Watching the World
Oceans in Peril
More than 1,600 marine scientists and conservation biologists from 65 nations have endorsed a “call for action” to protect the oceans from further damage, reports The Journal of Commerce. “The sea is in real trouble, much more trouble than we previously thought,” says marine ecologist Elliot Norse. One example cited is a 7,000-square-mile tract of ocean in the Gulf of Mexico known as the dead zone. As its name implies, the dead zone is devoid of fish, shrimp, and most other marine wildlife. Scientists trace the problem to large populations of algae that feed off nutrient-rich runoff from the Mississippi River. When the algae die, they fall to the ocean floor. As bacteria begin decomposing the dead algae, the ocean’s bottom is depleted of oxygen. Marine scientist Dr. Nancy Rabalais says: “Anything that can’t move out eventually dies.”
Do you want others to claim your organs when you die? That is the question facing many Brazilians since a new law took effect on January 1, 1998. The law states that all Brazilians over the age of 18 will automatically become organ donors unless they sign documents asking to be exempt. But “there are ample signs most Brazilians would prefer remaining intact after they die,” reports The Miami Herald. “In the last six months, three out of every four people getting drivers’ licenses rejected organ donorship.” Why? Some people fear that doctors might be pressured into prematurely declaring patients brain-dead in order to harvest their organs.
A Bad Year for Fortune-Tellers
Fortune-tellers in Germany were all but struck with “blindness” in 1997, reports the Nassauische Neue Presse of Frankfurt. Out of approximately 70 predictions analyzed by the Association for Scientific Research Into the Parasciences (GWUP), not one came true. The really surprising events of 1997 remained concealed from the clairvoyants. Not one psychic, for instance, foretold the sudden death of Princess Diana. Many fortune-tellers have become so cautious that they only attempt to foretell the development of trends, such as economic and political troubles. These are “things each newspaper reader could have come up with anyway,” says Edgar Wunder of the GWUP.
From 1994 to 1996, researchers at Rhode Island Hospital and Boston City Hospital, in the United States, questioned 203 patients infected with HIV about their sexual activity. What did that survey indicate? “Four of every ten people infected with H.I.V. failed to inform their sex partners about their condition, and nearly two-thirds of those did not always use a condom,” reports The New York Times. Such withholding of information about HIV infection is common, say researchers. “This is not a problem of knowledge,” says Dr. Michael Stein of Brown University Medical School, in Providence, Rhode Island. “People understand their H.I.V. risk of transmission. [They] are not ignorant of these subjects. This is a matter of personal responsibility.”
Obesity and Heart Disease
“The most effective strategy for prevention of CAD [coronary artery disease] in adulthood may be prevention of obesity in childhood,” reports The Journal of the American Medical Association. Health officials have known for some time that early obesity increases the risk of hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipemia (an excess of fat in the blood), coronary heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. But in spite of doctors’ suggestions to limit the intake of fat and to engage in regular exercise, it is said that one third of all North Americans are overweight or obese. “How much data do we need before we as a society take action to prevent obesity by imparting improved diet and exercise behaviors in our children?” asks Linda Van Horn of Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. “The potential benefits are immeasurable. Left untreated, the cardiovascular consequences are predictable, disabling, and expensive.” However, the results of a more recent study appearing in The New England Journal of Medicine say that obesity poses only a moderate threat to one’s health. It found that obesity “increases the likelihood of premature death but not as much as many medical experts had suspected,” reports The New York Times.
Almost two thirds of the forests that covered the earth before human civilization began making inroads have now disappeared, says the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Despite man’s strenuous efforts to alert people to the problem, deforestation in this decade has increased to the point where several countries could soon be without any natural forests. The clearing of woodlands to provide timber and arable land decimates plant and animal species. Moreover, tree-burning releases carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere, which many fear will lead to global warming. The WWF urges protection of at least 10 percent of all types of forests around the world by the year 2000, reports London’s Guardian newspaper.
Worldwide Food Shortage Projected
According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, “unless population growth slows and farm production increases dramatically, by 2025 there won’t be enough food for the world’s projected 8 billion hungry mouths,” reports an Associated Press dispatch. The researchers forecast that “if fertility rates do not drop to roughly two children per woman,” food production will have to double by 2025 to provide “access to enough safe and nutritious food” for people to remain healthy. Adding to the problem are shortages of water, pollution of land, the steady loss of topsoil to erosion, and changes in climate. Even today, annually some 18 million people die from starvation, even though enough food is produced to support the nearly 6 billion people now living on earth.
The Disappearing Orinoco Alligator
The alligators of Venezuela’s Orinoco River are in danger, according to Estampas magazine of Caracas. The creatures have been hunted for their skins since 1930. At that time “the population of alligators in Venezuela was greater than that of humans,” states the magazine. But between 1931 and 1934, almost three million pounds [1.5 million kg] of alligator skins, representing at least 4.5 million alligators, were exported. By 1950, “after years of nonstop hunting,” the alligator population had been depleted so much that “only” 66,000 pounds [30,000 kg] could be exported. Today, there remain fewer than 3,000 Orinoco alligators, and experts say that they, along with 312 other Venezuelan animal species, are threatened with extinction by humans.
Awesome Star Power
A recent Hubble image provides further evidence that a star in our galaxy is a rare type of star called “a luminous blue variable.” According to astronomers, the brilliant star and surrounding nebula is shaped like a gun, hence it has been named the Pistol. It is estimated that the Pistol is at least 60 times as massive as our Sun and nearly 10 million times as powerful. It could be “the most energetic star in the heavens,” says Science News magazine. But because of intervening dust, the star can only be detected with infrared detectors. That explains why the Pistol, which is located 25,000 light-years from Earth, was not discovered until the early 1990’s. Only six other stars of this type have been detected in our galaxy.
Driving and Phoning—A Risky Combination
Car drivers who telephone while at the wheel may make serious errors without ever being aware of them. This was the conclusion reached in a test carried out on behalf of the General Automobile Club of Germany. Drivers were asked to negotiate a test course three times. The first time, they did not use the telephone. The second time, they used a hands-free mobile phone system; and the third time, a hand-held phone. How well did the test drivers perform? On the average, drivers not telephoning made 0.5 mistakes in braking and staying in their lane, those using a hands-free phone 5.9, and drivers using a hand-held phone 14.6. Hence, reports the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the study concluded that the use of hand-held phones when driving “presents a considerable safety risk.”