[Fox News] Climate change threatens Brazil’s beloved Spix’s macaw from animated ‘Rio’ films

All Spix’s macaws are majestically blue in the blazing sun of Brazil’s Northeast, but each bird is distinct to Candice and Cromwell Purchase. As the parrots soar squawking past their home, the couple can readily identify bird No. 17 by its smooth feathers and can tell No. 16 from No. 22, which has two beads attached to its radio collar.

This familiarity offers a glimpse of the South African couple’s commitment to saving one of the world’s most critically endangered species. The parrot — endemic to a small fraction of the Sao Francisco River basin and already rare in the 19th century — was declared extinct in the wild in 2000, when a lonely surviving male disappeared following decades of poaching and habitat destruction from livestock overgrazing. The few remaining birds were scattered in private collections around the world.

For the Spix’s macaws, immortalized in the popular animated “Rio” films, the road back from the edge of extinction has been a long, winding and bumpy one.

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Threats that had devastated the Spix’s macaws still loom, and the birds now face another menace: climate change. The species’ original territory overlaps what has recently been officially designated Brazil’s first arid climate region.

The drier conditions worry Cromwell Purchase because of their potential impact on habitat for the few surviving Spix’s macaws.

“A dry area only gets rain for a very short period of the year. A drought in that period might go an entire year before you’re going to get your next rain,” said Purchase, a tall and slim 46-year-old. “The animals are adapted to harsh environments, but they are on the edge. Any small increment of change will decimate populations.”

In November, two federal research institutes released a study of rainfall water loss in plants and soil between 1960 and 2020. It showed that northern Bahia state, including Curaca, where the Spix’s macaws are trying to survive, is now consistent with a desert area. It also identified the expansion of semi-arid climate in the Northeast, where nearly 55 million people live.

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“If the planet is warmer, there will be much greater evaporation. So, the water leaves the environment and generates aridity,” the director of Brazil’s anti-desertification efforts, Alexandre Pires, told The Associated Press.

Since 2005, semi-arid area in Brazil has expanded by 116,000 square miles and is now roughly the size of three Californias. The government is set to announce measures to avoid desertification by promoting better management of soil and other natural resources in the region.

In the face of the changing climate and numerous challenges, at every turn the Purchases have dedicated the better part of their adult lives to breeding Spix’s macaws and reintroducing them into nature. The journey first took the biologists to work with a private collection on an oasis in Qatar. When the birds were sold to a nonprofit organization, the couple moved with them to Germany.

Over the past four years, their efforts have been centered in the rural area of Curaca, a nondescript town of 34,000 people.

Under an agreement between the Brazilian government and the German nonprofit Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots, 52 Spix’s macaws were sent in 2020 to Brazil on two charter flights. Federal police escorted them to breeding and reintroduction facilities accessible by a 1-hour drive on a rough dirt road, where the Purchases live and work for the nonprofit.

The following year, 20 Spix’s macaws were released in the wild, along with 15 wild-sourced Blue-Winged macaws, whose purpose was to “teach” them how to fly, avoid risks and forage. Last year, two Spix’s macaw chicks were born in freedom — the first ones in decades— but they didn’t survive.

All released birds were equipped with radio collars designed to resist macaws’ strong bills. Each collar has an antenna. The Purchases and their assistant check the birds’ locations three times a day.

Half of the Spix’s macaws have died, mostly from predation, or disappeared. Now, the remaining ones live within 3 miles of the facilities, a compound that includes the couple’s house and a U-shaped flight-and-release cage that’s 51 yards long.

In March, three more of the light pale blue chicks were born in the wild. Not only did they survive, but one of them also flew for the first time last week, a major breakthrough.

“This event is so important as it shows how comfortable the parents are in their wild environment,” Candice Purchase said in a text message. “A remarkable achievement for the birds and an incredible success for the release.”

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To mitigate the impacts of desertification, the German parrot nonprofit partnered with a private company, Blue Sky Caatinga, to promote reforestation of 59,300 acres in the territory of Spix’s macaw. This initiative involves engaging small farmers who heavily depend on goat raising.

Unlike depictions in the animated films “Rio” and “Rio 2,” which brought attention to the Spix’s macaw extinction threat, the parrot’s natural habitat is far from Brazil’s most famous city, Rio de Janeiro, and the Amazon rainforest. It lives among the sparse, thorny, low caatinga vegetation that often loses greenery during dry periods. And the bird uses the Caraibeira, a towering evergreen tree that grows near small intermittent creeks, for nesting and food. During breeding season, the trees allow the pairs to conserve energy and avoid flying long distances to feed.

