U.S. population approaches 300 million, koalas aren't good Catholics, and the European Union is bad for Britain's health.

The More, The Merrier

Americans swept the Nobel prizes in science, awarded last week by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The winning scientists, in sum: discovered the process of RNA interference; figured out how DNA transcription works at the molecular level; and used satellite pictures to cement the Big Bang theory of how the universe began. This was the first all-American science win since 1983.

The United States population will exceed 300 million people in mid-October, according to the United States Census Bureau. The U.S. is the world’s third most populous nation and the only major industrial nation with such dramatic population growth. The milestone raises some red flags for environmentalists, who note that the country uses almost 25 percent of the world’s energy.

Out, Damn Spot

China’s controversial, $22.5 billion Three Gorges Dam project, which will create a major source of hydroelectric power, has flooded cities, displaced 1.2 million people, and threatened wildlife, including a species of fresh-water dolphin.  The number of the displaced is growing and is now expected to reach 1.4 million. Three Gorges Dam is slated for completion in 2008. 

In August, a Dutch-chartered ship dumped toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, killing at least eight people and making thousands ill. On Sept. 28, Stavros Dimas, the European Union Environment Commissioner, condemned the discharge of waste and promised to increase policing to stop the illegal shipping of toxic chemicals. It is against the law for E.U. countries to export hazardous wastes outside of the E.U.


Too Many Koalas, Not Enough Woodpeckers

Last week, Australian scientists announced a new approach to curbing a rapidly growing koala population: a contraceptive implant. The hormone-secreting device should work for two years, but getting it under the skin of 28,000 tree-toppers may be tricky. Researchers have proposed using darts.

The elusive ivory-billed woodpecker—thought to be extinct until a controversial sighting in 2005—has been seen 14 times and heard 41 times in Florida since its supposed re-emergence, scientists announced Sept. 29. Although scientists have recorded what sounded like characteristic sounds produced by the bird, no one has managed to take a conclusive photograph.

Humboldt State University botanist Steve Sillett has discovered the world’s tallest tree in a remote area of Redwood National Park, along California’s northern coast.  Named Hyperion and standing 115.5 meters high, it is actually one of three trees discovered to be taller than the previous record-holder, the 112.9 meter redwood Stratosphere Giant. Botanists think that even taller trees may have existed before loggers and developers felled them.

Health of Europe

In the five months after an indoor smoking ban was enacted in the Piedmont region of Italy, hospital admissions for heart attacks in people under 60 fell by 11 percent, according to a paper published in the European Heart Journal. Researchers attribute nearly all of the reduction to fewer people being exposed to second-hand smoke.
University of Surrey researchers say that the health of British citizens has been compromised since the U.K. joined the European Union, because Britain now must buy its wheat from other E.U. nations. Canadian and U.S. wheat have naturally higher levels of selenium, a mineral thought to protect against cancers of the prostate, colon, lungs, esophagus, and stomach.  A 2005 French study showed that cancer deaths in a group of elderly volunteers correlated with low levels of selenium.

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Dire Warnings

Former World Bank chief economist Nick Stern presented a report to G8 environment ministers that environmentalists say is an urgent warning about global warming. The report, which will be released later this month, is expected to describe dire scenarios that will result from various levels of temperature increase.
Pollution experts warned against an Environmental Protection Agency decision to keep annual standards for fine soot particles at the same level they have been since 1997. Even small amounts of the particles cause health problems, they argue, and the experts—all of whom sit on the EPA’s advisory panel—urged that the current standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air should be reduced.


He’s the Decider

Although U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have risen 13 percent since 1990, President George Bush is committed to opposing a mandatory emissions cap, a White House spokeswoman said last week. Bush remains in favor of his 2002 voluntary reductions plan, which focuses on reducing “greenhouse emissions intensity”—emissions per unit of economic output—by 18 percent by 2012.  Several states, including California and Arizona, have sidestepped Bush’s inaction by setting statewide emissions limits.
President Bush expressed a commitment to ethanol as an alternative energy source at a speech in Alabama on Oct. 5. Increased funds for ethanol research, particularly that focused on finding raw materials other than corn, are part of a White House plan to increase the availability of alternative fuels. The plan also calls for an increase in biofueling stations.

Originally published October 9, 2006

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