Blue Marble - June 2007

Bush to Veto Stem Cell Research Bill, Again

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 8:07 PM EDT

President Bush announced today that tomorrow he will veto stem-cell legislation allowing federal funding for stem-cell research using excess embryos created by fertility treatments. The bill was passed by the House on June 7, but lacks the 2/3 majority necessary to override the predicted veto.

Bush's statement today included the quote that "Each of these human embryos is a unique human life, with inherent dignity and matchless value...These boys and girls are not spare parts." Bush previously used the "spare parts" metaphor in 2006 when he rejected a bill (passed by a Republican Congress) that would have allowed couples to donate their extra embryos to research rather than store them or have them destroyed. The Senate failed an attempted veto.

Only ten percent of frozen embryos are implanted; 500,000 remain frozen in a limbo-like legal status, waiting to be adopted, destroyed, or (in three percent of cases) slated for research. Bush has promoted—fiscally and publicly—embryo banks and adoptions as alternatives to disposal. As of 2003, Snowflakes, a Christian "embryo adoption program" that openly discriminates against single women, gay couples, and non-Christians, had received $1 million in federal funding.

In 2001, Bush issued an executive order restricting research to the 21 existing stem cell lines still usable in the United States.

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Drinking The Ocean Not A Solution For A Thirsty World

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 2:32 PM EDT

Making drinking water out of sea water is a growing trend but a potentially insidious threat to the environment that could exacerbate climate change. The World Wildlife Fund reports that desalination is not only expensive but also an energy-intensive and highly environmentally unfriendly way to get water. Yet more and more of a drying world is looking to it: the Arabian Gulf gets 60% of its fresh water through desalination; Perth, Australia, hopes to source a third of its needs the same way; Spain uses 22% of its desalinated water for agriculture and holiday resorts in arid areas. Meanwhile, the impacts of desalination include brine build-up, increased greenhouse gas emissions, destruction of prized coastal areas, and reduced emphasis on conservation of rivers and wetlands. . . Howzabout we stop engineering and start conserving. First on the chopping block: golf courses.

This from the Aussies, drought masters.

--JULIA WHITTY


Toxic Fumes Poisoning Us, Pilots Say

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 1:58 PM EDT

Toxic fumes on planes are poisoning pilots and rendering them unable to fly safely. NewScientist reports that British pilots are campaigning for "aerotoxic syndrome" to be recognized as a disease, while two official investigations examine whether highly toxic fuel contaminants are leaking into cabin air supply on commercial airliners in flight, exposing passengers, pilots and cabin crew. The UK government will fit air-monitoring equipment aboard aircraft, and 1500 pilots will take part in the first major health study designed to establish the extent of the problem.--JULIA WHITTY

Sounds Of A Dying Glacier

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 1:46 PM EDT

Scottish artist Katie Paterson set up a phone line to an Icelandic glacier and invited people to call up and listen as it melted away. Catherine Brahic blogging at NewScientist reports how Paterson dropped a waterproof microphone into the water near Glacier Vatnajokull and hooked the microphone up to a mobile phone. Check out Paterson's diary and photographs or listen to the sounds of the dying glacier. . . Eerily beautiful in an emo kind of way. --JULIA WHITTY

Arctic Spring Comes Weeks Earlier Than A Decade Ago

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 1:22 PM EDT

Winter in the Arctic is yielding to spring as much as a month earlier than ten years ago. On average, spring is arriving two weeks earlier, as reported in Current Biology. Using the most comprehensive data set available for the region, the researchers documented extremely rapid climate-induced advancement of flowering in plants, and emergence and egg-laying in a wide array of High Arctic animal species. The finding in the Arctic offers an "early warning" of things to come on the rest of the planet.--JULIA WHITTY

Pale Blue Dot

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 6:18 PM EDT

Go forth into the weekend with this video in your sights. . .

