NATURE, INC.: Earth's wildlife is fading fast, and governments around the planet are failing to stop it, the world's top conservation group warns in a new report published today (PDF). Half of all coral reefs, a third of amphibians and a quarter of mammals are on the verge of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, yet they're getting paltry attention compared with floundering banks and businesses. "It’s time to recognize that nature is the largest company on Earth working for the benefit of 100 percent of humankind — and it’s doing it for free," says the report's senior editor. "Governments should put as much effort, if not more, into saving nature as they do into saving economic and financial sectors." IUCN analyzed more than 44,000 species and tested various government pledges to halt global biodiversity loss by 2010. Those targets won't be met, the report concludes. Habitat loss remains the No. 1 cause of species die-offs, but climate change is closing in fast. (Sources: Associated Press, Sydney Morning Herald, MSNBC, Scientific American, IUCN)

CHINA VS. CLIMATE BILL: China's not too happy about the cap-and-trade climate bill that was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday. It's upset about the same provision that President Obama criticized earlier this week — trade tariffs to be imposed on foreign governments that don't launch their own emissions-reductions efforts. "We are firmly against such attempts to advance trade protectionism under the pretext of climate change," Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told reporters in Beijing. "It is not conducive to world economic recovery and it serves nobody's interest." China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, having overtaken the United States in recent years. The two countries together account for about half the world's emissions. (Sources: AP, Agence France-Presse)

WORLDWIDE ANTS: Humans aren't the only ones with an eye toward world domination: The BBC reports that a single "mega-colony" of Argentine ants has colonized much of the planet, setting up satellite "super-colonies" in California, Japan and along the Mediterranean coast. The California colony stretches for 560 miles underground, while the Mediterranean outpost is a whopping 3,700 miles long. Scientists took ants from each super-colony and pitted them against each other to see if they'd fight. Amazingly, they treated each other like old friends, probably because they recognized from each other's scent that they're related. "The enormous extent of this population is paralleled only by human society," the researchers wrote, also pointing out that humans are ironically enabling the ants' spread by continually reintroducing each of the three colonies to each other via international travel. (Source: BBC News)

DEATH OF A FOREST: A New York Times reporter writes today to make sure that, even though very few people are around to hear it, a falling forest makes a sound. Jim Robbins and his wife moved onto 11 acres of woods near Helena, Mont., more than a decade ago, and four years ago they gradually began losing their trees to the pine bark beetle. The voracious pest is toppling forests throughout the American West, possibly boosted by climate change, but it can be hard to picture the enormity of its destruction from afar. Robbins' personal essay sheds an anecdotal light on a sweeping, continent-wide threat. (Source: NY Times)

SKEPTIC TANK: Funding climate-change skeptics is apparently a drug that ExxonMobil just can't kick. The Texas-based oil giant promised last year to stop funding the skeptics, which seemed fitting since the company says it takes climate change seriously. But the Guardian reports today that ExxonMobil has fallen back off the wagon, doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups such as the Heritage Foundation and the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, Texas, which received $75,000 and $50,000 respectively in 2008. (Source: Guardian)

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: Scientists think they're on the trail of the elusive fountain of youth that so intrigued conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon hundreds of years ago. It turns out it is in Florida after all, but Ponce probably wouldn't have known it if he saw it — it's not an actual "fountain," but rather a mysterious mechanism found in certain bats that lets them outlive their peers. Two bat species in Florida and Texas live unusually long lives compared with genetically similar mice, and when exposed to toxic chemicals that interfere with protein folding, the bats handled it much better than the mice. The researchers are searching for the bats' secret in hopes they can use it in therapies to help humans age more slowly. (Source: ScienceDaily)

GO FOURTH: The United States celebrates its 233rd birthday this weekend, and skies across the country will be filled with celebratory fireworks. These displays may pose environmental or long-term health risks, but they certainly pose immediate danger for anyone firing them off. The Boston Globe reports today about the perils of personal pyrotechnics, which are infamous for blowing off fingers, putting out eyes and worse. Large-scale commercial fireworks shows aren't usually as costly to the well-being of their handlers, but they are costly — the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that many communities this year are scrapping the sky lights in favor of less incendiary (and less expensive) Independence Day traditions: parades, games, contests, ice cream and small flags. However you're celebrating, have a safe and enjoyable Fourth. (Sources: Boston Globe, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

Russell McLendon

Photo (coral reef): U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Photo (forest): U.S. Global Change Research Program

Photo (Mexican free-tailed bat): U.S. National Park Service

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