Watching the World
Vatican Losing Influence
For centuries the names Spain and France have been synonymous with tasty wines and staunch Catholicism. Today, the wines are still flowing, but support for the Roman Catholic Church in these two South European countries is rapidly declining. Kruispunt, a Dutch Roman Catholic magazine, reports that only 46 percent of all Spaniards still want to be registered as practicing Catholics, and a mere 18 percent of all people in Spain are attending church each week. Similarly, the Sofres Institute in Paris, France, announced that 55 percent of all Roman Catholics in that country feel that they can disregard official statements of the pope and yet be good Catholics. They believe that abortion and premarital sex are permissible and that “it is absolutely unnecessary to belong to a parish or a Catholic organization.” The studies indicate that in both Spain and France 15 percent of the population has now turned away from religion.
“The combination of poor nutrition and too frequent pregnancies can reduce a woman’s life span by five years for each baby she has,” states Asiaweek. “International specialists recommend two to three years between pregnancies.” The longer intervals will protect the mother from “maternal depletion” due to pregnancy and breast-feeding and improve the health of the child as well. The report also cites the benefits of breast-feeding “in preventing malnutrition and reducing infant mortality.”
Music for Surgery
Can music help patients during surgery? The results of research conducted at the Jefferson General Hospital in Port Townsend, Washington, suggest it can. The effects of music in the operating room on 25 different patients were studied by music therapist Helen Lindquist Bonny and nurse anesthetist Noreen McCarron. Music instead of sedation was used to quash the sounds within the operating room that often create anxiety before an operation. Melodious music reduced blood pressure and heart rates, notes American Health, and also cut by half the sedatives needed to calm patients. A comparable study in the Federal Republic of Germany showed a similar reduction. Classical music, as well as popular music from the ’40’s and ’50’s, with even tempos and rhythms was used. Wild, raucous sounds were shunned. McCarron claims that the soothing effect of music is equivalent to 2.5 mg of Valium. Patients listening to it generally felt better after their operation and could go home sooner.
“Every year, an area twice the size of Belgium, 60 000 square kilometres [23,000 sq mi], becomes a desert,” states New Scientist magazine. “This is despite promises made 10 years ago by 94 nations to turn back the tide of sand.” Most of the $6 billion (U.S.) allotted so far by the richer nations to halt desertification of land has been used for sanitation and road building. While some regional successes have been noted, not a single nation has been able to halt the deserts’ growth.
Exceeding Earth’s Limits
The earth’s systems that support life are being pushed over “thresholds” beyond which there will be permanent change and damage, warns Worldwatch Institute. Its new report, State of the World 1987, said that “efforts to improve living standards are themselves beginning to threaten the health of the global economy.” The results of contamination, extinction of plant and animal species, and declining food and fuel production “are making the earth less habitable for future generations,” the report stated. It added: “No generation has ever faced such a complex set of issues requiring immediate attention. Preceding generations have always been concerned about the future, but we are the first to be faced with decisions that will determine whether the earth our children inherit will be inhabitable.”
Many poisons are worth far more than either gems or gold, says the Soviet magazine Sputnik. “For example, an ounce of the poison of the cobra costs 9,000 dollars [U.S.], that of Bungarus caeruleus 14,000 dollars, one of the sea snake 43,000 dollars, the North-American coral cylinder-snake 56,000 dollars, the African boomslang snake 283,000 dollars, that of the bumblebee (Bombus muscorum) 1,134,000 dollars, and that of the female American black widow spider 2,360,000 dollars.” Why so high priced? Because of difficulty in obtaining them, as some species are very rare. Besides, insects yield only milligrams of poison and snakes about ten droplets, and a month may be needed to develop another dose. Despite the cost, such poisons are in demand for use in serums to save those bitten and as disease cures.
Pollution’s Heavy Toll
“In Switzerland, where half the land area is forest or mountain country, the average acid rain toll is 50 percent,” reports the International Herald Tribune, while “in some areas . . . the rate of dead or dying trees has hit 65 percent.” Such statistics are alarming to ecologists who view acid rain as a serious problem affecting much of northern Europe. In the Federal Republic of Germany, for example, over 50 percent of the trees are dead or dying, and in France, the same is true in the Vosges region. In Poland the acid-rain toll could be as high as 40 percent. According to a document from the Polish Academy of Social Sciences, quoted in the French weekly L’Express, air and water pollution are also spreading disaster in Poland. Despite Europe’s serious problem with pollution, Dr. Claude Martin, an acid-rain specialist, confessed: “There is a certain reluctance to act on it and act strongly enough.”
Exactly how many species of plants and animals exist is unknown. Estimates range from 5 to 30 million, while only some 1.6 million of them have been identified thus far. Since so relatively few have been studied for scientific lessons or economic utility, explains The New York Times, biologists are “calling for a new age of natural exploration, a crash effort to find and study millions of species before they are wiped out.” Most of these species live in tropical rain forests, which are being destroyed by logging operations or converted to farms and ranches. Although small creatures and plants do not engender public sympathies as do whales or pandas, they “are the foundation of intricate webs that ultimately support all life, including humans,” reports the Times.
New Blood Threat
United States health officials are concerned that a rare cancer-causing virus may be spreading in a fashion similar to the one that causes AIDS. “We have evidence now that a virus spread by blood and associated with a very serious disease has been detected in the U.S.,” says S. Gerald Sandler, medical director of the Red Cross. The virus, called human T-cell leukemia virus one, or HTLV-I, is the first virus known to cause cancer in humans. In addition to causing a form of adult leukemia, the virus has also been linked to a nerve disease—tropical spastic paraparesis, or TSP—that is similar to multiple sclerosis. “The virus poses an unusual threat because of its long latency period,” says The Wall Street Journal. “People infected with the virus may not develop leukemia for several years.” But once the disease is developed, the infected person usually survives only three months.