer (36), Johnathan Thurston (36) and Allan Langer (34).

Myles was uncomfortable being considered in the same elite company.

“I honestly don’t compare myself with any of those guys – I never will,” Myles said.

“I am just very fortunate.”

While he may be a rare sight in the starting side, Myles feels he has built some momentum off the bench for Manly this year.

He is averaging almost 88 run metres and 19 tackles a game.

“Obviously I have been given my opportunity this year with the bench spot due to the fact a lot of our guys are playing great footy,” Myles said.

“But if I were to compare minutes with work rate I am a lot better this year.”