The Daily Grist: Feb. 17

Jesus Christ's Supercar?
Hybrid SUVs to Hit U.S. Market This Year

While a "green SUV" may sound like an oxymoron, Toyota and Ford plan to roll out new gas-electric hybrid SUVs later this year that warrant the label "greener" -- or, at least, less egregiously wasteful. Ford's hybrid Escape will hit U.S. showrooms this summer, while Toyota will start selling a hybrid version of its luxury Lexus RX330 in November or December. These newfangled hybrid SUVs are expected to get 27 to 40 miles per gallon -- comparable to standard cars. Enviros don't love 'em, but say they're a definite improvement over current gas-guzzling models. "I would definitely encourage people who need four-wheel-drive vehicles to look at these," said Jim Ball, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, which spearheaded the much ballyhooed "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign. No word yet on whether He would prefer an Escape or a Lexus.

What Blows Around Comes Around
Cross-Border Pollution an Increasing Problem

Pollution from Asia can taint the air along the West Coast of the U.S., said scientists on Friday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Jet streams can drive dirty air across the Pacific Ocean in a matter of days, markedly increasing levels of ozone and particulate matter in areas of the West Coast. Likewise, Europe is now increasingly faced with "transpollution" that blows in from North America. And in Miami, air-quality standards are breached several times each summer because of dust blowing across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa, where a prolonged drought has created dust-bowl conditions in the Sahel region. Ironically, say some scientists, those dry conditions may be a consequence of global warming, which is being fueled primarily by greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. and other industrialized countries.

Wheeze and No Thank You
Pollution a Likely Contributor to Rising Asthma Rates

Asthma rates are climbing around the world, and though scientists can't say precisely what's causing the increase, pollution is thought to be a serious contributor. The respiratory disease has become a particular problem in Asia, where terrible air quality, rapid urbanization, and poor medical treatment have contributed to a troublingly high asthma death rate. Wealthier countries are afflicted too: More than 18 percent of the population of Scotland suffers from asthma, making it the nation with the highest asthma rate in the world. In the U.S., the number of asthma sufferers grew by 75 percent between 1980 and 1994. All told, about 300 million people worldwide have asthma, and that number may rise by 50 percent over the next two decades, say researchers.

Coal and Calculating
Bush Admin. Decision Could Boost Pollution in National Parks

In a move that could lead to more pollution in national parks, the Bush administration on Friday said it will permit North Dakota to change the way it estimates air pollution in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Seems like a small thing, but the new estimation formula is likely to produce lower emissions predictions, paving the way for a new coal-fired power plant to be built near the park. Enviros fear that the U.S. EPA will cut similar deals with other states -- for example, Utah, where there's a proposal to build a new coal-fired plant in the vicinity of Capital Reef National Monument. "This looks to be a terrible precedent for national parks across the country," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of Clean Air Trust. But supporters of the change argue that the new system will produce more accurate air-pollution predictions.

For more environmental news and humor visit Grist Magazine

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