For my part, I'm going to hoist a shotglass of anything but tequila (damn) to CS, The Man. . . --JULIA WHITTY

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Intensive Tequila Farming Harms Biodiversity

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 6:03 PM EDT

New Scientist reports that a huge and growing appetite for tequila made from Agave tequilana is harming the genetic diversity of other agave species. Furthermore, the area available for traditional food crops is also falling, and the intensive agave farming is leading to soil erosion, creating an overall decline in biodiversity. Local farmers says that traditional agave varieties can be grown with staples such as maize, beans and squash without recourse to herbicides, but Agave tequilana is grown in monocultures that require the use of herbicides. . . Que lastima. --JULIA WHITTY

CITES Meeting Decides Fate Of Endangered Species For Better & Worse

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 5:30 PM EDT

The annual Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) closed today in the Hague. This international regulatory body--convened to slow or reverse the accelerating rate of extinction--adopted more than 100 formal regulations governing the worldwide wildlife trade. A bitterly-fought consensus allowed a one-time-only sale of African elephant ivory from four southern African nations (East African countries argued that any sales would continue to fuel the black market and hence poaching). The European eel—a favorite in Japan--was added to the CITES list for the first time, along with a new timber species, Brazilwood. Trade was forbidden for the slow loris, a small nocturnal primate native to South and Southeast Asia; the Guatemalan beaded lizard; the slender-horned gazelle and Cuvier's gazelle of northern Africa; and sawfishes, whose rostral saws and other body parts are valued as curios and in traditional medicine.

As Nature reports, CITES also accepted the US proposal to limit the trade of all corals of the genus Corallium, the red and pink corals used to make jewelry. Sadly, CITES also allowed Ugandan exports of leopard skins, despite weak science on the issue. The convention also rejected European Union proposals to regulate trade of the Spiny dogfish (Squalus acandthias), the fish used in much of Britain's fish & chips. Wildlife protection groups protested the decision as pandering to commercial fishing interests. . . Another short-sighted triumph of Homo sapiens avaricious. --JULIA WHITTY

"Green" Planes to Debut in 2015

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 5:28 PM EDT

ecojet.jpgAs we've written before, air travel is pretty bad for the environment. But thankfully, some airline moguls (ahem, Richard Branson) are aware and are donating money and researching better fuel sources. Now Andy Harrison, of British budget airline easyJet, has announced his contribution: the ecoJet.

The ecoJet, seen left with Harrison, boasts a cutting edge design that would emit half the carbon dioxide of current airplanes, and would be 25 percent quieter to boot. The key to the plane's efficiency is its high-propulsion "open rotor" engines, which--to reduce noise--would be mounted in the very back of the plane instead of under the wings. The "green" jet would also have a lower cruise velocity (to reduce drag) and would be mostly used for short-haul flights. The ecoJet could be completed as early as 2015 and Harrison said he'd replace his whole fleet with ecoJets if they were available now. Until then, there's always carbon offsets.

U.S. CO2 Emissions Even Higher Due To Trade With China

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 4:43 PM EDT

Rising U.S. trade with countries like China has major consequences on greenhouse emissions. Carnegie Mellon University engineering researchers describe how the U.S. has reduced its increasing carbon emissions by importing more carbon-intensive goods from other countries. For example, the amount of CO2 emissions generated from making a computer in China could be up to three times higher than when the same computer is made in the U.S. The researchers estimate that CO2 emissions associated with imports rose from 12 percent of total U.S. emissions in 1997 to 22 percent in 2004--a substantial increase given that the U.S. already emits around 25 percent of the world's total global carbon dioxide.

Many researchers question how emissions associated with traded goods should be accounted for. "These emissions are only going to increase as the United States continues to consume more and more essential goods from outside its borders," says researcher H. Scott Matthews. Since the U.S. continues to import more goods from carbon-intensive trading partners, this trend is likely to continue in the short term. . . There we go again: buying our way to the end of the world, one DVD player at a time. --JULIA WHITTY