Blue Marble

Listen Up, Pandas, You Need to Fight

| Sat Dec. 22, 2007 3:59 PM EST

panda01.jpg Scientists in China may use a police dog to teach pandas to fight. This after the first artificially-bred panda released into the wild was apparently killed after a battle with other animals, reports Reuters. The Wolong Giant Panda Breeding Centre plans to have four pandas live with a specially trained police dog or other animals. The pandas would learn how to protect themselves by observing the dog. Five-year-old Xiang Xiang, the world's first artificially bred panda released into the wild, was found dead in the snow early this year after less than 12 months of freedom… Hmm, can we train them to attack bad people too?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Hide the Condoms, Syphilis is Back!

| Fri Dec. 21, 2007 8:51 PM EST

Syphilis is making a comeback. The Associated Press reports that the all-but-forgotten STD is breaking out in major cities in Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent, the United States, which reported about 10,000 cases last year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that reported cases of the disease increased by nearly 12 percent in 2006, mostly afflicting the South and urban areas. Considering that half of new STD cases affect 15- to 24-year-olds, you'd think that we'd be passing out condoms left and right in order to stop the resurgence of syphilis, right? Guess again.

Top 10 Science Stories of 2007

| Thu Dec. 20, 2007 10:55 PM EST

Big year all around. Many stories that will influence the future of all life on Earth, intimating just how intimately science nowadays is tied to environmental ills, inspirations, solutions. This is not your father's science. Live Science posts an insightful top 10 of 2007, which I've taken the liberty of riffing on:

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#10 Peak Oil: A new study this year predicts that global oil production could peak as soon as 2008, and likely before 2018.

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#9 Antarctica: A host of surprises this year. Satellite lasers detect a series of...

Bush Administration to California: Eff You

| Thu Dec. 20, 2007 1:44 PM EST

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You know how the Right loves states' rights? Turns out that only applies when "states rights" means "persecuting minorities." It turns out that "Trying to avert near-certain global climactic doom," is not, apparently, a "state right."

Earlier today, the EPA denied California's request for a waiver that would allow the state to regulate automobile emissions. (This comes after a court fight that forced the EPA to rule on the request). The decision, according to the lede of a must-read Washington Post story, "overruled the unanimous recommendation of the agency's legal and technical staffs." Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of course promised to take the decision to court. David Bookbinder, the Sierra Club's chief climate counsel, told the Los Angeles Times, "These guys are 0 and 4 in court," he said. "And they're about to go 0-5." That's the part of this story that really says "Eff You": The EPA knows it's going to lose in court. From the Post story:

William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents officials in 48 states. . .[said the EPA] "has issued a verdict that is legally and technically unjustified and indefensible."
EPA's lawyers and policy staff had reached the same conclusion, said several agency officials familiar with the process. In a PowerPoint presentation prepared for the administrator, aides wrote that if Johnson denied the waiver and California sued, "EPA likely to lose suit."
If he allowed California to proceed and automakers sued, the staff wrote, "EPA is almost certain to win."

So in this one, the good guys will probably win again. But victory will mean delaying important greenhouse gas regulations for a stupid, petty, pointless court fight the Bush administration already knows it will lose. Chalk up another point for auto industry lobbyists and bad government.

Bamboo Makes Better Bridges

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 7:58 PM EST

dn13107-1_400.jpg Bridges of bamboo could provide a cheaper, more environmentally sustainable engineering solution than steel. New Scientist reports that a prototype bridge has been built in China using horizontal beams made from a bamboo composite. The 33-foot span proved strong enough to support even heavy trucks. It was also cheaper to build and more environmentally friendly to make than steel or concrete, says developer Yan Xiao of the University of Southern California and Hunan University.

Pound-for-pound, bamboo is stronger than steel when stretched and more robust than concrete when compressed. Stalks mature in a few years, rather than decades for trees, so more can be harvested from the same amount of land. Plus bamboo is a grass that is harvested like mowing a lawn, leaving the roots intact to regrow. Whereas cement production releases 5-10% of total global carbon dioxide emissions, bamboo soaks it up as it grows. All this suggests a more sustainable engineering solution in China, says New Scientist... Sure, for China, but why not everywhere?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

U.K.'s Gordon Brown Plans to Pressure China, India

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:56 PM EST

china-pollution140x147.jpgThe U.N. climate change conference in Bali may be over, but China and India aren't off the hook yet. U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he will press China and India for further support fighting climate change during visits the two countries next month.

