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A weekly round-up of science news
Good news for the Environment
The US government may be determined not to take action which could benefit the environment, but cities in America are getting on with it regardless. On June 5th, city mayors from five continents are meeting in San Francisco to discuss their environmental agenda. A group of American mayors have also decided to ignore the Bush administration’s refusal to cut carbon emissions and are going ahead with their own plans. More than 140 American cities have signed upto the Kyoto Protocol on a local level, sending a clear message to the administration that they are ready to take responsibility.
This action can be seen globally, Curitiba in Brazil is called the greenest city in the world. The mayor made the city centre pedestrian only, made major highways bus only, planted trees, and dug ponds to absorb the floods. A great move was to recruit the poor to collect garbage in return for groceries and bus passes.
Ontario in Canada is using cold water from Lake Ontario to cool its buildings, compared to conventional air-conditioning this saves 90% on electricity. Berlin’s parliament has cut CO2 emissions in its new building by 94% by using vegetable oil as its fuel. Sacramento now has 50% tree shade in all parking lots, your car is cooler, the trees help absorb the carbon emissions and I bet the area looks a lot better.
Plant gene found in animal
The freshwater Hydra is related to the jellyfish, yet contains a plant gene. The Hydra contains the algae Chlorella which provides energy through photosynthesis. The plant gene incorporated in Hydra genes is very different though to Chlorella.
It seems that there is another way for brushing to help clean your teeth. The bacteria there live in biofilms which mean they grow as family groups because they cannot move out of the biofilm. Brushing actually helps physically destroy the biofilms leaving the broken up family groups surrounded by unknown bacteria, therefore leaving them less likely to survive.
The lake which borders Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda had a problem with water hyacinth in the 1990s, so beetles were imported in to help clear the plant, and it worked. Now it seems that the beetles may have helped less than previously realised, as the timing coincided with an El Nino event which meant that there was more rain and less light in the area. Those conditions make water hyacinth grow slower and in a taller form which takes more energy to maintain. Now the El Nino event is over, the beetles are not keeping up and the hyacinth is spreading again.
Last edition I covered the geese deaths in China from H5N1, at the time there were only 518 dead birds. Now there are official reports of 1000, but it is the unofficial reports which are worrying. A weblog by 9 young people had photos of many thousands of dead birds, these people have now allegedly been arrested. It maybe the deaths were caused by something else but until the Chinese authorities are more open with their information, we will not know. More information and pictures are available here.
A group of false killer whales were stranded in Australia, this species is actually a dolphin. People came to help and all but one of the dolphins survived. BBC news report.
Bee populations are suffering from a lack of contact with other bees of their species. Bee colonies are stuck in isolated areas, surrounded by farmland which has no green corridor for wildlife to travel along, and are now inbreeding. The Queen needs to mate with a non-family member or her offspring becomes infertile males. The colony needs fertile female workers to maintain the nest as the infertile males do no work.
Bear Farms in China
Around 7000 Asiatic Black Bears are farmed for their bile in China, charity Animals Asia is calling on the Chinese government to devise a plan to end the farming. Animals Asia charity.
The Med is in danger of being completely surrounding by concrete, affecting the wildlife which lives there. It normally supports many fish, turtles, dolphins, whales and seals, with the large sea grass meadows in the sea.
Concrete stretches from Malaga to Gibraltar, in effect it is Spain’s second biggest city. By 2020, concrete and buildings will cover half of the Mediterranean coastline. Between Spain and Sicily 75% of the sand dunes have been destroyed by re-development. Water shortages are also beginning with huge amounts being used to fill swimming pools, which are usually within sight of the sea, and also for watering the many golf courses. An area half the size of Paris is cleared every year to make room for more golf courses. Although I can understand why people want to swim in hotel pools just metres from the sea, when you consider the sea pollution, 10 billion tonnes of industrial and urban waste goes into the sea each year with little or no treatment. In all less than 5% of the coast line is protected and 500 plants are currently threatened.
Charges are being discussed, including blue corridors to allow the sea life to exist without risk of boot collisions and getting caught in nets. As long as these are policed and more such schemes follow, then we can enjoy the site of conservation and tourism working together and getting results.
Environmentalists who are against wind farms constantly cite the danger to birds, but a study by The Royal Society has shown that only 1% of migrating ducks and geese were in danger of colliding with the turbines. Which is probably less than would be danger if we continue to depend on present fuel supplies without looking to become less carbon dependent.
The International Whaling Commission is meeting now to discuss issues such as allowing Japan to start commercial whaling again and increase the amount of whales it kills to study their ecosystem. The meeting for that particular issue, is at the time of writing (Monday 20th) so I shall pray that I can report good news to you next week.
This comes at a time when Japan is pushing the consumption of whale meat to school children. 280 schools in the Wakayama coastal district are being provided with whale at government subsidised prices to revive the tradition. There is no real tradition to revive however, in Wakayama they have hunted with hand-held harpoons, which does not compare to harpoon-guns found on modern ships today. In the rest of Japan whale meat only appeared on the nations dishes in the 20th century, especially after WWII when protein was scarce. So for Japan to promote whaling as a traditional activity, is false.
Red squirrels in the UK are already under threat, now squirrel pox is affecting previously untouched populations. It is carried by the grey squirrel which can fight it off,
Titan, a moon of Saturn, has had an ice volcano detected by the Cassini spacecraft. Latest Cassini news here.
An aurora has been spotted on Mars by the Mars Express Spacecraft. This is the same light display we get on Earth at the poles, caused by the effect of the magnetic field on negative particles in the atmosphere. Mars though has no magnetic field, its aurora are caused by anomalies in the planets crust where it has large amount of magnetic rock. Latest news from Mars.
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