Blue Marble

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

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Intensive Tequila Farming Harms Biodiversity

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 3:03 PM PDT

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 2:30 PM PDT

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 2:28 PM PDT

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 1:43 PM PDT

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

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Once-Common Birds In Dramatic Decline

| Thu Jun. 14, 2007 12:24 PM PDT

The National Audubon Society reports that populations of many of America's most familiar and beloved birds are in dangerous decline. Some have fallen more than 80 percent in the past 40 years—a direct result of the loss of habitat, including grasslands, healthy forests, and wetlands, from multiple environmental threats such as sprawl, energy development, and the spread of industrialized agriculture. The threats are now compounded and amplified by the escalating effects of global warming—as detailed in MoJo's current cover story.

"These are not rare or exotic birds we're talking about—these are the birds that visit our feeders and congregate at nearby lakes and seashores and yet they are disappearing day by day," said Audubon chair and former EPA administrator Carol Browner. "Their decline tells us we have serious work to do, from protecting local habitats to addressing the huge threats from global warming."

Audubon's assessment comes from 40 years of its citizen-led Christmas Bird Count's data and the Breeding Bird Survey. The following once-common species are among those hardest hit: Northern Bobwhites down 82 percent; Evening Grosbeaks down 78 percent; Northern Pintails down 78 percent; Greater Scaups down 75 percent; Eastern Meadowlarks down 71 percent; Common Terns down 70 percent; Snow Buntings down 64 percent; Rufous Hummingbirds down 58 percent; Whip-poor-wills down 57 percent; Little Blue Herons down 54 percent in the U.S.

Check out Audubon's suggestions on what individuals can do to help. --JULIA WHITTY

Moot Science

| Wed Jun. 13, 2007 4:31 PM PDT

A few headlines on studies that, somehow, don't seem to need study:

Daddies' girls choose men who look like their fathers

Patient Care Improves when Medical Residents Work Fewer Hours

Catastrophic Events Can Affect A Person's Sleep

The American Academy of Sleep Disorders is a treasure trove of research into the obvious, including "Sleep Disorders Highly Prevalent Among Police Officers," "Sleep Restriction Affects Children's Speech," "Children With Sleep Disorder Symptoms Are More Likely To Have Trouble Academically," "Sleep Deprivation Affects Airport Baggage Screeners' Ability To Detect Rare Targets" ... Yawn. --JULIA WHITTY

Logging Increased Wildfire Severity

| Mon Jun. 11, 2007 7:04 PM PDT

The Biscuit Fire of 2002 burned more far more severely in areas that had been salvage logged and replanted compared to similar areas that were also burned in a wildfire that was left to regenerate naturally. The new study from Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the USDA Forest Service found that fire severity was 16 to 61 percent higher in logged and planted areas, compared to those that had burned severely and were left alone in a fire 15 years earlier. The study seems to debunk the working but untested hypothesis that salvage logging and replanting make fewer future wildfires. Hmm. Seems that trees, forests, and their atmosphere-scrubbing services might be happier without our [mis]management… --JULIA WHITTY