When the macaws first arrived from Germany, they were offered various foods from the wild. “We found that it took a while for the birds to recognize them as food,” Purchase said. “But the Caraibeira tree produces a seed pod, almost like helicopter seeds. The Spix’s had never seen anything like it before. We put those in the cages and some picked them up and immediately knew how to open them and eat the kernel inside, which was totally remarkable and took us by surprise.”

The project also faces challenges outside the natural world. On May 15, the federal government informed the nonprofit that it would terminate the agreement, which expires on June 5. In a statement to the AP, Brazil’s federal environmental agency said it discovered that, in 2023, the nonprofit transferred Spix’s macaws from its center in Germany to other countries without its consent. The agreement will not be renewed until the situation is clarified, but the government said the nonprofit can continue its reintroduction work. The project’s funding comes from international donors.

The strained relations have put a pause on plans to release 20 parrots per year over 20 years. “No release in 2023 and now looking like a 2024 release is unlikely. It would be a shame for the project to fail because of government politics,” Purchase said.

There are approximately 360 Spix’s macaws in captivity worldwide, with 46 in Curaca.

Despite the hurdles, many residents of Curaca, even if they never have never seen a Spix’s macaw, expect them to soon return to flying over the region and not just be seen in countless paintings that made the parrot part of the city’s identity.

“The project is already a success. They are free,” said Maria de Lourdes Oliveira, whose family leased part of their land for reforestation. “The most difficult thing was to arrive in Brazil. I cried when I saw them going to freedom and flapping their wings.”

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[Fox News] A pedal-electric hybrid that’s half bike, half car

If you’ve ever had to fight city traffic and, let’s be honest, who hasn’t, then you’ll love this new vehicle. Picture yourself zipping through the streets, dodging those bumper-to-bumper blues and the headache of finding a parking spot.

Now, imagine a ride that’s as zippy as a bike but with the comfort of a car, and guess what? It’s all green, too. That’s the Hopper for you — it’s like the cool hybrid of getting around town that’s about to flip the script on urban travel.

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Born from a 2020 concept by the innovative minds at Hamburg-based startup Hopper Mobility, the Hopper is a semi-enclosed three-wheeler that is turning heads in Germany. It’s not just any ebike; it’s a sleek, car-like machine that offers protection from the elements while keeping you active.

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Legally, the Hopper is an ebike, which means it can dodge traffic by cruising in bike lanes. But don’t be fooled — it can hold its own on the road, too. The Hopper’s pedal power is boosted by a 250-watt rear hub motor, propelling it to speeds of up to 16 mph. And with a 30-Ah/48V/1,440-Wh lithium-iron-phosphate battery, you’re looking at a range of 40 miles per charge. Need more? Slap on the optional solar panel for an extra boost.

A CAR-BOAT COMBO THAT CAN HIT THE ROAD OR THE WATER WITH THE SAME VEHICLE 

Ditching the traditional chain drive, the Hopper uses a pedal-by-wire system, where your pedaling generates electricity that powers the motor. It’s a smooth, maintenance-free ride that’s kind to the planet.

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Whether you’re carrying a friend or hauling cargo, the Hopper has you covered. Choose the Passenger model for a cozy second seat or the Cargo model with a 300-liter lockable compartment. Despite its lightweight frame of 265 lbs., it can handle a hefty 353 lbs. of passengers or payload.

The Hopper features a full lighting system, a touchscreen control center on the steering wheel, a windshield defogger, a security system and even USB ports for your gadgets. And soon, you’ll be able to seal off the sides for those extra chilly days.

The Hopper is designed with safety in mind, offering many safety features that make it reliable on the road. Its semi-enclosed structure provides a layer of protection from the elements and road hazards while still keeping the ride enjoyable and active.

The Hopper’s design includes a large windscreen and a roof, ensuring visibility and shelter. Its compact dimensions allow for easy maneuvering through traffic, reducing the risk of accidents. The vehicle’s stability is enhanced by its tadpole trike configuration, with two 20-inch bicycle tires at the front and a 10-inch scooter tire at the rear, offering a balanced and secure ride.

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Moreover, the Hopper’s pedal-by-wire system eliminates the need for a traditional chain drive, reducing maintenance concerns and potential mechanical failures. The full lighting system ensures you’re seen on the road, and the touchscreen control center keeps all your navigation and vehicle controls within easy reach, minimizing distractions.

With about 30 prototypes already cruising German streets, the Hopper has benefited from real-world feedback, shaping the First Edition, which is now available for preorder at $14,677. As production ramps up later this year, keep an eye out — this urban vehicle might just be the future of city commuting.

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While the company’s current focus is on German streets, it has its sights set on a broader horizon, actively exploring opportunities to bring the Hopper to customers around the globe. So, if you dream of a future where city travel is smarter and sleeker, keep the Hopper on your radar.

