Will Pond Scum Save the Planet?

With corn-based fuels being blamed for the global food crisis, biofuel supporters are looking for non-food crops to be the next energy source. This includes algae, a plant that few people would rather see on their plates instead of in their gas tanks. According to Biomass magazine, a commercial wild algae harvesting operation is now under way in New Zealand ponds, with the slimy stuff going toward the production of so-called biocrude. Barrie Leay, one of the founders of Aquaflow Bionomic Corp. Ltd., would not give the magazine details of his company’s technology, but said, “The processes we have worked through are evolutionary — not revolutionary — to get to this scale over the past two-and-a-half years.

New Wind-Power Projects Becalmed

With oil prices setting new highs nearly every day, wind power is getting another look. But, like most weather reports, the outlook for large windmill projects is anything but predictable, plagued as they are by noise complaints, endangered species and fickle commercial backers. In the United Kingdom, a giant wind farm planned for the Thames River estuary now appears to be in jeopardy after Dutch oil giant Shell announced it would pull out of the project. The BBC reported that Shell, citing the rising cost of building materials, would sell its 33 percent stake in the London Array, a proposed wind farm that had been listed by Forbes magazine as one of the biggest clean energy projects in the world. The pullout sparked anger on the part of environmentalists and other supporters of the project.

Drought Persists Down Under

Australians had high hopes for the Pacific weather pattern known as La Nina. That periodic cooling of the eastern Pacific typically brings increased rainfall to the land Down Under — which would have been a blessing for a country entering its tenth year of drought in some regions. But, with the La Nina pattern fading, the prognosis is grim. Heavy rainfalls did indeed come to Australia, but only certain parts, and not in the quantities need to break the enduring drought cycle. Areas plagued by record-low rainfall are actually increasing, and the resurgence of average rainfall elsewhere wasn’t enough to officially close out the dry spell.

Africa Reels from Illegal Fishing

Billions of dollars have been lost worldwide, and entire ecosystems are at risk from the effects of illegal fishing. Africa, in particular, is threatened by the trend, according to Kenya’s The Nation newspaper. The culprits — mostly large commercial fleets from Asia and Europe — break international law, and prey on developing nations that lack the infrastructure and clout to enforce fishing regulations. While the collective financial losses are huge — adding up to $1 billion annually in sub-Saharan Africa alone — the effects are felt at the local level. Family and subsistence fishers, for example, find their traditional waters suddenly populated with massive trawlers they can’t compete with.

Where Have all the Songbirds Gone?

Songbirds fly thousands of miles to return to the northern hemisphere every spring, just as regularly as the sun comes up every morning. Or, that’s how it’s supposed to be. But the numbers of migratory birds reaching the north from their winter grounds in the south have plummeted in recent years. One British study found numbers of migratory birds down by 20 percent in just four years, according to the Telegraph newspaper. A five-year study just concluded in Vermont found 17 new species since the last time an atlas was taken, in the 1970s, but other species have dwindled or disappeared altogether, according to the Burlington Free Press.

Look, up in the Sky! Urban Farming Puts Down Roots

UPDATE: According to the Las Vegas Sun, the NextEnergryNews story about a proposed agricultural skyscraper in Las Vegas is not true. — The Editors
Urban farming can be as simple as a backyard vegetable patch or as complicated as a proposed agricultural skyscraper in Las Vegas. Yes, you read that right. NextEnergryNews reports that plans are afoot for a 30-story, $200 million building which will feature crops growing on many of its floors — and the building will go up in the notoriously environmentally unfriendly city of Las Vegas. According to the article, the project could reportedly make up to $25 million a year through selling food to nearby casinos, with perhaps another $15 million generated through tourism at the site — and the project could be completed as early as 2010.

Virtual water and real thirst

The recent hike in the price of food worldwide is usually blamed on the price of oil or the conversion of food crops to biofuels. But a handful of experts have pointed to a simpler cause: a shortage of water. “The two underlying causes of the world food crisis are falling supplies and rising demand on the international market,” writes environmental consultant and author Fred Pearce in the London Telegraph. “Why falling supplies? Because of major droughts in Australia, one of the world’s big three suppliers, and Ukraine, another major exporter.

Global Warming: Something to Sneeze at

As if deadlier storms, new diseases, compromised agriculture, rising sea levels and endangered polar bears weren’t enough to worry about, add hay fever to the list of global warming concerns. Studies show that allergy-related pollens are blooming sooner, for a longer period of time and in greater quantity as the climate warms, according to news reports. “It’s an incredibly complicated issue,” Dr. Martin Citardi, a specialist at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, told the Houston Chronicle. “[T]here’s evidence that spring arrives today earlier than it did two or three decades ago,” he said. “That means that pollen levels are greater than they otherwise would be.”

"Avoidable" Gaza Deaths Follow Medical Travel Bans

The World Health Organization said preventable deaths almost doubled in the Gaza Strip between 2006 and 2007, following the Hamas takeover and a corresponding ban by Israel on most cross-border travel. The number of travel permits denied to sick Gazans seeking medical care in Israel more than quadrupled, from 8.5 percent in December 2006 to 36 percent one year later. Israel said it was concerned about suicide bombers using health issues as a cover story, while critics said the policy amounts to collective punishment of the Palestinian population for rocket launches against Israel by Hamas militants. Medical care in Palestinian territories is in decline due to shortages in equipment, pharmaceuticals and trained personnel. An Israeli defense official told Reuters that tight control of Gaza’s borders has not caused unnecessary deaths, but a WHO spokesman said 100 Gazan patients have died since June after being denied travel permits.

Australian Labor's Nuclear Powers

Firmly established in power, Australia’s Labor Party has opted to reinvigorate a plan from the previous government to expand uranium mining. According to The Age, Labor’s resources minister, Martin Ferguson, is an “enthusiastic” advocate of the industry, and has reconvened the Uranium Industry Framework, an advisory board appointed by the government of former Prime Minister John Howard of the conservative Liberal Party. Among other things, the advisory panel will undertake a publicity campaign, funded by the uranium industry,to address public concerns about the health and safety issues of mining uranium. The panel also has proposed a number of new regulations to improve training and safety, as well as the “economic fortunes” of indigenous communities and mine owners. The Labor Party overcame strong opposition to narrowly overturn a ban on developing new mines, but opted to leave state-level bans in place in Queensland and Western Australia.