Monday, July 31, 2006

Final Evidence

Weather forecasters warn that New York City is going to reach a heat index of 110 degrees in the next few days, worrying everyone from energy providers to subway riders. Although a few days of searing temperatures are not necessarily evidence of global warming, the final proof is in: underwear.

Much of the scientific community agrees that global warming is not only a real phenomenon, but also a threat to humans, animals, insects, fish, and habitats (just to name a few). The evidence can be seen all over the globe, including in Greenland, Antarctica, and even California.

In Napa Valley, experts warn that the wine producing region will be too hot for grape growing by 2100, according to a study conducted by scientists from the U.S. and Italy. They (the experts) also say that ski resorts could be devoid of snow by around that time, reports Vail Daily.

Sometimes it helps to have it all laid out on the line, so it's clear just how drastically things can change. We may be late bloomers when it comes to recognizing the reality of our warming earth, but now we shouldn't be afraid to air our dirty laundry and see the truths of global warming in all their shapes and colors.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fresh Air, Bad Lungs

A breath of fresh air may not really be as satisfying anymore. Air fresheners can actually make the air harder to breathe, according to a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. One particular Volatile Organic Compound, 1,4 dichlorobenzene, which is emitted from fresheners like room deodorizers and mothballs, was found to reduce lung function.

Other recent studies also show that things commonly found in the air can negatively affect lung capacity. Ozone levels in the atmosphere, produced by car exhaust, are higher in the summer and also make it harder to breathe, especially for children, according to a study published in June (also in Environmental Health Perspectives). Ozone action days help people recognize when levels are higher so that they can stay inside and take other precautions like driving less.

But who is really going to stop using air fresheners or stop going outside in the summer? I would venture to guess that very few people want to smell some disgusting odor when the problem can be remedied immediately. These studies and warnings help people understand why it is harder to breathe, but might not help them breathe any easier.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Beach Sickness

Sometimes even the things that we love the most can make us sick - like an enjoyable meal that results in a bout of food poisoning, or that delicious wine that clouds our heads the next day. A nice day at the beach doesn't seem to fit into the same category – unless the water is contaminated.

At 28 beaches along the coast of California, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles and Stanford University found that nearly 1.5 million people could be getting sick from beaches with high bacteria counts, according to an article by the Associated Press. People who get sick experience gastrointestinal illnesses like vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. The study, which was published online in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, credits the bacteria with causing up to $414 million in health care costs.

So the next time that you pack your beach bag, just be aware that although it may be nice to squish the sand between your toes, taking a dip in the salt water may not be worth the consequences of getting water up your nose.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mining Central America

The battle between local communities and business is gaining momentum in Guatemala as a Canadian company plans to re-open a nickel mine despite fierce opposition.

Skye Resources Inc., announced that it will start mining again in 2008, according to an article published by Planet Ark. The company's exploration license covers nearly one hundred square miles, home to over a dozen Mayan Q'eqchi' communities. Mayan locals worry that the mine, which was closed in 1980 because of falling nickel prices, will pollute the surrounding forest and Lake Izabal.

Guatemala is only one country where companies looking to profit from natural resources face challenges. Last year, BBC reported that Ecuadorian tribes vowed to stop oil and natural gas companies from searching their land in the Amazon.

As the world's superpowers search for natural resources in more remote places, it may be up to local communities all over the globe to stand their ground.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Caviar Can Still Taste As Sweet

Ever since most of the countries that harvest wild sturgeon caviar were banned by the UN from exporting the delicacy earlier this year, complaints have been heard around the world, but now that farmed sturgeon caviar is a thriving industry, people may start to taste the benefits of a sustainable harvest.

The branch of the UN that oversees the export of products from endangered species, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES), put a ban on the export of wild sturgeon caviar last April. The ban was instated after most of the countries that export the product failed to supply information that showed that the wild industry is sustainable. The only country to escape the ban was Iran, which is allowed to export caviar from wild sturgeon in the Caspian Sea.

Wild sturgeon “stocks have dwindled to dangerously low levels” because of over-fishing and illegal poaching, according to a press release issued by the UN in April.

A meeting held last month focused on eliminating the illegal trade of caviar. Importing and exporting country representatives met to identify solutions to illegal trade. As of July 9th, a new European Union (EU) regulation requires all caviar containers to have a label with information about the product, and all producers and processors in the EU will have to be registered.

Since the ban, sturgeon farms in California, which were not very successful when wild caviar was exported, have become lucrative. According to an article published by the New York Times, California sturgeon farms have seen a significant increase in profits in the past two years. One of the largest fish farming companies, Tsar Nicoulai, says that it has doubled its profits over the past two years.

Although experts say they can taste the difference between the wild and the farmed fish eggs, the benefits of having fish that will continuously provide such a valued product may outweigh the demands of the few people with the most sophisticated palates.