PINE OF THE TIMES: The woods of western North America, especially Alaska's and upper Canada's boreal forests, are headed for a deadly "domino effect," an ecologist tells the AP. That's thanks to the twin terrors of beetles and fire — which are suddenly turning entire forests to firewood and burning them to the ground, respectively, as the climate warms up. "It's a fingerprint of climate change," says one ecologist with Canada's Yukon Forest Management Branch. "The intensity and severity and magnitude of the infestation is outside the normal." The pine beetle outbreak has killed 6.5 million acres of U.S. forest and 35 million acres in British Columbia, creating an annual tinderbox that, in turn, is helping fuel a wave of above-average wildfires. (Source: Associated Press)
TROPICAL STORMS: Hurricane Bill remained hundreds of miles offshore over the weekend, but still killed two people along the U.S. East Coast with 20-foot waves and powerful rip currents. A 7-year-old girl died Sunday when she, her father and a 12-year-old-girl were swept into the water at Acadia National Park's Thunder Hole in Maine, and a 54-year-old swimmer washed ashore unconscious in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., and was later pronounced dead at a hospital. Bill is bringing heavy rains and wind to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and other parts of eastern Canada today, and is expected to now dogleg back east toward the British Isles. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Hilda is strengthening in the central Pacific Ocean, but is expected to pass hundreds of miles south of the Hawaiian Islands. (Sources: Washington Post, Boston Globe, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Honolulu Advertiser)
TURBINE SPRAWL: It's hard to argue that the United States doesn't need more wind turbines churning out cheap, pollution-free electricity — unless you have to look at them every day. Folks from Nantucket to North Dakota are aghast at having their rural vistas invaded by gleaming white wind turbines, and the AP examines one community in Wyoming that's organizing against an entrepreneurial rancher who wants to make extra money by leasing some of his land to a Utah wind-power company. The opposition leader in Glenrock, Wyo., says his group isn't against industrial wind development in the wide-open plains of eastern Wyoming, where turbines are common, but wants to preserve the "scenic, multiple-use landscapes" and "viewsheds" in local back yards. Richard Grant Jr., the rancher, says he can see their point. "But if the viewsheds were worth so much," he adds, "I wouldn't be worrying about making an extra dollar somewhere." (Source: AP)
TURBINE OUTFITTERS: It might seem like a good idea for car-parts suppliers to bail on the auto industry and start making parts for wind turbines, as many have done throughout the Rust Belt while U.S. automakers convulse and contract. But it's no holy grail, as many undoubtedly hoped it would be. The recession may be hitting Detroit the hardest, but the country's windswept plains aren't seeing much green these days, either. Suppliers that jumped on the wind-power bandwagon are now having to diversify even further, making things like ice-fishing gear, wood-burning stoves and high-powered water-jet systems used to cut brownies. "We're grateful to have something to run at all," one CEO says. "The wind stuff is pretty dead. We'd prefer to have the wind stuff, but we'll take what we can get." (Source: Los Angeles Times)
JUMBO JET: For the first time in history, scientists have measured a gigantic, upward-shooting bolt of lightning known as a "blue jet," which can fire up to 50 miles above the top of a storm cloud. It turns out blue jets are just as powerful as normal lightning, and understanding how they work could help us get better at predicting cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. Scientists aren't often just hanging around in the upper troposphere with radio instruments, which has made studying the bizarro upward bolts difficult, but this one popped out of the already closely watched Tropical Storm Cristobal in 2008. (Source: New Scientist)
FLUSH FLOOD: An Indian doctor has been prescribing eco-friendly toilets to the world's poor for 40 years, both to help them save water and avoid disease. Sanitation expert Bindeshwar Pathak was awarded this year's Stockholm Water Prize for his tireless work to build a better toilet, having outfitted 1.2 million households with water-saving commodes and installing 7,500 public lavatories across India. Pathak's twin-pit, pour-flush toilet, known as the Sulabh, uses its double tanks to store human waste — while preventing smell and soil pollution — to be recycled later as fertilizer. In addition to using about 1 liter per flush instead of 10, it also helps prevent diseases like cholera and is priced flexibly so poor families can afford it. (Source: Agence France-Presse)
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Photo (pine trees): U.S. Department of the Interior
Photo (wind turbines): National Renewable Energy Laboratory
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