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This innovative three-wheeler combines the convenience of a bike with the comfort and protection of a car. And let’s not forget, it’s an eco-friendly ride to boot. While it may turn some heads with its unique design, the Hopper could very well be a glimpse into the future of city commuting. With real-world testing already underway in Germany, the Hopper is more than just a concept — it’s a vehicle you can actually pre-order now. And who knows, if its creators have their way, we may see these zippy little numbers cruising down city streets all over the world before too long.

Do you think Hopper’s safety features are enough for you to feel safe driving or riding in one? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact

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[Fox Business] Higher interest rates could cost US companies $380B in ‘slowly unfolding crisis’

Companies across the U.S. are barreling toward a refinancing cliff that could cost them billions in the new era of high interest rates, setting up a “slowly unfolding crisis.”

New research published by Baringa, a London-based consultancy, found that companies that refinance between this year and 2030 will pay an additional $381 billion in interest costs due to elevated borrowing rates. This amounts to the largest single increase in debt-related costs and the highest cumulative interest payment total ever faced by U.S. companies.

The largest expense is expected to occur in 2024, with more than $3 trillion in loans and bonds set to mature this year. Companies refinancing that debt will likely pay $76 billion more in interest this year than they did under lower interest rates, according to Baringa, which analyzed FactSet data.

“It’s tempting to look at plateauing interest rates and conclude that the worst is behind us, but that’s simply not true,” said Cindra Maharaj, partner in Baringa’s financial services practice. “In fact, U.S. businesses and the wider economy are just beginning to experience the painful effects of a serious hangover from the rapid escalation in interest rates that will last for several years to come.”

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The Federal Reserve raised interest rates sharply in 2022 and 2023 to the highest level since 2001 in a bid to slow the economy and cool inflation. Officials are now grappling with when they should take their foot off the brake amid signs that progress on inflation is slowing. 

A number of Fed policymakers have signaled in recent weeks that they will hold rates at elevated levels longer than previously expected until they are certain that high inflation is conquered. Most investors now expect the Fed to begin cutting rates in September or November and are penciling in just one or two reductions this year – a dramatic shift from the start of the year, when they anticipated six rate cuts beginning as soon as March.

The consequences of higher rates are “significant,” according to Baringa.

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Default rates are already on the rise. High-yield default rates climbed to 3.04% at the end of the first quarter, up from 2.94% at the end of 2023, according to Fitch Ratings. By comparison, in 2022, the default rate was just 1.3%.

“We’re already seeing default rates rise. They’re above where they were before COVID, before the energy crisis,” Nick Forrest, a partner at Baringa, told FOX Business. “But we don’t see a quick spike because this is not a trigger, like the beginning of COVID or the Ukraine war. So it’ll be slow moving. I see a gradual increase as this high-interest debt cost moves its way through the system.”

Nearly half of top financial executives – about 47% – said their companies are “not fully prepared” with a financial plan to cover the extra cost of financing, according to a March survey of 251 CFOs, financial directors and treasurers conducted by Baringa. Another 41% said that while they have the liquidity and cash reserves required to survive a high-interest rate environment, they thought that their company would struggle to survive. About 2.4% of respondents said higher interest rates and more expensive debt is a “potentially disastrous” situation.

“In a worst-case scenario, the new higher-interest rate environment might trigger a decaffeinated repeat of the 2008 financial crisis: a credit crunch, but at a slower pace,” Forrest said. “Financial services need to be prepared.”

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There is also a potential for broader economic fallout from companies taking on more expensive debt. About 22% of respondents said they will raise prices in order to offset the higher costs of refinancing their debt, which could push inflation higher, while about 17% said they would squeeze their margins and 14% said they would institute a hiring freeze.

Another 14% said they would suffer a liquidity crisis that could potentially end the business.

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[Fox Business] Rising national debt to reduce Americans’ income growth: report

The fast-growing national debt is on pace to reduce the growth in American households’ incomes in the decades ahead if the debt isn’t stabilized, according to a new report.

An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found the rising national debt will slow economic growth and suppress the growth of Americans’ household income over time. It looked at scenarios with the size of the national debt held by the public stable at 99% of gross domestic product and the CBO’s baseline under current law and a scenario in which debt would rise more rapidly.

The CBO estimated that gross national product (GNP) per person, a measure of average income, is about $84,400 this year. If the debt is stable relative to the size of the economy at 99%, CBO projected average income will grow by over $44,000 when adjusted for inflation to $128,600 in fiscal year 2054. 

By contrast, the CBO’s current law baseline has debt held by the public rising to 166% of GDP by fiscal year 2054, which would slow income growth by about 12% to about $123,200 per person. In the additional debt scenario that reflects higher spending levels and less tax revenue due to tax cuts, debt will rise to 294% of GDP by fiscal 2054. And the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) estimated that would cause income growth to slow by about one-third to $114,100 at that time.

