Blue Marble

One Fourth Of Deaths From Environment Are Avoidable

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 10:54 AM PDT

Living in an unhealthy environment kills many times more people than die in car accidents, violent conflicts and natural disasters combined. Though these risks rarely make headlines, reports the World Health Organization via Nature. Furthermore, one-fourth of these deaths could be avoided. Polluted water, poor sanitation, and smoke inhalation resulting from indoor wood-burning stoves are the primary risks in low-income countries. Noise, work stress, and outdoor pollution kill in wealthy nations. The research centers on 'disability adjusted life years' (DALY) that are preventable through healthier environments. The DALY is a commonly used unit that includes years lost when someone dies prematurely, and also takes account of years blighted by chronic disease or disability, writes Quirin Schiermeier. . . Hmm. Think there's any connection between noise, work stress, and outdoor pollution and the depression discussed in the previous post? --JULIA WHITTY

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Common Antidepressants Associated With Lower Bone Density

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 10:22 AM PDT

Some antidepressants appear to be associated with an increased rate of bone loss in older men and women. These SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil, treat depression by inhibiting the protein that transports serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in sleep and depression, reports the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) via Science Daily. But serotonin may also be associated with an increased rate of bone loss in older men and women, according to two new JAMA articles. And some data suggest that SSRIs may interfere with the function of osteoclasts and osteoblasts, the cells responsible for the regular breaking down and rebuilding of bone in the body. . . So, there's a choice for you. Depression or broken bones or both. How about looking for the root cause of the depression, not just the (dubious) chemistry? --JULIA WHITTY

Taking Animals Out Of Laboratory Research

| Mon Jun. 25, 2007 12:47 PM PDT

Pioneering work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research has received a major boost in the UK. The goal is to remove animals from laboratories altogether, reports the University of Nottingham. The FRAME (Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments) laboratory, designed to find effective alternatives to animal testing, has received $480,000 to expand and remodel. Researchers hope to develop cell and tissue cultures, computer modelling, cell and molecular biology, epidemiology and other methods, to supplant animals from medical research, while still maintaining crucial work to defeat diseases that affect millions of people. . . Good scientists. --JULIA WHITTY

Dubai Energy Tower Fuses Sustainability With Sex Appeal

| Mon Jun. 25, 2007 11:45 AM PDT

energy_tower.jpgSustainability, that buzz-word being used by everyone from fashion designers to auto makers, doesn't yet have the cache in Dubai that it does in other locales, according to a recent article in WorldChanging. A new zero-energy building may change that; the Burj al-Taqa (translation: Energy Tower) by German architect Eckhard Gerber, seamlessly fuses a sexy exterior with a fully sustainable interior.

The tower, which at 68 stories would be the tallest zero-emissions skyscraper in the world, will sport a bevy of energy efficiency features ranging from cooling roof-top wind towers and light-reflecting mirrors to its own island of solar panels in the sea nearby.

As an article in Der Spiegel noted, the engineers have used computer simulations to test the towers, although the true effectiveness of the high-rise can't be proven until it has been built. The project still lacks investors, but in a city where flashiness trumps energy efficiency, the building's spectacular, state-of-the-art technology is sure to win points.

—Rose Miller

Bush to Veto Stem Cell Research Bill, Again

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 5:07 PM PDT

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.

Drinking The Ocean Not A Solution For A Thirsty World

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 11:32 AM PDT

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


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Toxic Fumes Poisoning Us, Pilots Say

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 10:58 AM PDT

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 10:46 AM PDT

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 10:22 AM PDT

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 3:18 PM PDT

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