AULD LANG SYNE OF THE TIMES: As 2008 burns down to the wick, it's time for journalists, bloggers and pundits to summarize and characterize the past 12 months. Here are four lists that catalog the top environmental news of 2008. The Daily Telegraph's Christopher Booker uses the year's end as a chance to wax contrarian about climate change, arguing that "2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved." The United Nations' Environment Programme, however, has issued a year-end assessment painting a very different picture: Devastating cyclones, blizzards, heat waves, droughts and the second-lowest level of Arctic ice on record are among the climate-related crises that made this year especially dangerous, UNEP reports. The resulting financial losses rang in at about $200 billion, double 2007's total. (Sources: The (London) Times, Red Green and Blue, U.S. News & World Report, WiredThe Daily Telegraph, NBC Washington)

LIKE A ROCK: Geothermal power, often lost in discussion of wind, solar and biofuels, actually offers one of the most reliable renewable-energy options once you get past the high cost of drilling, which is why Google recently invested more than $10 million toward developing the technology. While conditions for geothermal are best in the West — "hot rocks" with fractures near the surface — it's available 24/7 once tapped and could supply more than 10 percent of the United States' energy within 20 years. (Sources: The Associated PressThe Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times)

INSURERS UNSURE: Bolstering the U.N.'s claim that this has been a rough year for residents of Earth, German insurance company Munich Re is publicly worrying this week that more frequent and ferocious natural disasters are a threat to its bottom line. 2008 was the third-most expensive year on record for insurers, and many companies have pressed governments to battle climate change for years. But critics say the companies themselves could be more proactive, and some even allege they're only trying to set the stage for bailouts once insured damages soar too high. (Sources: NBC WashingtonNY Times)

VENUS ENLARGEMENT: The cosmos is hosting an early celebration of Earth's new year just after sunset tonight with a planetary revue — an especially bright, close-up Venus is reportedly "impossible to miss" near the moon, and soon afterward Mercury and Jupiter are briefly rolling through along the south-southwestern horizon before bidding 2008 adieu. (Source: Space.com)

NEW YEAR ON RIGHT TRACK: A light-rail track, if possible. The Chicago Tribune wisely recommends using public transit tonight, a convenient reminder that trains, trolleys and buses not only prevent DUIs and worse, they lower your carbon footprint. (Sources: The Chicago Tribune, OpEdNews.com)

HAPPY: New Year! Green News Roundup will return Friday.

Russell McLendon

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