Hollywood creates A-list pollution, trips to space sell out, and pandas get porn to get it on.

Lights, Camera, Pollution

The Hollywood movie industry, though outwardly eco-conscious, actually creates more air pollution in the Los Angeles region than aerospace manufacturing, apparel, hotels or semiconductor manufacturing does, a UCLA study reported. The study said that movie makers directly and indirectly create 140,000 tons of ozone and diesel emissions a year. The emissions come from diesel generators used to power movie sets, power plants that provide electricity to studios, special effects explosions, idling vehicles, and set-building. Only one industry out-polluted Hollywood: petroleum manufacturing.

The Tigris River is yet one more thing damaged by war in Iraq.  Now, the Tigris is stagnant, polluted, and even a burial ground for victims of war and civil unrest. Police said they recently found 15 bodies of unidentified torture victims floating in the river 25 miles south of Baghdad. Fishermen and restaurants used to line the banks of the river, but now U.S. troops crowd them out. Upstream of Baghdad, the Tigris has been heavily dammed for irrigation, worsening the pollution problems downstream.

No Vacancy

Take a number, aspiring space tourist. Trips to the International Space Station through the Russian Space Agency are booked until 2009, the agency’s head said. So far, four people, most recently billionaire Anousheh Ansari, have taken the 10-day trip, which orbits the earth and costs each tourist more than $20 million. A Russian company is looking into sub-orbital vessels that could take passengers on a much shorter trip—it would stay in space for several minutes rather than orbiting the earth—for a lower price.
China and Russia are making plans to launch a cooperative lunar exploration in the next three years, saying their different strengths in space exploration will complement each other. The two countries have already considered a joint mission to Mars and are currently engaged in 38 space projects together.  China is the third country to launch a human into space—behind Russia and the U.S.—and will launch its first lunar probe satellite, Chang’e I, before 2010.  Russian probes, totaling 115, account for more than half of human space exploration.

Billions of years ago, a “baby boom” of supernova explosions in the Milky Way created powerful cosmic rays that influenced the evolution of life on Earth, a new study reported. By analyzing the carbon isotope content in sedimentary rocks, scientists at the Danish National Space Center determined the history of certain algae formations in the ocean and how productive the Earth’s biosphere was at the beginning of life’s formation. From this analysis, they proposed that a burst of cosmic rays 2.4 billion years ago caused cloud cover on the Earth and cooler temperatures. The cooler temperatures led to stronger, ocean-stirring winds, which gave ocean life forms better access to surface water nutrients, and thus a flurry of bacterial diversity in the ocean.

Bad Snooze Bears

Bears in southwestern Siberia just can’t get a good winter’s rest these days. The bears usually hibernate for six months, beginning in October or November, when temperatures drop. But the unseasonably warm weather has prevented bears from starting their months-long slumber. Environmental inspectors are monitoring the forests in the Kemerovo region, to ensure the bears do no harm to people or crops.

A zoo in northern Thailand has announced that in order to encourage a pair of pandas to mate, it will show the male videos of “panda porn”. The zoo is home to six-year-old male, Chuang Chuang, and five-year-old female, Lin Hui, and the pandas—originally brought in from China in 2003—have not yet bred in captivity. The plan is to keep the pandas separate, affording them only occasional glimpses of one another. Then, when Chuang Chuang is feeling aroused, the zookeepers will show him porn videos, which they hope will teach him how to mate.

To Green or Not to Green

At the U.N. climate conference in Kenya, environmental activists placed an oil lamp and a Canadian flag in front of a poster of a fire-breathing dinosaur as it gave Canada its award for top “fossil.”  But the award is no honor—Canada received the most “fossil of the day” awards over the course of the conference for consistently impeding proceedings. Activists criticized Canada for misleading the world on climate change and saying it would be extremely difficult to meet its emissions targets. President George W. Bush received the “Fossil of the Century” award, largely for refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

With the mid-term elections shifting power to Democrats, many predict greener legislation relating to issues of global warming, energy, and agriculture. A Democratic Senate will likely defeat a Republican bill that was pushed through the House; the bill would open vast new swaths of coastal waters for offshore oil and gas drilling. Under the proposed legislation, the government would give as much as three-fourths of the royalties collected from the offshore oil and gas production to states that allow offshore drilling, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas.  In recent hearings, the Senate approved a compromise—one that House Republicans have refused to accept—which would open a mere 8.3 million acres in the east-central Gulf while leaving other areas alone.

Tyson Foods announced that it plans to turn the 2.3 billion pounds of animal fat it produces each year into a new biofuel that costs less than that made from vegetable oil.  The company, which produces animal fat at low costs, hasn’t created a timeline for the project yet, but says it is also looking into the idea of converting animal littler into biofuel.

Policy makers and city planners will soon be able to test the impact of potential policies using a SimCity-like program. Researchers from the University of Leeds presented their model, currently in development, at a supercomputing conference in Florida last week. The program aggregates information from the 2001 United Kingdom census, including statistics on car ownership and the prices of education and health care, and allows individual computers to access the data. The generic models can then be modified to test the effects of potential policy changes or demographic trends.

Irish courts ruled against a woman who wanted to have frozen embryos from her past infertility treatments returned to her. The woman wanted to have a child from these embryos against the wishes of the father.  The judge ruled that frozen embryos do not have “the right to life” that is granted in Ireland to embryos already in a womb. Abortion is outlawed in the predominantly Catholic country, and the ruling has sparked a huge outcry from church leaders, who say that life must be protected from the moment of conception—even if that’s in a test tube.

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Originally published November 21, 2006


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