GLOBAL STORMING: Climate change won't increase the number of hurricanes around the world, according to new research by an international panel of experts, and it may even make them occur less often. But while many coastal dwellers will get longer lulls in between cyclones, the researchers add that hurricanes of the future will make up for their time off by becoming more powerful when they do strike. The study aims to settle the long-disputed issue of how climate change affects hurricanes, drawing together experts from different fields who have reached different conclusions on the matter in recent years. They found that the overall strength of storms would rise 2 to 11 percent by 2100, but that there would also be 6 to 34 percent fewer storms in number. The researchers point out that this is still troubling, since an 11 percent increase in wind speed translates to about a 60 percent increase in damage, and add that future storms will also carry more rain than they do now, which means flooding could worsen. And while the total number of hurricanes will decrease, the number of category 4 and 5 storms is forecast to double by the end of the century. (Sources: Associated Press, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor)

FROM BAT TO WORSE: The mysterious disease that has killed an estimated 1 million bats across the Eastern U.S. is still spreading, officials say, having spread into Tennessee for the first time. "White-nose syndrome" — named after the fuzzy fungus that grows on the noses of affected bats — was first discovered in 2006 at a cave in New York, and is still barely understood despite racing down the Appalachians in three years, decimating entire colonies of hibernating bats along the way. Vermont has already lost 95 percent of its bats, and the disease had spread as far south as Virginia and West Virginia by last fall. Now that infected bats have been found at Worley's cave in Sullivan County, biologists are worried Tennessee's vast cave network could be a springboard for white-nose syndrome into the Southeast — not to mention the damage it could do in that state alone. "Bats provide a tremendous public service in terms of pest control," says the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's Richard Kirk. "If we lose 500,000 bats, we'll lose the benefits from that service and millions of pounds of insects will still be flying around our neighborhoods, agricultural fields and forests." (Source: Scientific American)

GOOD GREAT LAKES: President Obama has angered many Midwesterners for taking Chicago's side in a regional battle over invasive Asian carp, but on Sunday his administration quieted some criticism with a five-year, $475 million plan to restore the ailing Great Lakes — including steps to keep out carp and other alien invaders. Obama had promised in his 2008 campaign to give the Great Lakes $5 billion over a decade, and Congress approved this first installment of $475 million last year; the new plan projects annual payouts of the same amount through 2014, plus the $300 million Obama set aside in his 2011 budget (and $78.5 million announced earlier this month specifically for Asian carp projects). On top of cutting back farm runoff, cleaning up toxic soil, restoring wetlands and improving water quality in the Great Lakes — which hold 20 percent of all freshwater on Earth — the plan establishes a "zero tolerance policy" for invasive species, which it aims to reduce 40 percent by 2014. "We now have a golden opportunity, even a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to make huge progress," says Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, who co-chairs the Council of Great Lakes Governors. "We've been talking about this for a long time. Now the federal government is putting some real resources behind it." (Sources: AP, Los Angeles Times)

GREEN BERETS: The U.S. military has developed an unlikely alliance with Mother Nature in recent years, spurred by the desire to train soldiers more freely at bases that have often become inadvertent wildlife refuges, the [skipwords]New York[/skipwords] Times reports. Frustrated by conservation laws that restricted their ability to fire shells, drive tanks and practice other maneuvers at bases around the country, military leaders started to realize that by going out of their way to protect native wildlife — and thus making it less endangered — they could actually make things easier on themselves, too. Thus began a paradigm shift for the military, which owns 30 million undeveloped acres nationwide but has historically clashed with environmental groups over how it manages that territory. While there are still disagreements over issues like Navy sonar that can interfere with whales and dolphins, many conservationists tell the Times they're thrilled about the military's increasingly green focus. "Overall, the military has done a great job, and I know they are spending boatloads of money," says Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "When they decide we are going to protect something, they just do it." (Source: New York Times)

ENERGY STAR WARS: The U.S. Energy Department's and EPA's familiar blue "Energy Star" logo graces products ranging from light bulbs and skylights to TVs and refrigerators, supposedly helping consumers pick out the most energy-efficient varieties available. But the [skipwords]Washington[/skipwords] Post reports today that the Energy Star program may have gotten too generous over the years for its own good. Nearly 80 percent of TVs now carry the blue sticker, as do 75 percent of dehumidifiers and 67 percent of dishwashers. And a government audit last November found that some uncertified products were actually more efficient than other products carrying the Energy Star logo, concluding that "EPA cannot be certain ENERGY STAR products are the more energy-efficient and cost-effective choice for consumers." But as the Obama administration gears up its efficiency efforts in 2010 — including a $300 million program similar to "cash for clunkers" — changes are afoot for Energy Star, an EPA official tells the Post, saying the program's past "is not an illustration of the future." (Source: Washington Post)

Russell McLendon

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Photo (Hurricane Katrina): NASA

Photo (bat with white-nose syndrome): U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo (Great Lakes shoreline): [skipwords]Michigan[/skipwords].gov

Photo (military training): U.S. Department of Defense

Image (Energy Star logo): U.S. Energy Department, EPA

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