UNDER THE INFLUENZA: It's getting ugly out there, but no need to go hog wild just yet. Here's a roundup of today's pre-pandemic headlines:

  • Just a week after the virus became widely known, the World Health Organization has already issued its highest-ever pandemic alert, raising it from Phase 4 to 5 on the six-point scale. Officials say all countries should "immediately" begin preparing for a pandemic, but President Obama reminds us not to panic. (Sources: CNN, Scientific American, CBS News)
  • Egypt began slaughtering pigs Wednesday as a pre-emptive strike, even though the swine flu hasn't been reported there yet, and plans to kill a total of 300,000 hogs ASAP. Part of Egypt's anxiety is tied to an unrelated bird flu outbreak there, which recently took its 26th victim. (Source: Huffington Post)
  • Pork producers have been chafing at the term "swine flu," so now we're calling it "2009 H1N1." I'm sure that'll stick. (Source: Washington Post)
  • The CDC has begun cultivating a "seed stock" of the virus needed for a vaccine, since existing seasonal flu vaccines wouldn't be effective. But a viable vaccine is still at least four to six months away. (Source: TIME)
CARBON BUDGET: We can only emit 1.1 trillion tons of CO2 during the first half of the 21st century if we want to dodge disaster, according to two new studies — but in the century's first nine years alone, we've already emitted a third of that. Restraining ourselves for the next 41 years won't be easy. For example, we can only "safely" burn 25 percent of the world's proven oil, coal and gas reserves without dooming ourselves, the studies say. And what if we just don't? In a world where atmospheric CO2 reaches 1,000 parts per million (it's currently 380 ppm), we'd lose all Arctic sea ice, mountaintop glaciers, most endangered and threatened species, coral reefs, and many high-latitude and high-altitude indigenous human cultures, experts say. (Sources: Associated Press, Scientific American, New Scientist, USA Today)

THE POWERS THAT (WILL) BE: The New York Times today takes an in-depth look at four emerging renewable-energy technologies that could help us with the above problem:

  • Miniature solar cells — A research team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is now able to print ultrathin, semitransparent and flexible solar cells onto plastic, cloth and other materials, dramatically expanding the possibilities for harnessing the sun's power.
  • CO2 as fuel — One man's pollutant is another man's power source, or at least that's what several teams of scientists are hoping. The idea's been in the works for decades, but new technology could soon allow us to remove CO2 from smokestacks, combine it with hydrogen and make liquid hydrocarbon fuels like methanol.
  • Ocean thermal energy conversion — It's cooler than it sounds. Lockheed Martin and a few other companies are working on this technology, which generates electricity using the temperature difference between the warm ocean surface and the cooler depths below. Hawaii is a "natural" customer for this kind of energy, a state official tells the NYT, because of its balmy waters and current reliance on oil shipped across the Pacific.
  • Nuclear fusion — Most of our power comes indirectly or directly from the sun, so why not just build our own sun here on Earth? That's essentially the purpose of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, an attempt to harness nuclear fusion — the method stars like the sun use to generate light and heat. The project is funded by the United States, China, Japan, the EU and several others, but its huge cost may be threatened by the recession.
100 GREEN DAYS: Obama's earning a reputation as a "green" president, and not because he's new on the job — today is his 101st day in charge of the country. In honor of the arbitrary anniversary, the Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg takes a look back at the environmental highlights of the U.S. commander-in-chief's first 100 days. (Source: Guardian)

BLIND DOLPHINS: The AFP reports today about the plight of Pakistan's blind river dolphin, a brownish-pink, visionless marine mammal that's been pushed to the brink of extinction by human development on the Indus River. Whereas they once patrolled 2,190 miles of the Indus — relying on sonar to hunt — irrigation projects begun under British rule a century ago have divided up their habitat, restricting them to a range of just 560 miles. That's led to inbreeding, which only further complicates their fight for survival. Giving a sliver of hope, however, are official protectors assigned to the dolphins by the government. (Source: Agence France-Presse)

Russell McLendon

(Photo: ZUMA Press)

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