China, for one, needs the pressure because, while the country faces grave ecological consequences for its rapid industrialization, the country's environmental enforcement agency, SEPA, has historically been pretty hands off.

Hopefully that's changing somewhat. This year, SEPA rejected at least $91 billion in new factories and enterprises that failed to meet environmental standards—about 30% of all projects submitted to the agency. SEPA is also resorting to publicly shaming polluting corporations, which will hopefully prove effective as fines for polluting are so low that companies often opt to pay them instead of upgrading equipment.

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W-T-Effing-F? Worst Present Ever: Siamese Fighting Fish Trapped in Your iPod Speaker

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 9:53 PM EST

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Condemned to the throb of your musical bad tastes. No room to even turn around. Can this be real? Apparently it's so real and so desired that some Australian pet stores can 't keep it in stock, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. The iPond—yes, that's right, the iPond, surely an epitome of parasitic marketing—is one-fifteenth the recommended tank size for its miserable inhabitant. The tank's water capacity is about 22 ounces. A Melbourne Aquarium spokesman said Siamese fighting fish require a minimum tank size of 2.5 gallons.

All I want for Xmas is a better world for fish.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Farmed Salmon on the Menu? Just Say No

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 9:26 PM EST

14salmon.650.jpg A forthcoming study in Science shows that parasitic sea lice infestations caused by salmon farms are driving nearby populations of wild salmon toward extinction. Wild pink salmon have been rapidly declining for four years, reports SeaWeb. Author Martin Krkosek, a fisheries ecologist from the University of Alberta, expects a 99% collapse in another four years, or two salmon generations, if the infestations continue. The data are from the Broughton Archipelago, a group of islands 260 miles northwest of Vancouver, environmentally, culturally, and economically dependent on wild salmon.

This study and earlier studies by the same authors shows that sea lice from fish farms infect and kill juvenile wild salmon, raising serious concerns about net pen aquaculture in general. "It shows there is a real danger to wild populations from the impact of farms," says Ray Hilborn, a fisheries biologist from the University of Washington, not involved in the study. "This paper is really about a lot more than salmon. This is the first study where we can evaluate these interactions and it certainly raises serious concerns about proposed aquaculture for other species such as cod, halibut and sablefish."

If you must, eat wild Alaskan salmon.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Drug-Resistant E. Coli Rampant Among Poultry Workers

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 5:02 PM EST

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If you needed yet another reason to be grossed out by the American meat industry, consider this tantalizing tidbit: U.S. Poultry workers are much more likely than the average American—32 times more likely, in fact—to carry antibiotic-resistant E. coli bacteria, according to a Johns Hopkins study.

With the recent news that drug-resistant staph infections are on the rise, most people I know have become vigilant about germs in public places. Flip-flop use in gym locker rooms, I'd bet, is on the rise. But actually, we should be feeling squeamish about big ag: "One of the major implications of this study is to underscore the importance of the non-hospital environment in the origin of drug resistant infections," says Eileen K. Silbergeld, one of the study's lead authors, in the study press release. Growth-stimulating antibiotics are just another part of the daily grind (ugh, sorry) at mega-farms. In fact, it's thought that the majority of antimicrobials produced in the U.S. are used in the meat industry. And unfortunately, unlike at the gym, flip-flops probably don't offer much in the way of protection at the slaughterhouse.

De-Stuffing the Holidays

| Fri Dec. 14, 2007 5:32 PM EST

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Winter solstice

In keeping with the revelations of The Story of Stuff, maybe you've decided to transition to a non-gift holiday? ChangingThePresent floats a few ideas for weaning the greedy:

For the wine connoisseur: ($10) Clear landmines in Afghanistan with Roots of Peace and replace them with grapevines. • For the karaoke junky ($5) Help 50,000 people improve their reading skills by providing Same Language Subtitling (SLS) on Bollywood film songs on TV through PlanetRead. Your gift provides 30 minutes of weekly reading practice to 50,000 people, for one year. • For the friend who never comes to your show: ($5) A bag of concrete. This gift through KaBOOM! will provide an 80 lb bag of concrete which will be used to anchor a swingset, slide, or climbing structure for kids to play on. • And more

Grist also suggests interesting de-stuff alternatives—though their carbon offsets are questionable, as are carbon offsets in general:

Write I.O.U.s: Dust off your babysitting, pet-care, housecleaning, gardening, snow-shoveling, or haircutting skills—whatever you've got—and make someone's day just a little bit easier. • Stop junk mail: Subscribe your gift recipient to a stop-the-junk-mail service like...