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“Essentially, the CBO thinks that if we stop increasing the debt — if we do spending cuts and tax increases or whatever it takes to stop the debt from growing — then income per person is going to grow 1.5% per year [above inflation],” CRFB SVP and Senior Policy Director Marc Goldwein told FOX Business.

“On the other hand, if we don’t make those spending choices or tax choices, but we don’t make things any worse, then it’s going to grow about 1.25% per year. And then there’s that last scenario where, if we make things worse, it’s only going to grow like 0.8% or 0.9% per year.”

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The reason for slower household income growth due to a larger national debt is due to an economic phenomenon known as the crowding out effect. In essence, this is due to reduced investment in the private sector brought on by higher levels of government debt requiring the sale of more bonds, which compete with private sector alternatives.

“The government sells bonds to borrow money, and when it sells bonds, investors buy those bonds instead of investing in the private sector,” Goldwein explained. “So, I have a dollar that I was going to use to buy a corporate bond or to buy a stock or to put in the bank that can then lend it out to businesses or for mortgages. Instead, I buy federal bonds.

“What this means is that there’s less investment in the private economy, and over time that means there’s less buildings, machines and equipment and software innovations. And that leads to slower wage and income growth. It doesn’t happen all at once. It happens gradually, little by little.”

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Goldwein also noted that higher levels of government debt tend to cause interest rates to rise, which further squeezes household budgets experiencing slower income growth.

“Not only does this high debt push down the growth rate and push down income growth, it also pushes up interest rates. So, that means at the same time your incomes are growing more slowly, your mortgage is going to cost more, your car loan is going to cost more and the federal government is going to spend more and more on interest, which means they’ve got to spend less on everything else,” he explained.

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Goldwein said policymakers should look to stabilize the country’s long-term fiscal outlook and not focus so heavily on short-term political considerations.

“The problem is they’re worried about the next election, not the next generation. And that doesn’t speak for responsible fiscal policy. And that’s part of the reason we’re in the mess we’re in right now,” Goldwein added.

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[Fox Business] Costco bucks trend: Surge in foot traffic despite tough economy

Numerous retail executives have continually reiterated how tough economic conditions continue to strain consumer budgets, leading to dampened discretionary spending and prompting companies to cut prices just to drive in-store and online traffic. 

However, recent data from Placer.ai shows Costco had a boost in visits during the first quarter, with traffic up 8.9% year over year. In February, visits were up 10.9%. Over the next two months, visits were up 10.5% and 9.2%, respectively, compared to the same time a year ago. 

Regardless of what’s happening in the macroeconomy, the company continues to consistently increase traffic and its market share, UBS analysts wrote in a research note led by Michael Lasser.  

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The analysts estimated the company would report net sales will grow by 8% during the third fiscal quarter due partly to new member growth, rising traffic and new store openings. 

The company is scheduled to announce its third-quarter results Thursday after the bell. 

“Given the continued economic strain on consumers, we believe that Costco’s executive membership penetration likely remained strong as people looked to maximize their spending power,” the analysts wrote.

They anticipate the company will “continue to appeal to a cash-strapped consumer and has a potential catalyst in place with a membership fee hike likely this year.” 

However, the analysts noted that foot traffic at the membership warehouse grew an average of 5% during various economic conditions, both when consumers were flush with cash from the pandemic and when the “macro backdrop took a step down” in 2023. Even today, although the macro “has remained volatile” so far this year with “consumer budgets stretched,” the company increased its traffic an average of 5% year to date, according to UBS analysts. 

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Telsey Advisory Group Senior Managing Director Joe Feldman told FOX Business its traffic stays “so consistent because of the membership model, which yields predictable behavior from members.” 

Feldman further noted that “people tend to increase their shopping at Costco as their membership ages.” 

On top of that, “new clubs generate new members, and the pattern repeats,” he added.

Placer.ai data showed how membership wholesale chains “generally outperformed classic superstore banners Target and Walmart during the first four months of the year.” 

Visits to Walmart-owned Sam’s Club, BJ’s and Costco were up every month on a year-over-year basis, but Costco is still “maintaining its lead in the space,” Shira Petrack, Placer.ai’s marketing content manager, wrote in a blog post earlier this month. 

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Petrack credited some of the success of wholesale clubs to “the makeup of their visitor base.” 

“Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s tend to serve a large share of consumers from family households, and these may be opting for more buying in bulk in an effort to stretch budgets,” Petrack wrote. 

In September 2023, Petrack noted that Costco had been “on a roll,” and that it seemed “to have recovered from the headwinds facing the wider retail space” earlier in the year.

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