Environmental issues rough up the Governator, fossils reveal a new hoofed mammal and Russia pretends to go to Mars.

Hot Town, Summer in the City

According to government weather data, over the last 15 years, 20% of the US experienced summer nights with minimum temperatures “much above normal,” meaning temperatures were in the highest 10% on record. Normally, only half as much of the country should experience such high night temperatures, and from 1964 to 1968 only 2% of the country had abnormally hot weather at night. Jerry Mahlman at the National Center for Atmospheric Research said the climate models used to forecast global warming have been predicting this trend for more than 20 years.

Several major hurricane forecasters revised their predictions for the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season last week, reducing the number of expected hurricanes. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now predicts eight to 10 hurricanes, Colorado State University’s team predicts nine hurricanes, researchers at University College London predict 7.6 hurricanes and AccuWeather predicts that five hurricanes will make landfall in the US. In 2005, a record-breaking 28 tropical storms, including 15 hurricanes, formed in the Atlantic.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is facing an election-year dilemma: a conflict between his Republican Party affiliation and his environmentally friendly tendencies. The state’s Democratic legislature aims to send Schwarzenegger a bill later this month that would create the nation’s first government-mandated limitson industrial production of greenhouse gases. Global warming has become a key issue for Schwarzenegger, but he is requesting changes to the proposed bill that Democrats claim will make it unacceptably weak. “He hopes to have a bill on his desk this year that he can sign,” said Darrel Ng, a spokesman for the governor. “But he wants to make sure it can be in a way that protects the economy and the environment.”

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

Beijing, China, a city famous for its pollution, is making progress toward hosting a “green” Olympics in 2008, but still has much work to do, said Liu Qi, the Games’ chief and the city’s former mayor. “There is still a distance from our goal of ‘Green Olympics,’ so we have to step up our efforts in the next two years,” Liu said to a state news agency. The efforts to create a green Games include moving a state-owned steel plant away from Beijing, suspending work at Beijing Chemical Works and switching millions of households from gas power to coal.

In Hong Kong, environmentalists organized an event to turn off all the lights in the city at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, August 8th, in order to highlight the city’s perpetual smog cover. But, the event met with little enthusiasm by Hong Kong’s residents. When the appointed hour finally came, few lights actually went off. “It wasn’t what we were hoping for,” said event organizer Alastair Robins.

General Motors is going green in more ways than just its new car models. The company recently showed off a new assembly plant that takes advantage of multiple environmentally friendly technologies. The plant, located outside Lansing, Mich., was built partially with recycled materials. It is designed to collect rainwater from the roof to use in toilets, reduce lighting in the assembly area and use a reflective roof to cut down on the energy needed to cool the building.

The global carbon exchange being designed by the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat is still scheduled to launch on time in April 2007, the body announced August 8th. The new exchange will allow developing nations to sell pollution reduction credits on the International Transaction Log (ITL) to wealthier nations, which can count the credits towards the greenhouse gas emission goals set forth in the Kyoto Protocol.

New Mexico, the only US state that joined the voluntary Chicago Climate Exchange, will have to purchase emissions credits because it failed to reach its goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 4%. The state did manage to cut its emissions, but not enough—New Mexico now has to pay $30,000 to $50,000 to make up the difference. “This is not a program without teeth,” Ron Curry, the state’s environment secretary said.

Have Stem Cells, Will Travel

Stem cell experts attacked President Bush’s veto of bill H.R. 810, which would have expanded federal funding for stem cell research. Such research “is a very expensive proposition,” said John Gearhart, the director of Johns Hopkins University’s stem cell program. “If this work had been funded more robustly, we would be, I think, much further along in our goals.” The US restrictions even have some researchers seeking opportunities overseas, where funding for stem cell projects is more abundant.

After two wild storks tested positive for bird flu at a theme park in Hanoi, Vietnam, animal health workers slaughtered 53 of the storks to prevent the disease from spreading, a park official said. Vietnamese officials have said a failure to control waterfowl, which can carry the disease without showing symptoms, made the country vulnerable to outbreaks brought by migrating birds that travel to Vietnam from the south.

Fossils of a hoofed mammal resembling a cross between a dog and a hare have been discovered in southern Bolivia. The 13 million -year old specimens represent a new species of Notoungulate, said Darin Croft, an anatomist at Case Western Reserve University and research associate at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “Notoungulates were a very successful group of plant-eating mammals for a long time,” Croft said. “They existed for some 55 million years, only going extinct about 10,000 years ago.”

NASA Unconcerned with Earth—Make Exception for Woodpeckers

NASA administrator Michael Griffin delivered a speech at the annual convention of the Mars Society on August 3rd in which he applauded his audience’s desire to “make science fiction into reality.” Though Griffin stressed the importance of space exploration, returning to the moon and sending a man to Mars, he emphasized the need for patience in pursuing such long-term goals. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) recently wrote a letter to Griffin asking why the phrase “to understand and protect the home planet” had been removed from NASA’s mission statement. “NASA’s earth science mission is vital to our understanding and protecting planet Earth,” the senators wrote. The agency has not entirely written off the home planet, though—it’s been using a laser-equipped research aircraft to survey the potential habitat of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a species thought to be extinct until one was reportedly sighted in Arkansas in 2004.

The Hubble Constant, a number denoting the expansion rate of the universe, has been independently confirmed by a new measurement at NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory. “The reason this result is so significant is that we need the Hubble constant to tell us the size of the universe, its age and how much matter it contains,” said Max Bonamente, lead author of a paper announcing the finding. The newly calculated value of the constant not only verifies earlier measurements but also extends their validity to greater distances, which will allow researchers to probe earlier chapters in the universe’s history than they were previously able to study.

The Russian space agency is looking for volunteers for a 520-day mock Mars mission intended to test the effects of a deep space mission on human health. The simulation will occur at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medical and Biological Research in Moscow. Astronauts will be able to communicate with mission control via e-mail and video link during the mock journey. The simulated trip will include 250 days for travel to Mars, 240 days for the return trip and a month on the pseudo-Red Planet itself.

US Suffers Oil Leak, Invests in New Fuels

Oil producer BP began shutting down the largest oilfield in the U.S. on Monday, August 7th after discovering a leak in its pipeline. The shutdown, in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, will reduce American oil production by 8% and has already driven up oil prices. The leak itself provided environmentalists with more leverage in their fight to keep oil drilling out of the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. “BP is the good company. If this is what you see from the good company, we don’t want to see what happens if somebody else goes in there,” said Athan Manuel of the Sierra Club. BP is scrambling to keep at least some oil flowing but has not yet has made commitments about how it will do so. Despite the shutdown, Americans will not face an oil shortage, officials said.

The DOE will establish and run two new bioenergy research centers to study the development of biofuels such as ethanol. The centers will cost $250 million each, said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman on August 8th. “This is an important step toward our goal of replacing 30% of transportation fuels with biofuels by 2030,” Bodman said. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 calls for a minimum of 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel per year to be added to the nation’s fuel supply by 2012, nearly doubling the nation’s biofuel production capacity. Universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations and private firms will be allowed to compete for an award to operate the new centers.

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Originally published August 10, 2006


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