The Daily Grist: March 29

Valley of the Dolls
Silicon Valley Companies Unite to Fight Global Warming

A group of major Silicon Valley businesses announced today that they will form a
coalition devoted to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Santa Clara County to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2010 -- more than twice what would be required by the Kyoto Protocol. The companies vowed to increase the use of hybrid automobiles in their fleets, install fluorescent lights, and retrofit their buildings with more efficient heating and cooling systems and light-colored "cool" roofs. The coalition comprises Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Calpine, Lockheed, ALZA, Life Scan, and PG&E, along with the city of San Jose, NASA Ames Research Center, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District. While some critics derided the effort as symbolic -- the county produces only a tiny fraction of global greenhouse gases, and there are no penalties for failing to hit the targets -- the coalition and supportive enviros hope that it will inspire other public/private partnerships. Said Hewlett-Packard's Robert Parkhurst, "You have to start somewhere."

A Brand Nuke Day
25 Years After Three Mile Island, Nuclear Power on the Rise

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island's nuclear facility, an event many observers predicted would be the beginning of the end of the U.S. nuclear industry.
Turns out that was wishful thinking. While no new nuclear plants have been ordered since then, 50 previously ordered plants have been built, and President Bush is pushing for new construction. The U.S. gets three times as much power from nuclear plants as it did in 1979, about a fifth of its total electricity. With oil and natural gas prices climbing, and nuclear offering cheaper power than either (by some accounting methods, anyway), the nuclear industry sees a bright, greenish-glowing future. Critics worry that the nation's nuclear plants are approaching the end of their life spans and being pushed too hard, making future accidents inevitable, and that the plants are too tempting a target for terrorists. Despite such worries, plant inspections by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2002 were down by about a third since 1990.

Nano No-No
Nanotechnology Can Harm Fish, Study Finds

Nanotechnology -- the development and application of microscopic particles measured in nanometers and, for some reason, always compared to the diameter of a human hair (they're thousands of times smaller) -- has had scientists and futurists buzzing for years about the possibilities for everything from stain-proof fabrics to tiny semi-intelligent, self-replicating robots. However, yesterday brought news of
a new study that raises concerns about the effects of nanoparticles on living creatures, and it has some enviros calling for greater caution and federal regulation. The study found that, in relatively high concentrations, certain nanoparticles called buckyballs damage the brains and other organs of fish and kill off tiny aquatic animals called water fleas. "There are many potential benefits of nanotechnology, but its hazards and risks are poorly understood," said researcher Eva Oberdoerster, who nonetheless emphasized that the study is a "yellow light, not a red one."

Wet Cemetery
Dead Zones Pose Biggest Challenge for World's Oceans

Large swaths of ocean deprived of oxygen, and thus devoid of fish and plant life -- known as "dead zones" -- are the
primary threat to the world's oceans in the 21st century, surpassing even overfishing, claimed experts at a meeting this week put on by the U.N. Environment Program. The main cause of dead zones is nitrogen, primarily from agricultural fertilizers that run off into rivers and streams and then into the ocean, where they cause massive algae blooms. The blooms use up all the available oxygen, starving other forms of life. Dead zones range in size from less than a square mile to 43,500 square miles and have doubled in number every decade since the 1960s -- currently there are nearly 150. "Hundreds of millions of people depend on the marine environment for food, for their livelihoods, and for their cultural fulfillment," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "Unless urgent action is taken to tackle the sources of the problem, it is likely to escalate rapidly."

For more environmental news and humor go to Grist Magazine.

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