Blue Marble - May 2007

NASA Chief Not Concerned About Global Warming

| Thu May 31, 2007 7:35 PM EDT

I've always considered it arrogant of humankind to burn enough fossil fuel to kill off half the earth's species. But the NASA chief would call me arrogant for judging. What's really arrogant, he says, is assuming that climate change won't be for the better. So NASA doesn't prioritize studying climate change from space in its $17 billion budget.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, a Bush appointee, tells NPR:

I have no doubt that...a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.... I would ask which human beings—where and when—are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take.

Right. Why won't future generations be better off after the sixth great extinction? What's wrong with displacing 1 billion of the world's poorest people? Who are we to judge?

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Criminal Charges Against Pfizer In Nigeria

| Thu May 31, 2007 5:40 PM EDT

Nigeria is bringing criminal charges against Pfizer pharmaceuticals in the wake of its 1996 drug testing during a meningitis epidemic. The Washington Post reports that authorities filed eight charges this month, including counts of criminal conspiracy and voluntarily causing grievous harm. They also filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $2 billion in damages from the world's largest drug company.

The move represents a rare -- perhaps unprecedented -- instance in which the developing world's anger at multinational drug companies has boiled over into criminal charges. The government alleges that Pfizer researchers selected 200 children and infants from crowds at a makeshift epidemic camp in Kano and gave about half of the group an untested antibiotic called Trovan. Researchers gave the other children what the lawsuit describes as a dangerously low dose of a comparison drug made by Hoffmann-La Roche. Nigerian officials say Pfizer's actions resulted in the deaths of an unspecified number of children and left others deaf, paralyzed, blind or brain-damaged. The lawsuit says that the researchers did not obtain consent from the children's families and that the researchers knew Trovan to be an experimental drug with life-threatening side effects that was "unfit for human use." Parents were banned from the ward where the drug trial occurred, the suit says, and the company left no medical records in Nigeria.

Here's a link to a bunch of MoJo coverage of Big Pharma's trixsy ways. --JULIA WHITTY

Extinction Stinks

| Thu May 31, 2007 4:19 PM EDT

NASA Finds Earth's Climate Approaching Dangerous Point

| Thu May 31, 2007 3:16 PM EDT

NASA and Columbia University Earth Institute research finds that human-made greenhouse gases have brought the Earth's climate close to critical tipping points. Using climate models, satellite data, and paleoclimate records, the scientists conclude that the West Antarctic ice sheet, Arctic ice cover, and regions providing fresh water sources and species habitat are under threat from continued global warming. Lead author James Hansen, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, concludes: "If global emissions of carbon dioxide continue to rise at the rate of the past decade, this research shows that there will be disastrous effects, including increasingly rapid sea level rise, increased frequency of droughts and floods, and increased stress on wildlife and plants due to rapidly shifting climate zones."

Meanwhile, GW Bush appears to have woken from his Rip-Van-Winkle slumber and is proffering ideas to the world that the world has already processed & left to the dust of history. Somebody give him a cup of coffee, please, and brief him on the fact the G-8 already has proposals on the table ready to be acted on NOW. The only thing holding them up? His administration. --JULIA WHITTY

Eat Less Meat To Save The Planet, Brits Say

| Wed May 30, 2007 8:26 PM EDT

Eating less meat and dairy could help tackle climate change by reducing the amount of methane gas emitted by cows and sheep. Reuters reports on an email leaked to a vegetarian campaign group, Viva, wherein a British Environment Agency official expressed sympathy for the green benefits of a vegan diet, which bans all animal product foods. The official said the government may in future recommend eating less meat as one of the "key environmental behaviour changes" needed to combat climate change… Blimey, the Brits threaten to take the lead again. --JULIA WHITTY

The Worldbike: Cargo-Carrying Bicycle Designed For Africa

| Wed May 30, 2007 7:20 PM EDT

Alex Steffen blogs at WorldChanging on the Worldbike--a cargo-carrying bicycle designed for Africa, where most bikes are used by small entrepreneurs to transport goods for a living. Now, Steffen reports, the bike has appeared in the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum exhibit, "Design for the Other 90%." According to WorldBike:

The Worldbike [is] a new platform for developing world bicycle entrepreneurs. With a lighter weight, stronger frame, V-brakes for stopping power, an ergonomic seat and riding position, a seven-speed drivetrain for hill climbing and integrated cargo racks, the Worldbike is the bike people are calling out for in developing countries. Why hasn't it been built before? Because American recreational customers are the singular focus of the bicycle industry. But things are changing. The Design for the Other 90% is one example of a growing awareness of the importance of developing products that can assist the world's poor.

In my perfect world: You could only shop at CostCo if you carried back what you bought on one of these… --JULIA WHITTY

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Swedish Cancers Traced To Chernobyl

| Wed May 30, 2007 6:33 PM EDT

The incidence of cancer in northern Sweden increased following the accident at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl in 1986. This was the finding of a study from Linköping University in Sweden that asked: Was the increase in cancer caused by the radioactive fallout from Chernobyl or could it be explained by other circumstances? In two studies using different methods, Martin Tondel showed a small but statistically significant increase in the incidence of cancer in northern Sweden, where the fallout of radioactive cesium 137 was at its most intense… --JULIA WHITTY

Breaking: Humpbacks Are Almost Home

| Tue May 29, 2007 11:36 PM EDT

The two lost whales have picked up the pace and are now within 10 miles of Golden Gate. The injured mother and her calf have made good time since we followed them last week, 90 miles up the river in Sacramento. They're nearly home to the Pacific Ocean.

California's Open Space Program at Risk

| Tue May 29, 2007 10:41 PM EDT

The governor of California has done some very green things. But his latest budget proposal seems less green in that it might very well spur development on farmland. The Ethicurian alerts us to an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle pointing out that the governor wants the state to save $40 million by cutting funding for the WIlliamson Act, which reimburses counties for giving property tax breaks on agricultural land. The only problem with the Williamson Act is it doesn't do nearly enough. Read a good discussion here.

Public Health Officials Warn of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Strain

| Tue May 29, 2007 9:16 PM EDT

A man flew back and forth on commercial flights across the Atlantic before landing in an isolation ward, diagnosed with a particularly virulent and drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. The case is so serious that the director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Julie Gerberding, announced the matter herself, and issued a federal quarantine order.

Interesting facts from the New York Times story:

Tuberculosis kills about 1.6 million people each year worldwide.... At any given time, one person in three worldwide is infected with dormant tuberculosis germs, according to the World Health Organization. People become ill when the bacteria become active, usually when a person's immunity declines, whether because of advancing age, HIV infection or some other medical problem.

That's why we called it "the Patient Predator." For more, read this terrifying essay by Kevin Patterson in Mother Jones. He writes:

Tuberculosis infection has been so prevalent that for most of human history it was an almost normal, if often lethal, part of the human bio-niche.... The most devastating infection in the world is not Ebola or Lyme disease, West Nile virus or even HIV, but tuberculosis.